Holistic approaches to the Quran a historical background
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  • 1. Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xHolistic Approaches to the Qur’an:A Historical BackgroundNevin Reda*University of TorontoAbstractHolistic and other coherence-related approaches have a long history in tafsir – the tradition ofQur’an exegesis; however, it is only in the twentieth century that they have experienced wide-spread dissemination. This article explores their history from the early eighth century to the mod-ern age, addressing developments both in western and in traditional Muslim scholarship. It beginswith the early discourses on the Qur’an’s style and organization (nazm) and the immediate con-nections between its suras and verses (munasaba). It then covers the modern revival of the nazmgenre and the appearance of the literary and thematic approaches.IntroductionWhile the term ‘holistic’ is well established in medicine, Biblical studies, and linguistics, itis relatively new in Qur’anic studies and therefore needs some clarification. It hasoccurred primarily in the work of two scholars, Mir (1986, p. 99; 1993, p. 217) and Bar-las (2002, p. 18), both of whom have provided brief explanations. Mir is well known forbringing several modern works, which treat suras as whole units, to the attention of awider scholarly audience, using the expression ‘sura as a unity’ to describe theseapproaches. He uses ‘holistic’ to describe a certain quality that characterizes some of theseapproaches, explaining the term as ‘predicated on the assumption that the Qur’an is awell-integrated book and ought to be studied as such’ (Mir 1986, p. 99). Barlas offers asimilar explanation, reiterating the words of Paul Ricoeur, ‘a whole, a totality,’ in con-nection with reading the Qur’an as ‘a cumulative, holistic process’ (cited in Barlas 2002,p. 18; cf Ricoeur 1981, pp. 212–13). In general, ‘holistic’ is related to holism and is often used synonymously with ‘as awhole.’ It conveys the idea that the properties of a given system cannot be fully deter-mined or explained by the sum of its component parts alone, and is predicated on theassumption that there is an added value gained when looking at how all the componentparts work together, as a totality. In the case of the Qur’an, it typically implies looking atits suras as whole compositional units, as opposed to the individual verses alone. It canalso refer to the Qur’an as a whole, the added value usually taking the form of centralthemes or qualities. The term is also associated with New Age religion,1 which may explain the reluctanceof some scholars to use it. However, its appearance in connection with the Qur’an hasonly been in a literary sense and is associated with coherence and textual integrity. It doesnot generally carry connotations of an experiential, spiritual dimension, which it acquiresin connection with the various expressions of New Age religion.2 One might wonder why the need for ‘holistic,’ when it can be confused with NewAge religion? Moreover, the term may seem redundant as it is covered by the wordª 2010 The AuthorJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 2. 496 Nevin Reda‘coherence.’ However, two factors explain its emergence and the increasing need for ittoday. The first is evident in the work of Mir: the growing number of studies that addressthe topic of coherence and the need to distinguish between different types of approaches.Two main kinds seem to have emerged: studies that tend to be holistic and others thatMir has aptly described as ‘linear-atomistic.’ Both look for connections within the text;however, while linear-atomistic approaches look for the immediate connections betweenadjacent verses, passages or suras, holistic approaches are more concerned with the overallpicture and look for the central idea that holds a sura together or indeed, the entireQur’an as a whole. Thus, the distinguishing feature of holistic approaches is the identifi-cation of central themes or qualities that distinguish one sura from another, or set theQur’an apart from other texts. This aspect is not present in all of the treatments, whichMir has described with ‘as a unity;’ he has needed to use ‘holistic’ to refer to this addi-tional dimension. Holistic and linear-atomistic approaches have one thing in common: both are con-cerned with coherence and are contrasted with the more traditional atomistic methods,which treat the Qur’an on a verse-by-verse basis, interpreting each verse virtually inde-pendently of the general literary context. Óabarı (d. 310 ⁄ 923) (1954–68) monumental ’s a a l ˜Jmi%al-Bayn ‘an ta’wı ay al-Qur’an is a prime example of such a commentary. He orga-nizes the verses in a seriatim manner, listing the interpretations of a number of earlyauthorities under each verse, and does not address each sura as a whole. His work is one rof the sequential chain-like commentaries known as tafsı musalsal or ‘chained commen- rtary,’ a type that is widespread and foundational for the tafsı genre. They are by far themost