New Book: The Arabs and Islam in Late Antiquity*

AlAzmeh coverAziz al-Azmeh’s new book, The Arabs and Islam in Late Antiquity: A Critique of Approaches to Arabic Sources, is a critical study of Arabic textual sources for the history of the Arabs in late antique times, during the centuries immediately preceding Muhammad and up to and including the Umayyad period. Its purpose is to consider the value and relevance of these sources for the reconstruction of the social, political, cultural and religious history of the Arabs as they were still pagans, and to reconstruct the emergence of Muhammadan and immediately post-Muhammadan religion and polity.

For this religion (including the composition and canonization of the Qur’an), the label Paleo-Islam has been coined, in order to lend historical specificity to this particular period, distinguishing it from what came before and what was to come later, all the while indicating continuities that do not, in themselves, belie the specificity attributed to this period of very rapid change. This is argued further in Aziz Al-Azmeh’s The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity: Allah and His People (Cambridge University Press, 2014), to which this book is both a companion and a technical preface.

Al-Azmeh illustrates his arguments through examination of orality and literacy, transmission, ancient Arabic poetry, the corpus of Arab heroic lore (ayyam), the early narrative, the Qur’an, and other literary sources. The work includes a very extensive bibliography of the works cited.

* This post is based on the publisher’s announcement. The book is the first in the Gerlach Press series, Theories and Paradigms of Islamic Studies.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

IQSA Presents: Papers on Qur’anic Origins, an early Qur’anic palimpsest, and Qur’anic translation

Today, IQSA is proud to announce the online publication of three papers by top scholars:

  1. “Implausibility and Probability in Studies of Qurʾanic Origins,” by Dr. Aziz Al-Azmeh (Central European University)
  2. “On an early Qurʾanic palimpsest and its stratigraphy: Cambridge Or. 1287,” by Dr. Alain George (University of Edinburgh)
  3. “Reflections of a Qurʾan Translator,” by Dr. Tarif Khalidi (American University of Beirut)

Aziz Al-AzmehAll three papers are viewable in PDF format in the Publications & Resources section of our website, at this link. This week, we will briefly highlight the content of Dr. Al-Azmeh’s paper, proceeding on to the latter two in the coming weeks.

Al-Azmeh’s paper is a longer version of the keynote address he delivered at IQSA’s inaugural meeting on November 22nd, in Baltimore. In it, he discusses recent trends in Qur’anic studies

in so far as . . . they contribute to the development and cumulative growth of explanatory models for Qurʾanic genesis that might contribute to an historical and verisimilar understanding (hence: probability); or that might, for all the charm of their erudition, inhibit such an understanding (hence: implausibility).

Al-Azmeh analyzes “two contrasting lines of research” in search of a healthy approach to the Qur’anic text, as he provides a highly detailed account of the current state of the study of Qur’anic origins and the methodologies at work. He writes:

Ultimately, historical sources need to be judged on intrinsic criteria, plausibility, and verisimilitude relating to what they seek to establish; rather than hold up one’s arms in despair and adopt a boundless hermeneutic of suspicion, one might rather work from a reasonable judgement of overall verisimilitude in a number of well-defined domains, and then pursue the cumulative compulsion of detail confirmed directly or indirectly.

Click here to read the paper in full. For those who couldn’t join us in Baltimore, this posting is a renewed opportunity to “hear” from a top scholar; and for those who did attend, it is a chance to expand on the dialogue that was sparked during our inaugural meeting. Enjoy!

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

NOW ONLINE – Program Book for Baltimore, Nov 22-24

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are now days away from the first Annual Meeting of the International Qur’anic Studies Association taking place in Baltimore, November 22-24. This meeting is very special and would not have been possible without the help, partnership and collegiality of numerous friends. We are confident that you will find the scheduled panels both stimulating as well as enjoyable. For a complete showcase of our events, participants and sponsors we are proud to present the official AM 2013 PROGRAM BOOK. Viewers are encouraged to further circulate the program book.

