Tradition, reason, and Qur'anic exegesis in the modern period: The Hermeneutics of Said Nursi

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Key figures in modernist Qur’an exegesis include Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d. 1898) and Muhammad ʿAbduh (d. 1905). This article presents the exegetical principles of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877–1960), a Muslim thinker and a major twentieth-century Turkish scholar who is not necessarily to be labelled a ‘modernist’, on tafsīr bi-al-maʾthūr (tradition-based exegesis) and tafsīr bi-al-raʾ y (reason-based exegesis) with special reference to the views of early Muslim modernist thinkers. It particularly refers to Nursi’s work on usūl al-tafsīr, Muh ākamāt (Reasonings), and his onevolume commentary, Ishārāt al-iʿjāz (Signs of Inimitability), in order to understand his method of tafsīr. The purpose of the article is to place Nursi within the historical framework of Qur’an exegesis and it argues that, while there are some similarities between ʿAbduh and Nursi since the latter is influenced by the former, the methodological differences are clear. While ʿAbduh’s method is text-based, Nursi’s is based on kalām (Islamic theology). While ʿAbduh is critical of the classical style tafsīr and linguistic discussions in tafsīr, Nursi can be considered to be a modern representative of the Ottoman exegetical school and a follower in the way of al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538⁄1144), Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606⁄1210) and al-Bayd āwī (d. 685/1286).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-104
Number of pages20
JournalIslam and Christian-Muslim Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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