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.

The Cairo Edition of the Qurʾān 1924: Texts, history & challenges

Fourth IDEO Conference in Cairo, October 16ᵗʰ‒17ᵗʰ, 2021

Scientific committee: Omar Alí-de-Unzaga (IIS, London), Aziz Hilal (IDEO, Cairo), Davidson McLaren (Thesaurus Islamicus, Istanbul), Ahmad Wagih (IDEO, Cairo).

Coordination: Asma Hilali (Lille University).

Watch the contributions of Saturday, October 16th

Under the auspices of the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies, and as part of the Adawāt project, an international conference was held at the American University in Cairo on “The Cairo Edition of the Qurʾān 1924”, more accurately referred to as “King Fuʾād’s Qurʾān” in order to distinguish it from “King Fahd’s Qurʾān”, which is also known as the “Medina Qurʾān” (1985). Under the scientific supervision of Asma Hilali (University of Lille) and a scientific board including Omar Alí-de-Unzaga (IIS London), Aziz Hilal (IDEO), Davidson McLaren (Thesaurus Islamicus, Istanbul) and Ahmad Wagih (IDEO), the conference aimed to make a first scientific historical and contextual evaluation and study of the 1924 Cairo Edition of the Qurʾān, which until then had never benefited from such an event.

A first inventory of the maāif

Mohammed Hassan, researcher at the Center for Calligraphy and Scriptures Studies at the Library of Alexandria, presented an inventory of the maāif (singular muṣḥaf) that existed before 1924. Most of these maāif remain fragmented and neither their calligraphers nor their copyists are known. Of all these maāif, which mark the decline of the manuscript Qurʾān, that of Riḍwān ibn Muḥammad al-Muḫallalātī (1834‒1893) is the best written and the best designed. However, it does not escape the shortcomings of other printed maāif: poor quality of printing papers which guarantee good long-term preservation; various and several mistakes; absence of punctuation as well as markers essential for good quality reading (taǧwīd); markers involving a sāǧida (prostration); etc. It may be noted that despite the imperfections of these maāif, they contributed to the standardization of the printed muṣḥaf of which the King Fuʾād’s muṣḥaf will only be the continuation.

Ahmed Mansour, researcher at the same center, suggested to analyze a muṣḥaf published by the Būlāq Publishing House in 1881. This was an opportunity for the participants to browse the history of European and Western editions of the Qurʾān (Venice, Flügel, Kazan… etc.) and the first activities of the Būlāq Publishing House, founded by Mohammed Ali in 1820. The muṣḥaf analyzed by the lecturer seems to have benefited from all the previous maṣāḥif, but it adopts the orthographic writing (al-rasm al-imlāʾī) and not the Ottoman spelling (al-rasm al-ʿumānī, relating to the Caliph Othman), while this was the case for all maṣāḥif from the 7ᵗʰ century onwards. We finally note that this muṣḥaf is incomplete and does not mention the names of the sūras.

Who are the audience of this edition in the Muslim world?

In his contribution, Ali Akbar, researcher at Bayt al Qurʾān in Jakarta (Indonesia), mentioned the place of King Fuʾād’s muṣḥaf among the maāif printed in Indonesia at the end of the 19ᵗʰ and 20ᵗʰ centuries. The researcher indicated that the oldest lithographic edition dates back to 1848 and originates in Palembang in south Sumatra. Other editions of the Qurʾān reached Indonesia after this date, including an Indian edition. Ali Akbar underlined that the Cairo muṣḥaf was indeed used in Indonesia and was brought by Indonesians who studied in Cairo. However, this use is very rare.

The second panel, moderated by Michael Marx (head of the Corpus Coranicum at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften), took place on Sunday morning October 17ᵗʰ. The first contribution to this panel was made by Necmettin Gökkır, from Istanbul University, and focused on the reception and perception of the Cairo Qurʾān in post-Ottoman Turkey. Reception of the Egyptian Qurʾān was somewhat mixed, according to Gökkır, considering that the first edition of the Ottoman Qurʾān took place in 1874 and had already been widely distributed in the Ottoman-controlled world, including Egypt. Therefore, the Turkish religious authorities found it difficult to accept this new muṣḥaf, although they recognized in it their own style and their own method of editing the Qurʾān. But they saw Fuʾād’s endeavor only as an attempt to oppose the Turkish religious authority over the Muslim world.

Where does the success of the King Fuʾād edition come from in the Arab world?

Michael Marx shed light on the historical context of the King Fuʾād’s edition. He showed that, since 1950, this Qurʾān had became the essential reference for European researchers and academics, before it was relegated to a second place by King Fahd’s muṣḥaf. Such “national” maṣāḥif have been added to the two “standard” ones, either to serve educational or ritual aims, or to glorify states or religious institutions through impressive editions.

The contribution of Philipp Bruckmayar, from the University of Vienna, demonstrated that the 1924 Cairo edition had an impact on the whole of the Arabic-speaking Muslim sphere due to King Fahd’s muṣḥaf, also called the “Medina Qurʾān”, which was initiated by Saudi King Fahd Ben Abdelaziz in 1985. Contrary to the popular belief, even if the Cairo edition had little echo in the Muslim Arab World, it actually spread throughout this world through this Medina edition, which is a plagiarism of the 1924 Cairo edition, except for two letters. This Medina muṣḥaf is part of a larger project: to assert the central position of Saudi Arabia within the Islamic world by translating the Qurʾān into about eighty languages and by spreading the impact of the Islamic University of Medina (IUM) at the detriment of al-Azhar.

