MESA Banner
Arabic Rhetoric, Exegesis, and Interpretation

Session VII-16, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 1078 or 1081) revolutionized Arabic-Islamic theories of poetic imagery in his masterpiece, Asrār al-balāghah (The Secrets of Eloquence). The vast majority of the poetic verses he examines contains some form of analogy (tamthīl) or comparison more broadly (tashbīh), including mock-analogy (takhyīl). The psychological effects of these comparisons, and the listener’s process of discovering the intended similarity have been studied in depth (Kamal Abu Deeb, Lara Harb). In this paper I turn to a minority of verses that do not display comparisons, which al-Jurjānī discusses in his later work, Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz (The Signs of Inimitability). Under the rubric of metaphorical predication (majāz ḥukmī or majāz fī al-ithbāt), al-Jurjānī delineates the poetics of such figurative utterances. I will discuss the verses in question and explain how they differ from everyday instances of metaphorical predication. Contrary to al-Jurjānī’s usual predilection for the “new” poetry of the Abbasids (Nejmeddine Khalfallah), poetic instances of metaphorical predication seem to be limited to the pre- and early Islamic era. A hypothesis for the rarity of this phenomenon will be provided.
  • Scholarship has often approached the classical Arabo-Islamic discourse of i’jaz al-Qur’an (a term that is often rendered ‘the miraculous inimitability of the Qur’an’) with a focus on its aesthetic, rhetorical, and literary dimensions. Contributions to i’jaz al-Qur’an discourse have frequently been read with an eye toward understanding the ways in which classical-era Muslim theologians conceived of the Qur’an’s beauty and rhetorical power. However, alongside these important defining characteristics of the i’jaz al-Qur’an tradition, there are additional currents that played meaningful roles in the development of this discourse. Taking into account these less-studied aspects of the texts can contribute to more nuanced understandings of i’jaz al-Qur’an and the way it is situated within Islamic thought. This paper explores the ways in which two interrelated issues figure into Abbasid-era texts on the language of the Qur’an. The first issue is the question of the Qur’an’s interpretability, that is, the extent to which the meanings of the Qur’an’s verses are available to human interpreters through the Arabic language. The second interrelated issue concerns the ways in which the Qur’an’s use of vocabulary and grammar relates to the established conventions of the Arabic language. This paper traces the ways in which these issues concerned some theologians who contributed to discourse on the Qur’an’s language and its interpretability, with a focus on the writings of Abu Muhammad Abd Allah ibn Qutayba (d. 276/889), Hamd ibn Muhammad al-Khattabi (d. 388/998), and Abu Bakr al-Baqillani (d. 403/1013). In investigating Ibn Qutayba’s Ta’wil mushkil al-Qur’an and al-Khattabi’s Bayan i’jaz al-Qur’an, this paper discusses their structure, their approach to explicating particular ayat, and what they reveal about contemporaneous debate over Qur’anic language. It then traces the ways in which echoes of the concerns that animated Ibn Qutayba and al-Khattabi’s work appear in al-Baqillani’s Kitab I’jaz al-Qur’an. Shedding light on the ways in which the earlier texts reflect anxiety about the Qur’an’s interpretability and the availability of its meanings through language in turn allows for a reading of al-Baqillani’s work that is more grounded in i’jaz al-Qur’an discourse’s historical development. Tracing the development of concerns about interpretability and language use within i’jaz al-Qur’an discourse recasts the stakes of writings in this genre and helps situate i’jaz discourse more firmly in relation to other Arabo-Islamic discourses, most notably tafsir and apologetics. In these ways, this paper contributes to understandings of i’jaz al-Qur’an discourse in its historical development.
  • The text of the Qurʾān has been a source of inspiration but at the same time a multi-layered text which allowed diverse communities of Muslims engage with it exercising their agencies within the contexts of their preferred traditions and interpretations. Among these, the Muʿtazila, Shiʿi Ismaili Muslims, Muslim philosophers and Sufis are quite prominent but not to the exclusion of other Sunni traditions. Almost all these communities have been practicing ‘taʾwīl’ to some degree. Differences have come from their unique traditions and the axiomatic postulates which have shaped their traditions. In this paper, I will look at the cases of the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʿ, Ibn Sīnā, Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān, al-Muʾayyad fī al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī, ʿAyn al-Quḍāt Hamadānī and Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī to offer a comparative critical assessment of some of the key principles in applying hermeneutical exegesis to the Qurʾān. This paper demonstrates that all these different Muslim traditions have applied allegorical or metaphoric interpretations of the Qurʾān in order to resolve what appeared to them as inconsistency and remain coherent in their understanding of the Muslim canonical scripture. I will briefly look at the key arguments offered by these for the necessity of resorting to taʾwīl and then I will review and assess the common grounds and differences among them.
  • Medieval Sufi “Instruction Manuals" are a genre replete with tales of divine and miraculous oneiric encounters: some holy men meet with Muhammad nightly; other saints sit at the footstool of God and receive direct revelations; still other sheikhs can visit the dreams of their disciples, instructing them in the fine details of Sufi praxis and theology. Rejecting a disenchanted modern ontology that views the Sufi dream as a "mere" dream or reduces it to the product of neurotic conflict, this paper engages in a close reading of several medieval Sufi instruction manuals in order to address the following questions: how do medieval Sufi masters understand the ontology of the dream-state? Is the dream-state an alternative realm, such as the Barzakh in the cosmology of Ibn Arabi, for example? Could we produce a cartography of the dream-realm, or map out Sufi sites of interest in this alternative plane of being? How would a Sufi go about "mastering" the dream state in order to enter into the dreams of lay-people, disciples, and even kings by their own volition? Finally, how can we understand Sufi conceptions of the dream within their larger medieval intellectual context? Broadly speaking, much of the pre-modern world shared a common set of assumptions about the veridical and divine nature of certain kinds of dreams. Moreover, this pre-modern consensus was rooted in a commonly-held set of Greco-Roman oneiric source-texts. In spite of the geographic distance between ‘Islamdom’ and ‘Christendom,’ philosophically their oneiric paradigms were rooted in the shared soil of classical antiquity. What were these shared source-texts, and can we trace their influence in Sufi dream-accounts?