The British Association for Islamic Studies (BRAIS) and De Gruyter are delighted to announce the outcome of the sixth (2022) round of the BRAIS – De Gruyter Prize in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World.

The winning submission was:

Elizabeth Grace Price
Yale University
The Barāhima’s Dilemma:
Ibn al-Rāwandī’s Kitāb al-Zumurrud and the Epistemological Turn in the Debate on Prophecy

After the turn of the 10th century, Muslim theologians began to cite a puzzling thought experiment in their discussions of prophecy (nubuwwa), which took the form of the following two-horned dilemma: either a prophet conveys what is in accordance with reason, so they would be superfluous, or a prophet conveys what is contrary to reason, so they would be rejected. Theologians usually cited this dilemma on the authority of a group called the “Barāhima”, who apparently did not recognise the need for prophets or revealed scriptures in either case, since they believed that reason alone could provide humans with all the theological and moral knowledge that they required. So, who were these so-called “Barāhima”? Did they refer to Brahmans as the orthography of their name would suggest? Or to an entirely different group? And how did they become spokespersons for this highly incisive challenge to prophecy?

This dissertation seeks to answer these questions by charting the evolution of the Barāhima as a topos or a ‘thing to think with’ in early Islamic thought. In particular, it explores the historical and discursive processes that led to the formation of the Barāhima’s dilemma, and assesses the impact that this thought experiment had on the broader development of Islamic theology, with a special focus on Muʿtazilī kalām. In the process, it demonstrates the pivotal role that Ibn al-Rāwandī’s controversial “Book of the Emerald” (Kitāb al-Zumurrud) played in the dissemination of the Barāhima’s critiques and, more crucially, in facilitating an epistemological turn in how Muslim theologians came to conceptualise and defend the institution of prophecy. When faced with the arch-rationalism of the prophecy-denying Barāhima, theologians were not only pressed to explain precisely why rational agents required the input of revelation, but to also identify the existence of a specific epistemic gap that only the intervention of a prophet could fill. Whether a theologian could successfully defend the necessity of prophetic revelation would ultimately depend, therefore, on how successfully they could define and delineate the functions of the human intellect. A debate about whether humans required the guidance of prophets thus evolved into a debate about what humans could and could not know by their own means.


2022 Honorable Mention

Aziza Shanazarova

Indiana University-Bloomington

A Female Saint in Muslim Polemics: Agha-yi Buzurg and her Legacy in Early Modern Central Asia