The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Ḥafṣa? LOL

Ruqayya Khan, fake scholar, once published an essay "Did a Woman Edit the Qur’an? Ḥafṣa and her Famed Codex" in Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82.1 (March 2014), 174-216.

by focusing upon the role of one early Muslim female figure, Ḥafṣa bint ‘Umar (one of the wives of the prophet Muhammad), in how the Qur’än came to be codified, I critique the androcentric tendencies in western Qur’änic studies’ scholarship. I also seek to reclaim Ḥafṣa’s agency in the process of how the Qur’än came to be formed as a text.

Guillaume Dye is too polite to dump on this jargon-filled and a priori piece directly; he might not even have read it. He does offer a short answer to the overall question - "LOL, no". Well okay; it is not a short answer, because it's Dye saying it:

That the ṣuḥuf of Ḥafṣa are more a topos than history seems to me corroborated by the following story. It is said that Marwān b. al-Ḥakam (d. 685), cousin and secretary of ‘Uṯmān (and future first Marwanid caliph), governor of Medina under Mu‘āwiya, asked regularly to Ḥafṣa to send those ṣuḥuf, but he always got a refusal. On the death of Ḥafṣa, in 665, he renewed his application to her brother, 'Abd Allāh b. Umar, who gave him the sheets. Marwān tore them up and burned them:

I did this because whatever was in them was already written and preserved in the muṣḥaf and I feared that when and as time lengthens among the people, there would [arise] skepticism due to these ṣuḥuf. Or he said indeed that there was something in them not written [in the muṣḥaf]. [tr. Khan, 197]

If these sheets existed and were destroyed as well, it is likely that the muṣḥaf differed substantially from those sheets - the reasons given by (or attributed to) Marwan are indeed an incredible misstep (or an immense cynicism, if you like): if their codex was faithful, there was no risk to keep these sheets, for which the Muslim community should, in principle, feel a considerable attachment.

This ḫabar however seems unlikely (could not Marwan have seized those sheets by force?). Things are best explained if one starts from the principle that the Ḥafṣa sheets never existed. The story on their destruction has then an obvious function: to account for their absence. A first topos posed the existence of these sheets, particularly to establish a perfect transmission from the Prophet to the official Koranic recension. However, at the time when those aḫbār which mention them were outstanding, these sheets do not exist, which is amazing, given their supposed importance. It was therefore needed to explain their disappearance, which made for a second topos, that of the destruction of the sheets - a fine example of aḫbār responding to one other. I do not follow Schwally when he says: "Denn gerade der Umstand, daß sich die Sammlung nach der Tode Omars in dem besitze Hafsas befand, ist die sicherste Tatsache des ganzen Berichtes". This does not preclude there were texts (later destroyed or lost) outstanding during the edition of the official muṣḥaf (but what did they contain exactly?), but if we want to understand what could have happened, we must design a model in which the Ḥafṣa sheets have no place.

Now back to Khan...

Khan assumes that Ḥafṣa had a codex. She addresses the "linking device" at p. 203 - from Burton and Wansbrough; to dismiss it. But not on its merits: instead, she implies that they were just being sexist, "denying agency" to her heroine. Khan lives in a world of fantasy, in a university Safe Space.

Khan's essay does contain some real content - once the reader has assumed its assumption, that Ḥafṣa had a codex. Still, the essay holds interest mainly as an political matter internal among Muslims. Since scholars of Islam as a matter of basic ethics cannot assume the Ḥafṣa topos, they have taken some unnecessary risks in bringing Khan's work to publication. I for one would have put some large red marks on the text.

Earlier I'd considered a broadside against everything that Khan's project even touched, all the way to Oxford University itself. But now I've read Madelung's offhand comment about the survival of Arab matriarchy in the Prophet's succession... so I am today less sure of the invalidity of a feminist approach to Islamic history than I was - say - yesterday morning. Although Khan's particular approach remains, in several places, odious.

Khan did need to assume the topos, to explain why that topos - why Ḥafṣa and not, say, Usama bin Zayd or Khalid bin al-Walid. But her editors needed to insist to her that this is a topos. They needed to hold the line. They failed, and by it they failed their mission.

UPDATE 12/5/2016: see - soon - Sean Anthony and Catherine Bronson, “Did Ḥafṣah bint ʿUmar Edit the Qurʾan? A Response with Notes on the Codices of the Prophet’s Wives”, Journal of the International Qurʾanic Studies Association 1 (2016) on why this insistence on the destruction of Hafsah’s suhuf.


posted by Zimri on 15:20 | link | 0 comments

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