Relics and the Religious Topography of Cairo

Richard McGregor

Professor of Islamic Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville

icon-calendar Tuesday November 26ᵗʰ, 2019 at 5:00 p.m

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 at 5:00 p.m

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.

Analyzing the Emergence of Muḥammad’s Authority in the Maġāzī Literature

Adrien de Jarmy

PhD candidate at Sorbonne Université, IDEO/IFAO Fellow 2019‒2020

icon-calendar Wednesday October 30ᵗʰ, 2019 at 5:00 p.m

Using a quantitative method, which includes traditions related to the Prophet and the Companions, and measures their distribution in ancient works of the Muslim tradition, Adrien de Jarmy tries to identify the political-religious thresholds and dynamics that mark the evolution of the representations of the Prophet. Moreover, in the Kitāb al-maġāzī, in the Muṣannaf of ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 211/826) which includes 96% of the stories transmitted by Maʿmar b. Rāšid (m. 153/770), the Prophet is depicted above all as a warrior and does not occupy such a central place as he does in the Sīra of Ibn Hišām (m. 213/828), where he is omnipresent both as legislator and as a miracle worker. It would seem that after the ʿAbbāsid revolution in 132/750, political power needed to justify its link to the Prophet to both legitimize its ability to govern and to convince Jewish and Christians to convert to Islam by encouraging the emergence of an imperial historiography, which was not the priority of the Umayyads. It may also be that the Muṣannaf of ʿAbd al-Razzāq, written in Yemen, reflects peripheral concerns different from those prevailing in Baghdad, while at the same time informing us about the state of historiography at the end of the Umayyad period. Finally, it may be that some of these stories come from oral folk traditions (quṣṣāṣ) that have made their way into the biographical narratives that would eventually become canon.

A Word of Explanation on the Language and Grammar of the Qurʾān

Dr. Abd al-Hakim Radi, Professor of Arabic Literature, Literary Criticism, and Rhetoric in the Department of Arts at Cairo University and member of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo

Jean Druel, O.P., Director of IDEO and scholar in the history of Arabic grammar

icon-calendar Tuesday September 10ᵗʰ, 2019 at 5 p.m

At a lecture he gave last November, Jean Druel, O.P. outlined a history of the Arabic language in connection with other Semitic languages. He discussed the question of the status of the language of the Qurʾān and its link with the historical phases of Arabic, highlighting some specific features of each phase which now coexist in use.

At this seminar, Dr. Abd al-Hakim Radi wished to respond to Jean Druel’s lecture, focusing in particular on the status of the Qurʾānic language and its specific eloquence, which culminates in the question of the linguistic miracle of the Qurʾān. He also discussed the question of the normative grammar of the Arabic language and its authority to judge the Qurʾānic language. He explained that instances in the Qurʾān that may violate rules of the Arabic language could be authentically justified in the itself, without any contradiction, due to the flexibility of the Arabic language and the diversity of its ancient dialects, which are all authentically Arabic and eloquent. He also explained that Muslim scientists have extensively dealt with these issues in the past.

In the end, the difference between the two researchers is that Jean Druel, O.P. discusses these different states of the Arabic language from the point of view of their historic succession, while Dr. Abd al-Hakim Radi considers this linguistic diversity within a single language without history and without development.

The place of the sunna in the Risāla of al-Šāfiʿī (d. 204/820)

Dr. Ahmad Wagih

Professor at the Faculty of Dār al-ʿUlūm, Cairo University

icon-calendar Monday June 24ᵗʰ, 2019 at 5:00 p.m

In this book, considered as the foundation of the Islamic legal theory, al-Šāfiʿī (d. 204/820) discusses the position of two distinct and opposing groups, the “Iraqis” and the “Hijazis”, on the question of legal arguments: what kind of evidence is lawful, and what strength do each type of argument has in relation to the others? One of the disputed issues is the autonomy of the Sunna in legal argumentation. Unlike later works, the Risāla of al-Šāfiʿī follows an apologetic outline, that is not systematic. In his argumentation, al-Šāfiʿī gives a central place to the Prophet, and therefore to the Sunna and to the ḥadīṯs, in relation to the Qurʾān, and this, since the very first pages of his Risāla. He justifies this by referring to many verses from the Qurʾān, such as this one: “Believe in Allah and His Messenger” (Q. 4 al-Nisāʾ, 136), among other verses.

Ibn Taymiyya and the God of the Philosophers

Adrien Candiard, O.P.

PhD candidate and IDEO member

icon-calendar Tuesday April 23ʳᵈ, 2019 at 5:00 p.m

In the ninth volume of his large book Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql, which constitutes a precise and extremely informed refutation of rationalist ideas, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) devotes almost fifty pages to the refutation of Aristotle’s metaphysical ideas, as presented by Ṯābit b. Qurra (m. 288/901) in his Talḫīṣ.

