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We organise seminars and conferences:

  1. A public seminar, devoted to the Classical Arab-Muslim culture. About two sessions monthly, either in Arabic, or French or English. Free of charge and open to all. Subscribe here to receive the invitations. Click here to read the reports of the previous sessions.
  2. The Massignon Seminar, a research seminar for the members of the Institute.
  3. International conferences, in Cairo or elsewhere, whose proceedings are published in MIDEO. Click here to read the reports of these conferences.
  4. Since 2018, IDEO is also co-organizer of the monthly series of conferences “Midan Mounira”, alongside with the French Institute of Egypt, the CEDEJ and the IFAO. Click here to see the reports of the sessions proposed by IDEO.

What is the horizon of Qurʾānic studies in the West? (12ᵗʰ‒18ᵗʰ centuries)

Sana Bou Antoun

PhD student at Paris-IV Sorbonne Université

icon-calendar Tuesday November 10ᵗʰ, 2020

Western studies of the Qurʾān have a very ancient history, dating back to the 12ᵗʰ century, and it is important to study this history in order to better understand the stakes of the current situation. Consisting mainly of translations exercises accompanied by commentaries in which extensive philological remarks and polemical content are intertwined, these Qurʾānic studies bear witness to the ambivalent relationship between West and East, and therefore between European specialists in Semitic languages and the Qurʾān.

Several factors have triggered the interest of scholars in Europe in the Middle Ages for the Qurʾān. Some scholars initially considered that the Arabic language could be used to better understand Hebrew and other Semitic languages. Others had a plan to convert Muslims to Christianity. And finally, others wanted to better understand Islam, which they spontaneously analyzed as a Christian heresy.

If before the 12ᵗʰ century the Qurʾān was known to the West only through the eyes of Eastern Christians, the Latin translation of Robert of Ketton in 1143 provided direct access to the text to Western scholars. Using an elegant Biblical Latin language, and relying on classical commentaries, such as that of al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923), the translation of Robert of Ketton is certainly intended to refute the Qurʾān, but by taking it seriously.

The situation changed in the 14ᵗʰ century with the humanist scholars during the Renaissance era, who were in a conflictual relationship with the Ottoman Empire, and who insisted more on the political dimension of the figure of the Prophet Muḥammad than on his ethical and eschatological message. Humanists also relegated Arabic to a second place behind Hebrew. The first translations into European vernacular languages were published in this time.

The anti-clericalism and anti-Christianity of the 17ᵗʰ and 18ᵗʰ centuries in Europe then tended to present Islam as a more rational religion than Christianity. As for the dominant position of Hebrew in Semitic studies, it was reinforced by Protestantism.

As John Tolan writes, Qurʾānic studies in the West have first and foremost been a mirror for the European intellectual tradition, reflecting its own internal questions, concerns and debates on Biblical and religious issues in general.

Mysticism Comes to School

Notes on a Work in Progress, by Simon Conrad

PhD student at Princeton University

icon-calendar Tuesday October 20ᵗʰ, 2020

When he returned from Cambridge in 1930 with his doctorate in his pocket after nine years of study, Abū al-ʿIlā ʿAfīfī (1897‒1966) was determined to introduce Sufi studies at the Egyptian University. This idea was considered preposterous by his peers, who wanted to entrust him with the teaching of logic.

His doctoral work consisted in systematizing Ibn ʿArabī’s (d. 638/1240) thought, which he treated as a philosopher of intuition, on par with contemporary philosophers such as James (1842‒1910) or Bergson (1859‒1941), rather than as a mystic. If on a personal basis, it is indeed mysticism that interests ʿAfīfī, defined as the intuitive understanding of the divine, his academic project is above all to propose an analysis of the texts of the Arab-Islamic heritage with contemporary tools.

A discreet intellectual and mystic, ʿAfīfī nevertheless entered into public debates with his contemporaries on the question of the opposition—which he refused—between a supposedly spiritual East and a materialistic West, or on the epistemological status of intuition: he considered that intuition could indeed be a source of knowledge in its own right.

Abū al-ʿIlā ʿAfīfī, like others invested in bringing the mystical tradition to the fore at this time, constitutes a missing link in the history of the Arab thought in the era of decolonization, and sets the stage for more flamboyant thinkers such as Abū al-Wafā al-Taftāzānī (1930‒1994) and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī (1917‒2002).

