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

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 Jacqueline Chabbi, Les trois piliers de l’Islam

In Les trois piliers de l’Islam Jacqueline Chabbi makes the case that Islam as we know it from medieval sources is not the same as Islam as it was in its original Arabian context. According to Chabbi, academic scholars and pious Muslims alike too often fail to recognize elements of Islam which were introduced in later centuries, and too often assume that medieval ideas about the Qurʾan reflect what the Qurʾan meant to its original, Arabian audience. As she puts it, “Le Coran comme corpus textuel doit donc impérativement être séparé de son après” (p. 24) or, elsewhere, “Il ne faut pas se tromper de lieu et d’époque” (p. 349). Les trois piliers de l’Islam is her effort to set things straight, to recover Islam’s original message.

Review of François Deroche et. al, Les origines du Coran

The present volume, Les origines du Coran, le Coran des origins,is an important publication in the field of Qurʾanic Studies and a worthy purchase for any university library. Not only does Les origines testify to the robust tradition of European qurʾanic scholarship, it also provides the reader with focused contributions touching on several primary subfields in qurʾanic philology, i.e. history of religion, paleography, epigraphy, and codicology. The emphasis falls on European academic partnership and how these manifold philological specializations mutually inform one another, and the project is successful thanks to the editors’ choice of a relevant, unifying, and inspiring theme. Comprised of fourteen articles – nine French, one German, three English –Les origines is the result of a conference held in 2011 in France that honored the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Theodor Nöldeke’s groundbreaking work Die Geschichte des Qorâns (1860). Contributors were, hence, encouraged to draw inspiration from Nöldeke’s career and provide, “un panorama de la recherche sur la genèse du texte du Coran au cours d’une période qui s’étend des deux siècles qui précèdent l’apostolat de Muhammad à ceux au cours desquels la transmission manuscrite” (p. ii). The following review provides a précis of each chapter in order to demonstrate how well the volume honors Nöldeke, fulfills the goals of the avant-propos, and reflects the vivacity of dialogue among European scholars of Qurʾanic Studies.

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.

Review of Keith Small, Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter

Following in the wake of volumes such as François Déroche’s The Abbasid Tradition: Qurʾans of the 8th to 10th Centuries (2006) about the Khalili collection in London, and Colin Baker’s Qurʾan Manuscripts: Calligraphy, Illumination, Design (2007) about the British Library’s collection of Qurʾan manuscripts, this little volume neatly encapsulates the breadth of the Bodleian Library’s collection of the same in Oxford. Arranged more or less chronologically, the reader is taken on a tour of the Bodleian’s Qurʾan collection—although with one or two detours to the Ashmolean Museum’s collection (also in Oxford), and one detour to the David Collection in Copenhagen.

Review of Navid Kermani, God is Beautiful

Navid Kermani’s God Is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of the Quran is a unique and fascinating contribution to Qurʾanic Studies. The volume is an English translation of Gott ist schön: Das ästhetische Erleben des Koran (2007) by Munich publishing house C.H. Beck, which is in turn a revision of Kermani’s 1997 dissertation conducted at the University of Bonn. In this book, Kermani argues that aesthetic experience of the Qurʾan has, since the time of early reports about its initial reception, been inextricable from the text as a whole. In focusing on aesthetic reception, Kermani studies the relations between the Qurʾan and its listeners, “[seeing the Qurʾan] as a structure—not as a concrete object but as a system of relations. The relations discussed in this book are those between the text and its recipients. No text exists … except in such relations” (ix). In doing so, Kermani brings an innovative hermeneutic strategy to the field of Qurʾanic Studies, recentering the understanding of the text, in addition to providing a new method for reading reports of qurʾanic reception in the early tradition.

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.”

Review of Angelika Neuwirth, Scripture, Poetry, and the Making of a Community

The volume under review is the first thorough collection of Angelika Neuwirth’s scholarship in English, and, as such, its publication is nothing short of a momentous event in the field of Qurʾanic Studies. The fact that the book is not a monograph with an integral frame but a collection of fourteen articles that were published in varying contexts over twenty years hardly diminishes its strength—not least because Neuwirth has prefaced it with a skillful introduction that knits the chapters into one seamless whole. The book closes with a comprehensive bibliography, which should be celebrated as an invaluable source for the student of the Qurʾan, and with a detailed index that facilitates the navigation of the text. The eye that sets out to search for typographical errors in the book returns “languid and weary (khāsiʾan wa-huwa ḥasīr)” (Q Mulk 67:4) probably thanks to a superior editing effort. All I was able to catch are the following: p. 267, “Decologue” instead of “Decalogue”; p. 371, “Hebrew nabhī” instead of “Hebrew nabī” unless Neuwirth preferred an archaic Hebrew transliteration that became obsolete after the beginning of the twentieth century.

