In his Marvels of the Heart, Imam al-Ghazali refers to Tustari…
“Therefore Sahl al-Tustari has likened the heart to the throne and the breast to the seat. He said, “The heart is the throne (‘arsh) and the breast is the seat (kurst).”
Sahl al-Tustarī laid the foundation for many later Sufi thinkers, including Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111), Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī (d. 587/1191), and Ibn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240). His commentary, known as Tafsīr al-Tustarī, or Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm, is important as one of the earliest Sufi commentaries and for the way in which it presents connections between verses and topics that may initially appear unrelated, but are revealed through Tustarī’s insights to be profoundly linked. These inner meanings are the heart of Sahl al-Tustarī’s commentary, which also includes numerous sayings of Sufi masters-all seamlessly interwoven into his explanation of these 1000 verses.
Annabel Keeler obtained her doctorate from Cambridge University in 2001. Her dissertation, revised and expanded, was published in 2006 under the title “Sufi Hermeneutics: The Qur’an Commentary of Rashid al-Din Maybudi.” She recently completed a research fellowship at Wolfson College, Cambridge, where she now continues her work in the field of Islamic mysticism with a particular interest in the Sufi interpretation of the Qur’an. Apart from her book on Maybudi’s Qur’an commmentary, she has published a number of articles in the field of Islamic mysticism and Sufi hermeneutics. She is currently preparing a monograph of the 9th Century mystic Abu Yazid al-Bistami.
Ali Keeler has spent almost ten years in the Middle East, firstly in the Yemen and then in Damascus, where as well as teaching English, he has studied Arabic, the art of Qur’anic recitation, aspects of the traditional Islamic sciences, and has read through several classic works of Islamic mysticism with living Sufi masters. He has translated a number of books into English, including “Selected Prayers of the Prophet Muhammad and Great Saints” and “A Tourist Guide to Craq de Chevalier.”
Dr. Yousef Waleed Meri is a leading specialist in Islam of the pre-modern period, Islamic cultural and social history and interfaith relations. He received a B.A. (Magna cum laude) from University of California, Berkeley in 1992, an M.A. from the State University of New York Binghamton in 1995 and a D.Phil. from Wolfson College, Oxford University in 1999. Currently, he is a Fellow and Special Scholar in Residence at the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (Amman, Jordan), which is under the patronage of Abdallah II, King of Jordan. He has published numerous articles and books dealing with various aspects of Islamic history, civilization and ritual practice.
In his commentary on the words, That you may warn [the people of] the mother of cities, and those around it… [42:7], he says,
In its outward meaning, it [the mother of cities] refers to Mecca. In its inner meaning it refers to the heart, while those around it refer to the bodily members (jawāriḥ). Therefore warn them, that they might safeguard their hearts and bodily members from delighting in acts of disobedience and following [their] lusts.
Annabel Keeler translates the following passage, on Tustarī’s use of the terms nafs and rūḥ: The lower self (nafs) desires the world because it comes from that, but the spirit (rūḥ) desires the Hereafter because it comes from that. Gain ascendancy over the lower self and open for it the door to the Hereafter by glorifying [God] (tasbīḥ) and seeking forgiveness for your nation.
Tustarī sometimes contrasts the lower self (nafs) with the heart (qalb), as, for example, when he explains: If your lower self overpowers your heart, it will drive you to the pursuit of desire (hawā). But if your heart overpowers your lower self and your bodily members, it will tether them with propriety (adab), compel them into worship (ʿibāda), and then adorn them with sincerity in servanthood.
The use of symbolism can be seen in the interpretation of a variety of verses, as below, where Tustarī employs the symbolism of the house for the heart when he comments on houses [lying] deserted [27:52], and explains: Their houses are an allusion to hearts; for there are hearts which are inhabited (ʿāmir) through remembrance (dhikr), and there are those which are ruined (kharib) through heedlessness (ghafla). Whomsoever God, Mighty and Majestic is He, inspires with [His] remembrance, He has freed from oppression (ẓulm).
prayer in them be other than to God, Exalted is He.