Workshop: ‘Structural Dividers in Qur’anic Material: A Synthesis of Approaches’

Sadly I cannot attend but it looks fascinating

Structural Dividers in Qur’anic Material: A Synthesis of Approaches

Convener: Marianna Klar (SOAS, University of London)

Date:  3 June 2016 Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes:  4 June 2016 Time: 1:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings  Room: 4429 & 4426

Type of Event: Workshop

A belief in the structural and thematic integrity of Qur’anic suras undergirds a sizeable proportion of contemporary close textual scholarship on the Qur’an, and the past three decades have seen a substantial refinement of our understanding of the indicators of structural and thematic coherence within the text. This has occurred alongside an exploration of various possible indicators of discrete structural sub-units that could plausibly reside under the umbrella of a unified sura. Statements such as a-lam tarā or inna’llāha ʿalā kulli shayʾin qadīr have been argued to serve as opening and closing formulae within the text. A similar function has been assigned to changes of addressee, on the one hand, and eschatological crescendos, on the other. To this list can be added further suggestions of closure, such as the doubling of material in form or content across two consecutive verses, the occurrence of positive/negative verses, or the presence of generic addresses to the Prophet. Repeated statements have meanwhile been demonstrated, in some instances, to have a chiastic function, while changes in theme, genre, or prevalent Leitwort have also been utilised in order to map a theoretical structure onto the text.

Despite the widely accepted thesis that the long suras were not revealed as unities but, rather, underwent revision and expansion over a number of months or even years, a diachronic understanding of the text’s formation is rarely brought to play in discussions of sura unity. One possible exception to this trend is the work of the Iranian scholar Mehdi Bazargan (d. 1995). In his Sayr-i Tahavvul, Bazargan proposes that thematically-defined clusters of verses with a more or less comparable mean verse length could have stemmed from a much narrower time period than the rest of the Qur’an. While Bazargan leaves 59 suras intact, he breaks the remaining suras up into between two and five chronological blocks each. The purpose of this exercise is a more accurate diachronic rearrangement of the corpus, but the thesis has potential repercussions for our understanding of the feasibility of sub-dividing suras along diachronic lines that, however, remain synchronically (thematically) informed. On a similar plane, recent developments in our identification of the structures suggested by shifting rhyme patterns could be utilised both in order to posit additional sub-units within the text, and in order to suggest form-defined diachronic layers within existing suras.

This workshop will serve to further refine our understanding of structural indicators within Qur’anic material, bringing the assumption of the presence of editorial layers to bear on the wider issue of structural integrity within the longer suras. It will be proposed that a fundamental tension resides between the assumption that the Qur’an was revealed as discrete logia, and the presumed unified reality of a deliberately constructed sura; between the imposition of a rhetoric or thematic structure, and the sometimes contrasting indicators suggested by stylistic variation and end rhyme; between the identification of such a structure and all the ‘additional’ words and themes that could be perceived to be superfluous to it; between contextually situated logia and an assumption of some sort of progressive dogmatic or theological development. In sum, the workshop will investigate the plausibility, and the implications, of a number of possible methods for understanding the Qur’an in accordance with a set of structurally-informed rules.

Attendance is free of charge, but registration is required (limited space).For information, and to register, please contact Marianna Klar, mk81@soas.ac.uk. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

Speakers (in alphabetical order)

Muhammad Abdel Haleem (SOAS, University of London), ‘Suspension of Composition Patterns in the Qur’an’

Salwa El-Awa (Swansea University), ‘Discourse Markers and the Structure of Intertextual Relations in Medium Length Qur’anic Suras: The Case of Sūrat Ṭā Hā’

Marianna Klar (SOAS, University of London), ‘Accentual Beat Patterning in the Verses of Sūrat al-Baqarah

Nevin Reda (University of Toronto), ‘The Structural, Thematic, and Epistemic Dimension of Sūrat Āl ʿImrān

Neal Robinson (Independent Researcher), ‘Structure, Tradition, and Redaction in Sūrat al-Baqarah

Nora Katharina Schmid (Freie Universität Berlin), ‘Qur’anic Oath Patterns and Changing Epistemic Contexts’

Nicolai Sinai (University of Oxford), ‘Appendicular Textual Growth: Sura Structure in the Making’

Devin Stewart (Emory University), ‘Investigating the Question of Composite Suras’

A.H. Mathias Zahniser (Greenville College), ‘Sūrat Maryam: A Journey into Semitic Rhetoric’

Holger Zellentin (University of Nottingham), ‘Beyond Ring Composition: A Comparison of Formal Features in Q. 96 (al-ʿAlaq) and Bavli Bava Batra 8a’

Abstracts and Speakers:

Muhammad Abdel Haleem (SOAS, University of London), ‘Suspension of Composition Patterns in the Qur’an’

This paper deals with a structural feature in the Qur’an that involves temporarily suspending a composition pattern (īqāf al-nasaq) in a given sura for a specific purpose. So, in the middle of presenting narrative, thematic, grammatical, and other patterns, the Qur’an may at a specific place suspend the flow of composition to make an urgent point, before returning to continue the original pattern. Such suspension does not seem to have received proper attention, although it is very important in understanding and appreciating the structure of Qur’anic material.