Unlike philosophers who all presuppose an autonomy of reason in relation to the revelation, Ibn Taymiyya defends the idea that revelation is reason and the starting point of all reasoning.

God cannot be the final cause only (Aristotle’s “unmoved mover”), but must be considered at the same time the efficient cause, which contradicts Aristotle. For Ibn Taymiyya, revelation teaches us that God is both Ilāh (“God”, the final cause as an object of adoration) and Rabb (“Lord”, the efficient cause as a creator). Ibn Taymiyya also refutes the idea that the world is eternal, which is incompatible with revelation, regardless of what philosophers who claim to be Muslim say. Finally, he defends the non-Aristotelian idea that there is willingness in God, as a primary cause. It is by His willingness, and not driven by his desire or by any need, that God creates the world.

The “God of the philosophers”, to use Blaise Pascal’s phrase, is not the revealed Creator God, but only the fruit of the error of a human reason that would be abandoned to itself.

Christians and Muslims under Sharia law in northern Nigeria: A pastor’s perspective

Felix Emeka Udolisa, O.P.

Parish pastor in Gusau, Zamfara State

icon-calendar Tuesday April 2nd, 2019 at 5:00 p.m

Since 1999, the Muslim-majority states of northern Nigeria have decided to apply Sharia law not only to issues regarding personal status (which was already the case before that date), but also to criminal law, which some consider to be unconstitutional. Indeed, states do not have the constitutional competence to apply their own criminal law, in order to guarantee the equality of all citizens under the law, regardless of their place of residence in Nigeria.

Not all Muslims in Nigeria, however, are supportive of these measures in the north. The Yoruba people living in the west of the country, for example, have always had a more conciliatory approach with the minorities living on their territories. On the other hand, in the north, the Hausa and Fulani peoples are much more intolerant of mixed marriages or support for minorities, and the few Christian villages in the region are neglected by the state (i.e. education, health…).

There is a lot of violence in the region: conflicts between sedentary and nomadic groups, drugs, banditry, and sectarianism which is too easily attributed to the Boko Haram group who originated in the east of the country. This group, whose anti-Western rhetoric has seduced populations abandoned by the federal government, has been able to find support even within the army, which makes their eradication very complicated.

Twenty years after the application of Sharia law to criminal law, daily life has normalized, however insecurity remains high, and ethnic and economic tensions remain.

Alfarabi’s Views on Prophecy and Prophethood

Dr. Catarina Belo

Associate professor of philosophy at The American University in Cairo

icon-calendar Tuesday March 19ᵗʰ, 2019 at 5:00 p.m

During this seminar session, Catarina Belo presented the views of al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) on prophecy and prophethood, in the frame of his philosophy of religion. Indeed, the metaphysical and political writings of al-Fārābī seek a harmony between philosophy and religion, as expressed in his vision of the philosopher-king and the prophet.

Al-Ǧurǧānī and the beginning of pragmatics

Dr. Zeinab Taha

Assistant Professor of Arabic Language at the American University of Cairo

icon-calendar Tuesday March 5ᵗʰ, 2019 at 5:00 p.m

There is often a difference between the meaning of words, according to the dictionary, and the intention of the speaker who uses these same words according to his knowledge, culture, religion, or context in which he lives. It is the pragmatic which can, for example, reflect the fact that one can perfectly understand the meaning of each word in a joke, but not understand what is beyond it. The same applies to certain idiomatic expressions. For example, one can perfectly understand what a “watermelon” is, what the verb “to put” means, and what “the stomach” is, yet not understand the expression “he has put a summer watermelon in his stomach” (ḥāṭiṭ fī baṭnihi baṭṭīḫa ṣayfī), which in Egypt means “he is quiet” or “he doesn’t care”.

The first Arab grammarian who explicitly inquired about the difference between the obvious/surface meaning and the speaker’s intended meaning is ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Ǧurǧānī (d. 470/1078). Unlike the grammarians before him, who organize their grammar treatises according to grammatical forms, al-Ǧurǧānī takes as his starting point the speaker’s desired meanings and studies the different ways of rendering them in grammatically correct language.

Inflation in the Mamluk Era

Mr. Oussama al-Saadouni Gamil

PhD student at Dār al-ʿUlūm, Cairo University

icon-calendar Tuesday November 13ᵗʰ, 2018 at 5:00 p.m

Mr. Oussama al-Saadouni Gamil is preparing his doctoral thesis at Dār al-ʿUlūm on inflation during the Mamluk era. He chose to focus on a ten-year period, from 800/1397 to 810/1408, in order to study in as much detail as possible the factors at play, the role of the various figures, and the precise evolution of the prices of essential products. The year 806/1403-1404 marks the beginning of a period of strong price hikes, up to 500% for some products. A low Nile flood, epidemics, and some unfortunate political decisions help to explain the phenomenon. Relief will only come after the implementation of a policy of imposed price reduction by the Sultan al-Muʾayyid Abū al-Naṣr (d. 824/1421) after his coming to power in 815/1412.