The Jews of Medina and the Challenge of Early Islamic Historiography

Mazuz book cover

Cover of Mazuz, Religious and Spiritual Lives of the Jews of Medina (Brill, 2014). Image from brill.com.

In the latest installment of the Review of Qur’anic Research 2, no. 2, Michael Pregill reviews Haggai Mazuz’s The Religious and Spiritual Lives of the Jews of Medina (Leiden: Brill, 2014). This work not only seeks to establish the historicity of much of the data the traditional sources offer us on the culture, customs, and traditions of the Jewish communities of the Ḥijāz in Muhammad’s time, but proposes to offer a conclusive demonstration of the squarely halakhic nature of these Jews. According to Mazuz, much of what the classical Islamic sources relate about Muhammad’s Jewish contemporaries can be correlated with data about Jewish ideas and practices found in the Babylonian Talmud and other mainstream rabbinic sources, which he interprets as proof that these Arabian communities were essentially rabbinic in orientation.

Full access to the Review of Qur’anic Research (RQR) is available in the members-only area of our IQSA website. Not an IQSA member? Join today to enjoy RQR and additional member benefits!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2016. All rights reserved.

Read, Write, and Share Commentaries on Q Anfāl 8: 1-19

Photo by Habib M'henniThe Qurʾan Seminar invites you to add your own commentaries on a new selected passage of the Qur’an: Q 8:1-19. The Qurʾan Seminar, organized by IQSA, is dedicated to collaborative study of selected passages that are significant for understanding major themes and structures of the Qur’anic text. Contributors are encouraged to address the Qur’an directly and to not rely on classical exegesis as a lens through which to view the text. Of particular interest to the discussion are the following questions:

  • The structure of the Qur’an (its logical, rhetorical, and literary qualities, or naẓm)
  • The Qur’an’s intertextual relationships (with both Biblical and other literary traditions)
  • The Qur’an’s historical context in Late Antiquity

Access to Qur’an Seminar is open to IQSA members only. To become a member, click HERE. Once you are a member, you can access the Qur’an Seminar website:

  • Go to http://www.iqsa-quranseminar.org/home.html
  • Click on Log in / Sign up
  • As a member of IQSA, fulfill the required field under Have an account? Sign in and then, click on Login.
  • Click on “All passages selected”
  • Click on al-ˈanfāl 8, 1-19

The Qur’an Seminar website has two principal elements. First, the website includes a database of passages of the Qur’an with commentaries from a range of scholars. This database is meant to be a resource for students and specialists of the Qur’an alike. The commentaries may be quoted and referenced by citing the corresponding URL.

Second, the website includes an active forum in which additional Qur’anic passages are discussed. At regular intervals the material on the forum will be saved and moved to the database, and new passages will be presented for discussion on the forum. As a rule, the passages selected for discussion are meant to be long enough to raise a variety of questions for discussion, but short enough to lend that discussion coherence.

If you have any questions, please write to mehdi.azaiez@theo.kuleuven.be

We hope you will enjoy the content and consider contributing!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2016. All rights reserved.

New Forum: Conflict and Convergence in Late Antiquity

Detail from Athār al-Muẓaffar (The Exploits of the Victorious), Iran, 16th c. (Chester Beatty Library Per 235, f. 132a; from Persian Miniatures, V. Loukonin and A. Ivanov (Parkstone International, 2014), 145).

Detail from Athār al-Muẓaffar (The Exploits of the Victorious), Iran, 16th c. (Chester Beatty Library Per 235, f. 132a; from Persian Miniatures, V. Loukonin and A. Ivanov (Parkstone International, 2014), 145).

Scholars now widely recognize the numerous continuities between the religion, culture, politics, and society of Late Antiquity and that of early Islam, and are devising fresh ways to better understand the Qur’an through interdisciplinary studies of the late antique cultural context in which the Qur’an was revealed and the Muslim umma emerged. Now Mizan, a digital initiative dedicated to encouraging informed public discourse and scholarship on the culture and history of Muslim societies, has launched a new collaborative online forum for study of the Qur’an and Late Antiquity:

http://www.mizanproject.org/forum-conflict-and-convergence-in-late-antiquity/

The short essays in this forum are dedicated to reflection upon the contemporary challenges and prospects for discovery and innovation in the study of the Qur’an and early Islam, particularly as they stand at a nexus of convergence with Judaism, Christianity, and other traditions. Visitors to the forum can learn more about some of the most significant aspects of current research into the continuities between Late Antiquity and formative Islam from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives.

