Biblical Traditions in the Qur’ān, British Academy, London | October 11 – 12, 2018

Delegates were welcomed to the conference at the British Academy, in London by Nicolai Sinai (Oxford), who explained the impetuous behind the conference; a new publication on biblical traditions in the Qur’ān, which will hopefully go to press in 2019. While noting the continuing importance of the contribution made to the field by, amongst others, Heinrich Speyer, with his Die Biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran (1931), Sinai noted that this work remains untranslated and thus inaccessible to many scholars. Developments in the ways in which scholars approach the Qur’ān and view its relationship with biblical literature also call for a new publication that comprehensively examines biblical traditions in the Qur’ān, in light of these new approaches and methods.


The British Academy was established in 1902 and is based at 10-11 Carlton House Terrace in London (Photo Courtesy of the British Academy)

The conference suitably began with a presentation about The Creation in the Qur’ān and its reworking of biblical antecedents by Sean Anthony (Ohio State). Marianna Klar (Oxford) discussed the qur’ānic presentation of Adam, His Mate, and Their Sons, and Shari Lowin (Stonehill College) examined Noah and the Deluge in the context of the Qur’ān. Nicolai Sinai (Oxford) then spoke about the qur’ānic view of Abraham, while Adam Silverstein (Bar llan University) focused on Joseph. Nora K. Schmid (FU Berlin) and Michael Pregill (University of California, Los Angeles) considered Moses in Egypt and Moses in the Wilderness, respectively. The first day of the conference concluded with a presentation by Saqib Hussain (Oxford) on Elijah, Jonah, Job, and Uzayr.

Day two of the conference began with presentations by Walid Saleh (Toronto) on Saul, David, and Solomon and Jack Tannous (Princeton) on John the Baptist and Zechariah. This was followed by Gabriel S. Reynolds’ (Notre Dame) exposition of Mary, Jesus, and the Apostles, while Sidney Griffith (CUA) discussed The Narratives of Surah 18: The Companions of the Cave, Moses’ Journey, Dhū l-Qarnayn. In the afternoon, Stephen J. Shoemaker (Oregon) examined qur’ānic Eschatology, while Devin Stewart (Emory) looked at Qur’anic Parables. The final panel of the conference concluded with presentations by Angelika Neuwirth (FU Berlin) on the Qur’an and Liturgy and Holger Zellentin (Cambridge) on Law and Ritual.

The conference was well-attended by academics, graduate students and members of the public. Both the particular interests of the participants and the venue itself fostered a positive environment for further discussion and exchange both during the question sessions and various breaks.

IQSA looks forward to the publication resulting from the conference and will endeavor to keep readers posted as to a publication date. Many thanks to the organizers, both delegates and the staff at the British Academy for making the conference such a success.

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

The Qur’ān: A Form-Critical History

The corpus coranicum eludes familiar categories and resists strict labels. No doubt the threads woven into the fabric are exceptionally textured, varied, and complex. Accordingly, the introductory chapter of this book demonstrates the application of form criticism to the text. Chapter two then presents a form-critical study of the prayer genre. It identifies three productive formulae and addresses distinct social settings and forms associated with them. The third chapter begins by defining the liturgy genre vis-à-vis prayer in the Qurʾān. Drawing a line between the hymn and litany forms, this chapter treats each in turn. Chapter four considers the genre classified as wisdom literature. It identifies sapiential formulae and sheds light on wisdom contexts. The fifth chapter examines the narrative genre writ large. It also surveys narrative blocks of the long saga. The subsequent chapter on the proclamation genre inspects a set of vocative formulae, which occurs in the messenger situation. The concluding chapter looks at the corpus through synchronic and diachronic lenses. In the end, Qurʾānic genres encapsulate the form-critical elements of formulae, forms, and settings, as well as an historical dimension.* 


Author: Karim Samji, Gettysburg College, PA, USA
Series: Studies in the History and Culture of the Middle East 32
ISBN13: 978-11-058988-4
Publication Date: March 2018 


*content courtesy of De Gruyter 

Podcast Series: Introducing the Qur’ān

Professor Nicolai Sinai, of the University of Oxford, has recorded four short talks funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council which aim to introduce the general public to aspects of current research on the Qur’ān’s historical context and literary character. These are now available as podcasts online here:



Although most IQSA members will be familiar with more specialised scholarship on many of the issues covered in these talks, they may be useful for teaching purposes.

