Call for Papers: Islamic Theologies of Disasters

Islamic Theologies of Disasters: Between Science, Religion and Messianism

Thematic issue edited by Abdessamad Belhaj (Catholic University of Louvain, CISMOC) and Haoues Seniguer (Sciences-Po Lyon, Triangle UMR 5206, Lyon)

Call for Papers for MIDEO 38 (2023)

Click here to download the PDF version…

The Covid-19 (kūfīd-19) pandemic broke out around October-November 2019 in China. In addition to having become a global public health problem, it quickly became “a total social fact” (Mauss, 2013). It has effectively set in motion a plurality of institutions and social fields (economic, political, cultural and religious), within both national and international milieus.

The epidemic (wabāʾ) has thus generated its share of comments and religious glosses by prominent religious figures. For example, the Moroccan theologian Aḥmad al-Raysūnī, president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), stated with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic (ǧāʾiḥat kūrūnā), that it belongs to “the tradition of trial/affliction” (sunnat al-ibtilāʾ),[1] so that both “believer and reasonable men” will further question how to “benefit” from this “trial” (yastafīdu min al-balāʾ), or “lessons” (al-ʿibar wa-l-durūs), from a spiritual and existential point of view so that, in the end, according to him, people can meditate on “their way of life and behaviour” (uslūb ḥayātihim wa-sulūkihim).[2]

However, far from being satisfied with this consensual discourse, al-Raysūnī also took the opportunity to underline how the pandemic had revealed the extent of “the health (salāma) and wisdom (ḥikma) of all the laws and rules contained in the Islamic religion and its legislative regime (manẓūmatihi al-tašrīʿiyya)”. From his point of view, the pandemic would constitute “the best proof of the celestial character of Islam, valid in any place and at any time (ṣāliḥan li-kull makān wa-zamān)”. He even claims that “many places in East Asia embraced Islam” after the outbreak of the virus, because their inhabitants would have realized that its “laws and rules ensure the health and protection of humanity against all harm and evil (ḍarar wa-šarr)”. As for the secretary general of the institution presided over by Aḥmad al-Raysūnī, the shaykh ʿAlī Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Qaradāġī, “these epidemics and viruses” (al-awbiʾa wa-l-fayrūsāt) stem from the “destiny of God” (qadar Allāh). They are “absolute and living proof (min al-adilla al-qaṭʿiyya al-mušāhada) of the power of God the Most High to decimate whom He wishes to decimate, and this, by the weakest of His soldiers (bi-aḍʿaf ǧunūdihi)”, referring in support of his demonstration to Sūrat al-Muddaṯṯir (74), verse 31: “None knows the soldiers of your Lord except He” (wa-mā yaʿlamu ǧunūd rabbika illā huwa). The pandemic is said to be an “affliction”, “diseases” (amrāḍ) by which God “disciplines Muslims and non-Muslims alike”, conferring “on the believer tried by them, but filled with patience, the reward of martyrdom” (aǧr al-šahīd).[3]

Before the contemporary period, the Islamic theology of disasters has its real or presumed origins in Qurʾānic passages and prophetic traditions (Sunna) that report calamities, whether proven, allegorical or eschatological: We think here of the battle of Uḥud, the apocalyptic narratives, the punishment of the unbelievers by destruction, drowning, etc. Sūrat al-Zalzala (99), for example, illustrates the Qurʾānic imaginary of catastrophe as an apocalyptic event controlled or suppressed by divine omnipotence and justice. Following the Qurʾān, Muslim clerics have historically produced several types of religious literature in response to natural or human disasters: wars, epidemics, famines, earthquakes, etc. Probably the most ancient literature in this respect is that of the corpus of prophetic (or Imāmī among the Šīʿa) traditions, sometimes messianic, sometimes pragmatic, tending to form a kind of theological norm in matters of disaster. Traces of this can be found in the chapters devoted to miḥan (ordeals), fitan (seditions), ṭāʿūn (plague) or ṭibb (medicine), in the prophetic compilations flourishing in the 3ʳᵈ/9ᵗʰ century, as for example in the compilation al-Ǧāmiʿ al-ṣaḥīḥ (“The Compendium of Authenticated Traditions”) of al-Buḫārī (d. 256/870). Al-Buḫārī considers that the epidemic is a destiny of God, a punishment and an ordeal; that contagion in itself does not exist (the plague being a divine creation in the traditionalist conception), furthermore raising the status of the dead by epidemic to that of martyrs, and, lastly, advising confinement.