The leader of MizanMichael Pregill, is Interlocutor in the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations at Boston University. He is Chair of IQSA’s Publications and Research Committee, Co-Chair of IQSA’s Qur’an and Late Antiquity Program Unit, and Head Editor of the Journal of the International Qur’anic Studies Association. He will be presenting his paper, “Scriptural Virtuosity and the Qur’an’s Imperial Context,” at next week’s 2015 IQSA Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

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

Early Dating of Birmingham Qur’an Fragments Sparks Lively Discussion

cropped-header22.pngQur’an fragments recently discovered in the library of the University of Birmingham have fueled an exciting discussion among scholars and the public about the textual history of the scripture of Islam.  The parchment, which contains portions of Surahs 18 and 20, has been carbon-dated to ca. 568-645 C.E., corresponding roughly to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (ca. 570-632 C.E.), making it among the earliest extant Qur’an manuscripts. Such an early dating raises important questions about the history of the Qur’an–questions that are being actively pursued in the IQSA Discussion Group at Yahoo Groups. If you would like to connect with leading experts in Qur’anic studies about this and other developments in the field, we warmly invite you to join our Discussion Group:

https://iqsaweb.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/listserv/

This listserv is an exciting venue to actively engage in current academic conversations about the Qur’an. Don’t miss out—sign up today and join the discussion!

 !أهلا وسهلا

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

Read, Write, and Share Commentaries on Qur’an 2:255-256

The Qurʾan Seminar invites you to add your own commentaries on a new selected passage of the Qur’an: Q. 2:255-256. The Qurʾan Seminar, organized by IQSA, is dedicated to collaborative study of selected passages that are significant for understanding major themes and structures of the Qur’anic text. Contributors are encouraged to address the Qur’an directly and to not rely on classical exegesis as a lens through which to view the text. Of particular interest to the discussion are the following questions:

  • The structure of the Qur’an (its logical, rhetorical, and literary qualities, or naẓm)
  • The Qur’an’s intertextual relationships (with both Biblical and other literary traditions)
  • The Qur’an’s historical context in Late Antiquity

Access to Qur’an Seminar is open to IQSA members only. To become a member, click HERE. Once you are a member, you can access the Qur’an Seminar website:

The Qur’an Seminar website has two principal elements. First, the website includes a database of passages of the Qur’an with commentaries from a range of scholars. This database is meant to be a resource for students and specialists of the Qur’an alike. The commentaries may be quoted and referenced by citing the corresponding URL.

Second, the website includes an active forum in which additional Qur’anic passages are discussed. At regular intervals the material on the forum will be saved and moved to the database, and new passages will be presented for discussion on the forum. As a rule, the passages selected for discussion are meant to be long enough to raise a variety of questions for discussion, but short enough to lend that discussion coherence.

If you have any questions, please write to mehdi.azaiez@theo.kuleuven.be

We hope you will enjoy the content and consider contributing!

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

Ninth SOAS Conference on the Qur’an: Call for Papers*

Proposals are invited for the Ninth SOAS Conference on the Qur’an: “The Qur’an: Text, Society And Culture,” to be held on 11-13 February 2016. The conference series, hosted by SOAS, University of London, seeks to address a basic question: How is the Qur’anic text read and interpreted? The goal is to encompass a global vision of current research trends, and to stimulate discussion, debate, and research on all aspects of the Qur’anic text and its interpretation and translation. While the conference will remain committed to the textual study of the Qur’an and the religious, intellectual, and artistic activity that developed around it and drew on it, contributions on all topics relevant to Qur’anic studies are welcomed. Attention will also be given to literary, cultural, politico-sociological, and anthropological studies relating to the Qur’an.

The primary conference language is English, but papers may be presented in English or Arabic. Further information on the conference series is available on the SOAS Centre of Islamic Studies site HERE. The submission deadline for abstracts is 24 August 2015. 

* Text adopted from the official CFP available on the SOAS website.

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

Qur’anic Counter-Discourse

by Mehdi Azaiez*

My new book, Le contre-discours coranique (Berlin: DeGruyter, 2015), focuses on a distinctive literary form in the Qur’an: “counter-discourse”—that is, the discourse of the Qur’an’s opponents as represented in the qur’anic text itself. Qur’anic counter-discourse appears in the form of direct reported speech, easily identifiable by the formula “they say.” The first example in the canonical text appears in Q Baqarah 2:8:

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَمَا هُمْ بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

wa-min al-nās man yaqūlu āmannā bi’llāh wa-bi’l-yawm al-ākhir wa-mā hum bi-muminīn

Among the people are those who say, We believe in God and the Last Day, but they do not believe.

We can easily recognize the statement marked above in bold as the words of an (anonymous) opponent. My book identifies such statements throughout the qur’anic text, and examines them from historical, linguistic, and rhetorical perspectives.

