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Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716 brill.


On the Subtleties of Method and Style in the

Laif al-ishrt of al-Qushayr

Kristin Zahra Sands

Sarah Lawrence College

The Laif al-ishrt of Ab l-Qsim al-Qushayr (d. 465/1072) is a comprehensive, line-by-line
mystical commentary on the Quran. In this article, an analysis of the comments on the first
four sras demonstrates how Qushayr crafted a distinctively cohesive way of responding to the
Quranic text that avoids any sharp or simplistic division of the exoteric and the mystical. This is
partly accomplished by not addressing verses in an overly selective way, and partly by mirroring
the shifting modes of discourse and content of the Quran itself. Qushayr adeptly incorporates
into his commentary the intellectual discourses of his time in exegesis, theology and mysticism,
and then expands his rhetorical repertoire with the more emotive and aesthetic dimensions of
poetry, rhymed prose and metaphor. Qushayrs methodology allows him to use tangible human
experience to explain what might otherwise seem like otherworldly or abstract ideas, and to pro-
vide concrete advice for mystical aspirants. The esoteric and exoteric are seamlessly interwoven
in his commentary through the ethos of adab, understood as a hermeneutic, a sensibility, and a
life strategy for those seeking nearness with the divine.

Les Laif al-ishrt dAb l-Qsim al-Qushayr (m. 465/1072) reprsentent un commentaire mys-
tique, intgral et exhaustif du Coran. Dans cet article, lanalyse des quatre premires sourates
dmontre comment al-Qushayr a su concevoir une faon unique et cohrente de rpondre au
texte coranique, faon qui vite toute division tranchante ou simpliste de lexotrique et du mys-
tique. Ceci se ralise en premier lieu en ne sadressant pas aux versets coraniques de faon trop
slective et, dun autre ct, en refltant partialement les modalits de changement de discours et
de contenu du Coran lui-mme. Al-Qushayr fusionne effficacement dans son commentaire le dis-
cours intellectuel de son poque pour ce qui concerne lexgse, la thologie et la mystique, pour
largir ensuite son rpertoire rhtorique grce lutilisation de la dimension plus motionnelle
et esthtique de la posie, de la prose rythme et de la mtaphore. La mthodologie dal-Qushayr
lui permet dexploiter des expriences humaines tangibles pour expliquer ce qui autrement pour-
rait paratre comme des ides abstraites ou tournes vers lautre monde, et fournir des conseils
concrets pour des initis mystiques. Dans son commentaire, lsotrique et lexotrique sentre-
mlent en transparence travers lethos de ladab, conu comme une hermneutique, une sensi-
bilit et une stratgie de vie pour ceux qui recherchent la proximit du divin.

adab, commentary, exegesis, Quran, al-Qushayr, Sufism

Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013 DOI: 10.1163/22105956-12341245

8 K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716

The Laif al-ishrt (The Subtleties of Allusions) is a commentary on the

Quran written by Ab l-Qsim al-Qushayr (d. 465/1072) with the objective of
inspiring and providing concrete guidance to mystical aspirants.1 It is a com-
prehensive and remarkably cohesive Sufi work of interpretation that comments
on nearly every Quranic verse.2 Instead of selecting just those verses most
amenable to mystical commentary, Qushayr stays with the shifting modes of
discourse and content in the Quran itself, drawing upon the intellectual dis-
courses and literary compositional styles of his time period. By addressing the
whole of the text, Qushayr necessarily involves himself in the cacophony of
tensions described in verses on warfare, doctrinal diffferences, social obliga-
tions, and the relations between men and women. Rather than creating a divi-
sion between the exoteric and the esoteric, Qushayr brings a distinctive set of
tools to the task of responding to the text as a whole, which are those of the
adb, a well-rounded and educated individual who is refined in behavior and
elegant in his use of language.3 The result is a form of Quranic interpretation
that is both sophisticated and accessible. Saying the Laif al-ishrt is acces-
sible, however, is not to say it is always an easy read, especially in its use of the
technical mystical and theological vocabularies of his time. Rather it is to say
that Qushayr consistently returns to the tangible human experience described
in the Quran to explain these terms and concepts, and in so doing never
strays from his objective to provide practical guidance for spiritual aspirants.

