Coming soon: The 110th volume of Études Arabes

Thanks to PISAI

Études Arabes is one of the publications of Rome’s Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI), along with Islamochristiana and EncounterThe latter two periodicals deal with different aspects of Muslim-Christian discourseIslamochristiana  printing research articles and Encounter having a more pastoral scope. Études Arabes, on the other hand, focuses on a single topic, which is treated as a monograph. As such, it aims to be a resource for students and scholars of Arabic and Islamic sciences, by providing a wide introduction to the chosen topic, enriched by an updated bibliography and a series of texts in Arabic (with  translations provided in either English, French, or Italian).

Études Arabes’ upcoming issue is devoted to the concept of “Šahīd.” It explores if and how the meaning of the term evolved from the initial Qur’anic occurrence to the current use—both in common and journalistic language as well as in the juridical debate, where the legal status of the “Šahīd” does not seem to reach a consensus among the ‘ulamā and Muslim religious authorities.

Special attention is devoted to the “legal” status of the “Šahīd.” On one hand, such a status is analyzed with reference to its mention in several different places in the Qur’an as well as in the hadith, where the principal meaning is that of witnessing/giving evidence (both in the juridical sense of giving witness in trial, as well as in the eschatological sense belonging to prophets). On the other, the term seems to recur mainly in association with reasons for death, certainly on the path of God (fīsabīl Allāh) and possibly in battle (šahīd al-ma‘raka), but also for many other causes  (šahīd al-dunyā wa-l-āẖira): certain illnesses, fires, etc.  We recall, for example, that according to a very famous tradition, death while giving birth entitles a women to be “Šahīd” (not “Šahīda,” and this is something to think about). Consequences of being acknowledged as “Šahīd” were mostly related to mourning and burial rituals.

On the other hand, whether or not one is legally “Šahīd” seems to have assumed a much greater importance in these troublesome times, when suicidal attacks have greatly increased and the consequences of a death being considered martyrdom (‘amaliyyāt istišhādiyya) or suicide (‘amaliyyāt intiḥāriyya) can be very crucial for political choices and popular support, as well as for the families of the supposed “Šahīd.”

Keeping in mind its mainly didactic character, Etudes Arabes 110 includes a basic but comprehensive overview of its specific theme. To this end, both the introductory essay and the texts offered in translation[1] are organized in the following way:

  • Definition of the term “Šahīd” (classical grammar, ancient common use)
  • The meaning of the term “Šahīd” from the classic Muslim tradition to the contemporary common use
  • Šahīd” as a legal status
  • Contemporary debate: “Šahīd”—martyrdom or suicide (and, as such, condemned)
  • All themes are treated with ample reference to the Qur’an, classical and “modern” Tafsīrfiqh, and contemporary jurisprudence.

For more info on PISAI, its activities and how to subscribe to its publications, see, which features pages in Arabic, English, French, and Italian.

[1] Taken from ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Ġurmān b. ‘Abd Allāh al-Karīmī al-‘Umarī,  Aḥkām al-šahīd fī l-fiqh al-islāmī, Dār al-bayān al-ḥadīṯ, al-Ṭā’if  (al-Mamlaka al-‘arabiyya al-sa‘ūdiyya), 1422/2001, pp. 379. 

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Qur’ans of the Umayyads: Interview with Dr. François Déroche

By Dr. Keith Small

Prof. François Déroche, one of the leading scholars in Arabic manuscript studies, has a new book due out this October: Qur’ans of the Umayyads, A Preliminary Overview, (Leiden, Brill, 2013, 226+46 ill. ISBN 9789004255654). Early Qur’anic manuscript studies is a lively and growing discipline in the academy, and Déroche’s contributions have been essential reading—substantial in providing a framework for understanding the development of the Qur’anic manuscript tradition during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. This new book promises to bring into focus the current state of knowledge of this very early stage in the Qur’an’s manuscript tradition. I had the privilege of asking him some questions about his new book on behalf of IQSA.

