This week, IQSA directs its readers to a pertinent lecture by Frédéric Imbert—professor at Aix-Marseille Université specializing in Islamic epigraphy—available through the French online university Canal Académie here.
The brief audio lecture, given in French, covers interesting new material regarding early Islamic graffiti that was discovered in Saudi Arabia in November of 2012.
© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.
The presentation is fascinating like all the work of Prof. Frédéric Imbert. However, it is striking to note the difference of methodology between Epigraphy and textual analysis. A statement such as the attribution of the epigraphical text to the calif ‘Umar would never be accepted among hadith scholars without further arguments. It would be interesting to know the basis of the identification of the script beyond the signature.The statement about the presence of majority of names with Biblical background (a statement that recalls the work of Michael Lecker on names in early documents) does not lead to clear conclusion, may be we should ask Imbert about more development in other occasions. The allusion to the non-existence of the Prophet expressed in a very sophisticated French “Je n’irais pas jusqu’à dire qu’il n’existe pas” (I would not [rich the point ] to say that [the Prophet] does not exist ) is very interesting because it is a suggestive answer to the suggestive question about the absence of the name Muhammad from the graffiti and, in the same time, a non-answer.
BIEN RECUE MERCI Dr. A.HERMAS MAROC
Why the attribution to calif umar will not be accepted by hadith scolars?
Professor Hilali is correct in highlighting the methodological differences; in general some may hasten to interpret certain epigraphic trends in isolation from other historical information, in a kind of vacuum so to speak, but is this the best way to proceed and will it provide the most fruitful results?
It seems the question of the non appearance of the name Muhammad in an Arabic inscription during Islam’s first 50 years or so has vexed a number of scholars. Of course, any kind of inscription from this period is exceedingly rare, though comparatively, with let’s say Christianity, one could say there are an abundance of epigraphic texts! Should we infer the non existence of a person because someone did not engrave his name into a rock as early as we think it should have been? The exclusive application of this principle could lead one to conclude the overwhelming majority of people from ancient times never actually existed.
There is no single mention of Jesus in an inscription in the first 200 years of Christianity. In fact, with perhaps one or two exceptions, there are no Christian inscriptions at all in this period. Nevertheless, no New Testament scholar I am aware of would consider the non existence of Jesus solely on this basis. To be sure there are very vocal mythicists but they are not taken seriously. These are of course separate issues with different historical circumstances, but certain methodological principles can be similarly applied in both cases.
It is important to examine the underlying assumptions of those who insist there must be an almost contemporaneous inscription containing the name Muhammad. Why must it be so and why is it so important to them? Of the more than 77,000 words in the Qur’an, 4 of them mention Muhammad by name. The Qur’an has many key themes and concepts that one may presume its earliest followers paid attention to. I think one of the contributing factors is the majority of western scholars primary exposure is in Judaeo-Christian religion, history and culture and resultantly certain assumptions are imported by some regarding how an individual traversing a desert 1400 years ago should have interacted with a rock. Forgiveness and mercy are key concerns registered in these very early inscriptions, also key central themes in the Qur’an. By their very nature these are short pietistic invocations mentioning God and are not intended to be complete manuals of faith and doctrine. Later on as the Islamic state gained a new dynamic under Abd al-Malik, propaganda efforts intensified and one finds the increasing mention of Muhammad, including in polemical contexts, starts to establish itself.