Debating Monotheistic Pluralism

by Reza Aslan*

cropped-67450_10150308353980065_3395794_n.jpgBefore I address Professor Hughes’ criticism of my earlier blog post on monotheistic pluralism, I suppose I should begin as he does by addressing something that has absolutely nothing to do with my blog post: that is, my biography of the historical Jesus. I am not sure if it comes as surprise to Professor Hughes that scholars disagree with each other, but the fact that Professor Richard Horsley or Professor Dale Martin have taken issue with some of my conclusions—just as I in my book have taken issue with some of theirs—does not delegitimize my scholarship any more than the fact that both of them agree with other conclusions of mine legitimizes it. Perhaps the distinction between agreement and legitimation is too subtle for an academic who, in disagreeing with another academic’s conclusion, denounces the latter as a “lie,” as Professor Hughes does at the conclusion of his post. The implication that I am a liar is a thinly veiled ad hominem argument that is only convincing if one were to deny that disagreement could be genuine.

Between his tangent about Jesus and his attack on my character, Professor Hughes does bring up one interesting point worth addressing: “what the term ‘Jew’ might have signified in the seventh century.” Unfortunately, that point is muddled with his confused charge that I “assume . . . that Jews then were like Jews now.” In fact, I make the exact opposite point, which is why I speak exclusively of seventh-century Arabian Jewish identity and mysticism.

As I note in my book No god but God (of which Professor Hughes could dig up some critiques if he likes), the consensus of most scholars is that the Jewish clans in Medina—the Jews I referenced in my post—were likely Arab converts and barely distinguishable from their pagan counterparts, either culturally or religiously. What is more, they were not a particularly literate group. The Arabic sources describe Medina’s Jewish clans as speaking a language of their own called ratan, which al-Tabari claims was Persian but which may have been a hybrid of Arabic and Aramaic. There is no evidence that they either spoke or understood Hebrew. Indeed, their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures was likely limited to just a few scrolls of law, some prayer books, and a handful of fragmentary Arabic translations of the Torah—what S. W. Baron refers to as a “garbled, oral tradition.”

So limited was the knowledge of Judaism among Arabia’s Jews that some scholars do not believe them to have been genuinely Jewish. D. S. Margoliouth considers the Jews of Medina to have been little more than a loose band of monotheists who should more properly be termed “Rahmanists” (Rahman being an alternative title for Allah). While many disagree with Margoliouth’s analysis, there are other reasons to question the degree to which Medina’s Jewish clans would have identified themselves with the Jewish faith. Consider, for example, that by the sixth century C.E., there was, as H. G. Reissener noted, a fair measure of agreement among Diaspora Jewish communities that a Jew could be defined as “a follower of the Mosaic Law . . . in accordance with the principles laid down in the Talmud.” Such a restriction would immediately have ruled out Medina’s Jewish clans who neither strictly observed Mosaic Law nor seemed to have any real knowledge of the Babylonian Talmud that Professor Hughes references in his critique.

Moreover, there is a conspicuous absence in Medina of what should be easily identifiable archeological evidence of a significant Jewish presence. According to Jonathan Reed, certain archeological indicators—such as the remnants of stone vessels, the ruins of immersion pools (miqva’ot), and the interment of ossuaries— should be present at a site in order to confirm the existence there of an established Jewish religious identity. As far as we know, none of these indicators have been unearthed in Medina. Naturally, there are those who continue to assert the religious identity of Medina’s Jewish clans. Gordon Newby, for example, thinks that Medina’s Jews may have comprised distinct communities with their own schools and books, though no archeological evidence exists to confirm this hypothesis. In any case, even Newby admits that with regard to their culture, ethics, and even their religion, Medina’s Jews were practically identical to Medina’s pagan community, with whom they freely interacted and (against Mosaic law) frequently intermarried.

Simply put, the Jewish clans of Medina were in no way a religiously observant group; if Margoliouth and others are correct, they may not even have been Jews. This is why I argued that they would not necessarily have found anything that Muhammad said or did to be against their norms, values, or beliefs.

Professor Hughes likely disagrees with me on this topic. I would be happy to hear a rebuttal, and I promise to try my hardest not to refer to any disagreement as a “lie.”

