New Publication: A Prophet Has Appeared (UC Press, 2021)

University of California Press recently published a new sourcebook edited by Dr. Stephen Shoemaker: A Prophet Has Appeared: The Rise of Islam Through Jewish and Christian Eyes.

prophetPublisher’s Description: Early Islam has emerged as a lively site of historical investigation, and scholars have challenged the traditional accounts of Islamic origins by drawing attention to the wealth of non-Islamic sources that describe the rise of Islam. A Prophet Has Appeared brings this approach to the classroom. This collection provides students and scholars with carefully selected, introduced, and annotated materials from non-Islamic sources dating to the early years of Islam. These can be read alone or alongside the Qur’an and later Islamic materials. Applying historical-critical analysis, the volume moves these invaluable sources to more equal footing with later Islamic narratives about Muhammad and the formation of his new religious movement.

Included are new English translations of sources by twenty authors, originally written in not only Greek and Latin but also Syriac, Georgian, Armenian, Hebrew, and Arabic and spanning a geographic range from England to Egypt and Iran. Ideal for the classroom and personal library, this sourcebook provides readers with the tools to meaningfully approach a new, burgeoning area of Islamic studies.

About the Editor: Stephen J. Shoemaker is Professor of Religious Studies and Ira E. Gaston Fellow in Christian Studies at the University of Oregon. He is a specialist on early Christian apocrypha, devotion to the Virgin Mary, and the rise of Islam. He is the author of The Death of a Prophet, The Apocalypse of Empire, and Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion, among many other publications.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2021. All rights reserved.

Psychological Readings of the Qurʾan

By Gabriel Said Reynolds (University of Notre Dame) 

 

In his 1996 work Dieu et l’homme dans le Coran the French Dominican scholar Jacques Jomier devotes a chapter to ”The Psychological Certainty of Muslims” (“La certitude psychologique du musulman”).  The premise of this chapter is that Muslims are especially confident of the truth of their faith.  Jomier explains:

In many circumstances Muslims appear sure of their faith, persuaded that it is self-evident, even suspecting (in certain extreme cases) that those who do not share their faith are insincere.[1]

dieu

From Jomier’s perspective some Muslims are so certain of their religion that they imagine even non-Muslims secretly recognize the truth of Islam (he finds this idea implicit in a verse of the Qurʾan– Q 2:42 – which tells the Jews not to conceal the truth that they know).  Jomier presumably developed his notion regarding “the psychological certainty” of Muslims from his many years living in Egypt (1945-1981).  He does not, however, seek to prove this notion in any systematic way.

Are Muslims in fact especially “certain” of their religion?  Pew has found (in a 2011 survey) that only 35% of American Muslims answered yes to the proposition “Your religion is the one true faith” (compared to 30% of American Christians).[2]  It may be that a higher percentage of Muslims from Islamic countries such as Egypt would answer yes to this question.  Pew did not ask the same question when it surveyed Egyptian Muslims in 2012.  In that survey, however, Pew did find that 78% of Egyptian Muslims report that “there is only one true way” to interpret the teachings of Islam, a result which may correspond, indirectly, with Jomier’s notion of certainty.[3]

In any case, my point here is not to prove or disprove Jomier’s notion of the “psychological certainty of Muslims.”  Instead I’d like to draw attention to his explanation for this supposed phenomenon.  According to Jomier there is something in the nature of the Qurʾan itself which engenders certainty.  Jomier points to the simplicity and binarity of the Qurʾanic style.  The Qurʾan, he argues, leaves the audience with only two stark choices: submission to God or rebellion against Him.  Commenting on Qurʾan 6:50 (where the Prophet is commanded to say, “Can the blind and the seeing be deemed equal? Will you not, then, take thought?”), Jomier observes, “All of one’s attention is drawn to the question regarding which no doubt is possible.”[4]  Elsewhere he describes the “binary” style of the Qurʾan in more general terms: “There is God or there is not God, there is the blind and the seeing, truth and falsehood, the believer and the unbeliever, the good to do and the evil to avoid, paradise and hell.”[5]

Jomier’s efforts to describe how the rhetorical turns of the Qurʾan engender psychological certainty are taken up in a second French language work: L’action psychologique dans le Coran, “Psychological Action [or Operation] in the Qurʾan” by Dominique and Marie-Therèse Urvoy.[6]  The Urvoys develop the ideas of Jomier still further, attempting to identify certain “strategies” of the Qurʾan’s rhetoric, strategies intentionally deployed to win the unyielding allegiance of its audience.  Under the rubric of “Subliminal Processes” in the Qurʾan the Urvoys include something they name the “subtle insertion” (literally, “sliding in,” Fr. “glissement”) of secondary messages.  They argue that the Qurʾan has a way of adding in “almost insidiously” a secondary message, parallel to the development of a principal theme, in a manner which is “practically subliminal.”[7]  The ideas of the Urvoys far exceed a simply analysis of the Qurʾan’s logical strategies of argumentation, such as that found in Rosalind Ward Gwynne’s Logic, Rhetoric, and Legal Reasoning in the Qurʾan.[8]  Indeed the Urvoys seem to go further still than Jomier in insisting that the Qurʾan’s author intentionally (“almost insidiously”) imbedded certain patterns in the text in order to win total devotion from his audience.