Just for some background information for our readers, what is current your position in Paris?

The direct translation is: “Director of studies at the EPHE, Department of historical and philological sciences”; it involves teaching and research. My chair is titled “History and codicology of the Arabic handwritten book.” I am also co-director of the French-German Coranica project, which aims—among other things—at publishing systematically the earliest MSS of the Qur’an.

Your book, Qur’ans of the Umayyads, A Preliminary Overview, is due to come out in October 2013. How did writing this book challenge or develop your views on early Qur’ans? For example, did it overturn any of your previous views of the early transmission of the text of the Qur’an?

Qur’ans of the Umayyads is the result of a series of conferences given at LUCIS in Leiden. It is to some extent an offshoot of my previous study of the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus which I suggested to date to the third quarter of the first century. As the subtitle (A preliminary overviewputs it , it is a first attempt at understanding the evolution of the mushaf during the Umayyad period. The focus is different from my previous monograph, as I wanted to explore the broader Umayyad context and to offer a chronology of the period. The material used is undated and I had first to determine the basis on which I could date the largely unpublished fragments I had collected over three decades. Reviewing them led me to revise and enlarge my previous typology of the scripts. I had, for instance, to take a more cautious stance on the early hijâzî copies than in the 1983 catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale collection.

What are some major areas of debate in our field that you think the book informs? For example, does it speak into the issues of dating current manuscripts? Or to the degree of variability of the text in its earliest stages, or the development of Qira’at? (Here you can increase our interest by hinting at what controversial things you might have to say!)

As the book offers a chronology of the MSS, it challenges some views about the canonisation process, as it shows that the development of the handwritten transmission of the text was evolving at a rapid pace, especially the orthography of the Qur’an. It shows that the text was still fluid during the first decades of Umayyad rule and tries to understand also the diversity of the material which I suggest to attribute to this period. Although it is impossible to pinpoint every single copy to a place or a milieu, some clusters emerge. As a whole, one begins to see some rough stages in the history of the mushaf during this period. One can now follow more precisely the introduction of the notation of the short vowels, which of course will lead to new researches into the qirâ’ât—providing them more strength than was the case with the previous conclusions, which relied mainly on the division of the verses. It also draws attention to a field which is yet not researched, that of the intellectual conditions under which the written transmission took place.

How do you see it informing the broader fields of Umayyad studies and Islamic art history?

The book will provide new elements for the history of the Arabic script and shows that the palaeographic approach is a decisive tool for the study of the period. Previous papers, for instance by H.C. von Bothmer, enabled the incorporation of new elements into the history of Islamic art during this period. The book will provide a broader view of this question: it will be possible to speak of an Umayyad art of the book.

This first overview of Qur’anic MSS production under Umayyad rule will also provide new insight towards the position of the ruling elite about the Qur’an. As a whole, it will bring a diversity of new direct witnesses to the awareness of those who are researching the early history of the Qur’an.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the importance of this book?

I hope that I have been able to argue convincingly in favour of the attribution of some MSS to the Umayyad period, but the last chapter can only open the question of the transition from the Umayyad to the Abbasids. I hope that this will help to start new research on this moment, which remains largely shrouded in uncertainty as far as the MSS are concerned.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

A New Project for an Etymological Dictionary of the Qurʾan

Prof. Salih Akdemir, of Ankara University in Turkey, presented at the First International Symposium on Rethinking the Qur’an earlier this year (on which Dr. Andrew Rippin reported for IQSA here). His paper, “Linguistic Approaches to the Qur’an: Contribution to Creating a Great Dictionary of the Qur’an” brought attention to an issue that he frames in the following way: “The Qur’an is a divine book revealed in the Arabic language. But which Arabic language?”. Here he argues that, since the revelation of the Qur’an in the Arabic of the Prophet’s time, the language has undergone so many semantic changes that it is no longer possible to understand the Qur’an as the Prophet and his companions understood it. The project for an etymological dictionary of the Qur’an that Akdemir proposes would therefore aim to be a part of the solution to this important problem.

