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The nature and style of the Qur’an

Posted on January 13, 2008 by thabet

For those of you who don’t know, the Guardian has started a new blog on the Qur’an. Blogging the Qur’an is being written by Ziauddin Sardar with help from Madeleine Bunting. The approach by the Guardian is based on Slate’s Blogging the Bible.

The latest post by Sardar is on the style and nature of the Qur’an, which inevitably raises the point made by Bunting in her response: why is the Qur’an so difficult to read?

I can’t offer any particularly unique insights into the structure of the text, but for the purposes of debate and discussion (and for those interested) I would like to link and cite something from Mustansir Mir’s “Is the Qur’an a Shapeless Book?“, which was first published in the Pakistani English-language Islamic journal, Renaissance:

The completion of the arrangement of the Qur’an was conterminous in time with the completion of its revelation. In respect of order and sequence, therefore, the Qur’an as it was compiled was different from the Qur’an as it was revealed. In other words, the Qur’an had two arrangements, one revelatory and the other compilatory. The question is, why was the revelatory arrangement abandoned in favour of a compilatory arrangement. Was the latter adopted without any special reason? If so, why was chronology not considered a sound enough basis for arranging the Qur’an? And is one today at liberty to discover, if possible, the chronological arrangement of the Qur’an and recite the Qur’an according to that arrangement? Or, if chronology was not an acceptable guide, why was not some rule, that for example of dividing the Qur’an into surahs of about equal length, employed. Nor does the principle of the progressive diminution of the size of surahs go very far because the diminution is not so progressive: We frequently find that long surahs are followed by shorter surahs which are again followed by long surahs and so on. The question continues to stare one in the face: Why a different arrangement?

Mir then goes onto briefly describe the ideas of Hamiduddin Farahi and his student Amin Ahsan Islahi, two scholars from the Indian subcontinent, who detailed an approach in which the arrangement of the Qur’an formed an important part of interpreting the text. The Qur’an for them was an organic whole, and different sets of chapters were interconnected with some overall theme. Those interested in pursuing the Farahi-Islahi approach to the Qur’an should read Mir’s Coherence in the Quran or Neal Robinson’s Discovering the Qur’an (the only two English-language sources I know of that have discussed Farahi-Islahi interpretive method in detail; Mir’s work is largely supportive, while Robinson takes a critical view).

Islahi is interesting because he was a friend of Sayyid Abu A’la Maududi, considered one of the ‘fathers’ of Islamism — Islahi parted ways with Maududi on the structure and nature of an Islamic state. Islahi was also the teacher of the somewhat controversial Pakistani scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, who is often associated with more ‘liberal’ pronouncements on Islamic law.

Cross-posted at City of Brass.

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