Review of Pier Tommasino, The Venetian Qur’an

Review of Pier Tommasino, The Venetian Qur’an

One of the main problems in contemporary scholarship is the loss of multilingual expertise of the scholars. The centrality of English has simplified the picture, but at the same time has permitted the emergence of students who do not know any other language and of scholars and writers who can propose ideas in English with no awareness of what has been written elsewhere and in other languages. Given such a situation, the English translation of Pier Mattia Tommasino’s study of the Italian edition of the Qurʾān attributed to the publisher Andrea Arrivabene, is a much-welcome effort to give the wider public a chance to know one of the most significant essays in the field of the last years. The original Italian appeared in 2013 and is now offered to the reader in a version updated only in the bibliography, and translated by Sylvia Notini.

Review of Rawand Osman, Female Personalities in the Qur’an and Sunna

Rawand Osman’s Female Personalities in the Qur’an and Sunna is in four chapters, preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion. According to the author it is a comprehensive discussion of all the female personalities mentioned in the Qur’ān, as well as three role models from the women of ahl al-bayt (Muhammad’s family), focusing on the theme of jihād al-nafs (struggle of the soul), highlighting the specific features “spiritual motherhood” and earthly/political jihad. Because Osman will treat the texts from a feminist perspective, she first summarizes Islamic feminist approaches, defines and describes them, as well as some of the criticism levelled against them, concluding that the approach of equity feminism is the one most compatible with the Qur’ān. Osman further states in the introduction that her study is an ahistorical one: neither the women nor the primary texts that represent them will be analysed from a historical perspective. This is a problematic move, however, since as the historical context is needed to provide explanations and perspective, as well as account for intellectual shifts based on certain historical developments.

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 George Bristow, Sharing Abraham?

This book is the inaugural volume of the ISRME Studies in Religion and Theology series of the Institute for the Study of Religion in the Middle East. Its author, George Bristow, is a Protestant minister who has lived and worked in Turkey since 1987, and the book is based on his 2015 dissertation at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. A brief introduction is followed by eight chapters and six appendices. In this work Bristow aims to present an alternative model of how Christian-Muslim dialogue can be undertaken by replacing the common thematic approach with one that has what he describes as a “scriptural narrative focus” centered on the figure of Abraham (2). To that end, his method highlights the relationship between narrative and worldview by paying attention to the polarities or pairings that underscore the different attributes, principles, and tendencies in the ways the texts of the two religions present and interpret Abraham. Part of Bristow’s research entailed interviewing a group of Turkish imams in order “to consider more deeply the qur’ānic Abraham narrative and the Islamic worldview which these stories articulate, especially as they are retold in Turkey” (1). In this way, he situates his work at the intersection of two fields that have sometimes had a testy relationship: contextual missiology and comparative theology.

Review of Hina Azam, Sexual Violation in Islamic Law

Hina Azam’s study not only makes an incisive contribution to the literature on Islamic penal law, but engages with a much wider set of issues involving Muslim jurists’ conceptualization of marriage and of moral and legal personhood. While the body of the book meticulously examines fiqh texts dating from the formative period through approximately the twelfth century C.E., the project is framed in the introduction and conclusion as a constructive response to the introduction of formally “sharīʿah-based” penalties for illicit sex in a number of countries since the late twentieth century.

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 Seyyed Nasr et. al, The Study Qur’an

Following in the footsteps of the Harper Collins Study Bible and the Jewish Study Bible, The Study Quran is a welcome addition to the field of qurʾānic studies. In response to a proposal from the publisher, the distinguished Islamicist Seyyed Hossein Nasr agreed to serve as the Editor-in-Chief and general supervisor of the project on the condition that the team of scholars who carried out this monumental task would include only Muslim scholars who accept the Qurʾān “as the word of God and an authentic revelation” (xl). To this end, Nasr chose three talented young scholars to serve as General Editors: Caner Dagli, Maria Dakake, and Joseph Lumbard. Another scholar, Mohammed Rustom, served as Assistant Editor. The volume has three parts: the translation, a verse-by-verse commentary printed below the translation, followed by fifteen essays on topics relating to the Qurʾān. Special attention was paid to the dust jacket and page design: In the translation, verse numbers are marked in red, inserted within a red medallion, and placed at the beginning of the corresponding verse—a significant break from the Islamic tradition, which places verse numbers at the end of a verse. A substantial General Introduction to the volume was written by the Editor-in-Chief. The three General Editors were each responsible for a section of the translation, a section of the commentary (to which the Assistant Editor also contributed), and at least one of the essays in the third section (Joseph Lumbard wrote two). The other eleven essays in the third section were written by Ingrid Mattson, Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami, Muhammad Abdel Haleem, Walid Saleh, Toby Mayer, Muzaffar Iqbal, Aḥmad Muḥammad al-Ṭayyib, Muṣṭafā Muḥaqqiq Dāmād, William C. Chittick, Jean-Louis Michon, and Hamza Yusuf. The volume also has three appendices: Appendix A presents information (source references, variants) on ḥadīths cited, paraphrased, or referred to in the commentary, with a link, in red, to the sūrah number and verse number in which a particular ḥadīth is mentioned; and a bibliography of published ḥadīth sources. Appendix B is a timeline of major events relating to the career of the Prophet and the revelation of the Qurʾān. Appendix C includes short biographies of the Qurʾān commentators whose works are cited in the text. The volume also includes a comprehensive index as well as eleven color maps that depict Arabia, the Hijaz, pilgrimage stations in Mecca, the topography of Medina, and important battles: Uḥud, the Trench, Badr, Mecca, Ḥunayn, and Ṭā’if.

