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The Qur’an as Scripture
The term Qur’an, most often translated as “reading” or “recital,” has been linked etymologically to Syriac qeryana (“scripture reading, lection”) and to Hebrew miqra’ (“recitation, scripture”). Some Muslim commentators have also proposed that it comes from the Arabic verb qarana, “to put together” or “bind together,” thus giving the approximate translation of “a coherent recital” or “a scripture bound in the form of a book.” As a verbal noun (masdar) of the form fu’lan, qur’dn carries the connotation of a “continuous reading” or “eternal lection” that is recited and heard over and over. In this sense, it is understood both as a spiritual touchstone and a literary archetype. As a title, al-Qur’dn refers to the revelation (tanzil) “sent down” (unzila) by God to the prophet Muhammad over a period of twenty-two years (61o-632 CE ). In its more universal connotation, it is the self-expressed umm al-kitab or paradigm of divine communication (13.39). For all Muslims, the Qur’an is the quintessential scripture of Islam.
The term “the Noble Qur’an” (al-Qur’an al-Karim, 56.77) is often used to stress the extraordinary nature of this text. Since its divine source makes the Qur’an a sacred and therefore unique form of communication, its meaningfulness is dependent on the prior acceptance of a faith claim that posits specific assumptions about its historical and metahistorical contexts. Consequently, the Qur’an’s significance for the pious Muslim is entirely different from that seen by the non-Muslim or Islamic secularist. Because each and every written word and recited sound of the scripture is revered by believers in Islam as part of a divine lection, an interpretation of the Qur’an solely according to the canons of literary criticism or philology can only do violence to the revelation in terms of its meaning to its audience. For this reason, many scholars in the West have ceased speculating on the “actual” origins of the Qur’an or the historicity of its text and have devoted themselves instead to evaluating the Qur’an’s undeniable surplus of meaning in a combination of literary, cultural, and historical contexts.
As a communication from God, the Qur’an is the prime theophany of Islam. Because its text consists of divine rather than human speech (kalam Alldh, 9.6), its significance for Muslims is similar to that of the logos (divine word) in Christianity. However, unlike the normative Christian view of the Bible as a divinely inspired discourse (but closely akin to Jewish attitudes concerning the holiness of scripture), the words of the Qur’an are regarded by most Muslims as divine in and of themselves. Although the fully divine nature of Qur’anic “speech” is difficult for the secular reader to understand, the importance of this concept should not be underestimated. Modern Muslims still demonstrate their reverence for the Qur’an by approaching it in a state of ritual purity. At times it may also be treated as a prized artifact-as evidenced by the production of handdecorated, calligraphic copies (masahif) and the popularity of Middle-Period Qur’an manuscripts in collections of Islamic art. Sufis have long regarded the Qur’an as a paradigm for all of God’s communication with his creation. In the thirteenth century the great Andalusian mystic Ibn `Arabi (d. 1240) organized the entirety of Al -futuhat al-Makkiyah (The Meccan Inspirations), his magnum opus, in conformity with the discourses and “signs” of the divine text.
Structure. The text of the Qur’an is divided into 114 segments or surahs (Ar., surah; pl., suwar), each of which contains from three to 286 or 287 dyat (sg., ayah). Although it has been common for Westerners to translate ayah as “verse,” this is misleading. In the first place, the biblical concept of “chapter and verse” does not fully apply to the Qur’an. Particularly in the case of the longer segments, the surahs may not always discuss themes whose consistency is easily apparent from title to final ayah. Indeed, the names of the surahs themselves may refer only obliquely to the main point of the discourse, and in several cases they have been changed at different times in Islamic history. This process continues even today, despite the increased standardization brought about by the mass printing of official renditions. Surah 1’7, for example, might be called Banu Isra’il (Children of Israel) in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, while in Egypt and Iran it is likely to be known as Alisrd’ (The Night Journey). Each of these names refers to a different theme discussed in the same surah. Furthermore, while it is certainly correct to view the Qur’an as a collection of divine discourses, a single surah may contain more than one discourse. On other occasions (as in the story of Musa/Moses), the same discourse may be continued in two or more noncontiguous surahs.
