Quranic hermeneutics

Qur'anic hermeneutics is the study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book. Throughout religious history, Qur'anic scholars have sought to mine the wealth of its meanings by developing a variety of different systems of hermeneutics.


Hermeneutics in Islam leans on a lengthy tradition of tafsir, the exegesis of usually the Qur'an. Peter Heath posed in 1989 that "the modern study of Islamic hermeneutics is in its infancy"; in response, Jean Jacques Waardenburg proposed five questions and issues that a study of a possible hermeneutics of Islam would have to deal with:

  1. Is there a consistent methodology underlying tafsir that one could call hermeneutical, do rules exist "that have been explicitly formulated and consciously applied by Muslim scholars"?
  2. Given that much of the tradition of interpretation of the Qur'an is concerned with the interpretation of specific verses, what is the relationship between those interpretations and the interpretation of the Qur'an as a whole
  3. What type of philological knowledge, and what type of knowledge of the historical reception of the text is necessary to come to an assessment of Islamic hermeneutics?
  4. Can we separate our emotional response to certain verses from the study of the meaning of the text?
  5. What is the role of the specialists in the field (the mutakallimiin, the ulama, and the fuqahā') and what is their relationship to the broader circle of students of the Qur'an and the even larger community of believers?[1]

Specific issues in Islamic hermeneutics

Human rights

A specific issue discussed is the relationship between Islam and human rights. ʻAbd Allāh Aḥmad Naʻīm sees the problem as one of the transformation of interpretations of the Qur'an to a globalized world and the mutual social and political influences between that globalized world and the Muslim community. He differentiates between the 'traditionalists' who advocate "strict conformity to Shari'a as an essential prerequisite for accepting the proposed change [toward a more anthropological view of Islam]" and those who do bypass the question of that conformity. A hermeneutic approach to Islam and human rights, he claims, must acknowledge the idea of historical change.[2]

The position of women

The growing influence of women in the Muslim world and their increasing access to higher levels of education, combined with the Western interest in the position of women in the Muslim world has a profound influence on Islamic hermeneutics, which must deal with transnationalism and its effect on gender roles. 'New' schools of Islamic thinking (emblematized by such philosophers as Mohammed Arkoun) have challenged "monodimensional hermeneutics."[3]


  1. Waardenburg, Jean Jacques (2002). Islam: historical, social, and political perspectives. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 111–13. ISBN 978-3-11-017178-5.
  2. Naʻīm, ʻAbd Allāh Aḥmad (1995). "Toward an Islamic Hermeneutics for Human Rights". Human rights and religious values: an uneasy relationship?. Rodopi. pp. 229–42. ISBN 978-90-5183-777-3.
  3. Sharify-Funk, Meena (2008). "Trends and Transformations in Contemporary Islamic Hermeneutics". Encountering the transnational: Women, Islam and the Politics of Interpretation. Ashgate. pp. 23–60. ISBN 978-0-7546-7123-7. Retrieved 27 July 2010.

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