Another, later and more sophisticated type of theological literature on disasters appears in theological-ethical treatises on epidemics (Aḥmad ʿIṣām ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Kātib counted 33 texts). Indeed, we know about thirty theological treatises composed by Muslim theologians and jurists on ṭāʿūn (plague) or wabāʾ (epidemic). The most influential treatise, which was authoritative in Sunni circles, is Baḏl al-māʿūn fī faḍl al-ṭāʿūn (“Offering benevolence to the virtue of plague”) composed by Ibn Ḥaǧar al-ʿAsqalānī, an Egyptian traditionist who died in 852/1449. Ibn Ḥaǧar al-ʿAsqalānī discusses the role of the jinn in the epidemic, the status of the plague-dead (which becomes equal to that of the martyr), the importance of confinement in a plague-affected country, of repentance, of performing invocations to Allāh to ask for the lifting of the plague, and of adopting medical precautions and practices such as phlebotomy. There is also a late tradition attributed to the Prophet, which says that: “The plague is a martyrdom and a compassion for my community, a torture for the unbelievers”, which raises the question of otherness and fear in the traditional view of disaster, danger or threat.

On the Šīʿa side, the cleric Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī (d. 1104/1693) dedicated a chapter of his summa of Šīʿī jurisprudence Wasāʾil al-Šīʿa (“The Instruments of the Šīʿa”) to the question of the authorization to flee the places of the epidemic and plague, except in case of necessity to reside there, as is the case for combatants and border guards. This work displays all the flexibility of the theological Šīʿī thinking in matter of (re)conciliation between the constraints of the emergency and the norms in force in the “Imāmī” tradition.

The research of Jacqueline Sublet, Josef van Ess, Boaz Shoshan, Lawrence I. Conrad and Justin K. Stearns, among others, show that beliefs about the epidemic were largely determined by theological discourses until the 19ᵗʰ century. Nevertheless, while this research is still scholarly relevant and useful, it lacks in part a closer analysis of the content of the traditions. Also, in view of the acuteness of this Islamic theology of catastrophes that has (re)deployed itself recently, especially in the predominantly Muslim world, some questions on continuities and discontinuities in the theological discourse remain to be questioned and further investigated. This includes questions relating to the norms and the ethical dilemmas that arise for practicing Muslims and their religious authorities: ethical dilemmas between destiny and human action, and in particular the responsibility before God and the whole of humanity; between the preservation of human life and the imperatives of observance of religious rites and rituals in the strict sense. Who caused the epidemic: God, the jinns or men (and which ones)? Should theologians interested in the question rely on science or revelation to explain epidemics and natural phenomena, but also to overcome, prevent or ward off disasters? What is the share of the sacred and of the secular or the profane in Islamic theologies? To what extent is the Islamic theology (or Islamic theologies) of disasters also and simultaneously a theology of fear, if not of responsibility/culpability of human beings towards themselves and towards humanity? What difference does classical and contemporary Islamic discourse make between Muslims and non-Muslims in the face of the epidemic? How can we understand the different religious normative arguments used by the theologians? In this regard, are there any differences between Sunni and Šīʿī literatures? Or between ancient and late literature on disasters or on human dramas? How do contemporary Muslim theologians seize upon classical religious literature to develop their view of the environment, the unleashing of natural elements, or even rebellion against the political order, etc.?

It is to these major questions, among other possible ones, that this thematic issue of MIDEO is devoted: the Islamic theology of catastrophes at different periods of history, in ancient, modern and contemporary theological thought.

Primary sources

  •  al-ʿĀmilī (1104/1693) Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Ḥurr, Wasāʾil al-šīʿa, Teheran, al-Maktaba al-Islāmiyya bi-Ṭihrān, 1975.
  • Ibn Ḥaǧar al-ʿAsqalānī (852/1449) Aḥman b. ʿAlī, Baḏl al-māʿūn fī faḍl al-ṭāʿun, ed. by Aḥmad ʿIṣām ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Kātib, Riyadh, Dār al-ʿĀṣima, 2016.
  • al-Suyūṭī (911/1505) Ǧalāl al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abī Bakr, Mā rawāhu al-wāʿūn fī aḫbār al-ṭāʿūn, Damascus, Dār al-Qalam, 1997.

