The Future of Iran’s Past: Nizam al-Mulk Remembered


The Future of Iran’s Past is a critical study of the life and afterlife of Nizam al-Mulk (1018-92), celebrated Persian vizier and stalwart figure of power and authority in medieval Islamic society. He became the de facto ruler of a vast empire, with a final apotheosis as Islamic history’s archetypal good vizier. Such was his standing among the glitterati of his era that he was considered an ideal replacement for the Abbasid caliph himself.

As well as the outstanding figure in a long run of great viziers and administrators who dominated premodern Islamic politics, al-Mulk is remembered as the most prominent politician of the period to perceive new beginnings and radical departures. Neguin Yavari offers a close reading of al-Mulk’s many legacies, revealing a complex imbrication of political and religious authority, as well as pre-Islamic and Islamic influences that have together shaped modern Iran. She shows that the new Iran of al-Mulk’s singular vision, rather than a tale of uninterrupted Iranisation, is imbued with an extensive interplay of residual and emergent tendencies.

Neguin Yavari is a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Central European University. She studied medieval history at Columbia University, and has written on medieval Islamic history, political thought and international history. Her books include Advice for the Sultan: Prophetic Voices and Secular Politics in Medieval Islam (2014) and the co-edited Global Medieval: Mirrors for Princes Reconsidered (2015).

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‘The Future of Iran’s Past is a highly original and extraordinarily sophisticated exploration of medieval Islamic political thought and its continuing legacy. Yavari has performed an inestimable service to the intellectual history of Islam. She subjects this genre of writing to a deep and sustained interpretation.’—Faisal Devji, Fellow of St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford and author of Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity.

‘So much more than the life and times of medieval Iran’s greatest vizier, The Future of Iran’s Past serves up penetrating insights into the nature of pre-modern biography, the complex and often opaque workings of Islamic governance, and Iran’s confrontation with its own history right down to the present day.’— Richard W. Bulliet, Professor of History, Columbia University; author of Islam: The View from the Edge and The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilisation

‘This unconventional ‘biography’ of Nizam al-Mulk is woven around five exuberant essays, with challenging, often brilliant insights, on themes that lie at the heart of the Saljuq polity and dominion over which Nizam al-Mulk presided. They elucidate a novel and sophisticated interpretation of the political nature of Nizam al-Mulk’s vision and its legacy.’—John Gurney, Emeritus Fellow, Wadham College, University of Oxford

‘With this outstanding study of Nizam al Mulk, one of the towering figures of Iranian-Islamic medieval history, Yavari surpasses the limits of traditional biographical writing. In this highly readable study, her critical reading of the sources and masterly approach to the literature challenge our understanding of Saljuq rule and culture.’—Christoph Werner, Chair of Iranian Studies, Philipps-Universität Marburg

Source: Hurst Publishers

Postrevolutionary Iran: A Political Handbook

Mehrzad Boroujerdi and Kourosh Rahimkhani, Post-revolutionary Iran: A Political Handbook (New York: Syracuse University Press, May 15, 2018).

A comprehensive, empirical study of Iranian political institutions and elites over the last four decades.

“As an exhaustive and systematically organized compilation of data and reliable information on the postrevolutionary Iranian political elites (including their social and regional origins, career paths, and ideological orientations, family ties, etc.), as well as chronologies of major events and detailed descriptive statistics on key state institutions, political parties, and elections at all levels, this pioneering work will serve not only as an indispensable standard reference for the study of Iranian politics, but also as an invaluable source of data and ideas for empirically based studies by scholars and students of Iran for years to come.”—Ali Banuazizi, professor of political science, Boston College

“Boroujerdi and Rahimkhani have mapped out, with impressive rigor and erudition, the often inter-locking military, clerical, and political elite that has ruled Iran for the last thirty seven years. As much a book about Who Rules Iran as a Who’s Who in the halls of power in the Islamic Republic of Iran. An indispensable source for anyone studying modern Iranian society and politics.”—Abbas Milani, Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies, Stanford University

