Unbinding Isaac: Comedy, Critique, and Conversation between Midrash and Tafsīr

Unbinding Isaac: Comedy, Critique, and Conversation between Midrash and Tafsīr

Madeline Wyse, University of California – Berkeley, USA IQSA International Conference 2021 “Giorgio La Pira” Library, Palermo, Italy
Panel 2. Characters, Narratives, and Strategies in the Qur’anic Text

The story of Avraham/Ibrāhīm almost sacrificing his son is a mainstay of Jewish and Islamic ritual and reflection, but this paper will focus on two passages – one from the 5th century rabbinic midrash collection, Genesis Rabbah, and one from Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī – that deploy comedy to challenge mainstream interpretations of the story. Our passage from Genesis Rabbah parodies other passages from the same chapter that advance the doctrine of zekhut avot or “merits of the forefathers”, and instead provocatively proposes that Avraham misunderstood God. Some of these other passages from the midrash (although not the passage we will focus on) have long been identified as sources for our narrative in Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī. I will dig deeper into the tafsīr’s critical engagement with Genesis Rabbah, noting the role of word play, comic juxtaposition, compensation in translation, as well as blatant misquotations of the Qur’an in crafting a narrative that also features a potentially mistaken Ibrāhīm. Despite their overlapping intertexts and similar critical depictions of Avraham/Ibrāhīm, I will demonstrate that the critical aim of the tafsīr passage is significantly different than that of the midrash. I ultimately hope to position both texts as participants in a dynamic, ongoing theological and literary conversation.

Qur’anic Studies in Indonesia / Studi Al-Qur’an di Indonesia, Oct 14 – Dec 30

The International Qur’anic Studies Association (IQSA) and the Asosiasi Ilmu Al-Qur’an dan Tafsir se-Indonesia (AIAT) are happy to announce a new series of talks over Zoom: “Qur’anic Studies in Indonesia.”

Convenors: Johanna Pink and Lien Iffah Naf’atu Fina

Date and Time: October 14 – December 30, 2020. All talks will take place from 8–9pm Western Indonesian Time.

Website: Please go HERE.


You may join the first two sessions (October 14 and 21) at this link:
Meeting ID: 841 9213 8019 Password: 486433059

The remaining sessions from October 28 through December 30 will be accessible through this link:
Meeting ID: 827 0058 5905 Password: 478453898

Hope to see you on Zoom!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2020. All rights reserved.

Review of Qur’anic Research, Vol. 5 no. 8 (2019)


In the latest installment of the Review of Qur’anic Research (Vol. 5, no.8), Sami Helewa, S.J. (Campion College, University of Regina) reviews Khaleel Mohammed’s David in the Muslim Tradition: The Bathsheba Affair (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015).

davidIn his review, Helewa writes… “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. 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…”

Want to read more? For full access to the Review of Qur’anic Research (RQR), members can log in HERE. Not an IQSA member? Join today to enjoy RQR and additional member benefits!


© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2019. All rights reserved.

Call for Papers: Sharḥ, Tafsīr, and Ḥāshiya, University of Zurich

zurichThe University of Zurich will host Sharḥ, Tafsīr, and Ḥāshiya,  a workshop on the form, function, and context of pre-modern commentary writing in Arabic, on June 15-16, 2020.

About the workshop: The pre-modern Arabic literary landscape is full of commentaries, meta-commentaries, and auto-commentaries of various shapes and sizes, such that commentary-writing indisputably stood as one of the main forms of scholarly textual output over the centuries. Some features of this tradition have received their fair share of attention; others remain yet to be explored. While the importance of, for example, Quranic or philosophical commentary as a source for Muslim intellectual history has been recognised in the last decades, commentaries in most other fields are often mentioned only for the purpose of demonstrating the popularity of the text commented upon. Questions relating to why commentaries were composed in the first place, in what institutional settings, according to what conventions and with what techniques remain generally under-explored.  This workshop will focus on two principal aspects of the study of commentary and commentating practices: (1.) the techniques of commentary-writing; and (2.) its audience and reception. In the first area, we are interested in the interaction and connections between text and commentary.  This could be summarised with the simple question, “how does commentary work?”. In the second, we encourage papers that give consideration to readers and likely readerships of commentaries, either by studying the para-texts of commentaries (e.g. marginalia etc.) or sociologically, by looking at groups of readers, and owners of manuscripts. This could be summarised with the question, “how was commentary used?”.