common of the medieval commentaries and are considerably popular today. The second factor that has led to the emergence of the term ‘holistic’ is evident in thework of Barlas, and stems from the growing interest in cross-disciplinary pursuits. Barlashas connected her approach to that of Ricoeur, whose name is well known in the fieldof Biblical hermeneutics. She has thereby stepped towards building some methodologicalconsistency with Biblical studies, in which ‘holistic’ is used to refer to similar, text-basedmethods. Biblical holistic approaches are generally synchronic in nature and treat the text‘as-is’ without delving into its origins and compositional subunits. They are contrastedwith diachronic approaches, which are concerned with the text’s development over time,and tend to fragment it into several source documents. Some tension exists between bothtypes: the diachronic, ‘fragmenting’ approaches and the synchronic, holistic ones. How-ever, while the Biblical diachronic approaches are primarily those of modern source crit-ics, Qur’anic ‘fragmenting,’ atomistic ones are predominantly those of traditional Muslimorthodoxy.Medieval ApproachesEarly investigations into the Qur’an’s textual coherence can be found under two terms:nazm (literally, ‘order, arrangement, organization’) and munsaba (literally, ‘suitability, cor- : arelation, connection’). The history of these pursuits has interested a few contemporaryscholars, among whom Mir’s work is probably the most significant in the West. An ear- ´lier work is also noteworthy, Audebert’s (1982) al-Hat: bı et l’inimitabilite du Coran, in : ta  which he lists several medieval works on nazm, showing that it was an established genre :(van Gelder and Heinrichs 2010, p. 668). Of value is also the modern Egyptian secondaryscholarship, particularly some monographs on nazm in the work of major writers, such as :‘Amr ibn BaÎr al-J aÎiz (d. 255 ⁄ 868 or 9) (1995), Ab Bakr al-B anı (d. 403 ⁄ 1013) u aqill (Y n 1991), ‘Abd al-Q ası ahir al-Jurj  (d. 471 ⁄ 1078) (al-Jindı3 1960; Mur 1983), and anı  adª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 3. Holistic Approaches to the Qur’an 497 arullah al-Zamakhsharı (d. 538 ⁄ 1144) (al-Jindı 1969). In addition, one should mentionJ  two medieval secondary sources: Badr al-Dı al-Zarkashı (d. 794 ⁄ 1391) al-Burhn f  n ’s a ı‘ulm al-Qur’an and Jal al-Dı al-Suyt’s (d. 911 ⁄ 1505) al-Itqn f  ‘ulm al-Qur’an. u al n u:ı a ı uBoth are still popular as reference manuals on the Qur’anic sciences – categories ofknowledge deemed essential for the study of the Qur’an in the past centuries. While al- u: ıZarkashı book is the earlier and more comprehensive of the two, al-Suyt’s is more ’swidely disseminated and definitive today. Both authors provide a chapter on munsaba aand discuss nazm in their chapters on i%jz, the theory of the Qur’an’s inimitability or : aimpeccability. The placement of nazm within these sources suggests that early nazm dis- : :course was intimately linked to i%jz theory. aNAZM :The earliest known monographs on nazm date to the ninth century; however, none of :these is extant today. The most significant is the well-attested Nazm al-Qur’an of al-J : aÎiÛ(1995), which has been reconstructed to some extent from the author’s existing works.4Here too, the link between nazm discourse and i%jz theory is evident; nazm is used to : a :explain and demonstrate the superior diction, stylistic features, and other compositionalqualities of the Qur’an. There is some confusion over what the term nazm initially referred to, whether it went :beyond word-meaning relationships to encompass holistic concerns, such as centralthemes and other common features. Based on the work of Ab Sulaym al-Khat t  (d. u an : : abı388 ⁄ 998) (1968), al-B anı al-Jurj , and al-Zamakhsharı Mir (1986, pp. 11–6) has aqill , anı ,argued that it referred principally to the former and he has not found evidence of holistic concerns. However, al-Jindı (1969) has shown otherwise: medieval scholars had a morebroad-ranging, nuanced understanding of the word. The earliest extant example of holis- aqill ’stic sura treatments comes in the form of al-B anı analysis of Ghfir and Fus: ilat,a :swhere he points out the internal connections between passages and suggests a central  aqill theme (al-Jindı 1969, p. 222; cf al-B anı 1963, pp. 8–15). In both cases, he identifiesit as ‘the necessity of the Qur’an being a proof, and the indication of its miracle,’5 stating aqill that these suras are based on it, from the beginning to the end (al-B anı 1963, p. 9). aqill ’sTherefore, al-B anı understanding of the word nazm went beyond word-meaning :relationships: he has produced the first known treatments of suras as whole units, tiedtogether by a common theme. aqill ’s While al-B anı work is perhaps the most clearly holistic in terms of sura treat-ments, a more general understanding of this term is evident in the work of other scholarsbeginning with al-J ahiÛ. In what survives of his work, he indicates that ‘nazm’ refers to :two aspects: composition6 and style of writing,7 