(Viewers may alternately access the program book by visiting IQSAWEB.ORG >> Meetings >> Annual Meeting 2013 >> Program Book AM 2013)

Finally, do not forget our Qur’an Manuscript Panel and Inaugural Keynote Lecture followed by Reception all taking place on Friday, Nov 22 (one day before the official start of AAR or SBL). Our Keynote Lecture is on “Implausibility and Probability in Studies of Qur’anic Origins,” and will be delivered by prof. Aziz Al-Azmeh, with a Response by prof. Jane McAuliffe on Friday, 11/22/2013 at 4:30-5:45pm in Baltimore Convention Center, Rm 345. These events are all FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. To attend please RSVP HERE or send a message to

On behalf of the Directors, Steering Committee and our partners we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all friends of IQSA, and we look forward to seeing you on Friday.


Emran El-Badawi

Gabriel Reynolds

Directors, International Qur’anic Studies Association

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

“Fragmentation and Compilation” Workshop at the Institute for Ismaili Studies, London

By Holger Zellentin

This past week, an exciting conversation took place at the Institute for Ismaili Studies in London. The event was convened by one of the Institute’s researchers, Dr. Asma Hilali, who brought together a broad range of researchers in Qur’anic studies. The workshop was the second installment in a series titled “Fragmentation and Compilation,” which seeks to explore the difficult conceptualization of partial transmission and re-arrangement of various “particles” relating to the Qur’an. Among the elements considered in terms of their fragmentation and subsequent compilation were sketches of individual Qur’anic verses and their arrangement within the Qur’an (and beyond), Qur’anic reading instructions and textual variants, and the role of Jewish literary frameworks and exegetical traditions in our understanding of the Qur’an. Presentations were given on material evidence such as: the Ṣan‘ā’ palimpsest (Asma Hilali), early Qur’anic graffiti from Arabia (Frédéric Imbert), the various voices used in Qur’anic discourse (Mehdi Azaiez), the Qur’an’s integration of Jewish exegetical topoi (Holger Zellentin), and on the compositional features of Tafsir collections (Stephen Burge).

Photo by Frédéric Imbert

Photo by Frédéric Imbert

The presenters’ initially distinct points of departure were united by more than their common focus on the text of the Qur’an. Aziz Al-Azmeh served as a brilliant and erudite discussant, probing the theses and turning the focus of the public discussion towards one overarching topic: the palpability of both unity and dynamism within the Qur’anic text, in its traditional form as well as in its various early iterations. The discussion among the presenters and the notable guests (such as François Déroche, Gerald Hawting, and Hermann Landolt) explored two topics in particular. The first constituted the possibilities and challenges inherent to integrating a study of Qur’anic manuscripts with a study of the Arabian Qur’anic graffitis from the first two centuries after the Hijra. Adjacent foci here were the dating of the earliest graffitis; the importance of the Parisino-Petropolitanus codex from Fusṭāṭ (Ms. Arabe 328); and the difficulties pertaining to the carbon-dating, the palaeography, and the reconstruction of the Ṣan‘ā’ 1 palimpsest. Secondly, the discussion repeatedly returned to the limits and imperatives of considering a basic chronology of the Qur’an, and the need to differentiate between the development of micro- and macroforms: i.e. between individual stories or traditions and the Surahs as a whole. A more objective way of establishing an inner Qur’anic chronology, it was suggested, is perhaps the increasingly precise tracing of the relatively pointed appearance of Syriac and Rabbinic literary form and content in specific Surahs.

More than a few doctoral theses are yet to be written covering even the most basic preliminaries connecting the material evidence of the text with its relationship to Late Antiquity. The conference was framed by a discussion of the state of the field of Qur’anic studies, and included a presentation of recent research projects housed in Berlin, Notre Dame, and Nottingham. Overall, the open atmosphere and spirit of respectful inquiry was a great success for the organizer and the hosting institution. Those who have missed the event will be able to read the proceedings in a publication edited by Dr. Hilali.