We invite papers dealing with commentaries written in Arabic any time before roughly the 15th century, belonging to any genre (philosophy, theology, literature, medicine, sciences, etc.). Possible questions to be dealt with may include (but are not limited to):

  • How does a commentary work? Which elements of a text receive what kind of attention, which parts are not commentated upon? What kinds of relationship exist between the text and the commentary?
  • What is considered a good commentary, a bad commentary?
  • Why was it ever important to write a commentary? Are there different kinds of motivation that lead to different kinds of commentary?
  • Who wrote commentaries and when? Is commentary writing something a beginner does or rather the opposite? Do people write different kinds of commentaries at different stages in their careers?
  • Who are the intended readers and audiences?
  • Who really commissioned, read, owned, or taught a commentary? Where were they composed?
  • How are commentaries presented in their manuscripts? How is the link between the base-text and the commentary established, both linguistically and at the level of layout?
  • Why are there so many “auto-commentaries”, i.e. commentaries written by the author of the commented work?


Please send a 400-word abstract to james.weaver@uzh.ch and forster@zedat.fu-berlin.de no later than August 31, 2019.  We welcome contributions in English, French or German.

The selected participants will be notified by October 30, 2019.

Accommodation in Zurich will be provided.  We will probably also be able to cover travel costs, but please try to obtain funding for travel from your home institution in the first instance.

Dr. James Weaver, University of Zurich
Prof. Dr. Regula Forster, Freie Universität Berlin/University of Zurich


© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2019. All rights reserved.



Ṭanṭāwī Jawharī and the Qurʾān: Tafsīr and Social Concerns in the Twentieth Century

“Shaykh Ṭanṭāwī Jawharī was an Egyptian exegete known for having produced a scientific interpretation of the Qurʾān. A pioneering scholar in terms of familiarising the people of his time with many previously neglected matters regarding Islam and science, his publications shocked the Cairo educational system and other Muslim places of learning in the early twentieth century.


This book examines the intersection between Ṭanṭāwī Jawharī and Egyptian history and culture, and demonstrates that his approach to science in the Qurʾān was intimately connected to his social concerns. Divided into three parts, part one contains three chapters which each introduce different aspects of Ṭanṭāwī Jawharī himself. The second part explores the main aspects of his tafsīr, discussing his approach to science and the Qurʾān, and how he presented Europeans in his tafsīr, and then addressing the impact of his tafsīr on wider Muslim and non-Muslim society. The third section draws attention to the themes from all 114 sūras of the Qurʾān that are discussed within his commentary. It then analyses the current status of his views and the post-Jawharism perspective on science and the Qurʾān, both today and in an imaginary future, in 2154.

Providing new English translations of Ṭanṭāwī Jawharī’s work, the book delivers a comprehensive assessment of this unique figure, and emphasises the distinctive nature of his reading of the Qurʾān. The book will be a valuable resource for anyone studying modern Egypt, the Qurʾān, Islam and Science, and scientific interpretation and inimitability.”

Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group


Bibliographic Information:
Daneshgar, Majid. Ṭanṭāwī Jawharī and the Qurʼān: tafsīr and social concerns in the twentieth century. Abingdon: Routledge, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.

Review of Qur’anic Research, Vol. 3 no.5 (2017)

In the latest installment of the Review of Qur’anic Research (Vol. 4, no.5), Vanessa De Gifis (Wayne State University) reviews Tafsīr and Islamic Intellectual History (London: Oxford University Press/Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2014), a collection of studies edited by Andreas Görke and Johanna Pink. In this volume, Görke and Pink pose an essential inquiry 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, contingent upon the particular aspects of qurʾānic interpretation with which researchers are concerned.

tafsir and islamic


For full access to the Review of Qur’anic Research (RQR), members can log in HERE. Not an IQSA member? Join today to enjoy RQR and additional member benefits!


© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

RIP Andrew Rippin (1950-2016)

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, Andrew Rippin passed away at his home in Victoria, British Columbia. Professor Emeritus at the University of Victoria since 2013—where he was formerly Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Andrew (or Andy as he was known to some)—was an esteemed colleague, revered mentor, and scholarly inspiration to many members of the IQSA community.

Since entering the fields of Qur’anic and Islamic Studies in the 1980s, Andrew’s scholarly output was immense, helping to shape these fields for almost four decades: he was author or editor of two dozen well-known textbooks, anthologies, and thematic volumes; around eighty journal articles and book chapters; and literally hundreds of encyclopedia entries and reviews. For scholars of the Qurʾān, Andrew was perhaps best known for his profound impact on the study of tafsīr in particular. Viewed collectively, his numerous surveys of the field and introductory works allow the student of the Qur’an and its interpretation to grasp both the immensity of the field and appreciate its transformation over the decades since he published his earliest attempt to take stock of the state of the field, “The Present Status of Tafsīr Studies” (Muslim Studies 72 [1982]: 224-238) some thirty-five years ago.


Andrew Rippin (1950-2016)

Seeking to apprehend the full range of subjects covered in Andrew’s publications, one is struck by the sheer breadth of his interests and expertise. Already in the articles published during his first decade or so of activity in the field of Qurʾānic Studies, Andrew touched on a number of subjects that would be of interest to him throughout his career: the complex relationship between doctrine, grammar, and lexicography in the formation of the tafsīr tradition; the intertwining of Qurʾān and tafsīr with Jewish and Christian scriptural, parascriptural, and exegetical cultures; the benefits that bringing epigraphic and archaeological data to bear in the interpretation of the Qurʾān might potentially yield; the origins of Muslim attempts to impose hermeneutic frameworks linked to the biography of Muḥammad and accounts of the process of revelation such as naskh and asbāb al-nuzūl upon the Qurʾān; and the construction of authority figures in the received tradition—most notably ʿAbd Allāh Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 68/687)—to demarcate certain strands of exegesis as ancient in pedigree and thus of greater legitimacy.

Today, Tafsīr Studies has clearly emerged as a vibrant field of inquiry. That it should be so is in no small part due to Andrew’s tireless efforts to establish it as such. Andrew long advocated for scholars to take seriously the worlds of meanings and symbols which were produced by classical commentaries on the Qurʾān so that tafsīr and other branches of ʿulūm al-Qurʾān could be seen as significant in their own right, and not simply as records of transmitted traditions. That is, he emphasized the necessity of striking a balance between reading the Qurʾān on its own terms and appreciating the importance of how Muslims have made sense of the Qurʾān as scripture over the last 1,400 years of Islamic history. It is no exaggeration to say that both the revival of interest in the study of the Qurʾān over the last decade and the flourishing of the study of tafsīr in the same period were greatly encouraged by Andrew’s contributions in publishing, teaching, and mentorship.

It is supremely fitting that Andrew has been honored with a Festschrift edited by Majid Daneshgar and Walid Saleh that has just been published by Brill: Islamic Studies Today: Essays in Honor of Andrew Rippin, featuring chapters by some twenty prominent contemporary scholars of Islam as well as two vivid personal tributes by Jane McAuliffe and Claude Gilliot.


The spring 2014 board meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (from left to right: Hamza Zafer, Fred Donner, Andrew Rippin, Emran El-Badawi, Gabriel Reynolds, Jane McAuliffe, with John Kutsko)

We remember in particular with gratitude that Andrew Rippin served as the inaugural president of IQSA in 2014.  An address which he gave on that occasion can be downloaded here. On November 18 and during his final days the IQSA board of directors announced the Andrew Rippin Best Paper Prize, awarded to an outstanding paper delivered at the annual meeting. Since the announcement of this prize a number of contributions have been received in Andrew’s name.

The richness and sophistication of the contributions to Andrew’s Festschrift is testimony to the massive impact Andrew has had, though the short biographical notes and comprehensive bibliography one may find there only capture his contribution to the field in largely quantitative terms. The depth of his true impact is almost unfathomable, judging from the hundreds of students, colleagues, and friends he influenced over the decades, and who will remember Andrew as the very model of thorough, exacting, yet humane and engaged scholarship.

