Our Academic Organization’s 50th Conference in 2021

50th Annual Conference 2021


The 50th Annual Conference of the
North American Association of Islamic and
Muslim Studies (NAAIMS)

“Approaches to Qur’anic Studies
in the Western Academy”

Cosponsored By:

Department of Religion
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Friday, November 12, 2021

Abstracts: May 4, 2020
Final Papers: August 28, 2020

Qur’anic studies in Western universities enjoys numerous research avenues: From studying Qur’anic manuscripts to the ways in which the Internet serves as a space in which Muslims engage with understanding and interpreting the Qur’an. This “interpretive” space includes such social media platforms as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook (including online lessons from ulema in mosques). Who decides what constitute proper approaches to Qur'anic studies, and by what criteria are methodologies determined?”

NAAIMS invites a diverse range of papers from professors and advanced Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences. We encourage professors in the field of Islamic Studies who are not Qur'anic specialists to submit abstracts for consideration. Questions that the papers might address include, but are not limited to the following:

  • What Determines the Course Outline for Qur’anic Studies in the Western Academy?
  • What Determines the Curricula for Qur’anic Studies in Muslim-Majority Nations from the Middle East, Africa to Central Asia, and the South Asian Republics?
  • What Roles do Social Media Platforms Play in Understanding the Qur’an?
  • How has Digitization of Texts Affected the Field of Qur’anic Studies?
  • What Discoveries have been made in the Study of Qur’anic Manuscripts?
  • How do Faith-based Approaches Differ from Academic Approaches in Qur’anic Studies?
  • Who are Some of the Contemporary Figures Whose Work has had a Major Impact on the Field of Qur'anic studies in the Western academy, and How have their Approaches to the Field been shaped by their Pre-commitments?

Abstracts (250 words) Due May 4, 2020

Abstracts from Professors and Advanced Ph.D. Candidates ONLY

  • Abstracts will be evaluated according to following criteria: clear data & methodology used, and relevance and contribution to conference theme. Abstracts must include a title; author’s full name; contact information; and university position (Professor or Ph.D. Candidate)
  • Panelists required to pre-register by May 22, 2020, and pay non-refundable registration fees of $105.00. Online registration will be available
  • Final papers must be submitted by August 28, 2020
  • Send abstracts & final papers to Layla Sein, NAAIMS Executive Director, and Director of Academic Affairs at conferences@naaims.org

Program Chair: Frederick S. Colby
University of Oregon, OR

North American Association of Islamic and Muslim studies.

Conference Program

North American Association of Islamic and
Muslim Studies (NAAIMS)

The 50th Annual Conference

“Approaches to Qur’anic Studies
in the Western Academy”

Friday, November 12, 2021

Cosponsored By:
Department of Religious Studies
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

A Vitual Conference on the Zoom platform
All Sessions held in Eastern Standard Time (UTC-05:00)

10:00 – 10:15 a.m.      Welcoming Remarks by NAAIMS President

Frederick S. Colby, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

(Program Chair)

10:15 - 11:45 a.m.                    Panel 1:

21st Century Engagement with the Qur’an: Sound and Meaning

Discussant: [Dr. Elliott Bazzano (Lemoyne College) unfortunately had to withdraw]

Lauren E. Osborne (Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA): “The Sonic Qur'an in the Age of Global Media”

Yunus Dogan Telliel (Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA): “The Untranslatable in the Qur’an and the Secular”

11:45 a.m. - 1 p.m.                  Panel 2:

Qur’anic Studies in the Euro-American Academy
Discussant: Aisha Musa (Independent Scholar, Tigard, OR)

Joseph E. B. Lumbard (College of Islamic Studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa, Doha, Qatar): “Toshihiko Izutsu’s Semantic Analysis: Impact on Qur'anic Studies in the Euro-American Academy”

Caner K. Dagli (The College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA): “What Counts as Qur’anic Studies and Whose Opinion Matters?” [Caner K. Dagli unfortunately had to withdraw]

1:00 – 2:45 p.m.                      Lunch Break and Juma’a Prayers

2:45 – 3:45 p.m.         Keynote Speaker:

Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr

[University Professor of Islamic Studies, George Washington

University, Washington, DC]:

“Approaching the Qur’an Authentically”

3:45 – 5:15 p.m.                      Panel 3

Pre-Modern Esoteric Commentaries on the Qur’an

Discussant: Mohammad Faruque (University of Cincinnati, OH)

