Touching and Ingesting: Early Debates over the Material Quran

By Zadeh, Travis | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 2009 | Go to article overview

Touching and Ingesting: Early Debates over the Material Quran


Zadeh, Travis, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


1. UTHMAN'S BLOOD AND MUAWIYA'S SPEARS

Ibn Abi Dawud al-Sijistani (d. 316/929) opens the Kitab al-Masahif, a study of the textus receptus of the Quran, with the famed narrative of how the third caliph, Uthman b. Affan (r. 23-35/644-656), was reading from the Quran when assassinated. Uthman's blood, the account goes, spilled over the codex and finally beaded up on the following verse, "... God will be sufficient for you against them, He is the all-hearing, the all-knowing" (Q 2:137). (1) This particular anecdote occurs with some frequency in the third/ninth-century historiographical sources, with chains of transmission (asanid) that stretch back to at least the Umayyad period. (2) The literary form of the account, foretelling future schisms within Islam, with such a clear intersection between scripture and salvation history, suggests a discourse associated with the professional qussas, early preachers who often served as mouthpieces for Umayyad propaganda. (3)

It is not entirely apodictic to observe that this particular narrative of Uthman's assassination presupposes a physical copy of the revelation to Muhammad. The portentous power of this particular codex (mushaf), (4) as it relates to Uthman's place in the larger arc of history, can only fully be understood when set against the central role that Uthman plays in the codification of the Quran. Not only is Uthman remembered for establishing the textus receptus, but also for attempting to burn or erase all variant Quranic copies then in circulation. (5) Nonetheless, the various accounts of the collection of the Quran into its final recension, as recorded in the maghazi, sira, and hadith literature, and inflecting the broader traditions of ulum al-Quran, are embroiled in contradictions and discrepancies. (6) Based on isnad analysis of the accounts detailing Uthman's recension, much of the material converges on the religious scholar Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (d. ca. 124/742), who closely aligned himself to the Umayyad regime. (7) As to what extent these accounts can be traced even further back, and whether they reflect the actual process of codification, is open to debate. (8)

Origins are notoriously messy for historians; this is especially so for historians of religion. The codification of the Quran is a case in point--the impact of scholarship from the last century on the formative periods of Islam is still strongly felt, such that today it is much more difficult to accept at face value early Muslim accounts of their own history. As with any quest for origins, the question of how and when the revelation to Muhammad became a written scripture remains extremely contentious. This article, however, does not attempt to answer either how or when the Quran was first gathered into a mushaf in its canonical form, (9) as quests of this order are clouded by the Heilsgeschichte running throughout the primary sources and mired in the very epistemological positivism necessary for such endeavors. Rather, the present study examines early debates surrounding the physical codex in order to better understand the symbolic and ritual significance of the Quran as a material object in the nascent periods of Islamic history.

At the symbolic level, Uthman's blood-stained codex prefigures the first Muslim civil war (fitna), which centered on the conflicts ensuing from the accession to the caliphate of A1i b. Abi Talib (d. 40/661). In the Battle of the Camel (35/656) and again at Siffin (37/657), masahif appear prominently. In the course of these separate battles, the raising up of Quranic codices (rafal-masahif) is used to signify a move for arbitration. In the case of Muawiya (r. 41-60/661-680) at Siffin, several traditions detail how his forces lifted the masahif on the tips of their spears to demonstrate their desire for a resolution to the conflict through arbitration based on the book of God (kitab Allah). (10)

The historiographical accounts of these two incidents date back well into the second/eighth century, and while the sources themselves reflect a range of sectarian biases, the symbolic centrality of the Quran in its material form is consistent throughout. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Touching and Ingesting: Early Debates over the Material Quran
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.