The History of the Quran: Why is there no State of the Art?
The following is a lecture given by Dr. Stefan Wild on the history of the Quran. Dr. Stefan Wild is a leading scholar in oriental studies, the Quran, Arabic lexicography, classical and modern Arabic literature. Dr. Stefan Wild is the only modern Western scholar in the field of oriental studies to be invited to Medina to participate in a scholarly debate about the Quran.
This particular lecture was sponsored by Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. It was the Fall 2010 H. A.R. Gibb Arabic & Islamic Studies Lectures.
I’ve taken the time to transcribe much of this lecture because there is a lot of misinformation floating around about the Quran. For example, many westerners have recently been arguing that the Quran promises grapes or dates and not virgins in Paradise. This is based on a tenuous hypothesis proposed by a scholar who writes under the pseudonym “Christoph Luxenberg.” This is a hypothesis about the Quran so controversial that this scholar conceals his identity. Yet, many western non-Arabic speakers treat “Christoph Luxenberg’s” conclusions as if they were facts. Stefan Wild explains that Luxenburg’s hypothesis is not a part of critical scholarly consensus – not to mention Islamic consensus. In fact, Dr. Stephan Wild disagrees with “Luxenberg’s” method and results.1
I have outlined the lecture and here are some of the main headings:
- Baber Johansen introduces Stefan Wild
- The dissaray and chaos of Quranic Studies
- Classic Arabic philology
- Andrew Rippin
- Patricia Crone
- John Wansbrough
- Christoph Luxenberg’s Syro-Aramaic hypothesis
- Corpus Coranicum represents a major trend of contemporary Quranic studies in Germany
- Gotthelf Bergsträsser
- Anton Spitaler
- The Sana’a manuscripts found at the Great Mosque in Yemen
- Gerd Puin
- The Berlin project and the cultural context of the Quran
- Conclusion: The Quran is the last document of monotheism
“Thank you all for coming. This will be I think a pleasant and important event. Stefan Wild is a fixture in the sky of Quranic studies and much beyond that. So it’s a great pleasure for us and an honor to have him here and deliver the Gibb lectures for us.
Stefan Wild studied in Munich, in Yale, in Ehrlangen and Tübingen. Following a very old classical German tradition of going to a series of Universities before you finally decide where you want to do your final exam.
He took his PhD in 1961 and his publication in 1968 at the University of Munich.
Immediately afterwards, the same year after, he was appointed director of the German Orient Institute in Beirut where he stayed until 1974. In 1974 the University of Amsterdam called him and offered him the chair of Semitic languages and Islamic studies which he accepted and he stayed there for three years and was then called to the – and I cannot resist to give the whole name of the University – the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn. So you see what a good classical traditional German University makes up a name. You’re already intimidated when you’re at the last word. But Stefan Wild liked it so much that he stayed there through 25 years until he took his retirement in 2002.
During all these years he was an important intellectual presence in Germany. Not only in the field of oriental studies to which he contributed through his study on the Quran on Arabic lexicography, classical and modern Arabic literature, but also in the larger debates about the politcs and culture of the Middle East and most of all about the relation between Europe and the the United States.
Among the many books that he has published let me name just a few:
A book while he was in Lebanon about Lebanese place names, their typology and interpretation [Libanesische Ortsnamen, Typologie und Deutung].
The biography of Ghassan Kanafani: The life of a Palestinian leader, in 1973.
His important contributions to Quranic studies such as the Qur’an as Text in 1996.
His Mensche, Prophet und Gott im Koran in 2001 in which he interpreted modern and classic Muslim exegetical literature on the notion of the human being. And last but not least his book on self referentiality in the Quran in 2006.”
From 1982 to 2009, that’s for more than a generation, he was editor and co-editor of the Die Welt des Islams, The International Journal for the Study of Modern Islam. And as the directory of this journal he has stimulated many interesting debates concerning the development of modern Muslim culture and religion as well as the relation between the Middle East and Europe.
Among the many articles he dedicated to this field are his article on National Socialism in the Arab world. And about European totalitarianism in contemporary Arab thought.
In 2005 he received the well deserved prize of the Reuter foundation for his lifelong achievement in the field of a better comprehension between peoples.
To the best of my knowledge Stefan Wild has been the only modern scholar, Western scholar, in the field of oriental studies who has been invited to Mecca to participate in a scholarly debate about the Quran – in Medina, I’m sorry. But he has also been invited regularly to the US, and right now he comes to us after having participated in the New York University Center for Dialogue in a symposium on social, ethical, and policy implications of the interpretation of Islam’s foundational text, the Quran.
