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Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > Aisha ‘Abd al-Rahman (Bint al-Shati’) (d.1998) ...
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Aisha ‘Abd al-Rahman (Bint al-Shati’) (d.1998) and her approach to tafsir: the journey of an Egyptian exegete from hermeneutics to humanity

Research output: Working paper

Published

Publication date2013
PublisherLancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In the last few decades, Bint al-Shati’s literary approach to the exegesis of the Qur’an has received some scholarly attention particularly directed at the exegetical procedures she developed under the tutelage of Amin al-Khuli for reading the Qur’an as a literary text. This paper aims to re-examine Bint al-Shati’s exegetical oeuvre with an interest in the hermeneutic vision that informed and shaped her method. A close reading of her main exegetical work Al-Tafsir al-Bayani li’l-Qur’an reveals that three hermeneutic questions are of primary significance to her tafsir: i) Authority to interpret the text, ii) the linguisticality of understanding, and iii) the applicability of the interpretation. This paper mainly focuses on the first question in light of her approach to traditional tafsir. It becomes evident that while Bint al-Shati’ relies on modern methods of thematic and philological analysis of Qur’anic meaning, traditional tafsir is never absent from her exegetical texts as it is in other modern interpretations of the Qur’an. The paper goes on to show that the textual presence of traditional tafsir serves textual as well as transtextual functions beyond refuting the validity of past constructions of Qur’anic meaning. Bint al-Shati’ is, in fact, deliberately placing herself ‘within’ in order to construct her exegetical authority as extending from a long and well-established tradition, to legitimate her modern reading as premised on knowledge of past readings, and to ultimately transcend them to allow a new reading to emerge. Bint al-Shati’s approach to traditional tafsir is further explored in the light of the tension between modernity and tradition which characterises her intellectualism, as well as in the context of her personal journey as a woman attempting to establish an authoritative exegetical voice in a male-dominated tradition. In the final section, the paper makes some observations on Bint al-Shati’s stance on the primacy of a linguistic approach for understanding the Qur’an, a stance which diverges from that of her teacher Amin al-Khuli who emphasized history above language in his Manahij al-Tajdid. The emphasis on linguisticality develops in Bint al-Shati’ into a theology of humanity in which women are equally entrusted with understanding the Qur’an. This contribution of her work reveals that her reading of the Qur’an has been motivated not only by an interest in its literary inimitability but also by a concern for social application.

Bibliographic note

Submitted for publication in Journal of Qur'aic Studies