The paper will discuss the extent of this feature; types and duration of suspension; the indicators of the beginning and end of suspension. In addition, the paper will explain some of the functions it serves, including: pointing out immediately what is not true; guarding against misunderstanding; emphasising Qur’anic teachings; persuading people to obey them; reassuring the Prophet and/or the believers; instructing the Prophet; seizing an opportunity to introduce some important teaching. Far from being a disruption of the structure or an anomaly ‘added later’, suspension will be shown as both highlighting the point introduced and enriching the originally-suspended flow. On examination, this feature will be seen to conform with the general purpose of the Qur’an. An explanation will also be given of why it is part of the style of the Qur’an. From the discussion it will become clear that suspension is in fact akin to another very important feature of Qur’anic style, much discussed in balāghah books, al-khurūʿalā muqtaa al-ẓāhir (‘departure from what is normally expected’), done only for considerations required by the situation in certain contexts.

Muhammad Abdel Haleem (OBE) obtained a BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Cairo and a PhD from the University of Cambridge, and he holds an Honorary Doctorate in Islamic Studies from the University of Jordan. A Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, London, and a Corresponding Member of the Academy of the Arabic Language, Cairo, he is currently King Fahd Professor of Islamic Studies in the University of London, Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies at SOAS, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Qur’anic Studies, published by Edinburgh University Press.  Selected publications related to the Qur’an include Exploring the Qur’an: Common Misconceptions and Textual Challenges (IB Tauris, forthcoming in 2016); Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style (IB Tauris, 2001, 2011); The Qur’an: a New Translation (OUP, 2004, 2010); and An Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage, with Elsaid Badawi (Brill, 2007).
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Salwa El-Awa (Swansea University), ‘Discourse Markers and the Structure of Intertextual Relations in Medium Length Qur’anic Suras: The Case of Sūrat Ṭā Hā

Discourse markers are generally seen as expressions that have a procedural rather than a conceptual meaning, and whose main function is to relate segments of discourse (Fraser, 1999). They can connect parts of discourse by indicating the relation between following and preceding parts, or their interpretations. They can, also, close digression in narrative or conversation (Lenk, 1998), initiate a new topic, or call the listener’s attention to an alteration of topic (Norrick, 2001).

Discourse markers are used regularly in Sūrat Ṭā Hā. They are used in various parts of the text and operate in a variety of ways to indicate local and, perhaps also, global textual relations. In other words, they indicate relations between a given segment of the text and the preceding segment and between a given segment of the text and the text of the sura as a whole. However, they do not always have a connecting function. Discourse markers in this sura operate on various planes of text. They indicate a different category of textual relations when they occur between sentences from when they occur between sections. Acting as discourse connectives is not their only function. In fact they act as disconnectors as much as connectors. The most common function of discourse markers in Sūrat Ṭā Hā seems to be marking transition between topics and marking beginnings of new topics, rather than indicating a specific interpretation of the relation between topics.

It appears as though the structure of Sūrat Ṭā Hā is built around disconnectedness rather than connectedness and that stand-alone verses and sections of the text are a common type of discourse unit in the sura. This view can have implications on our perception of Qur’anic suras that have long been expected to show structural connectivity of a conventional type. It remains to be examined whether this feature of apparently intended disconnectedness is emphasised in the use of other types of textual cohesion and coherence mechanisms or not (e.g. the use of didactic expressions, anaphora and cataphora, etc.). However, as far as discourse markers in Sūrat Ṭā Hā are concerned, the systematic occurrence of markers playing a rather disconnecting role calls for a reconsideration of the linguistic structure of multi-topic Qur’anic suras. Do those suras exhibit a form of textuality that does not necessarily depend on coherence and cohesion as a basis for comprehension?

