New issue of the Journal of Qur’anic Studies released

Journal of Qur'anic StudiesPer my new years post, I am going to start writing about secondary sources as well. Today the Journal of Qur’anic Studies published its newest issue. Here are some articles that interested me:

Since all the extensive histories of the tafsīr genre published so far are in Arabic, a close analysis of the historiography of these works is a desideratum. In this article I will argue that there are three major categories of historiography, the traditional Asharī, the Salafī, and the modernist. Identifying these camps is essential if we desire to understand the manner in which tafsīr studies has been approached so far, since the proponents of all three have produced, and continue to produce, the editions of tafsīr works that are the basis of most histories in Western academia. It will also allow us to investigate the history of the all-present term ‘al-tafsīr bi’l-mathūr’ which has come to play a key role in the categorisation of tafāsīr. Charting the historiography of tafsīr, moreover, is here undertaken in conjunction with discussion of the history of publications of editions of tafsīr in the Arab world. In other words, a history of the editions themselves as eventful milestones in a historiography of tafsīr is the primary means through which I attempt to understand this selfsame historiography.

This paper discusses a sample of eleven extensive works of tafsīrin the narrow sense of the word, i.e. tafsīr musalsalwritten by Sunnī authors from Egypt, Syria, Indonesia and Turkey between 1967 and 2004. For the purpose of analysis, it proposes a basic typology based on the author(s) and style of the respective commentaries, differentiating between ‘scholars’ commentaries’, ‘institutional commentaries’ and ‘popularising commentaries’. It goes on to examine the way in which they make use of exegetical authorities and traditions in their discussion of two particular exegetical problems found in Q 9:111–12. The results allow for the introduction of additional analytic categories based on the authors’ aims and underlying attitudes. Building on these, the paper points to regional tendencies within contemporary Qur’anic exegesis and argues that regional differences can, to a large extent, be explained by differences in the structure and curricula of academic theology within the Islamic World. In general, it concludes that the genre of tafsīr tends to be a domain of male academic theologians and a relatively conservative field; boldly innovative approaches to the interpretation of the Qur’an are more frequently found in other exegetical genres.

The word jihād is one that has been much discussed. It is often interpreted with some degree of sensationalised polemic and has become, to some extent, divorced from its significance as a Qur’anic term. Our approach in this study is therefore to deal with the subject on the basis of the Qur’an alone, as a term which forms an important theme in the Qur’an, on the basis of close linguistic analysis of the text itself. In particular, our analysis will not ignore the linguistic context which is crucial in understanding any text. The picture that emerges from this study and this approach will differ from that held by many, both Muslims and non-Muslims, who have arrived at a perception of the meaning of jihād which differs from that which is actually found in the Qur’an.

The question of clarifying the meaning of a given Arabic text is a subtle one, especially as high literature texts can often be read in more than one way. Arabic is rich in figurative language and this can lead to variety in meaning, sometimes in ways that either adhere closely or diverge far from the ‘original’ meaning. In order to understand a fine literary text in Arabic, one must have a comprehensive understanding of the issue of tawīl, and the concept that multiplicity of meaning does not necessarily lead to contradiction. This article surveys the opinions of various literary critics and scholars of balāgha on this issue with a brief discussion of the concepts of tafsīr and sharḥ, which sometimes overlap with tawīl.