* Reza Aslan is Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside and Trustee at the Chicago Theological Seminary

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2015. All rights reserved.

Qur’anic Clues to the Identity of Muhammad’s Community in Medina

by Reza Aslan*

It may have been in Mecca where the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelations of the Qur’an and began his prophetic mission, but it was in Medina where his community of followers was forged. It is tempting to call the members of Muhammad’s community “Muslims,” but there is no reason to believe that this term was used to designate a distinct religious movement until many years into the Medinan period or perhaps after Muhammad’s death. It would be more accurate to refer to Muhammad’s community in Medina by the term that the Qur’an uses: umma.

Ceramic panel depicting the Mosque in Medina; 17th century. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Ceramic panel depicting the Mosque in Medina; 17th century. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The problem is that no one is certain what the term umma meant or where it came from. It may be derived from Arabic, Hebrew, or Aramaic; it may have meant “community,” “nation,” or “people.” A few scholars have suggested that umma may be derived from the Arabic word for mother (umm); while this idea may be aesthetically pleasing, there is no linguistic evidence for it. To complicate matters further, umma inexplicably ceases to be used in the Qur’an after 625 C.E., when, as Montgomery Watt has noted, it is replaced with the word qawm, Arabic for “tribe.”

But there may be something to this change in terminology. Despite its ingenuity, Muhammad’s community was still an Arab institution based on Arab notions of tribal society. There was simply no alternative model of social organization in seventh-century Arabia, save for monarchy. Indeed, there are so many parallels between the early Muslim community and traditional tribal societies that one is left with the distinct impression that, at least in Muhammad’s mind, the umma was indeed a tribe, though a new and radically innovative one.

For one thing, reference in the Constitution of Medina to Muhammad’s role as “shaykh” of his “clan” of Meccan emigrants indicates that despite the Prophet’s elevated status, his secular authority would have fallen well within the traditional model of pre-Islamic tribal society. What is more, just as membership in the tribe obliged participation in the rituals and activities of the tribal cult, so did membership in Muhammad’s community require ritual involvement in what could be termed its “tribal cult,” in this case, the nascent religion of Islam. Public rituals like communal prayer, almsgiving, and collective fasting — the first three activities mandated by Muhammad — when combined with shared dietary regulations and purity requirements, functioned in the umma in much the same way that the activities of the tribal cult did in pagan societies. They provided a common social and religious identity that allowed one group to distinguish itself from another.

The point is that one can refer to Muhammad’s community in Medina as the umma, but only insofar as that term is understood to designate what the Orientalist explorer Bertram Thomas has called a “super-tribe,” or what the historian Marshall Hodgson more accurately describes as a “neo-tribe,” that is, a radically new kind of social organization but one nevertheless based on the traditional Arab tribal model.

There is, however, one great difference between the traditional tribal model and Muhammad’s super-tribe. While the only way to become a member of a tribe was to be born into it, membership in the umma was based neither on kinship nor on ethnicity. Instead, membership was predicated firstly on the recognition of Muhammad’s authority as prophet and lawgiver, and secondly on the acceptance of his revelations from God.

Here we must pause and examine those revelations – the Qur’an – for a clue about what Muhammad may have intended for the radically new kind of social organization he was building in Medina.

Folio with portions of Qur'an 5:14-15; North Africa, 13th century. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Folio with portions of Qur’an 5:14-15; North Africa, 13th century. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Qur’an repeatedly claims to be not a new scripture but the “confirmation of previous scriptures” (12:111). In fact, the Qur’an proposes the remarkable idea that all revealed scriptures are derived from a single divine source called umm al-kitab, “Mother of Books” (13:39). That means that as far as Muhammad understood, the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an must be read as a single cohesive narrative about humanity’s relationship to God, in which the prophetic consciousness of one prophet is passed spiritually to the next: from Adam to Muhammad. For this reason, the Qur’an advises Muslims to say to the Jews and Christians: “We believe in God, and in that which has been revealed to us, which is that which was revealed to Abraham and Ismail and Jacob and the tribes [of Israel], as well as that which the Lord revealed to Moses and to Jesus and to all the other Prophets. We make no distinction between any of them; we submit ourselves to God” (3:84).