Review of Nevin Reda, The al-Baqara Crescendo

In The al-Baqara Crescendo, Nevin Reda does an exceptional job of describing the Qur’ān in the vocabulary of art, aesthetics, acoustics, chanting, song, music, the rhythms and rhymes of orally-recited poetry, poetic-like rhetorical devices, and German terminology. Her emotive vocabulary and accessible writing style lures the reader into a feeling that her approach is holistic and that Sūrat al-Baqarah is coherent. Reda includes fourteen tables, each painstakingly-crafted in order to illustrate particular textual parallels. The transliteration table, however, includes only eighteen of the twenty-eight Arabic letters, and the glossary does not include all of her technical terms.

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 Kristian Petersen, Interpreting Islam in China

Some readers of the Review of Qurʾanic Research might wonder whether a book on Islam in China is worth their attention. It most definitely is, especially if their interest transcends the Qurʾānic text itself and extends to Muslims’ engagement with their sacred scripture. As the author of Interpreting Islam in China, Kristian Petersen, rightfully criticizes, “much of Western scholarship has associated Islam very closely, and at times even exclusively, with Arab Muslims in the Middle East—often establishing essentialized orientations of the center and the periphery” (3). Regions at the margin of the Islamicate world such as Southeast Asia, China, or sub-Saharan Africa are often relegated to the domain of anthropologists: culturally interesting, but irrelevant to discourses on theology, normativity and scriptural interpretation. This is a dangerous move because it replicates biases inherent to our field of study, instead of calling them into question. It is also a tendency that robs the field of Qurʾānic studies of much empirical and analytical potential. This is something that Petersen explicitly, and quite successfully, seeks to remedy. It is therefore highly advisable especially for scholars who have no expertise on Islam in China to take his book seriously as a contribution to our understanding of how the Qurʾān was read and interpreted by Muslims throughout history, across space and language divides. Even if one’s own field of study focuses on entirely different languages or regions, as is the case with this reviewer, Petersen’s thoughtful analysis allows us to appreciate broader trends and situate our own research within the history of Muslim approaches to the Qurʾān. This is because Petersen has taken great care, throughout the book, to go beyond a philological analysis of his sources and draw systematic conclusions that make his findings accessible, theoretically useful, and suitable for comparison with the development of Muslim scholarship, education, and scriptural exegesis in other regions of the world.

Bodily Resurrection in the Qurʾān and Syriac Anti-Tritheist Debate

When considering the content and polemical strategies of certain passages in the Qurʾān, the history of the short-lived Tritheist movement merits further analysis. This Miaphysite Christian faction was accused of confessing a triple Godhead and denying a physical resurrection. In the half century prior to the emergence of the Qurʾān, lively debates took place among Miaphysite Christians in Egypt, Syria-Palestine, and Arabia over Tritheism. Syriacspeaking Arab Christian leaders accused the Tritheists of polytheism for denying God’s unity and of pagan unbelief for rejecting the resurrection of the original human body. This collection of anti-Tritheist literature makes critiques of positions not unlike several passages in the Qurʾān, as both claim to be directed at polytheists and unbelievers, and both assume knowledge of biblical material and Syriac-speaking Christian texts. Biblically and theologically based critiques in the Qurʾān appear to show familiarity with anti-Tritheist polemics. This article makes the case that particular verses in the Qurʾān reflect knowledge of Miaphysite anti-Tritheist critiques of Tritheist positions on God and the resurrection, that certain passages were modeled after the polemical reduction of opponents’ positions found in anti-Tritheist literature, and that the content and method of anti-Tritheist literature was repurposed for alternative polemical uses. These features include anti-Tritheist claims that Tritheists were unbelievers, that they divided God’s unity, that they were pagans and polytheists, and that they denied the bodily resurrection. The Qurʾān’s parallels with anti-Tritheist content and rhetorical method in certain cases suggests its production was part of the wider discussions taking place in the Middle East at the turn of the seventh century.

My God? Your Lord!” A Qurʾānic Response to a Biblical Question

Sūrat al-Ḍuḥā (Q 93) is often regarded as reflecting details from the sīrah of Muḥammad, or the biography of the qurʾānic prophet. The present study suggests that this sūrah should be understood as a re-reading of a biblical text, Psalm 22. The article consists of three parts. The first surveys the traditional tafsīr of the sūrah and examines the correlation between Sūrah 93 and Muḥammad’s sīrah. The second part contains the main discussion, which compares Sūrah 93 with Psalm 22. This comparison demonstrates the links between the two texts and their exegetical traditions, in terms of form, content, and function. Part 3 examines the two texts from an additional dimension: that of the linkage between Sūrah 93 and Psalm 22 on the one hand, and prophetic and savior figures, to whom exegetical traditions connect both texts, on the other.