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Orthodoxy and Literary Innovation: Science, Religion, and Poetry

Panel V-22, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • Dr. Arafat Razzaque -- Chair
  • Mohammad Khalil -- Presenter
  • Anna Galietti -- Presenter
  • Iman Darwish -- Presenter
  • Dr. I-Wen Su -- Presenter
  • Anthony Baldwin -- Presenter
  • The pre-modern Arabic literary canon as it was developed during the Abbasid caliphate (c. 750-1258 CE) comprises limited examples of naqāʾiḍ (invective flytings) poetry. Furthermore, the canonical naqāʾiḍ were composed by a small number of poets during a relatively brief period, namely, the Umayyad era (c. 661-750 CE). Why might this be? My hypothesis is that the two most canonical naqāʾiḍ poets, Jarīr and al-Farazdaq, achieved special fame for their corpus of naqāʾiḍ for two main reasons: first, because of the way in which they weave together the multiple temporalities that flow through them to create a lasting and resonant experience of time; and second, because they served the political projects and literary tastes of the Abbasid scholars who incorporated them into the literary canon they constructed over the course of the third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries. Jarīr (d. 111/729) and al-Farazdaq's (d. 110/728) naqāʾiḍ are a seminal work of pre-modern Arabic literary canon; how their naqāʾiḍ achieved the status of Arabic literary classic, however, raises many interesting questions about Arabic literary history, how literary canons take shape, and what it means to become a canonical literary work. In this paper, I will discuss the role of temporality in canonical literature using a two-poem invective exchange between Jarīr and al-Farazdaq as a case study. Based on this analysis, I argue that each poem weaves threads in the direction of a multitude of temporalities and creates its own temporal world; I term this temporal textile “poem-time,” and beyond being a quality of these two specific late seventh-century Arabic poems, it is possible that the creation of a particular type of poem-time is an important factor that can and often does contribute to the consideration of a literary work as a classic.
  • Anthony Baldwin
    The third ʿAbbasid caliph, al-Mahdī (r. 775–785), held a complex relationship with religion and theology. On the one hand, he made strives to heal divisions between the ʿAbbasids and ʿAlids. On the other hand, he promoted orthodoxy by suppressing, and at times even attempting to eradicate, heresy. As al-Mahdī worked to promote unity within Islam while oppressing heresy, how did Christians view his rule in Baghdad? While al-Ṭabarī (839–923) recorded a detailed account al-Mahdī’s reign, he gave few glimpses into his interactions with Christians in Baghdad. Further, how can Christian sources inform the modern study of the early ʿAbbasid period? In this paper, I argue that although Islamic sources presented al-Mahdī as a zealous defender of orthodoxy, Christians from Baghdad presented the caliph as a benevolent and just ruler in pursuit of truth. Two Christian sources in particular—the Disputation with the Caliph of Timothy I, Patriarch of the Church of the East (ca. 740–823) and the Martyrdom of Habo, the Perfumer from Baghdad—depicted events in Baghdad during his reign. In Timothy’s Disputation, which appears to preserve some elements of a verifiable dialogue between Timothy and al-Mahdī, the caliph is presented as a just ruler genuinely in pursuit of truth. While the Syriac version (published by Alphonse Mingana) and early Arabic translation (published by Samir Khalil Samir and Wafik Nasry) of this text hold significant differences, they both contain these positive depictions of al-Mahdī. The Martyrdom of Habo is an eighth-century Georgian text which recounted the conversion of Habo, a Muslim perfumer from Baghdad during the reign of al-Mahdī. The perfumer resolutely faced martyrdom under the reign of al-Mahdī’s son Musa al-Hādī (r. 785–786). Although a hagiographical and embellished account, this work praised the rule of al-Mahdī even while showing animosity to lower-level Muslim magistrates. This study seeks to inform broader discussions on religious tolerance and the boundaries between Christianity and Islam during the early ʿAbbasid era. In this it seeks to contribute to foundations established by Robert Hoyland (Seeing Islam as Others Saw It), Michael Philip Penn (Envisioning Islam), and Jack Tannous (The Making of the Medieval Middle East), adding that these two sources can help to show the multifaceted nature of early Muslim-Christian relationships.
