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Poverty in the Qur’ān: Medieval Islamic Interpretations and Uses


What does the Qur’ān say about poverty? Is poverty caused by divine will and thus inevitable? Is it a punishment, a trial, or a sign of divine favour? Who are the poor, what is their position in the society, and how should they be treated? What is the relation between poverty and moral virtue? These questions occupied medieval Muslim thinkers and re-emerged in contemporary discussions among scholars, Muslim intellectuals, and the wider public on Islamic economic ethics, poverty alleviation, social justice, and development in Muslim societies. Yet, historical research on poverty in the Qur’ān is scarce. This project approaches the question of poverty in the Qur’ān from the reception history perspective. In contrast to previous research which focused on the Qur’ānic ‘view’ on poverty, it explores the dynamic tradition of reading poverty in the Qur’ān in medieval Muslim societies, covering the period from the 8th to the 13th centuries CE. Based on a large corpus of medieval Arabo-Islamic sources, both editions and manuscripts, it aims to reconstruct the history of interpretation of Qur’ānic verses on poverty and to examine their use in poverty-related discourses (e.g. theological, ethical, juridical) and practices (e.g. rituals of protection from poverty, disputations). Offering the first systematic study on this subject, the project will make a contribution to the study of medieval Islamic ideas and attitudes to poverty and poverty-related practices, and shed light on the role of the Qur’ān in shaping them. The project will result in the publication of two articles in peer-reviewed journals, an initial draft of a monograph on poverty and the Qur’ān, and a catalogue of the Qur’ānic verses used in poverty-related contexts which will be made fully accessible to specialist and non-specialist audiences through open access digital resources.

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