Bayḍāwī, al-

views updated


BAYĀWĪ, AL- (died sometime between ah 685 and 716, or 1286 and 1316 ce), fully, Abū Saʿīd ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿUmar ibn Muammad ibn ʿAlī Abū al-Khayr Naīr al-Dīn al-Bayāwī; Islamic religious scholar and judge. Born in Bayāʾ, near the city of Shiraz in Persia, al-Bayāwī was educated in the religious sciences in Baghdad and spent most of his life following in his father's footsteps in Shiraz as the chief justice of the province of Fārs. He belonged to the Shāfıʿī legal school (madhhab ) and was a follower of the tradition of al-Ashʿarī in theology. He wrote some twenty works on various subjects, including jurisprudence, law, grammar, theology, and the Qurʾanic sciences. While all of these works were written in Arabic, he also produced a world history in his native Persian.

Al-Bayāwī's fame and reputation rest mainly upon his commentary (tafsīr ) on the Qurʾān, titled Anwār al-tanzīl wa-asrār al-taʾwīl (The lights of the revelation and the secrets of the interpretation). This work examines the Qurʾān phrase by phrase in an attempt to present, concisely yet comprehensibly, the conclusions of earlier commentators in such a way as to express al-Bayāwī's own understanding of the orthodox Sunnī interpretation of the Qurʾān in his time. His main sources of interpretational information are the famous philosopher and Qurʾanic commentator Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209) and the Muʿtazilī theologian al-Zamakhsharī (d. 1144). The latter author was clearly more important for al-Bayāwī, whose commentary may be viewed to a great extent as a simplified summary of his predecessor's work, condensing what was found to be most essential in grammar, meaning, and textual variants. Omitted most of the time, although sometimes overlooked and allowed to remain, are statements that reflect al-Zamakhsharī's rationalist theological views. For example, in interpreting sūrah 3:8, "Our Lord, make not our hearts to swerve, after that thou hast guided us," al-Zamakhsharī takes "make not our hearts to swerve" to mean "do not withhold your grace from us after having already granted it to us," with the emphasis placed upon the notion of God's grace coming after man has acted to deserve it. Al-Bayāwī rejects this free-will, rationalist position, substituting the interpretation that since God does lead people astray, they must pray to God for the divine gift of guidance and grace.

Because of its concise nature, al-Bayāwī's commentary has proved valuable over the centuries for quick reference, although certainly not for full analysis. For this reason it has been widely read in the Muslim world and has attracted a large number of supercommentaries, and soon after Europeans made learned contacts with Islam it became the best-known Qurʾān commentary in the West. Representing what is best described as the consolidation of traditionalism in the field of Qurʾanic interpretation, al-Bayāwī's tafsīr has been the basic textbook for all students of the subject in East and West alike.


Anwār al-tanzīl wa-asrār al-taʾwīl has been edited and published numerous times both in the Islamic world and in Europe; the standard edition of the Arabic text is that edited by H. O. Fleischer (Leipzig, 18461848). Sections of the work are available in English translation, although they are often not completely understandable without at least some knowledge of Arabic. The commentary on sūrah 12, the story of Joseph, has appeared twice in translation, by Eric F. F. Bishop and Mohamed Kaddal in "The Light of Inspiration and the Secrets of Interpretation," Chrestomathia Baidawiana: Translation of Surat Yusuf with Baidawi's Commentary (Glasgow, 1957) and by A. F. L. Beeston in Baiāwī's Commentary on Sūrah 12 of the Qurʾān (Oxford, 1963). The commentary on sūrah 3 was translated by D. S. Margoliouth in Chrestomathia Baidawiana: The Commentary of El-Baidāwī on Sura III (London, 1894). The best place to start in order to experience al-Bayāwī's commentary in English is probably Kenneth Cragg's The Mind of the Qurʾān: Chapters in Reflection (London, 1973), which includes the commentary on sūrah 112. All of these works also provide some basic overview of al-Bayāwī and his significance. A number of articles by Lutpi Ibrahim have appeared on al-Bayāwī and his theological relationship to al-Zamakhsharī: "Al-Bayāwī's Life and Works," Islamic Studies (Karachi) 18 (1979): 311321; "The Concept of Divine Justice According to al-Zamakhsharī and al-Bayāwī," Hamdard Islamicus 3 (1980): 317; "The Relation of Reason and Revelation in the Theology of al-Zamakhsharī and al-Baiāwī," Islamic Culture 54 (1980): 6374; "The Concept of Ibā and Takfīr According to az-Zamakhsharī and al-Bayāwī," Die Welt des Orient 11 (1980): 117121; and "The Questions of the Superiority of Angels and Prophets between az-Zamakhsharī and al-Bayāwī," Arabica 28 (1981): 6575.

Andrew Rippin (1987)