The four 10 – 20 minute talks are entitled:

  1. Hovering about the Qur’an without entering into it? On the academic study of the Qur’an, asks what it means to study the Qur’ān historically and considers how historically orientated research on the Qur’ān relates to religious belief and traditional Islamic scriptural interpretation.
  2. Rekindling Prophecy: The Qur’an in its historical milieu, examines the historical context in which the material now collected in the Qur’ān was first promulgated with special attention being paid to the various groups addressed by the Qur’ān.
  3. Confirming and Clarifying: The Qur’an in conversation with earlier Judaeo-Christian traditions, discusses the fact that the Qur’an’s original audience must have been familiar with earlier Jewish and Christian traditions, which the Qur’an claims both to “confirm” and “clarify”. Narratives about Abraham and the death of Pharaoh serve to exemplify what this means.
  4. The Qur’an as literature, takes as its starting point that the Qur’ān’s compelling literary aspect was the main reason it was able to establish itself as a text believed to constitute divine revelation. It further asks how Islamic and modern Western scholars approach the Qur’ān’s literary dimension.


Many thanks to Professor Sinai for sharing this free resource.

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

The Routledge Handbook on Early Islam

The formative period of Islam remains highly contested. From the beginning of modern scholarship on this formative period, scholars have questioned traditional Muslim accounts on early Islam. The scholarly fixation is mirrored by sectarian groups and movements within Islam, most of which trace their origins to this period. Moreover, contemporary movements from Salafists to modernists continue to point to Islam’s origins to justify their positions.


This Handbook provides a definitive overview of early Islam and how this period was understood and deployed by later Muslims. It is split into four main parts, the first of which explores the debates and positions on the critical texts and figures of early Islam. The second part turns to the communities that identified their origins with the Qurʾān and Muḥammad. In addition to the development of Muslim identities and polities, of particular focus is the relationship with groups outside or movements inside of the umma (the collective community of Muslims). The third part looks beyond what happened from the 7th to the 9th centuries CE and explores what that period, the events, figures, and texts have meant for Muslims in the past and what they mean for Muslims today. Not all Muslims or scholars are willing to merely reinterpret early Islam and its sources, though; some are willing to jettison parts, or even all, of the edifice that has been constructed over almost a millennium and a half. The Handbook therefore concludes with discussions of re-imaginations and revisions of early Islam and its sources.

Almost every major debate in the study of Islam and among Muslims looks to the formative period of Islam. The wide range of contributions from many of the leading academic experts on the subject therefore means that this book will be a valuable resource for all students and scholars of Islamic studies, as well as for anyone with an interest in early Islam.

Edited by Herbert Berg, The Routledge Handbook on Early Islam has been published by Routledge and can be ordered on their website.

*Accessed from the publisher’s product page.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

New Publication “The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical Introduction”

(Content courtesy of Edinburgh University Press)

The International Qur’anic Studies Association is pleased to announce the publication of The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical Introduction by member Nicolai Sinai (Chair of Programming Committee). Nicolai Sinai is Professor of Islamic Studies at the Oriental Institute, Oxford University, and a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. He has published on the Qur’an, on pre-modern and modern Islamic scriptural exegesis, and on the history of philosophy in the Islamic world.

