The Qur’an as Matrix of Islamic Civilization and Society

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Todd Lawson

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Abstract

Societies are generally seen as producers of texts. Islam suggests that texts are
producers of society, especially texts that record divine revelation from prophets and
messengers. In the genre of literature that deals with the miraculous nature (i`jaz) of
the Qur’an, various authors have sought to demonstrate the miracle of the Qur’an on
various grounds: the compelling and matchless esthetic beauty of the Arabic; the
quality of information and knowledge contained in the Book, either “scientific” or
“religious”; and its miraculous transformative power, by which a new civilization
was created through thework of devout believerswhose souls had been changed. The
unprecedented advance in civilization associated with Islam’s spread is offered as
sufficient proof. Thus Islamic civilization is seen to have an umbilical relationship
with theQur’an as revelation and text. Just as theQur’an itself speaks of the umm alkitab,
bringing motherhood fully into the divine economy, Muslims and their societies
may be seen as children and progeny of the Qur’an, their mother. Such a sense
is heightened when one remembers that themost frequently invoked attribute of God
is Rahmah (mercy), whether as al-Rahman or as al-Rahim, and that these attributes
share their etymology with the word rahim (womb), a symbol of unconditional and
naturally given protection, nourishment, solicitude, and love.
This veneration of and dependency on the written word is one of the hallmarks
of what Hodgson termed “islamicate societies.” Islamic culture’s textual output is of
course impossible to tabulate properly, covering as it it does a vast and heretofore
unimaginable range of subjects, genres, and functions. This issue of the journal offers
just a glimmer of the kind of truly dazzling variety of intellectual and artistic pursuits
that found themselves simultaneously influencing and influenced by their respective
social contexts.With Sebastian Günther’s article we are treated to a scholarly exploration
of the highest caliber demonstrating, among other things, that impassioned
learned debate about Islam’s true nature on the part of pious and devoted believers is
not a recent development; rather, it is perhaps in the nature of Islam itself. Nevin
Reda’s essay brings the Qur’an’s literary nature to center stage with her examination
of the Qur’an’s intertextuality. The diversity with which Islamic texts and societies
generate themselves is highlighted in Muhammed Rustom’s study of the work of
William Chittick, one of the major scholars of Islamic thought today. Liyakat Takim
takes us into the world of Shi`i fiqh, in a substantial analysis of the remarkably
durable relationship between text and normative behavior so characteristic of Islam
as such and Shi`ism in particular. We are especially fortunate to have the outstanding
article by Ingrid Hehmeyer, in which the categories of “water,” “magic,” ...

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