Workshop report: “New Research on Muhammad and the Qur’an” in Rome

By Giuliano Lancioni

The workshop “New Research on Muhammad and the Qur’an: Exegetical, historical and linguistic approaches,” (September 20-21, 2013), which was jointly organized by Sapienza University of Rome and Roma Tre University, aimed to address a number of issues in recent research on the Qur’anic text in its relation to the figure of the Prophet Muhammad. The full program can be viewed here.

Discussion on the first day of the workshop revolved around Tommaso Tesei’s PhD thesis, Two Legends on Alexander the Great in the Koran: A Study on the Origins of the Arabic Sacred Text and its Links to Late Antique Christian and Jewish Literatures (Sapienza University of Rome/INALCO), directed by Angelo Arioli and Abu Aboubakr Chraïbi.* Friday’s session concluded with the presentation of projects by PhD students at Sapienza University of Rome (Ilaria Cicola, Layla Mustapha, Leila Benassi, Marta Campanelli, and Simona Olivieri).

September 21st was the main day of the conference, held at Roma Tre University. Giuliano Lancioni (Roma Tre University) began the day’s program with a presentation of the Thesaurus Linguae Arabicae project, an ongoing international research project on Arabic corpus linguistics.

Pierre Lory (EPHE-Paris) gave a talk on animals in the Qur’an and in Tradition, in the framework of monotheistic interpretations of animistic visions.

Guillaume Dye (Université Libre de Bruxelles) presented some reflections on Qur’anic Studies in light of Biblical and New Testament Studies, with a particular reference to the reinterpretation of some unclear Qur’anic passages.

In a talk titled From Medina to Baghdad, Emilio González Ferrín (University of Seville) stimulated the audience with a number of reflections on meta-historical issues about the clash between retrospective narrative and historical causality in Early Islam.

Roberto Tottoli (University of Naples “L’Orientale”) devoted his talk to a presentation of his work on Marracci’s translation of the Qur’an and the translator’s own manuscripts and notes, which Tottoli has been analyzing for some time.

Raoul Villano (Sapienza University of Rome) presented his research on the binary structure of the Qur’an in a synchronic, text-internal approach. Villano’s work includes a large body of literature, drawing significantly from the early commentaries through contemporary exegesis.

Tommaso Tesei (Sapienza University of Rome) presented two examples of a critical reading of the Qur’an drawn from his own PhD thesis.

Marco Boella (Sapienza University of Rome) spoke on various concepts and strategies employed in text mining of the Qur’an.

Presentations were followed by lively dialogue, showing the great interest aroused by recent research on the Qur’an and Muhammad and the importance of discussion forums where diverging hypotheses and theories can encounter one another.

*The PhD committee also included Guillaume Dye, Elisabetta Benigni and Roberto Tottoli. Gabriel Said Reynolds, who was scheduled to be member of the committee, could not attend due to administrative issues and thus was replaced by Pierre Lory, who was already in Rome to attend the workshop.

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

Our International Meeting in St. Andrews, Scotland

By Emran El-Badawi and Gabriel Reynolds

The International Qur’anic Studies Association is happy to announce its first international meeting, taking place in St. Andrews, Scotland, from July 8-10, 2013. IQSA will be co-sponsoring a number of panels on the Qur’an with the Society of Biblical Literature, as well as a public lecture by Dr. Alain George. Please consult the schedule below for panel details. All meeting room assignments are currently TBD. Further details will be forthcoming here.

You are also strongly encouraged to subscribe to our blog in order to receive weekly news updates or informed posts on various dimensions of Qur’anic Studies today. On behalf of the co-directors, steering committee and partners we thank you for your enthusiasm and support for IQSA. We look forward to seeing you in St. Andrews!

St. Andrews (

St. Andrews (

Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective

July 8, 2013
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Theme: Islam and Interfaith Studies in Scottish Universities

Zohar Hadromi-Allouche, University of Aberdeen, Presiding

Hugh Goddard, University of Edinburgh
Islam and Interfaith Relations in Scotland (20 min)

Fiona McCallum, University of St. Andrews
‘Same Old’? Muslim-Christian Relations and the Arab Uprisings (20 min)

Discussion (35 min)

Break (30 min)

Johan Rasanayagam, University of Aberdeen
From an Anthropology of Islam to an Anthropology through Islam (20 min)

Saeko Yazaki, University of Glasgow
Dialogues between Islam and Judaism in Ethics and Spirituality: The Andalusi landscape and Zionism (20 min)

