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Faith and Fine Art in Early Periods

Panel XI-30, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • This paper examines a bulk of Quranic verses that feature a series of dialogues that, according to the Quran, will occur among the inhabitants of Hell. These verses (for instance, Q 2:165-167; 14: 21; 34:31-33; 37:27-33; 40:46-48) proclaim that a quarrel will emerge on the Day of Judgment among the disbelievers who reside in Fire. Those who were weak (al-ḍuʿafāʾ, al-ladhīna istuḍʿifū) will blame their masters ―those who waxed arrogant (al-ladhīna istakbarū)― for leading them astray in the worldly life. The latter group will deny any responsibility and insist on the culpability of the first group (the weak) who, to the contrary, claimed that they were promised salvation by their “chiefs and great ones.” This arguing that goes back and forth between the two groups reflects a similar dialogue between the disbelievers and “their master” Satan who, intervening in this dispute, will disown his followers altogether, weak or arrogant, and reveals that he cannot come to their aid (Q. 14:22; 59:16). The paper argues that these verses (around 70 verses belonging to 13 passages in 12 suras) form a coherent Quranic discourse that is addressed to a particular audience in the time of proclamation. Given that the majority of these verses are said to belong to the Meccan period, the study considers the social dynamics to which this discourse responds. The examination of this discourse is achieved on three levels. First, on textual level, the intricacies of the verses are scrutinized, particularly the recurrent terminology and its connotation within the Quranic text (such as the emphasized opposition between mustaḍʿafūn and mustakbirūn). Second, on the formal level, the techniques of dialogue employed in the relevant passages are revealed from a literary point of view. Third, on the interpretative level; the classical tafsīr literature is consulted for insights on the Muslim reception(s) of the teachings embedded in those verses.
  • The most comprehensive and arguably most famous collection of ḥadīth forgeries, the Kitab al-Mawḍūʿāt by the 12th-century scholar Ibn al-Jawzī, is also one of the most controversial collections of this genre and has motivated a vivid debate on the conception of this epistemological category with competing collections, critical commentaries, digests, and supplements being published until today. In his seminal Introduction to the Science of Hadith (Muqaddimah fī ʿulūm al-ḥadīth), Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ (d. 1245) voices a critique shared by numerous ḥadīth scholars that Ibn al-Jawzī included in his Book of Forgeries “much for which there is no evidence that it is forged” and which “he should have mentioned only under the general division of weak ḥadīth.” Ibn Ḥajar (d. 1449), however, maintains that the majority of the ḥadīths listed by Ibn al-Jawzī in his collection are indeed forgeries and that the criticism is largely unfounded as it applies only to very few. Using computational methods of Text Reuse Detection, this paper investigates the representativeness of Ibn al-Jawzī’s Kitab al-Mawḍūʿāt for the genre of Mawḍūʿāt collections. Specifically, it uses the Passim algorithm to measure the textual overlap between his work and 11 other Mawḍūʿāt collections compiled between the end of the 11th century and the end of the 19th century. Additionally, it measures the textual overlap between Ibn al-Jawzī’s Kitab al-Mawḍūʿāt and predating works of related genres of ḥadīth literature, such as the genre of transmitter criticism (kutub al-ḍuʿafāʾ) and collections of defective ḥadīth (ʿilal al-ḥadīth). In tracing and quantifying this overlap, our paper explores the historical construction and evolution of the Mawḍūʿāt genre from the 11th century onward. While the canonization of the Ṣaḥīḥayn in the 11th century mirrors the consolidation of Sunni identity, our study of the Mawḍūʿāt genre reveals competing ideologies, methodologies, and ongoing debates within the circle of Sunnī ḥadīth scholars. We suggest that the construction of the Ṣaḥīḥayn’s authority through a “collaborative illusion” of scholarly consensus is achieved through externalizing controversy and relocating the debate to the Mawḍūʿāt genre.
  • How were hadīths about the idyllic past narrated in eighth-century texts like the Musannaf ibn ‘Abd al Razzāq? Whose voice counted and why? Some of these questions strike us as we study the Kitāb al Jihād, i.e., the Chapter on Jihad present in the fifth volume of Musannaf ‘Abd al Razzāq. The ‘Kitāb al Jihād' comprises fifty-seven units; each unit carrying sub-sections of hadīths. I have translated twenty-two out of the fifty-seven units. Different hadīths have varying isnads that reported on the ethics of jihād. I argue that the locations of hadīth transmitters in centers of military power such as in Kufa, Damascus, and Baghdad can offer clues about the function of hadīths compiled in the chapter. Secondly, I argue that at times the isnāds acted more like authors and not just as mere transmitters. I substantiate my argument by carefully studying both the matn and the isnāds of the hadīths. As far as the matn is concerned, the text reveals the immediate objectives of jurists and soldiers on the battlefield. The hadīths are less a recollection of the Prophet’s example, and more an account of the stories and experiences of soldiers serving on the battlefield. I argue that it is largely the stories of later soldiers and jurists that informed the ethics of warfare and the imagination of empire for the early Muslim community. My second argument then leads back to my central question: who are the transmitters? As my study demonstrates, a study of the isnād or the transmitters reveals deeper questions of authorship. My paper investigates the hadīth transmitters mentioned in the isnāds to locate their time period and geographical location. I investigate each transmitter’s background by using biographical dictionaries such as Tabaqāt Ibn Sa’ad and Tārīkh al Kabīr. I also employ online softwares like Jawam’i al Kalim which is a collection of various biographical dictionaries. In my mind, the clusters of like-minded scholars, converge in the garrison towns of Kufa and Basra and are closely tied with the caliphal court. I map the city-wide scholarly map of power to argue that the earliest texts on jihād appeared at sites of imperial expansion, not at sacred sites like Medina. I argue this mapping offers us clues about the imagination of the Islamic empire in the minds of early Muslims and can also depict how the imagination of the empire was justified to the early Muslim community.