1In her excellent analyses of Qushayrs Laif al-ishrt, Annabel Keeler has demonstrated
how mystical commentary on the Quran functions as a form of spiritual guidance (irshd).
Annabel Keeler, Sufi Hermeneutics: The Quran Commentary of Rashd al-Dn Maybud (London:
Oxford University Press, 2006); idem, f tafsr as a Mirror: al-Qushayr the murshid in his Laif
al-ishrt, Journal of Quranic Studies 8.1 (2006): 121. Martin Nguyen has noted the admon-
ishing and pedagogical tone of the Laif al-ishrt, suggesting that it was intended for use in
Sufi circles of learning, and that we might use Walid Salehs category of madrasa commentary
to describe it. Martin Nguyen, Sufi Master and Quran Scholar: Abl-Qsim al-Qushayr and the
Laif al-ishrt (London: Oxford University Press, 2012), 131. Walid A. Saleh makes the distinc-
tion between madrasa and encyclopaedic commentaries in his monograph. Walid A. Saleh, The
Formation of the Classical Tafsr Tradition: The Qurn Commentary of al-Thalab (d. 427/1035)
(Leiden: Brill, 2004), 199.
2In the printed edition used for this study, there are six volumes with over 2000 pages of
commentary (Ab l-Qsim al-Qushayr, Laif al-Ishrt, ed. Ibrhm Basyn, 6 vols. [Cairo:
Dr al-Kutub al-Arab, 196871]). The printed edition was checked against MS Kprl Library
(Istanbul) 117. I am very grateful to Annabel Keeler for providing me with a digital copy of this
3In this, he was following the lead of Amad b. Muammad al-Thalab (d. 427/1035), whom
Qushayr may have met. See Nguyen, Sufi Master and Quran Scholar, 89, and Saleh, The Forma-
tion of the Classical Tafsr Tradition, 33, 58. In his study of Thalabs al-Kashf wa-l-bayn an tafsr
al-Qurn, Walid Saleh argues persuasively that Thalab was the first to fully integrate adab litera-
ture into Qurnic tafsr. Ibid., 1819, 378, 1735.
K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716 9

Qushayr is less interested in the transmission of wise sayings than he is in

mapping out a strategy based on the Quran for becoming wise oneself.
One of the most striking elements of the Laif al-ishrt is its frequent cita-
tion of poetry. In the section studied for this article, which is the commen-
tary on the first four sras of the Quran, there are about 125 poems cited.4 In
general, early and classical commentaries on the Quran cited poetry to illus-
trate the meaning of Arabic words and syntax; the content and style of the
poem was otherwise ignored. In contrast, Qushayrs use of the emotive and
aesthetic dimensions of poetry is central to his approach to the Quran. He
was not the first exegete to use poetry in this way within the genre of Quranic
commentaries,5 but he was certainly one of the first to fully explore the rhetori-
cal possibilities. In addition to the poetry he cites, Qushayr makes extensive
use of rhymed prose (saj) and metaphor. A good example of this is his com-
mentary on Quranic verse 2:13:

[2:13] When it is said to them, Believe as the people believe, they say, Shall we believe
as fools believe? Truly, they are the foolish ones, but they know not.6
The allusion in it is to hypocrites who, when they are called to the Real, describe
Muslims as foolish. Similarly, when the wealthy are commanded to renounce this
world, they describe the people of integrity as lazy and weak. They say the poor
(fuqar)7 have nothing because they have no wealth, no status, no comfort and
no livelihood. In truth, they are the ones who are poor and affflicted. They have
fallen into degradation out of fear of degradation, and struggled in shame out of
fear of shame.
They have constructed castles (qur) but have lived in tombs (qubr).
They have adorned the cradle (mahd) but have been wrapped in the grave (lad).
They have galloped in the fields of heedlessness (ghafla)

4In his study of the poetry in the Laif al-ishrt, Amad Amn Muaf finds over 400
poems cited in the entire work. Amad Amn Muaf, Takhrj abyt Laif al-ishrt li-l-Imm
al-Qushayr (Cairo: Mabaat al-Sada, 1986).
5The tafsr attributed to Sahl al-Tustar (d. 283/896) includes a few poems quoted for their
content rather than philological information. Sahl al-Tustar, Tafsr al-Tustar, trans. Annabel
Keeler and Ali Keeler (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2011). This would precede what Walid Saleh
refers to as Thalabs revolutionary incorporation of poetry qua poetry into tafsr, but does not
really challenge his categorization of it, since there seems to be little evidence that any exegete
before Thalab took on the sacralization of secular adab literary styles to the extent that he
did (Saleh, The Formation of the Classical Tafsr Tradition, 151, 174). The argument here is that
Qushayr not only continues this sacralization but makes it central to his commentary.
6The English translation of the Quran used here is that of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for
Islamic Thought, 2007.
7When Qushayr uses the word fuqar, he means both the poor and those who follow the
Sufi path.
10 K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716

