The Interaction Between Twelver Shiites and Christians: History, Theology, Literature

icon-calendar April 11‒13, 2018

The IDEO, in partnership with ISTR in Paris (Institute of Science and Theology of Religions) and GRIEM (Interdisciplinary Research Group on Missionary Writings), organized a conference sponsored by the associations “Friends of IDEO” and the “Œuvre d’Orient” from April 11-13th, 2018 on the interaction between Twelver Shiites and Christians. Several internationally renowned specialists participated, including Professors Rudi Mathee and Francis Richard. A delegation of researchers from Iraq and the al-Khoei Institute also participated.

Focusing on interactions, this conference aimed to explore travel accounts, missionary writings, theological texts, embassy reports, and manuscripts in order examine the nature of how one group viewed the other, the types of exchanges that were made, and the relations between these groups. The conference also sought to show the evolution of identity, as each group underwent transformations due to these interactions within the pluralistic political contexts of their times.

We demonstrated that the existence of these exchanges was made possible by a theological necessity on the part the Shiites, as well as a theological and spiritual proximity related to the theology of redemption and the Shiite fascination of the God of love.  Economic arguments were also put forth, as the absence of subsidies coming from Europe forced missionary communities into economic exchanges in the world in which they lived, sometimes at the expense of violating their own rules. Political issues were also discussed, such as the rivalry between the Ottomans, the Mughals, and the Safavids, which made alliances with Christians necessary. These alliances gave rise to expressions of friendship and esteem for the other. Curiosity and empathy were also noted, and we were able to speak of “Christianophilia” on the part of the Shiites.

However, far from wishing to idealize the past, history also records the partial and sometimes negative perceptions of the other. Historically, ulamas were able to demand that Christians be driven away or demand their conversion. Often mentioned are the tragic situation of the Armenians and the domination of controversies. Whether real or fictional, these controversies circulated beyond the empire, and has thus carried trans-historical argumentation against the other. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, controversies were couched in a more aggressive, political argumentation, as they were often created by the State, thus showing the politicization of Christian-Shiite relations in this time.

There was also a question of Christian missionary activities, the nature of which varies according to the order, such as the Capuchins, Carmelites, or Jesuits. Faced with the lack Muslim conversions, missionaries questioned their formation, the need to develop new argumentations, the possible impact of converts as the main agents in the mission, which populations were to be targeted as a priority, the possible support of Muslim spiritual circles, and the Persian poetic heritage…

Cultural, spiritual, or religious interactions are visible at the level of the invocation of saints, iconography, and the presentation of the gospels with a Christian basmala at the beginning of each gospel…

Finally, did these exchanges, interactions lead to a better understanding of the other? Certainly. However, the missionary reports, travel accounts, and theological works often reveal partial knowledge, notwithstanding the desire to make the other more well known.

The proceedings of this conference will be published in the MIDEO 35 (2020).

The emergence of Ḥadīṯ as the authority of knowledge between the 4ᵗʰ/10ᵗʰ and the 8ᵗʰ/14ᵗʰ centuries

icon-calendar January 11‒13, 2018

On January 11, 12 and 13, the Dominican Institute has organised in partnership with the French Institute an international conference dedicated to Ḥadīṯ. Our two guest speakers were Dr. Aisha Geissinger (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada) and Prof. Walid Saleh (Toronto University, Canada). We hosted 7 lectures in Arabic the first day, 5 lectures in English the second day, and two workshops the third day, one in Arabic and one in English. Here are the main issues discussed during the workshops and the concluding session:

1- Questions of methodology: how to study Ḥadīṯ today? As a literary corpus, as a source of law, as an object of piety binding its reader to the person of the Prophet, as a witness to a given historical context…

2- The question of the relevance of the use of contemporary human sciences, and thus of dealing with a sacred corpus in a profane manner (Quran, Ḥadīṯ).

3- The question of historical criticism: legitimate or not, relying on canonical corpus or composing new ones, with which tools… for what purpose? Evaluation of the isnād and/or the matn?

4- The question of blind spots in the history of Ḥadīṯ: voices that are not expressed, women, minorities,… How can we write a history that takes into account what is not documented, the point of view of those who are dominated or silenced?

5- The question of “reason” (ʿaql), which lacks, in Arabic, a working definition, allowing everyone to claim it for themselves, or to refuse it to others. It seems that researchers in reality often confuse “reason” (ʿaql) as capacity and “rationalities” (ʿaqlāniyyyāt) as its implementations.

6- The presence of several persons from Muslim minorities during the colloquium (one Omani Ibadi, two Saudis Ismailis, two Iraqi Shiites) also opened the debate on the different readings of Ḥadīṯ.

7- The question of the “scientific miracle” (cf. Bucaille), which always finds followers, including in the field of Ḥadīṯ.

The concluding session

During the concluding session, Walid and Aisha emphasized one or another of these points. However, the issue of the emergence of Ḥadīt as a source of authority was not addressed as such. If Ruggero Sanseverino has dealt with the epistemological question of its authority, to link it spiritually (and not mechanically) to the person of the Prophet, the other interventions have approached the question of the authority of Ḥadīṯ in a given context, in a given science, in a given author. But none of them studied the issue over a long period of time, and neither the workshops nor the concluding session tried to do so. One of most exciting aspects of the conference was probably the fact that it connected scholars from the West with scholars from Egypt, which is probably why the methodological issues took such an importance during the workshops.

The proceedings of this conference will be published in MIDEO 34 (2019).

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).