Islam sciences, between repetition and innovation: What is the role of the commentary in Islam?

icon-calendar January 14‒16, 2016

From the 8th14th century, the commentary was the form par excellence of intellectual production in Islam, as result of the professionalization of teaching which culminated in the Ottoman network of madrasas. “Commentary” here is understood in the broad sense: tafsīr, šarḥ, ḥāšiya, taʿlīq, but also taḥqīq, taqrīr, taḥqīq

On January 14, 15 and 16, 2016, IDEO organized a conference on the topic ” The sciences of Islam, between repetition and innovation: What is the role of the commentary in Islam?” This conference concluded the 200 Project financed by the Delegation of the European Union in Egypt, where for three years a team of IDEO researchers worked on the historical contextualisation of two hundred authors of the Arab-Muslim heritage.

Omar Ḥamdān shows that commentaries allow for a better understanding of the authors of the Arab-Muslim heritage, some of whom were unknown or whose writings have been lost. For the sake of completeness, they thus complete the scope of the first biographical and bibliographical works.

If Nadjet Zouggar demonstrates that the diversity of commentaries of Avicenna’s Poem on the Soul supports the thesis of the authenticity of a text whose integration into the Avicenna corpus has sometimes been doubted, his research confirms, above all, the unsuitability of the epistemological distinction between philosophy and theology in the Muslim world, and thus tends to corroborate Winovsky’s thesis.

Moreover, far from being purely repetitive and sterile works, the contributions showed that the commentaries not only make it possible to maintain a living tradition, but they also testify, as Kamran Karimullah shows about Avicenna, to the persistent influence of his thinking in Arab medicine. The terminological study undertaken by Nicola Carpentieri also makes it possible to show that while certain terms in the commentaries on Arab medicine could have been considered interchangeable, a close study shows that, on the contrary, they have a specific definition, and that it is possible to identify changes in meaning over time. Philipp Bruckmayr’s study, based on commentaries from the Umm al-barāhīn in South-East Asia on the profession of faith by Abū ʿAbd Allah al-Sanūsī, shows that commentaries can give birth, depending on where they originated, to a new literary genre. This ability of the commentary to revive a tradition is also discussed and supported by Éric Chaumont’s research regarding treatises on fiqh. Finally, Jan Thiele reports on the links between two major works of kalām from the first half of the 6th /12th century, and shows that al-Makkī’s Nihāya must first be considered as a work of re-compilation and not as an independent work.

The discussions during the conference showed that there were two opposing ways of looking at the texts of the Arab-Muslim heritage: from the point of view of their unity (a more theological vision that emphasizes the internal coherence of Islamic sciences), or from the point of view of their evolution (a more historical vision that makes it possible to measure the contribution of each author according to the context in which he lived).

The proceedings of this conference were published in the MIDEO 32 (2017).


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 maṣāḥif Mohammed Hassan, researcher at the Center for Calligraphy and Scriptures Studies at the Library of Alexandria, presented an inventory of the maṣāḥif (singular muṣḥaf) that existed before 1924. Most of these maṣāḥif remain fragmented and neither their calligraphers nor their copyists are known. Of all these maṣāḥif, 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 maṣāḥif: 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 maṣāḥif, 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-ʿuṯmānī, 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 maṣāḥif 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 lawāḥiq In a second contribution, Mohammed Hassan discussed the issue of the lawāḥiq (the annexes) to the various printed maṣāḥif and the role of King Fuʾād’s muṣḥaf in standardizing these lawāḥiq. 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” (ḫatm 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

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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…

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Call for papers: Reciting in the Early Islamic Empire

Reciting in the Early Islamic Empire (7ᵗʰ‒9ᵗʰ centuries) Texts, Modalities, Issues A Conference Organised by the IDEO Cairo, October 16ᵗʰ‒18ᵗʰ, 2020 Click here to download the conference programme… Keynote Speaker: Prof. Devin J. Stewart, Emory University (Atlanta) Deadlines January 31ˢᵗ, 2020 (half a page proposal, sent to May 15ᵗʰ, 2020 (three-page summary, sent to the same address, if your proposal is accepted). May 31ˢᵗ, 2021 (full paper, sent to for double-blind peer-review evaluation). Click here for the guidelines… 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. Click here to download the PDF version of this Call for Papers… 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 conference: English and French. Scientific organization Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau, Maître de conférence at the University of Strasbourg, France. Asma Hilali, Maître de conférence at the University of Lille, France. Logistics and financial organization International transportation, airport transfer, and half-board accommodation will be covered by the IDEO, thanks to a grant of the European Union through the project “Adawāt” (2018‒2022). Publication The issue 37 (2022) of MIDEO will be devoted to the same topic and will welcome papers, presented in this conference or not, under the condition that they undergo the usual evaluation principles. The deadline to submit your paper to is May 31ˢᵗ, 2021. For inquiries, please contact us at  

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