The Qur’an sets itself up as the final revelation in this sequence of scriptures, but it never claims to annul the previous scriptures, only to complete them. While one scripture giving authenticity to others is an extraordinary event in the history of religions, the concept of umm al-kitab may indicate an even more profound principle, namely that the Jews, Christians, and Muslims not only share a single scripture but constitute a single umma – a single super-tribe.

According to the Qur’an, Jews and Christians are “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitab), spiritual cousins who, as opposed to the pagans and polytheists of Arabia, worship the same God, read the same scriptures, and share the same moral values as the Muslim community. Although each faith comprised its own distinct religious community (its own individual umma), together they formed one united umma, a concept that Mohammed Bamyeh calls “monotheistic pluralism.” Thus the Qur’an promises that “all those who believe — the Jews, the Sabians, the Christians — anyone who believes in God and the Last Days and who does good deeds, will have nothing to fear or regret” (5:69).

The connection in Muhammad’s mind between umm al-kitab and ahl al-kitab can be seen in the Constitution of Medina. This document, which Moshe Gil aptly calls “an act of preparation for war,” makes clear that the defense of Medina was the common responsibility of every inhabitant regardless of kin, ethnicity, or religion. And while the Constitution clarified the absolute religious and social freedom of Medina’s Jewish clans, stating “to the Jews their religion and to the Muslims their religion,” it nevertheless fully expected them to provide aid to “whoever wars against the people of this document.” In short, the Constitution of Medina provided the means through which to discern who was and who was not a member of the community.

It was this belief in a unified, monotheistic umma that led Muhammad to link his community to the Jews when he first entered Medina. Thus, he made Jerusalem — the site of the Temple (long since destroyed) and the direction in which the Diaspora Jews turned during worship — the direction of prayer or qibla for all Muslims. He imposed a fast on his community, to take place annually on the tenth day of the first month of the Jewish calendar, the day more commonly known as Yom Kippur. He set the day of Muslim congregation at noon on Friday so that it would coincide with, but not disrupt, Jewish preparations for the Sabbath. He adopted many of the Jewish dietary laws and purity requirements, and encouraged his followers to marry Jews, as he himself did.

And while Muhammad much later changed the qibla from Jerusalem to Mecca, and set the annual fast at Ramadan (the month in which the Qur’an was first revealed) instead of Yom Kippur, these decisions should not be interpreted as “a break with the Jews,” but as the maturing of Islam as an independent religion. Muhammad continued to encourage his followers to fast on Yom Kippur, and he never ceased to venerate Jerusalem as a holy city. Moreover, the Prophet maintained most of the dietary, purity, and marriage restrictions that he had adopted from the Jews. And as Nabia Abbott has shown, throughout the first two centuries of Islam, Muslims regularly read the Torah alongside the Qur’an.

The fact is that nothing Muhammad either said or did would necessarily have been objectionable to Medina’s Jews. As Newby writes in A History of the Jews of Arabia, Islam and Judaism in seventh-century Arabia operated within “the same sphere of religious discourse,” in that both shared the same religious characters, stories, and anecdotes, both discussed the same fundamental questions from similar perspectives, and both had nearly identical moral and ethical values. Where there was disagreement between the two faiths, Newby suggests it was “over interpretation of shared topics, not over two mutually exclusive views of the world.”

Even Muhammad’s claim to be the Prophet and Apostle of God, on the model of the great Jewish patriarchs, would not necessarily have been unacceptable to Medina’s Jews. Not only did his words and actions correspond perfectly to the widely accepted pattern of Arabian Jewish mysticism, but Muhammad was not even the only person in Medina making these kinds of prophetic claims. Medina was also the home of a Jewish mystic and Kohen named Ibn Sayyad, who, like Muhammad, wrapped himself in a prophetic mantle, recited divinely inspired messages from heaven, and called himself “the Apostle of God.” Remarkably, not only did most of Medina’s Jewish clans accept Ibn Sayyad’s prophetic claims, but the sources depict Ibn Sayyad as openly acknowledging Muhammad as a fellow apostle and prophet.

