Looking Forward to Baltimore 2013

By Emran El-Badawi


The International Qur’anic Studies Association has been making great progress moving towards our first public meeting in Baltimore on November 22-26, 2013. Last month’s organizational meeting was a great success and has served as a fruitful platform for us to work towards 2013, especially planning a keynote lecture, reception and a small number of panels to which presenters will be invited privately. The directors and steering committee of the are pleased to announce that Aziz al-Azmeh–Professor of Islam and Historical Anthropology at the Central European University–will deliver the 2013 keynote lecture. His lecture will be followed by a few words from a respondent. IQSA will, furthermore, host at least two independent panels: one on Approaches and Theories in Qur’an Translation, and another on New Research on Qur’an Manuscripts.

Further details will be forthcoming. And we hope that interested members of the academy and the public will continue to visit and subscribe to our blog (http://iqsaweb.org) in order to keep up to with our latest news and updates. On behalf of the directors and steering committee of IQSA, I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. We hope to see you in Baltimore!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2012. All rights reserved.

Some Prominent Women Qur’an Scholars

By Emran El-Badawi

Qur’anic Studies is, now more than ever, a discipline wherein women scholars have demonstrated groundbreaking expertise and leadership.

In the western academy especially, Muslim and Non-Muslim women have helped give shape to the discipline itself. Among the former are scholars like Ingrid Mattson, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and author of The story of the Qurʼan: its history and place in Muslim life and Amina Wadud, whose Qurʼan and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, explores the intersection between Gender and Qur’anic Exegesis. The latter includes Jane Dammen McAuliffe, author of Qur’anic Christians: An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegesis and editor of preeminent, standard Qur’an reference works like Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an and the Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an. Included in the latter category as well is Angelika Neuwirth, director of the Corpus Coranicum, as well as author and editor of landmark publications including Der Koran als Text der SpätantikeThe Qur’an in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qur’anic Milieu; and several others. Jacqueline Chabbi, similarly, has authored a number of important works on the Qur’an, most notably Le coran décrypté : Figures bibliques en Arabie, préface d’André Caquo.

Among Qur’an translators—most of whom are still men—a handful of women have distinguished themselves and built bridges between the western academy and those in Islamic societies, including Iran. Among them are Laleh Bakhtiar, author of The Sublime Qur’an, and the late poet Tahere Saffarzadeh (d. 2008) who authored The Holy Qur’an English and Perisan Translation with Commentary. In the Arab world the work of Olfa Youssef–author of Le Coran au risque de la psychanalyse— and Asma Hilali continue to both shape and enrich the discipline.

The expertise and leadership demonstrated by women scholars in Qur’anic Studies is perhaps demonstrated best in two recent talks delivered at the Qur’an Seminar, and ongoing conference at the University of Notre Dame co-directed by Mehdi Azaiez and Gabriel Reynolds. Below are the video of the talks delivered by two eminent scholars: Nayla Tabbara (Adyan Foundation, Lebanon) and Maryam Mosharraf (Shahid Beheshti University, Iran).

Lecture of Nayla Tabbara Director of Cross-Cultural Studies Department (Adyan Foundation, Lebanon) “The Qur’ān and Muslim-Christian relations” ; December 6, 2012

Maryam Mosharraf Associate Professor of Persian Language and Literature (Shahid Beheshti University, Iran)“The Qur’ān and Islamic Mysticism”; December 7, 2012

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2012. All rights reserved.

Translating John Wansbrough…into English

By Gabriel Reynolds

At a recent academic conference, during a dinner with a group of Qurʾan scholars, the topic of our conversation turned to the work of John Wansbrough. During the conversation one of our group asked,“But when is someone going to translate Wansbrough . . . into English?”


In fact Wansbrough’s writing is famously difficult. Almost every reviewer of Qurʾanic Studies expresses frustration with his complicated style. To this effect William Graham writes:

Because of its importance, however, it is all the more regrettable that this volume is such an exceedingly cumbersome and gratuitously difficult work, one marked by impenetrable syntax and often unintelligible sequence of ideas. It is a book laced with brilliance and insight, yet marred throughout by unusual obscurity in organization and presentation. Its subject matter is manifestly complex, but it has been presented here in such a needlessly “technicalized” fashion as to make it at all decipherable only by the most doggedly determined specialist in early Islamic materials. (Journal of the American Oriental Society 100 [1980] 138).

Now since Prof. Graham wrote this review Prometheus Press has re-published both Qurʾanic Studies (2004) and Sectarian Milieu (2006) with Forewords (by Andrew Rippin and Gerald Hawting, respectively) that summarize the arguments and influence of the work at hand, and glossaries which define the technical terms and foreign vocabulary which Wansbrough employs. This supplementary material is a significant help for students who really seek to understand Wansbrough’s thought.