Salwa El-Awa specialises in Arabic and Qur’anic Studies. She is especially interested in Arabic linguistics, and the modern linguistic analysis of Arabic and Islamic texts, particularly the Qur’an. She also researches the current Islamic movement in the Middle East and its changing relations with the state. She has authored a number of books and academic articles on the linguistic analysis of the text and structure of the Qur’an with particular attention to context and pragmatics. She also has some important published work on the Egyptian Jamaʿa Islamiyya and police-community partnership in counter-terrorism in the UK. Her current research projects focus on coherence of the Qur’anic text and the current state of the Arabic language from a philological point of view.

Between 1993 and 2015, Dr El-Awa held various academic positions teaching and researching Arabic, linguistics, Qur’anic text analysis and Islamic Studies at SOAS, University of Birmingham and Ain Shams University in Cairo. She currently holds the post of Lecturer in Arabic at Swansea University, Wales.
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Marianna Klar (SOAS, University of London), ‘Accentual Beat Patterning in the Verses of Sūrat al-Baqarah

The 53rd sura of the Qur’an, Sūrat al-Najm, is often cited as an example of a Qur’anic sura that is written entirely in rhymed prose.The vast majority of its verses are extremely short—three to five words long—and the consequent rapid recurrence of its rhyming end-words creates a strong rhythmical beat throughout the sura. Verses 23, 26 to 32, and arguably 52, protrude from the stylistic profile of the sura (at 25, 9 to 31, and 9 words, respectively), but the final clauses of all these “outlier” verses can be plotted such that they nonetheless match the prevalent rhythmic beat—and rhyme—of the sura. This suggests a number of hypotheses, the first of them being that (1) sajʿ can be carried across long verses. It also however suggests that (2) the rhyme and rhythmical consistency of the final clause may have been utilised as a technique in order to incorporate later additions into tight rhythmic units. Even more interestingly, it indicates that (3) no self-consciousness was displayed in the inclusion of much longer and, evidently in this case, later material into stylistically tight, earlier suras.

On the understanding that the utilisation of recognisable sajʿ-patterns within Qur’anic material is more nuanced than has heretofore been acknowledged, in the proposed paper I will categorise the verses of Sūrat al-Baqarah into a number of types, depending on the patterning of the accentual beats across its internal clauses.  A preliminary investigation yielded clear indications of descending, ring-shaped, quatrain, and rhythmically-matched patterns; what remains to be accomplished is a thorough classification and analysis of al-Baqarah’s verses in these terms. Considerations of genre, purpose, and location—whether a rhythmical unit occurs at the beginning, the middle, or the end, of a thematic block—will all be brought to bear.

Marianna Klar holds a BA in Arabic (SOAS, 1992), an MPhil in Islamic Studies (Cambridge, 1994), and a DPhil on the narrative hermeneutics of the fifth/eleventh century exegete al-Thaʿlabī (Oxford, 2002). Since 2002 she has been a Research Associate in the Centre of Islamic Studies, SOAS, University of London. Her research focuses on the Qur’an’s structure and its narratives; she has also worked on tales of the prophets within the historiographical tradition, and on issues of genre pertaining to medieval texts. Published works include ‘Chapter 22. Stories of the Prophets’ in Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an, ed. A. Rippin (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), Interpreting al-Thaʿlabī’s Tales of the Prophets: Temptation, Responsibility and Loss (Routledge, 2009), ‘Human~Divine Communication as a Paradigm for Power: al-Thaʿlabī’s Presentation of Q. 38:24 and Q. 38:34’ in Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’an as Literature and Culture, ed. Roberta Sterman Sabbath (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), ‘Review article: The Poetics of Iblis: Narrative Theology in the Qur’an. By Whitney S. Bodman. Harvard Theological Studies, 62. Cambridge, MSS: Harvard University Press, 2011’, Journal of Qur’anic Studies 15:1 (2013), ‘Through the Lens of the Adam Narrative: A Reconsideration of Sūrat al-Baqara’, Journal of Qur’anic Studies 17:2 (2015), ‘Qur’anic Exempla and Late Antique Narrative’ in The Oxford Handbook of Qur’anic Studies, ed. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem and M.A.A. Shah (OUP, forthcoming in 2016), and an edited volume of articles on al-Țabarī and his hermeneutics, Exegetical Facets of Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923), appearing as Journal of Qur’anic Studies 18:2 (forthcoming in 2016).
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Nevin Reda (University of Toronto), ‘The Structural, Thematic, and Epistemic Dimension of Sūrat Āl ʿImrān