That is not to say that there were no theological differences between Islam and the other People of the Book. But according to the Qur’an, these differences were part of the divine plan, for God could have created a single umma if he so wished, but instead preferred that “every umma have its own Messenger” (10:47). Hence, the differences among the People of the Book are explained as showing God’s desire to give each people its own “law and path and way of life” (5:42–48).

There were some differences that Muhammad found to be intolerable heresies created by ignorance and error. Chief among these was the idea of the Trinity. “God is one,” the Quran states definitively. “God is eternal. He has neither begotten anyone, nor is he begotten of anyone” (112:1–3). However, this verse – like many similar verses in the Qur’an – is in no way a condemnation of Christianity but of Imperial Byzantine (Trinitarian) Orthodoxy, which was neither the sole nor the dominant Christian position in the Hijaz.

At the same time, Muhammad lashed out at those Jews in Arabia who had “forsaken the community of Abraham” (2:130) and “who were trusted with the laws of the Torah, but who fail to observe them” (62:5). Again, this was not a condemnation of Judaism. Rather, Muhammad was addressing those Jews in the Arabian Peninsula, and only there, who had in both belief and practice “breached their covenant with God” (5:13). His complaints in the Qur’an were not about Judaism and Christianity, but about those Jews and Christians in Arabia who, in his opinion, had forsaken their covenant with God and perverted the teachings of the Torah and Gospels. These were not believers but apostates, with whom the Qur’an warns Muslims not to ally themselves: “O believers, do not make friends with those who mock you and make fun of your faith . . . Instead say to them: ‘O People of the Book, why do you dislike us? Is it because we believe in God and in what has been sent down to us [the Qur’an], and what was sent down before that [the Torah and Gospels], while most of you are disobedient?’” (5:57–59).

The point is that although Muhammad recognized the irreconcilable differences that existed among the People of the Book, he never called for a partitioning of the faiths. On the contrary, the evidence from the Qur’an and the Constitution of Medina indicate that his conception of the umma was as a “super-tribe” composed of monotheists of different religions bound together by a simple compromise: “Let us come to an agreement on the things we hold in common: that we worship none but God; that we make none God’s equal; and that we take no other as lord except God” (3:64).

Of course, the Muslim scriptural and legal scholars of the following centuries rejected the idea that Jews and Christians were part of the umma, and instead marked both groups as unbelievers. These scholars read the revelations to say that the Qur’an had superseded, rather than added to, the Torah and the Gospels, and called on Muslims to distinguish themselves from the People of the Book. But to understand Muhammad’s actual beliefs regarding the Jews and Christians of his time, one must look not to the words that chroniclers put into his mouth hundreds of years after his death, but rather to the words that legend says God put into his mouth while he was alive.

* Reza Aslan is Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside and Trustee at the Chicago Theological Seminary.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. 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.

IQSA at SECSOR 2013: Roundtable Discussion on Carl Ernst, How to Read the Qur’an

By Michael Pregill

IQSA co-sponsored a panel at the recent meeting of the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR), a regional affiliate of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Schools of Oriental Research. The panel, held on March 17, was a roundtable dedicated to a discussion of Carl Ernst’s new book, How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide, with Select Translations (UNC Press, 2011). Brief comments on Ernst’s book were given by Gordon Newby (Emory University), Youshaa Patel (University of Tennessee Knoxville), and Michael Pregill (Elon University), followed by a response from Ernst himself.

Round Table Discussion featuring, from left to right: Gordon Newby (Emory University), Carll Ernst (University of North Carolina), Youshaa Patel (University of Tennessee Knoxville), and Michael Pregill (Elon University)

Round Table Discussion featuring, from left to right: Gordon Newby (Emory University), Carll Ernst (University of North Carolina), Youshaa Patel (University of Tennessee Knoxville), and Michael Pregill (Elon University)

In his book, Ernst adopts a literary method of analysis of the Qur’an, emphasizing the evolution of the Qur’anic Suras as moments in a long process of development of revelation to a new religious community. He thus deliberately avoids the thematic treatment of the Qur’an that is all too common in introductory works on the scripture, since this approach places too much emphasis upon the completed, canonical Qur’an as a source of law and theology and often elides the diverse viewpoints and even contradictions manifest in the Qur’an’s message. Utilizing the approach adopted by Neuwirth and others of following the modified chronological scheme proposed by Noldeke in the nineteenth century, Ernst divides his work between Early Meccan, Middle and Late Meccan, and Medinan compositions, paying close attention to the intertextual allusions both to older literature and previous Suras found in each stage of the Qur’an’s development.