Mohammed Rustom (College of the Humanities, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada): “A Sufi Theory of Qur’anic Origins”

Syed A. H. Zaidi (Emory University, Atlanta, GA): “The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ as Pre-Modern Qurʾānic Scientists”

5:15 - 6:45 p.m.                       Panel 4

Disruptive Hermeneutics: Questions of Authority

Discussant: Celene Ibrahim (Groton School, Groton, MA)

Maria M. Dakake (George Mason University, Fairfax, VA): “Nusrat Amin: A Woman’s Contribution to the Field of Qur’anic Exegesis”

Ali Hassan Zaidi (Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario, Canada): “Interpretive Methods and their Presuppositions: A Comparison of Fazlur Rahman’s and Javed Ghamidi’s Hermeneutics of the Qur’an”

6:45 pm.                                   Concluding Remarks

NAAIMS President and Program Chair


North American Association of Islamic and Muslim studies.

Conference Report

“Approaches to Qur’anic Studies
in the Western Academy”

The 50Th Annual Conference of the North American Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies (NAAIMS) on “Approaches to Qur’anic Studies in the Western Academy” was held November 12, 2021, in an online virtual ZOOM platform. It was cosponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, under the direction of NAAIMS President, and Program Chair, Frederick S. Colby, associate professor of religious studies, and director of the Middle East and North Africa Studies program, University of Oregon. In his welcoming remarks to the panelists and guests he noted that the conference will be recorded and uploaded to NAAIMS website.

Four panel sessions explored various approaches that outline how Qur’anic studies are viewed in the Western academy. The opening session examined concepts of The 21st Century Engagement with the Qur’an: Sound and Meaning.” The first presentation by Lauren E. Osborne (Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA) explored the intricacies behind “The Sonic Qur’an in the Age of Global Media.” According to Osborne “the sound of the Qur’an is the primary site of contact for many believers worldwide, and yet attention to the Qur’an in the Western academy has been dominated by … the written word and the discursive contents of those words as text, rather than sounds.” Since the concept of sound has a direct impact on people based on melodic or harmonic cantillation, the vibrant role that reciting the Qur’an or listening to it demonstrates why pious Muslims believe recitation heals the body and/or soul. The following Qur’anic Chapter “Bani Israe-il” [The Children of Israel] (Q 17:82) highlights the benefits of recitation: “We send down (stage by stage) in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe.” Osborne discussed how there is a gap in the Western academy between “the scholarly treatment of the Qur’an as text and the pious experience of the Qur’an as sound.” A great deal of discussion ensued during the Q&A on the concept of sound and its impact today in light of the increased number of online learning platforms teaching Qur’anic recitation. It was noted that these platforms provide “audio or video recordings of reciters to websites devoted to explaining the rules of tajwīd, educational videos on specific techniques, devoted to techniques of recitation and memorization of the Qur’an.” Osborne argued that “the use of new media technology for pious learning of recitation offers an opportunity for expansion of scholarly approaches to the Qur’an and understanding of the Qur’an as recitation and as sound.” She also focused on how “a small but growing number of studies have attended to the recitation of the Qur’an, all noting the need for increased attention to the recited Qur’an in scholarly literature, (i.e., Denny, Graham, Nelson, Gade, Rasmussen, Osborne, Mouftah).”

This was followed by a presentation by Yunus Dogan Telliel (Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA), on “The Untranslatable in the Qur’an and the Secular.” He explained how the age of secularism today has forced even the most conservative Muslim groups to publish their own translations of the Qur’an “in order to compete with rival groups.” Although classical Islamic scholars were once known to “contest the worth of translating the Qur’an for mass consumption,” Telliel explores how translations of the Qur’an have become common in areas where “Muslim intellectuals are compelled to engage with secularity.” He examined how “this heightened capacity for reflexivity has turned Qur’an[ic] translation[s] into a common public platform for intellectual intervention and exchange.” Today’s secular age has opened the door to translations of the Qur’an, Islamic tradition and concepts of secularism not just in Arabic, but other languages. Telliel noted that his paper asks: “if translation is seen essential to liberal democratic life, [then] what constitutes the untranslatable in our secular age?” In defense of his query, he confirmed that although some translated Qur’anic verses “might grate against secular sensibilities, such as those associated with the regulation of violence that promote retribution for wrong-doing. [He added that in those instances] the translatable and the untranslatable cease to be opposing conditions and operate together in delimiting the terrain of intelligibility and desirability in public discourse.”

