The Qur’an – Word of God or Word of Muhammad: Prophetic Revelation in the thought of Abdulkarim Soroush and Nasir-i Khusraw

By Khalil Andani
Submitted to Session P3557 (Theology of Revelation and Scriptural Hermeneutics, 2013 Annual Meeting
Rel Stds/Theo
Iran; Islamic World;
19th-21st Centuries; 7th-13th Centuries; Comparative; Iranian Studies; Islamic Studies; Islamic Thought; Medieval; Mysticism/Sufi Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The Qur’an has been the source of both immense reverence and widespread controversy throughout Islamic history. A number of contemporary Muslim intellectuals and reformers, in an effort to re-interpret and reform our understanding of the Qur’an, have posited new theories of prophetic revelation. Foremost among them is the Iranian Muslim intellectual and reformer Abdulkarim Soroush. Most recently Soroush publicly articulated his theory of revelation which holds that Prophet Muhammad was the divinely inspired creator and producer of the Qur’an or “the agent and recipient of revelation”. Soroush has defended his views as being consistent with the tradition of medieval Islamic philosophy and mysticism as a whole. However, there are no academic studies that compare his theory of revelation with medieval prophetic thought. This paper attempts to address this area by undertaking a detailed comparison of Soroush’s theory of prophetic revelation and that of the medieval Shi'i Isma'ili philosopher Nasir-i Khusraw (d. 1088). Like many of the medieval Islamic philosophers from whom Soroush has drawn inspiration, Nasir incorporated Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian concepts into his philosophical framework. Nasir-i Khusraw developed an elaborate theory of prophetic revelation dealing specifically with nature of the Qur’an and the role of the Prophet Muhammad in its production. However, there has also been no in-depth academic analysis of his theory of prophetic inspiration. By drawing upon the recently translated works and interviews of Abdulkarim Soroush and several treatises of Nasir-i Khusraw, this paper argues that both thinkers have essentially the same model of revelation – the common elements of which are summarized as follows: a) the idea that revelation is not verbally revealed to the Prophet but is received by his soul as formless intelligible content; b) the depiction of the Angel Gabriel as a spiritual faculty of the Prophet; c) the notion that the Prophet’s spiritual consciousness expands during the course of revelation; d) the assertion that the Prophet himself composed the verses of the Qur’an in accordance with his historical and cultural context. In this respect, it is shown that the core features of Abdulkarim Soroush’s theory of revelation are present in the thought of Nasir-i Khusraw. This commonality between the thought of Khusraw and Soroush illustrates the value of certain ideas found in medieval Islamic thought and the immense potential for their incorporation into the modern Muslim discourse.

A full bibliography can be provided on request.