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From the Hereafter to the Here and Now. The Reading ofAsghar Ali Engineer


This chapter explores the Qur’anic hermeneutic of the Indian theologian Asghar Ali Engineer. The first section will examine the interpretive order of the Islamic texts in Engineer’s discourse. Specifically, I will show that, in a similar fashion to Esack, the Qur’an is the primary textual source that Engineer draws upon. This is not to say that he categorically rejects the hadith and the inherited, intellectual tradition, but rather that scripture authoritatively trumps all other Islamic sources. This hermeneutical privileging of the Qur’anic text, I argue, is intrinsically linked to Engineer’s critique of clerical authority. This chapter will then examine the centrality of justice in his exegesis, exploring the relationship between the sacred text and social liberation. Because of his sharp emphasis on action as a mode of Qur’anic reading, Engineer’s hermeneutic is first and foremost a hermeneutic of the here and now, of this world and then the next. Like Esack, he exhibits an awareness of the complexity of oppression, calling for a (generally) comprehensive commitment to justice and bringing together questions of class, gender, and pluralism. But whereas Esack draws upon the Exodus as a paradigm of struggle, Engineer turns to the Battle of Karbala (680), reflecting his background as a Shi‘a Muslim. While this chapter seeks to underscore the striking similarities of Esack’s and Engineer’s Islamic discourses in spite of their very different geographical locations, I will conclude by highlighting some key hermeneutical disparities between these two exegetes. In particular, I will problematize three recurring themes in

Engineer’s writings, namely: secularism, modernism, and peace. This chapter will first set the stage for discussion by providing a brief history of India and a biographical sketch of Engineer.

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