“A monumental achievement. I am unaware of any other source that provides such a rich collection of political data about Iran. Western political scientists often complain about the lack of longitudinal data in order to apply modern analytical techniques to the politics of Third World countries. This compendium goes very far to respond to that need.”—Gary Sick, Columbia University

“This product of 14 years of teamwork is an indispensable reference source for anyone with serious interest in contemporary Iran. . . . The work can justly be placed among the best elite studies done recently anywhere in the world.”—Ervand Abrahamian, author of Iran between Two Revolutions
Postrevolutionary Iran

Mehrzad Boroujerdi is O’Hanley Faculty Scholar and professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, and former president of the International Society for Iranian Studies. He is the author of Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism and editor of Mirror for the Muslim Prince: Islam and the Theory of Statecraft. Kourosh Rahimkhani is a doctoral candidate in political science at Binghamton University. His research focuses on politics of ethnoreligious identities, nondemocratic elections, and authoritarian politics.

Source: Syracuse University Press

Einsicht (Insight and Understanding)

Einsicht, Drei Reisen in die innerste Welt des schiitischen Islam (Insight and Understanding: Three Journeys to the innermost world of Shī‛ism) is the title of a successful cultural exchange project between Germany and Iran. Given that a photo speaks more than thousands of words and that a camera is a means of knowledge for those who love to know, the project firstly presents a part of early history of photography, and secondly pays attention to the dialogue of cultures through the photographers lens and the language of art. Three journeys in the title refers to the voyage of Nasir al-Din Shah with his court photographer Reza Akkasbashi to Iraq (Najaf, Karbala and Samarra) in 1872; the trip of Muzaffar al-Din Shah’s photographers to Iraq in 1905 and the voyage of German well-known photographer Hans Georg Berger (2000- 2005) to religious schools of Iran in different cities including Qum, Mashhad and Isfahan. The project published a book (245 pages) with the same title and six exhibitions (of selected photos) will be held in the cities Mashhad, Tehran, Qum, Isfahan, Berlin and Freiburg.

The book includes six short essays and about two hundred selected photographs taken during these journeys. Among them are historical images of holy shrines in Iraq and Iran, old and new Shiite centers of training and education of religious students as well as numerous old and new portraits of those students and their professors. Most photographs, especially those taken from a balloon above the cities of Najaf, Karbala and Samarra in 1871, are of great importance in the history of photography. They attract the eyes of every specialist in the field and open their language to praise such a unique effort at the time. The historical photos come from the archive of Golestan Palace Tehran. The contemporary ones come from the archive of the photographer. The authors in their essays deal with old and new photos in accordance with their expertise, and with different views. This bilingual book (German and Persian) has two editors: Dr. Boris von Brauchitsch and Dr. Saeid Edalatnejad. The book was published in high quality and standard in September 2017 in Germany by KEHRER Verlag (ISBN 978-3-86828-818-6). The foreign ministry of Germany dedicates the book to those public and university Iranian libraries which request the book by paying the cost of mail from Berlin to the given cities. For ordering the book please click here.

The Iranian foreign ministry, the Organization of Islamic relations and culture as well as several non-governmental institutions support the holding of the exhibitions in those different cities. They are placed under the High Patronage of the National Commissions of UNESCO. The first exhibition is held on 6th October 2017 in Mashhad and welcomes the visitors until 21th October. The exhibition of Tehran will be held at Golestan Palace on the first of November. Qum opens on November 25, and Isfahan on December 20. In Berlin, the exhibition opens on January 12, 2018 at Bumiller Collection (University Museum Islamic Art). For the detail of the content of the book and the time table of other exhibitions, see the website

Sociology of Shi’ite Islam

Saïd Amir Arjomand

The Sociology of Shi’ite Islam is the collection of scholarly articles by a historical sociologist applying a Weberian sociological framework for the historical analysis of Twelver Shi‘i Islam. This book encompasses the comprehensive socio-historical analysis of Twelver Shi‘i Islam from its sectarian formation in the eighth century to its establishment as the national religion of the Safavid Empire in the sixteenth century and down to the Islamic revolution and the formation of a Shi‘i theocratic state in Iran in the late twentieth century.

