Fourth International Symposium on Rethinking the Qur’ān: Qur’ānic Studies in the First Three Centuries | October 20 – 21, Ankara

The Fourth International Symposium on Rethinking the Qur’ān: Qur’ānic Studies in the First Three Centuries, was successfully held by the Research Institute for the Philosophical Foundation of the Disciplines from October 20 – 21, 2018, Ankara.


Ismahan Yurt, head of Institute, gave the opening address, which was followed by papers by Professor Mehmet Said Hatipoğlu on The Qur’ān and a Critical Mind, Professor Alparslan Açıkgenç on The Formation of the Discipline of Tafsīr during the Tedwīn Period, and Professor Halil Rahman Açar on Can earlier Attempts by Muslims to understand the Qur’ān be called Tafsīr?


The Symposium continued on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, with parallel sessions at which papers were given on topics ranging from the Prophet Muhammad’s understanding of the Qur’ān to al-Tabarī’s interpretations, classical exegesis and interpretative methods. The Schools of Mecca, Medina, Kufa, and Andalusia, and their key features were also investigated. The aim of presentations and discussions was to illuminate the efforts of Muslims in interpreting the Qur’ān within the first three centuries of Islam.


The committee extend their thanks to all participants for making the symposium such a success. Information regarding the publication of proceedings will be announced in due course.




© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2018. All rights reserved.



A New Project for an Etymological Dictionary of the Qurʾan

Prof. Salih Akdemir, of Ankara University in Turkey, presented at the First International Symposium on Rethinking the Qur’an earlier this year (on which Dr. Andrew Rippin reported for IQSA here). His paper, “Linguistic Approaches to the Qur’an: Contribution to Creating a Great Dictionary of the Qur’an” brought attention to an issue that he frames in the following way: “The Qur’an is a divine book revealed in the Arabic language. But which Arabic language?”. Here he argues that, since the revelation of the Qur’an in the Arabic of the Prophet’s time, the language has undergone so many semantic changes that it is no longer possible to understand the Qur’an as the Prophet and his companions understood it. The project for an etymological dictionary of the Qur’an that Akdemir proposes would therefore aim to be a part of the solution to this important problem.

The following excerpt summarizes Akdemir’s conclusions in the aforementioned paper:

General Conclusion

“The diachronic semantic research we carried out in the Hebrew Bible, in the New Testament and in the Qur’an concerning many roots—in this paper, exempli gratia E- M-R and R-H-M roots, were studied—allows us to arrive at the following results:

1. Among Semitic languages the Arabic reflects the Proto-Semitic perfectly and can be counted as older than Akkadian in that regard. So to deny this common origin would be the biggest harm to be done to the Semitic languages, since the Semitic languages are those languages that fulfill each other and hence explain one another. The togetherness which will be realized on the basis of these languages will contribute to the mutual understanding of the Semitic Peoples.

2. Semantic changes are the natural process all languages underwent and will continue to undergo. What is important is to be aware of this process. This awareness is especially  crucial for the understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, it seems that Islamic World is not aware, apart from some exceptions of this vital issue for our common future. Since the Arabic language underwent semantic changes over the course of time, is there any possibility for us to understand the Qur’an as the Prophet and his prestigious companions understood it?

Unfortunately the answer to that crucial question is no, because all Arabic dictionaries, however ancient they may be, are far away from accomplishing this task. Sadly, no work has been done so far to fill this gap in the Islamic world.

But even more upsetting is the fact is that, apart from a few researchers, no one is aware of this crucial issue. The fact that we do not have even nowadays any dictionary of the Qur’an that will be able to provide us with Arabic language of the Prophet’s time, is, according to al-Khûlî’s expression, a shameful situation. As far as our country is concerned, even more shameful than this is the fact that the dictionary of the Qur’an that was compiled by the English orientalist John Penrice in 1873 in London was translated into the Turkish languages in 2010. Finally, the dictionary of Qur’anic usage that was compiled by Egyptian researchers ElSaid M. Badawi, Muhamad Abdel Haleem and edited by Brill in 2008 is far away from fulfilling this vital task, since it was not prepared by scientific methods. Thus it only repeats the past, as it were. 