The most important reason for not referring to ayah as “verse,” however, comes from the Qur’an’s own use of the term. The words ayah or ayat are employed nearly four hundred times throughout the text. Most frequently, ayah refers to evidences (athdr) in nature that demonstrate the existence of God. At other times it may refer to a miracle confirming the truth of a prophet’s message, a revealed message (tanzil) in general, or even a fundamental “point” in a particular surah’s discourse. Because of its multivalency, ayah can be seen to correspond quite closely to the concept of “sign” in Saussurean linguistics. An important proof of this assertion lies in the fact that “sign” (`alamah) is the most commonly accepted synonym for ayah in Ibn Manzur’s (d. 1311/1312) Lisan al-‘Arab and other influential lexicons of the Islamic Middle Period.
When inscribed in a written Qur’an or recited on a believer’s- tongue, ayah is best understood as “a statement in the speech of God.” The totality of these statements, along with a number of non-Qur’anic inspirations known as hadith qudsi (holy reports), constitute the divine “speech” (parole) as revealed to the prophet Muhammad. Yet each statement of the Qur’an was also revealed as a “remembrance” or “recollection” (dhikr or dhikra, 38.8), whose purpose is to awaken human beings and cause them to look up from the written or recited text, so that they may see the existence of God through his creation. In this case, each ayah of the Qur’an is also a sign-in the symbolic or semiotic sense-that points to another level of reality that in turn reaffirms the message of revelation. The believer who seeks to develop a sense of the sacred must thus learn two distinct levels of “language” (langue) at the same time-the Arabic text of the Qur’an itself and the “language” of nature, which is also a manifestation of the speech of God. God created the world as a book; his revelations descended to Earth and were compiled into a book; therefore, the human being must learn to “read” the world as a book. This aspect of spiritual intellection is exemplified in the Qur’an by the figures of Ibrahim/Abraham, who discerned the One God in the multiplicity of heavenly phenomena (6.75-79), and Sulayman/Solomon, who was inspired to understand the “discourse of the birds”(mantiq al-tayr, 27.16).
Theology and Anthropology. As an expression of theology, the Qur’an is first and foremost a demonstration (baydn) of the existence of God. In this guise it acts as a criterion of discernment (furgdn or mizan): “And We gave Moses the Book and the furgdn so that you might be guided” (2.55). This discernment-the same as that given to Muhammad, Abraham, Jesus, and all the other biblical and non-biblical prophets mentioned in the Qur’an-leads humankind to perceive a single, absolute truth (the only noncontingent reality) that transcends the world of phenomena. This truth is God, whose essence, being unique and exalted, lies beyond the limits of human imagination: “Say: He is Allah the Only; Allah the Perfect beyond compare; He gives not birth, nor is He begotten, and He is, in Himself, not dependent on anything” (112). This purely monotheistic expression of divine simplicity is complemented, however, by a more monistic image of a complex deity who is immanent in the world by virtue of being the source of existence itself: “He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; And He is the Knower of every thing” (57.3). Between these two poles of monotheism and monism stands tawhid, the recognition of transcendent oneness that constitutes the theological premise of Islam and the fundamental message of the Qur’anic discourse.
Despite the radically monotheistic nature of Islamic theology, the discourse about God in the Qur’an fluctuates repeatedly between transcendence and immanence, the abstract and the concrete, the logical and the analogical: God is one and not a trinity (5.75); lord of the east and the west (55.17); he sends rain and revives the earth (29.63); his “face” will abide forever (55.27). Out of these distinctions arises the tradition of the ninety-nine asmd’ Alldh al-husna or “excellent names of God” (7.18o), which for later Muslim thinkers expressed the discursive field in which tawhid was conceptualized. The central or medial figure who straddles these perspectives (and in Sufism actualizes the excellent names according to his or her ability and destiny) is the human being (insan, masc. pl. nas, fem. pl. nisd’). The Qur’an’s use of this generic term demonstrates that both men and women are rational and ethically responsible creatures who occupy an intermediate position in respect to all the oppositions (e.g., true and false, necessary and contingent, or real and unreal) that characterize the Qur’anic discourse. As such, the most meaningful duty in the life of every person is to submit the ego and intellect to the criterion (furqdn) of manifest truth as given in the divine revelation. This act of choice, in turn, is the furqdn that separates islam (surrender and submission to the one God) from kufr (“covering up” or denying the reality and moral implications of islam).
