Medieval-Islamic-Models.pdf - Medieval Islamic Models of Revelation Hermeneutical Consequences Then and Now David R Vishanoff This morning I wish to

Medieval-Islamic-Models.pdf - Medieval Islamic Models of...

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Medieval Islamic Models of Revelation: Hermeneutical Consequences Then and Now David R. Vishanoff This morning I wish to tease out some connections between three issues in contemporary Qur ʾā nic hermeneutics, and five models of revelation developed by early legal theorists. First, is the Qur ʾā n a text that stands in need of interpretation, as Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (among others) has insisted? Or is it speech that communicates with intuitive immediacy, as maintained by some of Abu Zayd’s critics, 1 and by those whom Khaled Abou El Fadl has called “authoritarian” jurists? 2 Second, who is qualified to engage in legal interpretation – any rational person, or only a small class of specialists? This question is at issue not only between “modernists” and “traditionalists,” but even among progressive Muslims. 3 Third, to what extent does the meaning of the Qur ʾā n depend on authorial intent, and to what extent is it constructed in relation to the horizon of the reader? For example, Fazlur Rahman aimed to recover the original intent or moral-social objectives of the Qur ʾā n and apply them to new circumstances; 4 Farid Esack has rejected the quest for authorial intent, and emphasized instead the reader’s context – in his case the struggle for justice in South Africa – as a necessarily determinative factor in his interpretation of the Qur ʾā n. 5 1 See Browers, “Islam and Political Sinn. 2 Abou El Fadl, Speaking in God’s Name, 5, 7, 93, and passim . 3 For example, while some progressive Muslims have claimed the right to engage in fresh ijtih ā d without the qualifications prescribed by most classical legal theory manuals, Khaled Abou El Fadl has argued that it can be appropriate for some to hold a position “special agency” in assisting others to fulfill their interpretive duty toward God. See Abou El Fadl, Speaking in God’s Name, 26-69 and passim, especially 53. 4 Rahman, Islam & Modernity, 5-7. 5 Esack, Qur ʾā n, Liberation, and Pluralism, chapters 2-3.
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2 Now for our five medieval models of revelation. It was, in my view, al-Sh ā fi ʿī (d. 204/820) who both posed and solved the fundamental problem of Islamic legal theory. Islamic law was, at the turn of the 3d/9th century, already a more or less well defined set of questions with a limited range of acceptable answers. A revealed basis for Islamic law was not so clearly defined; various factions disputed whether the Qur ʾā n alone, or ad ī th , or local precedent and common sense, should define Islamic practice. By defining a canon of revelation, consisting of the Qur ʾā n and Sunna, al-Sh ā fi ʿī created the hermeneutical problem of reconciling conflicts within this corpus of revelation, and of correlating revelation with Muslim practice. He also proposed what would become the classical solution to this problem: Arabic is highly ambiguous, to the point that wherever there appear to be contradictions, one text can be used to modify the apparent meaning of the other conflicting text, so as to yield a coherent statement compatible with some version of Muslim practice.
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