Reciting in the Early Islamic Empire (7ᵗʰ‒9ᵗʰ centuries)

Third IDEO Conference in Cairo (and on Zoom)

icon-calendar October 16ᵗʰ‒18ᵗʰ, 2020

Keynote Speaker: Prof. Devin J. Stewart, Emory University (Atlanta)

Scientific coordination: Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau (IDEO, Strasbourg) & Asma Hilali (Lille)

The questions raised by the topic of recitation are many and sometimes difficult to define, as Devin Stewart summed up perfectly in his concluding remarks. The first difficulty is methodological: we are talking about a fundamentally oral phenomenon of which we are looking for traces in written texts. The different contributions showed the diversity of the existing material:  lapidary inscriptions, ostraca, papyri and manuscripts. The information concerning recitation is either contained in more or less codified marginal or interlinear notes, or to be deducted from the verbs used to describe the way in which the content of the text is transmitted.

More fundamentally, the topic of recitation forces us to reconsider the definition of what a text is. The case of the homily is paroxysmal: learned by heart from possibly written notes, then pronounced with more or less loyalty to the initial project, taken in notes by some listeners during or after the hearing, then written by a professional author according to established literary canons, then put into circulation in a version that may be reread by the person who delivered it. In this case, what is the “text” of this homily? The Coptic Eucharistic prayers, after having been required to be improvised for a long time, stabilized under the influence of linguistic changes and dogmatic quarrels. The text of the Qurʾān developed and stabilized at the same time as it was disseminated, both in written and oral forms.  In other later cases, the transmission of some texts maintained the illusion of an oral transmission, through reading or reciting, while the actual process happened entirely through in written form.

Unfortunately, the online format did not allow us to make place for recitation in Zoroastrianism, Judaism or in Byzantium. One issue that could not be discussed either was the power of the recited words. The recited proclamation of a text has a different impact from its reading, public or private. Can this impact be studied? More generally, what are the aims of recitation? Teaching, transmission, piety, aesthetics, acquisition of good deeds, reinforcement of the authority of the text by the dramatization of its recitation?

All these questions will be the topic of MIDEO 37 (2022). The deadline for sending your contributions is February 1st, 2021. Please click here for more details…

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”.

How to talk about Islam in a Catholic newspaper?

Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner

Journalist at La Croix

icon-calendar Sunday February 16ᵗʰ, 2020

 

We asked Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner, who was in charge of the section on Islam for several years at the newspaper La Croix, to reflect on her experience. Knowing practically nothing about Islam when she accepted that position, she embarked on the adventure to cover both the Islamic-Christian dialogue and Islam in France. Through meetings and many field visits, she built for herself a comprehensive address book (the large Islamic associations, mosques and cultural centers, Muslims or non-Muslim thinkers and Islamic Scholars, believers and sceptics) and she developed for herself a course of action: to deal separately with Islam and Islamic-Christian dialogue, to take seriously the religious motivations behind the violence sometimes committed in the name of Islam, to talk about the Eastern Christians of the East without pinning what they experiment in the East on the situation in France, not to give a voice to those who use verbal abuse on social networks.

The constructive and nonviolent management of religious pluralism is certainly an issue as important as the global warming today. Catholics have a role to play in this field because they know what it means to believe and they can understand what is a faithful rationality confronted to the questions posed by the contemporary world.

A first reading of Le Coran des historiens (Cerf, 2019)

Adrien de Jarmy

PhD candidate at Sorbonne Université, IDEO/IFAO Fellow

icon-calendar Tuesday February 11ᵗʰ, 2020

While the classical Muslim exegetical tradition considers the Qurʾān as a starting point, and focuses on clarifying its obscure points by referring to the life of the Prophet and His sayings, the contemporary tendency of many researchers in the West is to consider it as a point of arrival. In other words the Qurʾān is the product of Late Antiquity, which collects previous religious, philosophical and cultural traditions. A third tendency is to study the Qurʾān alone, outside of its Late Antique context and outside of the Islamic tradition.

This Coran des historiens chooses the second approach, that of the context of Late Antiquity, excluding the studies of researchers such as Jacqueline Chabbi or Michel Cuypers who study the Qurʾān for its own sake, or the school of Angelika Neuwirth who does not reject the Islamic tradition as a source of interpretation of the text.

The point of view of Guillaume Dye, one of the two editors of the book, is that the Qurʾān is a complicated, composite text, neither the work of a single man, nor a closed book, but an open collection that builds up gradually in discussion with this Late Antiquity context. Contrary to the Islamic hagiography which gives the Caliph ʿUṯmān (d. 35/656) the role of editor of the text in its final consonantical version, Guillaume Dye identifies the reign of the Umayyad Caliph ʿAbd al-Mālik (d. 86/705) as the political and cultural context that most influenced the text.