pointing out that the Qur’an is neither poetry nor prose, but is in a class of its own (cited in al-Jindı 1969, pp. 7–8). Thus, inthe understanding of al-J aÎiÛ, the Qur’an’s ‘style of writing’ is a central quality that char-acterizes the whole text and makes it distinct from any other text. This line of investiga-tion can therefore be considered a holistic undertaking, one with a generic outlook.Other, eminent medieval scholars seem to have shared in al-J aÎiÛ’s understanding of theword, even though they do not seem to have agreed that the style is inimitable. Forexample, al-Q  ‘Abd al-Jabb (al-Jindı 1969, pp. 9–11) disagreed that i%jz was to be aÃı ar  afound in the Qur’an’s style, for which he used the term nazm, but rather in the meaning :of the words. His ideas were taken up by al-Jurj , who produced an extensive theory anı : a of nazm, focusing on the rhetorical aspects (balgha) of the Qur’an (al-Jindı 1969, pp. 11–2). In turn, al-Jurj ’s work seems to have influenced the writings of al-Zamakhsharı anı ,ª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 4. 498 Nevin Redawho also used nazm in the sense of rhetorical art, addressing word-meaning relationships, : in addition to linear connections between sentences and verses (al-Jindı 1969, pp. 200–22). Thus, medieval scholars understood nazm to refer broadly to various aspects of the :Qur’an’s diction, composition, and style. Their understanding ranged from word-meaningrelationships to linear connections between verses, and included approaching suras andthe entire Qur’an as a whole. MUNASABAUnlike nazm, there is scant evidence that munsaba was an established genre early in Isla- : amic history and what is available post-dates nazm by several centuries. Two monographs :are known from the medieval literature: Ibn al-Zubayr al-Ghirn :’s (d.708 ⁄ 1308) (1990) at ı a ı u:ıal-Burhn f  munsabt tartı suwar al-Qur’an and al-Suyt’s (1987) Tansuq al-durar f  a a b a ıtansub al-suwar. Both only address the connections between each sura and the next, and aare not generally concerned with intra-sura coherence or features that hold the Qur’antogether as a whole. Both have been recently published as small one-volume books. Athird, much larger work is also relevant, Burh al-Dı al-Biq%ı (d. 885 ⁄ 1480) Nazm an n a ’s : ı a ˜ aal-durar f  tansub al-Ayt wa’l-suwar (literally, ‘The Arrangement of Pearls in the Correla-tion of the Verses and Suras’). The latter is the most comprehensive of the medievalworks: al-Biq%ı not only addresses the connections between suras, passages and verses, abut also central themes or objectives. His theory on these themes is quite innovative: hesuggests that each sura’s objective is encapsulated in its title and proceeds to tie the twotogether. His work thereby reaches well beyond the established scope of munsaba, evenathough he takes care to ground it within this genre (vol. 1, pp. 5–6). His title also locatesit within the purview of the nazm genre, placing nazm in parallel to ‘tansub,’ a word that : : arecalls munsaba and derives from it. By linking these two words together in this manner, aal-Biq%ı suggests that his work cuts across both genres. Thus, the two known mono- agraphs on munsaba alone seem to utilize ‘munsaba’ primarily in the sense of sura connec- a ations, while the term also overlaps with nazm, which is a broader concern. : In addition to the above works, munsaba appears in the medieval secondary sources a on the Qur’anic sciences: al-Zarkashı (n. d. vol. 1, pp. 35–50) devotes an entire chapter u:ıto it, and al-Suyt (n. d., vol. 3, pp. 322–38) follows in his predecessor’s footsteps. Sur-prisingly, nazm is not accorded the same consideration, even though there were many :more monographs of this genre, while there was only one on munsaba at the time of al- a .Zarkashı Rather nazm is mentioned only briefly within their chapters on the theory of :inimitability.  Al-Zarkashı does not explain this curious imbalance, but he does provide furthersubstantiation for munsaba. He associates the term with the work of other scholars, amainly the well-known Fakhr al-Dı al-R  (d. 607 ⁄ 1210) (cited in al-Zarkashı n. d., n azı vol. 1, pp. 35–6)8 and a famous member of his own sect, the Sh %ite al-Nı urı (d. afi sab 324 ⁄ 936) (cited in al-Zarkashı n. d., vol. 1, p. 36).9 However, these references do not suggest that the term had then gained its present-day technical sense of linear-atomistic verse and sura connections, but rather that it is al-Zarkashı himself who establishes thismeaning. For example, even though al-Zarkashı uses al-R  to argue for the existence  azıof munsaba as an independent Qur’anic science, the term does not appear in the quo- a btation he attributes to this scholar, but rather the words ‘tartı at’ and ‘rawbit ’ (literally, a : ‘links, connections’) (cited in al-Zarkashı n. d., vol. 1, p. 36). Munsaba also does not aoccur in the statement, which al-Biq%ı and al-Suyt use to show the importance a u:ıal-R  attributes to munsaba; rather, al-R  uses nazm in that statement (cited in azı a azı :ª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 