The studies of Jomier and the Urvoys on these matters are fundamentally problematic.  They assign a contrived motive to the Qurʾanic author which exceeds simple argumentation.  In addition they underestimate the intellectual independence of the Qurʾan’s audience.

Still it is worth noting that their arguments – strangely enough – have certain connections to Islamic apologetical works which are meant to underline the supposed brilliance of Qurʾanic rhetoric.  Notably Jomier was particularly interested in the arguments of Muhammad Ahmad Khalafallah (d. 1991), the author of the well-known 1951 work al-Fann al-qasasi fi al-Qurʾan al-karim, “Narrative Art in the Noble Qurʾan.”  Jomier was one of the first scholars to draw attention to this work – and to the controversy which it engendered — in a long 1954 article entitled “Quelques positions actuelles de l’exégèse coranique en Egypte révélées par une polémique récente.”[9]  As Jomier notes, the original form of Khalafallah’s work – that is, his dissertation at King Fuʾad University (now the University of Cairo) – was entitled Min asrar al-iʿjaz, “On the Secrets of [the Qurʾan’s] Inimitability.”  Khalafallah originally wrote this study of Qurʾanic “inimitability” to combat the views of “atheists, Orientalists, and missionaries.”[10]

In order to wage this combat Khalafallah sought to show that the Qurʾan need not be judged by the historical accuracy of the stories which it tells, since those stories were written not with the goal of relating “historical truth” but rather “literary truth” (al-aqīqa al-adabiyya).[11]  In other words, from his perspective the Qurʾan relates stories in a way meant to convince its audience of its message, and in a special way to inspire fear and piety among them.  At one point Khalafallah comments that the Qurʾan’s stories appeal to the “emotional logic” (manṭiq al-ʿaṭifa) of its audience, and not to the “logic of intellectual reflection” (manṭiq al-naẓar al-ʿaqli).[12]  This does not take us very far from the Urvoys’ notion of the Qurʾan’s psychological “action.”

A more recent pious exploration of the Qurʾan’s supposed ability to convince or enrapture its audience is found in Navid Kermani’s God is Beautiful.[13]  Kermani, who focuses on the reception history of the Qurʾān, describes in vivid detail Islamic stories meant to redound to the doctrine of Qurʾanic inimitability.  He is particularly interested in those traditions which speak of pious believers who were so affected by hearing the Qurʾan that they were struck down and died.[14]  Now Kermani does not imagine that his readers will all accept the idea of Qurʾanic inimitability.  As he puts it, Kermani does not expect every reader to “sway to the rhythm of the Qurʾān recitations.”[15]  He does, however, seem convinced that there is something remarkable in Qurʾanic rhetoric, and in its sound, which leads its audience to be swept away.  At the same time Kermani does recognize that there are certain historical and sectarian factors which led to the development of the Islamic doctrine of the Qurʾan’s inimitability.[16]

Still it seems to me that the critical works of Jomier and the Urvoys, and the more apologetical works of Khalafallah and Kermani are two sides of the same coin.  The notion that there is something contrived, magical, or miraculous in Qurʾanic rhetoric that overwhelms its audience is simplistic.  Of course there are many pious Muslims (and non-Muslims) who are enthralled with the rhetoric of the Qurʾan.  Some converts attribute their conversions to the qualities of the Qurʾan (ʿUmar, the second caliph, is said to have accepted Islam after hearing a recitation of the Qurʾan).  But others are not.  One of the Prophet’s own scribes, Ibn Abi Sarh, is said to have left the Prophet’s service, and Islam, when he came to believe that his messages did not come from God.  Christians and other non-Muslims are compelled in the Islamic world to hear the Qurʾan time and again over loudspeakers and yet still do not convert to Islam.

In other words, religious convictions cannot be attributed simply to the logic, rhetoric, or aesthetics of a scripture.  Instead such convictions are connected to a social context.  Religious “certainty” is necessarily linked to the experience of belonging which believers find in a community of faith.  “Certainty” is accordingly found not only with Muslims but presumably found also with others – such as evangelical Christians or Latter Day Saints – from groups in which esprit de corps (or ʿasabiyya) is strong.  It is also connected to the efforts of missionaries (or “daʿwa practitioners”) whose vocation is to increase devotion among believers while bringing unbelievers into the fold.  In other words, the Qurʾan, like other scriptures, does not find its meaning in a vacuum.  The Qurʾan has meaning in context.


