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Name : Mauidzoh Hasanah

Assignment : Book Review


JWord count : 1380 (incl. bibliography)
Intended Journal : Journal of Qur'anic Studies
Editor : Center of Islamic Studies, SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies),
University of London.
Publisher : Edinburg University Press

The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical Approach Introduction. By : NICOLAI SINAINicolai Sinai., Edinburgh : Formatted: Font: Not Italic
Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2017.,Pp…. Paperback, € 22.72.

Nowadays, the scholarly encounter done by western academics with the Qur’an has
been dominated by the Historical-Critical method. In principle, historical-critical reading is
and attempt to systematically suspend any assessment of scripture’s truth, coherence and
contemporary relevance ‘“until after the act of interpretation has been carried out’”.1 This Commented [C1]: The journal prescribes single quotation
marks.
mode of reading has becomes a fashionable approach practiced by many scholars in this
field, among the prominent of them are Mathias Zahniser, Reymond Farrin, Angelika
Neuwirth and also Neal Robinson. Zahniser’s works engagesd with comparative history
between Muslim and Christian sources. Meanwhile, the other three scholars put an effort
exclusively to apply historical criticism as the major tenet of their scholarship endeavors
even though they differ in practice.
It is from the work of these marvelous figures, especially Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai
draws his study upon historical-critical framework and develops it into a more feasible
concept method to approach the Qur’an. Sinai, a Professor of Islamic Studies at Faculty of
Oriental Studiesy, Oxford University, and a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, has written
many articles and book chapters related to this topic. However, this book under review is his
first complete opus to provide an in-depth analysis ofn this historical-critical genre. Based on
the preface he wrote, one can identify that the aim of this book is to provide a theoretical
background he chooses to refer to as ‘“the Qur’anic scholar’s interpretive toolkit’” as well as
to show the reader how this approach can be turned into an actual research method. This
book was supposed to be the English translation of his German introduction to the Qur’an
intended for a general readership. However, he decided to rewrite it and expand it into a Commented [C2]: reference

1
Nicolai Sinai, The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical Approach Introduction, Edinburgh University Press,
Edinburgh, 2017, p. 3 see also Hist 223  what Is this? (Plus, this journal prescibres endnotes, not footnotes.)
more scholarly comprehensive textbook for advanced undergraduate and graduate students
as well as scholars of Islamic studies or other fields related to it, such as Biblical studies.
The content of this book is divided into three parts. The first part, identified as
Background, consists of three different chapters. In the first chapter, he deals mainly with Formatted: Font: Italic

the basic features appeared in the Qur’an to acquaint the reader to with the corpus. As a
prologue, he presents his argument in an already quiete extensive manner introducing some
unfamiliar features of the Qur’an such as self-referentiality, the existence of rhyme and stich
and also about textual variants. The sSecond chapter presents historical background both
from Islamic and non-Islamic sources. It is interesting to note that the way he builds his
argument here is strikingly similar to that of Neal Robinson. 2 This includes the way he
introduces the environment before and at the time the Qur’an was revealed, the sources he
chooses to criticize (The Ggreek source Doctrina Iacobi, and Hagarism by Patricia Crone and Formatted: Font: Italic

Michael Cook),3 and the way he relies on Qur’anic text when examining Muslim sources. In
the last chapter of this part, he addresses mainly theabout Qur’anic milieu including Muslim
relationships with Arab Pagans.
The second part, called Method, is basically where his main discussion about the
“interpretive toolkit” lies. It is distributed into three different chapters about Literary Formatted: Font: Italic

Coherence and Secondary Revision, Inner-Qur’aánic Chronology, and Intertextuality. In Formatted: Font: Italic
Formatted: Font: Italic
general, he use this part to show the reader how the “interpretive toolkit” works in an actual
research by giving a real and complete investigation on one Surah as a whole. In this sense,
compared to similar scholarship by other authors, for example by Robinson, many potential
readers may find that Sinai’s work is more reader-friendly in terms of systematical
arrangement. It can be seen from when he tried to engage deeply to uncover the structure
of the longest Surah in the Qur’an, namely Surah number 2 al-Baqarah,4 even though he
discusses it not as lengthy as Robinson did. He delivers his argument straight to the point.
However, the reader will find it difficult to follow since, as what he aimed this book for,
which is to provide “the Qur’anic Scholars interpretive toolkit”, he does not bother himself
to explain what exactly the toolkits a Qur’anic Scholar should have. In the example he gave,

2
Neal Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, (Georgetown: Georgetown Formatted: Indent: First line: 0"
University Press, 2003), page. Formatted: Font: Italic
3
Nicolai Sinai, The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical…, p. 43.
4
Ibid.
he explains about dividing Surah al-Baqarah into ‘“a smaller number of overarching sections,
based on shifts in topic, speaker, and addressee as well as formal markers’”. 5 For someone
who does is not familiar with this field, he/she may wonder about what formal markers are.
It is going to be more useful if he arrange it as what Robinson did by giving an explanation on
the theory of formal markers,6 which can be different from one scholar to another, and then
put it into practice.7 The same case also happened when he talked about rhyme in part one.
Despite the fact that he acknowledge rhyme pattern as evident structural markers which
separate one block of ayahs with the same marker, he failed to adopt it into his more Formatted: Font: Italic

lengthy examination of some of his demonstrations.8


The third part of the book, entitled A Diachronic Survey of the Qur’anic Proclamation, Formatted: Font: Italic

is devoted to investigate the possibility of diachronic reading of the whole Qur’an. In his
another paper, entitled “The Qur’an as Process”, Sinai is the one addressing diachronic
reading as opposed to mainstream synchronic reading on Qur’anic text. Sinai used the term
diachronic to describe Qur’anic reading based on its chronological order (tartīb nūzuli), while
synchronic based on “the given order” of the Qur’anic Surahs (tartīb mushafi).9 He begins his
examination by attesting if there is a possibility of the “Ascending Rule” can be applied
rigorously since the QuránicQur’anic pattern shows some “anomalies” if its order indeed
should be called as “Ascending Rule”. This part is divided into two chapters namely The Formatted: Font: Italic

