Encountering ambiguity: Muctazilī and Twelver Shīcī approaches to the Qur'an's ambiguous verses

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Within the broader discipline of Qur'anic exegesis, the sub-genre of the mutashābihāt al-Qur'ān (the ambiguous verses of the Qur'an) is comprised of works dedicated to the identification and explication of those verses that present theological or linguistic challenges. Yet, the approach, style, and objective of the scholars who have written commentaries on the ambiguous verses are far from monolithic. This essay brings into focus the internal diversity of this important exegetical tradition by focusing on the Qur'an commentaries of two major scholars in fourth/eleventh-century Baghdad, al-Sharīf al-Radī (d. 406/1016) and Qādī 'Abd al-Jabbār (d. 415/1025). Al-Radī was a prominent Twelver Shī'ī theologian and poet while 'Abd al-Jabbār was a leading Mu'tazilī theologian during this period; al-Radī was also 'Abd al-Jabbār's student and disciple. Through a close reading of their respective commentaries on two Qur'anic verses, I explore possible interconnections and interactions between Shī'ī and Mu'tazilī traditions of exegesis, and demonstrate that while 'Abd al-Jabbār mobilised the language of Islamic jurisprudence, al-Radī primarily relied on early Islamic poetry and the etymology of the Arabic language. Methodologically, I argue against a conceptual approach that valorises sectarian and theological identity as the primary determinant of hermeneutical desires and sensibilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-115
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Qur'anic Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


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