[1] J. Jomier, Dieu et l’homme dans le Coran (Paris : Cerf, 1996), 161.

[2] http://www.people-press.org/2011/08/30/muslim-americans-no-signs-of-growth-in-alienation-or-support-for-extremism/

[3] http://www.pewforum.org/2012/08/09/the-worlds-muslims-unity-and-diversity-executive-summary/

[4] Jomier, 170.

[5] Jomier, 168.

[6] Paris : Cerf, 2007.

[7] Urvoy and Urvoy, 71.

[8] London: Routledge, 2004.

[9] MIDEO 1 (1954), (39-72), 66.

[10] J. Jomier, “Quelques positions actuelles de l’exégèse coranique en Egypte révélées par une polémique récente (1947-51),” MIDEO 1 (1954), (39-72), 66 .  See M.A. Khalafallah, Al-Fann al-qasasi fi al-Qurʾan al-karim, 4th edition (First edition 1951) (London: Al-Intishar al-ʿArabi, 1999),  10.

[11] The term “literary truth,” however, would disappear from the printed version of Khalafallah’s work.  See Jomier, 63.

[12] Al-Fann, 155.

[13] N. Kermani, God is Beautiful, trans. T. Crawford (Maldin, MA: Polity, 2015).  Original German: Gott ist schön (Munich: Beck, 1999).

[14] In particular he focuses on the work of al-Thaʿlabi (d. 427/1035): Qatlā al-qurʾān, ed. Nāṣir b. Muḥammad al-Manīʿ (Riyadh : Maktabat al-ʿUbaykān, 2008).

[15] Kermani, 251.

[16] See Kermani, 196.

 

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© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

RIP Andrew Rippin (1950-2016)

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, Andrew Rippin passed away at his home in Victoria, British Columbia. Professor Emeritus at the University of Victoria since 2013—where he was formerly Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Andrew (or Andy as he was known to some)—was an esteemed colleague, revered mentor, and scholarly inspiration to many members of the IQSA community.

Since entering the fields of Qur’anic and Islamic Studies in the 1980s, Andrew’s scholarly output was immense, helping to shape these fields for almost four decades: he was author or editor of two dozen well-known textbooks, anthologies, and thematic volumes; around eighty journal articles and book chapters; and literally hundreds of encyclopedia entries and reviews. For scholars of the Qurʾān, Andrew was perhaps best known for his profound impact on the study of tafsīr in particular. Viewed collectively, his numerous surveys of the field and introductory works allow the student of the Qur’an and its interpretation to grasp both the immensity of the field and appreciate its transformation over the decades since he published his earliest attempt to take stock of the state of the field, “The Present Status of Tafsīr Studies” (Muslim Studies 72 [1982]: 224-238) some thirty-five years ago.

rippin

Andrew Rippin (1950-2016)

Seeking to apprehend the full range of subjects covered in Andrew’s publications, one is struck by the sheer breadth of his interests and expertise. Already in the articles published during his first decade or so of activity in the field of Qurʾānic Studies, Andrew touched on a number of subjects that would be of interest to him throughout his career: the complex relationship between doctrine, grammar, and lexicography in the formation of the tafsīr tradition; the intertwining of Qurʾān and tafsīr with Jewish and Christian scriptural, parascriptural, and exegetical cultures; the benefits that bringing epigraphic and archaeological data to bear in the interpretation of the Qurʾān might potentially yield; the origins of Muslim attempts to impose hermeneutic frameworks linked to the biography of Muḥammad and accounts of the process of revelation such as naskh and asbāb al-nuzūl upon the Qurʾān; and the construction of authority figures in the received tradition—most notably ʿAbd Allāh Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 68/687)—to demarcate certain strands of exegesis as ancient in pedigree and thus of greater legitimacy.

Today, Tafsīr Studies has clearly emerged as a vibrant field of inquiry. That it should be so is in no small part due to Andrew’s tireless efforts to establish it as such. Andrew long advocated for scholars to take seriously the worlds of meanings and symbols which were produced by classical commentaries on the Qurʾān so that tafsīr and other branches of ʿulūm al-Qurʾān could be seen as significant in their own right, and not simply as records of transmitted traditions. That is, he emphasized the necessity of striking a balance between reading the Qurʾān on its own terms and appreciating the importance of how Muslims have made sense of the Qurʾān as scripture over the last 1,400 years of Islamic history. It is no exaggeration to say that both the revival of interest in the study of the Qurʾān over the last decade and the flourishing of the study of tafsīr in the same period were greatly encouraged by Andrew’s contributions in publishing, teaching, and mentorship.