Human accountability is epitomized in the Qur’an by a generic covenant (33.72) in which preexistent humanity, despite its creaturely limitations, assumes responsibility for the heavens and the earth. This moral and ecological commitment constitutes another furqdn by which human actions are assessed. Also called ” God’s covenant” (`ahd Alldh, 2.27), this pact was created to distinguish male and female hypocrites (munafiqun) and those lost in contingent reality (mushrikun) from the believers (mu’minun) who maintain their trust in the absolute (3373). The human being who trusts in God and is true to God’s trust by not breaking this covenant in thought, word, or deed actualizes God’s vicegerency (khildfah, 2.30-33), through which one is able to exercise choice and maintain covenantal responsibility. The society made up of such believing individuals thus constitutes a normative or “axial community” (ummatan wasatan), which acts collectively as a witness to the truth (2.143). This society appears in history as a “community in a state of surrender to God” (ummah muslimah, 2.128) and is exemplified in its penultimate form by the paradigmatic ummah created by the prophet Muhammad and his companions in Medina (622-632 CE).
Qur’an and Bible. References in the Qur’an to the stories of biblical and extrabiblical prophets and their communities must be viewed from the perspective of the ummah muslimah in order to become intelligible to the Western reader. The historical discourses of the Qur’an are linked together thematically rather than chronologically, and thus the revelatory concept of the book or divine communication (kitab) employed in this text has more in common with the genre of wisdom traditions (cf., al-Kitdb al-H, akim [X, I, than with that of European historiography or Aristotle’s Poetics. For this reason students of Islam whose view of scripture is based on Judeo-Christian models are likely to be confused or even put off by what at first seems to be an incoherent scattering of biblical accounts and apocrypha. If, however, the text of the Qur’an is read according to its own instructions to Christians and Jewsas a reminder (dhikr) and reaffirmation (musaddiq) of universal truths and the essential points of biblical discourse (5.44-4g)-its lack of historical detail becomes less of a problem, and the logic of the Qur’an’s selfdescribed complementarity to previous revelations (41.43) is easier to understand. As with every other sign, the purpose of a biblical reminder is to stimulate intellectual awareness, not to provide an exhaustive discussion of a particular person or topic. In the Qur’an these reminders revolve around the quintessential unity of the Abrahamic tradition and include exemplary and cautionary narratives detailing humanity’s acceptance or rejection of the divine message.
Despite the Qur’an’s apparent advocacy of an intertextual approach to scriptural analysis (5.47-51), a later preoccupation with abrogation (naskh) made the comparative study of revelation more difficult at precisely the time (ninth century CE) when the vocalization of the consonantal text of the Qur’an fixed its discourse so that a true hermeneutic could become possible. The jurist alShafi’is (d. 820) insistence that the Qur’an was the primary source (asl) for Islamic law meant that its prescriptive (muhkam) ayat abrogated similar statutes in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Gospels. Subsequent scholars expanded on al-Shafi’is comments and claimed that the words of the Qur’dn constituted a blanket abrogation of the texts of all previous holy books. This opinion was reinforced by the doctrine of the “inimitability of the Qur’an (i’jaz al-Qur’dn). Originating as part of a debate over the Qur’an’s challenge to unbelievers to produce a work of comparable eloquence and substance (2.23), by the time of the theologian al-Baqillani (d. 1013) this concept had evolved into the idea that the Qur’an was completely unlike anything that had been revealed before. As a result, contemporary Muslim arguments against the doctrines of other “peoples of the book” still tend to recycle earlier polemics against Christianity and Judaism that are found in the Qur’dn itself or in the works of Middle-Period theologians. Only rarely does a Muslim exegete overcome the influence of tradition and undertake a serious study of modern Judaism or post-Reformation Christianity. This is even more the case in regard to polytheistic or nontheistic scriptural traditions, such as those of China and India.
