The Anonymity of a Commentator

Zakariyyā al-Anṣārī and the Rhetoric of Muslim Commentaries

By Matthew B. Ingalls

Subjects: Islam, Sufism, Middle East Studies, Religion, Comparative Literature
Series: SUNY series in Islam
Hardcover : 9781438485195, 284 pages, September 2021
Paperback : 9781438485188, 284 pages, January 2022

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Table of contents

List of Figures and Tables
Transliteration Table

1. Muslim Commentarial Practices

2. The Life of Zakariyyā al-Anṣārī

3. The Iḥkām and the Rhetoric of the Sufi Commentary

4. Fanning the Fire of Islamic Legal Change with the Mukhtaṣar-Sharḥ Bellows

5. The Legacy of al-Anṣārī

Conclusion Commentary, Canonization, and Creativity: A New Case for the "Era of Commentaries and Supercommentaries"


A close study of one of the most prolific commentary writers in Islamic history.


The Anonymity of a Commentator examines the life and writings of the Egyptian Sufi-scholar Zakariyyā al-Anṣārī (d. 926/1520), the longest-serving chief Shāfi'ī justice to the Mamlūk sultanate during its final years. It analyzes al-Anṣārī's commentaries in the disciplines of Sufism and Islamic law as a case study to illustrate how and why Muslims produced commentaries in the later Islamic Middle Period and how the form and rhetoric of commentary writing furnished scholars like al-Anṣārī with a medium in which to express their creativity and adapt the received tradition to the needs of their time. Whereas twentieth-century scholars tended to view Muslim commentary texts as symbols of intellectual stagnation in and of themselves, contemporary scholars recognize that these texts are often the repositories of profound ideas, although they approach them with little guidance from their academic predecessors. The Anonymity of a Commentator aims to provide this guidance, through a close study of one of the most prolific commentary writers in Islamic history.

Matthew B. Ingalls is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Dubai.