An epistemological shift: From Sunna to Šarīʿa and the breach of modern times

Rocio Daga Portillo

Professor of Islamology at Munich University

icon-calendar  28 mars 2017

It is striking to note that in the Qurʾān and the oldest texts the term Sunna is used more often than the term Šarīʿa in order to mean the law. The word Sunna used to refer to the oral law transmitted by the tradition and the forefathers. For Christian and Muslim authors, Sunna it is part of the non written revelation. Starting with the eleventh century, an epistemological shift happened: Sunna was canonized as a written text and the word Šarīʿa takes the meaning of the Islamic law, along to the expression aḥkām al-islām. Modern authors such as Ḥasan al-Bannā and Sayyid Quṭb progressively used the term Šarīʿa to refer to the corpus of written laws.

The first edition of the commentary of al-Tilimsānī on ʿUmar ibn al-Fāriḍ’s poem

Giuseppe Scattolin

Professor of Sufism and Islamology

With Mr. ʿAbd al-Samīʿ Salāma, editor of manuscripts at the Egyptian National Library

 14 february 2017

The  commentary of al-Tilimsānī (d. 690/1291) on ʿUmar ibn al-Fāriḍ’s (d. 632/1235) poem entitled al-Tāʾiyya al-kubrā is one of the oldest commentaries of this poem, after the one by Saʿīd al-Dīn al-Farġānī (d. 699/1300). Al-Farġānī and al-Tilimsānī lived at the same period in Konya and were both disciples of Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (d. 673/1274), the favorite disciple of Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240). This commentary therefore clarifies the beginnings of the Šuru al-akbariyya series on Ibn al-Farīḍ’s dīwān.

Giuseppe Scattolin and ʿAbd al-Samīʿ Salāma edited this commentary according to the only known manuscript (Dār al-Kutub 1328 Taṣawwuf Ṭalʿat). It clearly appears from the text that al-Tilimsānī took advantage of his commentary on the ʾiyya al-kubrā to criticize some of al-Farġānī’s ideas, at the expense of the text of the ʾiyya and Ibn al-Farīḍ’s positions on Sufism.

The oldest manuscripts of the Qurʾān

Emilio Platti

IDEO, Professor Emeritus of the Catholic University of Leuven

 January 24, 2017

Following the discovery of extremely old manuscripts of the Qurʾān, and the Birmingham folios having been dated between 568 and 645 AD (56 before Hiǧra and 25 after) with Carbon 14 techniques, scholars largely refuse today the late dating of the earliest copies of the Qurʾān proposed for example by John Wansbrough in his book entitled Quranic studies (Oxford University Press, 1977). See also Patricia Crone and Michael Cook who suggested that there was no indication of the existence of the Qurʾān before the end of the 1st/7th century (Hagarism, Cambridge University Press, 1977). It now seems that a better dating should be closer to the middle of the 1st/7th century, or even earlier.

The discovery in 1972 of very old Qurʾānic manuscripts in Ṣanʿāʾ elicited new studies, and the ultraviolet techniques that are now available revealed that one of the codices is actually a palimpsest, i.e. it contains an older text that has been washed away and replaced by a later one. A first edition of this older text was published by Behnam Sadeghi and Mohsen Goudarzi in Der Islam 87 (2010) under the title “Ṣanʿāʾ 1 and the origin of the Qurʾān” and an analysis of the manuscript was published between 2008 and 2014 by Elizabeth Puin under the title “Ein früher Koranpalimpsest aus Ṣanʿāʾ”. A new edition of the text is due to be published on February 28, 2017 by Asma Hilali at the Oxford University Press under the title The Sanaa palimpsest. Unfortunately, these two editions only contain the text of the 36 folios from the manuscript of Dār al-Maḫṭūṭāt (Ṣanʿāʾ) and not the 40 other folios of the same codex that were found recently in al-Maktaba al-Šarqiyya (also in Ṣanʿāʾ).