Board of Directors, International Qur’an Studies Association

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

The Spirit and the Letter: Approaches to the Esoteric Interpretation of the Qur’an

9780198783336Edited by Annabel Keeler and Sajjad H. Rizvi, this volume is the first to focus specifically on esoteric interpretation as a phenomenon in the field of Qur’anic exegesis and to show the plurality of ways it has been manifested in different Muslim traditions. Concern with the inner, spiritual implications of the Qur’an has usually been associated with mystical and Sufi trends in Islam. However, there have also been exegetes among the Shi’a, as well as among philosophers, who sought to supplement their understanding of the Qur’an’s apparent meaning by eliciting deeper significations through contemplation of the verses.

The Spirit and the Letter examines the multiplicity of these esoteric approaches, covering a period that extends from the third/ninth century to the present. It includes chapters on philosophical and Shi’i exegetes, such as Ibn Sīnā (d. 428/1037) and Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1045/1635-6), in addition to studies of a range of Sufi perspectives, from al-Sulamī (d. 412/1021) and al-Qushayrī (d. 465/1072) to Rūzbihān Baqlī (d. 606/1209), as well as representatives of the Ibn ‘Arabī and Kubrāwī schools. Considered together, the range of studies in this volume enable us to see what these approaches have in common and how they differ, and how the hermeneutics and content of exegesis are affected by doctrinal and ideological perspectives of various traditions and periods. Furthermore, they deepen our understanding of what actually constitutes esoteric interpretation and the need to look beyond the letter to the spirit of the Qur’anic word.

Table of contents

Notes on Contributors
Introduction Annabel Keeler and Sajjad Rizvi
Part I: Comparative Hermeneutics
1: The Countless Faces of Understanding: On Istinbā, Mystical Listening and Sufi Exegesis, Sara Sviri
2: The Interpretation of the Arabic Letters in Early Sufism: Sulamī’s Shar ma‘ānī al-urūf, Gerhard Böwering
3: Towards a Prophetology of Love: The Figure of Jacob in Sufi Commentaries on Sūrat YūsufAnnabel Keeler
4: Making it Plain: Sufi Commentaries in English in the Twentieth Century, Kristin Zahra Sands
Part II: Commentators and Texts in Focus
5: Outlines of Early Ismaili-Fatimid Qur’an Exegesis, Meir M. Bar-Asher
6: Ibn Sīnā’s Qur’anic Hermeneutics, Peter Heath
7: Qushayrī’s Exegetical Encounter with the Mi‘rājMartin Nguyen
8: Shahrastānī’s Mafātī al-Asrār: A Medieval Ismaili System of Hermeneutics?, Toby Mayer
9: Qūnawī’s Scriptural Hermeneutics, Richard Todd
10: Eschatology and Hermeneutics in Kāshānī’s Ta’wīlāt al-Qur’ānPierre Lory
11: Simnānī and Hermeneutics, Paul Ballanfat
12: Speech, Book, and Healing Knowledge: The Qur’anic Hermeneutics of Mullā Ṣadrā, Janis Esots
13: Aspects of Mystical Hermeneutics and the Theory of the Oneness of Being (wadat al-wujūd) in the work of ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (d. 1143/1731), Bakri Aladdin
14: The Sufi Hermeneutics of Ibn ‘Ajība (d. 1224/1809): A Study of Some Eschatological Verses of the Qur’an, Mahmut Ay
15: Beyond the Letter: Explanation (tafsīr) versus Adaptation (tabīq) in Ṭabāṭabā’ī s al-MīzānAmin Ehteshami and Sajjad Rizvi

Sunni Tafsīr Commentaries on the Qurʾanic Term Khalīfah

by Han Hsien LIEW*

The Arabic term khalīfah, a noun in the singular, appears twice in the Qur’an, once in reference to the original man Adam:

And when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Verily I am making on earth a khalīfah

(Q 2:30)


Medieval Persian miniature depicting angels prostrating before Adam. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, cropped to illustration only.)

and once in reference to the prophet-king David:

O David, we have made you a khalīfah on earth

(Q 38:26)

Due to the richness of the root kh-l-f with its manifold meanings, the interpretation of khalīfah in the Qur’an has often eluded pre-modern and modern interpreters alike. To complicate things further, khalīfah also came to be used as a political title, “caliph,” for the ruler of the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Hence the question, how much of a connection did Qurʾānic exegetes make between the Qur’anic khalīfah and the ruling caliph?