This book is comprised of nineteen essays grouped into four parts. The first part addresses the historical formation of Shi‘ite Islam from the eighth to thirteenth centuries CE. Author Saïd Arjomand builds his sociological framework upon some Weberian ideas—especially the idea that world religions provide solutions to the problem of meaning. More specifically, religions are salvific solutions to the troubling question of how human suffering can be reconciled with the justice of God/divinity. The unique Twelver Shi‘i salvific solution to this problem of meaning is the combination of three main elements: 1) imamate as the constant divine guidance after the death of Prophet Muhammad; 2) occultation of the Twelfth Imam; and 3) a universal redemptive theology of martyrdom based on the tragic death of Prophet’s grandson, Husayn in 680 CE. All of these elements were lacking in mainstream Sunni Islam……. Read more

Iran to restore its UNESCO-inscribed churches

In line with the goal of jumpstarting the tourism industry, Iran has allotted some $370,000 to the restoration of the UNESCO-inscribed churches that are located in northwest of the country.

“A sum of 14 billion rials (roughly $370,000) will be channeled into restoration plans for the UNESCO-inscribed churches in Iran,” Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization Deputy Director Mohammad-Hassan Talebian told IRNA on Sunday.

“The identity of historical churches [in the country] must be preserved and the cultural heritage organization makes efforts to promote them by the means of organizing religious ceremonies and conducting conservation projects,” Talebian added.

The official made the remarks during a visit to Qareh Klise (the Monastery of Saint Thaddeus), an ancient Armenian monastery that played host to a religious gathering by the Christians in a mountainous landscape of West Azarbaijan province, adjacent to the borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

The organization also plans to document a total of 450 Armenian churches and 150 Assyrian ones, ILNA quoted Talebian as saying on Saturday.

Qareh Klise has always been a place of high spiritual value for Christians and other inhabitants in the region. Every summer, it hosts gatherings of pilgrims coming from Iran and Armenia to observe special religious ceremonies such as Holy Communion and baptism.

Together with St. Stepanos Monastery and the Chapel of Dzordzor, St. Thaddeus was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008 under the title “Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran”.

UNESCO says these edifices are examples of outstanding universal value of the Armenian architectural and decorative traditions.


CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup

CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup
Documents Provide New Details on Mosaddeq Overthrow and Its Aftermath
National Security Archive Calls for Release of Remaining Classified Record

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 435

Posted – August 19, 2013

Edited by Malcolm Byrne

See for more information:

Iran’s New Islamic Penal Code

Iran’s New Islamic Penal Code: Have International Criticisms Been Effective for Children and Juvenile Offenders?

Professor Intisar Rabb and Iran editor Marzieh Tofighi Darian analyze changes made to statutes defining juvenile crimes and punishment under Iran’s new Islamic Penal Code, passed in 2013. The Code follows a traditional dichotomy between ḥudūd fixed crimes and qiṣāṣ retaliatory scheme (which are directly incorporated from classical Islamic law interpretations of criminal law into the modern Code) and taʿzīr discretionary (which are acts left to the government to regulate). But the reform has not been balanced to address modern needs and developments in the link between maturity and accountability. The authors see the different means of assessing children’s maturity as problematic for reform, especially under the hudūd-qiṣāṣ section of the Code. Because crimes in this category are derived from classical Islamic law interpretations, Iranian officials find little room to legally redefine them or their associated punishments. Through a side-by-side comparison of the hudūd-qiṣāṣ and ta’zir sections of the Code, the authors suggest areas for which new attempts at reform may focus.