Interestingly, this older version that has been washed away seems to be, until now, the only one among all the copies of the Qurʾān to differ from the ʿUṯmānic canonical version. After the ʿUṯmānic unification of the Qurʾānic text, variant versions have indeed been erased and replaced by the canonical text. The Ṣanʿāʾ palimpsest is a convincing proof that different versions from the time of the Pophet’s companions did actually exist, a fact that was common knowledge in the Islamic medieval tradition represented among others by Ibn Abī Dāwūd’s book Kitāb al-maṣāḥif.

Archeology and water in medieval Morocco

Thomas Soubira

Archeologist, PhD student in Toulouse University

 December 19, 2016

The archeological site of Sijilmasa is being excavated by a French Moroccan team. This “harbour” of transsaharian trade between the 8th and the 15th centuries has remarkable hydrolic archeological remnants that can be observed on the entire excavation zone: water harvesting, transportation, storage, and disposal of sewage water. All this equipement reveal a creative human effort and a great diversity of techniques used to manage such a precious resource in this arid zone.

Located in the Tafilalt lowland, this site is inhabited since prehistoric times. The city of Sijilmasa—or, probably rather an agglomerate of fortified houses—was founded around the mid-8th century by the Berber tribe of the Banū Midrār, at the convergence point of many caravan routes. In the beginning of the 16th century, Leo Africanus (d. 957/1550) describes it as a ruined city.

At the end of the 18th century, this very oasis zone is also the cradle of the Alaouite dynasty, that still rules Morocco today. The site of Sijilmasa was only preserved from destruction because it was used as the burial site of the Alaouites.

Reflection on the argument from cannibalism in Islamic theology

Eric van Lit

PhD in Islamic studies

 December 13, 2016

seminar-ericA little problem keeps popping up century after century, in the writings of all kinds of Muslim theologians (80 to 90 authors have been identified so far); what happens if one person were to eat another person, can they both have bodily resurrection?

The first occurrence of this theological question is to be found long before the advent of Islam, in Athenagoras’ De resurrectione in the second century and Augustin (fifth century) does not hesitate to call it the strongest argument against bodily resurrection. It is also discussed by Thomas Aquinas and many medieval christian theologians. Continue reading Reflection on the argument from cannibalism in Islamic theology

Al-Fārābī’s “fourth philosophy”

Aziz Hilal

PhD in Arabic philosophy

icon-calendar October 25, 2016

farabi25oct2016In his Kitāb al-ǧadal, al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) mentions a “fourth philosophy”. What he intends with this expression is a philosophy that would be adapted to non-specialists, both technicians in a particular given art (medicine, grammar, poetry…) and simple people (al-ǧumhūr). Unlike the first three philosophies (metaphysics, practical philosophy and logic), this fourth philosophy relies on commonly admitted premises (al-mašhūrāt), i.e. on the common cultural and ethical heritage (“justice is better than injustice”, “usury is a sin”, “one should honor his parents”, …) In other terms, a philosopher who needs to teach truth to non-philosophers should resort to the “local sciences” that common people share. This fourth philosophy is political and changing by essence. It is fundamentally a pedagogy and thanks to it, dialectics (al-ǧadal) is not considered to be a mere preparation to philosophia perennis but indeed a self-standing philosophy.

It is only in 1986, with the publication of the three volumes of al-Fārābī’s philosophical works by Rafīq al-ʿAǧam (Dār al-Mašriq, Beirut), that the major importance of al-Fārābī as a philosopher was re-established.

The theory of knowledge and religious polemics according to Ibn Ḥazm al-Andalusī

Adrien Candiard

PhD candidate in Islamic studies, Paris

icon-calendar June 15, 2016

20160615_Seminaire_Adrien_CandiardThe theory of knowledge according to the Andalusian theologian and jurist Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064) seems to be paradoxical at first glance. On the one hand, he is an enthusiastic defender of the use of reason in theological discussions. And on the other hand, he has a literalistic reading of the revealed and transmitted texts.