It is supremely fitting that Andrew has been honored with a Festschrift edited by Majid Daneshgar and Walid Saleh that has just been published by Brill: Islamic Studies Today: Essays in Honor of Andrew Rippin, featuring chapters by some twenty prominent contemporary scholars of Islam as well as two vivid personal tributes by Jane McAuliffe and Claude Gilliot.

sp-2014-mtg

The spring 2014 board meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (from left to right: Hamza Zafer, Fred Donner, Andrew Rippin, Emran El-Badawi, Gabriel Reynolds, Jane McAuliffe, with John Kutsko)

We remember in particular with gratitude that Andrew Rippin served as the inaugural president of IQSA in 2014.  An address which he gave on that occasion can be downloaded here. On November 18 and during his final days the IQSA board of directors announced the Andrew Rippin Best Paper Prize, awarded to an outstanding paper delivered at the annual meeting. Since the announcement of this prize a number of contributions have been received in Andrew’s name.

The richness and sophistication of the contributions to Andrew’s Festschrift is testimony to the massive impact Andrew has had, though the short biographical notes and comprehensive bibliography one may find there only capture his contribution to the field in largely quantitative terms. The depth of his true impact is almost unfathomable, judging from the hundreds of students, colleagues, and friends he influenced over the decades, and who will remember Andrew as the very model of thorough, exacting, yet humane and engaged scholarship.

Board of Directors, International Qur’an Studies Association

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2016. All rights reserved.

Journal of the International Qur’anic Studies Association مجلة الجمعية الدولية للدراسات القرآنية (Vol 1–2016)

COMING SOON…the Journal of the International Qur’anic Studies Association, Volume 1 (2016). See pricing and details below. Members will receive FREE online access to JIQSA.

JOIN TODAY!

JIQSAFlyer_Vol1.jpg

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2016. All rights reserved.

Jesus and Islam (Jésus et l’islam) – NEW Documentary

By Emran El-Badawi

Jésus et l'islam (arte.tv)

Jésus et l’islam (arte.tv)

Six hours and thirty minutes is the duration of the new seven part documentary series on Jesus and Islam. The film Jésus et l’islam / Jesus und der Islam is presented in three versions (French, German and English) and features twenty six academic specialists from around the world–including several current and former IQSA members. The specialists include historians, philologists, theologians, archeologists, experts on manuscripts and other subjects. The film was directed by Jérôme Prieur and Gérard Mordillat and is a production of Archipel 33, ARTE and in collaboration with the Centre National du Cinema and the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The documentary film was aired the week of December 8 and has been widely acclaimed in the French and German media. The film itself was in production for years, where directors Prieur and Mordillat methodically crafted a documentary exploring the role of Jesus in shaping Islam. The most important text for consideration, therefore, was the Qur’an–Islam’s holiest scripture and oldest historical document. In doing so the directors have asked the experts questions about the distinctly Islamic theological perspective on Christ and how and why it differs from Christianity. As the film demonstrates answering such questions can be complex and even controversial. Therefore, it also introduces viewers to the different academic schools (traditionalist, revisionist or otherwise) and their perspectives on the Qur’an, Jesus and Muhammad.

Jérôme Prieur and Gérard Mordillat (arte.tv)

Jérôme Prieur and Gérard Mordillat (arte.tv)

Each part of Jesus and Islam explores a major theme. The seven themes are:

  1. The crucifixion according to the Qur’an
  2. The origins of the text
  3. The son of Mary
  4. The prophet’s emigration
  5. The religion of Abraham
  6. The book of Islam
  7. Jesus according to Muhammad
Jésus selon Mahomet (seiul.com)

Jésus selon Mahomet (seiul.com)

The seventh part of the series also inspired a book, Jésus selon Mahomet,in which the directors discuss their own views and perspectives. Prieur and Mordillat are seasoned writers and film directors who, among other things, specialize in documentary films on the history and formation of the Abrahamic religions. Their earlier works include Corpus Christi, L’Origine du Christianisme and L’apocalypse.

There will be an exclusive, members only screening of Jesus and Islam at the next IQSA annual meeting on November 18-21, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas, USA. CLICK HERE  to renew your IQSA membership for 2016 NOW!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2015.

A Literary Portrait of Qur’anic Origins

by Aaron W. Hughes*

I would like to consider Reza Aslan’s recent IQSA blog post in light of his best-selling book Zealot, because his blog post appears like his book to be essentially a creative literary piece. In a recent review of Zealot published in Critical Research in Religion (2.2 [2014]: 195-221), Richard Horsely, a leading scholar of Christian origins, argues that

the lack of critical analysis of sources and the periodic historical confusions in his narrative, however, suggest that Zealot is not a historical investigation. The biography at the end of the book explains that his formative training was in fiction and that his academic position is in the teaching of creative writing. His presentation of Jesus’ ‘life and times’ (a modern genre) appears to flow out of just this literary experience. (195)

This was by no means a singular charge. Many scholars, not to mention reviewers such as those in the New York Times, were very critical of his book. ArtAslan leaves the intellectual heavy lifting to others and instead reproduces a host of assumptions that are reminiscent of a previous generation of New Testament scholars. He conflates gospel accounts, takes poetic license to embellish stories, and devotes most of his focus on Jesus the individual as opposed to the various social actors that made the many Jesus movements possible. He also assumes that the texts of the New Testament explain how “Christianity’’ broke away from “Judaism,” when many scholars of this period (from Neusner to Boyarin to Horsely himself) have shown, with evidence, that such a separation is much more complicated and much later than this.

