A Contemporary Muslim Scholar’s Approach to Revelation: Moḥammad Moǧtahed Šabestarī’s Reform Project

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Over the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, rethinking the traditional understanding of revelation has been welcomed by a number of Muslim scholars. Moḥammad Moǧtahed Šabestarī, an influential Šīʿī reformer from contemporary Iran, certainly falls in the category of such scholars. The aim of this paper is to discuss his theory of revelation for the purpose of exploring the potential values it holds for flexible interpretation of Islam in the present context. The paper argues that Šabestarī’s method of interpretation of the Qurʾān has its roots in his account of revelation. In order to show in practice how Šabestarī’s understanding of the nature of revelation influences the way he approaches the Qurʾān, the paper focuses on three main themes that consistently appear throughout his writings, namely Qurʾānic socio-political provisions, religious pluralism and the relation between state and religion. The paper, in general, provides an insight of how rethinking the classical methods, ideas and approaches can take place within Islamic tradition in the modern period.

À la fin du xxe et début du xxie siècles, le fait de repenser la compréhension traditionnelle de la Révélation fut bien accueilli par un certain nombre de savants musulmans. Moḥammad Moǧtahed Šabestarī, un influent réformateur chiite de l’Iran contemporain, appartient sans nul doute à cette catégorie de savants. Le propos de cet article est d’analyser sa théorie sur la Révélation dans le but d’explorer ses valeurs potentielles pour une interprétation souple de l’islam en fonction du contexte contemporain. L’article démontre que la méthode d’interprétation du Coran de Šabestarī trouve ses racines dans son récit de la Révélation. Afin de montrer concrètement comment la compréhension qu’avait Šabestanī de la nature de la Révélation influence la façon dont il aborde le Coran, l’article se concentre sur trois thèmes principaux qui apparaissent systématiquement dans ses écrits, à savoir les dispositions socio-politiques du Coran, le pluralisme religieux et la relation entre l’État et la religion. D’une manière générale, l’article donne un aperçu de la façon dont le fait de repenser les méthodes, idées et approches classiques peut avoir sa place dans la tradition islamique à l’époque contemporaine.

This article is in English.

A Contemporary Muslim Scholar’s Approach to Revelation: Moḥammad Moǧtahed Šabestarī’s Reform Project

in Arabica

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References

1

Kenneth CraggTroubled by TruthEdinburghPentland Press Ltd1992 p. 3.

2

Richard Bell“Muḥammad’s Visions”Muslim Word24/2 (1934) p. 148.

3

William Montgomery Watt and Richard BellIntroduction to the QurʾānEdinburghEdinburgh University Press1970 p. 22.

4

Ibid. p. 24.

5

CraggTroubled by Truth p. 3.

6

Mohammed ArkounThe Unthought in Contemporary Islamic ThoughtLondonSaqi2002 p. 27.

13

GoldbergŠīʿī Theology in Iran p. 145.

14

ŠabestarīNaqdī bar Qerāʿat-e Rasmī az Dīn p. 321-322.

16

ŠabestarīNaqdī bar Qerāʿat-e Rasmī az Dīn p. 323.

17

Ibid. p. 324.

18

Forough Jahanbakhsh“Introduction” p. xxxvi.

19

ʿAbdolkarim SorūšThe Expansion of Prophetic Experience p. 4.

20

GoldbergŠīʿī Theology in Iran p. 136.

24

GoldbergŠīʿī Theology in Iran p. 136.

30

Mohammed Arkoun“The notion of Revelation: From Ahl al-Kitab to the Societies of the Book”Die Welt des Islams28 (1988) p. 76.

33

See TavassoliChristian Encounters with Iran p. 159; Šabestarī himself says that “Karl Barth and his followers have created the best literature in regards with the experience of being addressed by divinity”. Moḥammad Moǧtahed Šabestarī Imān va Azādī [= Faith and Freedom] Tehran Tarh-e No 1997 p. 31.

35

ŠabestarīImān va Azādī p. 54.

36

Ibid. p. 56.

38

Abdullah Saeed“Fazlur Raḥmān: a Framework for Interpreting the Ethico-legal Content of the Qurʾān” in Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qurʾāned. Suha Taji-Farouki Oxford-New York-London Oxford University Press-The Institute of Ismaili Studies (“Qurʾanic studies series”) 2006 p. 47; for traditional understanding of revelation see Abdullah Saeed Interpreting the Qurʾān: Towards a Contemporary Approach London Routledge 2006 p. 26-28.

39

Cited in Jahanbakhsh“Introduction” p. xxxvii.

41

ŠabestarīHermenūtīk Kitāb va Sonnat p. 37.

42

Ibid. p. 15.

43

CampaniniThe Qurʾān: Modern Muslim Interpretations p. 69.

44

ŠabestarīHermenūtīk Kitāb va Sonnat p. 260.

45

Cited in GhobadzadehReligious Secularity p. 69.

46

ŠabestarīHermenūtīk Kitāb va Sonnat p. 286; words in parentheses are mine.

47

Ibid. p. 161.

48

Vahdat“Post-Revolutionary Islamic Modernity in Iran” p. 202.

49

SorūšQabḍ va Baṣt-e Ti‘urīk-i Šarīʿat p. 88-89.

52

GadamerTruth and Method p. 296.

53

Cited in Jahanbakhsh“Introduction” p. xxxvii.

54

Vahdat“Post-Revolutionary Islamic Modernity in Iran” p. 203.

55

ʿAbdolkarim SorūšThe Expansion of Prophetic Experience p. 63-91.

58

ŠabestarīHermenūtīk Kitāb va Sonnat p. 28.

59

Ibid. p. 114.

61

ŠabestarīHermenūtīk Kitāb va Sonnat p. 59; Sadri “Sacral defense of secularism” p. 268.

67

ŠabestarīNaqdī bar Qerāʿat-e Rasmī az Dīn p. 376.

70

Krister Stendahl“Method in the Study of Biblical Theology” in The Bible in Modern Scholarshiped. James Philip Hyatt Nashville Abingdon Press 1996 p. 199-200 For Stendahl’s influence on modern Muslim hermeneutical approaches towards the Qurʾān especially on Abū Zayd’s method see Yusuf Rahman The Hermeneutical Theory of Naṣr Hamid Abū Zayd: An Analytical Study of His Method of Interpreting the Qurʾān PhD Thesis McGill University 2001 p. 152.

71

Raymond Edward BrownThe Critical Meaning of the BibleNew YorkPaulist Press1981 p. 32-34.

72

David Jasper“Literary Readings of the Bible” in The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretationed. John Barton Cambridge-New York Cambridge University Press (“Cambridge companions to religion”) 1998 p. 27.

77

Ibid. p. 243-244; see also id. “ʿAmal be Ayeh-yee dar Qoran Hamišegi Nist”.

80

Ibid. p. 78.

82

Ibid. p. 11.

89

ŠabestarīHermenūtīk Kitāb va Sonnat p. 255.

94

Jonathan Z. Smith“Religion, Religions, Religious” in Critical Terms for Religious Studiesed. Mark C. Taylor Chicago University of Chicago Press 1998 p. 269-284.

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