Book Review: Al-Zubdah fī Sharḥ al-Burdah of ʿAlī al-Qārī

Al-Zubdah fī sharḥ al-Burdah. By al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī. Edited by Māhir Adīb Ḥabbūsh. Istanbul, Turkey: Dār al-Lubāb, 1438/2017. Pp 203. ISBN 9786058323865.

Reviewed by Mawlana Kamil Uddin, Darul Qasim

The mantle Burdah wears in Islamic literature is unparalleled. A glimpse of this is shown by ʿAbdullah Muḥammad al-Ḥabashī who lists out 48 pages of commentaries and marginalia for the Burdah in his encyclopedic bibliography, Jāmiʿ al-shurūḥ wal-ḥawāshī[1]. The actual title of this instrumental poem is al-Kawākib al-durriyyah fī madḥ khayr al-bariyyah (lit. The Radiant Planets in Praise of the Best of all Creation) written by the Sufi Poet of the Shādhilī order, Sharaf al-Dīn al-Būṣīrī (d. 697/1298). This commentary, titled al-Zubdah (The Choicest), selects from previous glosses and builds a direct bridge from poetry to prose for readers. A salient feature of al-Qārī’s (d. 1014/1606) writings is his ability to take complex topics and weave the thread of understanding through them; this work is no different. Ḥabbūsh edited this work using two manuscripts; the first was from King Saud University and the second from Waliyy al-Dīn Efendi Library in Istanbul which is an extension of Beyazıt Devlet Kütüphanesi (Beyazıt State Library).

In his 25 page introduction, Ḥabbūsh gives brief background information on al-Būṣīrī, his qaṣīdah, and the lasting effect this poem had on poetry that followed him. He also lists out 9 specific commentaries, 2 of which al-Qārī referenced often which are the commentaries of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī (d. 864/1460) and ʿIṣām al-Dīn al-Isfarāyīniyy (d. 944/1538), as well as the commentary of Zayn al-Dīn Khālid al-Azharī (d. 905/1500) which was often quoted in the marginalia of the King Saud manuscript of al-Zubdah. Since the three aforementioned glosses have yet to be printed, the value of such a publication heightens. Ḥabbūsh also extracts what he considers controversial couplets that exaggerate the praise of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, listing them out in the following order; 80, 81, 135, 136, 149, 146, 75, 156, 43, and 154. He adds footnotes under some of these couplets explaining how they are problematic and critiquing al-Būṣīrī’s choice of words. However, he does not seem to adopt the reading al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī presents, one that is in line with Sunni creed and law. This is a problem because reading the sharḥ/ḥāshiyah genre requires one to be in sync with the previous research, which is why we see many authors writing glosses on their own texts (matn) because there is no commentator (shārīh) who could better rationalize that author (mātin).

Ḥabbūsh states that al-Qārī’s methodology of explaining contains three aspects. First he explains selected vocabulary (sharḥ mufradāt), followed by parsing (iʿrāb) unintuitive phrases, and concluding by giving a succinct, easy-to-read but eloquent understanding of the couplet. Sometimes al-Qārī switches the order but still touches on all three aspects. One of finest features of this commentary is al-Qārī’s ability to connect the poem to the Qurʾān and Hadith; this rhetorical concept is called iqtibās which literally means “the process of lighting one’s fire from that of another.” In the indexes listed at the end by the editor, I counted 122 ayahs from 52 surahs and 78 hadiths quoted by al-Qārī for a poem totaling 160 couplets. He was able to capture this light from other sources as well, for example he mentioned that couplet 58 was inspired by the eulogy of Fāṭimah, may Allah be pleased with her, for her father, the Prophet, peace be upon him. He also references the famous Majnūn in couplet 5 and al-Buḥturiyy (d. 284/897) in couplet 57, both of whom are famous for the art of panegyric in their own right. Al-Qārī also intertwines supplementary rhetorical and grammatical points along with theological and spiritual allusions (iīmāʾāt) throughout the commentary.

This edition also contains an 8 page bibliography (fihris al-maṣādir wal-marājiʿ) and an unfulfilling one page table of contents (fihris al-mawḍūʿāt). This text would have been enhanced for readers and researchers by including an index for the couplets, proper names and places, and a more expansive table of contents that gives an overview of the wide range of topics covered by both al-Qārī and al-Būṣīrī. One possible addition to the table of contents would be division of the poem into the ten sections (abwāb) mentioned on page 28. The editor ought to have included the full-length poem (qaṣīdah) in the beginning or end of the edition so that it can be read without pauses. It should be noted that the couplets are enumerated throughout the text and are in bold which make it easy to identify. Aside from the last two sentences at the end of the introduction and images of the first and last folios (lawḥah) there is no other information given about the manuscripts. Overall this is a welcome edition with accurate paragraphing, precise punctuation, and reliable referencing. Lastly, other editions of this work have been published since, one by Dār al-Imām al-Rāzī  in Cairo in 2018. Stamped on the title page is the claim Yuṭbaʿ li-awwal marrah alā arbaʿ nusakh khaṭṭīyah (Printed for the first time using 4 manuscripts).[2] Another one by Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah in 2019.[3] However, I have been unable to access these editions and thus cannot compare between them. The expectation is that they should be better but al-faḍl lil-mutaqaddim (special virtue is for the first).

[1] Al-Ḥabashī, A. Muḥammad, Jāmiʿ al-shurūḥ wal-ḥawāshī : muʿjam shāmil li-asmāʾ al-kutub al-mashrūḥah fī al-turāth al-Islāmī wa-bayan shurūḥihā, 5 vols. (Dār al-Minhāj, Jeddah, 2017), 1:659-707.

[2] Al-Qārī, M. ʻAlī and al-Khurāsānī, A. Muḥammad. al-Zubdah fī sharḥ al-Burdah. (Dār al-Imām al-Rāzī lil-nashr wal-tawzīʿ, Cairo, 2018).

[3] Al-Qārī, M. ʿAlī and Farḥāt, Ḥ. ʿAzīz. Sharḥ al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī ʿalā Burdat al-Būṣīrī. (Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, Beirut, 2019).

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