Aslan imports this basic methodology into his blog post with the aim of offering us insights into the “Qur’anic Clues to the Identity of Muhammad’s Community in Mecca.” In it he makes the rather unremarkable point that “there is no reason to believe that this term was used to designate a distinct religious movement until many years into the Medinan period or perhaps after Muhammad’s death.” Indeed, why stop there? Why not go further and say that the term may not designate a “distinct religious movement” until the eighth, ninth, or even tenth century? Instead of Muslims, Aslan encourages us to consider using the term that the Qur’an uses, ummah. The Constitution of Medina, not to mention the Qur’an, is simply and unproblematically assumed to date to the time of Muhammad.

Aslan then projects our modern understandings of such terms as “ethnicity,” “religion,” “experience,” and “ethics” onto the seventh century. He never entertains, for example, what the term “Jew” might have signified in the seventh century, especially in Arabia following the codification of the Babylonian Talmud roughly a century earlier. Instead, he assumes that what is meant by “Jew” then is the same as now. He brings in Newby’s irenic reading of the situation—that the Jews would have nothing to object to Muhammad’s prophecy. It could be argued, if we assume as Aslan does, that Jews then were like Jews now, that they would have objected to everything from Muhammad’s still inchoate message to the charge that their scripture had been tampered with. Why not assume, for example, that Muhammad, at least initially, thought he was a “Jew”?

Aslan then speaks of “Arabian Jewish mysticism,” as if that term actually denotes something real in the world. What sources does he have for this pre-kabbalistic mysticism? What were its contours? He then speaks of “theological differences between Islam and the other People of the Book” at the time of Muhammad as if Islam had somehow fallen to the earth theologically complete, as opposed to examining the historical controversies that made theology possible only much later. If “Muslim” only took on its religio-semantic valences much later, then surely the same could be said for “Islam.”

As with Zealot, Aslan concludes his blog post on a very modern note: “The point is that although Muhammad recognized the irreconcilable differences that existed among the People of the Book, he never called for a partitioning of the faiths.” Instead, this partitioning was the product of later jurists. If we want to get to the authentic message, Aslan concludes, then we need to “understand Muhammad’s actual beliefs regarding the Jews and Christians of his time.”

This confusion of myth and history, the conflation of fact and fiction, is dangerous for the historical study of Qur’anic origins. Aslan’s goal is not historical scholarship, but to produce a literary portrait designed to make us feel good about ourselves—and about Islam in the league of religions. But what happens when a modern virtue gets in the way of history? Unfortunately, as irenic terms like “convivencia,” “multicultural,” “symbiosis,” “Abrahamic,” and “tolerant” increasingly litter our intellectual landscape, it is history that ultimately gives way. As the late Chief Rabbi of Israel once said about The Bible Code (1997), “If you have to lie to people to get them to believe, what’s the point?”

* Aaron W. Hughes is Philip S. Bernstein Chair of Jewish Studies in the Department of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2015. All rights reserved.

IQSA, SBL and AAR in the News

The success of IQSA’s annual meetings in San Diego, CA (2014) and Baltimore, MD (2013) have contributed positively to the tremendous work done every year by both the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) as well as the American Academy of Religion (AAR). For more information, please see the excerpts below from two articles in Publishers Weekly.

Topics being buzzed about by the religion academy included Islam, once again at the top of the list. The International Qur’anic Studies Association, which meets in conjunction with AAR/SBL and was established in 2012 as a group related to SBL, earlier this year became an independent learned society and has grown to 450 members. (2014)  

 

SEE FULL STORY HERE

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One of the most significant developments at this year’s AAR/SBL conference was the debut of the International Quranic Studies Association, which had its inaugural gathering as an affiliate scholars group and is co-directed by Emran El-Badawi, director of Arab studies at the University of Houston, and Gabriel Said Reynolds, professor of Islamic studies and theology at the University of Notre Dame. It’s an idea whose time clearly has come, and publishing about Islam LINK in general continues to flourish. (2013)

SEE FULL STORY HERE

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

NOW ONLINE – Program Book for San Diego, Nov 21-24

Dear Friends,

We are now days away from the second Annual Meeting of the International Qur’anic Studies Association taking place in San Diego, November 21-24. We are looking forward to another exciting meeting of scholars an friends. For a complete showcase of our events, participants and sponsors we are proud to present the official AM 2014 PROGRAM BOOK (PDF). Viewers are encouraged to further circulate the program book. (Viewers may alternately access the program book by visiting IQSAWEB.ORG >> Meetings >> Program Book AM 2014)

