The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Friday, November 25, 2016

The misconstruction of sura 4

One of the discussions we had at IQSA was a panel about sura 4, and among its speakers was Joseph Lowry. My "minutes" from each of these talks starts here. Lowry was kind enough to pass out a handout, which offers his preferred structure of sura 4 against three other scholars'. Another speaker, Nicolai Sinai, proposed his own, fifth, structure. Up to this talk, I had read directly only two structure-proposals, Zahniser and Farrin, with second-hand knowledge of a third, Islahi. Lowry's handout lays out the differences between himself and those other three. I am here to discuss Farrin. Again. Unfortunately.

For Farrin's proposal, read Sūrat al-Nisāʾ and The Centrality of Justice. For my "professional" opinion of Farrin as a scholar before I got into this new essay of his: my review of Structure and Qur'anic Interpretation.

I'd got Farrin's latest essay some months before this conference, and I'd made a revision of "The Relationship between Sura 4 and the Dome of the Rock" to account for it. But I sat on the revision, because I was working on that Garden collection, until this year's Halloween. As a result I had to sit on my reaction to "Centrality of Justice", as a whole, too. But the essay's mention at IQSA means it is a current "Thing" this month. So here goes:

Farrin is, still, interjecting his own, apologetic, concerns into the text. He writes straight out in p. 2: it is useful briefly to recall the context. Sūrat al-Nisāʾ was revealed following the serious defeat at Uḥud in 3/625... This is not the context; he assumes a sabab al-nuzul from mediaeval exegesis. He also claims of "A", vv. 1-42: equality between the sexes is thus indicated at the sūra’s opening; pairing, rather than gender, is specified, adducing Amina Wudud. As for the later patriarchal and polygynous verses, in this very section? Why, it's only for the welfare of orphans! The wife-beating verse, v. 34, using the same ḍarb root as used in Q. 47:4 for striking the necks of the enemy infidel? It's a light drubbing!

Back to my revision to "Relationship": I mostly looked at Farrin's "B" section, 43-104. I did not see where Farrin explained why sura 4 should make a (sub)section of vv. 43-57, nor why Zahniser's 70/71 split was wrong, nor why there should be a subsection cut between 83/84; I am still not seeing it. Most scholars do, in fact, split 43/44 and not 42/43 like Farrin, including now Lowry; but my essay there didn't take sides on that. Personally, I'd agreed with Farrin over subsection vv. 44-57, but I'd had to do that independently.

There's more, though: Farrin kept using other suras, like 2 and 9, to elucidate sura 4 without explaining how the later suras (he agrees sura 9 is later) can textually be of use in explaining this one. He splits Zahniser's fourth section into his third at vv. 105-115, based on some tall tale about Ṭuʿma ibn Ubayriq. All Farrin's got is the 'Abbasid-era classical Sira.

Overall I found Farrin's essay to offer little that I did not already find in Zahniser. Zahniser, by contrast, showed his work and stayed on topic.

And again when I read Farrin's work, I have had to mark out where he is sliding his own opinions and deliberate mistranslations into the text. Because, again, Farrin is not honest: he was not honest in 2014 when he published Structure and Qur'anic Interpretation and he is not honest this year of 2016 when he published "The Centrality of Justice".

Shame on al-Bayan for letting this essay through, or anything by Farrin, without a very heavy editorial hand. As for Lowry - well, like me, he was stuck with it being current and readily-available, so like me he had to deal with it somehow.


posted by Zimri on 15:05 | link | 0 comments

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