Scripture as Literature: The Bible, the Qurʾān, and Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Rana Issa American University of Beirut

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This article explores Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq’s treatment of Christian and Islamic dogma in his linguistic and literary works, al-Sāq ʿalā al-sāq fī mā huwa al-Fāryāq and Mumāḥakāt al-taʾwīl fī munāqaḍāt al-injīl, among others. A convert to Islam, al-Shidyāq is a notorious critic of Christian doctrine and scripture. I draw parallels with his Bible critique to show how he thwarts the Qurʾān’s stronghold on the Arabic language. Borrowing from Muʿtazilah doctrines, al-Shidyāq proposes that language is a human creation—and meaning a human relation—and blames Arabic philologists for conflating language with submission to the divine. Through the technique of iqtibās, al-Shidyāq perforates the scriptural authority of the Bible and the Qurʾān by treating them as literary texts. Al-Shidyāq underscores the scriptures as products of the human, and not the divine, mind. His parodic play with iqtibās underscores literary rigor against authoritative discourse. Al-Shidyāq provides us with exquisite examples of how radicalness may be diffused, asserted, curtailed and covered up through word choice as well as conditions of book production, to affect a critique of authority that would long outlast his time.

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