From the earliest years of the Caliphate until today, Muslim politicians have made strategic reference to the Qur’an in order to persuade audiences of the moral value of particular allegiances, attitudes, and actions, and to imbue their rhetoric with an aura of sacred authority. This lecture draws on examples from early-medieval caliphal politics, including texts associated with the war between the partisans of `Ali and Mu`awiya (ca. 656-660) and the promulgation of the famous mihna of al-Ma’mun (ca. 833), to explain how Qur’anic referencing functions as rhetorical analogy (qiyas) by establishing likeness between paradigmatic character types in the Qur’an and actors in the socio-political milieu. Working from classical Arabo-Islamic rhetorical theories (e.g. al-Farabi and Ibn Rushd), the speaker will introduce the two basic classes of rhetorical analogy—the example (mithal) and the enthymeme (?amir)—and explain their operations in Qur’anicized rhetoric and their implications for perceived “universal principles” in the Qur’an—a crucial, if elusive, hermeneutical category for many Qur’an exegetes. Analysis of Qur’anic referencing in caliphal rhetoric helps us better understand the practical impact of scriptural hermeneutics on the shaping of Islamic moral ideology.
Vanessa De Gifis is associate professor of Islamic studies at Wayne State University, and author of Shaping a Qur’anic Worldview: Scriptural Hermeneutics and the Rhetoric of Moral Reform in the Caliphate of al-Ma’mun (Routledge, 2014).
Vanessa De Gifis, associate professor of Islamic studies, Wayne State University