This paper examines Sūrat Āl ʿImrān’s narrative structure and its epistemic contribution to the character of the Qur’an as an organised, intentional ‘book’. It observes tensions between the Qur’an’s oral and textual dimensions, explaining the function of repetition as a method of organising text and delineating compositional units. It describes both verbatim and thematic devices, such as the inclusio, the Leitwort, anaphora, alternation, and ring composition, showing how these figures work together to pinpoint Āl ʿImrān’s layout and running themes. The paper highlights the continuity between Āl ʿImrān and Sūrat al-Baqarah, demonstrating how the al-Baqarahstructuring devices form a foundation for the subsequent organisation of Sūrat Āl ʿImrān. It suggests that Āl ʿImrān’s special configuration of structures are uniquely situated within the Qur’anic corpus to point to a chiastic substrate in the organisation of the Qur’an, one that has epistemic implications for the Qur’an and its genus as a book alongside similar books in the Bible.

Nevin Reda holds a PhD in Qur’anic Studies and an MA in Biblical Hebrew Language and Literature, both from the University of Toronto. Since 2012, she has been an Assistant Professor of Muslim Studies at Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto. She also directs the College’s Master of Theological Studies and Master of Pastoral Studies programs, in which she has been instrumental in introducing a Muslim Studies focus. Her main area of research is the poetics of Qur’anic narrative structure, often enriched with interdisciplinary insights from Biblical studies, literary theory, Islamic law, and/or women’s studies. Her publications include The Al-Baqara Crescendo: Understanding the Qur’an’s Style, Narrative Structure and Running Themes (forthcoming from McGill-Queen’s University Press), ‘Holistic Approaches to the Qur’an: A Historical Background’,Religion Compass 4:8 (2010), ‘The Qur’ānic Tālūt and the Rise of the Ancient Israelite Monarchy: An Intertextual Reading’, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 25:3 (2008), ‘From the Canadian Sharia Debates to the Arab World: Developing a Quran-Based Theology of Democracy’ in Ingrid Mattson (ed.), Islam and Democracy: Prospects and Pathways (New York: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), ‘From Where Do We Derive “God’s law”? The Case of Women’s Political Leadership: A Modern Expression of an Ancient Debate’ in Omaima Abou Bakr (ed.), Feminism and Islamic Perspectives: New Horizons of Knowledge and Reform (Cairo: Women and Memory Forum, 2013). 
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Neal Robinson (Independent Researcher), ‘Structure, Tradition, and Redaction in Sūrat al-Baqarah

Since the 1980s a number of western scholars have reached the conclusion that the long Medinan suras, or at least some of them, are structural unities. In the case of Sūrat al-Baqarah, this view is now widely accepted. However, as Marianna Klar shows in a forthcoming article, although the various proposals concerning the sura’s structure overlap to a certain extent, they also exhibit significant differences. In the absence of an agreed method of analysis, such differences are only to be expected. This does not mean that the proposed structures are all of equal merit. The paper will begin by reviewing the principal proposals and assessing their relative plausibility. It will then be argued that the sura in its present form is the result of careful editing. A provisional attempt will therefore be made to identify and classify the underlying units of tradition before offering some more speculative remarks about the redactional process, paying particular attention to recurrent rhyme clauses and the systematic way in which the whole sura presents itself as revealed discourse. Although the recent emphasis on synchronic analysis is lauded as a salutary corrective to the narrow historical focus of much earlier scholarship, a plea is lodged for a dialectic between synchrony and diachrony.

Neal Robinson is an independent researcher based in Brussels.  He was educated principally in the UK, the country of his birth, with briefer periods in Paris and North Africa.  His first full-time academic appointment was as Lecturer in New Testament Studies. For the past 25 years, however, he has focused principally on Islam and was successively Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies in Leeds University, Professor of Islamic Studies in the University of Wales, Professorial Research Fellow in Leuven, Professor of Religious Studies in Sogang University Seoul, and Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies in the Australian National University. More recently he spent two years as Visiting Professor in Astana, Kazakhstan, and a semester in Kazan, Russia. He has written journal articles, essays and encyclopedia entries on a wide range of topics in Islamic Studies. Robinson is best known for his research on the Qur’an. He is the author of Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, a book widely regarded as a seminal work. Although originally published in 1996, it is still frequently quoted in the secondary literature.
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Nora Katharina Schmid (Freie Universität Berlin), ‘Qur’anic Oath Patterns and Changing Epistemic Contexts’

The early Qur’anic suras have been reckoned to be characterised by a number of formal and thematic features reminiscent of oracular pronouncements uttered by so-called kuhhān (Arabian diviners). Oath represents one such feature of particular importance; a number of early suras are introduced by oath patterns that can be considered important structural and thematic markers. The paper attempts to investigate oath patterns chronologically and thereby to relate their structure and function to changing epistemic contexts.

