Postgraduate students

Katharina Völker MA, PhD

Quran and Reform: Rahman, Arkoun, Abu Zayd

This thesis engages with three modern Muslims' accounts of the nature of the Quran and its interpretation as basis for reform schemes. I investigate how the three Muslim intellectuals Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), Muhammad Arkoun (d. 2010), and Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (d. 2010) view the revelation process and the role of Muhammad in it. This leads to a better understanding of how the three thinkers wish to interpret the Quran. Furthermore, I look into their ideas for reform on the levels of individual consciousness, society and scholarship and relate these ideas to their understanding of the Quran and its exegesis.

All three thinkers acknowledge the importance of the Quran to Islamic faith and culture. In their unique ways Rahman, Arkoun and Abu Zayd call for an intense engagement with the Quran itself which they feel is often overshadowed by reliance on traditional interpretation, dependency on secondary Islamic sources and various instrumentalisations of the Quran for the sake of ideological endeavours. This study reveals that they are nonetheless reliant on tradition (turāth), religious discourse, and secondary Islamic literature such as hadith, sunna and sīra.

Analysing the three scholars’ interpretation methods displays their innovations but also reveals some shortcomings. However, the main finding of this thesis is that all three intellectuals propose ways of understanding Islam as being significant to a contemporary world. Rahman and Abu Zayd propose the possibility of living a Muslim life today while successfully encountering challenges of modernity. Arkoun’s ideas are more concretely directed at a reform of thinking in Muslim and non-Muslim circles, predominantly in the academy.

This thesis argues that the overall scholarly dynamic of the three academics is based on a philosophical attitude, which exposes itself as a humanistic project. All three accounts of Islam stress the importance of ethical norms. Those shall serve as foundation for the reconciliation of cultures that often seem fatally opposed. As bridge-builders between so called Western and Islamic thought Rahman, Arkoun and Abu Zayd contribute to the spirit of solidarity amongst civilisations.

The thesis has been published: Quran and Reform: Rahman, Arkoun, Abu Zayd. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2017.

Supervisors: Professor Greg Dawes and Dr James Harding

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme