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.

AW

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.

A Letter of Thanks to IQSA Members

Dear IQSA members and friends,

I hope this message reaches you well, and that you found our time together in San Diego, both enlightening as well as enjoyable. Like many of you, I had the pleasure of meeting old friends and making new ones. I speak for myself, council and all IQSA officers when I say that we are quite pleased with how the conference went. Our sessions were well attended, and the papers were engaging and thought provoking. Our current membership numbers over 450 from all around the world, and we had the pleasure of having over one hundred of them represented during the Friday sessions, especially the keynote lecture and reception. 50 people attended our first business meeting, at which prof. Farid Esack was unanimously voted president elect for 2015.

We are, furthermore, heartened and impressed by the enthusiasm for IQSA–both within North American and internationally. Participants and audience members came from around the globe, including Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Australia, Europe and North America. This all bodes well for IQSA, not least because this is just our second annual meeting. The task of IQSA’s executive office is now to keep up with this growth and accommodate our members for many future meetings.

I am also happy to share with you that our success in San Diego played a significant role within the larger SBL / AAR conference, for the second year in a row. More on this and several other matters of business soon.

scholars in library_maqamat hariri

Please do not forget to tell your friends, colleagues and peers about us. IQSA members come from an incredibly diverse range of academic backgrounds, including Qur’anic Studies, Islamic Studies, Biblical Studies, Middle East Studies, textual studies, inter-religious studies, hermeneutics, studies on manuscripts or material culture, the hard sciences, and so on. There are numerous ways to stay connected with IQSA throughout the year, namely by:

* Becoming a member (http://membership.iqsaweb.org/Join.aspx)

* Subscribing to our blog (IQSAWEB.ORG)

* Joining the private IQSA Discussion Group

* Liking the “International Qur’anic Studies Association” on Facebook

* Following “@IQSAWEB” on Twitter

* Publishing with us!

   (a) If you have an outstanding article or book length manuscript

        (English, Arabic), please contact JIQSA@iqsaweb.org

See also our call for papers HERE

(https://iqsaweb.wordpress.com/publications/call-for-papers-jiqsa/)

   (b) If you have a minor project you would like to share over our blog

        (any language), please contact vdegifis@wayne.edu

        (As many as one thousand people may read your post in one

         week)

Next, you may anticipate getting full access to the keynote paper by prof. Angelika Neuwirth and response by prof. Andrew Rippin. in December 2014. Soon after the New Year you should also receive news about Membership and Member Benefits for 2015. Current and past papers published by IQSA are available HERE (https://iqsaweb.wordpress.com/publications/papers/) and program books are available HERE (https://iqsaweb.wordpress.com/meetings/).

On behalf of us all, I wish to thank our 2014 acting president Andrew Rippin, 2015 president Reuven Firestone, and congratulate as well as thank our 2015 president elect Farid Esack. Also special thanks go to Nicolai Sinai, Gabriel Reynolds, John Kutsko, Irfana Hussain, Vanessa DeGifis, Ryann Craig, Hakaya Productions and our friends at both SBL and AAR. I very much look forward to our meetings next year in Yogyakarta Indonesia (Aug, 2015) and Atlanta, GA (Nov, 2015).

Finally, thank you all for making IQSA a success!

Sincerely,

Emran El-Badawi, Executive Director

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

New Book: The Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions

A new book by Emran El-Badawi on The Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions has been published this month. This book is the thirteenth of the Routledge Studies in the Qur’an series, edited by Andrew Rippin.

(Routledge.com)

(Routledge.com)

Description*

This book is a study of related passages found in the Arabic Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospels, i.e. the Gospels preserved in the Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic dialects. It builds upon the work of traditional Muslim scholars, including al-Biqa‘i (d. ca. 808/1460) and al-Suyuti (d. 911/1505), who wrote books examining connections between the Qur’an on the one hand, and Biblical passages and Aramaic terminology on the other, as well as modern western scholars, including Sidney Griffith who argue that pre-Islamic Arabs accessed the Bible in Aramaic.

The Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions examines the history of religious movements in the Middle East from 180-632 CE, explaining Islam as a response to the disunity of the Aramaic speaking churches. It then compares the Arabic text of the Qur’an and the Aramaic text of the Gospels under four main themes: the prophets; the clergy; the divine; and the apocalypse. Among the findings of this book are that the articulator as well as audience of the Qur’an were monotheistic in origin, probably bilingual, culturally sophisticated and accustomed to the theological debates that raged between the Aramaic speaking churches.

Arguing that the Qur’an’s teachings and ethics echo Jewish-Christian conservatism, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of Religion, History, and Literature.

Table of Contents

  1. Sources and Method
  2. Prophetic Tradition in the Late Antique Near East
  3. Prophets and their Righteous Entourage
  4. The Evils of the Clergy
  5. The Divine Realm
  6. Divine Judgement and the Apocalypse
  7. Data Analysis and Conclusion

Author Bio

Emran El-Badawi is Director and Assistant Professor of Arab Studies at the University of Houston. His articles include “From ‘clergy’ to ‘celibacy’: The development of rahbaniyyah between Qur’an, Hadith and Church Canon” and “A humanistic reception of the Qur’an.” His work has been featured on the New York Times, Houston Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor.

Subjects

  1. Islam
  2. Scriptures of Islam
  3. Biblical Studies

For complete product information on El-Badawi’s book please go here.

* Accessed from the publisher’s product page.

© 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 contact@iqsaweb.org.

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.

Sincerely,

Emran El-Badawi

Gabriel Reynolds

Directors, International Qur’anic Studies Association

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

A Course on the Qur’an as Literature

By Emran El-Badawi

I offered an undergraduate course last spring for the first time on the Qur’an as Literature. My goal was simple, I wanted my students to read the text closely and interpret its verses themselves. Their apprehension, at first, to commit to this bold exercise soon gave way to an ease and skill with handling the text.

Framing this course on the Qur’an as “literature” emphasized the literary qualities of the text and de-emphasized a theological approach. It meant going deep into the rhyme, rhetoric and homiletic nature of the text. It also entailed divorcing the text, to some extent, from Tafsir. I took some cautionary notes from Andrew Rippin’s article on the pitfalls of “The Qur’an as Literature,”[1], but some of this was new territory for me.

(greenzblog.com)

(greenzblog.com)

Part of the course description reads:

This course examines the content and literary style of the Qur’an and in the context of the late antique Near East, ca. 2nd-7th centuries CE. We will read the text alongside the texts belonging to the “People of the Scripture” (ahl al-kitab), i.e. Christians and Jews, and other religious groups explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an. Their scriptures include the Hebrew Bible (al-Tawrah), the New Testament (al-Injil), Zoroastrian texts (cf. al-majus) and Arabian prophetic speech (shi‘r kahin). This comparative approach will provide students with a rich understanding of the Qur’an as an integral part of world literature, and challenge contemporary and traditional assumptions about the text. This approach will also allow the Qur’an to speak for itself, rather than reading it through the eyes of medieval interpretation (Tafsir) or prophetic tradition (Hadith) which began in the 9th century CE. This course also exposes students to some of the scholarly challenges of studying the different layers of a text (Meccan vs. Medinan), identifying its audience, trying to construct the history of its transmission (oral vs. written) without much evidence, and to the limits of translation.

Fortunately, the class size was fairly small, 15 or so, and students came from different religious as well as cultural backgrounds, which made for much lively discussion and debate. Students were pushed to think critically and in a systematic function about the Qur’an, as well as challenge their own assumptions about the text. For students I find two principle barriers that stand between them and the Qur’an. These are the ‘politicization of the text’ on the one hand, and the ‘confusion of the text with traditional interpretation’ on theother. More broadly speaking, I wanted them to appreciate scripture not just as a religious text, but as an integral part of world literature that holds value in the academy.