In answering this question for the Umayyad period, Wadād al-Qāḍī argues that early exegetes such as Mujāhid b. Jabr (d. 103/721), Muqātil b. Sulaymān (d. 150/767), and Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 161/777) generally did not go to great lengths to legitimate Umayyad rule by associating the Qur’anic khalīfah with the reigning caliph, but rather identified the Qur’anic term with Adam and humankind in general, who are said to have succeeded or replaced the jinn or angels on earth.

However, the boundaries between scriptural hermeneutics and political discourse became increasingly blurred as later exegetes, beginning with al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923), introduced new clusters of terminology associated with the historical Caliphate into their interpretations of the term khalīfah in the Qur’an. In defining khalīfah in his tafsīr, al-Ṭabarī claims that “the supreme ruler (al-sulṭān al-aʿẓam) is called khalīfah, because he replaces the one who was before him, and takes his place in the affair, and is his successor (khalaf).” Most commentators after al-Ṭabarī, such as al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427/1035), al-Māwardī (d. 450/1058), and al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1076), built on and reworked his interpretation of the term. Alongside this development, exegetes from the sixth/twelfth century onwards, such as al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122), Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597/1200), al-Rāzī (d. 606/1209), and al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1272), emphasized Adam’s role as khalīfat Allāh (itself a caliphal title meaning “deputy of God,” which was hitherto not used as part of the exegetes’ terminological cluster for their interpretations of Q 2:30) in implementing God’s rulings (aḥkām), commands (awāmir), and punishments (ḥudūd). These duties are largely similar to the ones used to define an imam-caliph at the beginning of every chapter on the Caliphate/Imamate found in kalām writings and certain works of fiqh, most notably in al-Māwardī’s al-Aḥkām al-sulṭānīyah and al-Ghazālī’s (d. 505/1111) al-Iqtiṣād fī’l-iʿtiqād. However, the reading of khalīfat Allāh into the Qur’an did not go entirely unopposed by all exegetes, with the most explicit objection coming from the Andalusian exegete Ibn ʿAṭīyah (d. 541/1147).

Post-Ṭabarī exegetes also allude to the first four caliphs/imams (Abu Bakr, ʿUmar, ʿUthman, and ʿAli) in their commentaries on Q 24:55:

God has promised those among you who have believed and done righteous deeds that He will surely yastakhlifannahum on earth just as He istakhlafa those who were before them


Medieval Persian miniature depicting the accession of the Caliph Abu Bakr. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Al-Thaʿlabī states that “in [Q 24:55] is a clear indication of the righteousness of the caliphate of Abu Bakr and the imamate of the rāshidūn caliphs.” Over time, the verse became a polemical platform for later Sunni exegetes such as al-Rāzī and al-Qurṭubī to establish the legitimacy of the four rāshidūn caliphs against Shiʿi claims that the Prophet Muhammad had designated ʿAli as his successor.

After the sack of Baghdad and the fall of the ʿAbbasid caliphate in 656/1258, most exegeses of the term khalīfah relied on those of previous generations. But with al-Qurṭubī’s commentary on Q 2:30, we come across the most explicit connection made between the qur’anic khalīfah and the Caliphate in reality: “This verse is the basis for the appointment of an imam and a caliph who shall be heard and obeyed, so that opinions will be united through him and [his] rulings will be implemented.” At this point he incorporates a full juristic discourse on the Caliphate reminiscent of al-Māwardī and al-Ghazālī. The Sunni discourse on the Caliphate—detailing arguments for the necessity of the Caliphate, the duties and requirements for the caliphal candidate, arguments against the Shiʿi conception of the Imamate, and other juridical issues surrounding the Caliphate—is thereby used as a hermeneutical device to explain Q 2:30. Writing about a century later, Ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373) quotes al-Qurṭubī’s juristic discourse on the Caliphate (in an abridged form) despite inclining more towards the view that the qurʾanic term khalīfah refers to humankind in general.