Translations. A hallmark of twentieth-century exegesis (tafsir) is the translation of the Qur’an into local and regional vernaculars. As early as the eighth century the jurist Abu Hanifah (d. 767) claimed that it was permissible for non-Arabic speakers to recite al-Fatihah, the opening surah of the Qur’an, in Persian. Although other jurists disputed this view as contradicting the Qur’an’s own assertion of its Arabic linguistic identity (cf. 12.2, 16.23), a nativist (shu’ubi) cultural revival on the Iranian plateau led to Persian translations of the complete text by the eleventh century. These works, however, did not have ritual value. The consensus of `ulama’. has long held that a direct translation of divine speech is impossible. Vernacular editions of the Qur’an are thus classified as commentaries or interpretations (tafsir or tafhim ) to distinguish them from the Arabic original. This monadist opinion was authoritatively reaffirmed in the present century by the Syrian Pan-Islamist Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1935), who strongly rebutted Kemalist attempts to make Turkish a language of worship in the 1920s.
Important contemporary translations of the Qur’dn include those of the Indian modernist `Abdullah Yusuf `All (in English), the Pakistani reformer and politician Sayyid Abfi al-A’la Mawdudi (in Urdu), and the Indonesian scholar, poet, and independence activist Hamka (in Bahasa Indonesia). In each of these cases the purpose of translation was twofold: to promote the related causes of Islamic preaching (da’wah) and reform by making the text of the Qur’an accessible to non-Arabicspeaking audiences, and to counteract translations of the Qur’an in vernacular or European languages by nonMuslim missionaries and orientalist scholars working for colonial regimes. Of the translators mentioned above, Yusuf `All is the least inclined to believe that rendering the words of God into another language implies a decisive departure from the original text. Although he asserts that his desire is to provide an “English interpretation” (tafsir) of the Qur’an, the final product (variously entitled The Glorious Qur’an, The Holy Qur’an, or The Holy Qur-an, 1934) is more commonly thought of by Muslims as an annotated translation rather than an exegetical work per se. This is primarily because the commentaries are introduced as footnotes or bracketed additions to the translated text. In fact, Yusuf ‘Ali’s avowed goal of making “English itself an Islamic language” has very nearly been realized. His work is at present the most widely available Qur’an translation in English and forms the basis of the semiofficial Mushaf al-Madinah al-Nabawiyah printed in Saudi Arabia in 1990.