5. Holistic Approaches to the Qur’an 499al-Suyt n. d., vol. 3, p. 323 and al-Biq%ı 2006, vol. 1, pp. 6–7).10 Thus, it seems u: ı athat munsaba had not yet acquired the technical dimension it has today and was used ainterchangeably with other words. ’s s u  Al-Zarkashı reference to al-Nı abrı is even less substantiated and comes in the formof a statement via the obscure Ab al-Íasan al-Shahrab , indicating that al-Nı abrı u anı s u used to inquire after verse and sura connections and that he used to rebuke the people for not pursuing the science of munsaba (cited in al-Zarkashı n. d., vol. 1, p. 36). How- a s u ’sever, despite al-Nı abrı presumed preoccupation, he has no known monograph orother works on the subject. Moreover, there does not seem to be any other indication of s u ’s ’sal-Nı abrı supposed interest. Al-Zarkashı reiteration of this statement may indicatemore about sectarian rivalries and his attempt to establish a Sh %ite pedigree for the sci- afience, rather than acknowledge actual historical origins. Thus, it seems that munsaba first agained its technical meaning and the status of an independent science through the effortsof al-Zarkashı . Some remarks on the sectarian dynamics between the two terms are in order. Al- Zarkashı espoused the Sh afi‘ite school of jurisprudence, which belonged to a groupknown as the Traditionalists (ahl al-hadith), because of their association with the corpus :of prophetic traditions called hadı th. Some tension existed between this group andanother, known as the Rationalists (ahl al-ra’y), to which al-J aÎiÛ belonged. Whilemuch is known about the rivalry between these two schools in relation to the develop-ment of Muslim jurisprudence (Hallaq 2005, pp. 74–6; Nyazee 2002, pp. 148–50), itsimplications for the exegesis of the Qur’an is still in need of further research. Al-J aÎiÛ(2000, vol. 2, part 3, pp. 218–19) indicates that he wrote his book as a response tothose who contest the Qur’an or its authority, identifying several groups by name,including the Traditionalists. While the exact nature of the contention is unclear, thereare two possibilities. In one of his epistles, al-J aÎiÛ (1995, p. 58; 2000, vol. 2, part 3,p. 221) uses the organization of the Qur’an (nazm) to argue for its createdness, a doc- :trine that was adopted by the theological school of the Mu‘tazilites and which washeavily resisted by Traditionalists and eventually rejected in mainstream Sunni thought.The association of al-J aÎiÛ’s nazm discourse with this doctrine may have contributed to :Sh %ite dissatisfaction with this genre. Another known cause of disagreement between afithe Traditionalists and the Rationalists is on the issue of matn criticism – matn refers tothe content of the individual prophetic traditions. When this content contradicted theQur’an, Rationalists have been known to refute the problematic tradition (e.g. Ab uÍanı 1972, pp. 99–103). Al-J fa aÎiÛ may have used the Qur’an’s superior diction andorganization to implicitly argue for the Qur’an’s authoritativeness over and above the: th. Thus, while the nature of the sectarian dynamics surrounding al-Jhadı aÎiÛ’s nazm:discourse is still in need of further study, munsaba seems to have received the full sup- aport of the Sh %ite faction of medieval Muslim society. afi In light of the above, medieval scholars used two terms in connection with treatingeither suras or the entire Qur’an as a whole: nazm and munsaba. Of these two, nazm is : a :the older and the most widely propagated genre; however, munsaba too received schol- aarly attention. Both terms were also used to designate linear-atomistic relationships, andnazm was used for word-meaning relationships as well; thus, not all the works within :these genres are holistic in nature. While the concern attracted relatively few scholars, aqill ’ssome important studies have survived. Of these, the oldest known is al-B anı treat-ment of Suras Ghfir and Fus: ilat, but the most exhaustive and significant of the medieval a : sworks of this kind is al-Biq%ı Nazm al-durar. a ’s :ª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 6. 500 Nevin RedaModern ApproachesWhile there is evidence of approaches to suras as whole units in medieval times, theatomistic approaches were by far the most prevalent; it is only in the past century thatthe holistic approaches have experienced widespread dissemination. Several factors havecontributed to their recent proliferation. Foremost among them is the work of reformerssuch as Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d. 1898) in India and MuÎammad ‘Abduh (d. 1905) inEgypt, both of whom advocated the need for new hermeneutical approaches better fittedto the needs of the time (Wielandt 2002, pp. 126–9). They thereby paved the way for adisentanglement of Qur’an interpretation from tradition and the emergence of new her-meneutical foci. Another factor is the emergence of literature as an independent disciplinein modern-day universities. It created the space for studying the Qur’an as literature, as is at evident in