I would not be doing the formal review and would rather like it to be a quickly readable introduction to the work.
Jalal al-Din Abd al-Rahman bin Abu Bakr al-Suyuti (1445 – 1505) was a Shafii jurist and achieved the repute of a hafiz and muhaddith. Gustav Flugel lists 561 works attributed to Jalaluddin al-Suyuti ranging from tomes of hundreds of pages to pamphlets and small treatises. Suyuti is exceptional in encompassing most of the preceding sources into his works. He penned no less than 8 works on different aspects of Quran and co-authored one of the widely taught exegesis with his teacher Jalaluddin al-Mahalli.
According to Hajji Khalifa, al-Itqan is actually an expansion of al-Takhbir fi Ulum al-Tafsir which was written by Suyuti as an introduction to Majma al-Bahrayn wa Matla’al-Badrayn – a voluminous commentary which is refered in many other works by the author but could not be traced so as to establish whether the author was able to complete it or not. In the process of revising and enlarging al-Takhbir, Suyuti made use of Balqini’s Mawaqi’al Ulum and Zarkashi’s al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Quran.
Al-Itqan is extremely elaborate in its width and gives a detailed exposition of 80 different fields concerning the reading, writing and understanding of Quran. This includes not only the disciplines derived from holy Quran but also the principles which facilitate this derivation. While introducing all these disciplines in the introductory chapter, Suyuti writes:
These 80 categories are chosen so as to include various branches of knowledge that are interrelated and if each of these branches were dealt with seperately, there would have been more than 300 disciplines. There are seperate books on many of these areas of study and I have read most of them. The books which are written on similar lines as my book are very few but these do not come close to the width of subjects that I have expounded upon here.
Besides covering usual disciplines like a count of Huruf and Kalima’at, history of compilation and organisation, reasons and places of revelation, Nasikh & Mansukh (abrogation), Tajwid (rules of recitation), lughat (lexical analysis), names of reciters & memorisers, principles of exegesis and grades of exegetes, the book contains some really unique dimensions of approaching the Quran. I am inclined to list few of these unusual ways of exploration. These are:
- Parts of Quran which were exposed through the tongue of Companions.
- Chapters of Quran which were revealed with an accompanied group of angels.
- Parts of Quran which were also revealed to previous Messengers.
- Non Arabic words in Quran and differences of opinion regarding the contention itself.
- Branches of knowledge which were derived from Quran.
- Quranic oaths.
- Dialogues in Quran.
- Ambiguities in Quran.
- Etiquettes of writing Quran.
This book is not meant to be read from cover to cover in few sessions. Its more of a researcher’s companion – one of the oldest and most elaborate reference of studying or accessing holy Quran. Its greatness does not lie in its profoundness and depth but the extremity of breadth and the surpassing comprehensiveness with which the author establishes the richness of the greatest book on earth.