The lawāiq

In a second contribution, Mohammed Hassan discussed the issue of the lawāiq (the annexes) to the various printed maāif and the role of King Fuʾād’s muṣḥaf in standardizing these lawāiq. The first one who gave a substantial annex to his muṣḥaf was Riḍwān al-Muḫallalātī. His annex, which focused on “the completion of the reading of the Qurʾān” (atm al-Qurʾān), specified the place and the date of the edition, the name of the copyist, the chosen orthography (al-ram al-ʿutmānī in this case), and the number of verses for each sūra, etc. this tradition will be confirmed and enriched by King Fuʾād’s muṣḥaf, that adds details about the abrogating and the abrogated (al-nāsi wa-l-mansū),  the way in which the Qurʾān was revealed, the seven readings (al-qirāʾāt al-sabʿ). At the end of this very interesting contribution, a question remains without answer: where do these lawāiq derive their legitimacy from?

An official Azhari edition?

In his contribution, Aziz Hilal asked the crucial question: why wait till 1924 to print the official edition of the Qurʾān from al-Azhar? Printing began in Egypt in 1823. This product of European origin raised only suspicion of the Muslim clerics, who initially refused that the “Word of God” be soiled by the typographic technique. Mohammed Ali, who did not want another confrontation with al-Azhar, did nothing against the Ottoman fatwa-s forbidding any printing of the Qurʾān. As for King Fuʾād’s Qurʾān, its importance should not hide al-Azhar’s desire to make this king “a caliph in place of the caliph”. The abolition of the caliphate left a gape that the religious authorities could not bear. It is in this context that a strong and symbolic action had to be taken by Muslims: editing the Qurʾān under the auspices of a scientific committee and printing it was the first step in making Cairo the new capital of the caliphate and al-Azhar the undisputed godfather of this edition. Aziz Hilal also mentioned that the date given in the colophon of this edition is 1919 and that the first printing is actually dated 1925. The choice of the date of 1924 retained by the tradition symbolically represents the date of the abolition of the caliphate.

Which edition? The question of rasm

In the last panel of the conference, the contribution of Omar Hamdan, from the University of Tübingen, focused on the reasons for choosing al-rasm al-ʿumānī as the orthography of the Qurʾān. He started from a quote by al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1013) who states in his Iʿǧāz al-qurʾān that “the book was written in the shortest manner (ʿalā al-tarīq al-aḫṣar)”, and it is the rasm al-ʿumānī that makes this short manner possible. Indeed, this rasm prefers deletion (af) whenever necessary. Thus, for example:

  • When two wāw-s meet, it is necessary to delete one of them: we should write لا تلون instead of لا تلوون.
  • The suffix pronoun must always be attached to its “mother” letter: فأحيهم instead of فأحياهم. The ʾ is the mother letter (al-arf al-umm) for the pronoun suffix and not the alif.
  • Any obstacle must be deleted (izālat al-āʾil) if it prevents the word from being a single unit: we must write نضّختن instead of نضّاختان.

We could cite many other examples to show that for the Qurʾān, priority is given, not to reading (al-qirāʾa), but to recitation (al-tilāwa). For Muslims, in order for the Qurʾān to always live “in the hearts of people”, reading or writing should be always oriented and controlled by recitation and by memorization (­if).

Omar Hamdan has further shown that King Fuʾād’s muṣḥaf did not always follow the rules of this rasm al-ʿumānī.

What research perspectives?

In the final talk, Asma Hilali suggested an agenda for future researches. In particular, she suggested to integrate the question of editions within an archaeology of knowledge.

The question of women at the heart of the spiritual renovation of Islam

Asma Lamrabet

Euro-Arab Foundation of the University of Granada

icon-calendar Sunday February 21ˢᵗ, 2021


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

Like many Muslim women working in intellectual and activist networks (Karamah in the United States, or Musawah in Malaysia), Mrs. Asma Lamrabet tries to go beyond the misogynistic, patriarchal and legalist approach that has prevailed in Islam, especially through jurisprudence (fiqh), by highlighting an ethical and spiritual approach. Rather than relying on a few verses (on inheritance, testimony, or polygamy) and drawing from them general legal principles for all that concerns “the Muslim woman”, the ethical-reformist reading aims at a holistic (šumūlī) reading of the Qurʾān, which takes into consideration the objectives of the Law (maqāṣid al-šarīʿa). Those are, among others, the common good (al-maṣlaḥa al-ʿāmma), the removal of constraint (rafʿ al-ḥaraǧ), the establishment of justice (iqāmat al-ʿadl). The status of women must be understood in the light of general Qurʾānic values such as justice (al-ʿadāla), equity (al-qisṭ), compassion (al-raḥma), piety (al-taqwā), love (al-maḥabba), wisdom (al-ḥikma), collaboration in righteousness and piety (al-taʿāwun ʿalā al-birr wa-l-taqwā), protection of the vulnerable (ḥimāyat al-mustaḍʿafīn fī al-arḍ), and not in the light of five or six verses interpreted too quickly and used as intangible legal principles.

The hope for renovation that this ethical reading brings is at the service of the liberation of all —especially the weakest— and not just of women, who have been made completely invisible in the Muslim tradition.

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.