For an undergraduate course like this, all instruction and materials were in English. Reading materials included  How to Read the Qur’an by Carl Ernst (who incidentally has a terrific course on this subject!) [2] and several supplementary articles including: a rhyming translation of Q 93-114 by Shawkat Toorawa, a qur’anic reading of the Psalms by Angelika Neuwirth, and a humanistic reception of the text by me.[3] Students were encouraged but not required to buy a translation of the Qur’an, given the plethora of translations online. (Although for practical purposes we used Yusuf Ali’s translation during class time). Finally, included in the course materials were sections of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, post-biblical exhortations (e.g. Ephrem the Syrian), Zoroastrian texts and Pre-Islamic poetry. For some students it was the first time they had read the Qur’an; for others the first time they read the Bible. In both cases, students expressed how pleased they were at this eye-opening experience and fruitful exchange.

The course benefited a great deal from following stories posted on the IQSA blog (that’s right, this blog!) and the Qur’an Seminar at the University of Notre Dame, which was still running at the time. To my surprise, students were both curious and welcoming of the technical dimensions of Qur’an study. Some of our best discussions, for example, involved scrutinizing the rhyme of Arabic poetry or considering a particular Syriac word. The course naturally explored a number of qur’anic themes like apocalypticism, prophecy, law, etc, as well as introduced students to debates concerning the text’s chronology, speaker and structure. My happiest moment was when a student expressed to me how the course “made the Qur’an part of a much more intellectual conversation.”

Teaching this course was a tremendous learning experience for both the students and myself. The students learned how to navigate a sometimes unwieldy text and appreciate its tremendous contribution to the world in which they live. Collectively, we learned that as long as one approaches any scripture respectfully as well as critically, the task of understanding it becomes that much easier.


[1] Andrew Rippin, “The Qur’an as literature: perils, pitfalls and prospects,” Bulletin of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, 10.1, 1983.

[2] Carl Ernst, How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide with Select Translations, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

[3] Shawkat Toorawa, “’The Inimitable Rose’, being Qur’anic saj‘ from Surat al-Duhâ to Surat al-Nâs (Q. 93–114) in English rhyming prose,” Journal of Qur’anic Studies, 8.2, 2006; Angelika Neuwirth, “Qur’anic readings of the Psalms” in Ed. Angelika Neuwirth et al. (eds.), The Qur’an in Context, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2009; Emran El-Badawi, “A humanistic reception of the Qur’an,” Scriptural Margins: On the Boundaries of Sacred Texts, English Language Notes, 50.2, 2012.

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

The Qur’an and the Syriac Bible (link)

“Islamic tradition paints a picture of Islam’s origins in a pagan environment, and Western scholars have often assumed that Mecca in the time of Muhammad was an outpost of decadent, polytheistic idolaters. Yet for its part the Qurʿan is more interested in the Bible than it is in paganism. The Qur’an refers to Jesus 25 times, to Abraham 69 times, and to Moses no fewer than 136 times. . . .”

IQSA’s co-directors, Professors Gabriel Reynolds and Emran Elbadawi, recently contributed an essay titled “Qur’an and the Syriac Bible” to Oxford Islamic Studies Online and Oxford Biblical Studies Online, the full text of which can be found here. [1] [2] 

(from Oxford Islamic Studies Online)

(from Oxford Islamic Studies Online)

In it, they discuss “two themes of religious exhortation which reflect the extraordinary dialogue between the Qurʿan and the biblical literature of late antiquity”: 1) prophets and messengers and 2) promises and threats.

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

Our New Look

By Emran El-Badawi and Gabriel Reynolds

Our newly designed website is now online, and we hope visitors find it practical, as well as elegant. A number of helpful improvements were made, including translating the “About Us” page into Arabic, Turkish, Bhasa and French. Translations into further languages will soon follow. We hope this to be of most benefit to visitors who access our website from around the world.

http

A number of graphical enhancements were made throughout the web pages, including our new logo. We are also happy to share photographs of IQSA’s officers and steering committee under “People.” That being said, the overall platform of our web platform remains relatively unchanged. Visitors will be notified when the “Conference Papers” page starts being populated.

We hope to make further changes to our website in 2014, which will include setting up the architecture to host IQSA’s online journal. Until then, visitors should await further news about the 2014 annual meeting in San Diego, as well as future international meetings. Our thanks go to Mehdi Azaiez, Mun’im Sirri, Esra Tasdelen and Leanova Designs.

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