Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis

By Reuven Firestone | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

THE NATURE OF THE LITERATURE ISLAMIC INTERPRETIVE LITERATURE

Islamic exegesis is commonly called tafsīr, a word which has taken on the technical definition of external or exoteric exegesis of the Qur'ān. 1 Qur'ānic exegesis represents a vast genre of Islamic religious literature. From the earliest days, pious Muslims sought to establish the actual historical occasions during which Muḥammad received the many bits and pieces of revelation that were assembled into the Qur'ān. These efforts were occasionally collected and committed to writing. These explanations naturally expounded upon why, as well as when and where the revelations were given. Later scholars made compilations of legalistic interpretations of Qur'ānic passages. Some composed theological tracts connected to the Qur'ānic revelation, and others even wrote grammars and rhetorical works based on the structure and style of Qur'ānic discourse. All the major religious movements produced their own specific approaches to Qur'ānic exegesis, and no religious scholar was ever considered noteworthy without a thorough knowledge of the Qur'ān and its interpretation.

Other genres of Islamic literature which do not fall into the strict category of exegesis frequently contain Qur'ānic interpretations as well. Religious tracts, for example, regularly base their conclusions on premises derived from particular understandings of scripture. And Islamic historiography tends to treat its subject matter with special regard to the Qur'ānic world view. The Islamic histories treating the period before Muḥammad's birth, for example, take the Qur'ānic view of the pre-Islamic world carefully into account. But since the Qur'ān's own statements concerning pre-Islamic history are not always consistent, the various historical works have had to engage in Qur'ānic interpretation through their own account of the unfolding of history.

Several different categories of Islamic interpretive literature take up the account of Abraham and Ishmael. One type is indeed the tafsīr or formal exegesis of the Qur'ān, which usually provides comments in a linear fashion

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Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Transliterations xiii
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Chapter 1 - Biblicists and Arabs 3
  • Chapter 2 - The Nature of the Literature Islamic Interpretive Literature 11
  • Part Two - The Syrian Prologue 23
  • Chapter 3 - Abraham's Emmigration 25
  • Chapter 4 - The Tyrant 31
  • Chapter 5 - The Birth of Ishmael 39
  • Chapter 6 - Beersheba 48
  • Chapter 7 - The Angels Visit 52
  • Part Three - The Meccan Sequence 61
  • Chapter 8 - The Transfer to Mecca 63
  • Chapter 9 - The Jurhum 72
  • Chapter 10 - Abraham's Visits 76
  • Chapter 11 - Building the Ka'Ba 80
  • Chapter 12 - The Pilgrimage 94
  • Part Four - The Sacrifice 105
  • Chapter 13 - Prelude to Sacrifice 107
  • Chapter 14 - The Sacrificial Act 116
  • Chapter 15 - The Redemption 129
  • Chapter 16 - Isaac or Ishmael? 135
  • Conclusion 153
  • Part Five - Appendices 161
  • Appendix 1 - The Exegetes and Their Sources Ibn Sa'D, KitĀb Al-TabaqĀt Al-KabĪr 163
  • Appendix 2 - Traditionists Naming Isaac or Ishmael as the Intended Sacrificial Victim 170
  • Notes 179
  • Selected Bibliography 245
  • Index 259
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