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Contemporary Perspectives on Revelation and Qur’ānic Hermeneutics

An Analysis of Four Discourses

Ali Akbar

Hardback (Forthcoming)

Expounds the ideas of four modern Islamic scholars who challenge the traditional theory of revelation

  • Focuses on three main themes: (1) Qur’anic socio-legal provisions (ahkām); (2) religious pluralism; and (3) political discourses, especially the concepts of governance, shūra (consultation) and democracy
  • On a theoretical level, it aims to identify whether there exist any larger hermeneutical tendencies that characterize the interpretive methods of the four scholars
  • On a practical level, it examines specific themes drawn from each scholar’s work to discover how they fit with his larger hermeneutical principles and his account of revelation
  • Examines how various aspects of each scholar’s theory correspond to pre-modern and modern Muslim and non-Muslim scholars’ accounts of revelation

A number of innovative hermeneutical approaches emerged in Muslim exegetical discourse in the second half of the 20th century. Among these developments is a trend of systematic reform theology that emphasises a humanistic approach, whereby revelation is understood to be dependent not only upon its initiator, God, but also upon its recipient, Prophet Muhammad, who takes an active role in the process.

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Chapter 1. Introduction

  • Some background studies
  • The study
  • The content

Chapter 2. Traditional Understanding of Revelation

  • Revelation in the Qurʾān
  • Two terms for revelation in the Qurʾān: wahòy and tanzīl
  • Revelation in the traditional accounts: Internal and direct, or external and mediated?
  • Revelation and its link to the personality of the Prophet
  • The Prophet’s feelings/experiences at the moment of revelation
  • God’s Words, revelation and the Qurʾān
  • Challenges to traditional theories of revelation
  • Conclusion

Chapter 3. Fazlur Rahman: Revelation Historicized

  • Rahman’s account of revelation
  • The sources of Rahman’s theory of revelation
  • The connection between revelation and Qurʾānic hermeneutics
  • Rahman’s hermeneutics in practice
  • Conclusion

Chapter 4. Abdolkarim Soroush: the Prophet’s Revelatory Experiences

  • Soroush’s theory of revelation
  • The sources of Soroush’s ideas about revelation
  • Soroush’s hermeneutics
  • The implications of Soroush’s hermeneutics
  • Conclusion

Chapter 5. Muhammad Mujtahed Shabestari: How the Prophet saw the world

  • The need for reconsideration of traditional account of revelation
  • The sources of Shabestari’s theory of revelation
  • Shabestari’s hermeneutics
  • Shabestari’s hermeneutics in practice
  • Conclusion

Chapter 6. Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd: Revelation as a Linguistic Manifestation of the Communicative Interaction between God and the Prophet

  • Abu Zayd’s account of revelation
  • The sources of Abu Zayd’s ideas about revelation
  • Abu Zayd’s hermeneutics
  • The implications of Abu Zayd’s hermeneutics
  • Conclusion

Chapter 7. Conclusion

  • Accounts of revelation
  • The roots of each scholar’s account of revelation
  • Hermeneutic approaches: theoretical level
  • Hermeneutic approaches functioning in practice
  • Final remarks


About the Author

Ali Akbar is a Research Assistant at Deakin University and at the University of Melbourne. His research interests include Middle Eastern and Iranian Politics, Modern Islamic Thought, classical and contemporary Qur’anic hermeneutics and Islamic Feminism. His work appeared in a number of key journals, including Middle Eastern Studies, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, and Islamic Quarterly. He is the author The Political Discourse of Decline and Backwardness among Contemporary Iranian Intellectuals (Farzan-e Rooz, 2017), written and published in Persian.


In this timely, innovative and detailed study Ali Akbar masterfully examines four major proponents of a "humanist" theory of revelation in Islam and how this theory informs their respective Qur’anic hermeneutics. Importantly, Akbar also discusses the practical socio-political and legal implications of this ‘humanistic’ theory of revelation and aptly recognises the crucial role this theory has in enabling meaningful and consequential renewal of religious discourse as a first and necessary step toward the engendering of more democratic, human rights-based and egalitarian Muslim societies and cultures.

- Adis Duderija, Griffith University

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