World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010



· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE, 20 / 11.30 am - 1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:

Chair: Ismail Albayrak (Australian Catholic University)

Paper Presenter: Ismail Albayrak (Prof., Australian Catholic University), “Modern Turkish Qur'anic Exegesis: With Special Reference to Fethullah Gulen”
Muslim exegetical endeavour in the modern period is a most interesting topic. The last two centuries has been a period of great effort in scrutinizing new attitudes towards the interpretation of the Qur’an among contemporary Muslim intellectuals. Nonetheless, we must admit that many of these works do not cover the exegetical literature in various vernacular languages. Turkish exegesis of the Qur’an constitutes one of the most important missing parts of this literature. In this article, we will focus on the exegetical works of Fethullah Gülen, one of the most influential Turkish scholars of recent times. Although Gülen has not written a complete exegesis on the Qur’an, we will refer to his important exegetical works to show where he stands in relation to the diverse modern Muslim scholarship on the Qur’an. This paper will examine Gülen’s re-reading of the Qur’anic text, his approach to the nature and status of the Qur’an as divine revelation, the notions of abrogation, clear and ambiguous verses, thematic unit among the chapters and verses of the Qur’an, Qur’anic narratives and the occasion of revelation. The main questions that we will tackle in this context are: what is the difference between Gülen’s reading of the Qur’an and that of his counterparts adhering to classical and modern approaches? Does Gülen offer a new reading differing from others, or does he follow very well established exegetical traditions? How does he deal with modern sciences and ongoing scientific developments in relation to Qur’anic verses? Do Muslims need a new type of hermeneutics in their interpretation of the Qur’an? Finally, there will follow a brief conclusion.

Paper Presenter: Shadaab Rahemtulla (Doctoral Student in Islamic Studies, St. Antony's College, Oxford University), “Returning to the Qur’an: Gamal al-Banna, Textual Interpretation and the Question of Authority in Contemporary Islam”
Over the post century the word ‘reform’ has swept through Muslim intellectual circles. Drawing from the pioneering works of Muhammad Abduh in Egypt and Sayyid Ahmed Khan in India, Islamic reformists have sought to interpret the sources of their faith afresh in light of modernity: the hadith literature, the Qur’an, the thousand-year-old intellectual tradition. My paper will examine a seminal, though hitherto surprisingly understudied, feature of this reformist discourse: the ‘return’ to the Qur’an as the prime source of understanding the faith. In particular, my paper will focus on the works of the Cairo-based Muslim intellectual, Gamal al-Banna (b. 1920). The youngest brother of Hasan al-Banna ‘ the famed founder of the Muslim Brotherhood ‘ Gamal al-Banna has made an indelible mark on liberal Islamic circles in the Arab world, publishing extensively on Islamic thought. ‘Returning’ to the Qur’an as the key source of understanding Islam has been the core thematic thread tying together his writings. This paper will examine why exactly Banna puts forth this hermeneutical method. By undertaking a close reading of his two most important tracts on exegesis ‘ Al-’Awda ilaa al-Qur’an (Returning to the Qur’an, 2008) and Tathweer al-Qur’an (Revolutionizing the Qur’an, 2000) ? I will argue that Banna’s hermeneutics seek to undermine the historic mediation of the ‘ulama. Thus, Banna challenges interpretative hierarchy by seeking to understand and experience the word of God directly. And it is precisely for this reason that his writings have aroused the ire of the traditional Islamic establishment, in particular Al-Azhar University. Banna’s readings of the Qur’an are significant because he is hardly alone in this seemingly radical hermeneutical approach. Muslim intellectuals across the world - from Farid Esack in South Africa to Amina Wadud in the United States - have started to interpret the Qur’an without recourse to the vast corpus of commentary literature, reading and reflecting on the original Arabic text and translations. In other words, they have approached the Qur’an with the belief that God does not speak through the prophetic traditions nor the accumulated knowledge of the traditionally trained scholars, who have come to embody the sacred, the authoritative. Rather, God speaks to the community of believers directly, regardless of time and space. The paper will conclude, therefore, by asking the following questions: How has the place of the Qur’an in Muslim life transformed in modernity and what does this return to the founding text signify in the history of the faith?

