The oldest manuscripts of the Qurʾān

Emilio Platti

IDEO, Professor Emeritus of the Catholic University of Leuven

 January 24, 2016, at 5 pm

Please kindly note that we will close the door at 5:30 pm.

Two folios of a very old Qurʾān, in Hijazi script, were recently found in Birmingham. Hijazi manuscripts from Yemen are being studied. The seminar will present the main conclusions of the recent studies about the collection of the sacred Islamic text.

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.

The education reform according to Muḥammad ʿAbduh

Simon Conrad

Master’s student at Berlin Free University

icon-calendar February 23, 2016

20160223_Seminaire_Simon_ConradSimon Conrad presented his research on Muḥammad ʿAbduh’s thought, one of the key figures of Islamic modernism in the end of the 19th century.

The traditional vision on Muḥammad ʿAbduh’s thought inevitably highlights a tension that supposedly existed between Islam and modernity, analyzing his thought as a sort of compromise or reconciliation between them.

Far from being confined to the European culture, modernity is a trend that crossed all cultures, posing them the same questions: individual rights, the articulation between individuals and society, nation states, and the role of religion.

Egypt was exposed to the same questions at the end of the 19th century, and Muḥammad ʿAbduh answered them resorting to the classical Islamic tradition instead of importing non-Islamic or foreign ideas that may have destroyed the social and national fabric patiently elaborated.

He recycled elements of social and political philosophy of classical authors: al-Fārābī (d. 339/950), Miskawayh (d. 421/1030), al-Ġazālī (d. 505/1111), Ibn Ḫaldūn (d. 808/1406)… and in particular the idea of an organic link between the members of society who form a body whose head would be the State. Islamic values are at the service of the construction of this body, whose heart they irrigate.

Muḥammad ʿAbduh is thus a modern thinker in the full sense, just like many others in numerous non-European cultures at the same time. He called for a reform that should begin in the hearts, in order to revitalize the body of the entire nation, with the help of Islam.

The Christianity of Abraha and the Quran

Emilio Platti

University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

icon-calendar February 17, 2016

20160217_Seminaire_Emilio_PlattiEmilio Platti, member of IDEO, presented the works of Christian Robin on the inscriptions that are found in the Arabian Peninsula and date back to the beginning of the 4th century. Through his research, Robin brings archeological evidence to answer a question posed by Islamic scholars: how could the Prophet’s auditors ever understand the very numerous Biblical allusions that the Quran contains? Indeed, the traditional vision tends to present the Arabs as polytheistic pagans without any Biblical culture.

When the Ethiopian general Abraha seizes power in the south of the Arabian Peninsula between 525 and 530, he defeats the Ethiopian Christian vice-king who had been put to power by the Ethiopian king who came to revenge the massacre of the Christians of Najran in November523, and launches the conquest of the entire Arabian Peninsula, imposing a new form of Christianity. By doing so, Abraha repeats the conquest of the Himyarite Jewish kings at the beginning of the 4th century.

This very reign of Abraha witnesses a change in the Arabic inscriptions in the Peninsula, from the Trinitarian formula (“In the name of Raḥmān, and of his son Christos and of the Holy spirit”) to formulas more compatible with the message of the Quran that will appear later, mentioning “the mercy of Raḥmān, of his Messiah and the Spirit of holiness”.

This probably judaizing Christianism of Abraha could be the missing link between the Palestinian Judeo-Christianism of the first centuries and Islam, in a land that had been deeply influenced by Christianity and Judaism for more than three centuries when the Prophet Muḥammad started his mission in Mecca in 610.