“The Qur’an represents both Islam’s historical point of origin and its scriptural foundation, inaugurating a new religion and, ultimately, a new civilisation. Yet the text itself can be difficult to understand, and the scholarship devoted to it is often highly technical. This comprehensive introduction to the basic methods and current state of historical-critical Qur’anic scholarship covers all of the field’s major questions, such as: Where and when did the Qur’an emerge? How do Qur’anic surahs function as literary compositions? How do the Qur’an’s main themes and ideas relate to and transform earlier Jewish and Christian traditions?” –Edinburgh University Press


Table of Contents


Part One: Background
1 Some basic features of the Qur’an
2 Muhammad and the Qur’an
3 The Qur’anic milieu

Part Two: Method
4 Literary coherence and secondary revision
5 Inner-Qur’anic chronology
6 Intertextuality

Part Three: A diachronic survey of the Qur’anic proclamations
7 The Meccan surahs
8 The Medinan surahs

ISBN Hardback: 9780748695768
Paperback: 9780748695775
eBook (PDF): 9780748695782
eBook (ePub): 9780748695799

Find this publication at your local library or for purchase online at Edinburgh University Press!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

Psychological Readings of the Qurʾan

By Gabriel Said Reynolds (University of Notre Dame) 


In his 1996 work Dieu et l’homme dans le Coran the French Dominican scholar Jacques Jomier devotes a chapter to ”The Psychological Certainty of Muslims” (“La certitude psychologique du musulman”).  The premise of this chapter is that Muslims are especially confident of the truth of their faith.  Jomier explains:

In many circumstances Muslims appear sure of their faith, persuaded that it is self-evident, even suspecting (in certain extreme cases) that those who do not share their faith are insincere.[1]


From Jomier’s perspective some Muslims are so certain of their religion that they imagine even non-Muslims secretly recognize the truth of Islam (he finds this idea implicit in a verse of the Qurʾan– Q 2:42 – which tells the Jews not to conceal the truth that they know).  Jomier presumably developed his notion regarding “the psychological certainty” of Muslims from his many years living in Egypt (1945-1981).  He does not, however, seek to prove this notion in any systematic way.

Are Muslims in fact especially “certain” of their religion?  Pew has found (in a 2011 survey) that only 35% of American Muslims answered yes to the proposition “Your religion is the one true faith” (compared to 30% of American Christians).[2]  It may be that a higher percentage of Muslims from Islamic countries such as Egypt would answer yes to this question.  Pew did not ask the same question when it surveyed Egyptian Muslims in 2012.  In that survey, however, Pew did find that 78% of Egyptian Muslims report that “there is only one true way” to interpret the teachings of Islam, a result which may correspond, indirectly, with Jomier’s notion of certainty.[3]

In any case, my point here is not to prove or disprove Jomier’s notion of the “psychological certainty of Muslims.”  Instead I’d like to draw attention to his explanation for this supposed phenomenon.  According to Jomier there is something in the nature of the Qurʾan itself which engenders certainty.  Jomier points to the simplicity and binarity of the Qurʾanic style.  The Qurʾan, he argues, leaves the audience with only two stark choices: submission to God or rebellion against Him.  Commenting on Qurʾan 6:50 (where the Prophet is commanded to say, “Can the blind and the seeing be deemed equal? Will you not, then, take thought?”), Jomier observes, “All of one’s attention is drawn to the question regarding which no doubt is possible.”[4]  Elsewhere he describes the “binary” style of the Qurʾan in more general terms: “There is God or there is not God, there is the blind and the seeing, truth and falsehood, the believer and the unbeliever, the good to do and the evil to avoid, paradise and hell.”[5]

Jomier’s efforts to describe how the rhetorical turns of the Qurʾan engender psychological certainty are taken up in a second French language work: L’action psychologique dans le Coran, “Psychological Action [or Operation] in the Qurʾan” by Dominique and Marie-Therèse Urvoy.[6]  The Urvoys develop the ideas of Jomier still further, attempting to identify certain “strategies” of the Qurʾan’s rhetoric, strategies intentionally deployed to win the unyielding allegiance of its audience.  Under the rubric of “Subliminal Processes” in the Qurʾan the Urvoys include something they name the “subtle insertion” (literally, “sliding in,” Fr. “glissement”) of secondary messages.  They argue that the Qurʾan has a way of adding in “almost insidiously” a secondary message, parallel to the development of a principal theme, in a manner which is “practically subliminal.”[7]  The ideas of the Urvoys far exceed a simply analysis of the Qurʾan’s logical strategies of argumentation, such as that found in Rosalind Ward Gwynne’s Logic, Rhetoric, and Legal Reasoning in the Qurʾan.[8]  Indeed the Urvoys seem to go further still than Jomier in insisting that the Qurʾan’s author intentionally (“almost insidiously”) imbedded certain patterns in the text in order to win total devotion from his audience.