In order to do this, surviving specimens of mantic speech will be analysed in a first step. Ascribed to pre-Islamic times, they have been written down and transmitted mostly from the Abbasid period onwards – a problem which has often been translated by scholars into fundamental doubts about their authenticity. In a second step, oath patterns within the Qur’an will be analysed and it will be shown how oath evolves from a category that structures and legitimises inspired speech to a simple marker of emphasis in dialogue. This development will be shown to be entangled with cognate developments on a textual level and set against a spiritual milieu shaped by changing epistemic horizons that bring about reappraisals in the formation of authoritative knowledge and in the constitution of speech conveying this knowledge.

The paper argues for approaching the Qur’anic text chronologically in order to assess dimensions of meaning that can be grasped only in a constant back-and-forth movement between text and context, whereby each can be more clearly contoured only in relation to the other.

Nora Katharina Schmid holds an MA in Arabic and French Philologies (Freie Universität Berlin, 2011). Since 2012 she has been a research associate of the Collaborative Research Center 980 “Episteme in Motion” and a PhD candidate at Freie Universität Berlin. Her research focuses on the Qur’an – particularly Qur’anic chronology and knowledge transfer –, Arabic asceticism and the intellectual and literary traditions of pre-Islamic Arabia. Published works include ‘Quantitative Text Analysis and Its Application to the Qur’an: Some Preliminary Considerations’ in The Qur’ān in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qur’ānic Milieu, ed. A. Neuwirth, N. Sinai, and M. Marx (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2010), ‘Abū l-ʿAtāhiya and the Versification of Disenchantment’ in The Place to Go. Contexts of Learning in Baghdād, 750–1000 C.E., ed. J. Scheiner and D. Janos (Princeton: Darwin Press, 2014). Articles forthcoming in 2016 include ‘Lot’s Wife: Late Antique Paradigms of Sense and the Qur’ān’ in Qur’ānic Studies Today, ed. A. Neuwirth and M. Sells (Routledge) and ‘Trajekte spätantiker Askese: Übungswissen in der frühislamischen Mahnpredigt am Beispiel von al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21–110 AH/ 642–728)’, in Übungswissen in Religion und Philosophie: Produktion, Weitergabe, Wandel, ed. A.-B. Renger and A. Stellmacher (Berlin et al.: Lit Verlag). Nora Katharina Schmid is currently also co-editing a collective volume entitled Denkraum Spätantike. Reflexionen von Antiken im Umfeld des Koran (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, forthcoming in 2016), to which she has contributed an article entitled ‘Der zweifache spätantike Kontext altarabischer Sehersprüche’.
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Nicolai Sinai (University of Oxford), ‘Appendicular Textual Growth: Sura Structure in the Making’

The workshop outline aptly challenges us to consider the link between a synchronic description of sura structure (which I take to include the identification of terminological and phraseological recurrences) and the strong likelihood that the present shape of at least the long suras was the product of protracted processes of textual growth. This paper will explore the possibility that the emergence of different suras may have followed similar developmental trajectories and patterns, and that one of these patterns can be described as appendicular growth: the addition to an earlier version of a given sura of an appendix-like verse cluster or section that clarifies, modifies, complements, or expands upon statements contained in the sura’s original literary stock. Verses to which this younger sura stratum latches on may well be located towards the beginning of the text’s original version, in which case the resulting composition will exhibit thematic and terminological recurrence of a kind that is especially characteristic of the long suras. This phenomenon of appendicular growth, I maintain, is discernible in at least three cases from the Medinan period, among which Q. 5 (Sūrat al-Māʾidah) will receive the most detailed treatment. It seems distinctly possible that sura 5 underwent not one but two such stages of appendicular growth, thus endowing the sura’s final version with a particularly dense web of internal terminological and phraseological correspondences (previously traced by Robinson and Cuypers). I shall argue that these correspondences are only satisfactorily explicable in evolutionary terms: an adequate understanding of present sura structure thus requires at least a hypothetical engagement with issues of inner-Qur’anic chronology.

