Where the Two Seas Meet: The Qur'anic Story of al-Khidr and Moses in Sufi Commentaries as a Model of Spiritual Guidance. By Hugh Talat Halman. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2013. Pp. xxi + 319. $29.95 (paper).
In this wide-ranging, well-argued, and readable study, Hugh Talat Halman, a specialist in Sufism, offers an engaged reading of select Sufi commentaries on the story of al-Khidr and Moses found in Q 18:60-82. In his foreword to the book, Bruce Lawrence captures the spirit of Halman's study when he writes: "Words invent, reinvent, disguise and reveal meaning that never cease to sustain the human quest in life and beyond life, in death and beyond death" (p. xii).
The book is roughly organized into three sections. Section one is a general introduction to the story of al-Khidr and Moses in the Quran, and provides general information on the figure of al-Khidr both in classical and medieval Islamic scholarship and in more recent Western scholarship. Halman includes an overview of the al-Khidr-Moses relationship as a model for the master-disciple relationship in Sufism, and provides brief but suggestive references to the almost parallel significance of al-Khidr in Voltaire and Carl Jung. As part of this general introduction Halman provides a survey of how al-Khidr has been interpreted in the Quran, hadith, and in al-Tabari's commentary on the Quran. Apart from support for more general conclusions regarding the broader array of perspectives offered on the figure of al-Khidr in Western scholarship, confined mostly to footnotes, Halman sticks closely to the original Arabic texts without reference to the larger critical secondary studies on the Quran and its interpretation. For hadith traditions Halman relies entirely on al-Bukhari, and for what he calls "Sufi" commentaries he uses al-Tabari exclusively.
Section two is a more detailed analysis of how the story of al-Khidr and Moses is interpreted in three specific medieval Sufi Quran commentaries, to wit, those of Abu l-Qasim al-Qushayri, Ruzbihan al-Shirazi, and 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Qashani (attributed to Muhyi l-Din Ibn al-'Arabi). Halman translates the relevant passages from these exegetical works and provides his own commentary focused mostly on the structure of each exegetical passage. As in the previous section, Halman makes little reference to secondary scholarship or to the broader medieval and modern contexts (outside of al-Bukhari and al-Tabari) of Muslim readings of these texts and their...