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

Roll Call: Join the Facebook event for IQSA’s Baltimore Meeting

This week, we ask our readers to visit our Facebook page, where there is now an event posted for our day of inaugural events in Baltimore, MD, on Friday, November 22nd. The event includes a panel on ancient manuscripts, a keynote lecture by Dr. Aziz al-Azmeh with a response by Dr. Jane McAuliffe, and an opening banquet. We would love for you to be part of this landmark occasion. The event is free and open to all! (Saturday and Sunday’s events require registration, however. More information here).

You can find the Facebook event, (whether or not you have an account), here. Those who use Facebook can RSVP by “joining” the event at that link; all others are invited to e-mail us with their RSVP at While you’re at it, be sure to like our IQSA page to stay connected with us there. We hope to see you on Facebook or email soon!

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

Upcoming Colloquia in the UK

Thanks to Nicolai Sinai and Mehdi Azaiez

Islamic Studies Colloquium


Organisers: Elisabeth Kendall, Ahmad Khan, Christopher Melchert, Nicolai Sinai
Venue: Pembroke College, Oxford. OX1 1DW
Date: 27-28 September 2013

Both the resurgence of Islamist politics and the political, social, and intellectual upheaval accompanying the Arab Spring challenge us to reconsider the interplay between the pre-modern Islamic tradition and modern proponents of continuity, reform, and change in the Muslim world. The colloquium therefore invites scholars with an in-depth knowledge of the classical Islamicate heritage to explore modern texts that stake out some sort of claim to pre-modern traditions in disciplines as diverse as Islamic law, hadith, Qur’anic exegesis, politics, and literature. The colloquium will encourage specialists to embark on a hermeneutically sophisticated exercise that avoids some of the extremes to which an examination of how the classical heritage functions in the modern Islamic world has often been subjected. The colloquium aims to move beyond works that contain the tacit assumption that modern Muslims are subconsciously steered by the Islamic tradition, without exerting any sort of agency or control over it, and studies that suggest that modern Muslim thinkers arbitrarily distort elements of the tradition to which they lay claim. Instead, we invite scholars to consider modern re-appropriations of pre-modern concepts, texts, persons, and events, and thereby to transcend an increasing bifurcation between classical and contemporary Islamic studies.


Carole Hillenbrand (University of Edinburgh), Robert Gleave (University of Exeter), Christopher Melchert (University of Oxford), Ahmad Khan (University of Oxford), Nicolai Sinai (University of Oxford), Islam Dayeh (Freie Universitat Berlin), Karen Bauer (Institute of Ismaili Studies), Elisabeth Kendall (University of Oxford), Marilyn Booth (University of Edinburgh), Jon Hoover (University of Nottingham), Christian Lange (Utrecht University)


This colloquium has been made possible thanks to the generosity of Brian Wilson, a long-standing benefactor of Arabic studies at Pembroke.


Attendance is free, but attendees must register by 16 September at

For more information, please visit here.



Fragmentation and Compilation : The Making of Religious Texts in Islam A Comparative Perspective II (30 septembre – 1er octobre)

30 September–1 October 2013
The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
2nd Floor, Room 2.3

Convenor : Asma Hilali


Fragmentation and Variation in the First Islamic Graffiti (1st–2nd century AH)
Frédéric Imbert, Aix-Marseille University, France

The latest research in the field of Islamic graffiti in the first two centuries AH in the Middle East is uncovering new information about Muslim society at the dawn of Islam. Most of this information concerns the Islamic faith, the place of the Qur’an and the figure of the Prophet Muhammad, but the oldest graffiti also allow us to reflect on the status of writing during the same period. Thousands of Arabic Kufic graffiti recently discovered in Saudi Arabia and in the wider Middle East reflect an extreme fragmentation due to the quantity of inscriptions scattered all over the area. These Arabic graffiti, which were not subjected to any kind of censorship, are the expression of variation and repetition at the same time : variation of the Qur’anic text and of the attitude of people towards the new religion and the Prophet, and repetition of the religious prayers and invocations. The picture of early Islam emanating from the first Islamic graffiti is one of fragmentation.