Today more than ever, it is obvious that all the world is in urgent need of a new dictionary of the Qur’an that will be composed by taking into consideration not only the semantic changes the Arabic roots have undergone over the course of the time but also the data of the modern lexicology.

3. Compiling the dictionary of the Qur’an that will provide us with the Arabic language of the Prophet’s time will only be possible if we carry out the diachronic semantic method of approaching the holy Scriptures, taking into consideration all the Semitic Languages. It goes without saying that we must realize the diachronic semantic analysis of the 1505 Qur’anic roots by benefiting from Comparative Semitic studies. To understand the Qur’an correctly, it is also necessary to study the early revelations. We must keep in mind that we will not be able to understand the Qur’an correctly without first studying these early revelations.

4. Our aim is to compose this dictionary of the Qur’an in accordance with the rules and principles we determined and to present it to the people of the world. That is why we want to compose this dictionary in Turkish and in English at same time. Success will come only from Allah.”

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

First International Symposium on Rethinking the Qur’an

By Andrew Rippin

ANKARA—On May 3-5, 2013, the Research Institute for Philosophical Foundations of Disciplines (İlim Dallarının Düşünce Temellerini Araştırma Enstitüsü) in Ankara sponsored the First International Symposium on Rethinking the Qur’an. With papers presented by fifty-one participants from about twenty countries worldwide, and with attendance topping 200 people—more than 50% of whom were women—this was an event of some significance.

The concern of  the local community with the idea of “rethinking” the Qur’an was evident, both in the papers delivered and in the composition of the audience. Many expressed opinions about the best method by which the Qur’an might be understood and about why that process of understanding was so difficult. As numerous speakers said, while no doubt is harbored that the Qur’an is a revelation from God, the problem of the need for a method to understand the text remains. The discussion was open and often surprising (to an “outsider” such as myself), and the tone remained—for the most part—earnest yet respectful. Such conversations were facilitated and kept available to all through simultaneous translation of English and Turkish (as well as Arabic and Persian in some panels).

The question of whether academic scholarship has anything to contribute to the task of “rethinking the Qur’an” was brought to the surface through the participation of several scholars who adopted a theoretical angle. (Literary, historical, and comparative religion approaches were especially evident.) This sort of conversation between perspectives on the study of the Qur’an has, at the very least, the merit of breaking down the perceived barriers between academic work and devotional concerns.

There were some papers that particularly drew the attention of the audience and others that reflected theoretical sophistication of considerable interest. Several papers from Iranian participants, given in English, were focused on linguistic structures and informed by general theory, for example. One presentation from a Mauritanian/Moroccan scholar on qiwama in the context of Q. 4.34—as can likely be imagined by readers of this blog—aroused impassioned responses and evoked many reinterpretations of the passage on the part of the audience, despite the speaker’s attempt to emphasize the need to follow the methods of al-Jabiri, Arkoun and Fazlur Rahman.

There is no doubt that a theological agenda was close to the surface in many of the papers and discussions, and this was totally explicit in the two concluding talks of the symposium. One challenge that clearly emerged  as critical was that of resolving the hermeneutical problems of multiple meanings in the text, without the believer’s reverence for the text overcoming the scholar’s constructive analysis (such that the result is simply a statement of belief). And, as was argued, another common problem among religious believers is that of engaging the text without allowing the fear of the outcome of one’s study to overpower the enunciation of one’s ideas (thus simply leading to acceptance of what has “always” been thought.) Such thoughts are especially interesting to those of us who reflect upon trends in modern Islamic thinking; but they also illustrate the gap that remains between scholarship within the Euro-American tradition of Qur’anic studies and expected motivations when speaking to an audience in a country such as Turkey.

The difference here is, of course, familiar: it is the same tension that is experienced in religious studies in general, whether thought of as the insider-outsider dilemma or as the problem of defining religious studies as compared to theology. But what this gathering illustrated to me, at least, is the necessity for the interaction between the different perspectives—both for communication and for chipping away at the preconceptions held on both sides of the discussion. For that, this symposium was a tremendous success.

It is anticipated that a second symposium, focusing on rethinking concepts in the Qur’an, will be held next year.

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