Monday, November 27, 2006

God's Living Word

I havent read The Qur'an's Self-Image by Daniel A. Madigan, but I someone gave a brief presentation on it and some quotes, which I want to record for myself and add some notes to.

When the Qur'an refers to itself as a kitaab, the word here does not mean "book" as the word means today. Instead, a more accurate meaning of the word based on the time it was revealed and upon a semantic study of the word is: "writing process." Thus, it is very close, if not synonymous with the word kalaam, or "God's speech", which is a more dynamic and responsive term.

So what process of writing? "This is the most common and most fundamental kind of writing spoken of by the Qur'an and its primary sense: God's authoritative prescription for his creation" (pg 75).

"To have been given the kitaab is to have been given some access to that divine realm where everything is 'written', that is, known and determined/" (pg. 77). [Compare to the law7 al ma7foodh, the Preserved Tablet]

"Writing in this sense of kitaab is indeed this kind of living logos, not mere lines on a page. The kitaab of God remains immediate, intelligent, and active." (pg 124)

[Compare with: "John's use of logos, translated into English as 'word' in the prologue to his Gospel ("And the Word as been made flesh"), uses logos as a force which was both 'with God in the beginning' and actively involved in the creation...Where John innovates is to see the logos becoming flesh in Jesus."
- Charles Freeman. The Closing of the Westerm Mind, pg 74.]

"[Kitaab] is the symbol of a process of continuing divine engagement with human beings- an engagement that is rich and varied, yet so direct and specific in its address that it could never be comprehended in a fixed canon nor confined between two covers." (Pg 165)

"Taken all together, what the Qur'an says of the kitaab points not to a circumscribed corpus of liturgy, dogma, and law that can be duplicated and parceled out for each group, but to an open-ended process of divine engagement with humanity in its concrete history." (pg 178)

"Since the source of the kitaab is the writing activity of God, kitaab retains an active sense. It is not the kind of writing scorned by Socrates which looked intelligent but when questioned could do nothing more than repeat the same words again. It is writing as process, rather than a writing that is the finished product of that process." (Pg 182)

"For some believers, the implicit claim to totality and completeness contained in the word 'book' becomes the basis for a fundamentalism that cuts itself adrift from the evolving wisdom of the tradition." (pg 191)

Compare the above with the following:

The descent of the Qur'an into the heart of the servant... is precisely what happened to [Ibn Arabi] on several occasions. In a Seville cemetery to which he was accustomed to withdraw he 'received' a number of Qur'anic verses. Clearly this is a reference to the descent of the Qur'an 'in a shower of stars' (nujuman), which it is possible for saints to experience in the same way that the prophet Muhammd had before them. According to Ibn Arabi, Muhammad received revelation in three different modes. Firstly he received the Book in its aspect of furqan during the Night of Destiny (laylat al-Qadr); secondly he received it as qur'an througout the month of Ramadan; and finally he received it progressively over a period of twenty-four years in a shower of stars. It is this 'starry' descent of the Qur'an- a direct perception of the original Revelation, not to be confused with its methodical memorisation- which was experienced by the saints. So, for example, it is said that Abu Yazid Bistami 'did not die before he had "retained" the entire Qur'an'- a statement which is not to be interpreted literally, because knowing the Qur'an by heart is something much too commonplace to deserve being mentioned in the case of such an important person. In a section of the Kitab al-isfar devoted to the 'Journey of the Qur'an', Ibn Arabi declares that he had experienced this 'starry' descent in his early stages. He further adds that in fact 'the Qur'an never stops travelling towards the heart of those who preserve it.'

- Addas, Claude. Quest for the Red Sulphur pg 91-21. As quoted by Peter Lamborn Wilson in Shower of Stars, pg 53.

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