Let me add a personal note that in the field of Islamic studies his presence has always been a factor not only of stimulating debates but as well as moderating them and keeping good personal relations for those engaged in those debates.
It’s a great pleasure and honor to have Stefan Wild here, and I call on you.”
Dr. Stefan Wild
“Thank you ladies and gentlemen…”
“Thank you very much Baber. I’m proud to be here and when I was a student I think I would have avoided going to attend a lecture where the lecturer is retired. I thought that wouldn’t be worthwhile; so I’m glad you’re here.
I’m greatly honored by this invitation to participate in the Gibb lectures, and the only way I can tackle a topic as vast and as difficult and as contested as the Quran is by insisting at the outset on the subjectivity of these lectures and its limitations.
I’ve chosen three topics dear to my heart. I think that only a minority of you will follow all three of them. All three of them: The History of the Quran; The Language of the Quran, and The (Un)translatability of the Quran are topics dear to my heart.
I have sometimes privileged in this lecture the German angle, the German perspective. Not because I consider it especially important, but because I know it best. And this initial lecture has two parts. The first part is retrospective and deals with the fate of Quranic studies in Germany in the 20th century. The second part deals with the problem that leading researchers of the Quran cannot agree on what the present state of the art is in this field. This is an international problem, but it does have a specific German perspective.
22:31 – begins the second part of Stefan Wild’s lecture.
I would like to present to you why now in contrast to what was the case in Munich in the 50s and the 60s and more or less over the whole intellectual world dealt with Islamic studies with the Quran and Quranic exegesis and so forth.
I would like to present to you now why there are so many exciting and controversial trends in contemporary Quranic scholarship that it is, I think, impossible to define the actual state of the art. This is of course not a specifically German problem or German phenomenon, but it is an international phenomenon. So, why is there no state of the art?
Rudi Paret, the very famous translator of the Quran into German, … almost proudly stated almost exactly fifty years ago, “The picture of the prophet Muhammad that so far has been worked out by European orientalists is well founded and can be modified and rounded out only in matters of detail. A new and systematic interpretation of the Quran hardly leads to new and exciting discoveries.” (end of quote) This statement that the most important things about the Quran had already been said was bold indeed, and if taken as a prophecy it was disastrously off the mark.
The state of the art in Quranic studies is at present impossible to define
Rudi Paret’s serene announcement that in Quranic studies all, or at any rate the most important things had been said, eventually turned out to be false. In a spectacular about face, the state of the art in Quranic studies is at present impossible to define.
The academic discipline of Quranic studies not limited to, but certainly including German Quranic scholarship in Germany and in German speaking countries sees itself and I quote Fred Donner as “in a state of disarray.” Angelika Neuwirth, I already quoted her, went even further and diagnosed the “hopeless chaos.” I quote her, “There is no critical edition of the text. No free access to all of the relevant manuscript evidence, no clear conception of the cultural and linguistic milieu within which it has emerged, no consensus of basic issues of methodology, a significant amount of distrust among scholars. And what is perhaps the single most important obstacle to scholarly progress, no adequte training of future students of the Quran in the non-Arabic languages and literatures that have undoubtedley shaped its historical context.
I would like to add that classic Arabic philology which for obvious reasons is especially close to Quranic studies is in a comparable quandry. We do not yet have adequate lexicographical tools to fully understand classical Arabic texts. After the demise of Manfred Uhlemann’s monumental and groundbreaking Wörterbuch der Klassischen Arabischen Sprache [Dictionary of Classical Arabic], the major German project in Islamic and classical studies in the second part of the 20th century, we are left with five thick big volumes which cover the Arabic roots beginning with the letters kaph and lam. Two out of twenty-six letters of the Arabic alphabet, that is to say more than 90% of the classic Arabic vocabulary still await adequate lexicographical treatment. This is indeed a lot of disarray.
The Quran has become something like a black box. We know it is there but we do not have a clue to its inner mechanisms which remain opaque. Andrew Rippin, famous well-known colleague in Quranic studies even called for a departure from “the desire to produce positive historical results to satisfy that internal yearning to asset what really happened.
Patricia Crone put it more poetically, “For over a century” she said, “the landscape of the Muslim past was thus exposed to a weathering so violent that its shapes were reduced to dust and rubble and deposited in secondary patterns mixed with foreign debris and shifting with the wind.”