In sum, to fully understand how exegetes understood the qurʾanic term khalīfah over time, one has to take into account the shared language between tafsīr and political discourse during the medieval Islamic period. The title khalīfat Allāh used in caliphal rhetoric, Sunni historical narratives of the four rāshidūn caliphs, and juristic discourses on the Caliphate left an imprint on the many interpretations of qurʾanic verses containing the Arabic root kh-l-f. This does not imply that exegetes were using such verses to legitimate the Caliphate, the consequences of which would be unthinkable for an exegete’s scholarly reputation. Rather, the exegetical commentaries on the qurʾānic khalīfah speak to the porous boundaries of tafsīr and the need to be sensitive towards not only the socio-political but also the intellectual and discursive contexts in which exegetes operate.

* Han Hsien Liew is a Ph.D. candidate in history and Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University, currently writing a dissertation on Sunni discourses on the Caliphate/Imamate between the 5th/11th and 7th/13th centuries. This blog post is based on his article newly published in Arabica 63, no. 1 (2016): 1-29.

Read, Write, and Share Commentaries on Q Anfāl 8: 1-19

Photo by Habib M'henniThe Qurʾan Seminar invites you to add your own commentaries on a new selected passage of the Qur’an: Q 8:1-19. The Qurʾan Seminar, organized by IQSA, is dedicated to collaborative study of selected passages that are significant for understanding major themes and structures of the Qur’anic text. Contributors are encouraged to address the Qur’an directly and to not rely on classical exegesis as a lens through which to view the text. Of particular interest to the discussion are the following questions:

  • The structure of the Qur’an (its logical, rhetorical, and literary qualities, or naẓm)
  • The Qur’an’s intertextual relationships (with both Biblical and other literary traditions)
  • The Qur’an’s historical context in Late Antiquity

Access to Qur’an Seminar is open to IQSA members only. To become a member, click HERE. Once you are a member, you can access the Qur’an Seminar website:

  • Go to http://www.iqsa-quranseminar.org/home.html
  • Click on Log in / Sign up
  • As a member of IQSA, fulfill the required field under Have an account? Sign in and then, click on Login.
  • Click on “All passages selected”
  • Click on al-ˈanfāl 8, 1-19

The Qur’an Seminar website has two principal elements. First, the website includes a database of passages of the Qur’an with commentaries from a range of scholars. This database is meant to be a resource for students and specialists of the Qur’an alike. The commentaries may be quoted and referenced by citing the corresponding URL.

Second, the website includes an active forum in which additional Qur’anic passages are discussed. At regular intervals the material on the forum will be saved and moved to the database, and new passages will be presented for discussion on the forum. As a rule, the passages selected for discussion are meant to be long enough to raise a variety of questions for discussion, but short enough to lend that discussion coherence.

If you have any questions, please write to mehdi.azaiez@theo.kuleuven.be

We hope you will enjoy the content and consider contributing!

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

Reason and Scripture: Questions of Exegetical Authority

In the latest installment of Review of Qur’anic Research 1, no. 7, Rodrigo Adem reviews Tariq Jaffer’s new book, Rāzī: Master of Qurʾānic Interpretation and Theological Reasoning (Oxford University Press, 2015). Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209 C.E.) had a pervasive influence on Sunnī and Shīʿī theological discourses from the thirteenth century to the present day. Jaffer’s book explores how al-Razi’s approach to the Qur’an embodied pivotal intellectual developments in the Islamic scholarly milieu of his time, focusing in particular on one specific aspect of al-Razi’s exegetical priorities, the so-called “rule of interpretation (qānūn al-taʾwīl),” wherein “reason” (ʿaql) is privileged over “scripture” (naql) for authoritative qur’anic exegesis in matters of theological import.

Full access to the Review of Qur’anic Research (RQR) is available in the members-only area of our IQSA website. Not an IQSA member? Join today to enjoy RQR and additional member benefits!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2015.

