The Problem of the Quranic al-ṣamad

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Andrew Hammond



Angelika Neuwirth has argued that sura 112 of the Quran is intended as an intertextual corrective commentary on key Jewish and Christian creedal statements. This theory, consonant with recent scholarship considering the Muslim scripture to be a text of late antiquity, would match the enigmatic phrase Allāh al-ṣamad with the Nicene creed’s description of God as “almighty” (pantokrator) and sura 112’s statement that God has no equal (kufuʾ) with the Nicene creed’s homoousia, the term that throughout the seventh century CE remained central to the bitter doctrinal conflict wracking Eastern Christianity. This article surveys the wide debate in the scholarly literature over these quranic verses, and specifically the hapax legomenon of al-ṣamad, and compares the early Muslim exegetical treatment of al-ṣamad with the approach of contemporaneous Christian polemical writing of the late eighth century. It suggests that the key to unlocking the meaning of the sura and al-ṣamad, which has long vexed both premodern and modern scholars, could lie in the concept of Aristotelian substance and its articulation in the trinitarian formula and ensuing christological disputes.

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