Communities of the Qur’an–A Conference & Future Publication

Communities of the Qur’an–A Conference & Future Publication

By Emran El-Badawi

Contrary to popular belief there is not merely one reception of the Qur’an. In other words, there is no single method of reading, understanding and interpreting Islamic scripture, but rather many. Islamic civilization today has over 1 billion adherents, a rich medieval scholarly-cultural tradition spanning over 1 millennium, and a growing number of new (Muslim and non-Muslim) confessional as well as reformist movements reading the text for a modern world. Demonstrating the complex layers of this diversity was the subject of an conference I convened on Communities of the Qur’an: Modern and Classical Interpretations of Islamic Scripture.

Communities of the Qur’an was dedicated to intellectual inquiry as well as religious dialogue. At its heart this project asks the question, what is the dialectical relationship between the Qur’an and its “communities of interpretation?” How is the relationship between community and scripture mediated? Can a better understanding of each community’s reception, hermeneutics and cultural assumptions bring about a better understanding of the Qur’an for the 21st century? This project also seeks to revive the “ethics of disagreement” found in Classical Islam. The Qur’an interpreters, jurists and theologians of medieval Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba serve as examples of peaceful coexistence and tolerance in the face of vehement disagreement. On numerous occasions the historical record shows that Muslims from different legal schools or denominations, as well as Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and others, agreed to disagree.


There is little disagreement about the authenticity of the Qur’an text we possess today.
However, given Islam’s long history, several confessional, scholastic and reformist
communities developed in the shadow of scripture, and arrived at sometimes diverging interpretations of its key passages. These communities include Shia, Sunni, Ahmadi, Feminist and other interpretive traditions. When the text commands, “ask the people of remembrance if you know not” (Q 16:43; 21:7), is it referring to the guided Imams of the prophet Muhammad’s house, to Jews and Christians or another group? Similarly, are there modern re-interpretations of Q 4:34 which states, “men are greater than women” on account of their wealth? Does the text’s identification of its own narratives as the “Sunnah of God” (Q 33:38, 62; 40:23) and His “Hadith” (Q 45:6; 56:81; 77:50) facilitate or forbid the development of a new prophetic Hadith and Sunnah? These are some of the questions and key passages around which have gathered the Communities of the Qur’an.

The challenges of today’s political climate seem greater than that of our predecessors. The religious, social and cultural diversity of the global Muslim community and the richness of its people’s traditions are under threat by extremist fundamentalism. It is Muslims themselves who have paid the greatest price for the intolerance, violence and ‘sectarianism’ undertaken in the name of religion. Furthermore, the discourse surrounding global terrorism and Islamophobia, which has spread in the wake of the September 11th attacks, 2001 and the Arab uprisings of 2011, has only polarized members on both sides of the debate. As a result, the Qur’an, Islam’s sacred scripture and an integral part of world literature, has become the subject of misuse and misunderstanding. More than ever before, leaders from within and without the global Muslim ummah have the opportunity to protect the diversity of Islamic civilization and promote religious tolerance as well as peaceful coexistence broadly speaking.

The conference was hosted by The Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance. It hosted presentations by eight  international speakers (in order of presentations: Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Dr. Sajjad Rizvi, Dr. Ali Asani, Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour, Dr. Amina Wadud, Councelor Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Dr. Todd Lawson, Dr. Aminah Beverly McCloud), three panel chairs (Dr. Hina Azam, Dr. David Cook and Dr. Emran El-Badawi), welcoming remarks by Boniuk director and Rice University Professor, Dr. Paula Sanders, and parting words by philanthropist, Dr. Milton Boniuk. The conference took place March 10-11, 2016, and will eventually turn into a book. Visitors can access VIDEO to all eight presentations at the official conference website HERE.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2016. All rights reserved.

Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an

A recent doctoral dissertation in Qur’anic studies, titled “Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an: Gender Perspectives on the Creation Narrative, Qiwama and Polygamy in Modern Women’s Exegeses” is summarized in Arabic below. The author, Mohamed Saleck Mohamed Val, defended his dissertation in Fez, Morocco this past July. He is a Mauritanian scholar with an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdullah University, who was also a member of the Moroccan Studies Doctoral Centre.

The project begins with a survey of women’s exegetical contributions in Mauritania, Morocco and Egypt, and culminates in an investigation of the interpretive articulations of four modern Egyptian women on gender-related issues—particularly the creation story, Qiwama or male-guardianship and polygamy.

دكتوراه في علم الاجتماع الديني حول التفسير النسوي للقرآن الكريم

نوقشت برحاب كلية الآداب والعلوم الإنسانية بظهر المهراز, فاس, بالمغرب أطروحة دكتوراه باللغة الانجليزية تقدم بها الباحث الموريتاني: محمد السالك ولد محمد فال حول موضوع: “المرأة وتفسير القرآن الكريم: قراءة لقضايا النوع الاجتماعي في تفسيرات نسائية معاصرة: قصة الخلق, والقوامة وتعدد الزوجات نموذجا” “

“Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an: Gender Perspectives on the Creation Narrative, Qiwama and Polygamy in Modern Women’s Exegeses.”