Mawdudi’s Tafhim al-Qur’dn (1942-1979) although superficially similar to Yusuf ‘Ali’s work, is indisputably an example of tafsir. In both his rendering of the original Arabic into Urdu and his extended discussions of each surah, the author’s explicit intent. is to amplify and clarify a unitary “Islamic message” for da’wah purposes. Part of this clarification entails transforming the structure of the Qur’an into paragraphs rather than leaving its text (either in Arabic or Urdu) in the traditional single-dyah format. This innovation is coupled with an analysis of the divine revelation according to the doctrines of the Jama’at-i Islami, which Mawdudi founded in 1941. According to this party’s point of view, the Qur’an is both a revolutionary manifesto and a manual for missionaries; its message calls for the reconstruction of human society into an ideologically motivated community of virtue and social activism. As such, its text provides a blueprint for transcending sectarian and legalistic divisions and uniting humanity into a single brotherhood. As an implicitly political work, Tafhim alQur’an. has much in common with Fi zilal al-Qur’dn, an equally influential tafsir in Arabic by the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966). [See the biography of Mawdudi. ]
Vernacular translations of the Qur’an in Southeast Asia first appeared in the 1920s but did not become fully accepted until the 1960s. In most texts the vernacular rendition (in Bahasa Melayu, Indonesian, Sundanese, or Javanese) follows or is parallel to the Arabic original of each ayah and is referred to as an “interpretation” (Malay, terjemah, tafsir). Prefatory discussions are commonly added, and exegetical material is usually found in the form of extended footnotes, as in Yusuf` `All’s and Mawdudi-‘s translations. Tafsir al-Azhar, the translation and exegesis by the West Sumatran scholar and Indonesian independence activist Hamka (Hadji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, d. 1981) is notable because of its nationalistic tone. Written in Bahasa Indonesia, this important work is a semi-official tafsir of the Indonesian Muhammadiyah organization and has been widely disseminated throughout the Malay-speaking world. Hamka is distinctive among Southeast Asian commentators for his use of interlineal exegesis (a technique common in the Arabic tradition) and his reliance upon recent Indonesian history to illustrate specific points in the Qur’anic discourse. [See the biography of Hamka. ]
Modern Arabic Exegesis. Modern exegesis of the Qur’an begins with the writings of Muhammad `Abduh (d. 1905), an Egyptian essayist, jurisconsult, founder of the Salafiyah movement, and rector of al-Azhar University in Cairo. `Abduh’s exegetical corpus consists of four works: Tafsir al -fatihah (igoi), Tafsir surat al-`asr (1903), Tafsir Juz’ `amma (1922-1923), and the twelvevolume Tafsir al-Qur’dn al-Hakim (sometimes called Tafsir al-manar, 1927-1935) which was completed after his death by Rashid Rida. As a neotraditionalist scholar who felt an affinity for Mu’tazili rationalism, `Abduh was influential in reviving the earlier genre of reasonbased exegesis (tafsir bi’l-ray), which except for the writings of certain Sufis had lain dormant for centuries. Also an avowed Spenserian social evolutionist, he saw the regulatory aydt of the Qur’an as corresponding to natural law, and he characterized the process of evolution as part of “God’s sunnah ” (sunnat Allah, 48.23) or unchangeable pattern of conduct. He generally rejected the possibility of miracles as contradicting this principle but excepted the Qur’an, whose miraculous uniqueness serves to awaken human reason to the truth of Muhammad’s prophecy. Claiming to follow the noted theologian al-Ghazali (d. 1111), `Abduh asserted that even the ambiguous (mutashabihdt) ayat should be open to analysis using the tools of modern thought. Once Islam was understood through the light of modern knowledge, the
rectification of religious practice demanded that Muslims also take on the reformation of society as a whole. As a justification for this position `Abduh cited the first part of ayah 13.11: “God will never change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” [See the biography of `Abduh.]
A direct successor to the `Abduh-Rids tafsir is Sayyid Qutb’s (d. 1966) Fi zilal al-Qur’dn (In the Shade of the Qur’an). Written for the most part between 1954 and 1964 during the author’s longest period of imprisonment, this posthumously published work adopts many of the positions-both explicit and implicit-of `Abduh’s earlier tafsir. This reflects the fact that Qutb’s mentor, the Egyptian reformist and political activist Hasan al-Banna’ (d. 1949) was a student of `Abduh’s disciple Muhammad Rashid Rida. Like its predecessor, Fi zilal al-Qur `an. is also an example of tafsir bi al-ray. Despite numerous appeals to the precedent of the Prophet and his companions, Sayyid Qutb rivaled `Abduh in his faith in modern science as a universal criterion for knowledge, going so far as to quote British scientific journals in his exegesis. Both authors also distinguished themselves as advocates of social and intellectual reform and were equally fond of citing ayah 13.11 as a justification for sociopolitical activism.
