Joanna D. Bell: The Qur’anic Ḥanīfiyya and its Role as a Middle Nation
- This thesis examines the material which helps
scholars understand the Qur’anic use of á¸¥anīf and arrives at an
understanding of á¸¥anīf translated as “Gentile,” which I demonstrate
reconciles the connotation of á¸¥anīf in the Qur’an with definitions
found in the larger Semitic lexica. In order to give semantic meaning to
the lexical findings, I group theories which frame signifier á¸¥anīf
into three differing signifieds: (1) a real-world religious group
predating Islam in Arabia; (2) Urmonotheism, that is, indication of the
existence of an original monotheism in Arabia; (3) an allusion to the
mythical status of Abraham as the first monotheist as a legitimization
of Muhammad’s message.
I address these three signifieds in relation to my proposed interpretation of á¸¥anīf as “Gentile, non-Israelite,” showing that this interpretation is advantageous for understanding the arguments of the three signifieds encountered in other interpretations which are reflected in the text of the Qur’an. I then explicate the text surrounding each Qur’anic occurrence of á¸¥anīf and qualify the circumstances around which “Gentile” or á¸¥anīf is employed. Overall, the suggested interpretation “Gentile” will be demonstrated as reconcilable with the Qur’anic text, the Semitic lexica, and the social and religious context of Arabia.
I present a synthesis of al-á¸¥anīfiyya which shows that its major role was to function as a “middle nation,” as it is referred to in Q 2:143, in negotiation with the increasingly hostile Quraysh, Jewish and Christian groups. A á¸¥anīf was a Gentile whose appointed role was to reform the disunited society around it and conform its own religious community to a just and moderate standard, as a “middle nation.” The era in which á¸¥anīf occurs is immediately before and after the hijra, one in which Muhammad’s group and his message were under great scrutiny and persecution from all fronts. During this period of trial, al-á¸¥anīfiyya represents the early Islamic community’s social and religious position as a “middle nation” which attempted to mitigate controversy through employing the symbols of Abraham and his House, the Ka‘ba, two figures common to the Jews, Christians and Quraysh. Al-á¸¥anīfiyya was also a “middle nation” in the temporal sense, indicating that Muhammad’s nation and religion were at a middle point in their development, emphasizing elements common to the surrounding societies “so that men may have no argument against you [Muhammad and his followers], save such as them do injustice….so that I [God] may complete My grace upon you,” an indication that al-á¸¥anīfiyya belonged to a transitional stage within the dynamic development of Muhammad’s message.