Discussion (35 min)

Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective
Joint Session With: Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective, International Qur’anic Studies Association
July 8, 2013
3:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Theme: Prophets and Prophethood between Bible and Qur’an

Zohar Hadromi-Allouche, University of Aberdeen, Presiding

Emran El-Badawi, University of Houston, Introduction (7 min)

Gabriel Said Reynolds, University of Notre Dame, Introduction (7 min)

Anne-Laure Zwilling, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Moses and the Burning Bush: A Two-Voice Analysis (20 min)

David Kiltz, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
“Ebionism” and the Qur’an Revisited (20 min)

Discussion (16 min)

Break (30 min)

Mehdi Azaiez, IREMAM / CNRS
Prophetical Polemics in the Bible and the Qur’an: The Case of Counter-Discourse (20 min)

Michael Pregill, Elon University
Intertextual Complications: The Qur’anic Cain and Abel Reconsidered (20 min)

Tommaso Tesei, University of Notre Dame
Apocalyptic Prophecies in the Qur’an and in Seventh Century Extrabiblical Literature (20 min)

Discussion (20 min)

Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective
Joint Session With: Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective, International Qur’anic Studies Association
July 9, 2013
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Theme: Rhetoric and the Qur’an: Structure, Composition, Argumentation

Orhan Elmaz, University of St. Andrews, Presiding

Michel Cuypers, IDEO
Semitic Rhetoric in Sura 81 (Al-Takwir) and Chapter 10 of the Testament of Moses (20 min)

Ulrika Mårtensson, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Al-Tabari’s Rhetorical Concept of the Qur’an: Implications for Historical and Contemporary Research (20 min)

Discussion (35 min)

Break (30 min)

Mustansir Mir, Youngstown State University
Hamid al-Din al-Farahi on Qur’anic balaghah (20 min)

Gabriel Said Reynolds, University of Notre Dame, Respondent (20 min)

Discussion (35 min)


Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective
Joint Session With: International Qur’anic Studies Association, Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective
July 9, 2013
3:00 PM to 4:15 PM

Gabriel Said Reynolds, University of Notre Dame, Presiding

Alain George, University of Edinburgh
On an early Qur’anic palimpsest and its stratigraphy: Cambridge Or. 1287 (45 min)

Break (5 min)

Discussion (25 min)

Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective
Joint Session With: Qur’an and Islamic Tradition in Comparative Perspective, International Qur’anic Studies Association
July 10, 2013
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Theme: Qur’anic and Biblical Discourses in Comparative Perspective

Andreas Görke, University of Edinburgh, Presiding

Keren Abbou Hershkovits, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Idris, Enoch, and Celestial Knowledge: Astronomical Knowledge Given (or Taken?) from Heaven (20 min)

Nadjet Zouggar, Louvain-la-Neuve University
The Biblical Prophets’ Place in the Elaboration of Sunni Prophetology (20 min)

Abdulla Galadari, University of Aberdeen
The Qiblah: A Qur’anic Allusion to the Shema (20 min)

Discussion (15 min)

Break (30 min)

Roy Michael McCoy III, University of Oxford
An Arabian Trudgman in Nazareth: The Gospel Narrative of al-Biqa’i’s Nazm al-durar fi tanasub al-ayat wa’l-suwar (20 min)

Orkhan Mir-Kasimov, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Messianism and the Idea of Universal Exegesis in Islam: The Parallel Interpretation of the Qur’an and the Bible in the Jawidan-nama of Fadlallah Astarabadi (d. 796/1394) (20 min)

Discussion (35 min)

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

PhD Students in Qur’anic Studies: Interview Series Part 1

A conversation between Mehdi Azaiez and Tommaso Tesei

Since its creation, IQSA has been defined as a network of a diverse range of scholars and educators, serving to advocate for the field of Qur’anic studies both in higher education and in the public square. Within this scope, IQSA will present three interviews over the following weeks with PhD students working in the field of Qur’anic studies. We begin with Tommaso Tesei, a PhD Student working mainly on the Qur’an’s cultural relationship with the Late Antique world.


Tommaso, what are your academic achievements in the field of Qur’anic studies ?

My interest in Qur’anic studies has matured over the last three years, from my doctoral studies at both La Sapienza University in Rome and the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales in Paris to my research for the European Research Council project, “The Here and the Hereafter in Islamic Traditions” (University of Utrecht, Sept.–Dec. 2012). Most recently I have undertaken work as a Mellon doctoral fellow with the “Qur’an Seminar” (University of Notre Dame, Dec. 2012–Sept. 2013).