Nicolai Sinai studied Arabic and Philosophy at Leipzig (1998–2000), Cairo (2000–2001), and the Freie Universität Berlin (2001–2003), and subsequently did a doctorate on the Qur’an and early Qur’anic exegesis at the latter institution (2003–2006). From 2007 to 2010 he was a researcher at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Since 2011, he has been teaching at Oxford University, where he is an Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and a Fellow of Pembroke College. His research interests lie in the literary and historical-critical study of the Qur’an, Islamic exegesis, and the history of Arabic philosophy. Nicolai’s publications on the Qur’an include: Fortschreibung und Auslegung: Studien zur frühen Koraninterpretation(Wiesbaden, 2009); The Qurʾān in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qurʾānic Milieu, co-edited with Angelika Neuwirth and Michael Marx (Leiden, 2010); ‘An Interpretation of Sūrat al-Najm (Q. 53)’, Journal of Qur’anic Studies 13 (2011); ‘Religious Poetry from the Quranic Milieu: Umayya b. Abī l-Ṣalt on the Fate of the Thamūd’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 74 (2011); ‘When Did the Consonantal Skeleton of the Quran Reach Closure?’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 77 (2014); ‘The Qur’anic Commentary of Muqātil b. Sulaymān and the Evolution of Early Tafsīr Literature’ in Tafsīr and Islamic Intellectual History: Exploring the Boundaries of a Genre, ed. Andreas Görke and Johanna Pink (Oxford, 2014).
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Devin Stewart (Emory University), ‘Investigating the Question of Composite Suras’

There is significant evidence that the suras of the Qur’an were not all revealed as integral texts in their final, definitive form. Accounts of the circumstances of revelation often present revelations as occurring in sections of several verses; medieval scholars identified Medinan interpolations in Meccan suras; and the Qur’anic text itself refers to the removal, addition, or replacement of verses. One basic assumption of modern scholarship—and perhaps also of medieval Muslim scholars—seems to be that the longer a sura, the less likely it is to form an integral whole, and the more likely it is to be composite. A century ago, the Orientalists complained that the longer suras were hopeless jumbles of disjointed texts, full of incomplete ideas and non-sequiturs. One approach that recent scholars such as Amin Ahsan Islahi, Hamiduddin Farahi, Mustansir Mir, Neal Robinson, Mathias Zahniser, Marianna Klar, and Nevin El-Tahry have adopted for the investigation of the composition of suras, in part in an effort to refute earlier criticisms of the disorderly nature of the Qur’an, is to identify the structure and overarching themes and messages of the long Medinan suras such as Sūrat al-Baqarah (Q. 2), Sūrat al-Nisāʾ (Q. 4), Sūrat al-Māʾidah (Q. 5), and others. In this study, I examine suras that are of “middle” length, looking for signs that they are at base composite: that several passages that were originally separate have been put together.

I will focus on two types of cases, interpolations and asseverative passages or series of oaths. In Q. 19 (Sūrat Maryam), there is a clear interpolation at verses 34–40, which have a different rhyme from the rest of the sura and engage in polemical commentary outside the narrative of the text; the question is whether the section following the interpolation belongs with the section before it (vv. 1–33). There has been a long debate about verse 17:1, which is connected with the isrāʾ or miraculous night journey of the Prophet Muḥammad. The current orthodoxy, represented by Nöldeke and Neuwirth, seems to be that it is authentic, belonging to the revelation even if it may be out of place in its current context, something I find questionable, but in any case this verse, which does not rhyme exactly with the adjacent verses, raises issues regarding the sura’s composition. As is well known, series of oaths—or single oaths—that introduce an oracular message appear at the beginnings of many suras, suggesting that they are standard opening forms (36:1ff; 37:1–4; 38:1; 43;1; 44:1; 50:1; 51:1–6; 52:1–8; 53: 1ff; 68:1ff; 75:1–6; 77:1–7; 79:1–14; 85:1–7; 86:1; 87:1–4; 90:1–4; 91:1–10; 92:1–4; 93:1–3ff; 95:1–5; 100:1–6; 103:1). The fact that such oaths occur on occasion, but much less frequently, in the middle of suras (56:74ff; 69:38–42; 74:35–40; 81:15–19; 84:16–19, 87:11–14) raises questions. Either middle length suras may include several “beginning” sections, or the latter are examples of composite suras, in which the series of oaths occur in the middle because they were the original beginning of a separate sura that has been appended to another originally independent sura. I intend to make the case specifically that suras 56 (al-Wāqiʿah) and 74 (al-Muddaththir) are composite. I will compare my analysis with those of Nöldeke’s Geschichte des Qorans (1860), Bell’s Commentary(1991), Neuwirth’s Komposition (1981) and later studies, and the Corpus Coranicum project commentaries, including those published and those which are on line.