The Coran des historiens consists of one volume of twenty historical studies and two volumes of a systematic analysis of the entire Qurʾānic text. It is an essential tool for researchers and readers of the Qurʾān, regardless of their approaches and beliefs.

Searching for the Takārīr in medieval Egypt: a quest to bridge over fragmentary evidence

Hadrien Collet

French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo

icon-calendar Wednesday January 22ⁿᵈ, 2020

Historically, the kingdom of Takrūr is one of the first regions in West Africa have adopted Islam, in the middle of the 5ᵗʰ/11ᵗʰ century. This kingdom is not unknown to Arab authors: al-Masʿūdī (d. 345/956) mentions it in a book attributed to him, Aḫbār al-zamān. After the fall of Baghdad in 656/1258, Cairo became the new center of the Islamic civilization and the presence of Takārīr (sg. Takrūrī) began to be documented there for the first time, in the broad meaning of “Muslims of West Africa”. They were either passing through Cairo on their way to Mecca, or coming to study with a teacher, or settling down.

The first documented pilgrimage of a king of Takrūr to Mecca is that of mansā Mūsā in 724/1324. The arrival in Cairo of his caravan of 15,000 men, reported by al-Maqrīzī (d. 845/1442) in his book Sulūk li-maʿrifat duwal al-mulūk, made a strong impression on the local population. He brought with him twelve tons of gold, which drove down the market price for many years.

Finally, between the 13ᵗʰ and the 15ᵗʰ centuries, sources mention about twenty Sufi Saints from Takrūr, buried and venerated in the Qarāfa cemetery in Cairo.

Relics and the Religious Topography of Cairo

Richard McGregor

Professor of Islamic Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville

icon-calendar Tuesday November 26ᵗʰ, 2019

Thanks to the precise study of the path and destiny of certain relics (the heads of al-Ḥusayn,  Muḥammad b. Ibn Abī Bakr or Alī Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn, prayer mats, footprints, turbans…), it is possible to write a history of Muslim piety and political power games. The Sufis traditionally link the cult of the relics to the following Qurʾānic verse: “And their Prophet said to them, ‘Surely the sign of his kingship is that the coffer will come up to you; in it (are) a Serenity from your Lord, and a remnant of what the house of Mûsâ and the house Hârûn left (behind), the Angels carrying it. Surely in that is indeed a sign for you, in case you are believers’”(Q. 2 (al-Baqara), 248). Among the sultans who have most encouraged the veneration of relics, the case of al-Ḥākim bi-amr Allāh (d. 411/1021) is significant. He built mosques in Cairo to house relics of the Prophet that he had stolen from Madinah and organized prayers for the flooding of the Nile. In the following centuries, these relics were moved to other places: Ribāṭ al-Āṯār, the mausoleum of al-Ġūrī, the mosque of al-Sayyida Zaynab, the ministry of Awqāf at the Citadel, the palace of ʿAbdīn and the mosque of al-Ḥusayn, where they are today. It is striking to note that despite their popular and political importance, it is not easy to follow the relics in textual sources, where they constantly appear and disappear.

The History of Devotion to the Prophet Muḥammad through its Manuscripts

N. A. Mansour

PhD candidate at Princeton University

icon-calendar Wednesday November 13ᵗʰ, 2019

N. A. Mansour, whose PhD dissertation deals with the transition from manuscripts to printed books, focused during this seminar on what is probably the most popular book in the Islamic tradition: Dalāʾil al-ḫayrāt wa-šawāriq al-anwār fī ḏikr al-ṣalāt ʿalā al-nabī al-muḫtār, a collection of prayers for the Prophet, compiled by a Moroccan Sufi and faqīh, Muḥammad b. Sulayman al-Ǧazūlī (d. 870/1465). The many manuscripts of this piety book, scholars say, would represent about 30% of all the Arabic manuscripts. It is still very popular, even if the development of Salafism was an obstacle to its diffusion. These manuscripts are often of great interest to the researcher, when they contain prayers copied at the end of the text, marginal comments (usually grammatical) or prescriptive advice on how to use this or that prayer. The success of the book makes it an important witness to the themes disseminated in popular piety: not only the place of the figure of the Prophet, but also the glorification of God through his attributes or the place of the believer in cosmology or salvation history.