Notions of dignity and deficiency – Intertextual approaches to the anthropology of the Qurʾān in contemporary Muslim discourse. Rüdiger Braun, Institut für Systematische Theologie, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg; Hüseyin Çiçek, Erlangen Centre for Islam and Law in Europe, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, 17.09.2015–18.09.2015.
Reviewed by Rüdiger Braun
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (January, 2016)
Notions of dignity and deficiency – Intertextual approaches to the anthropology of the Qurʾān in contemporary Muslim discourse
The challenge of relating one’s own theological anthropology to secular topics such as the inviolability of human dignity has generated in Islamic contexts a highly dynamic discourse around the question of how Islamic anthropology can contribute to cultivation and perfection of the individual self as well as to social ‘humanisation’. In the broader background of anthropological conceptions of Jewish and Christian theology, Islamic theology is increasingly taking into account the discursivity and intertextuality of the qurʾānic proclamation as well as its interactive and productive reference to anthropologoumena of the biblical tradition.
To bring contemporary (Muslim and non-Muslim) perspectives on the dialogical approach of the qurʾānic discourse with earlier religious traditions into a fruitful dialogue, the Chair for the Study of Religions of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg organised an interdisciplinary symposium with the title “Notions of dignity and deficiency – Intertextual approaches to the anthropology of the Qurʾān in contemporary Muslim discourse” in cooperation with the Centre for the Anthropology of Religion(s) (CAR) and the Centre for Islam and Law in Europe (EZIRE) and with funding from the Dr. German Schweiger Foundation and the DFG.
In the three sections of this symposium a total of twelve scholars from different disciplines gave presentations on hermeneutical approaches to the dignity and fallibility of man in the context of the anthropology of the Qurʾān. In this context, the primary focus was on the question of how the myth of Adam, which is encountered in all three traditions and is highly significant from an anthropological viewpoint, is and has been interpreted. A first section on “Holy Scriptures and the myth of man – approaches to the specificity of the qurʾānic discourse” took a scientific approach to the relationship of the qurʾānic proclamation to the biblical tradition and sought to analyse both the allusive referentiality of the qurʾānic discourse as well as its independence and autonomy. A second section on “Qurʾānic Exegesis and the dignity of man - Challenges and Perspectives of Interpretation” was devoted to the scope of the interpretation of anthropologically significant narratives of the Qurʾān in both the classical and contemporary Qurʾānic exegeses. With a more systematically oriented research perspective, the final section on “Hermeneutics of religion - Human dignity between secular universalism and religious legitimacy” sought to trace the dynamics of the qurʾānic discourse, which can be observed in the recent philosophical and hermeneutical dealings with the textual traditions discussed in sections I and II. In contrast to a reductionist search for one or even several ‘Urtexts’ underlying the qurʾānic revelation the essential purpose of the symposium was to work out the specific characteristics that distinguish the qurʾānic discourse in its dealing with the traditions of discourse in the late antique era. A particular challenge is the issue of generative methods that allow an analysis that is as comprehensive as possible of the qurʾānic discourse and its dealings with the late antique tradition.
The extent to which Jewish studies present valuable research perspectives for addressing this question was shown in the first keynote on “Features of theological discussion in the rabbinic Midrash on the Adam-and-Eve-Narrative - Homo imago dei, the fall of man(kind) and the relativisation of atonement“. MATTHIAS MORGENSTERN (Tübingen) introduced the diverse and complex hermeneutical practice in rabbinic interpretations of Genesis, which have always been as such obvious dealings with and responses to the challenges of Christian biblical exegesis. To what extent the demarcations of rabbinical interpretations of Christian understanding of Adam’s fall and its atonement as well as of the creation of man in the ‘image of God’ may facilitate further understanding of qurʾānic references to these biblical traditions can of course only by demonstrated by further interdisciplinary research.
In the subsequent lecture on “Anthropology and the religious dynamics of mythologising: Remarks on various interpretations of the Adam myth in monotheistic traditions” the Turkish scholar CENGIZ BATUK (Samsun) drew particular attention to the special dynamics of conceptualization that are implied in every religious discourse on man. In contrast to the emphasis on ontology in the tradition of Parmenides, Batuk sought to present the qurʾānic anthropological discourse on man as dynamic and de-essentialising, and to differentiate its primary focus on human actions from the static notion of a human “nature”.
In his lecture on “Trialogical Anthropology: The Qurʾān on Adam and Iblīs in View of Rabbinical and Christian Discourse“ HOLGER ZELLENTIN (Nottingham) emphasised by way of contrast the specific logic of anthropological narratives in the Qurʾān, a logic that should only be understood with regard to its contextual embedding in a trialogical setting, which includes Jewish and Christian anthropologies as well. The qurʾānic allusions to the exegetical traditions of Rabbinical Judaism and (particularly) Syriac Christianity, which were circulating orally in the Arabian Peninsula, function in the context of a corrective retelling, which modifies Jewish and Christian interpretations of Adam and incorporates the overall dynamics of the qurʾānic concern for the purity of monotheistic submission.