  • The well-known Qur’anic verse, “Eat and drink, but do not waste. Verily, He does not love the wasteful!”(7:31) is ubiquitously cited in discourses concerning Islamic eco-ethics. Often referenced as an imperative for frugality, it seems all the more relevant and timely given rising concerns over sustainability, consumption, and other facets of the ongoing environmental crisis. Citations of such verses, however, are often times made without a serious examination of their theological underpinnings and end up participating in attempts to showcase how the normative commands of the Qur’an can align with contemporary, secular ethical injunctions. This paper examines how, within the ontological framework of the Qur’an, the concept of israf or waste can be understood in not only material terms but also epistemic ones. This paper argues that within this Qur’anic framework, epistemic waste occurs when the meaning-content of an existent entity is unacknowledged or insufficiently apprehended by its recipient. Utilizing Ibn ʿArabi’s (d. 1240) hermeneutics in conversation with Said Nursi’s (d.1960) practical theology of approaching the cosmos as scripture or ayat in which divine names are constantly being manifested, this paper examines how israf as conceptualized throughout the Qur’an ought to be given its proper theological orientation when cited in the contexts of Islamic environmentalisms. An environmental ethics grounded in Qur’anic scripture is one that goes much beyond the physical environment. It looks to safeguarding and recognizing the epistemic meaning that each aspect of the world holds and represents, and alongside it of course, the physical entities themselves. As such, this paper looks to how Qur’an 7:31 can be read as a statement concerning the epistemological nature of the world in which all entities are carriers of divine names not to be wasted, materially and epistemically. Understanding israf within the broader theological epistemology of the Qur’an can be a critical step in constructing an Islamic eco-ethic that is not divorced from the broader telos of its scripture.
  • This paper is an attempt to elucidate the perplexing definition of justice (ʾadl) that Shahrastānī attributes to the Ashʾarī school in his Kitāb al-milal wal-niḥal: while Muʾtazilites are said to equate justice with wisdom and rational norms, Ashʾarites allegedly identify justice with God’s disposal of his property according to his free will. In Shahrastānī’s account of Ashʾarism, justice is conceived as nothing less than God “freely disposing of his property and his sovereign dominion (mutaṣṣarrif fī milkihi wa-mulkihi).” In fact, it is in virtue of God’s quality as absolute sovereign owner (al-mālik al-muṭlaq) that good and evil are differentiated. Further, for Ashʾarites, it is in virtue of this very quality that a) God is never obliged to exhaust his capacity or his power in his act and to bring all possible being into existence (i.e. he is not bound by an ontological ‘optimum’, what Lovejoy called the “principle of plenitude”) and b) that he is never obliged to act for a reason or a purpose and perform the act that will be most advantageous for creation (i.e. he is not bound by a moral ‘optimum’). The paper will outline a response to the following question: Why do Ashʾarites consider God’s condition as absolute owner of all things to be the source of the differentiation between good and evil, between justice and injustice? Why is property the source of justice rather than its subset? How does this theology of property shape the nature of reality and morality? It will do so by delineating the various theological-philosophical tensions and concepts against which this Ashʾari theology of property emerged— e.g. 1) the Muʾtazilite concept of a purposeful generous God (jawād) who is obliged to reward good deeds, who does nothing in vain and who cannot “keep in reserve” (iddikhār) the best and most beneficial act (al-aṣlaḥ) for human beings; 2) the Neoplatonic concept of purposeless generosity (jūd) understood as the effusion of all possible being by the One who “possesses nothing”; 3) contemporaneous counter-arguments by the least sympathetic opponent of the theory, Qāḍī ʾAbd al-Jabbār.
  • Harmonizing the tangible and intangible, designs and their meanings, has been a key constituent of fine arts, including arts of the Islamic world. Like other arts, in Islamic art the manifestation of that harmony in its creators, methods, materials, designs, calligraphy, aesthetics, purposes, users and beholders often have religious, regional and social implications, due to which an Islamic artifact cannot be studied in isolation from the factors influencing its creation in any particular paradigm of time and space. Deriving spirit from this sensitivity towards Islamic creativity, this paper will lay emphasis on a significant aspect of Islamic art attributed to the era of the Fatimids, “the ṭirāz”. While admirably preserved, catalogued and academically analyzed from various perspectives by scholars of Islamic art, the purpose of this paper shall be to contextualize the often eschewed feature of “inverse calligraphy” observed on Fatimid ṭirāz, in the light of Fatimid philosophy. This type of arrangement of two pairs of inscriptions facing each other is typical of Fatimid textile art. Of course, the interpretations offered by this paper do not belittle the artistic beauty of single-lined inscriptions on other specimens of Fatimid ṭirāz textiles. Its focus is rather to deepen our observation and interpretation of the creative representation of parallelism in the usage of such inversed inscriptions on these particular textiles. Contemplating the nuances of Fatimid ṭirāz art from a philosophical perspective helps its observer uncover layers of profound meanings and understand its historical significance in the realm of the arts of Islamic world. For the onlookers of such ṭirāz worn by the Fatimid Imam in a grand procession or for the seekers of its sacredness, these ṭirāz textiles stand witness not only to the opulence of the resplendent Islamic art of the Fatimid era, but also to the extensive scope of its artistic appeal that goes far beyond the commonly perceived dichotomy of the secular and the sacred. For brevity, this paper shall focus on a few ṭirāz specimens from the era of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mustanṣir billāh (1036 CE- 1094 CE), currently preserved in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.