The Qur’an: Text, Interpretation & Translation
Coordonné par le Professor MAS Abdel Haleem
10-12 November 2005, SOAS, University of London
The traditions of Qur’anic textual scholarship and interpretation continue to undergo change and development. The ways in which we read, understand, interpret, translate, debate and represent the Qur’anic text are now informed by a number of approaches, some of which have their origins in disciplines not conventionally associated with Arabist or Islamkunde fields of inquiry.
Meanwhile, more established scholarly traditions continue to produce significant additions to our knowledge of the Qur’an and related cultural and scholarly production, in written, oral and graphical form. This conference seeks to provide a forum for investigating the basic question: how is the Qur’anic text read, translated and interpreted? These are some proposed areas:
– The Historical Development of Qur’anic Exegesis
– The Literary Use of Qur’anic Material
– Sufi Hermeneutics
– Cultural Bias in Translations of the Qur’an
– The Qur’an in Popular Culture and Mass Media
– The Written Word and the Physical Preservation of Scripture
– Law and the Qur’an
– Philosophical Analysis of the Qur’an
– Qur’an: Text, Themes and Style
The Historical Development of Qur’anic Exegesis
On many levels, the form and function of Qur’anic exegesis has remained constant in the thirteen or so centuries of its history; on others it continues to shift and move in new directions. This panel seeks to explore the methodology of individual authors of Qur’anic commentaries, whose personal relationships to the Holy Text, sense of the requirements of their audience, and perception of the contemporary political and intellectual environment will all have coloured their approach, to a greater or lesser extent.
The panel aims to provide a contextual overview of the development of the various sub-genres within this field, and will attempt to answer the question of whether a commentary can ever be fully understood outside of its historical context.
The Literary Use of Qur’anic Material
The Qur’an is the inspiration behind many genres of Islamic literature, from poetry to qisas al-anbiya’. Qur’anic motifs, themes and images moreover arguably provide a backgrounded intertext to many other writings, and can be read into such diverse genres as the popular epic and novels written by the Muslim diaspora. This panel explores the various ways in which the Qur’an informs and affects the literature it inspires, and provides illustrations of how literary texts themselves re-work and re-interpret its themes to produce fresh and innovative readings, both of our relationship to God, and of the Qur’an itself.
The Qur’an, as the primary source of Islamic thought and Law, provides many fields of study with the basic inspiration for many of their conceptual frameworks and in this regard, Sufism is no exception. As such, many of the salient concepts of Sufism such as the ’covenant of alastu’, the mystical personality of Khidr, and the spiritual stations (al-maqamat) - to name only a few - have their foundation within the Qur’anic paradigm.
This being the case, this panel will discuss the intrinsic relationship between the Qur’an and Sufism so as to explore the rich body of material and works that comprise the more ’esoteric’ understanding of Islam’s most sacred text.
Cultural Bias in Translations of the Qur’an
This panel seeks to investigate how Qur’an translations available today reflect the personal and cultural biases of their authors: in terms of their approach to Qur’anic style, their interpretation of specific aspects of Qur’anic language, their theological position, and their attitude toward the presentation of the text.
Any translator brings to his work ’the knowledge, beliefs, suppositions, inferences and expectations that are the stuff of personal, social and cultural life’ (Dickins, Hervey & Higgins 2002), and nowhere is this more true, it could be argued, than in the field of the translation of religious texts.
The Qur’an in Popular Culture and Mass Media
In addition to its scholarly, legal and liturgical functions, the Qur’an has always been reflected in popular culture, in art, custom and tradition; it has also in modern times come to play an increasingly varied role in the world media. This panel invites papers on all aspects of the representation of the Qur’an in everyday life: both in the citation of the Qur’an on the internet, in the media, and in explicitly proselytising literature, but also in the use of the Qur’an in (and as) art, film and other aspects of popular culture.
The Written Word and the Physical Preservation of Scripture
The preservation of Qur’anic manuscripts, the enumeration of verses in codices, the development of the Arabic script, and the refinement of the sciences of grammar, phonology, philology and variae lectiones, all served to ensure the physical perpetuation of the Qur’anic text.
This panel welcomes both comparative and individual studies of Qur’anic manuscripts (the extent of their coverage of the canonical corpus, their manner of marking beginnings and subdivisions within the text as well as their aesthetic features, etc.); it also invites papers which critically evaluate the function of specific elements in this process (for instance the evolution of scriptorial features), or investigate the purpose, scope, and implications of grammatical authentication of Qur’anic readings.
Other areas of interest to the panel include the use of poetry as a means of elucidating grammatical features of the Qur’an, the role of Qur’anic citation in the illustration of philological concepts, and the increasingly prominent role of the script as an aesthetic device to convey the meaning and significance of the Qur’anic message in visual terms.
Law and the Qur’an
Using the Qur’an as the point of initial reference, this panel seeks to explore the constructs which governed classical legal approaches to the Qur’anic text. It investigates the relationship between the Qur’an and its legal expression or otherwise; legal methodologies of classical jurists towards the Qur’an in the approaches of individual jurists and their relative development; and the analysis of specific legal doctrines (such as, for example, naskh and the application of technical strategies) through reference to the Holy Text.
Philosophical Analysis of the Qur’an
Although the philosophical tradition in Islam generally worked within non-scriptural epistemic frameworks, it belonged to intellectual and social environments that were thoroughly imbued by the Qur’an. Many philosophers, therefore, devoted much attention to its text, setting forth theories of how it came to be (through prophecy) and of its function in the human realm. Different exegetical approaches were consequently conceived and sometimes developed; and numerous philosophical commentaries on sections of the Qur’an were written, whether out of interest in ’unravelling the mysteries’ and explicating the excellence of the text, or with a view to providing scriptural backing for views that were otherwise charged with heterodoxy. These inter-related themes will form the focus of this panel.
Qur’an: Text, Themes and Style
By narrowing in on both micro- and macro-textual features, this text-based panel will seek to focus on isolated aspects of the Qur’anic text and thereby facilitate a greater awareness of specific Qur’anic features; the literary, the rhetorical, the grammatical, the linguistic, the phonological, the liturgical and the lexical. Papers on all facets of Qur’anic language, sura structure, semiotics, semantics, elements of Qur’anic stylistics, and thematic patterning will be welcomed.