References to historical conceptions of diversity in the Islamic tradition have become an important part of modern debates about Islam, tolerance, and pluralism. While the concepts of ikhtilāf (recognised difference of opinion among the Islamic jurists) in jurisprudence and ahl al-dhimma (protected communities of non-Muslims under Islamic rule) in the domain of interfaith relations, have received most scholarly attention, this article draws attention to conceptions of diversity in the field of exegesis of the Qur’ān (tafsīr), and in particular to the practice of many medieval exegetes who included into their commentaries a diversity of interpretations of the Qur’ānic verses. This practice has not passed unnoticed in modern scholarship. It has been attributed, for example, to the literary conventions of the genre of classical tafsīr, and explained as being beneficial for intra- Muslim disputations in cases where the exegetes recorded the interpretations of their doctrinal opponents. It has also been treated as a manifestation of the juridical principle of ikhtilāf in the field of Qur’ānic exegesis. To complement this focus on the practice, this article raises a question about how medieval Muslim thinkers themselves engaged with the question of interpretative diversity with regard to the Qur’ān. The article offers a preliminary consideration of this question through an overview of the five selected discourses on exegetical diversity from among the medieval Muslim authors. Although their contributions by no means exhaust the treatment of this subject in medieval Islamic literature, they nevertheless exemplify a range of approaches to interpretative diversity, from explaining its causes by reference to epistemological challenges and the nature of language, and validating it through the recognition that the text itself has several levels of meaning; to attempts to justify exegetical diversity as reflecting the divine will, and, on the opposite side, to narrow its boundaries. As such, these discourses could provide a starting point for further study of conceptions and attitudes to interpretative diversity in the Islamic tradition.
Ⅱ. Explaining exegetical diversity: genre conventions, function, and methodology
Ⅲ. Medieval discourses on diversity in interpretation of the Qur’ān