AMME seminar: Medieval Tafsīr: Building Normative Concepts through Hermeneutics and Male Agency and Masculine Performance in the Baal Cycle

AMME seminar on 13th of February featured two talks. First talk was given by Associate Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Mulki Al-Sharmani on Medieval Tafsīr: Building Normative Concepts through Hermeneutics, and the second by Professor of Biblical Studies Martti Nissinen on Male agency and Masculine Performance in the Baal Cycle.

Associate Professor Mulki Al-Sharmani discussed how normative concepts are built through hermeneutical processes. In her speech, al-Sharmani approached the matter with the example of the medieval tafsīr of qiwāmah and its effect on the idea of Muslim marriage and divorce. Tafsīr is an Arabic term, which means the interpretation or the exegesis of the Quran. Medieval interpretations, or tafsīr, of the Quran are part of a genealogical tradition. This means that new readings and interpretations are based on the older interpretations. Even the interpretations made by different theological schools are part of the whole.

The idea of qiwāmah is mentioned in the verse 4:34 of the Quran. The verse states that the male or the husband has qawammūn over the woman or the wife. The meaning of qawammūn is degree, but the exact meaning of the verse has been discussed for centuries. Al-Sharmani presented few examples of these different readings in her speech. For example in the 9th-10th century, the authority of the male was based on the economic status of the husband as the provider of the family. In later centuries, the justification of the male authority was more focused on the attributes that males were said to have. Males were seen as more rational and stronger than women are.  In the 14th century the exegesis of the verse 4:34 leaned more on the tradition of the prophetic hadith. Hadith is collection of sayings and actions attributed to the prophet Muhammad, but which are not found in the Quran. Al-Sharmani pointed out that often when hadith and other verses of Quran are added to interpretations of a certain verse, the approach is quite atomistic. This means that the interpreter takes only few verses into consideration instead of considering all the verses in the Quran that are related to the matter. These interpretations made in the medieval times still affect the discussion about marriage and divorce among the Muslims.

In his talk, Professor Martti Nissinen approached the Baal cycle from the perspective of the theory of multiple masculinities. The Baal cycle is an Ugaritic set of stories about the storm god Baal. The outline of the stories is that Yamm, the sea god, wants to be more powerful than other gods are, but Baal opposes Yamm. Baal beats Yamm. Later Mot, the god of the underworld kills Baal, and goddess Anat kills Mot. In the end both killed gods resurrect and Mot submits to Baal.

Nissinen reads this narrative through the theory of multiple masculinities. Then it becomes a story of divine rivalry and competitive male agency. R.W. Connell presented the theory in his book Masculinities. Masculinity can be divided into three main categories: hegemonic, subordinate and marginal masculinity. In the Baal cycle Baal, Yamm and Mot represent the competitive and hegemonic masculinity. They must constantly defend their positions in the hierarchy of the divine world. Especially Baal is the paragon of masculinity in the Baal cycle. The other types of masculinities are viewed in apposition to hegemonic masculinity. The smith god that builds Baal’s palace is not part of the rivalry for power, as his position in the hierarchy is not defined by his strength, but rather by his skills. The males that lose the fight or do not take part in the rivalry at all, lack the ideal and desired male attributes.

Both talks raised multiple questions and evoked a lively conversation.

The next AMME seminar will take place on 5th of March at 5:15-7 pm in the Theology faculty hall (Fabianinkatu 24, room 524) and the theme of the evening is Image and Power.