What is the aim of your research?

My research emerges from current trends in Qur’anic Studies that seek to excavate and explore the religio-cultural ties between the Qur’anic text and its historical environment. The major aim is to inquire into the relationship between the Qur’an and the cultural and intellectual history of the Late Antique Near East. To this end, my study focuses on three main issues: [1] the study of two consecutive pericopes found in Surat al-Kahf (Q 18:60–82, 83–102); [2] Qur’anic cosmological imagery; and [3] the Qur’an’s teachings about death and the afterlife, that is, its eschatology. In the following lines I will provide some details about each issue.

Could you introduce these three topics and their importance for the field of Qur’anic studies?

1. The study of verses 60–82 and 83–102 of Surat al-Kahf represents the topic of my PhD thesis, scheduled to be defended in June of 2013. The narratives contained in these two pericopes are characterized by their strong analogies with several Late Antique legends concerning Alexander the Great, which occur in Greek, Hebrew and Syriac literature. The Syriac Christian versions of these legends are particularly interesting for my study, as they occur in two works composed in 629 CE and c. 635 CE, respectively, and are thus contemporary to the period in which the Qur’an’s prophet purportedly preached. Therefore, the comparative study of the two Qur’anic pericopes with these Syriac legends offers an exceptional opportunity to investigate the relationship between the Qur’an and its cultural environment. A major aim of my thesis is to highlight, through this specific case study, the Qurʾan’s engagement with previous and contemporary Judeo-Christian literature.

Beyond focusing on the literary, thematic and cultural connections between the Qur’anic pericopes and the Alexander legends, my research also sets out to explore: the purposes behind the Qur’an’s introduction of these narratives into its theological discourse, its method of adapting them to its theological agenda, and its interest in omitting or adding elements that either are or are not found in the Christian and Jewish versions of the accounts concerning Alexander.

2. My research in Qur’anic cosmology principally seeks to investigate the extent to which the Arabic scripture shares the beliefs about the shape of the universe that were widespread within its historical environment.. Through this analysis I also intend to improve our understanding of the Qur’an’s text itself. Indeed, several Qur’anic verses and passages can be better explained if read in light of Late Antique cosmological imagery.

The situation is comparable to that of a passage in a contemporary book mentioning the existence of a black hole. This passage, of course, would appear cryptic or nonsensical without any knowledge of the astronomy of our historical period. An illustrative example is the formula ǧannātun taǧrī min taḥtihā l-ˈanhāru (lit. “gardens from beneath which the rivers flow”), which frequently marks the Qur’anic descriptions of Paradise. Indeed, this sentence seems to refer to a cosmological concept fairly prevalent during Late Antiquity, according to which the rivers of Paradise (or Eden) reach the inhabited part of the world by flowing under the sea. In this case, the expression min taḥtihā, “from beneath which,” would represent an allusion to both the place of origin and the subterranean course of the paradisiacal rivers. Moreover, the presence of the determinative article before the word ˈanhār suggests that the Qur’an is speaking of (all) the rivers. This would reflect the ancient Near Eastern (and Biblical) idea that the rivers of the Earth have a divine origin and a source located in a paradisiacal land.

3. My third and final research interest is mostly concerned with the relation between the Qur’an’s eschatology and the eschatological systems of various other religious communities of the Late Antique Near East—principally Jewish and Christian but also Mandaean and Manichaean. This comparative approach offers an entry-point for scholars to investigate the doctrines—eschatological or other—professed by the Qur’anic text.

Being primarily an exhortative text, the Arabic scripture generally seeks neither to establish a systematic theology nor to provide its audience with elucidations on its theological statements. For instance, the Qur’an does not explain in detail whether the resurrection will be physical or what fate the dead will undergo while they wait for resurrection and judgment. At the same time, the Arabic scripture repeatedly makes allusions to doctrines dealing with these and other questions—doctrines that were widespread in the Late Antique Near East. The early Muslim community was therefore ostensibly familiar with these doctrines.

Thus, a thorough comparative analysis of the eschatological creeds professed by contemporaries of the early Muslim community is crucial to a correct understanding of the Qur’an’s theological presentation of death and the afterlife. My major aim is to reestablish—starting from the clues and allusions found in the Qur’anic text—the system of ideas underlying the eschatological doctrines professed in the Qur’an.

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