The oldest manuscripts of the Qurʾān

Emilio Platti

IDEO, Professor Emeritus of the Catholic University of Leuven

icon-calendar 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

icon-calendar 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

Ethics and spirituality in Islam

97965Francesco Chiabotti, Eve Feuillebois-Pierunek, Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen et Luca Patrizi (éd.), Ethics and spirituality in Islam: Sufi adab, Brill, Leyde, 2016, 792 pages.

The notion of adab is at the heart of Arab-Islamic culture. Born in the crucible of the Arabic and Persian civilization, nourished by Greek and Indian influences, this polysemic notion could cover a variegated range of meanings: good behavior, knowledge of manners, etiquette, rules and belles-lettres and finally, literature. This collection of articles tries to explore how the formulations and reformulations of adab during the first centuries of Islam engage with the crucial period of the first great spiritual masters, exploring the importance of normativity, but also of transgression, in order to define the rules themselves. Assuming that adab is ethics, the articles analyse the genres of Sufi adab, including manuals and hagiographical accounts, from the formative period of Sufism until the modernity.

Buy this book online…

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.

Positive history and sacred history

Dominique Avon, « Histoire positive et histoire sacrée autour de la pensée de Louis Massignon » in Cahiers d’étude du religieux 16 (2016).

Louis Massignon (1883‒1962) was one of the famous orientalists during the first part of the 20th c. His PHD was based on the life of a mystic Muslim, Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj (c. 858‒922), who was prosecuted and executed. Three factors explain his influence. First, his erudition combined with an exceptional strength of work which insured him to stay at the top of the discipline. Second, his connexion with the diplomatic services, which warranted him a political support. Third, his capacity to create a new path within the Catholic Church in which he became as much famous as contested. Some of his publications are meaningful of a specific conception in religious sciences. As the example of the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” will show, he rejected some results of exegesis or archaeological researches, in the name of a common word crossing religious traditions.

Read this article online (in French)…