Review of Zishan Ghaffar, Der Koran in seinem religions

Review of Zishan Ghaffar, Der Koran in seinem religions

The Arab Muslim conquest of Palestine and Jerusalem from 636 to 640 CE marked the rise of the Islamic empires at the expense of Byzantium. Yet Byzantine Palestine was captured once before. As part of the war between the Byzantine and the Sasanian Empires, the troops of Khosrow II conquered various Palestinian cities, allegedly with the help of local Jewish groups, and took Jerusalem in 614, leading to a brief period of Jewish rule in the city. These events sent shock waves throughout the Christian Roman Empire and, though more difficult to reconstruct, also through the Byzantine and Sasanian Jewish communities. While Christians responded to the events by increasing their hopes for a military victory and by ever more urgently preparing for Christ’s return, many Jews hoped for the imminent rebuilding of the Temple and the end of the exile.

Review of Michel Cuypers, A Qurʾānic Apocalypse

That the Qurʾān as a text has apocalyptic affinities has been the focus of scholarly research for the past century. Of late, due to the work of Fred Donner and others, defining the Qurʾānic apocalypse has come into vogue.[1] Michel Cuypers’ A Qurʾānic Apocalypse: A Reading of the Thirty-Three Last Sūrahs of the Qurʾān is a welcome addition to this genre. However, one should note that Cuypers’ work is quite different from other research and readings on the subject. While most scholars seek to place the Qurʾān within an apocalyptic framework, and then relate the text to outside events, or to extract history—such as it is—from the text, Cuypers seeks to read the entire text as if it were an apocalypse in terms of its rhetoric. This is a bold approach, and one that opens itself up to critique because of its totalizing reading of the text. In other words, while numerous scholars have identified apocalyptic (or apocalyptic-eschatological) themes within the Qurʾān, Cuypers seeks to read thirty-three sūrahs as if they were an apocalypse in sequential order.

Review of El-Badawi and Paula Sanders (eds.), Communities of the Qur’an

When I first saw the title of the book under review here, Communities of the Qur’an, I was excited. In the field of qurʾānic studies, there has been a decades-long (if not longer) focus on the qurʾānic text itself, on its origins and history, its linguistic and literary qualities, but rather much silence about the people who engage with it. This volume, edited by Emran El-Badawi and Paula Sanders, aims to change that by bringing together scholars who, in complex ways, write about and often also represent communities of the Qurʾān that the editors selected based on a thoughtful process. The result is a collection of essays, ten plus the introduction by the editors, rounded out with a foreword by Reza Aslan, and an afterword by Reuven Firestone.

Review of Andreas Görke and Johanna Pink, Tafsīr and Islamic Intellectual History

What do we study when we study tafsīr? Addressing this question promises not only a clearer understanding of what tafsīr is, but also a stronger sense of the shared venture in the scholarship that surrounds it. As in many emerging fields, scholars in Tafsīr Studies are concerned to define the boundaries of their object of study; paradoxically, as the boundaries of tafsīr become more defined they also become more provisional and permeable. It is with this paradox that Tafsīr and Islamic Intellectual History (hereafter TIIH), a collection of studies edited by Andreas Görke and Johanna Pink, is concerned. Görke and Pink pose the volume’s main question about tafsīr: “What kind of disciplinary, dogmatic, sectarian, chronological or regional boundaries are there, how are they affirmed and how are they permeated, transgressed, or shifted?” (11). The overall claim of TIIH is that a variety of criteria may be useful to make sense of the external (definitional) and internal (taxonomical) boundaries of tafsīr, depending on what aspects of qurʾānic interpretation researchers may be concerned with—and researchers of diverse perspectives are concerned with a variety of aspects. The editors of this volume wisely resist an absolute definition of tafsīr and instead issue “a plea for analytical clarity” (21), that is, for scholars to explicate their criteria for defining tafsīr relative to their research objectives. All the contributors to this volume have done admirably well in taking up this plea and in engaging directly with the volume’s question of boundaries.

