The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, April 23, 2016

'Abd al-Malik's canon

Guillaume Dye's conclusion, 104 cites Amir Moezzi: it wasn't just the Qur'an that the Marwanis wanted to nail down, it was also the Hadith. And then:

This desire for control is understandable given that the political and religious dissident movements, if not rebellious, like that of al-Muḫtār (m. 687), are many - and they are, in fact, very active in Shiite territory. But even if Shiism, during its history, was often quietist, it rests on a principle - the existence of a prophetic word, ever-living - which, virtually, constitutes a formidable political threat to the legitimacy of those in power. The canonization of the Koran, that is to say its codification, its dissemination, under the authority of the Caliph (with consequences for the ritual, which is now based on the codex), setting forth a figure of the past, that of Muhammad, by which one means, as far as possible, to control the memory - all this is part of a movement that can be defined as the excarnation of prophecy. The excarnation is of course the opposite of the incarnation: the prophetic word is no longer that of an individual, prophet or imam, but that of a book.

There is therefore no surprise that the Koran contains no allusion to explicit Umayyad power. The objective of 'Abd al-Malik is not to have a text that legitimizes the Umayyads: it is to have a text by which the whole Islamic community, and this alone, can be defined - but a text that is under the control of the ruler, which he imposes on it gradually. And in many ways - no narrative framework, decontextualized texts, erasing the liturgical Sitz im Leben of many mobilized biens textuels, ambiguous identity of voices involved in the discourse - the Qur'an lends itself indeed very well to political use.

I am not sold on "excarnation" as a concept, myself, but Dye cites for it Aleida Assmann, « Exkarnation: Über die Grenze zwischen Körper und Schrift », ed. J. Huber & A. M. Müller, Interventionen (Bâle, Stroemfeld, 1993), 159-181. Smoke if you got 'em.

On whether the Qur'an cites post-Muhammadan historical events, Dye is here being too modest. I think that wherever the Qur'an mentions David and Solomon together, there it is supporting the Monarchic Principle and from southwestern Syria to boot. That is, I think that suras 21, 27, and 34 do legitimize the Umayyads; I've been leaning that way for most of sura 38 as well (although not v. 26 in it). As for the Shi'ites, to the extent they ever denied these suras to the Umayyads, they just wanted that Solomonic throne for their own hereditary imams. It's just that 'Abd al-Malik bin Marwân got there first. Since the Shi'a weren't relevant to those suras, I have to assume they weren't those suras' problem and, therefore, weren't (then) a problem for the Marwanis either. Maybe other suras hit the Shi'a; I don't know.

Where I see the first opposition to the royalist suras - sura 28 comes to mind - I could do nothing but place such outside the entire monarchic tradition. In that sura's case, I handed that to the Asha'itha, to the qurrâ' behind the nâsir Allâhi 'Abd al-Rahmân al-Kindî 80 / 700. I remain open to alternatives, like the various Haruris of the prior decade.

posted by Zimri on 17:51 | link | 0 comments

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