Secondary sources

  • Lawrence I. Conrad, “Ṭāʿūn and Wabāʾ: Conceptions of Plague and Pestilence in Early Islam”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 25/3, 1982, p. 268‒307.
  • Josef van Ess, « La peste d’Emmaüs. Théologie et ‘‘histoire du salut’’ aux prémices de l’Islam », Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Année 2000, 144-1, p. 325‒337.
  • Josef van Ess, Der Fehltritt des Gelehrten: die “Pest von Emmaus” und ihre theologischen Nachspiele, Heidelberg, C. Winter, 2001.
  • Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, Paris, P. U. F., 2013.
  • Boaz Shoshan, “Wabāʾ” in : EI II, Vol. 11, p. 3‒5.
  • Justin K. Stearns, Infectious Ideas: Contagion in Premodern Islamic and Christian Thought in the Western Mediterranean, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
  • Jacqueline Sublet, La peste prise aux rets de la jurisprudence : le traité d’Ibn Ḥaǧar al-ʿAsqalānī sur la peste, Paris, Éditions Larose, G. P. Maisonneuve, 1971.

[1] https://www.aljazeera.net/programs/shariah_and_life_during_ramadan/2020/4/27/الشريعة-والحياة-في-رمضان (retrieved on June 20, 2020).

[2] http://alwatannews.tn/article/14562 (retrieved on June 20, 2020).

[3] http://iumsonline.org/ar/ContentDetails.aspx?ID=11019 (retrieved on June 21, 2020).

The Kitāb Sībawayh of ʾAbū al-Ḥasan ʾAḥmad b. Naṣr

Jean Druel, “The Kitāb Sībawayh of ʾAbū al-Ḥasan ʾAḥmad b. Naṣr: A non-Sīrāfian recension of the Kitāb”, in Zeitschrift für arabische Linguistik 71 (2020), pages 29‒56.

The Milan-Kazan codex of SĪBAWAYH’s (d. ca 180/796) Kitāb is a 5ᵗʰ/11ᵗʰ century North-African parchment today split between three collections: 1) Milan, Ambrosiana, X 56 sup. (115 folios), 2) Kazan, National Archives of the Republic of Tatarstan 10/5/822 (48 folios), and 3) London, Bernard Quaritch Ltd catalogue 2018/3, item number 11 (6 folios). When put together, these three manuscripts contain only one fourth of the whole text of the Kitāb. This codex sheds a new light on the gradual stabilisation of SĪBAWAYH’s text. Its recension is linked to a certain ʾABŪ AL-ḤASAN ʾAḤMAD B. NAṢR, mentioned on the first folio of the Milan fragments.
Focusing on one specific issue, namely the possibility to form the diminutive of the names of the days of the week, this paper compares SĪBAWAYH’s teaching according to the text as accepted by scholars to date (as in DERENBOURG 1881‒1889), along with the early commentaries and the recension of the Milan-Kazan codex according to its four successive hands.
At this point, it is impossible to say that this recension is pre-Mubarradian, that is to say one that escaped the “authoritarian stranglehold” on the text by AL-MUBARRAD (HUMBERT 1995:92). However, the Milan-Kazan codex surely contains a non-Sīrāfian recension of SĪBAWAYH’s Kitāb, that is a recension which, unlike the “received” text of the Kitāb, was not influenced by AL-SĪRĀFĪ’s commentary.

Islam of the Qurʾān vs Islam of the Hadith: Overcoming the divide between the “new thinkers of Islam” and the “Ulamas”

Youssouf Sangaré

University of Clermont-Auvergne (France)

icon-calendar June 21, 2020

Click here to watch the lecture on Youtube (in French with Arabic subtitles)…

The Iraqi Shiite theologian al-Sayyid Kamāl al-Haydarī (born in 1956) is one of the most active theologians on social networks, where he is highly followed. In his writings, he states that after the death of the Prophet Islam became sectarian and that Ḥadīṯ largely reflects these quarrels that have arisen around the question of the succession of the Prophet. However, al-Haydarī is not a “Qurʾanist” in the sense that it does not reject Ḥadīṯ. He simply notes that the Qurʾān is pluralistic in nature and that it founds a culture of pluralism (iḫtilāf). Al-Haydarī derives from this the principle that pluralism is a “divine tradition” (al-iḫtilāf sunna ilāhiyya). This implies for example that divisions between Shiites and Sunnis are legitimate. Within this framework, the personal effort of interpretation (iǧtihād) should make it possible to implement this “culture of pluralism”.

