Defending the Qurʼan Against Slander


Tanzīh al-Qurʼān ʻan al-maṭāʻin (Defending the Qurʼan against slander) is a detailed commentary on the Qurʼan from the viewpoint of the early philosophical wing of Islamic speculative theology known as Mu’tazilah, which emphasized the oneness of the Godhead (Allah) and the primacy of human reason in understanding his will. This view gave rise to intense debate, with alternate views expressed by the rationalist Asharites and mystical adepts (Sufis). In Islamic intellectual history, philosophical speculation of this sort is termed ‘ilm al-kalam (science of discourse). As with many such abstract arguments, the debate spilled over into politics and even bloodshed. Eventually, the theological views of Abu al-Hasan al-Asha’ari (died circa 935) prevailed as the basis of Sunni scholastic theology, and the Mu’tazilite school disappeared from the mainstream. The author of the main work in this volume, ‘Abd al-Jabbar al-Asadabadi (circa 937−1025), was a prominent figure in Mu’tazilism and Tanzīh al-Qurʼan has an important place in its history. ‘Abd al-Jabbar addresses issues of faith and morality in light of what he describes as the inherently rational injunctions of the Qurʼan. Questions and answers are arranged according to the suras (chapters) of the Qurʼan. Topics include marriage, gambling, drinking alcohol, death, and jihad. The author responds to questions by arguing that, whatever the injunction, God has created what is best for mankind and the believer is free to choose the right path. Abu al-Hasan ʻAbd al-Jabbar ibn Ahmad ibn ʻAbd al-Jabbar al-Hamadhani (the full name of ‘Abd al-Jabbar’, who was nicknamed Qadhi al-Qudhat, meaning the Judge of the Judges) was born in Asadabad in present-day Iran. He was a prolific author and the leader of the Mu'tazilites of his time. His erudition was sought at court in Baghdad. He eventually moved to the Iranian provincial capital Rayy (Rey or Ray), where he died. His magnum opus is the al-Mughni (Summa), a compendium of Mu’tazilah thought. Tanzih al-Qurʼan is followed by a 20-page treatise attributed to judge-exegete Raghib al-Isfahani (died 1108), entitled Muqaddimat al-tafsir (Introduction to Qurʼan commentary), which appears to be a précis of his other, longer works on the subject. It has no connection to the main work of the volume. The book was printed in 1911 at the Jamaliyah Press in Cairo and was financed by Muhammad Saʿid al-Rafiʿ, owner of the Azhariyah Bookstore.

Last updated: April 6, 2015