The following excerpt summarizes Akdemir’s conclusions in the aforementioned paper:

General Conclusion

“The diachronic semantic research we carried out in the Hebrew Bible, in the New Testament and in the Qur’an concerning many roots—in this paper, exempli gratia E- M-R and R-H-M roots, were studied—allows us to arrive at the following results:

1. Among Semitic languages the Arabic reflects the Proto-Semitic perfectly and can be counted as older than Akkadian in that regard. So to deny this common origin would be the biggest harm to be done to the Semitic languages, since the Semitic languages are those languages that fulfill each other and hence explain one another. The togetherness which will be realized on the basis of these languages will contribute to the mutual understanding of the Semitic Peoples.

2. Semantic changes are the natural process all languages underwent and will continue to undergo. What is important is to be aware of this process. This awareness is especially  crucial for the understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, it seems that Islamic World is not aware, apart from some exceptions of this vital issue for our common future. Since the Arabic language underwent semantic changes over the course of time, is there any possibility for us to understand the Qur’an as the Prophet and his prestigious companions understood it?

Unfortunately the answer to that crucial question is no, because all Arabic dictionaries, however ancient they may be, are far away from accomplishing this task. Sadly, no work has been done so far to fill this gap in the Islamic world.

But even more upsetting is the fact is that, apart from a few researchers, no one is aware of this crucial issue. The fact that we do not have even nowadays any dictionary of the Qur’an that will be able to provide us with Arabic language of the Prophet’s time, is, according to al-Khûlî’s expression, a shameful situation. As far as our country is concerned, even more shameful than this is the fact that the dictionary of the Qur’an that was compiled by the English orientalist John Penrice in 1873 in London was translated into the Turkish languages in 2010. Finally, the dictionary of Qur’anic usage that was compiled by Egyptian researchers ElSaid M. Badawi, Muhamad Abdel Haleem and edited by Brill in 2008 is far away from fulfilling this vital task, since it was not prepared by scientific methods. Thus it only repeats the past, as it were. 

Today more than ever, it is obvious that all the world is in urgent need of a new dictionary of the Qur’an that will be composed by taking into consideration not only the semantic changes the Arabic roots have undergone over the course of the time but also the data of the modern lexicology.

3. Compiling the dictionary of the Qur’an that will provide us with the Arabic language of the Prophet’s time will only be possible if we carry out the diachronic semantic method of approaching the holy Scriptures, taking into consideration all the Semitic Languages. It goes without saying that we must realize the diachronic semantic analysis of the 1505 Qur’anic roots by benefiting from Comparative Semitic studies. To understand the Qur’an correctly, it is also necessary to study the early revelations. We must keep in mind that we will not be able to understand the Qur’an correctly without first studying these early revelations.

4. Our aim is to compose this dictionary of the Qur’an in accordance with the rules and principles we determined and to present it to the people of the world. That is why we want to compose this dictionary in Turkish and in English at same time. Success will come only from Allah.”

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Video Lecture: “Islamic Origins: Messenger and Message”

A video of the full lecture, “Islamic Origins: Messenger and Message,” by Dr. Benjamin Geer is available through the Middle East Institute (MEI), here.*

Geer completed his PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and his research employs a combination of sociology and cognitive linguistics. For more on Geer’s work, including a download of his PhD thesis, visit his online academic profile here.

MEI image

MEI is an autonomous research institute within the National University of Singapore (NUS). The Institute conducts research and organizes conferences and seminars in pursuit of promoting a deeper understanding in Singapore of the contemporary Middle East.