Call for papers: Reciting in the Early Islamic Empire

Reciting in the Early Islamic Empire

(7ᵗʰ‒9ᵗʰ centuries)

MIDEO 37 (2022)

Deadlines
Keywords
  • Qurʾānic Recitation ‒ Psalmody ‒ Orality ‒ Transmission.
  • Islam ‒ Judaism ‒ Christianity ‒ Zoroastrianism ‒ Late Antiquity and Early Islam.
  • Torah ‒ Bible ‒ Psalms ‒ Qurʾān ‒ Qaṣaṣ ‒ Poetry ‒ Prayer ‒ Rites ‒ Saǧʿ ‒ reading ‒ memorisation.
Presentation

This conference offers a space for reflection on the various types of recitation that took place in the central regions of the Arab-Islamic empire (from Egypt to Persia, including the Arabian Peninsula) during its first three centuries, including different contexts:

  • in “Islamic religious context”: the Qurʾān, Ḥadīṯ, stories (qaṣaṣ), mystical poetry, etc.
  • in a “non-Islamic religious context”: Jewish and Christian psalms and prayers (in Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic); Zoroastrian and Manichean ceremonies; magical rites, etc.
  • or in a “secular context”: poetry and rhyming prose (saǧʿ) in Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic or other languages; political speeches and propaganda; memorizing techniques for learning medical, scientific, philosophical, legal, grammatical knowledge, etc.

NB: the religious vs. secular distinction will be questioned.

These types of recitations will be discussed as a starting point for a reflection on the literary genres of the texts recited, on the recitation techniques, as well as on the actors of recitation, and the socio-political contexts and issues linked to the act of reciting. This conference welcomes papers on one (or more) of the following themes:

1) The modalities of the recitation

The details of the practices that precede and constitute the act of recitation (both religious and secular): such as listening, learning by heart, reading, reciting or declaiming in front of an audience, chanting, performing, etc. will be considered, as well as the rules and modalities of pronunciation, the vocal interpretation of the text, the artistic and emotional aspects, and finally, the precise contexts in which one recites such or such a text (rites, celebrations, feasts, calendars, circumstances, material conditions, clothes, etc.).

2) Recitation and transmission of knowledge

Reciting is a form of knowledge transmission. In return, some “recitation professionals” transmit the specific knowledge (and know-how) of recitation. This session will address the articulation between recitation and teaching/learning, addressing the materiality of recitation —either linked to manuscripts or epigraphy—, learning practices such as “recitation before the scholar” and validation by the scholar (iǧāza, etc.), as well as the actors of recitation (often professionals, religious, or artists, etc.) and how they transmit their vocal art and ethics (e.g. adab al-qurrāʾ).

3) The stakes of recitation

The religious/spiritual horizons of recitation practices will be explored (edification, justification, prayer for healing, mysticism, etc.), as well as secular aims (political, social, academic, artistic, etc.): mastery of the content, timing or form of recitation can be linked to power, community identity or creation.

Methodology

Although being open to the public, this conference mainly intends to be a place for work and scientific debate. Consequently, we will ask the speakers who have been selected to send a 3 to 4-page summary of their paper by May 15, 2020. These summaries will be distributed to the other participants. Each speaker will then enrol as a discussant for at least one paper presented by a peer. It is expected that all the speakers attend all the panels.

Languages of the artices: English and French.

Scientific organization

For inquiries, please contact us at .

 

The oldest manuscripts of the Qurʾān

Emilio Platti

IDEO, Professor Emeritus of the Catholic University of Leuven

icon-calendar Tuesday January 24ᵗʰ, 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 Monday December 19ᵗʰ, 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

 Tuesday December 13ᵗʰ, 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.

When al-Sayyid al-Šarīf al-Ǧurgānī (d. 816/1413) deals with this issue, making a distinction between essential and non essential body parts, he actually answers the anthropological and philosophical question of what is a person. What is the link between our identity as separate persons and our body? Another question that emerges from this one is: What is resurrection, the gathering of scattered body parts or a new creation? These questions are actually what makes the cannibalism argument relevant in the end.

Some theologians argue that the body is but a mere instrument, and the soul alone will be judged at resurrection. ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 877/1472) is an early example of this. This nips in the bud the very point of the discussion, that has gone as far as whether the bodily parts of a righteous person would suffer hell’s fire if these parts had been eaten by a sinner, thus becoming part of his body.