In May 2013, Iran’s new Islamic Penal Code finally entered into force after five years of debates and deliberations in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Iran’s name for its Parliament). A review of literature on Iran’s 1991 Islamic Penal Code and the new draft bill reveals that they have been subject to harsh criticism by human rights bodies, NGOs and activists with most of them focusing on the provisions of qiṣāṣ (retaliatory penalties) and hudūd (fixed criminal sanctions) as those parts of the code that are almost entirely based on the Shīʽī version of sharīʿa. The new Code, in return, has taken steps to respond to some of these critiques. Fairly speaking, most of the issues raised over the years are somehow addressed in the process of drafting the new code. The outcome, however, has not been a complete success. Many of the legislative initiatives did not survive either the formal objections of the Guardian Council or informal pressures of religious forces in Qom.

Focusing on children and juvenile crimes under the new code as an example, I argue that national and international pressures have resulted in significant but insufficient changes. The dichotomy between sharīʿa-based crimes (hudūd and qiṣāṣ) and customary crimes (ta’zirāt) has impeded the parliament to extend its more favorable and lenient approach under the rules of discretionary penalties (ta’zirāt) to hudūd and qiṣāṣ crimes committed by children and juvenile offenders.

Juvenile punishments have gone through considerable though insufficient changes under the new code. For a long time, there was a single test of puberty to demarcate childhood from adulthood for the sake of criminal responsibility. The default ages of puberty were set at: ages 9 and 15 (respectively for girls and boys), before which no criminal responsibility would apply. Upon reaching that age, both were subject to full criminal culpability. Besides general concerns over the low age of criminal culpability, execution of juvenile offenders has resulted in national and international outcries.In particular the recent instances of qiṣāṣ executions have outraged people who,….. Read more

The Qur’an: Text, Society And Culture’ Conference

‘The Qur’an: Text, Society And Culture’ Conference
Thursday 10 – Saturday 12 November 2016
SOAS, University of London

Convenors: Prof. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem and Dr Helen Blatherwick

Thursday 10 November
(Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS main building)

9.00–9.45 Coffee and Registration

9.45–10.00 Opening Address (Professor M.A.S. Abdel Haleem)

10.00–11.30 Panel 1: Rhyme, Style, and Structure (chair: M.A.S. Abdel Haleem)

Devin J. Stewart (Emory University), ‘Rhyme and Rhythm as Criteria for Determining Qur’anic Verse Endings in the Work of Ibn Sa‘id al-Dani and the “Counters”’

Marianna Klar (SOAS, University of London), ‘The Structuring Force of Rhyme in The Long Qur’anic Suras’

فايز حسان سليمان أبو عمرة (جامعة الأقصى)، السياق القرآني ودوره في فهم النصوص القرآنية

11.30–12.00 Coffee Break

12.00–1.00 Panel 2: Textual History and Chronology (chair: tbc)

Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau (Sorbonne University), ‘Diachronic Composition of the Qur’anic Text: When Argumentative Analysis Helps Chronology’

Adam Flowers (University of Chicago), ‘Reconsidering Genre in Qur’anic Studies’

1.00–2.30 Lunch

2.30–4.00 Panel 3: Language, Ideas, and Discourse (chair: Deen Mohamed)

Nathaniel A. Miller (University of Cambridge), ‘Quranic Isra’ and Pre-Islamic Hijazi Imagery of Rule’

عبد الرحيم بن أحمد شنين (جامعة قاصدي مرباح ورقلة)، درء شبهة تغليب المذكّر على المؤنث عند العرب من خلال القرآن الكريم

Thomas Hoffmann (University of Copenhagen), ‘Taste My Punishment and My Warnings (Q. 54:39): On the Torments of Tantalus and Other Painful Metaphors of Taste in the Qur’an’

Friday 11 November
(Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, Brunei Gallery)

9.30–11.00 Panel 4: Narration and Narrative (chair: Marianna Klar)

Jessica Mutter (University of Chicago), ‘Dramatic Form and Nested Dialogue: The Use of iltifat in the Qur’an’

