Stages & Fields of Inquiry
The fields of inquiry
The mentioned advances in the historical study of imaginations of the unborn were clearly influenced by the contemporary debates about bioethical issues among Islamic legal scholars. Therefore, the studies primarily addressed legal questions such as abortion or filiation. This topical legal approach has two major drawbacks:
It does not ask about possible deeper linkages between the different topics, which are consequently treated in isolation from each other. Such linkages can be assumed to exist in the imagination of the unborn.
It aims primarily at uncovering or reconstructing the legal dimensions of a specific topic at the expense of systematic analysis of other layers and aspects such as theology or medicine. Additionally, these historical legal texts were mostly perceived as “intra-Islamic” debates and the possible social dimensions of shared language between religious communities and the negotiation of identity got lost.
COBHUNI takes a different approach by putting the Qur’anic and Hadith material relating to the imaginations of the unborn and the exegetical tradition which evolved around them until today into the center. The investigations into these texts from ca. 1400 years have uncovered very rich material relating to theological debates, legal questions, discussion of medical issues and social processes. Especially in the area of Hadith, the commentaries also guide to rich Hadith material which it would be impossible to grasp if working only with legal texts. This material is completely excluded from the contemporary bioethical debate and consequently hitherto uncovered in the analysis.
The distinction of three stages is meant as a broad model structuring the analysis of the text material. It allows for analyzing each stage separately as well as in relation to each other. “Semen” – the texts use the term for male and female contribution alike – can have obvious links to “the unborn”, but topics such as semen and ritual purity or contraception do not. Still, texts on these questions can contain important material for writing the history of the unborn in Islam. Distinguishing between “the unborn” and “after” draws attention to the fact that e. g. in legal text material about filiation, miscarriage or abortion the elaborate discussions about imaginations of the unborn essentially aim at assessing a situation when the pregnancy has already ended. In addition, labeling the three stages very generally as “before the unborn”, “the unborn” and “after” allows for uncovering broader material and drawing a much more complete picture of how the unborn was imagined.