Devin J. Stewart earned a BA magna cum laude in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University in 1984 and a PhD with distinction in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991. Since 1990 he has been teaching in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies at Emory University in Atlanta.  His research has focused on Islamic law, legal theory, and legal education; minority Islamic traditions, including Shiites and the Moriscos of Spain; and other topics in Arabic and Islamic studies.  He is the author of Islamic Legal Orthodoxy (Utah University Press, 1998); ‘Muḥammad b. Dāʾūd al-Ẓāhirī’s Manual of Jurisprudence, al-Wuṣūl ilā maʿrifat al-uṣūl’ in Studies in Islamic Legal Theory (Brill, 2002); ‘Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabari’s al-Bayān ʿan uṣūl al-aḥkām and the Genre of Uṣūl al-Fiqh in Ninth-Century Baghdad’ in Abbasid Studies (Peeters, 2004); ‘The Doctorate of Islamic Law in Mamluk Egypt and Syria’, in  Law and Education in Medieval Islam (Gibb Memorial Trust, 2004); ‘The Identity of ‘the Mufti of Oran’: Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Abī Jumʿah al-Maghrāwī al-Wahrānī (d. 917/1511)’, Al-Qantara 27.2 (2006); ‘The Structure of the Fihrist: Ibn al-Nadīm as a Historian of Islamic Law and Theology’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 39 (2007); ‘The Students’ Representative in the Law Colleges of Fourteenth-Century Damascus’, Islamic Law and Society 15.2 (2008); ‘Al-Ṭabarī’s Kitāb Marātib al-ʿUlamāʾ and the Significance of Biographical Works Devoted to ‘The Classes of Jurists’’, Der Islam 90.2 (2013); and ‘Dissimulation in Sunni Islam and Morisco Taqiyya’, al-Qantara 34.2 (2013).
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A.H. Mathias Zahniser (Greenville College), ‘Sūrat Maryam: A Journey into Semitic Rhetoric’

Late in the 20th century I published three relatively short pieces I thought adequately demonstrated coherent structures in Medinan suras: Āl ʿImrān(1991); al-Nisāʾ (1997), and al-Nisāʾ and al-Baqarah (2000). I used a version of discourse analysis as my guide (‘Discourse Analysis and the Qur’ān’, unpublished paper, 1994). Turning to Q. 5 (al-Māʾidah), however, I found no coherent composition. In 2010 I discovered Michel Cuypers’ 2009 commentary on al-Māʾidah. Using Semitic rhetoric (SR), he revealed its impressive structure. I asked him—and he agreed—to review my work as I learned SR by working on Sūrat Maryam. In addition to Cuypers himself, I rely primarily on four books: his commentary (2009) and handbook (2015), plus Roland Meynet’s two systematic treatises applying SR to the Bible (1998 and 2012).

The pervasive appearance of symmetrical figures on the lowest levels of Semitic composition and the use of such figures to delineate progressively more extensive levels of such composition support my mentor’s conviction that ancient Semitic people employed various forms of symmetry to generate discourse, not just to enhance it. The presence of these figures enables a Semitic reader or—even more importantly—a Semitic listener to detect its units with structures intrinsic to the composition itself.

SR identifies these levels of composition in an ascending order by size: Members combine Terms (words or graphemes) into syntactic units; Segments combine one to three Members; Pieces incorporate one to three Segments; Parts and Sub-Parts do the same for Pieces; Passages are composed of any number of Parts and Sub-Parts; Sequences and Sub-Sequences gather unlimited Passages; Sections may contain any number of Sequences or Sub-Sequences; and Books feature unlimited Sections. The symmetry that delineates the borders of these levels of composition include parallel figures (a-b-a’-b’), mirror figures (a-b-b’-a’), and concentric figures (a-b-x-b’-a’). If analysts discern a mirror structure, for example, on the level of a Piece, they cannot be sure it will remain so as a component of its Passage. Even more crucially, analysts cannot be sure that two obviously parallel segments, one in verse 34 and the other in 88 of a 98 verse sura, suggest an inclusio for a parallel structure until work has taken place on all the text before, after, and between. One must be checking all levels as one proceeds. The task of analysis is difficult.

Several other issues emerging from the inductive study of Semitic composition will be illustrated and addressed: the three-component limit for Segments, Pieces, Parts, and Sub-Parts; Nils Lund’s ‘laws’ of concentric structures (1942/1992); the charge that the process is arbitrary and obsessive; and the implications of the diachronic compilation and redaction of the Qur’an for the synchronic process of SR.