Hamza M. Zafer (University of Washington), ‘The Patriarchs in the Qur’an’

Shawkat M. Toorawa (Yale University), ‘Daughters in the Qur’an’

11.00–11.30 Coffee Break

11.30–1.00 Panel 5: Law (chair: Abdul Hakim al-Matroudi)

Joseph Lowry (University of Pennsylvania), ‘Legal Language and Theology in the Qur’an: Excuse, Repentance, Forgiveness, and Fulfillment’

A. David K. Owen (Harvard University), ‘Certainty in Interpretation: Causal Knowledge in Ibn Hazm’s Account of Zahiri Qur’anic Exegesis in al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam’

Ramon Harvey (Ebrahim College), ‘Interpreting Indenture (mukataba) in the Qur’an: Q. 24:33 Revisited’

1.00–2.45 Lunch

2.45–4.45 Panel 6: Contemporary Approaches (chair: Devin Stewart)

Ulrika Mårtensson (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), ‘‘Abd al-Aziz Duri: The Significance of his Historiographical Model for Current Qur’an Research’

عبد القادر بوشيبة (جامعة تلمسان)، لسانيات النص وآفاق  قراءة النص القرآني

نزار خورشيد مامه (جامعة دهوك)، نظرية التلقي في القرآن الكريم: دراسة تحليلية

Joseph Lumbard (American University in Sharjah), ‘Decolonialising Qur’anic Studies’

Saturday 12 November
(Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, Brunei Gallery)

9.30–11.00 Panel 7: Theology and Tafsir (chair: tbc)

Hannah Erlwein (SOAS, University of London), ‘A Reappraisal of Classical Islamic Arguments for God’s Existence: Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Tafsir as a Case in Point’

مشرف بن أحمد الزهراني (جامعة الأمير سطام بن عبد العزيز)، القيم المعنوية والجمالية في استطرادات القاسمي التفسيرية

Aisha Geissinger (Carleton University), ‘al-Maturidi’s Exegetical Use of Variant Readings: The Strange Case of “harf Hafsa”’

11.00–11.30 Coffee Break

11.30–12.30 Panel 8: Political Dimensions of Interpretation and Translation 1 (chair: Hannah Erlwein)

Teresa Bernheimer (SOAS, University of London), ‘Opposition Groups, Coins, and the Qur’an’

Walid Saleh (University of Toronto), ‘The Political in tafsir: Q. 43:44 as an Example’

12:30–1.45 Lunch

1.45–3.15 Panel 9: Political Dimensions of Interpretation and Translation 2 (chair: Helen Blatherwick)

Noureddine Miladi (Qatar University), ‘The Representation of the Qur’an in the Western Media’

Burçin K. Mustafa (SOAS, University of London), ‘The Translation of Ambiguous Qur’anic Terms in the Realm of Doctrine Propagation’

Johanna Pink (University of Freiburg), ‘Contested Form, Contested Meaning: Literal, Literary and Exegetical Translations of the Qur’an in Contemporary Indonesia’

3.15–3:30 Closing Remarks (Professor M.A.S. Abdel Haleem)

Further Information:

If you would like further information on the conference series, please visit the conference website at This will be updated on an ongoing basis.

For general enquiries, please contact the conference administrator at For academic enquiries only contact Helen Blatherwick at

Mystical Poems of Rumi

Translated from the Persian by A. J. Arberry
Annotated and prepared by Hasan Javadi
Foreword to the new and corrected edition by Franklin D. Lewis
General Editor, Ehsan Yarshater

The University of Chicago Press – Chicago & London

PDF – Link

The translations in this volume were originally published in two books.
The first volume, including the first 200 poems, or ghazals, appeared in 1968 under the title ** Mystical Poems of Rūmī 1, First Selection, Poems 1– 200 **. It was part of a UNESCO Collection of Representative Works and was accepted in the translation series of Persian works jointly sponsored by the Royal Institute of Translation of Teheran and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)….. Read more