but have stumbled in the wadis of grief (asra).8

Soon they will come to know but at that time their knowledge will not benefit
them. Nothing will be of use to them.
When the dust clears
you will see
whether a horse or a donkey
is beneath you.9

Qushayrs commentary here starts offf with descriptive and explanatory lan-
guage, shifts to a series of metaphors in rhymed prose (saj) and then ends
with poetry.10 It is a remarkably confident way of responding to the Quranic
verseno authorities are cited, metaphors flow freely, and the poetry is amus-
ing. What is also significant here is that the poetry cited is that of a famous
secular poet, Bad al-Zamn al-Hamadhn (d. 398/1008). Although Qushayr
quotes poetry without attribution, as is true of most of his quoted material,11 a
study by Amad Amn Muaf traced many of the verses cited in the Laif
al-ishrt back to secular poets such as Ab Tammm, al-Butur, al-Mutanabb
and Ab Nuws.12 Although Qushayr provides a completely diffferent context
for these poems, it is nonetheless striking that he weaves verses from poets
such as Ab Nuws (d. ca. 200/815), a poet as famous for his libertine practices
as for his literary abilities, into his Quranic commentary.
Qushayr also inserts poetry into his commentary where you might not
expect it. While the commentary just examined could be seen as an elegant
form of admonition,13 Qushayr sometimes uses literary devices in unexpected

8The full Arabic for these three sentences is:

Shayyadl-qur wa-lkin sakanl-qubr.
Zayyanl-mahd wa-lkin udrijl-lad.
Raka f maydnil-ghafla wa-lkin athar f awdiyatl-asra.
(Qushayr, Laif al-ishrt, ed. Basyn, 1:75).
9Sawfa tar idh injall-ghubr a-farasun tataka am imr. (Qushayr, Laif al-ishrt,
ed. Basyn, 1:756).
10Nguyen notes an ascending trajectory in Qushayrs movement from the exoteric to the
esoteric in his commentary on each verse. Nguyen, Sufi Master and Quran Scholar, 128.
11 Qushayr omits information on his source material of all types, including not only poetry
but also the transmitted exegetical material and adth he cites. Nguyen suggests that this
lack of attribution is related to the intent of the Laif al-ishrt. By omitting citations, which
would have been readily available in other works, Qushayr was able to hold to the pedagogi-
cal objectives of his larger intellectual and spiritual concerns. Nguyen, Sufi Master and Quran
Scholar, 198.
12Muaf, Takrj abyt Laif al-ishrt, passim. The verse cited from Bad al-Zamn
al-Hamadhn is no. 8, 59.
13In this, Qushayr would again be following Thalabs lead. Saleh states that, No other charac-
teristic sets al-Thalabs hermeneutics apart more than the admonitory exegetical discourse that
he weaves into the fabric of his work. Saleh, The Formation of the Classical Tafsr Tradition, 167.
K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716 11

places, such as in his commentary on the first part of Quranic verse 2:229 on

[2:229] Divorce is twice;

[God] calls for the separating of the divorce formula, so that you will not rush to
complete the separation. Regarding its meaning it is said:
If I discover that
you have resolved on slaying me
then leave me.
Little by little, I am becoming weaker.14
[2:229 contd] then honourable retention; or setting free kindly.
Either a gracious relationship or a gracious separation. A bad marital life and loss
of pleasantries through blameworthy character traits is not acceptable on the path
(arqa) nor is it praiseworthy in the law (shara).15