Repetitions and Variations, and the Problem of ‘Qur’anic Variants’
Asma Hilali, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, UK

The field of Qur’anic Studies has been greatly influenced by the medieval reception of the Qur’an text manifested in the exegetical literature and by the theories related to the ‘Qur’anic variants’. The concept of ‘Qur’anic variants’ is deeply rooted in the history of the canonisation of the Qur’an and in the various assumptions made about scribal errors and falsification. My paper will provide a critique of the conceptual tools used in Qur’anic Studies in the last two decades and will propose a new perspective in the study of the textual features interpreted by the medieval and modern scholars as ‘Qur’anic variants’. The new perspective takes the fragmented aspect of the text to be inseparable from the history of its transmission.

Fragmentation, Compilation and Discourse : A Comparison of Three Arbaʿūn Collections on Jihād and Martyrdom Compiled in the Late Mamluk Period
Stephen Burge, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, UK

This paper examines the ways in which hadith scholars went about compiling hadith collections by undertaking a comparative analysis of three similar works written in the same period. The three collections are all arbaʿūn collections – short collections of around forty hadith – which focus on the themes of jihād and martyrdom. The three studied are Suyuti’s Abwāb al-suʿadāʾ fī asbāb al-shuhadāʾ (‘The Gates of the Lucky in the Occasions of Martyrdom’) and his Arbaʿūn ḥadīthan fī faḍl al-jihād (‘Forty Hadith on the Merits of Jihad’) and al-Biqāʿī’s Dhayl al-istishhād bi-āyāt al-jihād (‘The Appendix to Martyrdom in the Verses on Jihād’). I will argue that by closely analysing the material included and excluded from a hadith collection, as well as the ways in which the hadith have been arranged, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of particular nuances within a text in which a compiler does not give his views openly to his reader. This paper will argue that the ‘hadith literature’ contains a vast, almost infinite, body of texts and the job of the hadith compiler is to fragment this wider body of texts, to reconstitute them, and then to arrange them in order to provide a specific discourse on a subject. This process can be seen in the different ways the three works under consideration in this paper respond to the subjects of jihād and martyrdom.

The Qur’an’s Fragmentation and Realignment of Gospel and Talmud
Holger Zellentin, The University of Nottingham, UK

The unique ways in which the Qur’an ‘heard’ select stories from the Aramaic Gospel tradition has been considered by generations of scholars. Yet, only the most rudimentary consensus has been established about the nature of the texts with which the Qur’an’s audience was familiar, let alone the ways in which the Qur’an used these texts. The Qur’an’s utilisation of Talmudic material has received even less attention, and a consensus is even more remote. The present paper seeks to advance, one small step, our understanding of the deployment of both corpora in the Qur’an by considering them jointly. More than occasionally, the Qur’an fragments and realigns demonstrable elements of the (likely oral) Gospel and the Talmudic traditions together in order to solidify its claim of being a correction to the shortcomings of both.

Unity and Fragmentation in the Standard Text of the Qur’an : The Prophet as First Addressee and Dialogic Argumentation. Mehdi Azaiez, CNRS/IREMAM, FRANCE

As defined in discourse analysis, first addressee (or interlocutor) is the person involved in a conversation or dialogue. The figure of the Qur’an’s first addressee is a textual phenomenon linked to the structure of the text and its argumentative dimension. In my contribution, I will define the notion of the first addressee in the Qur’an, its linguistic forms and functions within the entire Qur’an. I will explore the following questions : The variety of the notions of ‘the first addressee’ ; the double aspect of fragmentation/unity of text after its collection and the role of the first addressee in the argumentative shape of the text. My contribution aims to show (i) how the dialogic relation between a Qur’anic enunciator and its first addressee reveals one of the main aspects of Qur’anic argumentation ; (ii) how the Qur’an legitimates the status of its first addressee as a prophet.


