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Orphans in the Qur’an – Justice between Generations (audio of conference paper)

The audio from my paper on ‘Orphans in the Qur’an – Justice between Generations’, delivered as part of the SOAS Conference ‘The Qur’an: Text, Society & Culture’ in November 2013 is up on the SOAS website. The link is here: http://www.soas.ac.uk/islamicstudies/conferences/quran2013/ (I speak last on Panel 13: Ethics II, which is right at the bottom of the page).

Viva Passed

By the grace of God, I passed my recent viva, held at SOAS. The external examiner was Ian Netton (Exeter), a very senior academic and intellectual historian. The internal examiner was Ian Edge (SOAS), an academic and practising lawyer, specialising in Islamic law. It was a very friendly and positive session, although aspects of my approach, particularly my use of Hadith, were of course challenged. As well as defending my methodology, I tried to take on board their constructive and informed criticism. By the end of the viva, it was made clear that much of their comments were offered to help me think about taking the work forward to future publication and they did not require me to make corrections on my PhD itself. I am soon submitting the final hard-bound copy of my dissertation, which will lead to award of the formal doctorate, inshallah.

PhD Update

Finally, after three years of work, my thesis is starting to come together into a coherent whole. It is not finished yet by any means, but I feel clear about my contribution to the subject, inshallah, and am quite positive about the value of my study. I am not ready to make public my full thesis yet, but it won’t be too long before that day comes. There are also some interesting bits and pieces that I have written, which diverged too much from my main topic and so will not make it into the final draft. These might just turn up on here at some point. Much salam to all those who pass through here, I hope you like the updated format.

A Brief Critique of Atomistic Tafsir

This is a key quotation by Badr al-Din al-Islahi, which I have preliminarily translated from Arabic, in which he critiques the Qur’anic commentators that came before Abd al-Hamid al-Farahi for their limitation in understanding the scripture’s composition (nazm/nizam):

‘Despite their appreciated effort, their exertion was not spent except in disclosing the coherence between adjacent verses, or the following and previous surahs, and they did not make an examination in regard to the coherence with which the speech is composed from its beginning to its end so that it becomes a single piece. Therefore, they were content with merely explaining the coherence between them [verses and surahs] without looking to a general, comprehensive command for everything that the verse or the surah comprises. For this reason they did not hit the mark in most places, rather they proceeded haphazardly. That was because most of the verses and likewise most of the surahs also are not connected in every place, rather the following verse or surah perhaps is connected with that some way before it, so the one searching for coherence between them whilst lacking [knowledge] of their flow, how can he be guided to their composition? And how can he understand their objective? So if he proceeds at random in regard to them it is not at all strange.’ [al-Farahi, Dala’il al-Nizam, p. 4]

Developing my Topic

I’ve taken a break from putting up my old MA essays though I do intend to put them all up eventually. I’m trying to get stuck into narrowing down my research topic so I can get a proper plan and timetable together. My focus seems to change all the time at the moment, but I’m sure I want to deal with Qur’anic social ethics in some form. Here’s a recent couple of paragraphs I wrote in a document called PhD Notes 1 which has now reached 4000 words:

I am interested in studying the specific manner in which the Qur’anic language, rhetoric and composition presents social ethics, or as M. A. Draz puts it ‘collective and universal virtue’ and its relationship to a Qur’anic ethical theory. The Qur’anic address speaks to the believers, yet is also addressed to all humanity despite being revealed in Arabic. This touches on the issue of the problem of claiming ‘universality’ for any discourse which is – necessarily – grounded in a particular language and cultural environment.

I will contend that while these social ethical precepts are well known as individual statements, it has been rare to study them as they occur within the context of their passages, surahs and the Qur’an as a whole. An interesting conceptual approach is that the Qur’anic verses, as revealed in sections, gave ethical instruction within the context of the developing life of the nascent Muslim community and its allies/opponents. However, the compositional structure of the completed Qur’an can be seen as giving ethical instruction for all future times, both to the community and universally. This makes use of a theoretical and a theological approach. Theoretically, nazm (compositional) theory needs to be utilised extensively. Theologically, the rationally universal dimension of Qur’anic ethics can be difficult to argue except from the Maturidi school’s approach, as for a non-believer the ethical side must be presented according to rationality and the idea that the human mind is capable of judging on this basis. In other words there is a difference between saying “Accept these Qur’anic ethics because they come from God” and “Accept these Qur’anic ethics because of these reasons”. Of course, the Qur’an says both, which to some extent explains the existence of the Ashari and Maturidi positions on the matter.