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Quran and Reform

Rahman, Arkoun, Abu Zayd


Katharina Völker

The author examines three 20th/21st century Muslims' accounts of reading the Quran. To master contemporary social challenges, Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), Muhammad Arkoun (d. 2010), and Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (d. 2010) call for revisiting the Islamic heritage, plus a fresh look onto the Quranic 'spirit'. The investigation leads through following concepts: the nature of the Quran, revelation and prophecy, the role of Muhammad and Prophethood. Discoursing the philosophers' reform ideas leads to an analysis of their exegetical methods. Do the proposed Quran hermeneutics support their reform projects? This book uncovers pros and cons of these socio-intellectual innovations. It finally concludes: the thinkers' scholarly and philosophical attitude exposes itself as a humanistic endeavour.

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Chapter I – Introduction


1.   A Common Theme: Rethinking Islam through Rereading the Quran

The three Muslim intellectuals discussed in this book dedicated their work and life to change in contemporary Islam. This change Fazlur Rahman, Muhammad Arkoun and Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd hoped to achieve through a rereading of the Quran. A re-reading constitutes a rethinking of the role of the Quran in Muslim thought and society. This discourse generally goes hand in hand with re-considering the role of religion in the contemporary world. In the course of rereading, the three thinkers reassess their own tradition and at the same time open their horizons for inspiration from outside their belief. Numerous commonalities emerge between the three accounts of Islamic thinking, as they share the longing for progressive developments in theology, politics, society, and scholarship. In addition they rest many of their hopes on their understanding of the Quran and the proposed exegesis. A common theme through out the writings of these scholars is the centrality of the Quran and its reception history within Islamic culture and thought.

Different terminology is used to describe the group of Muslim intellectuals to which Rahman, Arkoun and Abu Zayd belong. Categorising these scholars may not be helpful, as a detailed analysis of their thinking reveals an abundance of perspectives and influences. However for the sake of communicating their ideas, a labelling might be appropriate to a certain degree. Many descriptive terms are used to describe them: progressive, modern, reformed, protestant, rational,...

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