Day 1 : Monday, 30 September 2013

12:00 Arrival of speakers at hotel and lunch

14:00 Welcome
Asma Hilali, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London

14:00–16:00 Session 1 : Qur’anic Studies : From a Fragmentary Approach to an Approach about Fragmentation

Speakers : Stephen Burge, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
Asma Hilali, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
Holger Zellentine, The University of Nottingham

Discussant : Prof. Aziz al-Azmeh

This session will examine the state of the field of Qur’anic Studies. It will cover the following topics :
(i) Qur’anic manuscripts : A tool or an aim ?
(ii) Intertextuality : Methodological remarks
(iii) Fragmentation/Compilation perspectives on the Qur’an text in the context of the history of its transmission.

16:00 Break

16:20–17:50 Session 2 : Variation and Repetition in Qur’anic Texts

Chair : Holger Zellentin

Fragmentation and Variation in the First Islamic Graffiti (1st–2nd century AH)
Frédéric Imbert, Aix-Marseille University

Repetitions and Variations, and the Problem of ‘Qur’anic Variants’
Asma Hilali, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

19:00 : Speakers’ Dinner

Day 2 : Tuesday, 1st October 2013

9:00–11:00 Session 3 : Comparative Perspectives

Chair : Mehdi Azaiez, University of Notre Dame, Indiana

Fragmentation, Compilation and Discourse : A Comparison of Three Arba’un Collections on Jihad and Martyrdom Compiled in the Late Mamluk Period
Stephen Burge, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

The Qur’an’s Fragmentation and Realignment of Gospel and Talmud
Holger Zellentine, The University of Nottingham

Unity and Fragmentation in the Standard Text of the Qur’an : The Prophet as First Addressee and the Dialogic Argumentation
Mehdi Azaiez, LabexResmed, Paris

11:00 General Discussion

12:00 Speakers’ Lunch

For more information, please visit here.

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

Our Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD (Full Schedule and Registration Details)

By Emran El-Badawi and Gabriel Reynolds (With special thanks to Charles Haws)

The International Qur’anic Studies Association is happy to announce the full schedule of its first annual meeting, taking place in Baltimore, MD from November 22-24, 2013. You may recall our earlier announcement informing you about our exciting program for the first day. See the schedule below, but note that room assignments are still pending.



Given that this is IQSA’s inaugural meeting as well as the heightened public interest, the directors and steering committee have decided to make registration for to all IQSA panels on Friday Nov 22 (including the keynote lecture and response) free and open to the public. Those interested are further encouraged to attend IQSA panels on Saturday Nov 23 and Sunday Nov 24 by paying the registration fee of the Society of Biblical Literature – or –  American Academy of Religion. Finally, you are encouraged to subscribe to our blog in order to receive weekly news updates about our meetings, as well as informed posts on Qur’anic Studies today.

On behalf of the co-directors, steering committee and partners we thank you for your enthusiasm and support for IQSA.We look forward to seeing you in Baltimore!

International Qur’anic Studies Association
1:30 PM to 4 PM
Room: Baltimore Convention Center – 345

Qur’an Manuscripts: Text, Object and Usage

Gabriel Reynolds, University of Notre Dame, Presiding

Keith Small, London School of Theology
Gems of the Bodleian: Qur’an Manuscripts at Oxford University (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Simon Rettig, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Codicology versus History of Art? Rethinking the Visual Study of Qur’an Manuscripts (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Alasdair Watson, Bodleian Libraries
The King’s Mushafs: A Glimpse at Some of the Qur’ans from Tipu Sultan’s Royal Library (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Asma Hilali, Institute of Ismaili Studies
The Manuscript 27.1 DAM: Sacred Words and Words about the Sacred (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Break (30 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association