Meccan Surahs and the Madinan Surahs. It is safe to say that this part is actually the Formatted: Font: Italic

complete version of his previous study in the article mentioned above. In the article, he
talked about only a part of the Meccan Surah, which is the Early Meccan Surah based on
Theodore Noldeke’s chronology. But in this book he moves far beyond that by reaching the Commented [C3]: reference

5
Nicolai Sinai, The Qur’an: A Historical-Criticall…, p. 97.
6
Robinson calls them as “registers”.
7
Neal Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, Georgetown University Formatted: Indent: First line: 0"
Press, 2003. You may shorten this note as you already mentioned the work before. Page number?
8
To recognize how he appliesy this whole theory, one can read his article investigating Surah an-Najm (53).
See, Nicolai Sinai, ‘An Interpretation of Suraht al-Najm (Q. 53)’, in Journal of Qur’anic Studies, (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press on Behalf of the Center for Islamic Studies at SOAS, Edinburgh, 2011):. Pp. 1-28.
9
Basicly, according to its chronological order (tartib nuzuli), the Surahs of the Qur’an are divided into two Formatted: Font: Italic
cathegoriescategories, Meccan Surahs (Surahs that are revealed at the time Muhammad resided in Mecca) and Formatted: Font: Italic
Medinan Surahs (Surahs that are revealed after Muhammad emigrated to Medina). Yet, the Qur’an was not
Formatted: Font: Italic
compiled according to its chronological order, but according to the instruction ?? by Muhammad before he
died. To rationalize the latter account, Western scholarship invented “the Decreasing Length Rule” as the Formatted: Font: Italic
Qur’an is indeed began, except for Surah number one (al-fatihah), with the longest Surah and ended by the
shortest one. Sometimes it is called as “ascending rule” is it is read in the other way around.
Qur’an as a whole and also claiming that he wanted to expand Noldeke’s theory about Early
Meccan Surahs. He introduces the term kerygma, which is usually used in biblical Commented [C4]: meaning?

scholarship0 to point out the core of the early church’s oral tradition about Jesus, to identify
the general sense of Islamic eschatology. To achieve his claim about theoretical expansion,
he constructs a remarkable history of Meccan period complete with information about
Christian background of Qur’anic eschatology, cosmic sign and many other topics. Yet, at the
end, he did not give any final conclusion on his reconstruction by using a chart, for example
as what he did when explaining about the common “Ascending Rule”. This flaw also
happened in his second half of the third part which deals with Medinan Surah.
This book is basically an extension of Sinai’s previous works. Many of the
terminologies used in the book, such as diachronic reading, critical-historical reading,
kerygma and many more, have enjoyed an in-depth explanation in his other articles. It will
be helpful for the reader to read his other pieces before or prior reading this book since they
will notice the development of his scholarship better. Many people may find that this book,
or this this topic broadly speaking, as quite et difficult to understand. Therefore it is also
helpful to read additional sources by other scholars to get a comprehensive understanding
of the topic. All in all, I would still like to recommend this book for people who have a keen
interest in this topic to buy and read it. Despite its confusing highly academic debate, this
book still provide many interesting information one cannot find it in another source. Commented [C5]: What does he actually add to the ongoing
academic debate? What is the merit of this book? Does he come
forth with a new theory, does he attack earlies theories?

References: Commented [C6]: The review touches upon various topics,


however the analysis of his argument could be more in depth.
Sinai, Nicolai, The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical Approach Introduction. Edingburgh:, Edinburgh
Grade: 7
University Press, Edinburgh, 2017. Commented [C7]: Your references are a bit of a mess, you have
to follow the guidelines to the dot.
Sinai, Nicolai, ‘The Qur’an as Process, The Qur’an in Context: Historical and Literary
Commented [C8]: Multiple works by the same author: earliest
Investigations into the Qur’anic Milieu’, ed. Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, and work comes first (2010
Michael Marx, vol. 6, (Boston: Brill, 2010). Commented [C9]: Chapter in an edited volume? What’s the
title of the book?
Sinai, Nicolai, An Interpretation of Suraht al-Najm (Q. 53), in Journal of Qur’anic Studies,
Edinburgh University Press on Behalf of the Center for Islamic Studies at SOAS,
Edinburgh, 2011. Pp. 1-28.
Sinai, Nicolai, Historical-Critical Reading of the Abrahamic Scriptures, in Abrahamic Religion,
ed. Adam J. Silverstein and Guy G. Strumsa (eds.) Abrahamic Religion, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, Oxford, pp. 209-225. Year?
Robinson, Neal, Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, Formatted: Font: Italic

Georgetown: Georgetown University Press, 2003.