The claim that Islam lacks an Enlightenment is an age-old cliche

In this interview with Anna Alvi and Alia Hübsch, Prof. Angelika Neuwirth says that the claim that Islam lacks an Enlightenment is an age old cliché, and that it is pride in the Enlightenment that continues to lead people to believe that Western Culture is superior to Islam

Prof. Neuwirth, your book Der Koran als Text der Spätantike (The Koran as a late antique text) runs to over 800 pages. In it, you try to find a European door to the Muslims’ holy book. What exactly do you mean by the “European” perspective on the Koran?

Angelika Neuwirth: The book itself explains what I mean. I try to show that when one reads the Koran historically, one encounters the very same traditions that Europeans consider fundamental to their culture. The Koran is read as a proclamation, in other words as a message to people who were not yet Muslims at the time. After all, they only became Muslims through the proclamation. This perspective shows that back then, the same problems were being discussed on the Arabian Peninsula and in the surrounding late antique world, which was in a way later perceived as being the foundation of Europe. In other words, we all come from a common genesis scenario, something that was only obscured by subsequent historical developments.

So it is less about finding a “European” door to the Koran and more about common late antique elements or the influence of antiquity, or about the so-called “Orient” and “Occident” being able to claim these elements as exclusively their own …

Neuwirth: But the fact of the matter is that they do. Both in the Orient – in other words in Islam’s conventional self-perception – the assumption is that right from its very origins, Islam was essentially different from the culture around it and that with it, something completely new came into the world. Prior to this was the Age of Jahiliyyah, i.e. the Age of Ignorance, an era held in low esteem that does not really deserve much recognition.

In the West too, Islam is seen as completely different, i.e. something that doesn’t belong to Western culture. These are ancient codes regarding what constitutes “difference”. They do not apply to this day, but came about because of earlier shifts in power or balances of power.

Would you then reject the notion that Islam still needs an Enlightenment or that reason and science are at odds with faith?

Neuwirth: The claim that Islam lacks an Enlightenment is an age-old cliché. Pride in the Enlightenment – even though this pride has died down somewhat – continues to lead people to believe that Western Culture is way ahead of Islam.

There has never been a comprehensive secularisation movement in Islamic history for the simple reason that the sacred and the secular already existed side by side in Islam. Moreover, the imbalance of power between East and West has not always been as it is today. For a very long time, the Islamic culture of knowledge was far superior to that in the West or outside the Islamic world as a whole. This was not least the result of the fact that the Islamic culture was more advanced in terms of media.

For example, paper was being manufactured in the Islamic world since as far back as the eighth century. This in turn made it possible to disseminate huge amounts of texts, which was definitely not the case in the West at that time. Without a doubt, more than 100 times more Arabic texts were brought into circulation during this period than was the case in the West. Right up until the fifteenth century, people in the West relied on parchment, which was very expensive and hard to come by.

What image of women and humans does the Koran portray?

Neuwirth: Of course, the Koran is not a reference work for social behaviour. Many people assume that all of Islam’s norms can be found in the Koran. But that is not the intention behind the Koran. The Koran was a proclamation to people who were familiar with other norms and were willing to call these norms into question. The Koran highlights discussions about various norms. The fact that the relatively small number of legally relevant instructions were then put together in a system and made part of the Islamic canon of norms, the Sharia, is a different matter altogether.

The subsequent literature on law does not reflect the same situations as the Koran. This is particularly evident in the case of the image of women in the Koran, which is completely different to the image of women in Islamic law literature. Here in particular, the Koran takes a revolutionary step forward: it puts woman on the same level as man before God. That is truly unique for this period. Both genders will be judged in the same way at the Last Judgement. This may seem irrelevant today, but it isn’t. At that time, gender equality between men and women was completely unthinkable. There were even discussions as to whether women had souls at all. Women were judged very ambivalently, and their legal status in many pre-Islamic societies was incredibly unfavourable. The Koran also puts women on a par with men on important secular matters too; they have rights and are even entitled to inherit. In other words, women are not legally incapacitated.