But is it worth the effort to do so? In academic scholarship on the Qurʾan it is rather common to find the opinion that Wansbrough’s thought is unfounded or disproven. But how many of those who express this opinion have actually managed to understand his use of the English language? Perhaps a translation of Wansbrough into English would allow us at least to assess the importance of his work. While I have no plans to translate the entirety of Qurʾanic Studies, I thought I might have a go at the first page:

Once separated from an extensive corpus of prophetical logia, the Islamic revelation became scripture and in time, starting from the fact itself of literary stabilization, was seen to contain a logical structure of its own. Both the Qurʾan and sīra emerged from a body of traditions closely related to Jewish and Christian themes of salvation history. Some of those traditions were brought together or redacted to form a scripture and given the name Qurʾan. This scripture was then imagined to have the sorts of internal relationships of works that are intentionally composed as a single unit by a single author.

By the very achievement of canonicity the document of revelation was assured a kind of independence, both of historical traditions commonly adduced to explain its existence and of external criteria recruited to facilitate its understanding. Once this text was recognized as the Muslim community’s scripture its origin amidst a larger body of traditions—which had included also material later used by Muslim authors in order to explain how the Qurʾan came to be and what it means—became irrelevant.

But the elaborate and imposing edifice of classical Qur’anic scholarship is hardly monolithic, and discernible lines of cleavage correspond to the number of options left open to the most fundamental lines of inquiry. Yet after this initial moment at which the Qurʾan emerged as a scripture, later Muslim scholars developed recognizable genres of Qurʾanic exegesis; these genres correspond to the qualities of the Qurʾanic text.

Both formally and conceptually, Muslim scripture drew upon a traditional stock of monotheistic imagery, which may be described as schemata of revelation. The body of traditions out of which the Qurʾan emerged might be thought of as a general outline of Jewish and Christian (and other monotheistic) ideas of how God has acted in the world.

Analysis of the Qurʾanic application of these shows that they have been adapted to the essentially paraenetic character of that document, and that, for example, originally narrative material was reduced almost invariably to a series of discrete and parabolic utterances. The Qurʾan reflects a shaping of these traditions for the sake of warning or exhortation. The redactors of the Qurʾan condensed long narratives into short declarations with moral and religious implications.

An illustration is Surat Yūsuf, often cited as a single instance of complete and sustained narrative in the Qur’an. In fact, without benefit of exegesis the Qur’anic story of Joseph is anything but clear, a consequence in part of its elliptical presentation and in part of occasional allusion to extra-Biblical tradition, e.g. verses 24, 67, 77. [No translation necessary, hooray! A footnote here refers the reader to JW’s comments on Surat Yūsuf later in the work, pp. 136-37]

It may, indeed, be supposed that the public for whom Muslim scripture was intended could be expected to supply the missing detail. The Qurʾan’s elliptical style with material such as Joseph suggests that its audience was familiar with Jewish and Christian traditions.

A distinctly referential, as contrasted with expository, style characterizes Qurʾanic treatment of most of what I have alluded to as schemata of revelation, exhibited there as components of earlier established literary types. The Qurʾan does not expand on the Jewish and Christian themes of salvation history, but rather refers to them succinctly.

The technique by which a theme is repeatedly signaled but seldom developed may be observed from an examination in their Qur’anic form of those themes traditionally associated with literature of prophetical expression. Not merely the principal themes, but also the rhetorical conventions by which they are linked and in which they are clothed, the variant traditions in which they have been preserved, as well as the incidence of exegetical gloss and linguistic assimilation, comprise the areas of investigation undertaken in the first part of these studies. In part one of Qurʾanic Studies I will study four Jewish and Christian themes of salvation history as they appear in the Qurʾan: retribution, sign, exile, and covenant [see page 2]. I will also examine the Arabic formulas with which the Qurʾan introduces or connects these themes, the variant versions which the Qurʾan preserves of the same tradition, the material in the Qurʾan meant to explain other Qurʾanic material, and the manner in which the Qurʾan uses Arabic to express Jewish and Christian themes preserved in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2012. All rights reserved.

A Quick Overview of the November Meeting

By Emran El-Badawi

IQSA held its first organizational meeting over two days on November 18-19, 2012, which coincided with the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) as well as the American Academy of Religion (AAR). The directors and steering committee had a fruitful discussion concerning the future of IQSA and put several plans into place for the short term. The details of the meeting will follow in a forthcoming blog post. We did, however, want to share with you a brief overview.

The main subjects discussed at the meeting were governance and membership; prospective plans for publication; the IQSAWEB online platform; national and international relationships; and finally the plan for our 2013 meeting.

