Review of Khaleel Mohammed, David in the Muslim Tradition

Review of Khaleel Mohammed, David in the Muslim Tradition

The biblical story of the Israelite king David son of Jesse contains multi-dimensional elements regarding his achievements as a leader, a military strategist, a conqueror, a pious man of considerable intensity, a lover, and a monarchist. Coming from a modest background at a time when King Saul of Israel was in decline, David earned admiration and fame in the biblical narrative hardly known among other biblical heroes (1 Samuel 18:6–7). Consequently, David secured for himself a place in the pious imagination of the Abrahamic religions, and in their rich literature, which portrays him as a complex personality with unique leadership potential that sets him apart from other biblical leaders in the drama of the covenantal struggle between God and His people. Occurring at the apex of David’s religio-political leadership, the Bathsheba storyline is perhaps the most controversial narrative element in David’s story. It stands out as an oddity in the overall narrative of David’s excellence, of his otherwise outstanding achievements in securing his people among other, rather hostile, neighbouring tribes or nations. The Qurʾān (Ṣād 38:20–26) makes strong reference to the biblical account of the episode with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12. More so, the qurʾānic commentaries through the centuries that followed the advent of Islam enriched the Islamic tradition with a variety of interpretations of David’s story. The mention of David in the Qurʾān and in the Islamic tradition had the prophetic purpose of setting the Muslim prophet Muḥammad in the same line as the biblical prophets. It is within the genre of tafsīr (qurʾānic commentary) that Khaleel Mohammed’s David in the Muslim Tradition: The Bathsheba Affair makes its mark in the important study of the Bathsheba narrative detail of David’s story. With the introduction and the conclusion chapters, the monograph is segmented into a total of seven chapters.

Review of Daniel Beck, Evolution of the Early Qur’an

Recent scholarship, especially following the contributions of Angelica Neuwirth and Nicolai Sinai, has increasingly stressed that the Qurʾān is better understood through an examination of the Late Antique period and the multiple religious traditions that were active in the Hijaz and the shām region, which included Christian, Jewish, and Manichean traditions. In Evolution of the Early Qurʾān, Daniel Beck offers a new contextualization of several early Meccan sūrahs in the Qurʾān against this Late Antique background, and situates his contribution in correcting tendencies among scholars to see these early sūrahs either as obscure, or as secondary to the later corpus, or as representing fossilized relics of earlier traditions.

Review of Greg Fisher (ed.), Arabs and Empires before Islam

Arabs and Empires before Islam is a formidable achievement in the field of pre-Islamic Arabian studies. It presents the history of Arabia from antiquity to the 630s CE, taking into account the subject’s diversity and presenting a variety of source materials. The volume will supplement or supplant the earlier go-to works by Robert Hoyland[1] and Jan Retsö.[2] It can also be (favorably) compared to the recent book of Aziz al-Azmeh,[3] which has received mixed reviews.[4] The volume contains contributions from over 20 leading experts[5] of pre-Islamic Arabia, which in itself is remarkable. It is a book that one will read with great excitement from cover to cover, but it is also serves as an excellent reference volume should one need to check, say, when a certain king of Ḥimyar ruled or the like. The text is accompanied by fifteen maps pinpointing the localities mentioned in the sources and scores of other figures. There are also sixteen color plates that present, for example, important inscriptions – such as the Old Arabic Jabal Usays graffito and Ḥarrān building inscription – that have so far been widely available only as low definition black and white photographs.

Review of Andrew Bannister, An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an

The relationship between “the oral” and “the written” is one of the most fertile and unresolved questions in the study of early Islam, and one that often remains latent even in different sets of research questions and debates—from the reliability of early historical accounts to the development of Islamic legal practices, to the study of “semi-literary” papyri, and others. Andrew Bannister’s An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an has the merit of bringing that complex relationship into the focus of Qur’anic studies by searching the Qur’anic text itself for signs of oral diction. This fascinating book has the potential of reviving the debate regarding orality and literacy in the late antique Near East. This seems an important achievement in itself: While scholars have often mentioned the importance of orality in the “Qur’anic milieu,” the concrete practices of orally composing and transmitting texts and information in late antiquity remain elusive, nor do we know the precise extent and impact of oral materials travelling between different regions. One of the central questions of Bannister’s book is: Does the Qur’an bear any traces of the technique by which shared narratives—for example, stories about the creation of mankind—were reused by different religious groups?

Review of Youssouf Sangaré, Le scellement de la prophétie en Islam

Le scellement de la prophétie en Islam is a learned and well-argued study of the qurʾānic hapax legomenon khātam al-nabiyyīn (seal of the prophets; Q Aḥzāb 33:40) and more generally of the notion of the cessation of prophecy in Islam. An introductory section is dedicated to key vocabulary (nabaʾ, nabī, rasūl, risālah, and the root kh-t-m) and to a study of Sūrat al-Aḥzāb where the expression khātam al-nabiyyīn appears. Chapter 1 addresses the question of whether this expression is rightly understood in light of reports in Islamic literature that Mani (d. 277) named himself “seal of the prophets.” The following chapters offer a chronological study of how Muslim scholars understood the notion of the sealing of prophecy (khatm al-nubuwwah) in the classical period (seventh to fourteenth centuries; chapter 2), in the writings of al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111), Ibn ʿArabī (d. 628/1240), and Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328; chapter 3), and in the modern period (chapter 4). Along the way Youssouf Sangaré illustrates the complications surrounding the notion of the sealing of prophecy and amplifies those voices in Islamic tradition which resist the idea that God went silent with the death of Muḥammad.

Review of M. Brett Wilson, Translating the Qur’an in an Age of Nationalism

For a long time, Qurʾan translations have attracted little scholarly attention. There were a few bibliographical overviews, a small number of studies dealing with premodern manuscript translations, several papers discussing ways to produce a philologically sound and/or dogmatically acceptable translation; but there was hardly any effort to treat Qurʾan translations as an exegetical genre that is situated in a specific historical, social, and scholarly context and can be fruitfully examined in order to elucidate this context. Or, as Wilson puts it, “the interesting choices made by translators are often lost amid compulsive evaluations of accuracy, which is an elusive concept” (p. 5). Moreover, qurʾanic studies had a tendency to neglect regional and linguistic diversity; the focus was on Arabic and, at most, English. Fortunately, this is starting to change. With Travis Zadeh’s The Vernacular Qurʾan (Oxford: Oxford University Pres, 2012), the first extensive study of early Persian exegesis has been published, and now Brett Wilson has presented us with a highly readable and compelling account of the place of the printed Qurʾan and Qurʾan translations in late-Ottoman and early-republican Turkey, as well as in the wider context of Muslim intellectual debates. His book is based upon his view of the translation of the Qurʾan as “a dynamic and crucial chapter in the history of the Qurʾan and Muslim intellectual life.” The central question, to him, is not whether the Turkish translations produced in the time span under consideration were “good” or not, but “how and why Muslims viewed translations as vital for coping with the circumstances in which they lived” (p. 5). As such, this book is an indispensable contribution to the ongoing attempt to situate the Qurʾan and its interpretation within the social and intellectual history of the Islamicate world.