The second panel session highlighted “Qur’anic Studies in the Euro-American Academy,” with Aisha Y. Musa, Independent Scholar on Islamic and Qur’anic Studies, Tigard, OR, serving as the discussant. Joseph E. B. Lumbard, College of Islamic Studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa, Doha, Qatar, explored “Toshihiko Izutsu’s Semantic Analysis: Impact on Qur’anic Studies in the Euro-American Academy.” Lumbard’s presentation focused on how Toshihiko Izutsu’s philosophical semantics could serve as a bridge between Qur’anic studies in the Western and the Muslim world. He stated that “Izutsu’s method of semantic analysis allows for the fact that the Qur’an was in dialogue with Jewish and Christian traditions, as well as pagan Arabian traditions, but does not reduce the Qur’anic message to any of these sources as the ultimate origins of the text.” Izutsu’s method explores how semantics introduces a novel approach that further expands dialogue with non-Muslim scholars. According to the panel discussant, Aisha Musa, “Lumbard shows how Izutsu’s approach can be used to build Qur’anic meaning from understanding its context, rather than reducing it to its context by looking at the ways in which Qur’anic usage transformed the society in which it appeared by transforming the language.”

Lumbard’s presentation elaborated upon how Izutsu’s methodological approach “sought to build from understanding the context, not to reduce the Qur’an to the context as is often done in historical critical analyses of the Qur’an, but to build a deeper understanding of the manner in which the Qur’an transformed the society in which it first appeared.” Although the Qur’an was sent as a guide for mankind, it was also addressing unbelievers of different (pagan) religions and ideologies during seventh-century Arabia. They denied the concept of monotheism initially practiced by Christians and Jews, so the Qur’anic message of monotheism was doubted as well. Qur’anic interpretation (tafsir) deals with linguistic, jurisprudential and theological issues needed to provide a clear understanding of God’s will. Since Qur’anic interpretation is basically impossible without understanding its historical context, one argument for Izutsu’s semantic analysis, as noted by Musa, is Lumbard’s suggestion to “build on Izutsu’s semantic approach by using a dynamic intratextual analysis that looks closely at how word meanings are nuanced by the words around them in the text.”

Since Qur’anic translations and interpretations could reflect the denominational perspectives or biases of various subjects encouraged by translators (e.g., Shi’i, Sunni, Sufi, progressive, etc), finding a more suitable or objective method to understanding Qur’anic verses is basically through a contextual approach. Lumbard focused primarily on how Izutsu’s semantical method of analysis “can establish the ground for a dialogue among non-Muslim scholars who seek to understand the sitz in leben of the Qur’anic text and Muslim scholars for whom the sitz in leben of the Qur’an remains a defining factor in their life and work.”

This was followed by a Keynote address delivered by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (George Washington University, Washington, DC), on “Approaching the Qur’an Authentically.” He stated that interest in the Qur’an began in the eighth century “from the time of the rise of Islam, and over a thousand years ago [when] Peter the Venerable ordered its translation into Latin.” Although there are hundreds of translations of the Qur’an made in many languages, he noted that translations made by non-Muslims and/or those who do not regard the Qur’an as a revelation, are not considered theologically authentic from an Islamic point of view, because “authenticity in their case meant solid scholarly translation of the Arabic text and understanding of its commentaries at least on the outward level.” However, in his analysis of Qur’anic translations made by contemporary Muslims in the West, Nasr explained that those Muslims must be “deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition of Qur’anic studies … [and] be aware of modern Western scholarship concerning the Qur’an … [and] be rooted in their own tradition and yet be able to deal with the levels of meaning of the Qu’ran and their explications in a contemporary language that is both authentic and comprehensible to the present-day public.”

The third panel session dissected “Pre-Modern Esoteric Commentaries on the Qur’an,” with Muhammad U. Faruque (University of Cincinnati, OH) serving as the discussant. Faruque noted that the papers in this session discussed in great detail how the “study of the Qur’an is related to a specific order of metaphysics and epistemology.” The first presentation was made by Mohammed Rustom (College of the Humanities, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada), on “A Sufi Theory of Qur’anic Origins.” Rustom explores “the main features of ʿAyn al-Qudāt’s Qur’anic vision by focusing on the importance he places upon the Qur’an’s all-encompassing nature … and his notion of cultivating “worthiness” (ahliyya) in order to understand the Qur’an.” In his talk, Rustom analyzes how this “Qur’anic vision” set the stage for the exposition of “Ayn al-Quḍāt’s unique perspective on the Qur’anic ‘detached letters’ (al-hurūf al-muqattaʿa), through which he presents … his theory of the Qur’an’s true origins.”