Sayyid Qutb differed from his predecessor, however, over the degree to which change dictates compromise with alien sociocultural systems. Although `Abduh maintained a traditional aura of legitimacy as an Islamic scholar and jurisconsult, he was also a political accommodationist who regarded British administration and scientific positivism as evolutionary advances over a decayed and ignorant Muslim society. Sayyid Qutb by contrast, as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was a committed anticolonialist and anti-imperialist who sought to revive a Qur’an-based “Islamic system” (alnizam al-Isldmi) that remained true to the cultural and social values established by God and Muslim consensus. While fully modern in his belief in the unitary message of the Qur’an and skeptical of the accuracy of many prophetic traditions (hadith), Sayyid Qutb nonetheless rejected the examples of both the Uniteds States and the Soviet Union as societies where man is either made a commodity or reduced to little more than a machine. Western imperialism, he asserted, had created a “new ignorance” (jahiliyah) in the Muslim world, where an original, faith-based consciousness of God (taqwa) was replaced by a “jahili consciousness” characterized by immorality, political corruption, and a servile reliance on Western paradigms. As the title to his tafsir, “In the Shade of the Qur’an,” indicates, the Qur’an serves Muslims not only as a source of guidance but also as a refuge from destructive influences. [See the biography of Qutb.]
Apart from translation, the most important hallmark of modern exegesis of the Qur’an has been the tendency to view each surah as a unified discourse. In itself this approach is not new. As early as the eleventh century it was followed by the influential Sufi al-Qushayri (d. 1073) in his exegesis Latd’if al-ishdrdt (The Subtleties of Symbolism). In the following century the Andalusian legist Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arab! (d. 1148) bemoaned the lack of interest in intratextual hermeneutics (`ilm almunasabat), and the subject was brought up again in the fourteenth-century tafsir of Badr al-Din al-Zarakhshi (d. 1391). Until the twentieth century, however, such opinions were rare, and the usual approach was to view each surah as an atomistic collection of discontinuous narratives. In recent times Western attacks on the coherence of the Qur’an have led to an apologetic defense of the text that vindicates its present structure by demonstrating the existence of thematic unities.
Although this approach is now followed by most modern commentators, one of the clearest examples of `ilm al-mundsabat can be found in Al-mizan ft tafsir (al-Qur’an (The Balance of Judgment in the Exegesis of the Qur’an, 1973-1974) an influential Sh!’! tafsir in Arabic by the noted Iranian philosopher and theologian Sayyid Muhammad Husayn al-Tabataba’i (d. 1981). He begins his exegesis of each surah by identifying its central theme, which he calls its “purpose” or “intent” (gharad). This theme is discovered by examining the surah’s opening, its end, and the general flow of discourse. The actual commentary is then divided into subtexts, which correspond to discursive changes in the divine speech.
It is important to note, however, that Tabataba’i does not impose an artificial unity on the Qur’an, nor does he conceive of his exegesis as an example of tafsir bi alra’y. As a scholastic theologian and strict follower of the usuli (source-oriented) jurisprudential tradition of Twelver or Imam! Shiism, he prefers to let the Qur’an “explain itself by itself’ (tafsir (al-Qur’an bi’l-Qur’an) following a statement of Imam ‘Ali: “One part of the Qur’an explains another, and one part witnesses to the other.” Rejecting the concept of reason-based exegesis as a matter of principle, Tabataba’i first tries to explain ambiguous dydt by syllogistically referring to others whose meaning is apparent. Next he turns to the extensive corpus of exegetical traditions left behind by the Shi’i imams. When using a purely scholastic approach, as in his discussions of grammatical points, semantics, or human nature, Tabataba’i takes great pains to ensure that his conclusions are in overall agreement with the consensus of previous Imami scholarship. [See the biography of Tabdtabd’i]
Qur’an and Modernism. In recent years the Qur’an has become a touchstone for controversy as well as piety. Nowhere has this been more the case than in modernist polemics, many of whose practitioners view the Qur’an through the lens of ideological precommitment. Particularly prominent is the debate over the empowerment of Muslim women, who have become both combatants and prize in the struggle between Western critics of Islam and their Muslim opponents. A recent discussion of the Qur’an from a womanist point of view is Amina Wadud-Muhsin’s Qur’dn and Woman (1992). First published in Malaysia, it is presently used as a manifesto by the “Sisters in Islam” movement in that country. In her approach to the Qur’an the American Wadud-Muhsin attempts to lay the groundwork for nontraditional tafsir from a scripturally legitimate perspective. Borrowing heavily from the semantic analyses of the Japanese Qur’anic scholar Toshihiko Izutsu and the modernist exegesis of the Pakistani Islamicist Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), she postulates a distinction between the historically and culturally contextualized “prior text” of the Qur’an and a wider metatext that conveys a more tolerant and universalistic worldview. Her conclusion is that while the Qur’an indeed acknowledges functional gender distinctions based on biology, it does not propose essential or culturally universal roles for males and females. In fact, the assignment of gender distinctions based on early Arabian precedent would eliminate the transcendental nature of the Qur’an by reducing it to a culturally specific set of discourses. Wadud-Muhsin argues her point by demonstrating the Qur’an’s stress on the “primal equality” of men and women, examining the issue of equity in the afterlife, and semantically analyzing Qur’an-based legal terminology relating to women and the family.