In fact, Ibn Ḥazm adopts Aristotle’s theory of knowledge, based on axioms and on the logical demonstration of new knowledge derived from these axioms, with the difference that he considers the revealed texts to be axioms, not knowledge that should be tested by reason.

The logical result of this theory of knowledge is that the demonstrative evidence is the reason itself, not its exercise, implying that there is no more difference between faith and knowledge, between God and the science of God, and generally speaking, between science and the mere accumulation of knowledge.

For Ibn Ḥazm, if the non-Muslim and the deviant Muslim refuse the demonstration of the truth of Islam, they cannot be but liars or hypocrites, because their very own reason has to tell them that Islam is the truth.

The concept of genre in medieval Arabic literature

Gyöngyi Oroszi

PhD student at the Catholic University of Budapest

icon-calendar April 26, 2016

20160426_Seminaire_Gyongyi_OrosziRather than starting from existing categories, Gyöngyi Oroszi tries to explore the understanding the ancient authors had for their own literary work, particularly when they compile collections of histories and modify them so they could become integrated in a new collection.

The concept of redemptive suffering among Twelver Shias

Amir Jajé

IDEO’s member, Cairo

icon-calendar March 22, 2016

20160322_Seminaire_Amir_JajeClassical Sunni Islam is not familiar with the concept of a savior who would be the intermediary between God and his people, and neither the concept of an intercession that could have an influence on the salvation of humanity. However, the martyrdom of al-Ḥusayn at the battle of Karbalāʾ, the political marginalization of his followers and their proximity with other minorities, especially the Christians, fostered the development of a Shia theology on the meaning of suffering and its implication for the afterlife.

Muḥammad al-Bāqir (114/732) and his son Ǧaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (148/765), the fifth and sixth imāms, were the first ones to develop a proper Shia theology based on the pre-existence of al-Ḥusayn and his sacrifice. As the true Ismāʿīl, Ibrāhīm’s son, al-Ḥusayn sacrificed his life for the sake of humanity. After this sacrifice and thanks to it, the Prophet Muḥammad, his daughter Fāṭima and the twelve imāms have become the intercessors and the intermediaries for all who show them love. Al-Māǧlisī (1110/1698) transmits and comments on these traditions in his book Biḥār al-anwār.

The sufferings that devout Shias inflict to themselves are thus both a proof of love for these intercessors and a participation in the eternal martyrdom of al-Ḥusayn . In this sense, these sufferings can be described as redemptive.

The Qurʾān, context and contextualisation

Abdullah Saeed

Melbourne University

icon-calendar March 2, 2016

20160302_Seminaire_Abdullah_SaeedProf. Abdullah Saeed presented us his last book, entitled Reading the Qur’an in the twenty-first century: a contextualist approach (Routledge, 2013).

Even in the Islamic conception of revelation, the Qurʾān is from the very beginning a text that dialogues with its auditors, answering their needs according to the circumstances. And if one of the first companions of the Prophet, ʿUmar b. al-Ḫaṭṭāb, felt authorised to bypass some written texts, by deciding for example that new converts would not receive any more a share of the collected alms, it is in virtue of a reinterpretation of the very reasons that had led the Prophet to do so, based on the Qurʾān (9, 60). ʿUmar was simply carrying on the living process of the contextualisation of the sacred text by reading it in a new context in order to extract its intention and its universal value, beyond its letter. The whole of the juridical tradition is built on the idea that in a new context, the very same juridical judgement can be less relevant, whereas it was in another context.

The Qurʾānic interpretation should thus take into consideration the direct context of a given verse within the text, the historical context of its revelation, the contemporary context in which we read this verse, the interpretative tradition that has read this verse and the inevitable subjectivity of the person interpreting, in the context of the community to which they belong.