Modern and Classical Scientific Readings of the Qurʾān: A Comparative Study of Abdul Wadud (d.2001) and al-Bayḍāwī (d.1286)'s Naturalistic Exegesis
Among the trends of Islamic modernism is the propagation of the compatibility or similarity of the meaning of verses of the Qurʾān with modern scientific theories and observations of nature and the cosmos. Although this idea of compatibility is also advocated by several classical scholars in their exegesis of the Qurʾān, it never had so many proponents and such wide popularity among the general Muslim population as it has since the 20th century. Many proponents of scientific exegesis (tafsīr al-ʿilmī) claim that the Qurʾān contains descriptions of nature that are scientifically accurate, and which can only be understood correctly with current scientific knowledge, i.e. the true meaning of the these verses was not available to Muslims before the appearance of modern science. We will test this claim by comparing one such modern proponent's exegesis, Abdul Wadud (d. 2001), with that of a classical scholar, ʿAbd Allāh al-Baydāwī (d. 1286). Through this we can see if the modern 'scientific miracle' exegesis of the Qurʾān truly provides new or even better insights of these verses compared to classical rational exegesis. This article tries not to analyze the veracity of modern or classical exegesis, but their concept of the purpose of revelation, epistemology and worldview concerning nature, and how this is applied in their proposed exegesis of certain verses. In this comparative analysis of the scientific exegesis of Wadud and al-Bayḍāwī we will show that both their approaches to the Qurʾānic text is rational, focused on the inimitability of the Qu'ran (ʿijāz al-Qurʾān), and incorporate their contemporary natural philosophy into their exegesis, thereby linking revelation and nature.
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