In “God is beautiful”, Navid Kermani speaks of the aesthetic dimension of the Koran. What is this aesthetic dimension?

Neuwirth: If one reads and interprets the Koran as a kind of information medium – as many contemporary Koranic researchers do – one does not do justice to it. The Koran is heavily poetic and contains a whole range of messages that it imparts at a semantic level – not at all explicitly, not at all unambiguously; it gets these messages across through poetic structures; if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be as vivid as it is. What makes the Koran unique is its complexity, its multiple layers, the fact that it speaks at different levels. On the one hand, of course, that is the huge aesthetic attraction. However, it is also, if you like, hugely attractive in rhetorical terms or in terms of its power of conviction.

While it might be possible to sum up the mere information in the Koran in a short newspaper article, the effect would not have been the same. It really is about enchantment through language. Language itself is also praised in the Koran as the highest gift that humankind received from God. Naturally, this is related to knowledge. Language is the medium of knowledge. This is why one should never on top of everything else accuse the Islamic culture of being averse to knowledge. The entire Koran is basically a paean to knowledge, the knowledge that is articulated through speech.

What parallels are there between the Koran and the religious scriptures of the Jews and the Christians? What exactly is it that makes the Koran stand out or what new aspect did the Koran bring?

Neuwirth: The Koran must have brought something new; after all, it came into the world so many hundreds of years after the last and previous holy scripture – about 500 years after the New Testament. On the one hand, I would say that it is its insistence that knowledge is an immensely important part of human life and of human religious life too. This is not, for example, important in the New Testament. The New Testament focuses on other things; as does the Torah, the Old Testament, in other words the Hebrew Bible.

The focus on knowledge is undoubtedly something new that was not there before. This is linked to its genesis in Late Antiquity, a time when people were simply willing to give priority to knowledge. What’s more, another novelty is that the universalisation of the message, a message that is now sent to all people, plays a major role in the Koran.

or is there much understanding in the Koran for the Jewish view that the Jews are God’s chosen people. The Koranic voice rejects an election such as this; instead, humans as a whole take the place of the chosen few. It also rejects the election of the Christians, who put themselves in the place of the Jews. There are no chosen ones; there is just humankind as a whole, humans who follow certain models, but who cannot appeal to any privileges as the chosen people; neither in the way the Jews invoke Abraham or the Christians Christ. Such invocations do not help when one is standing before God; instead, everyone is responsible for himself or herself and has to account for his or her actions.

In other words, everyone can build up his or her own personal relationship to God without the need for any kind of intermediary in between?

Neuwirth: Yes, you could put it like that, although the Koran itself is, to a certain extent, a kind of intermediary, a medium that makes it easier to reach this state. By fulfilling one’s ritual obligations – above all by praying – and reciting the Koran, a door is opened to the believer that is not open to others. This is, however, a ritual verbal door, but not a privilege that is granted to one person or is based on a procedure or a figure of salvation.

Interview conducted by Anna Alvi and Alia Hübsch

© 2013

Prof. Dr. Angelika Neuwirth read Arabic Studies, Semitic Studies and Classical Philology at the Freie Universität Berlin and in Tehran, Göttingen, Jerusalem and Munich. Following her habilitation, she worked as a guest professor at the University of Jordan in Amman from 1977 to 1983. She was director of the Orientinstitut der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (Oriental Institute at the German Oriental Society) in Beirut and Istanbul from 1994 to 1999. She is currently working as a professor at the Freie Universität in Berlin. The main focus of her research is on the Koran and Koranic exegesis, modern Arab literature in the Levant, Palestinian poetry and the literature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In June 2013, she was awarded the Sigmund Freud Prize for academic prose for her Koranic research.

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
Editor: Lewis Gropp/


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