the literary approach of Bint al-Sh : i’, ‘A’isha ‘Abd al-RaÎm (d. 1998) an(Wielandt 2002, pp. 131–3); she argued that the Qur’an is the most significant Arabic lit-erary achievement and should be studied as such (‘Abd al-RaÎm n. d., p. 13). Last but annot least is the exposure of Muslim thinkers to orientalist critique of the Qur’an, as canbe observed in the work of ‘Abd al-Muta% Ña%ı  (b. 1894), who wrote al-Nazm al-fannı al dı :  ıf  al-Qur’n. He explains that his book is a response to some European scholars, who afaulted the Qur’an’s organization and considered it disjointed, mentioning Thomas Carly-le (d. 1881) and Reinhart Dozy (d. 1883) by their last names (Ña%ı  1993, p. 3). These dıapproaches are thereby primarily a modern phenomenon and tend to be in conversationwith two types of discourses: in relation to the traditionalist discourses, they are con-cerned with reform, while in connection to orientalist critique, they have apologeticnuances. In addition to Bint al-Sh : i’ and Ña%ı , other modern authors have treated suras as at dıwhole coherent units. Mir (1993) has pointed to six exegetes from various parts of theMuslim world who have produced commentaries on the entire Qur’an in which theytreated suras as unities: Thanavı (d. 1943) (1932), al-Far  (d. 1930), and Isl  (d. 1997)  aÎı : aÎı(1967–80) of the Indian subcontinent, Qut b (d. 1966) (1972) and Darwaza (d. 1964) of :Egypt, and al-Óab : ab  (d. 1981) (n.d.) of Iran. All six share a broadly similar, analytical at a’ıapproach, as they divide suras into sections, and then establish links between those sec-tions. Qut b, al-Óab : ab , al-Far , and Isl  also try to consistently identify central : at a’ı aÎı : aÎıthemes and may therefore be considered holistic. Isl  goes a step further and explores : aÎıthe Qur’an’s general compositional schema, delineating the relationships between surasand their placement within the general framework (Mir 1993, 2006). His approach istherefore the most holistic of them all. The work of MuÎammad F uq al-Zayn of Syria ar a : ı(2004-), Bayn al-nazm f al-Qur’an al-karı should also be added to these authors. While m,only the first few volumes of al-Zayn’s work have been published, they show that he alsoaddresses the issue of central themes and briefly explains each individual verse, tying hisexplanation to the preceding verses. While the previous authors look mainly within the boundaries of a sura for coherence,others are more concerned with the general, overarching characteristics that distinguishthe Qur’an. Some of the topics they address include its unifying rhythms, rhymes, andcentral message, in addition to its reception and the aesthetic experience of its hearers.The best known of these authors are perhaps Must af Ñ : : a adiq al-R %ı (d. 1937) (1974), afi MuÎammad ‘Abdull Dr (d. 1958), and Sayyid Qut b (Boullata 2000, 2003 pp. 195, ah az :201–4). Dr also applies his ideas to Surat al-Baqara, the longest and most challenging azsura to read as a whole. He has identified five objectives for the sura that describe its the-matic flow (Dr 2008, pp. 196–7), but no overarching central theme. He points out that azª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 7. Holistic Approaches to the Qur’an 501analyzing the immediate connections is insufficient for a full appreciation of suras, usingthe term munsaba for the immediate connections (Dr 2008, pp. 192–3). His critique of a azthe science recalls that of Mir, whose very term ‘linear-atomistic’ underlines the atomistic,fragmentary character of munsaba, implying its inadequacy for understanding suras as awhole units. These works also address coherence and textual integrity, but in a moregeneric way. They focus on the Qur’an as a whole, recalling al-J aÎiÛ generic approachand his preoccupation with the Qur’an’s general style. One author who has addressed both types of holistic approaches is the renownedMuÎammad al-Ghaz  (d. 1996). His name stands out in connection with the term ‘the- alımatic’ (mawd %ı which he has used to describe both his approaches. In his sura-centric : u ),treatments, he broadly addresses themes within each sura (1992); while in his overarchingtreatments, he aligns the various topics in the Qur’an around five central axes (1989).While al-Ghaz ’s thematic approaches can be described as holistic, that of another alıprominent author, MuÎammad ShaÎrr (2000), is more difficult to classify as such. He uhas attempted to find a comprehensive compositional schema for the Qur’an, dividingthe Qur’an as we know it into four separate, intertwined compositions: al-Qur’an, al-Sab% a , :ıal-Mathnı Tafsl al-Kitb, and Umm al-Kitb (Christmann 2003, pp. 143–72). While his a aapproach is not diachronic per se, it recalls Wellhausen’s (d. 1918) documentary hypothe-sis (1899), in which he and others have attempted to identify four separate documentsthat acted as sources for the redactors of the Bible.11 ShaÎrr’s system is based on the uanalysis of key words, such kitb and furqn, which occur throughout the Qur’an and a athereby lend his analysis unifying