وبعد المداولات قررت اللجنة المناقشة منح الباحث شهادة الدكتوراه بميزة مشرف جدا مع توصية بالطبع.

ويعد هذا العمل هو الأول من نوعه في إبراز دور المرأة المسلمة في إثراء حقل تفسير القرآن الكريم, إذ قام فيه الباحث بدراسة استطلاعية شملت كلا من موريتانيا والمغرب ومصر بحثا عن تجار ب نسائية في تفسير النص القرآني.

وقد اشتملت الأطروحة على مقدمة و بابين من ثمانية فصول وخاتمة. جاء الباب الأول تحت عنوان “في استرجاع الدين الحق” وتشكل من أربعة فصول حاول الباحث من خلالها تسليط الضوء على الجانب التاريخي للمعرفة الإسلامية بشكل عام والتفسير بشكل خاص ومدى مشاركة المرأة في صياغة هذا الإرث الحضاري الهام. فعرض في الفصل الأول لدور المرأة في علوم الحديث والفقه والتفسير وغيرها. بينما تناول في الفصل الثاني الظروف والملابسات الثقافية والاجتماعية التي اكتنفت هذا المجهود النسوي وأدت إلى وأده ,خصوصا في حقل تفسير القرآن الكريم. و أما الفصلين الثالث والرابع فقد خصصهما للجدل الراهن القائم حول مفهوم النسائية الإسلامية ومحاولة “تبيئته” ضمن سياقات المجتمعات المسلمة المعاصرة. فيما انصب جهده في الفصل الرابع  على إيضاح بعض المناهج النقدية المتبناة من طرف التيار النسائي الإسلامي كالهرمنيوطيقا الحداثية”, و التاريخانية, وغيرها.

أما الباب الثاني من الأطروحة والموسوم ب: “النسائية الإسلامية المقننة أو الشرعية” فقد تناول فيه الباحث أربعة تفسيرات لكل من بنت الشاطئ وزينب الغزالي وفوقية الشربيني وكريمان حمزة, عارضا لحياة هولاء المفسرات والسياقات المعرفية والسياسية التي أنتجت آرائهن و اجتهاداتهن في الساحة الإسلامية التقليدية. كما ركز في هذا الباب على تقديم آراء المفسرات الأربع حول قصة الخلق ومفهومي القوامة وتعدد الزوجات و مقارنتها بآراء بعض المفسرين التقليديين بالإضافة إلى ما طرحته نساء معاصرات من أمثال الأمريكية آمنة ودود, والباكستانية أسماء بارلاس حول هذه المفاهيم.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Some Prominent Women Qur’an Scholars

By Emran El-Badawi

Qur’anic Studies is, now more than ever, a discipline wherein women scholars have demonstrated groundbreaking expertise and leadership.

In the western academy especially, Muslim and Non-Muslim women have helped give shape to the discipline itself. Among the former are scholars like Ingrid Mattson, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and author of The story of the Qurʼan: its history and place in Muslim life and Amina Wadud, whose Qurʼan and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, explores the intersection between Gender and Qur’anic Exegesis. The latter includes Jane Dammen McAuliffe, author of Qur’anic Christians: An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegesis and editor of preeminent, standard Qur’an reference works like Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an and the Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an. Included in the latter category as well is Angelika Neuwirth, director of the Corpus Coranicum, as well as author and editor of landmark publications including Der Koran als Text der SpätantikeThe Qur’an in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qur’anic Milieu; and several others. Jacqueline Chabbi, similarly, has authored a number of important works on the Qur’an, most notably Le coran décrypté : Figures bibliques en Arabie, préface d’André Caquo.

Among Qur’an translators—most of whom are still men—a handful of women have distinguished themselves and built bridges between the western academy and those in Islamic societies, including Iran. Among them are Laleh Bakhtiar, author of The Sublime Qur’an, and the late poet Tahere Saffarzadeh (d. 2008) who authored The Holy Qur’an English and Perisan Translation with Commentary. In the Arab world the work of Olfa Youssef–author of Le Coran au risque de la psychanalyse— and Asma Hilali continue to both shape and enrich the discipline.

The expertise and leadership demonstrated by women scholars in Qur’anic Studies is perhaps demonstrated best in two recent talks delivered at the Qur’an Seminar, and ongoing conference at the University of Notre Dame co-directed by Mehdi Azaiez and Gabriel Reynolds. Below are the video of the talks delivered by two eminent scholars: Nayla Tabbara (Adyan Foundation, Lebanon) and Maryam Mosharraf (Shahid Beheshti University, Iran).


Lecture of Nayla Tabbara Director of Cross-Cultural Studies Department (Adyan Foundation, Lebanon) “The Qur’ān and Muslim-Christian relations” ; December 6, 2012


Maryam Mosharraf Associate Professor of Persian Language and Literature (Shahid Beheshti University, Iran)“The Qur’ān and Islamic Mysticism”; December 7, 2012

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2012. All rights reserved.