*When viewing the video lecture, one can skip to 2:30 for Geer’s introduction, or to 4:00 for the beginning of the lecture itself.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an

A recent doctoral dissertation in Qur’anic studies, titled “Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an: Gender Perspectives on the Creation Narrative, Qiwama and Polygamy in Modern Women’s Exegeses” is summarized in Arabic below. The author, Mohamed Saleck Mohamed Val, defended his dissertation in Fez, Morocco this past July. He is a Mauritanian scholar with an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdullah University, who was also a member of the Moroccan Studies Doctoral Centre.

The project begins with a survey of women’s exegetical contributions in Mauritania, Morocco and Egypt, and culminates in an investigation of the interpretive articulations of four modern Egyptian women on gender-related issues—particularly the creation story, Qiwama or male-guardianship and polygamy.

دكتوراه في علم الاجتماع الديني حول التفسير النسوي للقرآن الكريم

نوقشت برحاب كلية الآداب والعلوم الإنسانية بظهر المهراز, فاس, بالمغرب أطروحة دكتوراه باللغة الانجليزية تقدم بها الباحث الموريتاني: محمد السالك ولد محمد فال حول موضوع: “المرأة وتفسير القرآن الكريم: قراءة لقضايا النوع الاجتماعي في تفسيرات نسائية معاصرة: قصة الخلق, والقوامة وتعدد الزوجات نموذجا” “

“Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an: Gender Perspectives on the Creation Narrative, Qiwama and Polygamy in Modern Women’s Exegeses.”

وبعد المداولات قررت اللجنة المناقشة منح الباحث شهادة الدكتوراه بميزة مشرف جدا مع توصية بالطبع.

ويعد هذا العمل هو الأول من نوعه في إبراز دور المرأة المسلمة في إثراء حقل تفسير القرآن الكريم, إذ قام فيه الباحث بدراسة استطلاعية شملت كلا من موريتانيا والمغرب ومصر بحثا عن تجار ب نسائية في تفسير النص القرآني.

وقد اشتملت الأطروحة على مقدمة و بابين من ثمانية فصول وخاتمة. جاء الباب الأول تحت عنوان “في استرجاع الدين الحق” وتشكل من أربعة فصول حاول الباحث من خلالها تسليط الضوء على الجانب التاريخي للمعرفة الإسلامية بشكل عام والتفسير بشكل خاص ومدى مشاركة المرأة في صياغة هذا الإرث الحضاري الهام. فعرض في الفصل الأول لدور المرأة في علوم الحديث والفقه والتفسير وغيرها. بينما تناول في الفصل الثاني الظروف والملابسات الثقافية والاجتماعية التي اكتنفت هذا المجهود النسوي وأدت إلى وأده ,خصوصا في حقل تفسير القرآن الكريم. و أما الفصلين الثالث والرابع فقد خصصهما للجدل الراهن القائم حول مفهوم النسائية الإسلامية ومحاولة “تبيئته” ضمن سياقات المجتمعات المسلمة المعاصرة. فيما انصب جهده في الفصل الرابع  على إيضاح بعض المناهج النقدية المتبناة من طرف التيار النسائي الإسلامي كالهرمنيوطيقا الحداثية”, و التاريخانية, وغيرها.

أما الباب الثاني من الأطروحة والموسوم ب: “النسائية الإسلامية المقننة أو الشرعية” فقد تناول فيه الباحث أربعة تفسيرات لكل من بنت الشاطئ وزينب الغزالي وفوقية الشربيني وكريمان حمزة, عارضا لحياة هولاء المفسرات والسياقات المعرفية والسياسية التي أنتجت آرائهن و اجتهاداتهن في الساحة الإسلامية التقليدية. كما ركز في هذا الباب على تقديم آراء المفسرات الأربع حول قصة الخلق ومفهومي القوامة وتعدد الزوجات و مقارنتها بآراء بعض المفسرين التقليديين بالإضافة إلى ما طرحته نساء معاصرات من أمثال الأمريكية آمنة ودود, والباكستانية أسماء بارلاس حول هذه المفاهيم.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.