The diversity and ambiguity of the qurʾānic discourse on man were also the background of the lecture on “Adam and the Meccan sanctuary – Considerations of the qurʾānic stories of the prophets and their biblical context“. In this lecture KHALID EL-AWAISI (Mardin) drew the audience’s attention to the historical-situational and theological-dogmatic strategies of inclusion and exclusion, which are encountered in the qurʾānic proclamation in relation to previous scriptural religions and their followers. Based on a comparative juxtaposition and classification of various Meccan and Medinan narratives he described the process of the first Muslim community’s search for identification, which oscillated with regard to the so-called “people of the book” between recognition, tacit demarcation and open criticism.
The tradition of qurʾānic exegesis formed the central focus of the second section “Qurʾānic Exegesis and the dignity of man”. At its beginning ALI AGHAIE (Berlin) gave a lecture on “The quest of the isrāʾīliyyāt in interpretations of the Biblical stories in the Qurʾān: The life of Adam and Eve as a case” in which he spoke about current research on the Isrāʾīlīyyāt traditions and underlined their importance and relevance for the early Muslim exegesis. This has incorporated these exegetical narrations creatively and productively into their own exegetical tradition and has thus created a specific Islamic ‘Haggadah’, which served the formation of a distinct community identity. By comparing different classes of exegetical traditions to the qurʾānic Adam narrative, Aghaie portrayed the process of an increasing systematisation of Muslim prophetology, for which the sinlessness of Adam became a major concern.
Based on a comparison of qurʾānic stories about the first human couple with its interpretations in the later exegesis of the Qurʾān, DINA EL OMARI (Münster) pointed out the profound contrast between the textual witness of the Qurʾān and the Isrāʾīlīyyāt-narratives, which are interwoven into these interpretations. In her lecture on “Adam and Eve in the perspective of contemporary feminist exegesis of the Qurʾān” El Omari saw a way of overcoming this misogynist tradition, which characterises in particular the traditional Islamic jurisprudence, in a more holistic and intra-textual method of interpretation, as represented in today’s Muslim exegesis (especially by feminist theologians). Such a method would be able to identify the basic intentionality of the qurʾānic discourse, which is aimed at egalitarian structures of human life.
The narrative dynamics of the qurʾānic discourse itself was the topic of SHIRIN SHAFAIE (Oxford) in her presentation on „Betwixt and Between Existentialism, Divinity and Prophethood – Reflections on the intertextuality of the Joseph/Yusuf story”. She discussed the narrative on Joseph as a basis for her reflections on the intertextuality between the Bible and the Qurʾān. Contrary to the deeply ambiguous image of the Jewish patriarch in Genesis, the Qurʾān portrays in his anticipation of the Joseph narrative an image of a confident prophet, who occurs as a preacher of pure monotheism. Starting from the question of the function of this narrative, Shafaie clarified the interlinked levels of identity-based and anthropological discourses, which can hardly be separated from each other, and analysed the underlying theological premises of the qurʾānic discourse.
The qurʾānic art of storytelling was also the focus of the last lecture of this section. In his remarks on “The story of Adam’s sin and repentance – Towards a contextual reading of the qurʾānic anthropology in contemporary Muslim exegesis of the Qurʾān” RÜDIGER BRAUN (Erlangen) presented a typology of hermeneutical approaches in the Muslim exegesis of the Qurʾān and gave insights into interpretations of the qurʾānic Adam narratives from the perspective of historical-contextual and literary-rhetorical approaches. Based on the analysis of selected works in Turkish and Arabic-speaking Muslim scholarship he discussed the extent to which a focus on specific characteristics of the qurʾānic discourse (rhetorical structures, typology, intra- and intertextuality) could provide transparent criteria for self-reflexive and historically sensitive hermeneutics of the Qurʾān.
The third section, “Hermeneutics of religion - Human dignity between secular universalism and religious legitimacy” opened with a second keynote, in which BURHANETTIN TATAR (Samsun), lectured on “Time and historicity of man in the context of his divine destiny”. According to the subtitle of his lecture “Reflections on intertextual anthropology and alterity in the perspective of modern hermeneutics” Tatar drew particular attention to the problem of essentializing access to sacred texts and their syndromes of meaning, a problem, which is widespread especially in the traditional Muslim exegesis of the Qurʾān. Thus the recourse to the Adam-Narratives, both in classical qurʾānic exegesis as well as in the traditional science of Hadith, often served the production of “conceptualized images of man”, which could increasingly result in losing sight of the dynamism and transformative openness of qurʾānic anthropology.
