Muhammad al-Akkirmani: the Commentator of the Qur’an came from Ukrainian Steppes

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22/03/2016
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Михайло Якубович
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Among the Muslim authors who came from Ukrainian lands (which are so-called "Ottoman Ukraine"), the figure of Muhammad bin Mustafa al-Akkirmani occupies a special place. Born at the end of XVII century, in Ottoman Akkerman thenadays (now Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Odesa Oblast’ (province)), future lawyer, philosopher and commentator of the Qur’an was pretty good educated, probably in Istanbul. He worked at the court of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire for some time, and he was in good connections with the religious elite. By the way, one of his works was dedicated to sheikh al-Islam (supreme religious authority) Abu al-Khair Damatzade, who was holding this post in 1732-1733. One of the disciples of Muhammad al-Akkirmani, Murtada Effendi became a judge in Akkerman later. This fact indicates the maintenance of relations between scientist and his native land. Muhammad al-Akkirmani himself also made a judicial career - he was a qadi in Izmir, for some time, then in Cairo, and about 1760, he received the same post in Mecca, where he worked until his death, in September 1761.

Among the dozens of various articles written by Muhammad al-Akkirmani, we can find not only the separate treatises (eg, "The message of individual liberty"), but also the various kinds of commentaries (sharh) and even glosses (hashiyya), i.e. "commentaries on commentaries". Those genres of Ottoman academic literature included the commentaries on certain works, to which more and more explanations were added, so they were at the centre of scientific culture then. It was the books that were used in the teaching process of the religious schools (madrassas), in the legal proceedings and in the other spheres.

The autograph of one of the works of Muhammad al-Akkirmani, i.e. the manuscript, written by the author himself, was also remained. This work belongs to the genre gloss (hashiyya) and has 152 pages. He wrote this work like the gloss on 'Abdullah al-Baydauvi’s commentary on the last from the 30 parts of the Qur’an (called juz' amma, contained suras 78-114). This unique manuscript is stored under inventory number 557 and the title “Tafsir Akkirmani Juz’ 'Amma” in the Library of the Sacred Mosque of Mecca (Maktaba al-Haram al-Maccy al-Sharif). Each sheet has 25 lines of text, written with black ink with red titles, and notes in the margins. Bounded with hard cover, the manuscript has a format 21 x 14 cm. The conclusive inscription (149b p.), which is typical for style of that time, states the date of  work completion: “Seeking the forgiveness of the Almighty, the indigent servant of God, Muhammad bin Mustafa,  Akkermani by birth, maturidit by faith, hanafit by madhhab, freed himself from assembling and writing, sorting and stapling in the blessed month of Ramadan, in 1157 from Hijra of Resolute and Noble Prophet, for whom the Quran was sent down from Heaven word by word”, which corresponds to October - November 1744 in the Christian calendar. Also the end of the text contains a famous qasida of medieval poet Abu al-Fath al-Busti (d. 1010) Ziyadatu al-Marie fi Dunyahu Nuqsan ( " More things you achieve in worldly life, more things you will lost") and it is concerning to subjects about  the fear of God, wise life guidelines and others.

The manuscript contains a lot of the records (on the first sheet) and seals, which let us trace its history. At first, it belonged to certain mudarris ibn al-Haji Ahmad al-Armiri, and then to 'Abd ar-Rahman Ratib, who noted the date 1240 AH (1825 AD). Subsequently, the manuscript was in the hands of Hafiz Ahmad Rafaata, who also noted the date – 1247 AH (1832 AD). Besides these inscriptions, the manuscript is affixed with seals, including the sign of the library of Muhammad Rushdi Pasha (d. 1874), the famous Ottoman politician who founded the madrasa in Mecca. It is possible to read the date 1287 AH (1870 AD) on these seals as well as the word Aukaf (the "Funds") on the latest seal, dated back from 1355 AH (1936 AD). Perhaps, firstly, the manuscript was in Mecca, where Muhammad al-Akkirmani himself could bring to, and only later it came to the libraries, which subsequently entered the collections of the library of the Sacred Mosque.

Muhammad al-Akkirmani was hardly the first author to comment on tafsir of al-Baydauvi which was popular in Ottoman times. Since the end of the XVI century, this tafsir had more than 300 commentaries and glosses. The well-known work, Misbah al-Ta'dil fi Sharh Anwar at-Tanzil of Ahmad al-Qırım (d. 1474), Crimean by birth, is also among them. In a short preface Muhammad al-Akkirmani wrote that his goal was to explain some complexities of the text, which he managed to open after a difficult search.

The work structure is quite simple. At the beginning, he cites a few ayats of relevant Surah, and then cites tafsir al-Baydauvi, and after that, he writes his own thoughts. There is also an extensive commentary (recorded in columns) on the margins, basically it is a summary of the main ideas, references to other ayats or hadiths, quotes from the previous commentaries, everything which is placed in the notes in modern academic texts.