القرآن: ما بعد أبي زيد وما قبل المصحف

هذا البحث القصير يستكمل عمل نصر حامد أبو زيد ويناقش موضوع التطابق بين قرآن”المصحف“ وقرآن ”اللوح المحفوظ.“ ويجد الدكتور علي مبروك في التراث ً السلمي نفسه ما ينفي ذلك التطابق المفترض، بل وأن ”الشرط النساني“ لعب دورا ً في إعطاء قرآن .ً
ً مفتوحا
يترك القرآن خطاباالمصحف ّ الشكل الذي استقر ّ عليه بعد وفاة النبي ّ محمد. ويستشهد ّ هاما تحليله بأقوال الصحابة في أمر الختلف بين مصاحفهم على مستوى السور واليات ً ّ النبي أراد أن والكلمات. ّ ويشير البحث أن عدم وجود ّ التطابق الراهن قد يعني أن ّ محمدا .

Editors’ Introduction: The Qurʾān Between Bible and Tafsīr

JIQSA is being launched at a crucial time for the growth and development of Qurʾānic Studies as a scholarly field. While there has been a surge of advances in just the last fifteen years, the field at times appears incoherent, seeming to lack a clear disciplinary identity. As greater numbers of scholars devote their efforts to the study of the Qurʾān, there is a natural diversification of research aims and methods, stimulating attempts to define Qurʾānic Studies “proper”—to distinguish those aims and methods that are central to the field from those that are peripheral, and determine how (and whether) the center and peripheries are meaningfully related. At the forefront of this drive currently are two major questions aimed at situating Qurʾānic Studies as an emergent field in its own right vis-à-vis those disciplines with which it has been linked historically:

Afterward: The Academic Study of the Qur’an—Achievements, Challenges, and Prospects

Qurʾānic Studies is a broad feld that includes many categories and subtopics, including grammar, lexicon, rhetoric, theology, law, textual history, textual variants, the history of interpretation, and many others, any one of which is, or has the potential to be, large and complex. The investigation of these felds is not new but goes back to the early Islamic centuries. As the Islamic societies matured and spread, so did the scholarly genres that grew up around the Qurʾān, including tafsīr, qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ, grammatical treatises, rhetorical manuals, and so on. Such works were penned in all corners of the Islamic world, primarily in Arabic, but also in other Islamic languages. Translations and primers were written in Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, and other languages in order to facilitate comprehension of the Qurʾān on the part of Muslims who were not native speakers of Arabic. Study of the Qurʾān was also taken up by non-Muslims, including Jews and Christians in the Islamic world, and Jews and Christians in Western Europe. If the immediate motive for this interest was often polemical—the urge to counter Muslim claims to exclusive or superior access to the will of God—the result was an increase in general knowledge of Islamic doctrine and of Islam’s sacred text. The Qurʾān was translated into Latin in the twelfth century, retranslated in the seventeenth century, and subsequently translated into many of the modern European languages. In a sense, then, Qurʾānic Studies has been a large, international project for centuries. It has involved Muslims, Christians, Jews, adherents of other religions, and adherents of no religion. And it will continue to do so.

Bukhārī’s Kitāb Tafsīr al-Qurʾān

The celebrated Ṣaḥīḥ of al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870) includes a long book of qurʾānic commentary. It is unusual in the Ṣaḥīḥ as a whole in relying heavily on reports from Companions: 72 percent of all the unique reports given full isnāds in the book, as opposed to only about 9 percent of all reports in the whole Ṣaḥīḥ. It is also unusual in the density of comment from later authorities (without isnāds) and in the number of comments from Bukhārī himself. Bukhārī accepts without demur that the Qurʾān includes loan words. In comparison with other commentaries on the Qurʾān such as those of ʿAbd al-Razzāq before him and al-Ṭabarī and Ibn Abī Ḥātim after, Bukhārī’s evidently plays down disagreement over the interpretation of words, legal applications, and textual variants. In comparison with the commentaries of al-Tirmidhī and al-Nasāʾī, Bukhārī’s includes very many comments from philologists. Bukhārī’s commentary is valuable for making out the larger history of Qurʾān commentary inasmuch as it testifes to the development of genre expectations in the mid-ninth century CE. It shows that the synthesis of ḥadīth and adab approaches was already under way, as well as other developments previously remarked in commentaries of the tenth and eleventh centuries.