Sūrat al-Nisāʾ and the Centrality of Justice

in Al-Bayan: Journal of Qur'an and Hadith Studies
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A structural analysis of Sūrat al-Nisāʾ shows that it is composed according to a symmetrical plan, featuring a return at the end to themes of the beginning (such as the fair treatment of women). In its form, identified as A– B – C – B’ – A’, the sūra compares to other long Medinan sūras. The overall structure is an expansion of the A – B – A’ form common to Meccan sūras. By identifying the large yet likewise symmetrical plan of this sūra, the article – besides bringing to light an example of coherence – highlights continuity in the composition of the Qurʾān. It also brings the middle passage of Sūra 4 into focus. Here, reference is made to an incident involving a Jew accused of theft, and individual accountability is stressed. The Prophet’s ruling in this particular case, putting into practice the just principles enunciated in the “Constitution of Medina,” provides an instance of leadership by example. Finally, the article calls attention to a general development in the Medinan sūras, wherein the figure of Muḥammad, rather than that of an earlier Biblical prophet, for example, becomes central.

Sūrat al-Nisāʾ and the Centrality of Justice

in Al-Bayan: Journal of Qur'an and Hadith Studies

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References

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1

CuypersThe Banquet: A Reading of the Fifth Sura of the Qurʾan (Miami: Convivium2009). See also the analyses of Sūras 2 and 3 in Raymond K. Farrin Structure and Qurʾanic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and Coherence in Islam’s Holy Text (Ashland: White Cloud 2014) 9-32; of Sūras 8 and 9 in Farrin “The Pairing of Sūras 8-9” in Studi del quarto convegno RBS: International Studies on Biblical & Semitic Rhetoric ed. Roland Meynet and Jacek Oniszczuk (Rome: Gregorian & Biblical Press 2015) 245-264; and of Sūra 24 in Yaniss Warrach “Analyse rhétorique de la sourate de la Lumière (24)” in Studi del quarto convegno RBS 265-281. Cf. the structure of a short Medinan revelation Sūra 60 analyzed in Carl W. Ernst How to Read the Qurʾan: A New Guide with Select Translations (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2011) 164-166. For the structure of earlier Meccan sūras see Angelika Neuwirth Studien zur Komposition der mekkanischen Suren (Berlin: de Gruyter 1981).

4

Amina WadudQur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press1999) 19-21.

9

Khaled Abou El FadlThe Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield2006) 112.

12

Ibn Hishāmal-Sīra al-nabawiyya641.

15

See Farrin“The Pairing of Sūras 8-9” 249-250 260.

16

See FarrinStructure and Qur’anic Interpretation18 84-85.

20

The document is translated in WattMuhammad at Medina221-225; the Arabic text is found in Ibn Hishām al-Sīra al-nabawiyya 232-234. For more on this document see besides Watt Uri Rubin “The ‘Constitution of Medina’: Some Notes” Studia Islamica 62 (1985): 5-23; Michael Lecker The Constitution of Medina: Muhammad’s First Legal Document (Princeton: Darwin 2004); and Lecker “Constitution of Medina” in Encyclopedia of Islam THREE ed. Kate Fleet et al. (Leiden: Brill 2012).

21

David Marshall“Christianity in the Qurʾān,” in Islamic Interpretations of Christianityed. Lloyd Ridgeon (London: Routledge2001) 12. From their point of view as Fatima Mernissi observes “the Jews saw the Prophet as an ‘impostor’ who stole their prophets and ‘indigenized’ them to his own advantage. It was in their interest to get rid of the Prophet for two reasons. Not only was he sapping the source of their prestige – access to the sacred to Heaven to the book revealed by God to the prophets – but he was also using their own prophets their own legends their own knowledge to constitute himself as a force would dominate the world.” Mernissi Le harem politique translated into English by Mary Jo Lakeland as The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretaton of Women’s Rights in Islam (New York: Perseus Books 1991) 68.

24

On this subject see Todd LawsonThe Crucifixion and the Qurʾan: A Study in the History of Muslim Thought (Oxford: Oneworld2009). See also Suleiman Mourad “Does the Qurʾān Deny or Assert Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death?” in New Perspectives on the Qurʾān: The Qurʾān in Its Historical Context 2 ed. Gabriel S. Reynolds (London: Routledge 2011) 347-355. Mourad puts forward the thesis that the Qurʾān does not in fact deny the crucifixion but that this crucifixion was effectual since God raised Jesus. For a detailed analysis of verse 157 in particular see W. R. Oakes “Toward a contextual inter-textual and linguistic translation of the hapax legomenon term shubbiha lahum that is found in Sūrat al-Nisāʾ 4 āya 157” in Qur’anic Narratives and the Challenges of Translation ed. Hassane Darir Abdelhamid Zahid and Moulay Youssef Elidrissi (Irbid: Modern Books’ World 2014) 146-168.

26

Al-RāzīMafātīḥ6:101; al-Biqāʿī Naẓm al-durar fī tanāsub al-āyāt wa-al-suwar ed. ʿAbd al-Razzāq Ghālib al-Mahdī (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya 2006) 2:383; Sayyid Quṭb Fī ẓilāl al-Qurʾān (Cairo: Dār al-Shurūq 2009) 2:823.

27

NeuwirthScripture153-154 283-303. Her quotation is from page 154. Cf. Jacqueline Chabbi Le Coran décrypté: Figures bibliques en Arabie (Fayard: Paris 2008) 73 382.

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