The Caliphate of Adam: Theological Politics of the Qurʾānic Term Ḫalīfa

In: Arabica
Han Hsien Liew Harvard University (Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Department of History)

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This paper studies how medieval Sunnite Muslim exegetes from al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) to Ibn Kaṯīr (d. 774/1373) understood the Qurʾānic term ḫalīfa and other Ḫ.L.F-derived terms. While previous scholarship has examined how exegetes generally understood the term, this paper scrutinizes the exegetical commentaries (tafsīr) chronologically in order to discern the semantic and terminological shifts accompanying different commentaries over time. It demonstrates the importance of an intertextual approach in placing tafsīr literature in dialogue with writings on the caliphate in works of theology (kalām) and law ( fiqh). Overall, the paper argues that the legal and theological development of the Sunnite theory of the caliphate provided exegetes with new clusters of terminology associated with the caliphate to enrich their commentaries on the Ḫ.L.F verses. This process was in turn catalyzed by the systematization of the caliphate discourse and the canonization of the four-caliphs thesis during the Sunnite Revival.

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