Review of Shahab Ahmed, Before Orthodoxy

This volume originally aimed at being the first of three volumes concerning the history of Islamic approaches towards the story of the satanic verses (qiṣṣat al-gharānīq); unfortunately, volumes 2 and 3 of this project could not be completed, due to the passing away of the author. According to the satanic verses story, while the prophet Muḥammad recited Q al-Najm 53 in Mecca, Satan interpolated his own words into the divine revelation, making the prophet pronounce words in favor of Allāt, Manāt and al-‘Uzzā, the three female deities that were worshipped by the non-believers (mushrikūn) of Quraysh. This compromise over monotheism made the mushrikūn of Mecca accept Islam. However, later this interpolation was corrected, which led the mushrikūn to again reject Islam. The book is comprised of four sections: an introduction and three chapters. The first chapter discusses methodology. The second chapter, which makes up roughly two-thirds of the book, presents fifty early narrative versions of the story and analyzes the chains of transmissions (isnāds) and content (matn) of each. The third chapter considers why the early Muslim community regarded the satanic verses incident to be true.

Review of Holger Zellentin, The Qur’an’s Legal Culture

In The Qurʾān’s Legal Culture, Holger Michael Zellentin takes up an old but live question in qurʾanic studies: what role did the religious traditions of late antiquity play in shaping the qurʾanic text and dispensation? While the question is familiar, Zellentin’s approach and answers are new. Many scholars will be acquainted with analyses that consider the Qurʾan in light of rabbinic law or Christian theology. Zellentin’s innovative, well-argued, and very readable work, however, suggests that these established scholarly foci overlook one of the principal traditions to which the Qurʾan responds and against which it shapes itself: a specific strand of Christian law current in the late antique Syriac churches. In Zellentin’s view, this is not the high ecclesiastical law of bishops’ synods and canonical legislation. Rather, the Qurʾan is conversant with a tradition of ritual and purity observances that were based on the prescriptions of the Torah, modified for Gentile Christians, and practiced by believers within the Christian communities of the late antique Near East. This “Judaeo-Christian lawcode” is best exemplified in the discourses on pious practice found in the Syriac version of the Didascalia Apostolorum, a church order attributed to the apostles that took shape between the third and seventh centuries CE. Through a comparative analysis of the Didascalia and the Qurʾan, Zellentin concludes that the legal tradition evident in the former was a key element of the “legal culture” of the Qurʾan’s seventh-century milieu. Most significantly, the Qurʾan’s own conception of a prophetically delivered, divine law for Gentiles emerged both in conversation with and against that precedent.

Review of Angelika Neuwirth, Koranforschung – eine politische Philologie?

In this concise book, Angelika Neuwirth suggests that the study of reception of biblical materials in the Qurʾan must be analyzed by considering the multifaceted cultural and religious context in which the Qurʾan emerged over the course of the 22 years of Muḥammad’s prophetic career. She positions that the evolving text heavily interacted with its audiences and is, therefore, a result of a process of cultural re-negotiation that included elements from the syncretistic environment in Mecca, the living heirs of the biblical traditions who resided Medina as, and, of course, Muḥammad and his community. As such, Koranforschung – eine politische Philologie? Is a re-synthesis of the theories Neuwirth has laid out in her 850-page monograph Der Koran als Text der Spätantike (2010).[1] In this longer work, she contextualizes the qurʾanic text within the intellectual framework of Late Antiquity as an intellectual sphere in which various “antique” traditions underwent new readings—an approach reprised in this shorter work. Based on intertextual readings of written and oral traditions present in 7th-century Arabia, her previous work married a literary approach to the study of the Qurʾan’s rhetoric and structure with a historical approach, which simultaneously aims to reconstruct the emerging qurʾanic text and Muslim community. Her 2010 monograph covered topics as diverse as the evolving relation of the qurʾanic text to phenomena from the cult of liturgical practice, scriptural canon, and sacred history to structural and content-based comparisons between the Qurʾan and the Bible, on the one hand, and pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, on the other. All of which relied heavily on a revised outline of the historical stages of the emerging Muslim community based on Theodor Nöldeke’s qurʾanic chronology. This more recent monograph mostly constitutes a selection of themes explored in a lengthier form in her earlier book with a special emphasis on two specific aspects: The first is, as already indicated in the book’s title, her overview of various political elements impacting the methodologies used to study the Qurʾan through which she considers why the multifaceted approaches she exemplifies in her own research had not emerged earlier. The second, and more extensively elaborated, aspect is an analysis which aims at identifying the specific biblical traditions that influenced the qurʾanic corpus.