Another use of the concept of “prior text,” although with very different results, can be found in Al-risalah al-thaniyah min al-Islam (The Second Message of Islam) by the radical Sudanese modernist Mahmud Muhammad Taha (d. 1985). Essential to Taha’s doctrine is a distinction between two categories of the prophet Muhammad’s followers-the muslim (one who submits himself fully to God) and the mu’min (one who acknowledges the truth of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s message). During Muhammad’s lifetime the Prophet himself was the only true muslim, since he alone could submit himself to God completely. For this reason the community that the Prophet created in Medina was composed only of mu’minun-those who followed the historically and culturally contextualized example of Muhammad. This early stage of faith (imdn) is exemplified by the Medinan surahs of the Qur’an and constitutes the “first message of Islam.” As a formal religious tradition, it is characterized by the shari’ah. Because it reflected its era and culture, however, the resulting “nation of believers” was unsuited to modern social and intellectual conditions.
The coming age of islam, by contrast, will be characterized by humankind’s readiness to comprehend fully the universal message of the Qur’an, which appears in the Meccan revelations. Not limited by an outdated “prior text” like the Medinan surahs, which modern conditions have abrogated, the Islam of the Meccan period is open-ended and subject to further elaboration. Consequently, the “nation of Muslims” born under the influence of this era will be one of tolerance, gender equality, social democracy, and a science-oriented approach to knowledge. Not content to be bound by the sunnah, Taha, the “teacher” (ustddh) of this “second message of Islam,” affirms the continuity of divine guidance by proclaiming himself a post-Muhammadan “messenger” (rasul): “one to whom God granted understanding from the Qur’an and is authorized to speak” (p. 42).
Surprisingly, given the radical and even heretical nature of Taha’s doctrine, it still reflects exegetical issues that have occupied practitioners of tafsir since the very beginnings of the genre. Although the universality of the prophetic sunnah is seldom debated, the question of its applicability to contemporary conditions has always been important. The historical study of Qur’anic exegesis continually reveals how much the discipline of tafsir depends on prior methodologies. Muhammad `Abduh’s and Sayyid Qutb’s reliance on tafsir bi al-ray, for example, reprises the approach utilized by the influential Middle-Period commentator al-Tabari (d. 923). Even Amina Wadud-Muhsin’s undeniably modern use of semantic and “prior text” analyses echoes (albeit unintentionally) more mystically minded commentators such as Ibn `Arabi and al-Qushayri. Undoubtedly certain methodologies, such as translation and intratextual hermeneutics, have become more prominent in recent times; this is only natural given the increasingly non-MiddleEastern demographic profile of the Muslim world and the resulting demand for a crosscultural discourse. Yet the very fact that many new commentaries recall previous approaches highlights the authority of tradition in Islam and the continued self-referentiality of Muslim exegesis. After all that has been accomplished, one threshold of Qur’anically legitimate exegesis remains to be crossed-a systematically comparative approach to scriptural analysis.
