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The Qur'an as Literature (Mustansir Mir)

The Qur'an as Literature (Mustansir Mir)

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Published by msharif10
Mustansir Mir
Religion & Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, The Literature of Islam (Spring, 1988), pp. 49-64.
Published by the University of Notre Dame.
Mustansir Mir
Religion & Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, The Literature of Islam (Spring, 1988), pp. 49-64.
Published by the University of Notre Dame.

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Published by: msharif10 on May 03, 2013
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08/29/2014

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The University of Notre Dame
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THEQUR'ANAS LITERATURE
MustansirMirIInthe1890s RichardMoulton,author of TheLiteraryStudy oftheBible,was able tojustifythe needfor his workbypointingout that"Literature,"asopposedto"literatures"Greek, Hebrew,and Ger-man- "is aseparate entity"which,with its "foundationforms.. .suchasEpic, Lyric,Dramatic,"deserves tobestudiedinits ownright,andthatsuchastudywould break newground(iv-v).Andin1987 RobertAlter andFrankKermode,editorsof TheLiteraryGuide to theBible,spokewith satisfaction oftheproveneffectivenessof theliterary ap-proachto theBible(2),addingthat there is "aneed,feltbyclericalandsecular studentsalike,toachieve a newaccommodation withtheBibleas itis,whichis tosay,as literature ofhighimportanceandpower"(4).TheQur'an,like theBible,is anacknowledged literarymasterpiece.But,unfortunately,it has notyetreceived the kind ofattentionMoultonspeaksof with reference to the Bible. And it willprobablynot beinthenear future that onewillbe able tospeak,asAlterand Kermodehave inregardtotheBible,aboutsignificantgainson theliteraryfrontregardingtheQur'an.But,onemightask,doestherenotexist,atleastinArabic,alargenumberofworksdealingwith theliterary qualitiesof theQur'an?Such workscertainlyexist.But mostof themare,inrespectof theirorientation,premises,andstructure,works oftheologyratherthanofliterarycriticism,atypicalexample beingTheInimitabilityoftheQur'an bythe medievalscholarAbu Bakral-Baqillani(950-1013).Thisbeingthecase,studyingtheQur'anas literature-andpurelyasliterature-is not unlikesettingfoot on newterritory.
R&L 20.1(Spring1988)49
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50Religion&Literature
Ameaningfuliterarystudyof a discourseassumesthat the discoursepossessesacertaindegreeofunityandcoherence.TheQur'ans dividedinto114chapters(Arabic:surahs),he obviousmajorunits of thescrip-ture.Thechaptersareofvarying lengths,from threeverses to286.Thattheseunitspossess any unityor coherenceis a notionforeigntomostof thetraditionalMuslimscholars,towhom eachsurah s com-posedof somanyisolated verses orpassages.1Thisatomisticview oftheQur'an,for whichtherearehistoricalreasons,2has beenagreatimpedimenttoastudyof theQur'anasliterature.Intraditionalworks,theQur'anis made out to besomewhatlike theepitaphon the tombofMidasthePhrygian:"[I]tmakes nodifference,"as SocratesexplainstoPhaedrus,"whatorder the lines come in"(264c).This is not to dis-paragethoseworks,fortheyhave much tooffer,andtheymustalwaysserve as astartingpointfor theliterary studyof theQur'an.Itis never-thelesstrue that theassumptionofdisjointednesshas veiledmuchoftheQur'an'siteraryexcellencefrom view.Animportantwayin whichtwentieth-centuryQur'an exegesisdiffers from classicalexegesisis thatmanyMuslimscholarstodayregardtheQur'anaspossessing signifi-cant coherence.Thisdevelopment,whichcannot be discussedhere,3makes asystematicliterary studyof theQur'anbothpossibleand im-perative.Suchastudy,ifcarried out with aproperly developedmethodology,will for allpractical purposesbe newincharacter.Asystematicliterary studyoftheQur'anshould be conductedinaccordancewith theprinciplesofliterarycriticismandindependentlyoftheologicalconsiderations.The issue oftherelationshipbetween thetheologicaland theliteraryaspectsofascripturesadifficult one. Thetwoaspectsarelinked,but notintegrally,whichmakes itpossible,orevendesirable,tostudythemindependentlyof eachother. Thattheyarelinked isobvious fromthe factthat theQur'anmakes use ofliter-arytechniquesanddevices topresentitsmessage:it tellsstories,citesparables,usesfiguresofspeech,anddrawscharactersketches,forex-ample.Thattheyarenotlinkedintegrallyneedsalittleexplanation.TheQur'anclaims to beinimitableandchallengesitsopponentstoproduceawork likeit(e.g.2:23;11:13;17:88;52:33-34).The in-imitabilitylatercame tobeconstruedessentiallyinliteraryterms,andthetheologiansmade belief inthematchlessness of theQur'anpartofaMuslim's faith. Initshistoricalexposition,thedoctrine of inimi-tabilitymade theliterarystudyoftheQur'anahandmaiden tothetheological aspectof thescripture.Butthe doctrineoverlooks acrucialfact. TheQur'anicchallengewasaddressed notto thebelievers but totheunbelievers,andwasnotsimplyadenunciation of theunbelievers,
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