King’s College Workshop Report: Patterns of Argumentation in Late Antique and Early Islamic Literature

By Barbara Roggema

On February 20-22, a workshop took place at King’s College London about patterns of argumentation in Late Antique and early Islamic literature. The workshop was organized by Yannis Papadogiannakis and Barbara Roggema within the framework of the ERC-project Defining Belief and Identities in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Role of Interreligious Debate and Interaction. This project seeks to recover the processes by which religious beliefs and identities were defined through interreligious interaction and debate in the religious culture of a broader social base in the eastern Mediterranean (sixth-eighth c. CE) through examination of a neglected, unconventional corpus of medieval Greek, Syriac, and Arabic literature of debate (consisting of collections of questions-and-answers, dialogues among others).

The papers covered a wide variety of source material: interreligious disputations, tafsīr, maghāzī literature, apologetics, gnomologies, erotapokriseis, chronicles, and early Islamic legal texts. The principal focus was on the ways in which religious ideas in the Eastern Mediterranean world were shaped by the challenges of rival religious groups, and especially, what patterns of argumentation were employed in these various types of literature in order to formulate answers to critical questions from inside and outside the community. At the same time, most papers addressed the more general question of the processes behind the transmission and transformation of ideas between the Late Antique Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities.

Fragment of a 9th century manuscript of the Arabic translation of the 7th/8th century Greek Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem by Pseudo-Athanasius of Alexandria (Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg, ms 4226).

Fragment of a 9th century manuscript of the Arabic translation of the 7th/8th century Greek Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem by Pseudo-Athanasius of Alexandria (Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg, ms 4226).

With regard to Qur’anic Studies, several papers are relevant to mention here. David Bertaina’s “The Qurʾān as Question-and-Answer Literature: A Witness to Late Antique Disputation” focused on the strong connections between the Qur’an’s question-and-answer literary form and the culture of disputation in the Jewish and Christian milieu of the seventh century. He argued that the Qur’an records disputes in which its audience was engaged, but at the same time dissuades people from arguing over issues which pertain to the realm of Divine unknowability. One example is the reflection of disputes over the direction of prayer in Q 2:142. No answer is given to the heated question in this verse. Instead it diverts the issue to an evocation of God’s will, guidance and authority. Bertaina also discussed the possibility that the Qur’an preserves echoes of contemporary religious debates. An issue that might be reflected in Q 4:171, the verse in which the People of the Book are told not to say “three” about God, is the intra-Miaphysite dispute about John Philoponus’ tritheistic interpretation of Trinitarian theology.

Barbara Roggema’s paper dealt with post-Qur’anic Christian-Muslim confrontation. She discussed a Christian-Arabic papyrus, which was dated by Georg Graf to the middle of the eighth century and which contains polemical questions against the Qur’an. These critical questions feature in early tafsīr as well, but without being identified as polemical points made by Christians. Roggema argued that Arabic-speaking Christian critique of the Qur’an goes back at least to the eighth century, if not to the century before, and that it may have acted as a catalyst to the mufassirūn’s search for internal consistency in the Qur’an.

Michael Pregill’s paper “Making a Difference: Revelation, Prophetology, and the Shaping of tafsir in the ‘Sectarian Milieu’” also dealt with the impact of interreligious polemic on the formation of early Islamic tradition. He focused on the reshaping of Qur’anic narratives by early commentators, using the example of the Golden Calf narrative and the impact of the development of ideas about Biblical corruption (taḥrīf) and prophetic impeccability (ʿiṣma) on interpretation of the story.

How Islamic commentators reshaped Biblical narratives was also the topic of Marcel Poorthuis’s paper “Šekhinah and Sakīna or: on the rivalry between Moriah and Mecca.” Poorthuis showed how al-Ṭabarī, in his narration of Ibrahim’s founding of the Ka‘ba, used the non-Qur’anic term Sakīna to reflect the Jewish Šekhinah. He discussed how Jewish traditions were Islamicized when Isaac’s intended sacrifice on Mount Moriah was transformed into a genuinely Islamic story about the Sakīna and of the founding/discovery of the Ka’ba. This transformation entailed a change in understanding of the Sakīna, making it a jinn-like presence rather than an independent divine agent as in Jewish tradition.

This workshop will have a follow-up in November of this year. All who are interested are welcome to contact Barbara Roggema at Barbara.roggema@kcl.ac.uk for more information.

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