The avalanche of new historical hypotheses that claim to have the key to the Quranic black box do not make any new historical critical approach easier. It is of course impossible to deal with in this lecture with all facets of this situation of disarray or chaos and I will identify only one basic question here.
The question is, Is the Quran that we have today in our hands derived by possible intermediary stages from authentic selection of recitations with a reciter whose name was Muhammad at its roots? In the language of the believer, “Does the book that we have contain the revelation that the prophet Muhammad proclaimed?” and “Did these recitations after a fairly short period of codification and canonization become the Quran that we know?”
The positive answer, if you answer “Yes” to this question than you are …traditional Muslim narrative and revelation: a man named Muhammad in Mecca in the 7th century starts a prophetical career; he flees or migrates to a city which later would be called Medina and after his death in 632 C.E. his teachings are collected as a book and codified and canonized under the first Caliphs in the middle of the 7th century.
This would be a traditional position shared by Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike.
Or is the Quran the fruit of hundreds of years of tradition building inside the emerging Muslim community.
This serious challenge to traditional Quranic studies came with the appearance of John Wansbrough’s book, Quranic Studies in 1977. He and his very influential school of thought did not cross the traditional narrative which I just tried to tell you about. According to Wansbrough, in real history nothing affecting the Quran actually happened in Mecca or Medina in the early 7th century.
According to him, Islam did not begin in Mecca and Medina but somewhere in Mesopotamia. In Germany, this skeptical approach became influential and was sharpened by a general distrust of all Muslim Arab souces prior to the 9th century C.E. Was the name of this prophet really Muhammad? And was this prophet, whatever his name by any chance not a historical figure but only a later fiction that had been adorned, enriched, or even invented by pious fraud?
All of a sudden the acceptance of the traditional narrative was seen as a result of an irresponsibily light-headed credulity on the part of students of the Quran.
Stephen Wild says Quranic studies have increased, despite the lack of agreement
I think that these clusters of disagreement – I just named one very important one – I don’t think that they show any sign of being solved soon. But whatever one may think, this state of affairs did not paralyze Quranic studies. On the contrary, it has given fresh impulses as a necessity to face questions that would have been impossible and even unthinkable fifty years ago did have and does have a miraculously rejuvenating influence on Quran and Quranic studies worldwide. Never have there been more scholarly academic publications on the Quran.
Stefan Wild favors a much less skeptical approach than John Wansbrough
Personally I think that there are good arguments for a much less skeptical approach, than the approach that I have just sketched, the Wansbrough approach – an approach that does not do away with everything considered good evidence so far. Absolute skepticism that ignores all available Arabic tradition should first convince us that the numerous available sources in Arabic, and they are very very many, should convince us that these sources have been subject to an all-encompassing and complete falsification.
We do know that for the secular historian the foundational history of religion as told by its followers always poses serious questions. But the tabula rasa approach so far only opened the door to filling the vacuum thus created with sensational hypothesis.
One of these hypothesis – I just alluded to it – was Christoph Luxenberg’s book on a Syro-Aramaic reading of the Quran. It tried to prove that the Quranic text was largely a Christian text in Syriac that had been completely misunderstood by Arab scribes. If Luxenberg is right, and this is one of the best known aspects of this theory, if Luxenberg is right – the fair maidens of the Quranic paradise are nothing more than inchoately deciphered white grapes.
You may feel that also here I share the skepticism of many of my colleagues for this theory and you are right. I have even been guilty of engaging in a mild polemic against Luxenberg’s method and his results. But in the context of this lecture my point is only that the scientific community is light years away from communis opinio on this hypothesis. And the same is true for many of the most basic questions regarding the Quranic text, the prophet Muhammad, and first century of the hijira of the flight of the prophet to Yathrib, later named Medina.
Why it is therefore truly impossible at the moment, I think to establish the state of the art of Quranic studies it is undeniable that the number of studies on the Quran and I have already said this have dramatically increased internationally. We are still far away from the academic density of which Jewish and Christian studies…can boast. But we do have an Encyclopaedia of the Quran, we have several journals of Quranic studies, and we have a constant and growing flow of books and articles on the Quran.
Stefan Wild says Corpus Coranicum represents a major trend of contemporary Quranic studies in Germany
And I therefore propose to give you what I take to be a major trend of contemporary Quranic studies in Germany. The new historical critical approach to the Quranic text is best seen in . Angelika Neuwirth pioneering project Corpus Coranicum at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in Berlin and Potsdam.
