The eleventh century Sufi master al-Qushayri wrote a lengthy commentary on the Qur’an entitled The Subtle Allusions. It can be, and usually has been, read as a collection of Sufi interpretations that might be compared with legal, theological or sectarian interpretations. But a close reading reveals al-Qushayri’s deeper intention in writing this work, which is to teach spiritual aspirants how to read God’s signs themselves. These signs might be the verses in the Qur’an, or the signs on the horizons and in their own souls, as described in Qur’anic verse 41:53. This is not accomplished through intellectual training, although al-Qushayri himself was a scholar. Rather, it is knowledge that comes as “intimate communications and whispered confidences” to those who cultivate a receptive and bold way of being. In The Subtle Allusions, al-Qushayri frequently quotes poetry in the midst of other comments on a Qur’anic verse or verses, in an attempt to capture the sensibilities of the intimate friends and lovers of God. But he cites this evocative material with the experienced eye of a master who is well aware of the distractions, fatigue and resistance that are part of the path. This talk will be an exploration of some of the imaginative, creative and very practical advice he gives to spiritual practitioners.
Professor Kristin Zahra Sands is a Professor of Islamic Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the author of Sufi Commentaries on the Qur’an in Classical Islam. She is currently working on an English translation of Abu’l Qasim al-Qushayri’s Lata’if al-Isharat for the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought’s tafsir project.