features. While the past century has seen a spurt of holistic approaches in Muslim-majoritycountries, they are also found elsewhere. Scholars in the West tend to be somewhat suc-cessful with discovering the compositional schema and unifying features of Meccan suras,which are associated with the city of Mecca, where the prophet spent the early years ofhis mission. These suras tend to be smaller and less diverse in their topics than their laterMedinan counterparts and often have a hymnic character. In connection with their formand structure, the work of Neuwirth (1981) in particular stands out; she has analyzedthem in great depth, leading to the widely promulgated notion that they form coherentunits. Her approach resembles that of Bint al-Sh : i’ in some aspects, such as in their treat- atment of the introductory oaths in Meccan suras, but in a more developed form (Kandil1996, p. 48). Other studies that have addressed similar concerns include the work of Jac-ques Jomier (1997), who also recognized their hymnic character, particularly the Meccansuras dealing with creation, and even attempted a structural analysis of Q. 16: 3-18 (pp.28–36). While Neuwirth’s approach for each individual Meccan sura can be considered holistic– she views them as whole compositional units; in the larger scheme of things, herapproach is not synchronic, but rather diachronic. She places these suras within their ini-tial, seventh-century liturgical setting, and explores their connection to community devel-opment and the evolution of the canon (Neuwirth 1996, 2000, 2005, 2006a). Thus,within Qur’anic studies, there are occasional diachronic approaches that treat suras aswhole units, even though holistic approaches tend to be synchronic, similar to their Bib-lical counterparts. The longer Medinan suras, such as the two hundred and eighty-six verse Surat al-Baq-ara, have proven to be more challenging. For example, Neuwirth’s assessment of thesesuras is in stark contrast to her conclusions for the Meccan suras: she suggests that thelong Medinan suras ‘cease to be neatly structured compositions, but appear to be theresult of a process of collection that we cannot yet reconstruct’ (2005, vol. 5, p. 174).ª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 8. 502 Nevin RedaThe studies of Muslim exegetes, such as Isl , Ña%ı , and Dr have convinced few : aÎı dı az,western scholars; many may not even have reached them. Isl ’s work is perhaps the best : aÎıknown – his name appears in the secondary sources available in the English language, pri-marily in the work of Mir. His efforts have led to some engagement of Isl ’s ideas, as : aÎıin the work of Robinson (1996) and Zahniser (2000). Both scholars have provided treat-ments of al-Baqara and other suras as whole units. Two recent studies have also contrib-uted to a better understanding of al-Baqara as a whole: the author’s doctoral dissertation(2010) and an article by Farrin (2010). In her dissertation, the author examines repeti-tions, such as inclusios, chiasms, and alternations, showing how they delineate the struc-ture of Surat al-Baqara and its thematic subunits, similar to the way scholars haveapproached Biblical texts. She also uses insights from literary theory to develop two com-plementary holistic readings, identifying a central theme for each reading. Farrin (2010)explores one repetition in particular: a ring construction (chiasm) that envelopes thewhole sura. However, these studies are still new and it may take a while for them tobecome widely known. At this point in time, it is not generally accepted within westernscholarship that the Medinan suras form coherent compositions. The size and divergent topics of the Medinan suras are not the only reasons why therehas been little success in identifying their structure and central themes; a preoccupationwith diachronic concerns is also evident. The Medinan suras stem from a time when theprophet and his followers had immigrated to the city of Medina, where they had estab-lished a polity and were in contact with other communities, such as the Medinan Jewishtribes. The character of the suras developed accordingly; they include more law- and com-munity-related topics. This difference is one that has been recognized quite early in Islamic history (al-Zarkashı n. d., vol. 1, pp. 187–205), the Qur’an’s piecemeal revelation oftengiven as an explanation for the diverse objectives within a single sura (Óab : ab  n. d., vol. at a’ı1, p. 43). However, today, there is a renewed interest in how it relates to communitybuilding (Neuwirth 2000) and also in the dialogic dimension between the Qur’an and thediscourses within its intellectual environment (Neuwirth 2006b, 2008). While these dia-chronic investigations are undoubtedly valuable, they are not generally holistic in character. The Qur’an’s general stylistic features have also been addressed within western scholar-ship, beginning with the work of (Noldeke 1860). He has addressed the history of the ¨Qur’an, examined some formal and stylistic features, and has approached suras as wholeunits when