Historically, counter-discourse implies the existence of vocal opponents to the Qur’an. What, then, does such discourse reveal about these opponents’ identities and beliefs, and about the historical context in which they reportedly spoke? Linguistically, counter-discourse in the Qur’an consists of distinctive narrative and dialogical forms. What forms are used in the qur’anic text to record opponents’ sayings, and what forms are used to refute them? Rhetorically, counter-discourse seems to pose interesting ontological and argumentative paradoxes. How does a text considered by most Muslims to be divine speech incorporate the speech of those who are not divine, and who deny the Qur’an’s message? How does the qur’anic text give voice to opposition without legitimating it?

My book aims to address these questions in three stages. The first identifies and defines the subject (Chapters I-III), the second determines and quantifies a corpus of evidence (Chapters IV-V), and the third analyzes this corpus by querying its themes, forms, and evolution (Chapters VI-IX). This last stage includes both synchronic and diachronic approaches. I first undertake an intratextual reading of the Qur’an. I describe the discursive operations through which the Qur’an represents multiple voices (e.g. God, believers, disbelievers) and constructs counter-discourse and apologetic discourse. Indeed, the speech of opponents is never reported without reply, and we repeatedly encounter the emblematic formula of “they say . . . say . . .” (yaqūlūna . . . fa-qul . . .). This dialogue between counter-discourse and reply creates what can be called an argumentative question (a recent linguistic notion in the theory of argumentation). With this in mind, I analyze reported oppositional speech in terms of the replies it entails, paying special attention to how one counter-discourse can receive multiple different qur’anic replies.

I then undertake an intertextual reading, querying the possible usage of counter-discourse in late antique texts, namely biblical and parabiblical literatures such as Christian apocrypha and the Talmud. This considerable task is only introduced in my book. Comparative analysis of some eschatological qur’anic and talmudic counter-discourses has already yielded encouraging results, as I have shown in “Les contre-discours eschatologiques dans le Coran et le traité du Sanhédrin” (in Déroche et al., eds., Les origines du Coran: Le Coran des origines [Paris: Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 2015], 111-128).

Throughout Le contre-discours coranique, I propose a formal typology of qur’anic counter-discourse, assess its distribution and importance, and outline its formal and discursive features (e.g., types of refutation, types of opponent, and internal evolution). Diagrams, graphs, and tables accompany the study in order to enhance our appreciation of this discursive corpus.

Let me now highlight some of my findings. In quantitative terms, 588 verses contain some type of counter-discourse. There are three types: past (e.g., of Pharaoh or the people of Noah), present (e.g., against the Qur’an or Muhammad), and future (e.g., of the damned in hell). Respectively, they comprise 38%, 46%, and 16% of all qur’anic counter-discourses. The majority of “present” counter-discourses represent the important mise en scene of adversaries situated in the time of the qur’anic revelations. These adversaries argue against God (29%), against Muhammad (27%), against the Qur’an (20%), against final judgment (19%), and against the community of believers (6%). On the other hand, qur’anic replies to their arguments aim to strengthen the Qur’an’s author (the qur’anic God), its primary addressee and enunciator (Muhammad), its actual enunciation (the Qur’an as a process of divine revelation), its message (especially one of the most recurrent themes: eschatology), and its secondary addressees (the first community of believers). The presentation of counter-discourses and their replies is done with strategic constraints that aim at denigrating the qur’anic opponents. These strategies are principally isolation and focus. With the help of examples from Sūrat al Furqān and Sūrat al-Wāqiʿah analyzed in Chapter VIII of my book, I demonstrate how the counter-discourses are neutralized by the fact that they are in the minority, decentralized, and surrounded by statements that refute them.

An important aim of Le contre-discours coranique is to address the question of how analysis of counter-discourse can help us better understand the socio-historical context of the emergence of the Qur’an. To say that the text of the Qur’an reflects a context of sectarian polemics is not new. What my book offers, however, is a fresh analysis of present counter-discourses that strongly supports recent suggestions—namely by Crone, Hawting, and Reynolds—to enroll qur’anic polemics in the religious controversies of Late Antiquity.

It is likely that the historical portraits of Muhammad’s opponents in the traditional Islamic sources (especially the sīrah literature) are problematic. To put it more precisely, the opponents of the Qur’an were probably not pagans. Their objections, as reported in qur’anic counter-discourse, are mostly monotheistic in character. Statements that imply that they may have been pagan are very few (see my Chapter VII), and appear to be based on a discursive strategy of exaggeration that is typical of polemical language. Moreover, there are striking similarities of themes and formulations in present counter-discourses between the Qur’an and parabiblical texts. Especially in eschatological counter-discourses, one can easily perceive how the text of the Qur’an reflects a theological agenda that is distinct and yet nonetheless enrolled in a continuum with Talmudic literary forms, themes, arguments, and counter-arguments. On the whole, qur’anic counter-discourse seem more readily explainable in light of late antique Christian-Jewish polemics rather than solely through the lens of later Muslim exegesis.

*Mehdi Azaiez is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at KU Leuven (Belgium).

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