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



The President’s Corner

I have been prevailed upon to contribute a blog during my year as President of IQSA. Never having written one before, and being innocent of things like Twitter and Facebook, I have agreed to do so uneasily. I don’t know how regularly I’ll be able to keep it up, but here goes:

Last Sunday the BBC ran a story about a controversy centring on the reading of verses from Surat Maryam during an Epiphany service at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow ( Apparently the verses were read in Arabic by a student who had been invited to do so in the interests of inter-faith relations.


According to the BBC report, this caused criticism of the Cathedral authorities, and the Primus of the Church, David Chillingworth, Bishop of St. Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, issued a statement in which he said, “… the Scottish Episcopal Church is deeply distressed at the widespread offence which has been caused. We also deeply regret the widespread abuse which has been received by the Cathedral community”.

According to the BBC report, “St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral has been criticised because the verses contradict Christian teaching about Jesus.” Helpfully, it also informs readers that “The chapter tells the story of the birth of Christ to the virgin Mary, and includes the Islamic teaching that Jesus is not the son of God and should not be worshipped, which has provoked criticism from some Anglicans”.

It is difficult to know what happened. One assumes the verses were translated. Presumably they began at Q 19: 16, and I would have thought that from there until verse 34 (where it could have ended neatly) there was little or nothing to offend average Christian sensibilities, although the hearers would have found some details strange. Only at verse 35 is it stated that “it is not for God to take on/adopt a son”. If that was included, then it might be thought discourteous and inappropriate for the Christian setting.

Without knowing more about the precise circumstances, though, I wonder if the offence was simply the reading of the Qur’an in a church. Does anyone know more?

-Gerald Hawting, IQSA President 2017 (SOAS University of London)

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

The Quṣṣāṣ of Early Islam

Written by Lyall R. Armstrong, American University of Beirut, and published by E. J. Brill. Available for order on Brill’s website.


The Islamic qāṣṣ (preacher/storyteller) has been viewed most commonly as a teller of stories, primarily religious in nature and often unreliable. Building on material of over a hundred quṣṣāṣ from the rise of Islam through the end of the Umayyad period, this book offers the most comprehensive study of the early Islamic qāṣṣ to-date. By constructing profiles of these preachers/ storytellers and examining statements attributed to them, it argues that they were not merely storytellers but were in fact a complex group with diverse religious interests. The book demonstrates how the style and conduct of their teaching sessions distinguished them from other teachers and preachers and also explores their relationship with early religio-political movements, as well as with the Umayyad administration.


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

RIP Andrew Rippin (1950-2016)

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, Andrew Rippin passed away at his home in Victoria, British Columbia. Professor Emeritus at the University of Victoria since 2013—where he was formerly Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Andrew (or Andy as he was known to some)—was an esteemed colleague, revered mentor, and scholarly inspiration to many members of the IQSA community.

Since entering the fields of Qur’anic and Islamic Studies in the 1980s, Andrew’s scholarly output was immense, helping to shape these fields for almost four decades: he was author or editor of two dozen well-known textbooks, anthologies, and thematic volumes; around eighty journal articles and book chapters; and literally hundreds of encyclopedia entries and reviews. For scholars of the Qurʾān, Andrew was perhaps best known for his profound impact on the study of tafsīr in particular. Viewed collectively, his numerous surveys of the field and introductory works allow the student of the Qur’an and its interpretation to grasp both the immensity of the field and appreciate its transformation over the decades since he published his earliest attempt to take stock of the state of the field, “The Present Status of Tafsīr Studies” (Muslim Studies 72 [1982]: 224-238) some thirty-five years ago.


Andrew Rippin (1950-2016)

Seeking to apprehend the full range of subjects covered in Andrew’s publications, one is struck by the sheer breadth of his interests and expertise. Already in the articles published during his first decade or so of activity in the field of Qurʾānic Studies, Andrew touched on a number of subjects that would be of interest to him throughout his career: the complex relationship between doctrine, grammar, and lexicography in the formation of the tafsīr tradition; the intertwining of Qurʾān and tafsīr with Jewish and Christian scriptural, parascriptural, and exegetical cultures; the benefits that bringing epigraphic and archaeological data to bear in the interpretation of the Qurʾān might potentially yield; the origins of Muslim attempts to impose hermeneutic frameworks linked to the biography of Muḥammad and accounts of the process of revelation such as naskh and asbāb al-nuzūl upon the Qurʾān; and the construction of authority figures in the received tradition—most notably ʿAbd Allāh Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 68/687)—to demarcate certain strands of exegesis as ancient in pedigree and thus of greater legitimacy.

Today, Tafsīr Studies has clearly emerged as a vibrant field of inquiry. That it should be so is in no small part due to Andrew’s tireless efforts to establish it as such. Andrew long advocated for scholars to take seriously the worlds of meanings and symbols which were produced by classical commentaries on the Qurʾān so that tafsīr and other branches of ʿulūm al-Qurʾān could be seen as significant in their own right, and not simply as records of transmitted traditions. That is, he emphasized the necessity of striking a balance between reading the Qurʾān on its own terms and appreciating the importance of how Muslims have made sense of the Qurʾān as scripture over the last 1,400 years of Islamic history. It is no exaggeration to say that both the revival of interest in the study of the Qurʾān over the last decade and the flourishing of the study of tafsīr in the same period were greatly encouraged by Andrew’s contributions in publishing, teaching, and mentorship.

It is supremely fitting that Andrew has been honored with a Festschrift edited by Majid Daneshgar and Walid Saleh that has just been published by Brill: Islamic Studies Today: Essays in Honor of Andrew Rippin, featuring chapters by some twenty prominent contemporary scholars of Islam as well as two vivid personal tributes by Jane McAuliffe and Claude Gilliot.


The spring 2014 board meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (from left to right: Hamza Zafer, Fred Donner, Andrew Rippin, Emran El-Badawi, Gabriel Reynolds, Jane McAuliffe, with John Kutsko)

We remember in particular with gratitude that Andrew Rippin served as the inaugural president of IQSA in 2014.  An address which he gave on that occasion can be downloaded here. On November 18 and during his final days the IQSA board of directors announced the Andrew Rippin Best Paper Prize, awarded to an outstanding paper delivered at the annual meeting. Since the announcement of this prize a number of contributions have been received in Andrew’s name.

The richness and sophistication of the contributions to Andrew’s Festschrift is testimony to the massive impact Andrew has had, though the short biographical notes and comprehensive bibliography one may find there only capture his contribution to the field in largely quantitative terms. The depth of his true impact is almost unfathomable, judging from the hundreds of students, colleagues, and friends he influenced over the decades, and who will remember Andrew as the very model of thorough, exacting, yet humane and engaged scholarship.

Board of Directors, International Qur’an Studies Association

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