Review of Carlos Segovia, The Quranic Jesus

Review of Carlos Segovia, The Quranic Jesus

The Quranic Noah (2015), this book is Carlos A. Segovia’s most recent contribution to the literature on the Qurʾān and its relationship to late antique Judaism and Christianity. The book also belongs to the same series, which aims to bring Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into interdisciplinary conversations about the reception and mediation of ideas within these religions. Segovia’s main purpose in this book is to “reread the Jesus passages in light of the Christological developments contemporary with the composition of the quranic corpus” (23). The author’s main concern is that in the modern study of the qurʾānic Jesus, scholars have basically moved in a single direction which is thematic and descriptive and focuses primarily on biographical episodes of Jesus and select verses which create a qurʾānic counter-Christology. This approach overlooks the multi-layered, polyvalent, and “highly complex Christology” (1) contained in the Qurʾān.

Review of Joachim Jakob, Syrisches Christentum und früher Islam

Joachim Jakob’s book Syrisches Christentum und früher Islam: Theologische Reaktionen in syrisch-sprachigen Texten vom 7. bis 9. Jahrhundert (in English: Syriac Christianity and Early Islam: Theological Reactions in Syriac Written Texts from the Seventh to the Ninth Century) analyzes a wide range of Syriac sources in exploring Christian theological responses to early Islam. Jakob focuses on the developments of the theological positions of East and West Syrian writers as well as on the connections of the relevant Syriac texts with contemporary Islamic theology. This comprehensive book is essential reading not only for scholars of Syriac Christianity, but also for those interested in interreligious encounters and Christian-Muslim relations more broadly.

Review of Juan Cole, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires

In recent years, the field of Islamic Studies has witnessed a growing trend centered on reinterpreting early Islam. The reinterpretation concerns historical episodes, events, or figures, and stands in a clear dissonance with traditional narratives depicted by classical Muslim historians. The method utilized relies primarily on attempts to reread the Qurʾān by disassociating it from later qurʾānic exegesis. More importantly, this rereading, though principally concerned with early Islamic history, distances itself from traditional Muslim historiographical accounts. This trend has flourished particularly in the years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, perhaps as a response to increased public hostility, in the Western World, towards Islam and its prophet.

Review of Holger Zellentin, The Qur’an’s Reformation of Judaism and Christianity

The title of this important collection of scholarly articles already gives away the hypothesis the editor intends the dozen, first rate studies of qurʾānic passages included in the volume to commend. Namely, the view that one might best understand the Arabic scripture’s relationship with contemporary Judaism and Christianity by recognizing, as he says, “the Qur’an’s attempt to reform rather than to replace the religion of the Jews and the Christians of its time.” (3). This characterization of the Qurʾān’s purpose is already debatable, albeit that one readily recognizes that the text does envision the continuing existence of the “Scripture People” within its purview, whose beliefs and practices are nevertheless criticized and whose social well-being is subjected to demeaning restrictions (Q al-Tawbah 9:29). The problem is that in several Medinan passages the Qurʾān explicitly distinguishes between “Those who believe, those who practice Judaism, and the Nazarenes (i.e., the Christians)” (Q al-Baqarah 2:62; Q al-Māʾidah 5:69; Q al-Ḥajj 22:17). It would seem that the Qurʾān really does commend replacement rather than just reformation on the basis of shared narratives. One suspects that in speaking of “reformation” in the present context, a term that readily suggests comparison with a major event in western Christianity of later times, the intention is to highlight the fact of the Qurʾān’s dialogue with Jews and Christians in the milieu of its origins, and to suggest familiarity with Jewish and Christian narratives of shared biblical and non-biblical figures, which the Qurʾān re-configures to fit its own, differing construction of revelatory meaning. More on this point later.