constructing his relative chronology (Neuwirth 2001, p. 255). Others includeKerm  (1999), who analyzes the aesthetic reception of the Qur’an, and Devin Stewart anı(1990, 2004), who presents a strong case for the Qur’an’s general style – he argues that itis a kind of rhymed prose known as saj% since pre-Islamic times. While these works sig-nificantly advance our knowledge of the Qur’an’s stylistic features, the Qur’an’s coher-ence and textual integrity does not seem to be a main concern, and they may nottherefore be classified as holistic. A recent, innovative approach is that of Todd Lawson, who has looked at duality andopposition in the Qur’an, exploring the distinctive apocalyptic character of its composi-tional style (Lawson 2009). He has also examined typological figuration, suggesting that itforms a continuous and consistent motif throughout the text. He has thereby addressedfeatures that characterize the Qur’an as a whole, distinguishing it from other compositions.ConclusionIn this study, ‘holistic’ refers to analytic or exegetical approaches, which are concernedwith coherence and textual integrity, and consistently move beyond the boundaries of aª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 9. Holistic Approaches to the Qur’an 503verse or its immediate vicinity to treating either individual suras or the entire Qur’an as awhole. Ideally, a holistic approach would begin with analyzing the relationships betweenthe various components of each sura, identifying its central idea, and then move on tostudy the relationships of the various suras to each other, and how they too form awhole. However, few have managed to achieve this ideal: Isl  may be the only one. : aÎıOthers have incorporated some degree of holism into their treatments, so that there aretwo prevalent types of holistic approaches today: sura-centric and generic. In the sura-centric approaches, suras are divided into parts and the relationship between the variousparts is examined, usually tying them together by identifying a common theme. In thegeneric approaches, the focus is on the distinctive characteristics that hold the Qur’antogether as a whole and set it apart from other texts, such as its rhythms and rhymes, cen-tral themes, and other literary features. The holistic approaches contrast with traditionalatomistic methods, which generally approach the Qur’an on a verse-by-verse basis, treat-ing each verse virtually independently of its literary context. The earliest coherence-related discourses are studies of the Qur’an’s general style, com-position and organization, which fall under the general rubrics of ‘nazm.’ The term does :not only refer to holistic concerns, but subsumes word-meaning relationships, as well asthe immediate, linear connections between verses and suras. Generic approaches thataddress the Qur’an’s general style include the work of the ninth-century al-JaÎiÛ, while aqill ’sthe earliest surviving sura-centric treatments are al-B anı work on suras Ghfir and aFus: ilat. : s ‘Munsaba’ is later than nazm and also addresses coherence. It primarily referred to the a :immediate linear relationships between suras, but has come to include the connectionsbetween verses. Both terms overlap, as can be noted in al-Biq%ı Nazm al-durar, which a ’s :cuts across both genres. This multi-volume production is the most comprehensive of themedieval works – it systematically connects each sura’s central theme to its name andanalyzes the internal connection within suras among other things. The term ‘nazm’ is also present in the recent revival of the genre, as in the work of :Ña%ı , Isl , and al-Zayn. Other modern authors, whose work can also be classified as dı : aÎıholistic, identify their work as literary, as in the work of Bint al-Sh : i’, or thematic, as in atthe work of al-Ghaz . While the twentieth century has seen a proliferation of holistic alıapproaches, they exist side by side with traditional atomistic methods, which are alsowidespread. Western scholarship has addressed similar concerns, particularly for the Mec-can suras; however, the focus on coherence and textual integrity is less prevalent there.Short BiographyNevin Reda’s research focuses on the Qur’an, often in relation to women or in relationto the Bible. She has a particular interest in Surat al-Baqara, the longest of the Qur’an’schapters, on which she wrote her thesis, entitled ‘Textual Integrity and Coherence in theQur’an: Repetition and Narrative Structure in Surat al-Baqara.’ She has published twoarticles in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences: ‘Women in the Mosque: His-torical Perspectives on Segregation’ and ‘The Qur’anic Ó ut and the Rise of the Ancient alIsraelite Monarchy: An Intertextual Reading.’ Her most widely disseminated article is onthe topic of women Imams and has been circulated on several websites, including theCanadian Council of Muslim Women (www.ccmw.com), where it was initiallypublished. Her other articles mostly address the Shari‘a debates in Canada and can also befound on the CCMW website. She has previously taught at the University of Torontoand at Huron University College, and she is currently coordinating the Canadianª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  • 10. 