IQSA will meet with SBL and AAR on November 23-26, 2013 in Baltimore, MD. The Baltimore meeting will consist of an inaugural keynote lecture and a small number of meeting sessions where papers will be presented. IQSA directors and members of the steering committee remain in dialogue with our partners at SBL and AAR especially, as we move forward. We hope to see you in November.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2012. All rights reserved.

On Qur’anic Studies and ‘Ulum al-Qur’an

By Emran El-Badawi

The Qur’an is not merely the scripture that gave birth to Islamic Tradition but also–in the words of the late Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (d. 2010)–a “discursive text.” Its eloquence, argumentation and history engaged generations of Muslim scholars who dedicated numerous monographs and essays to different studies on the Qur’an. early scholars meticulously studied their scripture’s grammar (i’rab), rhetoric (balaghah) and loan words (mu’arrabat); they also documented its earliest codices (masahif), variant readings (qira’at), and wrote mammoth tomes on exegesis (tafsir).

Within the field of exegesis alone there is a good deal of variety. Among other exegetical works, Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari’s famous Tafsir (3/10th century) uses prophet stories, insights from the earliest generation of Muslims (like ‘Abdulah b. Abbas; d. 68/687) and his own personal insights on matters of language to elucidate the verses of the Qur’an. Along similar lines Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi’s Ahkam al-qur’an has an unmistakably juridical flavor, as does Mahmud b. ‘Umar al-Zamakhshari’s Kashshaf a subtly Mu’tazili one (both 6th/12th century). The efflorescence of different academic fields of Qu’anic study lead to a great deal of specialization, divergence and variety.

From gomdl.com

From gomdl.com

The need to integrate these different academic fields and preserve the rich insights of earlier scholars into a unified discipline surrounding the Qur’an gave rise to what is traditionally known as ‘ulum al-qur’an, or ‘Qur’anic Sciences/Studies’ (a term better encapsulated in the German “koranischen Wissenschaften”). There are two major pre-modern ‘ulum al-qur’an works, Badr al-Din al-Zarkashi’s Burhan (8th/14th century) and Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti’s Itqan (ca. 905/1500). The latter goes into seemingly exhaustive detail concerning many subjects, including the number and types of qur’anic verses, loan words, problematic passages, script, i’jaz, semantic and rhetorical debates–principally based on the insights coming from generations of earlier Qur’an scholars. Suyuti’s Itqan is, by itself, a major resource for any student of the Qur’an.

More recent works of ‘ulum al-qur’an include Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Azim al-Zurqani’s Manahil al-‘irfan (1943) and a useful English abridgment of this traditional discipline by Ahmad Von Denffer called Ulum al Qur’an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an  (1994; revised 2009). Zarqawi and Von Denffer wrote five centuries after Zarkashi and Suyuti–who were themselves just as far removed from the earliest authorities on the Qur’an like ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas. Yet their works stay true  to ‘integrating and preserving’ earlier scholarship on the Qur’an, uniformly and adding little new information.

This was the principle critique of Abu Zayd leveled against pre-modern ‘ulum al-qur’an works. He argues that the problem with many traditional Qur’anic Studies works are (1) their tendency to reproduce old and sometimes outdated insights and (2) an absence of original insights. The emphasis, therefore, of works like those of Zarkashi and Suyuti are not the Qur’an itself, but rather Islamic Tradition. In his book, Mafhum al-nass, Abu Zayd proposed a bold, systematic, fresh inquiry into the Qur’an’s text in light of its own ‘hermeneutical instruments,’ and exploring–among other things–who the speaker(s) of the text is in different passages. Abu Zayd’s commitment to the text directly–his simplicity and originality–rather than the verbosity of tradition, removes so much obfuscation and mystery surrounding the study of the Qur’an.

Abu Zayd was also someone who believed in building bridges between Islamic and western societies. Since the Qur’an is a text of world historical importance, he realized the value of exchanging ideas on the Qur’an across cultural lines. With this in mind there is some common ground between the traditional discipline of ‘ulum al-qur’an and the academic discipline of Qur’anic Studies in the western academy today. In this respect the traditional study of the Qur’an’s loan words (mu’arrabat) or foreign language (gharib)–especially from Aramaic–can be viewed as part of what the academy calls Semitic Linguistics. Furthermore, as an integral part of world literature the Qur’an is also in dialogue with other scriptural traditions–especially the Hebrew and Christian Bible (al-tawrah wa al-injil)–that can prove illuminating. Qur’anic Studies in the western academy can also benefit from studying the Qur’an, not just as a text of history, but also as a text that lives within Islamic tradition.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2012. All rights reserved.