The last four decades have witnessed significant progress in the scholarly understanding of the Qur’an. Nonetheless, contemporary scholarship is yet to produce a detailed historically oriented commentary on the entire Qur’anic corpus. Arguably the greatest interpretive, methodological, and expository challenges to this endeavour are posed by the long Medinan surahs found at the beginning of the corpus (Surahs 2–5). Reasons for this include their considerable length, their lack of an immediately apparent macrostructure, their frequent allusions to a great number of chronologically earlier Qur’anic proclamations, and the relative preponderance in them of legal and homiletic material, in addition to the narrative and eschatological registers familiar from many shorter surahs. Moreover, the Qur’an as a whole is punctuated by a great number of recurrent terms and phrases whose precise significance, contextual usage, and intimate correlations with earlier discursive traditions (the Bible, post-Biblical Jewish and Christian literature, and pre-Islamic Arabic poetry) remain to be fully and systematically gauged. The Medinan long surahs therefore constitute touchstones for the feasibility of any commentarial approach to the Qur’an as a whole: any exegetical protocol claiming to be capable of serving as a unitary framework for a full commentary on the Islamic scripture should first be demonstrated to be suitable to tackling these texts. Benefiting from the project team’s research into the Qur’an’s literary and compositional structure, Qur’anic law, and the Qur’an’s Islamic reception history, QuCIP therefore aims to deliver crucial groundwork for a model commentary on parts of the Qur’an whose basic format could subsequently be extended to other parts of the Islamic scripture.
Towards a Historical and Literary Commentary on Surahs 1–3 (Nicolai Sinai)
By way of a first milestone towards a commentary on Surahs 1–3, Sinai will produce an exegetical and intertextual dictionary of key Qur’anic terms and phrases that recur multiple times across the surahs in question and the remainder of the Qur’anic corpus (e.g., āmana, "to believe"; aslama, "to surrender"; āyah, "sign"; zakāh, "alms"; qalb, "heart"; dhakkara, "to remind"; khalada, "to remain forever"). Each entry will consist of a short essay of up to c. 5,000 words discussing Qur’anic usage in addition to relevant evidence from pre-Qur’anic poetry, inscriptions, as well as Jewish and Christian traditions. Without such a dictionary, any commentary on the Qur’an would become hopelessly bogged down in constant digressions on particular terms and phrases, impeding any clear sense of literary progression in the surahs commented upon.
After completing this preparatory dictionary, Sinai will begin work on a model commentary on Surahs 1–3 that will integrate intertextual, theological, literary, and redaction-historical perspectives and, like the dictionary, will critically draw on interpretive resources found in pre-modern Islamic Qur’an scholarship. Each surah commentary will follow a set template including an introductory overview discussing the respective surah’s compositional structure, date, and redactional development, and a detailed verse-by-verse commentary including a new translation of the surah will provide detailed and appropriately technical discussion of text-critical, lexical, grammatical, literary, redactional, and doctrinal issues.
In addition, the interlocking research of the QuCIP team will produce further articles and monographs:
Compositional Devices in the Qur’an (Marianna Klar)
Marianna Klar is working on the mechanisms by which the Qur’an defines its structural units and its thematic borders. Her publications as part of the QuCIP project will, among other topics, explore the role that is played by shifts in rhyme and shifts in rhythm across otherwise unified expanses of Qur’anic text. Klar will also investigate how specific surah sections are unified by recurrent diction and other devices. All of these matters will be addressed from the working assumption that aspects of the Qur’an’s stylistics are comparable to other orally delivered texts such as the Psalms and pre-Islamic Arabic poetry. Drawing on the Qur’anic Adam narratives as a case study, Klar will moreover examine the distinctive features of Qur’anic narrative against the background of other late antique literary traditions.
Legal Paraenesis in the Qur’an (Nora K. Schmid)
Nora K. Schmid’s book project is devoted to legal paraenesis in the Qur’an, particularly in the Medinan surahs. Her research focuses on the question of how legal knowledge is formed, articulated, and imparted to the believers through exhortations and moral reminders. With a few exceptions, legal and quasi-legal passages in the Qur’an have so far mostly been studied without full regard to their rhetorical form and in isolation from their context. Here, by contrast, they will be approached as integrally linked to paraenesis and moral instruction. Based on the observation that the nexus of law and paraenesis is not unparalleled in late antiquity, Qur’anic legal paraenesis will be contextualized with Jewish and early Christian practices and ideas surrounding the transfer of legal knowledge and legal-ethical instruction. Topics to be studied against this background include paraenetic literary forms and tropes, their impact on the selection, organization, and disposition of legal material in the Qur’an, and the nascent Islamic community’s engagement with the process of legal-ethical decision-making as reflected in the Medinan surahs.
Women at the Dawn of Islam (Behnam Sadeghi)
Behnam Sadeghi is writing a book on the early evolution of Muslim ideas about women in the public space. Focusing on the disagreements about ritual purity, participation in communal prayers, prayer leadership, funerals, public baths, etc., the book traces how perspectives varied from place to place and changed over time during the first 150 years of Islam, and why some were forgotten while others were incorporated in the post-formative legal traditions (madhhabs) that have endured to our time. The project contextualizes the Qur’an’s perspective by analyzing the most important and voluminous relevant source material – the āthār/riwāyāt – to identify the earliest layers of ideas and by drawing comparisons to non-Muslim Near Eastern traditions. It examines the reception of Qur’anic ideas in the Hadith literature, Islamic law, and scriptural exegesis.