504 Nevin RedaCertificate in Muslim Studies at Emmanuel College. She holds a B.Sc. in engineeringfrom Cairo University, in addition to an M.A. in Biblical Hebrew Language and Litera-ture from the University of Toronto. Her Ph.D. is also from the University of Toronto,and has a concentration in the areas of the Qur’an and Islamic Thought and Education.Her name occasionally appears as Nevin Reda El-Tahry.Notes* Correspondence address: Nevin Reda, Emmanuel College, 75 Queen’s Park Crescent, Toronto, Ontario M5S1K7, Canada. E-mail: nevin.reda@sympatico.ca.1 This article is an abridgment of a chapter in my doctoral dissertation (2010), Textual Integrity and Coherence in theQur’an: Repetition and Narrative Structure in Surat al-Baqara, University of Toronto. For the use of ‘holistic’ in theNew Age spiritual sense, see, for example, Roderick Main (2008), Secularization and the ‘Holistic Milieu’: Socialand Psychological Perspectives, Religion Compass 2, pp. 1–20.2 While the term ‘holistic’ is usually in its literary, text-based sense when used in connection with the Qur’an,there is also a well-established tradition of ‘experiential’ interpretation, which effects a kind of spiritual ‘holism.’These kinds of interpretations can be found particularly within Sufi and other esoteric exegesis. See, for example,al-Shahrast , (2009), Akash (2006), Godlas (2006), al-Sulamı (1995, 2001). anı 3 ’s ’ Gilliot and Larcher spell al-Jindı name ‘al-Jundı (Gilliot and Larcher (2001), pp. 126, 134). It is one of two ’possible classical Arabic pronunciations for the contemporary Egyptian surname, generally vocalized ‘al-Jindı today.The second classical pronunciation is ‘al-Janadı as in ‘al-MufaÃÃal ibn MuÎammad al-Janadı (d. 920 ⁄ 308)’ and ,’ ‘MuÎammad ibn Ysuf al-Janadı (d. 1332 ⁄ 732),’ see al-Ziriklı (2007, vol. 2, p. 140; vol. 7, pp. 151, 280). I have u   chosen the contemporary vocalization, because this al-Jindı is a contemporary scholar. There is also no way ofknowing which of the two classical pronunciations, if any, form the basis of his name.4 Saleh (2004, pp. 136–37, 250) has mentioned another, early work, Kitb al-Nazm, by a contemporary of al-J a : aÎiÛ,al-Íasan ibn Nasr al-Jurj  (d. 263 ⁄ 876). Although this work is now lost, parts of it have been preserved in : anı ’sal-Tha‘labı commentary. Not much is known about this important work; for example, it is not mentioned inAudebert (1982) or Gilliot and Larcher (2001).5 u : a h a a aqill  %Luzm hujjat al-Qur’n wa’l-tanbı ‘al mu‘jiztih;’ Al-B anı (1963), p. 9. All translations from the Arabic aremine unless otherwise stated.6 f: ta’lı literally, the act of composing, the way a text is put together.78 u : ı ı naw‘ al-uslb wa’l-tarqa f al-ta‘bı iterally, the kind of style and the way of expression. r: For occurrences of ‘munsaba’ in al-R ’s tafsı see Lagarde (1996), no. 2479. a azı r,9 u ah ad s u . Ab Bakr ‘Abd All ibn MuÎammad Ziy al-Nı abrı Also al-Naysabrı u .10 The reference contains two occurrences of nazm, but no occurrences of munsaba. For occurrences of ‘nazm’ in : a :al-R ’s tafsı see Lagarde (1996), no. 2564. azı r,11 While Wellhausen’s approach is diachronic – the four sources are seen as having been composed much earlierthan the final redaction – ShaÎrr’s approach tends to be synchronic – the four ‘components’ that form the final utext are all more or less contemporaneous and have no existence outside of the text.Works Cited r a m.‘Abd al-RaÎm A. (n. d.). al-Tafsı al-baynı li’l-Qur’ al-karı 7th edn. al-Q an, an ahira: D al-Ma% n. d. ar arif,Abu Íanı [al-Nu‘m ibn Th fa, an abit]. (1972). Kitb al-%lim wa’l-muta%allim. M. R. Qal%ajı and A. al-Hindı al-Na- a a   dawı (eds.). Íalab: Maktabat al-Hud  a. ˇarıAkash, H. A. (2006). Die sufische Koranauslegung: Semantik und Deutungsmechanismus der is-Exegese. Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, Band 271. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag. aqill Al-B anı (1963). I%jz al-Qur’n. A. Saqr (ed.), [al-Q a a ahira]: D al-Ma% ar arif. a%ı : ı a ˜ aAl-Biq (2006). Nazm al-durar f  tansub al-Ayt wa’l-suwar. A. G. al-Mahdı (ed.). 3rd edn. Bayrt: D al-Kutub  u ar al-%Ilmiyya.Al-Ghaz, M. (1989). al-Mahwir al-khamsa li’l-Qur’n al-karı al-Q alı :a a m. ahira: D al-ÑaÎwa. ar—— (1992). Nahwa tafsı mawd %ı li-suwar al-Qur’ al-karı al-Q : r : u an m. ahira: D al-Shurq. ar u : a q aÎiÛ (1995). Nazm al-Qur’n: jam% wa-tawthı wa-dirsa (reconstructed). S. A. MuÎammad (ed.). Al-QAl-J a ahira, Maktabat al-Zahr a’.—— (2000). Ras’il al-Jhiz. A. M. H un (ed.). Bayrt: D al-Kutub al-%Ilmiyya. a a: : ar u ar , : a ıAl-Jindı D. (1960). Nazariyyat ‘Abd al-Qhir f ’l-nazm. al-Fajj Maktabat NahÃat Misr. : ala: :ª 2010 The Author Religion Compass 4/8 (2010): 495–506, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2010.00233.xJournal Compilation ª 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
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