It does not share Wansbrough’s skepticism and in many ways follows the very traditional paradigm. There was a prophet Muhammad and there are Meccan suras and there are Medinan suras.
The project is a three layer program for which a twenty year time frame is provided. First, text critical documentation of the Quranic text with all its variants based on the teachings of the Arabic quran. On the different oral traditions of oral recitation and, very important, the available manuscript evidence. [The second layer] will provide a data bank offering pre-quranic and co-quranic texts that shaped the cultural atmosphere of the earliest audience of the quran. [The third layer] A literary commentary that attempts to unveil the interior structure and history of the text over and above its canonical form in 114 chapters, suras.
This aims at approaching the preliminary stages that preceded the Quran in its development and the religious and cultural horizon of the earliest listeners of the Quranic message. And I will here only concentrate on the first issue, the text critical documentation.
Gotthelf Bergsträsser, died 1933, a professor of Semitic languages in Munich already encouraged research of Quranic manuscripts. And this was pioneering approach at the time. Jeffrey also did but Bergsträsser was very important. He had first developed the idea of a systematic list of variant Quranic readings including the non-canonical ones and then started to photograph manuscripts of the Quran in Cairo, Istanbul, and elsewhere. Bergsträsser died in 1933 while hiking in the Bavarian Alps.
The project was interupted, taken up again by students of Bergsträsser’s. But after the beginning of the war interest in such a project faltered. There was also much speculation in the press,2 in the non-specialized press, why Bergsträsser’s student Anton Spitaler – who was my [Stefan Wild] academic teacher – did not immediately make the photographed manuscripts available to the public after the war, world war. Egyptian students in Egypt spread the rumor that Bergsträsser had been murdered because of his anti-national socialist stance.
In Germany, after the war, a different rumor said that Anton Spitaler had wanted to write a book on the earliest history of the Quranic text but found himself incapable of doing it and then decided to hide the material. I [Stefan Wild] was a student of Anton Spitaler and I think can say he probably did lose interest in this particular approach to the textual history of the Quran – namely the variants of the manuscripts, Quranic manuscripts. And the reason was most probably that he thought that the variant Quranic readings shown in the collected manuscripts that had been photographed in Cairo, Istanbul, Damascus, and elsewhere that the variants were not important enough to merit closer study.
The material that had for sometimes been thought lost in the chaos of the bombings of Munich reemerged and today the collection is in Berlin and part of the documentation of the project corpus coranicum.
On one point however Spitaler was wrong. The discovery of a sizeable number of fragments of the Quran in the Great Mosque in the Yemeni capital Sana’a in the 1970s showed that the manuscript evidence could be extremely important. Some 1,500 parchment fragments ranging from tiny snippets to whole folios and belonging to no less than 950 copies of the Quran were identified.
This Genezi like treasure can enrich and complement our knowledge of Quranic orthography, of the ornamental decoration of the Quran, of Arabic calligraphy, of the history of vocalization in the Quran, and of the Arabic writing system as a whole.
A joint Yemeni project to protect, preserve, and restore this unique treasure was initiated in 1983 and completed in 1996. A few of these Quranic fragments were apparently written as early as toward the end of the first century hijra (7th century, approximately, common era) and if the dating turns out to be correct are of a sensational rarity and importance. [Dr. Stefan Wild discusses this more during the question and answer period, 01:16:42-01:18:32]
Unfortunately, only very few of these fragments have been published so far and thereby put at the disposal of the scientific community. It is unclear whether they will be published at all in the foreseeable future. And one reason for this unfortunate state of affairs was a major breakdown in academic communication between the Yemeni and the German side.
That the Sana’a fragments, in total, are still next to inaccessible to scholars worldwide is a serious setback. Many of us from the older generation are reminded of the sad embrolio around the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s and 1960s.3
This approach of the Berlin project is firmly grounded in philology and as the Latin title “corpus coronicum” intimates of the fair share of its method of 19th century classicalal studies of Latin and Greek and to the model of rigorous scholarship in edition of texts.