Qushayr starts this passage in a conventional way, with a brief explanation of

the purpose of the divorce is twice command, but then surprises us with a
poetic verse that evokes the sadness of the end of a relationship. The attention
Qushayr pays to spiritual states and stations is well-known through his Risla;
however, this passage, which is consistent with many others in the Laif
al-ishrt, shows that Qushayrs interest in subjective states includes ordi-
nary examples of human experience. This interest takes diffferent forms in the
Laif al-ishrt through the poetry he cites, the metaphors he creates, and the
almost novelistic way in which he attributes emotions to Quranic figures.16
Qushayr continues his commentary on this verse with comments stress-
ing the importance of behaving well whether a marital relationship contin-
ues or ends. He furthermore states that behavior which is tolerated although
not considered praiseworthy in the law (shara) is unacceptable behavior
for Sufi aspirants on the path (arqa). The distinction he is making here is
one that he makes continually in the Laif al-ishrt and is one that might
be characterized as the distinction between rule-based ethics and virtue
ethics.17 Qushayr is not just holding those who follow the Sufi path to a higher

14Qushayr, Laif al-ishrt, ed. Basyn, 1:193. Muaf states that he was unable to trace this
verse to any other source. Muaf, Takrj abyt Laif al-ishrt, no. 5, 92.
15Qushayr, Laif al-ishrt, ed. Basyn, 1:193.
16An example of the latter is his description of Zakariyyas jealousy regarding the spiritual
states of his ward Maryam, as found in the commentary on Quranic verses 3:3741.
17Saleh demonstrates how Thalabs incorporation of an adab sensibility explains the moral
nexus of the Qurn in a much more expansive way than is possible in forms of exegesis such
as Muammad b. Jarr al-abars. Saleh, The Formation of the Classical Tafsr Tradition, 16778.
This broader understanding of morality is also implicit in Keelers description of the mystical
commentary as spiritual guidance (irshd). Keeler, Sufi Hermeneutics, 7496.
12 K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716

standard. Rather, he is urging them to embrace a diffferent form of ethics that is

not easily captured in the language of sharia norms.18 It is an ethical universe
perhaps best encapsulated in the concepts Qushayr calls upon of virtuous-
ness (isn), which could also be translated as acting in a beautiful way, and
chivalry (futuwwa). Qushayrs use of poetry and rhymed prose is integrally
connected to his desire to foster an awareness of the ways in which disciples
might act in a beautiful and not just legally correct way.
An understanding of Qushayrs moral universe is key to uncovering the
way in which his Asharite theology and mystical thought have practical con-
sequences. When Qushayr exhorts Sufi disciples to act in virtuous or chiv-
alrous ways, he ties these forms of behavior to a particular understanding of
mans relationship to the divine. For Qushayr, behavioral norms begin with
the sharia, which he views as irrevocable. This is true even if a rule seems to
make no sense to thoughtful human beings. For example, in his comments
on the Quranic verse stipulating half as much inheritance for women as for
men, Qushayr suggests that it would actually make more sense to double the
portion for women, since they are generally in the weaker position. He insists,
however, that Gods command needs no justification.19 He takes this idea even
further in his comments on the Quranic verse stipulating which categories of
relationship preclude a marital relationship.20 In this case, he rejects any con-
nection between the categories and a human understanding of what would be
good or bad. Instead, he insists, that if God had wanted the categories to be the
oppositein other words, if men were allowed to marry only their mothers,
their sisters, and their children, etc.this would have also been good.
If we were to stop here, it would confirm only that Qushayr never wavers in
his total commitment to the sharia. But Qushayrs complete acceptance of the
rule-based practice of the sharia exists as part and parcel of a far more ambitious
ethics of virtue that comprises the backbone of the Laif al-ishrt. This more
complex form of ethics, however, is a paradoxical one in Qushayrs version of
it, since his version is based on a challenge to the notion of human agency and
self-determination. If human beings are not truly in control of themselves, and
are not making free choices in the way that our ordinary perception suggests,
then what is the relationship between us and acts that are described as virtu-
ous or corrupt? An example of how Qushayr approaches this question can be
found in his commentary on Quranic verses said to be revealed in a time when
the needs of the refugees from Mecca strained the bonds of community with
their Medinan brothers and sisters.