The potential of the transformative was also the subject of the subsequent lecture “Human dignity and the creativeness of Muslim fiqh”, in which MOUEZ KHALFAOUI (Tübingen) presented “Reflections on transformations in contemporary Muslim approaches to the challenges of a secular age”. After a critical assessment of classical Islamic jurisprudence, Khalfaoui drew attention to certain formulations in recent Muslim declarations of human rights, which go far beyond the previous traditional consensus and whose transformative potential needs to be reflected also at the level of implementation. Khalfaoui was critical of the widespread practice of highlighting the contrast between a supposedly ‘western’ and a supposedly ‘Muslim’ conception of liberty and dignity and pointed out the variety of conceptions of human dignity that already exist in the ‘western’ discourse. He also underlined the need to understand liberty and liberality as dynamic topoi, which always react to new challenges of our time and for whose shaping Muslims must also make a contribution.
That religious authentication of secular notions of human dignity and human rights should not be an impossible task for Muslims was also stressed by MEHMET SAIT REÇBER (Ankara) in his lecture on “Islam, the Enlightenment and the justification of human dignity”. The “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals” (Kant) and its central formula of man as “an end in itself” formed the starting point for his reflections on basic assumptions of the qurʾānic anthropology and its formulation in the later Muslim theology. In qurʾānic references to the epistemic disposition of man and to his God-given assets, Reçber saw possible starting points for the formulation of a Muslim anthropology that meets the Enlightenment requirements of a radically autonomous subordination to moral law while at the same time avoids an anthropological (secular) reductionism.
The third section’s final lecture by MOHAMED SERAG (Cairo) on “Dignity, deficiency and ‘the Other’: Investigations into contemporary Muslim law defining the rights and obligations of Non-Muslims with a special focus on the maqāṣid aš-šarīʿa” was intended to shed more light on the intentionality of Islamic legal principles and the possibility of redefining Islamic law with regard to non-Muslim communities. Serag’s contribution, which had to be cancelled due to illness, will appear together with the other contributions of the symposium in an anthology.
Rüdiger Braun (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg): Greeting and Opening
Holy Scriptures and the myth of man – Approaches to the specificity of the qurʾānic discourse
Chair: Rüdiger Braun, Hüseyin Çiçek, EZIRE
Keynote-Lecture I: Matthias Morgenstern (Tübingen): „Features of theological discussion in the rabbinic Midrash on the Adam-and-Eve-Narrative - Homo imago dei, the fall of man(kind) and the relativization of atonement“
Lecture II: Cengiz Batuk (Samsun): “Anthropology and the religious dynamics of mythologising: Remarks to various interpretations of the Adam myth in monotheistic traditions“
Lecture III: Holger Zellentin (Nottingham): „Trialogical Anthropology: The Qurʾān on Adam and Iblīs in View of Rabbinic and Christian Discourse“
Lecture IV: Khalid El-Awaisi (Mardin): „Adam and the meccan sanctuary – Considerations of the qurʾānic stories of the prophets and their biblical context“
Qurʾānic exegesis and the dignity of man – Challenges and perspectives of interpretation
Chair: Hüseyin Çiçek, EZIRE; Rüdiger Braun
Lecture I with discussion: S. Ali Aghaei (Berlin, Corpus Coranicum): „The quest of the isrāʾīliyyāt in interpretations of the Biblical stories in the Qurʾān: The life of Adam and Eve as a case“
Lecture II with discussion: Dina El Omari (Münster): „Adam and Eve in the perspective of contemporary feminist Exegesis of the Qurʾān“
Lecture III with discussion: Shirin Shafaie (Oxford): „Betwixt and Between Existentialism, Divinity and Prophethood – Reflections on the intertextuality of the Joseph/Yūsuf story”
Lecture IV with discussion: Rüdiger Braun (Erlangen): “The story of Adam’s sin and repentance – Towards a contextual reading of the qurʾānic anthropology in contemporary Muslim exegesis of the Qurʾān“
Hermeneutics of religion - Human dignity between secular universalism and religious legitimacy
Chair: Hüseyin Çiçek, EZIRE; Rüdiger Braun
Keynote-Lecture I (II) with discussion: Burhanettin Tatar (Samsun): “Time and historicity of man in the context of his divine destiny: reflections on intertextual anthropology and alterity in the perspective of modern hermeneutics”
Lecture II with discussion: Mouez Khalfaoui (Tübingen): „Human dignity and the creativeness of Muslim fiqh – Reflections on transformations in contemporary Muslim approaches to the challenges of a secular age”
Lecture III with discussion: Mehmet Sait Reçber (Ankara): “Islam, the Enlightenment and the justification of human dignity”
Lecture IV with discussion: Muhammad Serag (Kairo): „Dignity, deficiency and ‘the Other’. Investigations into contemporary Muslim law defining the rights and obligations of Non-Muslims with a special focus on the maqāṣid aš-šarīʿa“
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