Gordon Newby began the conversation by noting that he teaches the Qur’an in three different courses, and that Ernst’s approach well complements his own. In his remarks, Newby observed that Ernst’s emphasis on the Qur’anic Suras as an evolving discourse, a “developmental model,” fits well with his pedagogical focus on the multivocality of the Qur’an—its varied, complex, and often maddeningly indeterminate approaches to its subject matter. Cultivating an appreciation for scriptural indeterminacy in students who urgently want to know what the Qur’an “really means” can be challenging, but Ernst’s work potentially offers us substantial assistance in this task.

In turn, Patel focused on the questions of both the Qur’an’s audience as imagined by Ernst—likely more plural and ambiguous than later Muslim tradition might have us believe—and the audience of Ernst’s book itself, since the work implicitly seems to be aimed at non-Muslim readers. The Qur’an’s evident familiarity with the ideas and practices of older monotheist communities inevitably provokes the question of the real makeup and presuppositions of its late antique audience. Patel also interrogated Ernst’s attempt to dispel the claim frequently made by Western readers of the Qur’an that the scripture is incoherent and illogical, suggesting that instead of dismissing the idea of the Qur’an’s incoherence, we might rather embrace its use of non-linear argument and presentation of its ideas. He linked this to the experiential reality of the Qur’an as an oral and aural text, which seems like a necessary complement to Ernst’s emphasis on encountering the Qur’an as a written text.

Pregill’s remarks focused on Ernst’s methodological dependence on the sira or biography of Muhammad as the ultimate source used by the tradition to establish the chronology of revelation of the Suras. Reiterating the well-established “revisionist” critique of the sira, Pregill speculated that adopting a “Qur’anist” approach to the Suras—which abandons any presuppositions about their developmental sequence—often yields interesting insights; however, without any external basis for proposing an alternative chronology, all such hypotheses must necessarily remain speculative. He also noted that Ernst’s work not only succinctly summarizes the major insights yielded by recent investigation into the Qur’an’s structural reliance on so-called “ring composition” but also convincingly models the use of this technique in an original way, demonstrating for readers how they themselves might use it to execute their own close readings of Qur’anic passages.

In his response to the panelists’ observations, Ernst noted that he was inspired to write this book after being approached by a publisher interested in commissioning him to translate the Qur’an. Ernst decided instead to write an introductory guide to the literary analysis of the Qur’an, which seemed to him to be a more pressing need. Ernst felt that most readers unaccustomed to the “raw” Qur’an approached in the canonical order probably find the text forbidding and incomprehensible, and so an introduction to the Qur’an that demonstrates for the reader how the text emerged organically in its revelatory context, as well as how its message gradually changed over time, would be infinitely more valuable. (At the same time, in offering new translations of large parts of the Qur’an, Ernst has attempted to overcome the common reliance on antiquated language by most translators, opting instead for language that is more direct and contemporary, and thus hopefully truer to the Qur’an’s rhetorical and poetic style.)

Ernst’s interest in analysis based on ring composition was driven by the method’s capacity to preserve tensions within Suras. Understanding how the Qur’an deliberately seeks to build a creative tension between historical particulars and moral absolutes by positioning the former at the outer edges of Sura and the latter at the center allows us to recognize contradictions within the text—even, and especially, within individual Suras—as an indispensable aspect of Qur’anic rhetoric. This perspective encourages us to embrace such contradictions instead of dismissing them through the use of abrogation and other interpretive strategies that aim to produce a monolithic, univocal scriptural text.

Thanks are owed to all of the panelists for contributing their time and effort to this event; Alfons Teipen, who kindly agreed to moderate the panel; Dave Damrel and Rizwan Zamir, chairs of the SECSOR Study of Islam program unit, who first came up with the idea for the panel; and to all of the attendees. Special thanks are also owed to Erin Palmer (Elon University CAS ’13) for her invaluable assistance as rapporteur for this session.

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