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 ahmad.khan@pmb.ox.ac.uk

For more information, please visit here.

Ms. mehdi-azaiez.org

Ms. mehdi-azaiez.org

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.

Self-Referentiality and Argumentation within the Qur’anic Text (Interview Series Part 3)


An Interview with Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau, by Mehdi Azaiez

This week IQSA continues its interview series with Dr. Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau, postdoctoral fellow in Islamic Studies (University of Gronigen). In this interview, Boisliveau presents her achievements and research in self-referentiality and argumentation within the Qur’anic text.

Dr. Boisliveau, how did you become a Qur’anic scholar? 

When I started studying political sciences and international relations at college in France, I was given the unexpected opportunity of following beginner’s courses in Arabic. I immediately enjoyed studying the language, and decided to pursue both a second bachelor and a masters degree in Arabic language and culture. I later completed this training by living more than seven years in Arab countries.

My interest in the Arab world and its people naturally led me to focus increasingly on an element that was so important for many people there: the Islamic religion. Step by step, I chose to study the Qur’an due to its centrality for Muslim believers I met. I spent time listening to sermons in mosques and attending classes of religion and sharia in Islamic institutes in Arab countries. I was curious about the authority Muslims granted to this text.

What are your academic achievements in the field of Qur’anic studies?

In 2010 I defended a PhD thesis on self-referential discourse in the Qur’an. To put it simply, this study deals with “what the Qur’an ‘says’ about itself,” or how the Qur’an describes its own phenomenon of revelation, its own status of revealed scripture, and its own role in people’s lives.

What is the significance of your study for the field of Qur’anic studies?

First, it showed how textual and literary critical studies of the Qur’an can really produce interesting results in today’s research. A pioneering and fascinating study in self-referentiality had already been done by Daniel Madigan (The Qurʾān’s self-image: writing and authority in Islam’s scripture, Princeton 2001), but it focused exclusively on vocabulary and semantic relations. A short book in French (Aux origines du Coran—“At the Origins of the Qur’an,” 2004), written by Alfred-Louis de Prémare, as well as the introduction of a book edited by Stefan Wild (Self-Referentiality in the Qurʾān, 2006), both suggested the importance of considering arguments and debates exposed within the Qur’anic text.

At the beginning of my research on the Qur’anic text, I realized that there was a lot that could be done through a renewed philological approach that does not consider only vocabulary but also the argumentative strategies operating within the text. In my view, argumentation is really to be taken into account when trying to understand the Qur’anic teachings. Narratives, for instance, are not used in the Qur’an only to retell nice stories of the past. They are there because the text “has something to say” by using them. What I found so interesting to try to elucidate is what results of the argumentation built into the text.

Second, my research has shown how authority was granted to the Qur’an by its own text. For instance, among other strategies, the Qur’anic text uses previous scriptures (Torah, Gospel, etc.) as referents to define its own nature as a “scripture revealed by God to a prophet”—even though it does so in a new way that differs from main Jewish or Christian concepts. Many rhetorical tools are used by the text to argue its own definition and to try to convince its audience.

Third, my research brings new insights to the question of the chronological development of the Qur’anic text. I tried to figure out whether some evolution within the self-referential discourse of the Qur’an could be discerned. To this end, I used several hypotheses of the chronological order of verses and Suras, both from Western scholarship and Islamic tradition. I myself am not sure whether these chronological order hypotheses are reliable; but—in order to explore all the possible dimensions of self-referentiality, and encouraged by the works of Angelika Neuwirth—I chose to complete the first two parts of my study (vocabulary and argumentation in a synchronic approach) with a third part employing this chronological (diachronic) approach. And it actually generated very interesting results on the development of the text: the logics of self-referentiality did evolve, or at least, appear as very different in the different parts of the text.

The first two parts of my work (synchronic approach) are on their way to publication under the title Le Coran par lui-même. Vocabulaire et argumentation du discours coranique autoréférentiel and the third part (chronological approach) will be published separately. Among my English articles on the subject is “Polemics in the Koran: The Koran’s Negative Argumentation over its Own Origin,” Arabica, Brill, 2013 (60).

What is the aim of your research?

On the one hand, my research seeks to understand and analyze Islamic dogma and provide information about it; in this regard, knowledge of the Qur’anic text is of primary importance. For instance, too quick a reading of Qur’anic verses may lead people who do not know Islam to misinterpret the meaning of words by assuming these words have the same meaning as in their own religion or culture, whereas this is not necessarily so. I hope my work on the Qur’an can help non-Muslims and Muslims alike to understand the reality of what they actually mean within their own contexts.

On the other hand, I seek to contribute to the development of a high standard of scholarly study of the Qur’an. For instance, as a scholar I cannot base my interpretation of a verse on the idea that it is God’s word, and that therefore its meaning is logical or right (as this would be judging according to religious principles). And similarly I cannot base my interpretation on the preconceived idea that the Qur’an is violent and evil (for this would stem from hostility and polemical principles). As a scholar I am not allowed to work from any of these principles, as this would mean imposing on other scholars either a religious view, in the first case, or an ideological-political view, in the second. The job of a university scholar is not to base his or her research on religious assumptions, nor to build religious law. On the contrary, the job of a university scholar is to try to understand texts and facts in the most neutral way possible, without the influence of previous assumptions, and to present research to a multicultural society where people are free to have religious and non-religious beliefs of all kinds. In order to offer knowledge about the contents and the history of the Qur’an to the multicultural world society, scholars should keep their own religious or anti-religious assumptions aside. I hope my modest contribution to the field can help to further Qur’anic scholarship with high academic standards.

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