[See also Tafsir.]
Ayoub, Mahmoud M. The Qur’an. and its Interpreters. 2 vols. to date. New York, 1984-. Synopsis of Middle Period exegeses of the Qur’an. through surah 3 (Al `Imran). The introduction to volume i covers the history of tafsir.
Chodkiewicz, Michel. An Ocean without Shore: Ibn `Arabi, the Book, and the Law. Translated by David Streight. Albany, N.Y., 1993 Superb discussion of the Sufi approach to the Qur’an. in Ibn al’Arabi’s AI-Futuhat al -Makkiyah.
Cragg, Kenneth. The Pen and the Faith: Eight Modern Muslim Writers and the Qur’an. London, 1985. Introduction to the importance of the Qur’an. in modern Islamic thought, for the nonspecialist.
GaRje, Helmut. The Qur’an and Its Exegesis: Selected Texts with Classical and Modern Muslim Interpretations. Translated and edited by Alford T. Welch. Berkeley, 1976. Thematic exposition of classical and modern tafsir, more useful for its examples than for a history of the genre.
Greifenhagen, F. V. “Traduttore Traditore: An Analysis of the History of English Translations of the Qur’an. Islam and ChristianMuslim Relations 3.2 (December 1992): 274-291. Excellent overview of polemical and nonpolemical translations in English , with a very useful bibliography.
Hawting, G. R., and Abdul-Kader A. Shareef, eds. Approaches to the Qur’dn. London and New York, 1993. Useful overview of traditional and modern approaches to exegesis.
Izutsu, Toshihiko. God and Man in the Koran: Semantics of the Koranic Weltanschauung (1964). New York, 198o. One of the classics of Qur’anic studies, and the best semantic analysis of this text written in the modern period.
Jeffery, Arthur. The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an. Baroda, 1938. Classic philological study of Qur’anic terminology as it relates to other religions and cultural systems. Especially useful for the advanced student of Arabic.
Jeffery, Arthur , ed. Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’an. The Old Codices. Leiden, 1937. The only in-depth study of variations in the Qur’anic text in early Islamic history. Requires knowledge of Arabic.
Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la. Towards Understanding the Qur’an. Translated by Zafar Ishaq Ansari. Leicester, 1988-. Excellent English translation of Tafhim (al-Qur’an by the director of the Islamic Research Institute in Pakistan.
McAuliffe, Jane Dammen. Qur’anic Christians: An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegesis. Cambridge and New York, 1991. Interesting study of the portrayal of Christians and Christianity in the Qur’an.
Qutb, Sayyid. In the Shade of the Qur’an. Vol. 30. Translated by M. Adil Salahi and Ashur A. Shamis. London, 1979. Competent translation of the last part of Fi Zildl (al-Qur’an
Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an. Minneapolis, 198o. One of the better modernist approaches to the Qur’an, best read as an apologetic response to polemical scholarship.
Tabataba’i, Muhammad Husayn. The Qur’an. in Islam: Its Impact and Influence on the the Life of Muslims. London, 1987. Discussion of Tabataba’i’s tafsir methodology and a useful introduction to Imami ShN exegesis. His Tafsir al-Mizan is presently being translated into English.
Taha, Mahmfid Muhammad. The Second Message of Islam. Translated and edited by `Abd Allah Ahmad Na’im. Syracuse, N.Y., 1987. Journey to the outer limits of Qur’anic exegesis.
Wadud-Muhsin, Amina. Qur’an and Woman. Kuala Lumpur, 1992. The most effective Muslim response to the feminist critique of Islam yet written.
Welch, Alford T., and J. D. Pearson. “Kur’an” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 5, pp. 400-432. Leiden, 196o-. Useful introduction to the history of the Qur’an for the nonspecialist, although the philological and Orientalist approach of its author is outdated.

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/the-quran-as-scripture/

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