The "Source base" of commentary of Muhammad al-Akkirmani is notable for its variety. In addition to the classical commentaries (often the author quotes al-Zamakhshari and al-Qurtubi with Tafsir al-Baydauvi), we can indicate other glosses, hashiyas of Sa'ada Chelebi (d. 1538) and al-'Assama al-Isfaraini (d. 1538), on the commentaries of al-Baydauvi and hashiyya of Sharaf al-Din al-Tayyib (d. 1342) on the commentary of al-Zamakhshari. It is interesting that, in some places, Muhammad al-Akkirmani thinks critically about the relevant manuscripts of al-Baydauvi’s commentary, noting the differences between them. Generally, Muhammad al-Akkirmani is interesting in semantic features of the Koran, as well as in the conclusions which are relating to the faith. The subjects of Qiraat (Qur’an reading ways) practically are not represented in the work of Muhammad al-Akkirmani.

Despite the fact that Muhammad al-Akkirmani wrote his work in compliance with the appointed tradition, in many places, he, actually, departs from the interpretation of al-Baydauvi and comments himself the relevant ayats of the Qur’an. For example, the comments are notable at the beginning of the surah Al-'Alyak (“Clot”), where Muhammad al-Akkirmani resorts to theological discussions of his time (p. 103b-105a). He understands the call of the Qur’an, “Read!” as the indication of the fact that knowledge of God is the first duty of every human being. In commentaries to this Surah, Muhammad al-Akkirmani presents anthropological views, where the knowledge of God is associated with the observations of the moral and physical perfection (Kamalat) of human nature, due to which a person realize that he has the Creator. The meaning of the first ayats of the surah is “making one think”. This rational thinking is ikramiyya ("respect") of the person; a concept that is used in Tafsir al-Baydauvi, Muhammad al-Akkirmani explaines like this: "God granted him life, and then bestowed internal and outward beauty, physical and moral on his generosity". Ikramiyya - it's not just the dignity of man in the modern "secular" sense, but it is "respect" (as appropriate verb Akram contains an indication that this is the God who has given qualities to human, therefore, he is responsible to Him). Here is also a debate about what is faith (iman). Muhammad al-Akkirmani thoughts contrast with the positions of the Mu'tazilites, who believed that the truths of the faith can be comprehended only with the mind, and Asharites who talked about the first priority of religious texts. He suggests the "golden mean", to which maturidits and "all sheikhs of Samarkand adhere" (the mind is an instrument of Sharia).

In some places, Muhammad al-Akkirmani tries to define his own vision on some Quranic lexemes, for example, in his comment on the commentary of al-Baydauvi on Surah Al-Burudzh (pp. 53a-54b). Generally, the word Burudzh means "Towers", but in this case he chose the meanings as constellations or stars. A lot of expositors of the Qur’an tried to answer the question: Why these celestial objects were called "towers", so Muhammad al-Akkirmani also expresses his opinion here.  If we refer to the sentence tabarradzhat al-mara ("a woman adorned herself"), it should be understood literally as "became beautiful as the stars"; therefore burudzh in Arabic mean something tall and beautiful, so the stars were named accordingly.

Muhammad al-Akkirmani didn’t fear the rather complex topics, in which critics of Islam are still speculating. For example, it is a message that the last two suras of the Qur'an (Al-Falaq and Al-Nas) seemed to be absent in the lists, which were kept in the hands of a companion of the Prophet 'Abdallaga ibn Mas'ud (p. 148b-149b). Considering this issue in the separate parts (tanbih - "remark" tanbih akhir - "one more remark") and examining all the arguments, Muhammad al-Akkirmani justifies' Abdallaga ibn Mas'ud by stating that the fact of their absence during the reading doesn’t mean their absence in the text, so it is improper to attribute to this associate any statements which contradicts other opinions. Moreover, relying on the opinions of such authorities as Abu Bakr al-Bakilyani (950-1013) and Ibn Hazm al-Andalus (994-1064), Muhammad Al-Akkirmani proves that  these suras still appear in some retellings of the same 'Abdallah ibn Mas' ud. The work of Muhammad al-Akkirmani contains many other answers that exited many commentators of the Qur'an.

We do not know how popular this hashiya on al-Baydauvi’s commentary was, which was written by Muhammad al-Akkirmani came from Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. Obviously, it was not such well known as his "Message of individual liberty" or "The Commentary on Forty Hadiths", which are stored in dozens of copies in various libraries of the Islamic World. However, even the scoping studies show that Muhammad al-Akkirmani understood the things, which he wrote, very well, and put out considerable efforts  in his judgments for finding the answers to difficult questions. In many respects, the work reflects the evolution of ideas about the interpretation of the Quran during the time of early modern (XVI - XVIII centuries), when the new social demands made the people slightly stand aside from the traditional views. At the same period, when such outstanding reformers of Islam as Mehmed Kadizade, Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Vaggab, Shah Wali Allah ad-Daglavi and others worked, the evaluates of the primary sources of Islamic teachings also changed and the calls for the revival of the "primary" understanding of the Qur'an and Sunnah became more active. Thus, in many points of Muhammad al-Akkirmani’s work, the combination of exceptional ideas of God’s Sovereignty of the world (rububiyya) and unique divinity (ulugiyya) are appreciable, which became the basis for the blame of the various "cults of the saints" as well as the ritualization of the graves of "righteous men". Legacy of Muhammad al-Akkirmani lets affirm that the people from the Ukrainian lands were not aside of these processes.

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