Some experts, among them Gerd Puin who was for a long time collaborated in this Yemeni-German project, express doubts that the project of a critical edition of the Quran in the sense of an edited Latin or Greek classical text was feasible at all. The Arabic writing system at the time the Sana’a codices were written was in full development from a seriously underdetermined and highly ambiguous mnemotechnical device in need of a pre-knowledge of the text, if the text was read. Two full-blown vocalized texts without any ambiguity. [Dr. Stefan Wild discusses this more during the question and answer period, 53:48-57:10]
It is doubtful whether in such an Arabic text the basic rules of Graeco-Latin philology can be applied at all. The preference for example of the lectio difficilior, the more difficult reading, which is a holy principle of Graeco-Latin philology is very difficult to employ when you read a text in this Arabic which was an Arabic which the one who recited or read it had to know the text before he could read it. So it’s not at all clear whether this Graeco-Latin approach is feasible.
The emphasis lay and lies on the history of the Quranic text identifying different layers concentrating on the establishment of earlier parts, later parts, etc. etc. And the underlying idea is that the Quran can best be explained and understood in its historical development of becoming the Quran. But there are important differences from 19th and early 20th century Arabic philology; I will not go into this at the moment.
The most important difference from 19th century philology, from non-Muslim scholarship on the Quran, may be that emphasis today is not on “influence” anymore. This tendency was already encapsulated in the already quoted earliest treatise of this kind: Abraham Geiger’s “What Did Muhammad Take Over from Judaism?” (Was hat Mohamed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?; Berlin: 1833). This emphasis on taking over, on influence, went together with or practically consisted in identifying Quranic “misunderstandings” of Jewish, Christian, and other sources.
In this perspective the Quran became nothing more than the book of 1,001 mistakes and misunderstandings. A primitive and ill-conceived adaptation from Jewish and Christian Scripture with also other “influences.” This I now think is a definitely dated approach. There are still some colleagues around who follow this approach but I don’t think it has a future.
The question that the Berlin project attempts to answer is no longer who influenced whom, but the modern question is which notions and concepts shaped the minds of the people who listened to the prophet Muhammad in Mecca and Medina before and after the hijira. What was the cultural background of the various religious tribal and linguistic communities at the time of the prophet in Mecca and Medina and what was this background in the surrounding territories in Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Iran, etc.
In this sense the quest is, with all deference to Abraham Geiger, no longer for outside influences on the Quran but for the context of the Quran. The Quranic text is not a truncated collection of mistakes but a representation of a new communal reading of partly pre-quranic material.
And it is clear that one focus of this type of research is on the earlier stages of what later became the Quranic texts: how and why it was shaped the way it is. This is the quest for what some Germans called the Ur Quran, the primeval Quran, which would probably put the word in the plural because there were certainly more than one embryonic preliminary stage and prototype that preceded the codified and canonized version which we know.
Because we cannot determine how the prophet interpreted the words of the Quran we can set our aim more modestly at how the first listeners to the recital of the Quranic revelations reacted to it and how they may have interpreted it.
With this narrower definition we are already close to the concept of the context. Several decennia must have passed between the first pronouncements of the prophet on the one hand and the codification and canonization of these pronouncement in a entity that became a different religion called Islam on the other hand. In Mecca most people did not accept the message of the prophet, the recipients of the Quranic message in Medina, or Yathrib at the time. In that context the believers as well as those who refused the new religion were deeply influenced by various strands of late antiquity by apocalyptic visions and syncretistic tendencies: there were Christians, there were Jews, there were Hellenistic influences, some people spoke and wrote various kinds of Aramaic, there were pagan cults and Greek was in some areas the lingua franca.
Also there were other prophets, beside Muhammad, on the Arabian peninsula who claimed to have a divine monotheistic message in Arabic. And in this period there was confessional overlapping, there was denominational distinction, a dialectical process of inclusion and exclusion among larger and smaller groups of varying homogeneity. And this context is truly wide net: pre-Islamic poetry, south Arabian pantheon, the inter-tribal wars of the Arabian peninsula, Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Latin texts, inscriptions, coins, etc…
We have now more Arabic graffiti and papyri, and we are just starting to weigh the evidence of archaeology that is at the moment gaining ground…
There are three major recent studies dealing with the context of the Quran and all three of them agree that the Quran is a document of late antiquity. There seems to be a growing agreement that this is so. I myself am not yet completely sure that this is the way to interpret it best and some may disagree with this hypothesis, but the vibrancy of the new scripture, which we have in the Quran, the dynamics of this new beginning is maybe a characteristic of late antiquity [Dr. Stefan Wild discusses this more during the question and answer period, 57:19-59:14]. But it is surely one thing that is beyond doubt: the Quran found in Islam, the historically last version of radical monotheism.
Thank you very much.”
The lecture ends at 47:53 and then follows a period of question and answer.
Islam has a history of denying history
Dr. Stefan Wild referred to the “Ur Quran, the primeval Quran” and went on to say “there were certainly more than one embryonic preliminary stage and prototype that preceded the codified and canonized version [of the Quran] which we know.”
This means that the Quran has a history and that Muslim possession of the Quran (mushaf) is dependent on history. This exposes a fundamental problem with Islam. The Quran (book) is allegedly uncreated or eternal. And yet, it was recited by a man in history. It was compiled by men in history.4
Why is this a problem? Because Islam is both dependent upon history and yet Islam also denies history. Muslims deny the historical events of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Muslims say they believe in Jesus. But they do not believe in the Jesus of history.
One must deny history in order to believe in a history that Muhammad never witnessed, and that did not happen as Muhammad recited. This is irrational.
P. M. Costa, “The Great Mosque Of San‘ā” in P. M. Costa (Ed.), Studies in Arabian Architecture, 1994, Variorum Collected Studies Series.
U. Dreibholz, “Treatment Of Early Islamic Manuscript Fragments On Parchment: A Case History: The Find At Sana‘a, Yemen”, in Y. Ibish (Ed.), The Conservation And Preservation Of Islamic Manuscripts, Proceedings Of The Third Conference Of Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation 18-19 November 1995, 1996, Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation Publication: No. 19: London (UK).
Francois De Blois, “Hijaratun min sijjil,” Acta orientalia,, Copenhagen, 1999.
_____________, “Islam in Its Arabian Context” in The Quran in Context, edited by Neuwirth, Sinai, Marx [Brill 2010], pp. 615-624.
“History of the Quran” – Wikipedia Entry
Toby Lester (January 1999). “What Is The Koran”. The Atlantic Monthly. http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/199901/koran. Retrieved 2011-01-26.
Christoph Luxenburg, The Syro-Aramaic Reading Of The Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran.
Daniel A. Madigan. The Qur’an’s Self-Image: Writing and Authority in Islam’s Scripture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Orientalistics – forum for linguistic and philogical research
Puin, Gerd-R. “Observations on Early Qur’an Manuscripts in Sana’a.” in What the Koran Really Says, pp. 739-44.
Querying the Quran – Article about Gerd R Puin, a renowned Islamicist at Saarland University, Germany, who says the Quran is not one single work that has survived unchanged through the centuries.
“Sana’a Manuscripts” – Wikipedia Entry
- See Stefan Wild, “Lost in Philology? The Virgins of Paradise and the Luxenberg Hypothesis” in The Quran in Context, edited by Neuwirth, Sinai, Marx [Brill 2010], pp.625-647). [↩]
- See The Lost Archive, The Wall Street Journal 12.1.2008, page 1; and the response to this article “The lost archive, the myth of philology, and the study of the Qur’an“ [↩]
- Sometimes appeal is made to the Sana fragments as proof that the Quran has textual variants, but it must be emphasized that we don’t have all the information. Here is a snip from the Encyclopaedia of the Quran:
- “The study of the Qur’ān as a post-canonical, closed text (that is, the text established after the death of the prophet, which was codified a few decades later and acknowledged as unchangeable), accessible only through the lens of traditional Islamic exegesis, is a legitimate task for elucidating the community’s understanding of the Qur’ān. It is an anachronistic approach, however, when it is applied—as it tacitly often is—to investigate the formation of the Qur’ānic message, that is, the dynamics of its textual growth and diverse changes in orientation during the oral communication phase of the Qur’ān. To evaluate the Qur’ān historically one has to be aware of the reconfiguration that the prophetic communication underwent in its redaction and canonization: whereas the single units (sūras) collected in the muṣḥaf are juxtaposed, constituting a sort of anthology, the oral communications build dynamically on each other, later ones often rethinking earlier ones, sometimes even inscribing themselves into earlier texts. Thus there is ample intertextuality to be observed between sūras absent from the muṣḥaf, where the chronological order of the sūras is no longer evident and the tension produced by dialectic interactions between texts is extinguished” (Angelika Neuwirth, “Two Faces of the Qur’ān: Qur’ān and Muṣḥaf.” Oral Tradition Volume 25:1 [March, 2010], 143-144). Available at: http://journal.oraltradition.org/issues/25i/neuwirth [↩]