4:30 PM to 5:45 PM
Room: Baltimore Convention Center – 345

Keynote Lecture: Implausibility and Probability in Studies of Qur’anic Origins

Emran El-Badawi, University of Houston, Introduction (10 min)

Aziz Al-Azmeh, Central European University, Budapest, Panelist (45 min)

Jane McAuliffe, Bryn Mawr University, Respondent (20 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association

9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel – Paca

Theme: Approaches and Theories on the Translation of the Qur’an

Helen Blatherwick, University of London, Presiding

Maria Dakake, George Mason University
The Original Soul and the “Womb” of Kinship: The Feminine and the Universal in Qur’an 4:1 (25 min)

A. J. Droge, Translator
Traduttore, Traditore? Revisiting Mr. Nabokov (25 min)

Devin J. Stewart, Emory University
The Translation of Divine Epithets in the Qur’an (25 min)

Omar Tarazi, Independent Scholar
Translating the Qur’an’s Aesthetic and Intellectual Features into Plain English (25 min)

Shawkat M. Toorawa, Cornell University
Translation and the Sad Fate of the Qur’an’s Most (?) Important Feature (25 min)

Discussion (25 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Marriott Baltimore Inner Harbor – Stadium Ballroom II

Theme: Qu’ran and Gender

Farid Esack, University of Johannesburg, Presiding

Juliane Hammer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Equity, Equality, or Hierarchy: American Tafsir on Gender Roles in Marriage (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Kecia Ali, Boston University
Destabilizing Gender, Reproducing Maternity: Qur’anic Narratives of Mary (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Marion Holmes Katz, New York University
The Ethical Body and The Gendered Body In The Qur’an (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Hamza M. Zafer, University of Washington
The Sons (and Daughters) of Israel: Gender In Qur’anic Negotiations of Jewish Lineage (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Aziz al-Azmeh, Central European University, Respondent (10 min)

Discussion (20 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association
Joint Session With: International Qur’anic Studies Association, Qur’an and Biblical Literature
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Marriott Baltimore Inner Harbor – Stadium Ballroom II

Michael Pregill, Elon University, Presiding

Michael Graves, Wheaton College (Illinois)
Kernel Texts and Prophetic Logia: Biblical and Quranic Scholarship in Dialogue (20 min)

David Penchansky, University of Saint Thomas (Saint Paul, MN)
Daughters of Deity in the Bible and the Quran (20 min)

Abdulla Galadari, University of Aberdeen
Begotten of God: A Quranic Interpretation of the Logos (20 min)

David Hollenberg, University of Oregon
Ships of Faith, Islands of Salvation: Stories of the Prophets as Intra-Sectarian Shi’ite Polemic (20 min)

Clare Wilde, University of Auckland
Quranic Echoes of the bnay qeyama (20 min)

Discussion (20 min)

Business Meeting (20 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association
Joint Session With: International Qur’anic Studies Association, Qur’an and Biblical Literature
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel – Johnson B

Theme: Modern Muslim Critics of Bible and Isra’iliyyat

Brannon Wheeler, United States Naval Academy, Presiding

Gabriel Said Reynolds, University of Notre Dame
Reading the Bible with Ahmad Deedat (20 min)

Michael Pregill, Elon University
Modern Critics of Isra’iliyyat and the Problem of Isma’ (20 min)

Younus Mirza, Allegheny College
Abridging the Isra’iliyyat: Shaykh Ahmad Shakir’s (d.1377/1958) Summary of Tafsir Ibn Kathir (20 min)

Roberto Tottoli, Universita degli Studi di Napoli l’Orientale
Isra’iliyyat: A Tool of Muslim Exegesis and Western Studies (20 min)

Discussion (20 min)

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