Please do not forget our first Panel, Keynote Lecture and Reception all taking place on Friday, Nov 21 (one day before the official start of AAR or SBL). Our Keynote Lecture is on “Qur’anic Studies and Historical-Critical Philology. The Qur’an’s Staging, Penetrating, and Eclipsing Biblical tradition,” and will be delivered by prof. Angelika Neuwirth, with a Response by IQSA president, prof. Andrew Rippin  at 4:00-5:15 pm in San Diego Convention Center (CC), Room 23 C (Upper level). All Friday events are FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Furthermore, I invite all IQSA members to fulfill their duty as members by attending our first ever Business Meeting, Sunday, Nov 23 at noon in the San Diego Convention Center (CC),  Room 24 C (Upper Level). Finally, if you have not already please visit IQSAWEB.ORG in order to become a Member for 2014, subscribe to our Blog and join the private IQSA Discussion Group.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, Standing Committees and our partners we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all friends of IQSA, and we look forward to seeing you this Friday.

Sincerely,

Emran El-Badawi, Executive Director

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

Understanding dīn and islām in Q 5:3

by Rachid Benzine*

It seems that the section of Q 5:3 that reads “al-yawm akmaltu la-kum dīnakum…al-islām dīnan” is an interpolation inserted between two parts of the verse that should be read continuously, as they pertain to dietary restrictions and to exemptions in life-threatening situations or in case of force majeure (cf. Q 2:175 and 16:115). The key words in the interpolated section are dīn and islām, with islām possibly meaning “being in the act of islām,” referring to various modalities of joining a protection contract with God.

Arabic text of Qur'an 5:3; image from quran.com.

Arabic text of Qur’an 5:3; image from quran.com.

In order to better understand this section of Q 5:3, it is helpful to compare various translations:

Yusuf Ali: “This day have those who reject faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” 

Pickthal: “This day are those who disbelieve in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so fear them not, fear Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam.”

Jacques Berque: “Aujourd’hui les dénégateurs désespèrent (de venir à bout) de votre religion. Ne les craignez pas; craignez-moi. Aujourd’hui j’ai parachevé pour vous votre religion, parfait pour vous mon bienfait en agréant pour vous l’islam comme religion.”

Hamza Boubakeur: “Aujourd’hui les mécréants désespèrent (de vous détourner) de votre religion. Ne les redoutez pas; redoutez moi. Aujourd’hui j’ai parachevé pour vous votre religion, vous ai comblé de mon bienfait et ai agréé l’islam comme doctrine religieuse pour vous.”

It is also instructive to compare the use of islām and dīn in other Qur’anic verses. The word islām appears in Q 61:7: “Who does greater wrong than the one who forges a lie against Allah, even if he is being invited to islām? And Allah does not guide those who do wrong” (trans. Yusuf Ali). The meaning of the verbal noun islām is complicated, and best understood in light of its foundational meaning as a verb (aslama), as in Q 2:112: “man aslama wajhahu lillāh.” This phrase should not be translated as “whosoever surrendereth his purpose to Allah” (Pickthall) or “whoever submits his whole self to Allah” (Yusuf Ali), but more accurately as “he who turns his face towards God” in an act of salām. This would mean that the person approaches God peaceably, without any hostility, which enables him to receive God’s protection and guidance (as Q 61:7 indicates with the word hudā). Thus islām is actually a contractual relationship between man and God.

As for the word dīn, it cannot be adequately translated as “religion.” It rather expresses the idea of a way or path, as in Q 109:6: “lakum dīnukum wa-lī dīn (to you your way [conduite] and to me mine),” and in Q 30:43: “aqim wajhaka lil-dīn al-qayyim min qabl an ya’tiya yawm lā maradd lahu min Allāh (follow [turn your face towards] the right path before there comes the day when there is no chance to escape from God).” The phrase aqim wajhaka can be considered similar to “making an act of islām,” by turning one’s face to God as a gesture of commitment to Him in request of His approval and protection. The phrase “al-dīn al-qayyim” refers to the content of the contract into which man enters, namely the behavior adopted on the right path.

Returning to the interpolated section of Q 5:3, it announces God’s will to take care of those who seek His protection. Concerning the interpretation of the two factitive verbs, akmala and atmama, they designate effects not of time but of quality. The verb akmala, which signals the signing of the contract between man and God and accepting of all its terms, should be understood not as “to complete” but “to make kāmil (perfect).” Likewise, the verb atmama should be understood not as “to finish” but “to make tamām (entire).” Thus I propose the following translations, in French and English:

“Aujourd’hui ceux qui récusent désespèrent [de vous détourner] de la conduite que vous avez adoptée, dīn: ne les craignez pas; c’est moi que vous devez craindre [en raison du Jugement eschatologique annoncé et de ses conséquences]. Aujourd’hui j’ai validé entièrement la conduite que vous devez tenir [eu égard au contrat qui a été conclu]; [en vertu de ce contrat] je vous ai fait bénéficier de ma totale bienfaisance; [et en retour] j’ai agréé le fait que vous vous soyez engagés à vous mettre sous ma protection en adoptant la conduite convenue.”

