Review of Karim Samji, The Qur’an: A Form-Critical History

Review of Karim Samji, The Qur’an: A Form-Critical History

The urge to provide an inventory of the types of speech included in the Qurʾān is an old one. As Karim Samji points out, in one passage of his famous Qurʾān commentary Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān, Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) interprets the seven “letters” (aḥruf) in which the Qurʾān was revealed as seven types of speech contained in the sacred text: command (amr), rebuke (zajr), exhortation (targhīb), admonition (tarhīb), debate (jadal), narrative (qaṣaṣ), and parable (mathal) (270). However, this urge has not been met with sustained interest and methodical investigation on the part of modern scholars in Qurʾānic Studies. Karim Samji’s The Qurʾān: A Form-Critical Historyis therefore an important contribution to Qurʾānic Studies, the first attempt to apply biblical form criticism to the Qurʾān in a sustained manner to provide an overview of the main genres contained in Islam’s sacred text. It is a useful and stimulating addition to qurʾānic scholarship, both because it explains to a Qurʾānic Studies audience a great deal about form criticism of which they may not be aware and because it sheds light, especially from a comparative Biblical Studies perspective, on facets of the Qurʾān. The work evinces deep familiarity with the history of scholarship on form criticism in Biblical Studies, as well as awareness of most of the relevant work in Qurʾānic Studies, including several studies which may not be known to investigators in Qurʾānic Studies, even those who have been paying attention to scholarship related to form criticism in this field.

Review of Juan Cole, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires

In recent years, the field of Islamic Studies has witnessed a growing trend centered on reinterpreting early Islam. The reinterpretation concerns historical episodes, events, or figures, and stands in a clear dissonance with traditional narratives depicted by classical Muslim historians. The method utilized relies primarily on attempts to reread the Qurʾān by disassociating it from later qurʾānic exegesis. More importantly, this rereading, though principally concerned with early Islamic history, distances itself from traditional Muslim historiographical accounts. This trend has flourished particularly in the years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, perhaps as a response to increased public hostility, in the Western World, towards Islam and its prophet.

Review of Francisco del Rio Sanchez, Jewish Christianity and the Origins of Islam

While the volume under review is dedicated to the Qurʾān’s relationship to Jewish Christianity, a number of its contributions call into question the very usefulness of this category. Accordingly, the work is more than a consideration of the relationship between supposedly Jewish Christian groups such as the Ebionites, or supposedly Jewish Christian scriptures such as the Pseudo-Clementines, and the Qurʾān. It offers a broad consideration of the nature of Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity and the ways in which the Qurʾān engages with this sectarian milieu. The volume, which emerged from an ASMEA panel in 2015, is a significant contribution to the study of the Qurʾān in its late antique context.

Review Abdur Raheem Kidwai, God’s Word, Mans Interpretations

Colleagues and fellow scholars of Islam, how many times have you been asked about the best English translations of the Qurʾān and how many times have you mumbled in response something along the lines of “Arberry is good, there is Yusuf Ali, Abdel Haleem’s is more recent I guess”? Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s God’s Word, Man’s Interpretations is the book to read for a better, more learned answer concerning the English translations of the Qurʾān that have appeared since 2000. Kidwai’s admirable effort in this book can truly spare the scholars of Islam the time of sifting through the ever-growing numbers of recent translations—that is, if one can look past his unflinching policing on behalf of the Sunni-Jamāʿī interpretations of the Qurʾān and his unapologetic disdain for every other approach to the Qurʾān including what he calls “the Orientalist enterprise” (142).

Review of Michel Cuypers, A Qurʾānic Apocalypse

That the Qurʾān as a text has apocalyptic affinities has been the focus of scholarly research for the past century. Of late, due to the work of Fred Donner and others, defining the Qurʾānic apocalypse has come into vogue.[1] Michel Cuypers’ A Qurʾānic Apocalypse: A Reading of the Thirty-Three Last Sūrahs of the Qurʾān is a welcome addition to this genre. However, one should note that Cuypers’ work is quite different from other research and readings on the subject. While most scholars seek to place the Qurʾān within an apocalyptic framework, and then relate the text to outside events, or to extract history—such as it is—from the text, Cuypers seeks to read the entire text as if it were an apocalypse in terms of its rhetoric. This is a bold approach, and one that opens itself up to critique because of its totalizing reading of the text. In other words, while numerous scholars have identified apocalyptic (or apocalyptic-eschatological) themes within the Qurʾān, Cuypers seeks to read thirty-three sūrahs as if they were an apocalypse in sequential order.

Review of Harald Motzki, Reconstruction of a Source of Ibn Isḥāq’s Life of the Prophet and Early Qurʾān Exegesis

Harald Motzki, famous for his isnād-cum-matn method of analysing ḥadīth, provides a thorough examination of the way in which Ibn Isḥāq, the author of one of the more famous of the sīrahs (biographies) of Muḥammad, gathered his sources, particularly his use of one source named Muḥammad b. Abī Muḥammad, about whom little is known. In so doing, Motzki’s Reconstruction of a Source of Ibn Isḥāq’s Life of the Prophet and Early Qurʾān Exegesis takes the reader on a journey through a number of sources, along which the reader can learn much about how Ibn Isḥāq used his sources, about the final product subsequently produced by his student Ibn Hishām, and about this little-known transmitter Muḥammad b. Abī Muḥammad.