The studies of Jomier and the Urvoys on these matters are fundamentally problematic.  They assign a contrived motive to the Qurʾanic author which exceeds simple argumentation.  In addition they underestimate the intellectual independence of the Qurʾan’s audience.

Still it is worth noting that their arguments – strangely enough – have certain connections to Islamic apologetical works which are meant to underline the supposed brilliance of Qurʾanic rhetoric.  Notably Jomier was particularly interested in the arguments of Muhammad Ahmad Khalafallah (d. 1991), the author of the well-known 1951 work al-Fann al-qasasi fi al-Qurʾan al-karim, “Narrative Art in the Noble Qurʾan.”  Jomier was one of the first scholars to draw attention to this work – and to the controversy which it engendered — in a long 1954 article entitled “Quelques positions actuelles de l’exégèse coranique en Egypte révélées par une polémique récente.”[9]  As Jomier notes, the original form of Khalafallah’s work – that is, his dissertation at King Fuʾad University (now the University of Cairo) – was entitled Min asrar al-iʿjaz, “On the Secrets of [the Qurʾan’s] Inimitability.”  Khalafallah originally wrote this study of Qurʾanic “inimitability” to combat the views of “atheists, Orientalists, and missionaries.”[10]

In order to wage this combat Khalafallah sought to show that the Qurʾan need not be judged by the historical accuracy of the stories which it tells, since those stories were written not with the goal of relating “historical truth” but rather “literary truth” (al-aqīqa al-adabiyya).[11]  In other words, from his perspective the Qurʾan relates stories in a way meant to convince its audience of its message, and in a special way to inspire fear and piety among them.  At one point Khalafallah comments that the Qurʾan’s stories appeal to the “emotional logic” (manṭiq al-ʿaṭifa) of its audience, and not to the “logic of intellectual reflection” (manṭiq al-naẓar al-ʿaqli).[12]  This does not take us very far from the Urvoys’ notion of the Qurʾan’s psychological “action.”

A more recent pious exploration of the Qurʾan’s supposed ability to convince or enrapture its audience is found in Navid Kermani’s God is Beautiful.[13]  Kermani, who focuses on the reception history of the Qurʾān, describes in vivid detail Islamic stories meant to redound to the doctrine of Qurʾanic inimitability.  He is particularly interested in those traditions which speak of pious believers who were so affected by hearing the Qurʾan that they were struck down and died.[14]  Now Kermani does not imagine that his readers will all accept the idea of Qurʾanic inimitability.  As he puts it, Kermani does not expect every reader to “sway to the rhythm of the Qurʾān recitations.”[15]  He does, however, seem convinced that there is something remarkable in Qurʾanic rhetoric, and in its sound, which leads its audience to be swept away.  At the same time Kermani does recognize that there are certain historical and sectarian factors which led to the development of the Islamic doctrine of the Qurʾan’s inimitability.[16]

Still it seems to me that the critical works of Jomier and the Urvoys, and the more apologetical works of Khalafallah and Kermani are two sides of the same coin.  The notion that there is something contrived, magical, or miraculous in Qurʾanic rhetoric that overwhelms its audience is simplistic.  Of course there are many pious Muslims (and non-Muslims) who are enthralled with the rhetoric of the Qurʾan.  Some converts attribute their conversions to the qualities of the Qurʾan (ʿUmar, the second caliph, is said to have accepted Islam after hearing a recitation of the Qurʾan).  But others are not.  One of the Prophet’s own scribes, Ibn Abi Sarh, is said to have left the Prophet’s service, and Islam, when he came to believe that his messages did not come from God.  Christians and other non-Muslims are compelled in the Islamic world to hear the Qurʾan time and again over loudspeakers and yet still do not convert to Islam.