“Today those who disbelieve are desperate of [leading you away from] the conduct you have adopted (dīnikum). Do not fear them, but fear Me [because of the eschatological Judgment that has been announced and its consequences]. Today I have perfected the behavior by which you are to live [in fulfillment of the contract]. [Following the content of this contract] I made you benefit from My entire good will; [in return] I have agreed to the fact that you have committed yourself to My protection in adopting the right conduct.”

Alternatively, “akmaltu lakum dīnakum wa-atmamtu ʿalaykum niʿmatī” may be rendered: “Today I gave you the best rule of conduct and I fully dispense to you My good will, and I accept the fact that you are committed to adopt this way.”

* Rachid Benzine is a lecturer at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Aix en Provence and the Institut Protestant de Theology in Paris, and a research associate at the Observatoire du religieux (Aix en Provence). He is the author of Les nouveaux penseurs de l’islam (Albin Michel, 2008) and Le Coran expliqué aux jeunes (Le Seuil, 2013).

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

Rethinking Late Antiquity—A Review of Garth Fowden, Before and After Muḥammad: The First Millennium Refocused

By Michael Pregill

Beginning in the 1970s, the work of Peter Brown revolutionized the way scholars approach the “fall of Rome,” the decline of Roman and Sasanian power in the Middle East, and the rise of Islam in Late Antiquity. In his classic The World of Late Antiquity, AD 150-750 and other works, Brown argued that the emergence of Islam and the establishment of the caliphal empire was not a radical disruption of the course of history, but rather represented the continuity of older cultural, political, social, and religious patterns. Despite the wide influence of Brown’s work and the general recognition of Islam’s importance in the overall trajectory of Mediterranean and even European history, substantial obstacles to a full integration of ancient, early Christian, Jewish, and Islamic phenomena into a general history of the civilization of Western Asia remain.

Although an outdated, isolationist approach to Late Antiquity primarily focusing on late Roman culture and society still dominates some quarters of the academy, many scholars have worked towards a more integrated and comparative approach to the period. The shifts have been gradual and partial. Today there are numerous scholars of rabbinics who explore the wider context of the Babylonian Talmud in Sasanian society; there has lately been a resurgence of interest in the history of the Red Sea region, including Ethiopia and the Yemen, in the centuries leading up to the rise of Islam; and over the last ten years or so, we have seen significant interest in the literary and religious parallels to the Qur’an found in Syriac Christian literature in particular. (Many of the scholars who have been responsible for the last development have generously assisted in the foundation and growth of IQSA, so this is really nothing new to readers of this blog, though developments in late ancient or Jewish historiography may be less familiar.)

Before and After Muhammad: The First Millennium Refocused

Before and After Muhammad: The First Millennium Refocused

All of these developments point to a recognition that the various cultures and literatures of Late Antiquity cannot be viewed in isolation, but rather must be approached in the wider context of the dynamic exchanges between various communities in the period, the imperial competition between the Romans and the Sasanians, and the spread and consolidation of the monotheistic or “Abrahamic” traditions.

Among the scholars who sought to adopt, refine, and develop Brown’s approach to the period, it was Garth Fowden—currently Sultan Qaboos Professor of Abrahamic Faiths at Cambridge—who produced what was perhaps the most important work in this area in the 1990s: From Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity. When I was a graduate student, Fowden’s work impacted me profoundly. The book is ambitious in scope, wildly imaginative, willing to explore the period in terrifyingly broad terms, but in pursuit of a single cogent thesis: that the entire history of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean from the second through the ninth century CE can be understood in terms of a sequence of imperial projects aiming to establish God’s rule on earth. That is, the unifying theme of the era, one that distinguishes it from the civilization of the ancient world and sets the stage for the medieval cultures of Byzantium, Western Christendom, and the Dār al-Islām, is the use of monotheism as the primary justification for statebuilding, for literally global dominion (as far as that was possible in the pre-modern world). In Fowden’s work, the use of religion to justify imperial authority becomes the thread that links Christian Rome, Sasanian Iran, and the caliphates and that allows us to see the significant continuities between them with clarity.

(Perhaps not coincidentally, the only other books I read during my Ph.D. training that exerted a similarly enduring influence on my imagination were Wansbrough’s The Sectarian Milieu (1978)—no doubt familiar to every reader of this blog—and Bulliet’s The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization (2004), which, like Fowden’s Empire to Commonwealth, is another eloquent call for historical thinking on the global scale, for transcending the narrow and artificial boundaries between the culture of “the West” and Islam.)

