Fragmentation and Compilation: The Making of Religious Texts in Islam. A Comparative Perspective (Part II)



Fragmentation and Variation in the First Islamic Graffiti (1st–2nd century AH)

Professor Frédéric Imbert, Aix-Marseille University, France

The latest research in the field of Islamic graffiti in the first two centuries AH in the Middle East is uncovering new information about Muslim society at the dawn of Islam. Most of this information concerns the Islamic faith, the place of the Qur’aninfo-icon and the figure of the Prophet Muhammad, but the oldest graffiti also allow us to reflect on the status of writing during the same period.


Thousands of Arabic Kufic graffiti recently discovered in Saudi Arabia and in the wider Middle East reflect an extreme fragmentation due to the quantity of inscriptions scattered all over the area. These Arabic graffiti, which were not subjected to any kind of censorship, are the expression of variation and repetition at the same time: variation of the Qur’anic text and of the attitude of people towards the new religion and the Prophet, and repetition of the religious prayers and invocations. The picture of early Islam emanating from the first Islamic graffiti is one of fragmentation.

Repetitions and Variations, and the Problem of ‘Qur’anic Variants’

Dr Asma Hilali, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London

The field of Qur’anic Studies has been greatly influenced by the medieval reception of the Qur’an text manifested in the exegetical literature and by the theories related to the ‘Qur’anic variants’. The concept of ‘Qur’anic variants’ is deeply rooted in the history of the canonisation of the Qur’an and in the various assumptions made about scribal errors and falsification. This paper provides a critique of the conceptual tools used in Qur’anic Studies in the last two decades and will propose a new perspective in the study of the textual features interpreted by the medieval and modern scholars as ‘Qur’anic variants’. The new perspective takes the fragmented aspect of the text to be inseparable from the history of its transmission.

Fragmentation, Compilation and Discourse: A Comparison of Three Arba‘un Collections on Jihadinfo-icon and Martyrdom Compiled in the Late Mamluk Period

Dr Stephen Burge, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London

This paper examines the ways in which hadithinfo-icon scholars went about compiling hadith collections by undertaking a comparative analysis of three similar works written in the same period. The three collections are all arba‘un collections – short collections of around forty hadith – which focus on the themes of jihād and martyrdom. The three studied are Suyuti’s Abwab al-su‘ada’ fi asbab al-shuhada’ (‘The Gates of the Lucky in the Occasions of Martyrdom’) and his Arba‘un hadithan fi fadl al-jihad (‘Forty Hadith on the Merits of Jihad’) and al-Biqa‘i’s Dhayl al-istishhad bi-ayat al-jihad (‘The Appendix to Martyrdom in the Verses on Jihad ’). I will argue that by closely analysing the material included and excluded from a hadith collection, as well as the ways in which the hadith have been arranged, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of particular nuances within a text in which a compiler does not give his views openly to his reader. This paper argues that the ‘hadith literature’ contains a vast, almost infinite, body of texts and the job of the hadith compiler is to fragment this wider body of texts, to reconstitute them, and then to arrange them in order to provide a specific discourse on a subject. This process can be seen in the different ways the three works under consideration in this paper respond to the subjects of jihad and martyrdom.

The Qur’an's Fragmentation and Realignment of Gospel and Talmud

Dr Holger Zellentin, The University of Nottingham

The unique ways in which the Qur’an ‘heard’ select stories from the Aramaic Gospel tradition has been considered by generations of scholars. Yet, only the most rudimentary consensus has been established about the nature of the texts with which the Qur’an’s audience was familiar, let alone the ways in which the Qur’an used these texts. The Qur’an’s utilisation of Talmudic material has received even less attention, and a consensus is even more remote. The present paper seeks to advance, one small step, our understanding of the deployment of both corpora in the Qur’an by considering them jointly. More than occasionally, the Qur’an fragments and realigns demonstrable elements of the (likely oral) Gospel and the Talmudic traditions together in order to solidify its claim of being a correction to the shortcomings of both.

Unity and Fragmentation in the Standard Text of the Qur'an: The Prophet as First Addressee and Dialogic Argumentation


Dr Mehdi Azaiez, Laboratoire d’excellence ‘Religions et Sociétés dans le Monde Méditerranéen’ (Labex RESMED), Paris.

As defined in discourse analysis, first addressee (or interlocutor) is the person involved in a conversation or dialogue. The figure of the Qur’an’s first addressee is a textual phenomenon linked to the structure of the text and its argumentative dimension. This paper will define the notion of the first addressee in the Qur’an, its linguistic forms and functions within the entire Qur’an. The paper will explore the following questions: The variety of the notions of ‘the first addressee’; the double aspect of fragmentation/unity of text after its collection and the role of the first addressee in the argumentative shape of the text. This contribution will aim to show (i) how the dialogic relation between a Qur’anic enunciator and its first addressee reveals one of the main aspects of Qur’anic argumentation; and (ii) how the Qur’an legitimates the status of its first addressee as a prophet.