The novel, the literary adage has it, reflects a world abandoned by God. Yet the possibilities of novelistic form and literary exegesis exceed the secularizing tendencies of contemporary literary criticism. Showing how the Qurʾan itself invites and enacts critical reading, Hoda El Shakry’s Qurʾanic model of narratology enriches our understanding of literary sensibilities and practices in the Maghreb across Arabophone and Francophone traditions.

The Literary Qurʾan mobilizes the Qurʾan’s formal, narrative, and rhetorical qualities, alongside embodied and hermeneutical forms of Qurʾanic pedagogy, to theorize modern Maghrebi literature. Challenging the canonization of secular modes of reading that occlude religious epistemes, practices, and intertexts, it attends to literature as a site where the process of entextualization obscures ethical imperatives. Engaging with the Arab-Islamic tradition of adab—a concept demarcating the genre of belles lettres, as well as social and moral comportment—El Shakry demonstrates how the critical pursuit of knowledge is inseparable from the spiritual cultivation of the self.

Foregrounding form and praxis alike, The Literary Qurʾan stages a series of pairings that invite paratactic readings across texts, languages, and literary canons. The book places twentieth-century novels by canonical Francophone writers (Abdelwahab Meddeb, Assia Djebar, Driss Chraïbi) into conversation with lesser-known Arabophone ones (Maḥmūd al-Masʿadī, al-Ṭāhir Waṭṭār, Muḥammad Barrāda). Theorizing the Qurʾan as a literary object, process, and model, this interdisciplinary study blends literary and theological methodologies, conceptual vocabularies, and reading practices.

Readers in other fields will encounter a deeply thought and impressively learned introduction to a provocative set of texts; specialists may find themselves rethinking the very shape of their field.


Cover Art by Mounir Fatmi
“Between the Lines,” 2010, saw blade in steel, 150 cm.
Exhibition view from The Storyteller, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2010, Toronto. Collection AGO, Toronto.
Courtesy of the artist and Analix Forever.

The Literary Qur’an provides an exceptionally rich framework for considering how religion informs the reading of North African literature. With agility and grace, the book presents clear arguments, imaginative readings, and pathways for teaching, thinking, and reflecting on these literary novels.

Michael Allan, University of Oregon

“The Literary Qurʾan opens up new avenues of inquiry in multiple, related fields, as El Shakry charts a path forward for literary studies rooted in the Islamic intellectual tradition, the spirit of the Qurʾan, decolonial theory, and secular critique. Such an intervention has long been needed in world literature, comparative literature, Arabic literature, and Francophone studies as El Shakry moves us beyond the binaries of the East-West, secular-religious nexus. She leads us toward a new kind of hermeneutics for our contemporary age—one permeated by a religious sensibility but not necessarily confined to it. In so doing, she challenges the scholarship with her moral imperative to reshape the pursuit of knowledge through a deep and informed consideration of the Qurʾan’s impact and the injunction to cultivate a more ethical self.”

Ellen McLarney, Book Review: The Literary Qurʾan: Narrative Ethics in the Maghreb. International Journal of Middle East Studies (February 28, 2022)

“Hoda El Shakry’s The Literary Qurʾan: Narrative Ethics in the Maghreb represents an incisive intervention in the fields of Arabic and francophone studies… Each chapter within The Literary Qurʾan’s narrative arc introduces and situates the authors within the Maghreb’s layered sociopolitical landscape, before expertly guiding the reader through erudite close readings of the novels in relation to the Qurʾān, the hadith, and the Islamic theological traditions. Indeed, one of the book’s strongest scholarly contributions is the impressive groundwork laid out by the author in the footnotes, where she provides the foundations for her excursus into Islamic madhāhib, the principles of tasawwuf, and concepts such as adab and the nahḍa… Throughout these questionings, one thing strikes the reader above everything else: El Shakry’s committed engagement with the Qurʾān as intertext or ur-text for the Maghrebi novel. As evident as it seems in retrospect, such a reading of the Qurʾān had not yet been argued or articulated in such a cogent, sustained fashion in either Arabic or francophone studies.”

Yasser Elhariry: Hoda El Shakry, The Literary Qurʾan: Narrative Ethics in the Maghreb. Journal of North African Studies. (February 16, 2021)

“With her formal, interdisciplinary, historically situated, and comparative analysis of the centrality of the Qur’an’s narrative ethics to the construction of six late colonial and post-independence Maghrebian novels, El Shakry makes a crucial intervention in the secularism debate. She compels a new way to read texts that do not explicitly engage with the Qur’an as either a literary or a revelatory object, yet are saturated with its ethics.”

Miriam Cooke: “Novel Traces of the Qurʾan?” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 45.3: 467-9 (November 2021)

“Breaking down the divide between Francophone and Arabophone approaches to the literature of the Maghreb, Hoda El Shakry’s The Literary Qur’an: Narrative Ethics in the Maghreb begins with a challenge to any rigid separation of the Qur’an from literature. El Shakry shows that the Qur’an has been an endlessly suggestive model for interpretation for writers across the Maghreb’s linguistic divides. The book’s structure pairs Francophone and Arabophone authors, illuminating literary experiments from the 1940s to the 1980s. Throughout, El Shakry traces a project in common: a commitment to producing literature—and particularly an engagement with readers—as an ethical practice that undoes such familiar binaries as those between the sacred and the secular or the private and the public. Readers in other fields will encounter a deeply thought and impressively learned introduction to a provocative set of texts; specialists may find themselves rethinking the very shape of their field.”

MLA’S Scaglione Prize Selection Committee