Review of Christian Peltz, Der Koran des Abū l-ʿAlāʾ

The present work is Christian Peltz’s lightly edited two-volume doctoral thesis, Muʿjiz Aḥmad, submitted to the University of Tübingen and published by Hartmut Bobzin and Tilman Seidensticker as volume 11 in their series, Arabische Studien. Peltz’s work is dedicated to a text unique in classical Arabic literature in many respects: Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī’s (d. 449/1057) Kitāb al-Fuṣūl wa’l-ghāyāt fī tamjīd allāh wa’l-mawāʿiẓ (henceforth Fuṣūl). Maʿarrī’s work has drawn scholarly interest because it has been believed to constitute an attempt at imitating or parodying (muʿāraḍah) the Qurʾān. Although Peltz mentions arguments for and against this hypothesis in one of his chapters, his study does not allow for a decision on this question. However, Peltz does present a wealth of material that will enable future research on the Fuṣūl as a literary work, with a focus mainly on its vocabulary.

Review Willi Steuhl, Koran erklӓrt

For those scholar-activists among us who are active on the major social media platforms, it seems as if everyone has a (strong) view on Islam/Muslims and/or lays claims of expertise of one kind or another on subjects pertaining to the Islamic tradition. In the age of increasing dominance of social media in “informing” public discourses on Islam and Muslims, the questions pertaining to the role of academic scholars of Islam (and the academic knowledge they possess) in this regard have gained increased saliency. Should scholars and academics specialising in the study of the Islamic tradition (especially those from non-Muslim backgrounds) voice their views outside of the walls of academia and add to these debates? As a scholar from a Muslim background and someone with an activist mindset, I, for better or worse, over the last decade or so, have actively contributed to the dissemination of academic knowledge in non-academic contexts. I am a firm believer that (Western) academics specialising in Islamic Studies, regardless of their backgrounds, are ethically obliged to contribute to the current debates on Islam and Muslims, especially but not only in their native socio-political contexts, so as to help increase the level of informed opinion among the lay audiences. As such, I particularly welcome the timely publication of Koran erklӓrt, edited by Willi Steuhl, which goes some way in achieving this objective, especially in the German speaking world.

Review of Michel Cuypers, La composition du Coran

Michel Cuypers is known to many students of the Qurʾan from his influential 2007 study of Sūrat al-Māʾidah: Le festin, later translated into English as The Banquet.[1] In Le festin Cuypers analyzes Sūrat al-Māʾidah using a method (which I will refer to as ‘Semitic rhetorical analysis’) meant to uncover the particular structure of qurʾanic passages. The Qurʾan, Cuypers holds, is written with rhetorical structures common in Semitic languages yet foreign to Greek rhetoric and, hence, to much of the western tradition. For this reason, Cuypers contends, western scholars (and for that matter traditional Muslim scholars, who were likewise influenced by the principles of Greek rhetoric) have often failed to recognize their presence in the Qurʾan. The present work, La composition du Coran, is meant to be a handbook for those who would like to understand (and perhaps apply) the method of Semitic rhetorical analysis. La composition du Coran is scheduled to appear in an English translation by J. Ryan,[2] but the present review is based only on the original French version.

Review of Haggai Mazuz, The Religious and Spiritual Lives of the Jews of Medina

Although many of the ideas of the so-called revisionist school still meet with resistance from some quarters, their most lasting impact upon the study of the Qurʾan and the career of Muhammad has been to cast doubt on the reliability of the traditional sources for reconstructing Islamic origins. Some of the most radical aspects of the revisionists’ arguments have been critiqued severely – sometimes fairly, sometimes not. But the enduring legacy of those scholars who first turned a skeptical eye towards the sīrah, ḥadīth, and other sources – Wansbrough, Crone, Cook, Hawting, Burton, Calder, Rippin – is the infusion of a pervasive sense of caution into historical research into the proto- and early Islamic periods. While revisionists have sometimes been tarred by allegations that they seek to discredit and disparage Muslims by questioning the integrity of the tradition, the real target of the revisionist critique was the established tradition of Western scholarship, which had failed to recognize that Muslim sources on the revelation of the Qurʾan and the life of the Prophet serve primarily as Heilsgeschichte and not as objective history. Thus, as Crone famously put it, much of the research done on Islamic origins in the decades preceding the advent of the revisionists’ critical reorientation of the field served simply to translate classical Islamic sources and repackage them for consumption by a Western audience – “Muslim chronicles in modern languages and graced with modern titles.”