In other words, religious convictions cannot be attributed simply to the logic, rhetoric, or aesthetics of a scripture.  Instead such convictions are connected to a social context.  Religious “certainty” is necessarily linked to the experience of belonging which believers find in a community of faith.  “Certainty” is accordingly found not only with Muslims but presumably found also with others – such as evangelical Christians or Latter Day Saints – from groups in which esprit de corps (or ʿasabiyya) is strong.  It is also connected to the efforts of missionaries (or “daʿwa practitioners”) whose vocation is to increase devotion among believers while bringing unbelievers into the fold.  In other words, the Qurʾan, like other scriptures, does not find its meaning in a vacuum.  The Qurʾan has meaning in context.

[1] J. Jomier, Dieu et l’homme dans le Coran (Paris : Cerf, 1996), 161.



[4] Jomier, 170.

[5] Jomier, 168.

[6] Paris : Cerf, 2007.

[7] Urvoy and Urvoy, 71.

[8] London: Routledge, 2004.

[9] MIDEO 1 (1954), (39-72), 66.

[10] J. Jomier, “Quelques positions actuelles de l’exégèse coranique en Egypte révélées par une polémique récente (1947-51),” MIDEO 1 (1954), (39-72), 66 .  See M.A. Khalafallah, Al-Fann al-qasasi fi al-Qurʾan al-karim, 4th edition (First edition 1951) (London: Al-Intishar al-ʿArabi, 1999),  10.

[11] The term “literary truth,” however, would disappear from the printed version of Khalafallah’s work.  See Jomier, 63.

[12] Al-Fann, 155.

[13] N. Kermani, God is Beautiful, trans. T. Crawford (Maldin, MA: Polity, 2015).  Original German: Gott ist schön (Munich: Beck, 1999).

[14] In particular he focuses on the work of al-Thaʿlabi (d. 427/1035): Qatlā al-qurʾān, ed. Nāṣir b. Muḥammad al-Manīʿ (Riyadh : Maktabat al-ʿUbaykān, 2008).

[15] Kermani, 251.

[16] See Kermani, 196.




© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

IQSA Job Vacancy: Copy Editor

The International Qur’anic Studies Association (IQSA), a non-profit organization, seeks a copyeditor for freelance contract work on its three scholarly publication projects: JIQSA (annual journal), ISIQ (monograph series), RQR (monthly review of books). This is a deadline-driven position with overlapping seasonal workflows where diverse specialized texts require detailed technical editing in short turnaround times. Work is remote-desk and may be performed from any geographical location in the United States. This is a great opportunity for someone who enjoys high-performance work and is looking to join a collaborative team of scholars in a dynamic professional field.

Position will report directly to Head Editor of JIQSA, but will also collaborate with other members of IQSA’s editorial and executive teams as appropriate.

Position open until filled.


  • check texts to ensure they are well written and logically structured
  • correct grammar and spelling
  • check illustrations and captions
  • ensure texts conform to JIQSA Style Guide
  • check facts and raise queries with Head Editor
  • look out for potential legal problems and discuss them with the Head Editor
  • other duties as assigned


  • Education: B.A. in English, journalism, Near Eastern languages, or other relevant field in the liberal arts, humanities or social sciences
  • excellent written English, including proper spelling and grammar
  • working knowledge of classical Arabic and relevant systems of transliteration
  • a meticulous approach to texts and an eye for detail
  • the ability to maintain high-quality work while meeting tight deadlines
  • strong concentration and ability to focus on texts that may be lengthy and highly technical
  • clear judgement in applying house style
  • the ability to retain authors’ voices after editing
  • excellent collaboration skills


  • M.A. or graduate study in relevant field
  • specialist interest in Qur’anic Studies or related disciplines
  • working knowledge of additional foreign languages (esp. Persian, Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, German, or French)


  • Contract may be negotiated as hourly or by project; rate commensurate with qualifications and experience
  • Free access to IQSA member benefits

Interested candidates should submit resume/CV and cover letter to