Paper Presenter: Ilhami Oruçoglu (Research Assistant, PhD., Uludag University Faculty of Theology), “Understanding the Profhet in the Modern World An Approach to the Conception of Prophet Muhammad (pbu) in the Modern Biographies”
In modern times, there has been discussion on religion and its place in human life. Humanism, reformation, deism, natural religion debates resulted in secularization of religion. Religion was no more transcendental and superior to human. Religion was accepted because it is rational. What are beyond the boundaries of reason and experience were ignored. In this view, traditional way of understanding the universe and human were mythological or theological, but humanity reached to the scientific stage and no more needed other then rational explaining. During the enlightenment and its aftermath, lives of prophets were questioned. With the “historical Jesus” debate, the value of the Bible as a source and events about Jesus were criticized, and Jesus was accepted as a mere human and moral teacher. His relation to the God and his supernatural deeds, miracles, were either denied/ignored or rationally explained. From this stand point, orientalists studied the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and arguments gathered from “historical Jesus quest” were used to reconstruct his “real life”. Muslim scholars tried to respond western lives’ of the prophet, but these critics were apologetic and only about facts. They did not aim to argue on the methodology used by western scholars. More over Muslim scholars accepted and used the same methodology in their works. As a result, there are many differences in sources, methodology and the contents between classical “sirah literature” and modern “lives of the prophet”. This paper aims to study these differences and the conception of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the modern world.

Paper Presenter: Salah Rassmea (Independent student, L’Orientale University of Naples), “A New Critical, Linguistic and Historical Approach to the Qur'an. Seeking Universal and Temporal Precepts in European Islam”
In the last decade, international terrorism with Islamic roots has been performed in the name of a religious ideology which has exploited concepts such as Dar al Harb and Jihad to legitimate its offensive against the West and some of those Islamic countries related with it by any relationship. The exploitation of these concepts comes from a literalist and non-contextualized reading of the Holy Qur’an. This interpretation has helped to radicalize contemporary Islamic thought, influencing social, cultural and religious policies in the Islamic world. It has contributed 1) to create a polarized idea of the world, divided into Haram and Wajib; 2) to influence the perception of non-Muslim people as kuffar to avoid or to fight; 3) to return women on the fringe of society, imposing them a marginal rule and a wearing-code the Qur’an doesn’t impose. Accordingly, it becomes critical and obligatory to examine the Qur’an with a renewed interpretation in order to sap the foundations of a literalist doctrine which aims to legitimate the antithesis between Islam and the West and leads the consequent spiritual involution among Islamic societies. Whenever we consider the Qur’an as a Text having a Message that can and should be analysed from both linguistic and historical contexts, we perceive how it can produce new meanings, actually compatible with western values. Without doubting its divine origin, we should also consider the Qur’an as a cultural product of the historical period in which it was revealed. And we cannot study the Qur’an without analysing the social circumstances in which it came down: the Arabic peninsula of the 7th century. Nowadays we need to move towards the Qur’an with a scientific approach which includes, first of all, a double linguistic analysis: synchronically and diachronically. Secondly, a scientific approach to the Qur’an would also allow us to make a historical analysis that aims to contextualize its precepts, in order to highlight which one can be considered universal and which other can be considered subsidiary, regarding just a specific period of time. (E.g. prohibition of alcohol, ban of marriages with non Muslim men, corporal punishments, gender inequity, and so on. Can we Muslim Europeans consider all these as universal precepts of Islam?)

Paper Presenter: Kelly Al-Dakkak (D.Phil. Candidate, University of Oxford) “Classical Methods and Modern Conclusions: Examining Mohamed Talbi’s Historical Reading of the Qur’an”
This paper will present and critically analyse Mohamed Talbi’s historic reading of the Qur’an. Talbi is a Tunisian historian advocating a methodology wherein sacred text is to be read and interpreted in the context of the conditions surrounding it at the time of the revelation (asbab al-nuzul). Using this method, Talbi argues that one can derive general, ethical principles from the Qur’an, separating this core, which he refers to as fitrah, from time bound injunctions, which are abrogated with changing social conditions. The general principles of fitrah can then be applied to find solutions to contemporary social questions. My primary source material is Talbi’s written work in its original Arabic, as supplemented by a series of interviews with Talbi in which I sought clarification on his methodological approach to history and intellectual influences. Based on this body of material, I will present and critique the method by which Talbi derives fitrah. I will then offer case examples of this method, as Talbi assesses current attempts to equate the classical understanding of shri’a with the modern institution of democracy and seeks to apply his methodology to derive an ethical fitrah applicable to the question of governance. I will contrast these examples with a number of applications of asbab al-nuzul, in an attempt to demonstrate that Talbi, like many modern Islamic intellectuals, has deviated from the classical application of tools such as the asbab. Finally, I will present preliminary conclusions on Talbi’s influence both within and beyond academic institutions in the Maghreb, arguing that his work has served to shape the understanding of the role of religious history among a new generation of scholars in North Africa. To this end, I will trace Talbi’s role in prominent methodological debates with fellow Islamic scholars in North Africa, including Mohamed Arkoun and Abdelmajid Charfi, arguing that Talbi’s ideas have had a key role in shaping the modern debate surrounding the use of classical methodological tools, loosely defined, to interpret the Qur’an. My research represents the first comprehensive English language work describing and critiquing Talbi’s historical method. It is my hope that my conclusions will spark further debate and interpretation of Talbi’s work.