18 This is not to say that Qushayr ever questions sharia norms.

19 In his commentary on Quranic verse 4:11.
20Quranic verse 4:23.
K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716 13

[2:267] O you who believe, expend of the good things you have earned (kasabtum),
and of what We have produced for you from the earth, and seek not the corrupt of it
for your expending; for you would never take it yourselves without closing your eyes
to it; and know that God is Independent, Laudable.
[2:268] Satan promises you poverty and enjoins you to indecency, but God promises
you His pardon, and His bounty; and God is Embracing, Knowing.
Let everyone consider what he expends on his own behalf and what he produces
by the command of his Lord. That which is brought forth against you is from your
account book (dwn): Your worldly portion are the precious things you possess.
[On the other hand], what you [produce] in things of little value is for your Lord.
You give God the tiniest of morsels, while he gives you the most valuable things and
the most perfect of blessings. But see how he forgives you, and even accepts it from
you! He even compensates you!... Everything from him is a favor but he ascribes it
to you as an act. His gift is entrusted to you and the gift is called a reward...21

In this passage Qushayr accepts the idea of a work-reward economy for alms-
giving while pointing out the deficiencies of thinking this way. He does this by
illustrating the absurdity of keeping an account book with God. The economy
of exchangegood deeds for a rewardis not a false one, since God keeps his
promises, but it exists only within a very limited perspective of the nature of
reality. The truer picture is that of a gift economy. From the perspective of the
gift economy, whatever acts of obedience or obligation we perform are always
preceded by divine generosity and while acquired by us, do not originate
in us. The example is a very clear and concrete one which demonstrates the
problem of attributing causality solely to the autonomous individual: whatever
money, material goods, physical well-being or abilities one possesses can easily
be traced to factors beyond an individuals control or merit. The virtuous per-
son gives freely because they perceive correctly that everything they have has
been given freely to them in one way or another, and that their entitlement to
it is therefore not as it appears. Their behavior is not so much an act of efffort
as it is an acknowledgement that, as Qushayr says elsewhere,22 Gods bounty
(fal) is undeserved beneficence (isn).
The cultivation of virtues, then, occurs in tandem with a change in perception
that de-stabilizes conventional notions of human action, ability and posses-
sion. Whereas in Asharite theological treatises,23 the concept of acquisition
(kasb) can seem defensive or vague, Qushayr illustrates it here with tangible

21 Qushayr, Laif al-ishrt, ed. Basyn, 1:218.

22In his commentary on Quranic verse 4:116.
23Qushayr himself wrote several of these. Richard M. Frank includes English translations of
two of these treatises in his Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism in Medieval Islam (Aldershot, UK:
Ashgate, 2005).
14 K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716

human experience that shows the relationship between behavior, attitude

and knowledge. His elegant comment, Everything from Him is a favor but
He ascribes it to you as an act24 aptly summarizes a view that seriously ques-
tions the notion of an autonomous self. But the challenge could be described
more as one of shifting rather than competing perspectives. When Qushayr
says, Therefore His gift is entrusted to you and the gift is called a reward,25 he
illustrates the ambiguity of these shifting perspectives by letting the notion
of a reward remain even as it is challenged. Human agency is not completely
denied but rather is characterized with an as-if-ness.
As if is, in fact, the qualifier Qushayr employs in his description of free
will in his commentary on Quranic verse 3:122. The verse is said to refer to
two flanks of the army of Muslims who contemplated but then decided against
fleeing from the diffficult battle of Uud:

[3:122] When two parties of you were about to lose heart; and God was their Protector,
and let the believers rely on God.
He brings forth everyone in the bodice of free choice, as if the command was theirs
in their negating and afffirming, their acting and abstaining from action. In truth,
they are only turned about by the agency of (his) grasp and the turning of (his)
deliberative power.26

Qushayrs continual exhortation to a cultivation of virtues is rooted in his

understanding of this as if qualifier. Humans are dressed in the bodice of free
choiceit is not an essential attribute of theirs. Rather, the only essential attri-
bute of human beings is their nakedness. Similarly, the virtues one attempts to
cultivate cannot be truly said to originate from human efffort because man pos-
sesses no independent means of attaining them. The refining of behavior, then,
is mostly about discovering what human beings are not. The true situation, as
Qushayr goes on to describe here, is one in which human beings do nothing
on their own but are rather turned about by the agency of Gods grasp and
power. Those who fully understand this are those who have experienced the
annihilation of the self (fan). For others, however, the concept of fan may
seem like an abstraction, much like the theological term acquisition (kasb).
Qushayr makes the concept of fan tangible, however, by showing how the
challenges of life, from battles to charity, provide the opportunity for little
tastes of the annihilation of the self. Although the experiencing of these little
annihilations, that is to say, the experience of witnessing ones niggardliness

24Qushayr, Laif al-ishrt, ed. Basyn, 1:218.