A.H. Mathias Zahniser, PhD, a student of Georg Krotkoff at Johns Hopkins University, is Scholar-in-Residence at Greenville College, Illinois, USA. He has taught at Central Michigan University, Greenville College, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He was an early advocate of compositional coherence in the Medinan suras of the Qur’an: ‘Major Transitions and Thematic Borders in Two Long Suras: al-Baqara and al-Nisāʾ’ in Literary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qur’an, ed. Issa J. Boullata (Routledge, 2000); ‘Sūra as Guidance and Exhortation: The Composition of Sūrat al-Nisāʾ’ in Humanism, Culture, and Language in the Near East: Studies in Honor of Georg Krotkoff, ed. Asma Afsaruddin and A.H. Mathias Zahniser (Eisenbrauns, 1997); and ‘The Word of God and The Apostleship of ʿĪsā: A Narrative Analysis of Āl ʿImrān (3):33–62’, Journal of Semitic Studies 37 (1991). He is continuing in inductive study of the Qur’an, following the discipline of Semitic rhetoric under the guidance of Michel Cuypers. In addition to other reference books and anthologies, he has contributed to the Encyclopedia of the Qurʾān and authored two books: Symbol and Ceremony: Making Disciples Across Cultures (MARC, 1997) and The Mission and Death of Jesus in Islam and Christianity (Orbis, 2008). With Asma Afsaruddin he edited the Georg Krotkoff Festschrift (Eisenbrauns, 1997).
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Holger Zellentin (University of Nottingham), ‘Beyond Ring Composition: A Comparison of Formal Features in Q. 96 (al-ʿAlaq) and Bavli Bava Batra 8a’

Scholars have long recognised that the Qur’an shares with the Hebrew Bible not only a myriad of narrative elements, but also some of its most striking literary qualities: Angelika Neuwirth, for example, has pointed to the Qur’an’s pervasive psalmic qualities, whereas Michel Cupyers has illustrated indefatigably how centrally the use of ring composition features in both Scriptures. Parts of the Bible, and thereby its compositional qualities, will certainly have come into the purview of the Qur’an’s audience, transmitted through the on-going liturgical, homiletical, and individual use of passages of the Hebrew Bible and its Aramaic (and possibly even Arabic) translations throughout Late Antiquity. Yet the Hebrew Bible will also have constituted an indirect context of the Qur’an and its audience, having inspired the writings of the Syriac church fathers and the rabbis, whose teachings and texts the Qur’an in turn reflects and occasionally rejects. I therefore suggest a comparative reading of Q. 96 (al-ʿAlaq) in dialogue with a Talmudic passage from Bavli Bava Batra 8a. Unrelated to the Qur’an in content, the rabbinic story is well suited to illuminate the rabbis’ orchestral employment of formal features. A comparative formal study invites for a fruitful exploration in how far the insights, the conceptuality and the vocabulary of Talmudic scholars such as Jonah Frenkel and Joshua Levinson may allow for an analysis of aspects the Qur’an as well. Crucially, a comparative reading also shows that the Qur’an may share at least as many of its literary qualities with the nearly contemporaneous Talmud as it does with the Bible.

Holger Zellentin holds several BA and MA degrees in Semitic Studies and in Religious Studies (University of Strasbourg 1998; University of Amsterdam 1999, 1999, 2001, Princeton University 2004), and a PhD on Rabbinic Literature (Princeton, 2007). He has taught at Rutgers (New Brunswick, NJ) and in Berkeley (University of California and Graduate Theological Union). Since 2011, he has taught at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham, where he currently holds the role of Associate Professor in Jewish Studies. He works on Talmudic culture in its Roman and Sassanian settings, and on the Qur’an’s Jewish and Christian context. Publications include Heresy and Identity in Late Antiquity (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), co-edited with Eduard Iricinschi; Rabbinic Parodies of Jewish and Christian Literature (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011); The Qur’ān’s Legal Culture: The Didascalia Apostolorum as a Point of Departure(Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013); ‘The Rabbis on (the Christianization of) the Imperial Cult: Mishna and Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah 3.1 (42b, 54 – 42c, 61)’ in Jewish Art in its Late Antique Context, ed. Catherine Hezser (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015); ‘Jewish Dreams Between Roman Palestine and Sasanian Babylonia: Cultural and Geographic Borders in Rabbinic Discourse (yMa‘aser Sheni 55c, 15-22 and bBerakhot 56a-b)’ in Borders: Terms, Performances and Ideologies, ed. Annette Weissenrieder (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, forthcoming in 2016); and ‘Aḥbār and Ruhbān: Religious Leaders in the Qur’ān in Dialogue with Christian and Jewish Literature’ in Qur’anic Studies at the University of Chicago, ed. A. Neuwirth and M. Sells (New York: Routledge, 2016).
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Contact email: mk81@soas.ac.uk

Contact Tel: 020 7898 4333



Categories: Quran

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