Review of Seyfeddin Kara, In Search of ʿAlī Ibn Abī Ṭālib’s Codex

The textual history of the Qurʾān has always engendered debates and disagreements among Muslims and non-Muslim Western scholars alike. Such textual history has been mostly reconstructed by relying on Sunni narrations which identify the first and third caliphs, Abū Bakr and ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān, as the ones who endeavoured to promote the compilation of Islam’s sacred text. In so doing, such studies often seem to have shunned the traditions relative to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib’s codex.In his new volume, In Search of ʿAlī Ibn Abī Ṭālib’s Codex: History and Traditions of the Earliest Copy of the Qurʾān, Seyfeddin Kara takes into account how the Shiʿi claim—that the fourth caliph and first Shiʿi Imam carried out the compilation of the Qurʾān before anyone else—has frequently been perceived as politicised bias. This, our author observes, as many scholars have done before him, has contributed to the crystallization of a negative attitude in Western academia towards the study of Shiʿi ḥadīth compilations. What is admirable and innovative in this new work is Kara’s goal of refusing to espouse any distorted, standardized preconception, and his yearning to shatter any sectarianized perspective. In order to achieve this, Kara sets for himself a series of very complex tasks: 1) an analysis of Muslim sources, namely, both Shiʿi and Sunni traditions reporting on ʿAlī’s collection of the Qurʾān; 2) an attempt to identify an earliest conceivable date for such traditions; and 3) whenever possible, these traditions’ genuineness.

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 Asma Hilali, The Sanaa Palimpsest

The Sanaa Palimpsest: The Transmission of the Qurʾan in the First Centuries AH by Asma Hilali aims to contribute to the ongoing discussion of the transmission of the Qurʾān in the early Islamic centuries, presenting a new interpretation of one of the most discussed documentary witnesses in recent years: the palimpsest of Ṣanʿāʾ. This monograph is the culmination of a long investigation, that started with the digitization project De l’Antiquité tardive à l’Islam (2005–2008) funded by the French ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche). One of the aims of this project, directed by Christian J. Robin, was the digitization of three Qurʾān manuscripts found in the Ṣanʿāʾ mosque in 1972 or 1973[1] and kept in one of the mosque’s libraries, Dār al-Makhṭūṭāt. Of the three digitized manuscripts, one—inventoried as DAM 01-27.1—is of particular interest because it is a palimpsest, parchment leaves from which a previous text has been erased in order to write a new text above. The most intriguing feature is that its lower and upper texts are both qurʾānic. Then, what are the motivations behind this recycling operation?

Review of Richard Serrano, Qurʾān and the Lyric Imperative

As the title suggests, Richard Serrano’s Qurʾān and the Lyric Imperative examines the Qurʾān, but the intention is not to explain the holy book of Islam. The Qurʾān, as the author puts it, “continues to defy explanation, despite the legions engaged in the vast Islamic and Orientalist intellectual industry intent on doing just that” (1). Instead, the book examines the connections between the Qurʾān and poetry in the classical Arabic tradition and the ways in which those connections have served a central role in preserving people’s understanding of the text.

Obituary: F. E. Peters

F. E. (Francis Edward) Peters, a scholar best known as a historian of religion, died on April 30, 2020 in New York at the age of 93. A native of New York City, Peters was trained in the Jesuit tradition, received his MA in Latin and Greek at St. Louis University, and received a licentiate degree in philosophy from the Pontifical Institute in Rome. After having been released from his Jesuit vows in 1954, he went on to earn a degree in Russian language studies at Fordham University and a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from Princeton in 1961. He chaired both the Classics and Middle East Studies departments at New York University, where he taught for forty-seven years, retiring in 2008.

The Qurʾānic Doublets: A Preliminary Inquiry.

The present study involves a presentation and analysis of repeated phrases, or doublets, in the Qurʾān. I identify twenty-nine doublets of at least nine words (allowing for minor variation), the great majority of which are complete verses, found in different sūrahs. To provide a methodological framework for the analysis of these doublets I consider the history of scholarship on doublets in the Synoptic Gospels, distinguishing between harmonizing interpretations and the classifications of redactional and source doublets. With four exceptions (Meccan-Medinan doublets), the units making up qurʾānic doublets are both found within sūrahs traditionally identified as Meccan (Meccan-Meccan doublets) or both found within sūrahs traditionally identified as Medinan (Medinan-Medinan doublets). This distribution suggests the existence of pre-canonical texts, most likely one with Meccan material and one with Medinan material, which produced the doublets within each qurʾānic subcorpus. That Meccan-Medinan doublets are so rare suggests that repeated material in the Qurʾān is not always due to a process of repeating or re-composition (where an earlier qurʾānic phrase is redeployed, and possibly reshaped, for a later passage) but instead due to the redaction of discrete, pre-canonical texts.