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Faith and Representation

Panel I-27, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • We live in a world that focuses on the ugly. Hate crimes, political polarity, and the looming doom of the climate crisis are but a few headlines that make up our insatiable news feeds. When it comes to the Muslim world, the ugliness is exacerbated with Islamophobia on one end and Islamic fundamentalism on the other. Their rhetoric often uses religion to justify atrocities on either end. The ugliness impacts the lives of millions of people inside and outside the Muslim world. While it is important to address such issues in an effort to find solutions, this paper proposes a supplemental approach. In this paper I present a new theological framework that posits iḥsān as a Qurʾānic epistemology. How the concept of iḥsān represents an overarching epistemology in the Qurʾān is the key point of inquiry in this study. What role does iḥsān hold in the Qurʾānic moral fabric? How does the Qurʾān construct a worldview that centers iḥsān? In what ways is iḥsān used to mitigate ugliness? These are some of the questions this paper explores. The triliteral Arabic root ḥ.s.n. combines the meanings of beauty and goodness, it occurs 194 in the Qurʾān. Through a comprehensive and holistic intra-Qurʾānic investigation, I trace the different occurrences of the root to analyze the conceptual meaning of iḥsān in the Qurʾān. I adopt the tools of literary analysis and the principles of Arabic morphology to construct an iḥsān paradigm in the Qurʾān. In this paradigm the Qurʾān centers iḥsān as a marker of Creator and of creation, one that lies at the core of a harmonious universe. The Qurʾān then mandates believers to reciprocate iḥsān as part of an ongoing God-human dialectic. In this paper, I demonstrate how the Qurʾān adopts iḥsān as an overarching epistemological lens in which ethics and aesthetics are combined to counter ugliness in its various forms. The ramifications of these findings impact issues related to the fields of religious ethics, positive psychology, conflict resolution, inter-faith dialogue, and environmental protection to name a few.
  • The Lord is One, but Cloaked in Many Garments: Situating the Multivalence of ʿAlī Centered Topoi Within the Gināns Abstract The ginān tradition as a discourse is imbedded within an esoteric Ismāʿīlī vernacular taʾwīl, drawing upon both an Indic, and Qurʾānic weltanschauung. ʿAlī, as a reference to the person of the first Shīʿī Imām, the Ismāʿīlī Imāms in general, and to the esoteric metaphysical reality of the divine nūr of ʿAlī all feature prominently within the Ismāʿīlī gināns. As such, the gināns invoke ʿAlī within a host of narrative and theological roles and contexts. Drawing upon these Subcontinent, Qurʾānic, and prior Ismāʿīlī themes, the gināns frame their invocation of ʿAlī within a matrix of theologically significant narrative variegation. ʿAlī appears in nar nakalaṅk kerī vāt as messianic symbol, and as theomorphic and theophanic divine guide, the niraṅjan having been disclosed through the rūp of ʿAlī. In gināns such as sarve jivuṅnā jyāre lekhāṅ leshe, (as in the preceding ginān) ʿAlī is identified as, (at the time of composition), the contemporary Ismāʿīlī Imām. ʿAlī likewise features in the ginān hak tuṅ pāk tuṅ bādshāh as king, creator, lord, and judge; the very avatār of divinity itself. In a host of gināns, ʿAlī epitomizes multiple roles; the satgur, the pīr, the intimate friend, divine spouse, king, creator, and as the qāyam (in the ginānic context, the eternally living divine lord of the resurrection). This paper explores the variegation of these topoi, and the rhetorical modality of their deployment. It further traces the interconnectivity of these themes; the portrayal of ʿAlī within the gināns fulfills concomitant theophanic, theomorphic, and theonomous narrative functions. ʿAlī is a profoundly polysemous linguistic referent within the ginānic theological vocabulary. The gināns as such are therefore a body of vernacular commentary on scriptural discourses, and function as sacred texts unto themselves; for the faithful, conveying the words of the pīrs and the divine articulations of the infallible Imāms. Situating the various forms of ginānic discourse in which ʿAlī is invoked, allows us to approach the pluriformity of rhetorical and theological function that such references to ʿAlī serve within the gināns. The confluence and interplay of these topoi form a foundational facet of the broader theosophy articulated within the ginān tradition. Further, it elucidates the way in which gināns function as didactic theological enterprise, embodying the teachings of the Ismāʿīlī Imām, and spiritual taʾwīl of the material from which they draw upon.
  • This paper argues that President Nasser’s systematic appropriation of al-Azhar in the 1950s and 1960s not only subsumed the religious institution under the purview of the state for the purpose of furthering its national political agendas, but also it effectively put an end to al-Azhar’s “ālamiyyah” and implemented a coercive, systematic, and all-encompassing transformation of the transnational identity of the Ulamā. The term “ālamiyyah” not only refers to the global reach and esteemed position of al-Azhar, in that its influence and self-proclaimed responsibility extend beyond the boundaries of Egypt, but it is also a recognition of this global status and responsibility by the Ulamā, who internalized and incorporated it into their identity to the extent that it became a defining element of who they are and what they do. While most scholars who have written about al-Azhar did not theorize it within an “institutional identity” framework, they primarily focused on its educational and pedagogical characteristics as constitutive of the religious institution’s historical identity. However, they have always ignored al-Azhar’s “ālamiyyah” as an essential integral part of this identity. Ironically, most scholars used the term “nationalization” to describe Nasser’s control of al-Azhar, however they have failed to fully consider a crucial aspect of this so-called “nationalization” process, that is, the severance of the autonomous link between al-Azhar and the Muslim Ummah, which engendered a profound transformative shift in both the institutional character and collective identity of the Ulamā. This transformation repositioned al-Azhar and constrained its global outreach within the boundaries circumscribed by the state’s foreign policy. The global aspirations of al-Azhar were fundamentally suppressed by the state’s political agenda and were cast to confirm to its diplomatic objectives, as the institution’s ability to act independently on the global stage was significantly curtailed. This represented a stark deviation from the pre-Nasser era, during which al-Azhar enjoyed a measure of autonomy in the realization of its global aspirations. This paper seeks to answer the following question: How did the comprehensive coercive reinstitutionalization of al-Azhar under President Nasser affect its once autonomous connection to the Muslim Ummah? To answer this question, a multifaceted methodology was employed, encompassing a thorough examination of primary sources such as Majallut al-Azhar, al-Ahram Daily, speeches, interviews, and statement of al-Azhar senior scholars.