26Ibid., 1:286.
K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716 15

and desire to flee from diffficulty, is not particularly pleasant, Qushayr shows
how the disciplining and the refinement (tadb) of the self is ultimately an
expansive rather than a constrictive process.27 As he says in his commentary
on Quranic verse 3:8,28 There is no increase in nearness without an increase
in adab.29
If one had to choose one word to define Qushayrs exegetical approach in
the Laif al-ishrt, it would perhaps be this word, adab, understood as a
hermeneutic, a sensibility, and a life strategy for those seeking nearness with
the divine. In its secular usage, adab can refer to either literature or to a way
of behaving in the world that is both moral and wise. Both of the elements of
Qushayrs Laif al-ishrt discussed here, which are its use of poetic forms
of discourse and the distinctive way in which it connects the cultivation of
virtues to knowledge, reflect this understanding and practice of adab.
Qushayrs understanding of adab, however, difffers from its secular mani-
festations in its objective. For Qushayr, the purpose of cultivating virtues and
reciting poetry is not primarily to live a good life or even to achieve salvation.
Rather it is a means to radically transform oneself and experience reality in a
far more expansive way. Qushayrs appropriation of the disciplines and lit-
eratures of secular adab for religious purposes was not without precedent, but
perhaps his ability to make full use of them in a Sufi context was.30
Although the admonitory nature of much of the Laif al-ishrt could eas-
ily function as a guide to a sort of soft Sufism or Sufi lite, this is only possible
if one ignores Qushayrs understanding of concepts such as annihilation
(fan). There is an edginess to Qushayrs theology and exegesis that is easily
missed because he is so subtle in his methodology. Qushayr does not need

27For more on the connection between the Sufi notions of annihilation (fan) and blame-
worthy character traits, see the section on Annihilation (fan) and Subsistence (baq) in
Qushayrs Risla. Al-Qushayris Epistle on Sufism, trans. Alexander D. Knysh (Reading: Garnet
Publishing Limited, 2007), 8991.
28Quranic verse 3:8: Our Lord, do not cause our hearts to deviate after You have guided us; and
give us mercy from You; You are the Bestower.
29Qushayr, Laif al-ishrt, ed. Basyn, 1:233.
30Mention has already been made of what Walid Saleh calls the sacralization of secular adab
literary styles in the Quranic commentary of Thalab. For precedents in a more specifically
Sufi context, see Elena Biagis discussion of the intersection of the adab literary tradition and
early Sufi works in her translation of Sulams Jawmi db al-ufiyya: A Collection of Sufi Rules
of Conduct (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2010). See also Gerhard Bwerings The Adab
Literature of Classical Sufism: Anrs Code of Conduct, in Moral Conduct and Authority: The
Place of Adab in South Asian Islam, ed. Barbara Daly Metcalf (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1984), 6287. For use of secular literary terms, themes and devices within Sufi writings that
predate al-Qushayr, see Michael A. Sellss Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and
Theological Writings (New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1996).
16 K. Z. Sands / Journal of Sufi Studies 2 (2013) 716

to shatter conceptions with the sledgehammer of ecstatic sayings (shaiyyt)

when he has much more refined tools to provoke thought in unexpected
ways. These tools have much more in common with the style of the Quran
itself than those which developed as the norms of the tafsr genre. When his
commentary is quoted in later Sufi exegetical works in excerpts, or when it
is read selectively, one can easily miss the masterful way in which Qushayr
plays with theological and mystical concepts through the overlapping layers
of human experience and perception, in a style that mirrors the juxtapositions
of the Quranic text. It is therefore important to look not only at the exegeti-
cal genre to uncover the legacy of the Laif al-ishrt, but also to such lit-
erary works as Fard al-Dn Ars Manq al-ayr and Jall al-Dn al-Rms
Mathnaw. Although many elements of Qushayrs exegetical style and content
can also be found in commentators such as Amad b. Muammad al-Thalab
(d. 427/1035) before him and Rashd al-Dn Maybud (fl. 520/1126) after him, his
Laif al-ishrt difffers from them in the distinctive way in which Qushayr
ignores many tafsr norms in favor of a composition that seamlessly weaves
the exoteric and esoteric together through the ethos of adab. The result reflects
not only the rich literary and moral sensibilities of eleventh-century Nishapur,
but also Qushayrs considerable talent in adopting these sensibilities as exe-
getical tools.