After a number of years dedicated to other projects, including a fascinating study on the iconography of the late Umayyad palace of Quṣayr ʿAmra, Fowden has now returned to history on the grand scale with Before and After Muḥammad: The First Millennium Refocused. Stunningly, this work is even more ambitious in scope than Empire to Commonwealth. Here Fowden once again seeks to explore the overarching continuities between Christian Rome, Sasanian Iran, and Islam but with even more attention paid to the intertwining discourses that link Greco-Roman, Syrian Christian, Jewish, Arab, Iranian, and European cultures over the course of a thousand years, centering on what he now calls the “Eurasian hinge” of southwest Asia linking the civilizations of the region. Fowden anchors his work in a rigorous interrogation of older conceptions of Late Antiquity, criticizing older scholars’ poor integration of Islam into the period, as well as the common approach of only including the Umayyad caliphate as a late antique empire. This serves to truncate the early medieval period from older trajectories of development that arguably only reached their full fruition around the year 1000. It also artificially severs the Abbasids and Iranian Islam from the prevailing cultural patterns of the Arab-Islamic world, though they are equally rooted in the legacies of biblical monotheism and Hellenism.

(teachmiddleeast.lib.uchicago.edu)

(teachmiddleeast.lib.uchicago.edu)

Fowden also locates his work in the context of contemporary debates over the relationship between Islam and the West, stating quite bluntly that “My purpose here is not to join this debate directly, but to overhaul its foundations” (2). His approach in Before and After Muḥammad builds on his earlier work, in that the cultures of the Islamic Middle East and Christian Europe are seen as halves of a larger whole. (Here I was a bit disappointed that Fowden does not engage with Bulliet’s aforementioned work The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, which eloquently argues for an approach to Islam and the West as two halves or wings of a unified civilizational complex that only decisively split in the later medieval period. This is a perspective that is obviously quite compatible with and complementary to Fowden’s.)

Periodization, methods, and labels occupy much of Fowden’s attention here, and he spends significant time critiquing other contemporary attempts to advance beyond traditional frameworks and paradigms (82-91), adopting the new periodization of a unified “First Millennium” as his preferred heuristic lens on the period. This approach has the distinct benefit of locating Augustus at one end of the period and the emergence of the mature scriptural communities of Europe and Western Asia at the other, without privileging Europe over the Islamic world as the “true” heir to Greco-Roman antiquity or reifying anachronistic communalist boundaries between “pagans,” Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Several aspects of Fowden’s approach here depart from that of From Empire to Commonwealth. There is a particular emphasis here on various textual lineages as the foundation of cross-cultural continuity. Thus, he sees the transmission of specific canons of material as one of the primary drivers of cultural development, each moving through an initial phase of revelation to subsequent phases marked by canonization and then interpretation, with the resultant exegetical cultures dominating the cultural landscape from western Europe to eastern Iran by the year 1000. As a student of comparative exegesis (in my case, midrash and tafsir) I found the emphasis on the exegetical here particularly fascinating, though notably, Fowden is not concerned solely with scriptural canons (Tanakh, Bible, and Qur’an) but also philosophical and legal canons, placing particular emphasis on Aristotelianism as a major current of cultural continuity in the First Millennium.

Fowden’s two chapters on “Exegetical Cultures” are thus exhilarating and dizzying—charting Aristotelianism’s movement from Greek to Syriac to Arabic educational institutions, the evolution of law from the Justinianic Code to the Babylonian Talmud to the emergence of Islamic fiqh, and touching on patristic, Karaite, and Muʿtazilite scriptural exegesis for good measure. The final chapter is likewise a tour de force, surveying the culmination of the First Millennium by showing us “Viewpoints Around 1000: Ṭūs, Baṣra, Baghdād, Pisa.” The cities visited in this grand perspective symbolize, respectively, the resurgence of Iranian national consciousness with the Shāh-Nāmeh of Firdowsī; the maturation of gnostic-philosophical-spiritual currents in early medieval Islam with the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ; the emergence not just of the mature Sunni and Shii traditions but of sophisticated and distinctively Islamic modes of apprehending and engaging different faiths; and the reemergence of Europe as a meaningful center of cultural production.

Astonishingly, this work is not the culmination of Fowden’s work in rethinking Late Antiquity. Rather, he advertises this book as a prolegomenon to a new, more comprehensive project on the First Millennium. It is also the companion piece to a forthcoming work charting the evolution of philosophy from Aristotle to Avicenna. Specialists will inevitably find much to quibble with here, especially given Fowden’s propensity to working in broad swathes rather than drilling down to wrestle with thorny details. Moreover, one can imagine assigning this only to the most intrepid undergraduates, despite the major pedagogical implications of Fowden’s reflections on periodization in particular. But overall, this is synthetic historiographic work of great sophistication and lasting value, and Before and After Muḥammad deserves to provoke discussion throughout many scholarly quarters.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved