Passage from Khayr al-Bayan manuscript,
held at Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Ms. Or. Fol. 4093)
And if you are in doubt concerning that We have sent down on Our servant, then bring a sura like it, and call your witnesses, apart from God, if you are truthful.
In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities!
--James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
Despite the doctrine of the Qur’an’s inimitability, there exist a number of imitations that offer us fascinating glimpses of alternative approaches to revelation in Islamic cultures. For example, the Baha’is of 19th-century Iran, the Musha‘sha‘iyya of 15th-century Iraq, and the Moorish Science Temple of 20th-century America have all organized around such Qur’anic imitations—and they’ve been joined by Abbasid-era poets such al-Ma’arri, the Franciscan Ramon Llull, and even James Joyce in attempting to produce Qur’anic imitations. Though most of these imitations have been rejected as heresy, they nevertheless give us a chance to understand the revelatory and scriptural imaginations of Muslims and non-Muslims in new ways.
This project, The Imitable Qur'an: Explorations at the Edge of Language, Revelation, and Blasphemy, explores the connections between aesthetics, revelation, blasphemy, and the production of narratives of a unified “Islam” in the face of a spectacular diversity of practice.
I am still early in the process of developing this project, but I have given some initial presentations on this material. A draft of one such presentation is available if you email me by clicking the button below.