This paper is concerned with the essay ‘Themes and Topics’ by Daniel A. Madigan. Madigan is professor of Islamic Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and has published a full length work entitled The Qur ?n’s Self-Image: Writing and Authority in Islam’s Scripture. He is someone who should be considered to be an expert of Islamic history, in particular on the textual history of the Quran as a both a historical document and as the most important scriptural document for the world’s Muslims.
To begin, Madigan argues that the Quran should be understood as a text whose meaning is thoroughly historically determined and has changed significantly depending on the context in which it was read, as well as the kind of group who performed such a reading. One of the most immediately striking points that Madigan states is that the Quran should itself be understood to reflect the history of its own development, especially with regard to the period of its composition. Essentially, he argues that, throughout this period, the Quran was addressed to a ‘variable’ audience and that, as a result, it is possible to understand how the changing demands of such an audience are reflected in the variety of different linguistic strategies used throughout the text (2006, 79). As a follow-up to this thought, Madigan insists that it is only possible to determine exactly what the Quran ‘says’ if one understands what it has said and continues to a variety of different readers, each within their own specific historical context. As such, Madigan insists that it is not possible to view the Quran as an a-historical text, something which those who relate to it as scripture may frequently attempt to do.
Following this initial claim, Madigan considers several key aspects of the text of the Quran, including the emphasis that it places on the inherent oneness of God, as well as God’s creative role. One striking thought from this section of the essay involves Madigan’s investigation of the relationship between faith and gratitude within the Islamic relationship to God. According to Madigan, the Quran posits humanity as essentially bound to God through a relationship of gratitude, meaning that it is not possible to fully articulate a meaningful faith without integrating into a deep sense of gratitude (85). Indeed, Madigan suggests that it is not even possible to fully claim that God exists in the Islamic context without making such gratitude as aspect of this articulation. Finally, Madigan ends his summary of Quranic themes by paying attention to the meaning of the term jihad, and insists that, rather than simply referring to an idea of specific violent conflicts or modes of else defense against persecution, the term refers explicitly to the notion of submitting oneself to the divine sovereignty of God, something that may be argued to be most consistent recurring theme in the Quranic (94).
Overall, Madigan is successful in his articulation of key Quranic themes and ideas, something that is greatly aided by his consistent referral to the text of the Quran itself. One possible draw-back to his essay, however, is the fact that he does not actively engage in the history of Islam and in the various different readings of the Quranic text that he insists at the start of his essay are a crucial part of its history. In this sense, while Madigan is convincing in his initial argument that the ‘meaning’ of the Quran may only be fully grasped in relation to the circumstances in which is has been read, he is content to focus the majority of his essay on the text in isolation.
- Madigan, Daniel, A. ‘Themes and Topics.’ The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’?n. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Georgetown University: Washington DC, 2006.