During the Q&A, Faruque noted that Rustom takes the twelfth-century Sufi metaphysician ʿAyn al-Quḍāt as a “theorist” to argue for what he calls a Sufi theory of Qur’anic origin, while stating that “Rustom’s theory of non-historical origin of the Qur’an which directly descends from a higher, spiritual realm presents an alternative to the revisionist approach that treats the Qur’an as a text created by human beings, at a particular historical time, and for various human motives.” In his concluding remarks, the discussant intimated that “such an approach to the metaphysical origin of the Qur’an presupposes the existence of a transcendent order and our capacity to access it through a supra-rational epistemic means.”

This was followed by a presentation by Syed A. H. Zaidi (Emory University, Atlanta, GA), on “The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ as Pre-Modern Qurʾānic Scientists.” Zaidi examined how the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ) are categorized as traditional Muslim thinkers since “they were the first serious group of Muslim philosophers who had examined science through the lens of the Qurʾān.”

Zaidi’s talk explored how the Brethren of Purity defined Qur’anic text through “fifty-one treatises replete with [Qurʾānic] verses, [but added that the] two summaries of their treatises can be seen as Qurʾānic exegeses of their philosophical and scientific thought … and proof that the Qurʾān should be seen as the foundation for understanding philosophy and the science.”

Zaidi’s talk focused primarily on the Brethren’s “treatise on theurgy … [by noting that the] Brethren use a plethora of verses from the Qurʾān to prove how theurgical practices are not forbidden … [and] draw upon the verses of the Qurʾān regarding the Jinn in an attempt to show that good Jinn exist in the Neoplatonic Universal Soul, and that evil Jinn subside in the physical world.” According to the discussant, Zaidi’s presentation of the Ikhwān Ṣafāʾ “seeks to transcend the limits of empirical knowledge by urging the reader to conduct theurgical practices in order to establish a link with the world of the Universal Soul, where the Word of God (kalimat Allah) is existentiated at a higher ontological degree.”

The fourth panel session explored “Disruptive Hermeneutics: Questions of Authority,” with Celene Ibrahim (Groton School, Groton, MA) as discussant. Maria M. Dakake (George Mason University, Fairfax, VA), presented “Nusrat Amin: A Woman’s Contribution to the Field of Qur’anic Exegesis.” Dakake explains that although women, historically, did not contribute scholarly works on Qur’anic exegesis, it was during the 20th century that Muslim women scholars like Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas and others provided their interpretations and readings of Qur’anic verses that addressed gender issues. She also states that Nusrat Amin (1886-1983), an Iranian religious, legal scholar, provided “perhaps the only known complete, commentary on the Qur’an written by a woman” Nusrat Amin also wrote a “15-volume tafsir, Makhzan-i irfan.” Dakake’s paper examined “Amin’s combination of Qur’an commentary and makes the case for the importance of this work in modern Islamic intellectual history.”

This was followed by Ali Hassan Zaidi (Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario, Canada), who explored “Interpretive Methods and their Presuppositions: A Comparison of Fazlur Rahman’s and Javed Ghamidi’s Hermeneutics of the Qur’an.” This paper examined how the scholarship and “interpretive methods” of these two Pakistani scholars were so controversial, they “were forced into exile in America. … The late Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), whose oeuvre has had a paradigmatic influence on progressive Muslim scholars and reformers, particularly in North America … and contemporary scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (1951-), who now lives in Texas, heads al-Mawrid Institute, a foundation for research and education which has chapters around the world.”

Zaidi outlined the stark concepts in Rahman’s and Ghamidi’s work that resulted in their exile. Zaidi noted that Rahman “regards historical and social context as decisive in the hermeneutics of the Qur’an, whereas Ghamidi’s oeuvre regards the classical Arabic language itself as decisive.”

Zaidi stated that his paper interrogates Rahman’s and Ghamidi’s presuppositions by exploring the following questions: (1) “How does privileging historical and social context over and above the classical Arabic text alter one’s conceptions of truth, society and culture? (2) Can there be trans-historical truth, if the interpretation of the Qur’an is fixed by the context or alternatively by the classical text? and (3) What effects do such methods have on Muslim self-understanding?”

Layla Sein

NAAIMS Executive Director, and

Director of Academic Affairs

Managing Editor, Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies (JIMS)