The status of the Qurʼān in interreligious discussions in ʽAbbāsid times. Theories on the inimitability of the Qur’ān (i‘jāz al-qur’ān) in theological contexts

The status of the Qurʼān in interreligious discussions in ʽAbbāsid times. Theories on the inimitability of the Qur’ān (i‘jāz al-qur’ān) in theological contexts

Hans-Peter Pökel

The status of the Qurʼān in interreligious discussions in the ʽAbbāsid Empire: theories on the miraculousness of the Qur’ān (i‘jāz al-qur’ān) in theological contexts.

Theories about the specific character of holy scripture are not self-evident, given the view, shared by the majority of Muslims, that the Qur’ān is theologically, linguistically and aesthetically inimitable. Recent studies have emphasized that an aesthetic perception of the Qurʼān and its significance for the self-understanding of the Muslim community has never been seriously considered in proper context but has rather always been seen as an expression of an exaggerated self-assertion of Arabic cultural identity. 

The fundamental idea of an inimitable and miraculous Qurʼān reflects the Muslim perception of the Qurʼān as an expression of metaphysical beauty. The theories Muslim scholars developed on this topic in the ῾Abbāsid period can be seen as an attempt to rationalize the collective religious experience of the Muslim community that the Qur᾽ān is an inimitable scripture within the framework of Arabic language. Although the idea of an inimitable scripture is already reminiscent in the Qurʼān, its theoretical foundation was developed by Muslim scholars in reaction to socio-cultural and interreligious challenges which went hand in hand with philological considerations of Arabic language.

The project asks for the entanglement of two things: an emerging Christian theology in the Arabic language and the historical development of theological and philological debates concerning the hermeneutics of the Qur᾽ān in general and the miraculous character of the Qurʼān in particular. Muslims and Christians considered similar difficult theological questions by applying logic and dialectic in their inquiry. One assumption of the project is that Christian Arabic and Muslim theologians affected and stimulated each other and even competed in the search for arguments to promote the acceptance of their faith outside the given framework of their own community. At the same time, Muslim theologians and Arabic philologists argued from different perspectives and asked for the delicate relationship between expression and meaning and the polysemous understanding of language.

The intricate entanglement and crosspollination of Arabic philological and theological ideas merits attention since questions relating to true belief and the human limitations of a hermeneutical accessibility to the Qur᾽ān in the Arabic language were deeply discussed by ῾Abbāsid scholars who considered different approaches to understanding as intellectual enrichment for the debate.

The project studies literary and theological sources of the ʽAbbāsid period in the Arabic language, exploring the development of theories concerning the inimitability of the Qurʼān. It investigates aspects of political authority and legitimacy in the ʽAbbāsid period, a major formative period for the development of ideas in the history of Islamic culture. Within the framework of the project,
early debates about the translatability of the Qur᾽ān and the accessibility of its language are considered within their historical context.


Dr. Hans-Peter Pökel (