  • Dr. I-Wen Su
    As hadith, which records words and actions attributed to the Prophet Muḥammad, became a scriptural source in Muslim legal-ritual discourses, hadith criticism, which examines the authenticity of a hadith and the reliability of narrators involved in its transmission, flourished in the ninth century, when hadith critical works were written or compiled. Among the ninth-century contributors to hadith criticism, Ibrāhīm b. Yaʿqūb al-Saʿdī al-Jūzjānī (d. 259/873?) authored the first work exclusively dedicated to evaluation of hadith transmitters, but remains obscure and understudied in modern hadith scholarship. By closely analyzing the organizational structure of his surviving work, Aḥwāl al-rijāl, his use of hadith critical terminology, and his methodological innovation, this paper suggests that al-Jūzjānī’s approach to hadith criticism can be characterized as unconventionally intolerant of non-Sunnī sectarians but paradoxically influential on hadith scholarly literature. Departing from the earlier hadith critics, who did not consistently consider extrinsic factors such as sectarian tendencies in their evaluation of hadith transmitters, al-Jūzjānī systematically integrates “religious orthodoxy” into the framework of hadith criticism by employing morally judgmental terms and impugning hadith transmitters’ credentials on account of their religious “deviation”, which is presented by al-Jūzjānī as equally detrimental as mendacity to the preservation of authentic hadith. Although al-Jūzjānī’s harsh judgments on hadith transmitters with mild Shīʿī tendencies were often rejected by later hadith critics and led to the Nāṣibī accusation, this paper argues that his approach nonetheless informs the disciplinary development of hadith criticism and even precipitates the introduction of “moral uprightness” (ʿadāla) into its conceptual framework.
  • Iman Darwish
    One of the most influential books in the history of Arabic Botany and Medicine was Galen's "On the Powers [and Mixtures] of Simple Drugs (De Simplicium Medicamentorum)" which presented both his theory of pharmacology as well as a practical part that provided information on various simple drugs. Along with Dioscorides "Materia Medica" those texts were foundational to Arabic Botany and medicine. Powers of drugs expressed how they influenced the balance of the human body, and determining those powers became a central aspect in the formulation of the theory of mizāj/mixtures. But it also emerged as an essential theme in the overlap between medicine and philosophy. It embodied a set of epistemological questions that tested the boundaries of these disciplines and in many ways defined relations between them. The central question of this inquiry of How to determine the power of a simple drug was a question of scientific methodology that drew on the foundations of Epistemology: Reasoning (Qiyas) and Experience (Tajruba). In my paper, I examine how those epistemic categories were developed and expanded in the Arabic literature of Materia Medica during the 10th-11th Century through the works of several physicians and botanists, including Ibn Abi al- Ash'ath (d.c. 970), Ibn al-Jazzar (d. 979), Al-Majusi (d. 994) and Avicenna (d. 1037). I argue that those categories developed in innovative ways that borrowed from methodologies beyond Medicine and Natural philosophy.
  • In multiple places in the Qur’an, we encounter the story of Moses in Sinai returning to his fellow Israelites after having received from God the “tablets” (al-alwāḥ). He returns with anger, however, as he learns that many of his fellow Israelites have taken to worshiping a golden calf. Moses condemns the practice, and in just one version of the story, in Qur’an 2:54, he issues a peculiar command: “So repent to your creator and kill yourselves” (fa-tūbū ilā bāri’ikum fa-qtulū anfusakum). This Mosaic directive appears at first blush to parallel the biblical version of the story, specifically Exodus 32:27, where Moses commands the Levites to kill many of their fellow Israelites. Although the details are disputed, this general conception of a large-scale execution was adopted by many Muslim exegetes. This interpretation is congruous with certain controversial hadith but stands in stark contrast to various Qur’anic directives pertaining to Muḥammad’s community. The latter include the prohibition, “Do not kill yourselves” (wa-lā taqtulū anfusakum) (Qur’an 4:29). Numerous exegetes explain Qur’an 2:54 by invoking abrogation (naskh): the Mosaic law (shar‘) was somewhat different from the final law revealed to Muḥammad. But not every exegete took the Mosaic command in Qur’an 2:54 to be confirmation of the biblically supported notion of mass execution, preferring instead to emphasize the coherence and consistency of the Qur’anic message. A minority of influential rationalist (mutakallim), Sufi, and modernist exegetes imagined alternative “killings,” for instance, a “killing” of the ego or a “mortification.” These exegetes include, among others, al-Qāḍī ‘Abd al-Jabbār (d. 415/1025), ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī (d. 736/1335), and Muhammad Asad (d. 1992). I will argue that the most compelling and coherent dissenting view among prominent premodern exegetes is that presented by the influential Ḥanafī theologian, Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī (d. 333/944) of Samarqand. Invoking other Qur’anic versions of the same Mosaic narrative, al-Māturīdī challenges the prevailing reading of the “kill yourselves” command on the grounds that, contrary to the biblical version, the Qur’an presents the command as having been issued after the guilty ones repented and reverted to the unadulterated worship of God. Furthermore, al-Māturīdī demonstrates problems with the abrogation claim and, through linguistic and thematic analyses of certain key Qur’anic terms and notions appearing elsewhere (including Qur’an 2:84, 4:66, and 9:111), presents compelling hermeneutic reassessments of the “kill yourselves” command. Finally, al-Māturīdī shows how even a literal reading of the command need not suggest consummated killings.