Are these Nothing but Sorcerers? – A linguistic analysis of Q Ṭā-Hā 20:63 using intra-Qurʾānic parallels

Are these Nothing but Sorcerers? – A linguistic analysis of Q Ṭā-Hā 20:63 using intra-Qurʾānic parallels

The seemingly ungrammatical wording of Q Ṭā-Hā 20:63 ʾinna hādhāni la-sāḥirāni has been cause for much debate, both in traditional Muslim sources as well as in modern discussion. This paper sets out to reevaluate the grammar of the various reading that are present by comparing them not against the normative grammar as it is established by the medieval grammarians, but rather by comparing its grammar to other, comparable construction in the Qurʾān. By analyzing this Qurʾānic verse within its intra-Qurʾānic parallels it is argued that the minority reading ʾin hadhāni la-sāḥirāni is the original intended reading of the ʿUthmānic text, while the grammatically problematic majority reading ʾinna hādhāni la-sāḥirāni is to be understood as an approximation to popular non-ʿUthmānic readings. Through the comparison with other verses, it is also shown that we may gain deeper understanding into verses of constructions of the type found in Q al-Ṭāriq 86:4 (wa-ʾin kullu nafsin la-mā ʿalayhā ḥāfiẓun) and shed light on some of the competing canonical readings in these verses.

Mubīn and Its Cognates in the Qurʾān

This study investigates the meaning of the term mubīn and its cognates in the Qurʾān. It examines the debate over whether mubīn has the basic meaning of “clear” or “clarifying,” weighing the various arguments that have been made for the two sides. Consideration of the requirements of qurʾānic end-rhyme and the distribution of the adjectives bayyin (masc.) and bayyinah (fem.) “clear” suggest that mubīn means “clear” and not “clarifying.” The meanings of the other cognates of mubīn are examined as well. It is argued that the feminine singular mubayyinah, an anomalous form that occur three times in the reading of Ḥafṣ, might instead be rendered bayyinah or mubīnah, both attested variants meaning “clear.” It is also suggested that a possible way to resolve the anomaly of the feminine plural mubayyināt, which also occurs three times in the reading of Ḥafṣ, would be to emend it to the feminine plural bayyināt “clear,” which occurs frequently in very similar contexts.

Worship (dīn), Monotheism (islām), and the Qurʾān’s Cultic Decalogue

The first part of this study presents evidence from the Qurʾān and early Arabic writings to argue that dīn in the Qurʾān often means “worship” instead of “religion” and that islām means exclusive worship of the One God rather than “submission” to Him. Specifically, I show that the noun dīn and the verb dāna frequently convey the ideas of “service” and “servitude” in early Arabic texts, a usage that underlies the qurʾānic meaning of dīn as “service” or “worship” offered to God. Moreover, in line with strong indications from the Qur’an, several early works of exegesis and lexicography understand islām as exclusive devotion to and monotheistic worship of God instead of submission to His will. In the second part, the study reinterprets the three verses that use the terms dīn and islām (Q 3:19, 3:85, and 5:3). It focuses on Q 5:3, which prohibits ten animal food items, announces the completion of the Believers’ dīn, and identifies this dīn as islām. As I argue, the new food restrictions of this verse are not simply dietary but also cultic, as their goal is to distinguish the Believers’ way of worship from that of the mushrikūn (“pagans”). In particular, the “cultic decalogue” of Q 5:3 bans the meat of animals that die violently (during hunting or otherwise), in order to ensure that the Believers eat meat only from animals that are slaughtered properly. Such slaughter involves the explicit and exclusive invocation of Allāh’s name, an act that showcases and safeguards the Believers’ adherence to monotheistic worship, namely, islām.

The Meaning of ibtahala in the Qurʾān: A Reassessment

The word nabtahil, which appears only once in the Qur’an in Q 3:61, has become the basis of a fairly well-known practice in pre-modern and modern Islam called mubāhala, “mutual cursing” due to the verse’s alleged connection to a cursing duel between Muhammad and Christians from Najran. Some exegetes, however, took it to mean “to pray humbly/sincerely”. This article argues that among the two explanations offered by Muslim scholars and exegetes for ibtahala, “to pray” and “to curse”, the latter is quite probably incorrect and arose from a misinterpretation of the word’s solitary usage in the qur’anic verse whereas the former explanation fares better in view of the comparative Semitic evidence. Having evaluated the attestations of the word in Muslim sources and in other languages, I offer a third explanation, namely that the word ibtahala means “to debate”, based on a Classical Ethiopic cognate.

Obituary: Mahmoud Ayoub (1935–2021)

Words cannot grasp the luminous soul and bountiful contributions of Professor Mahmoud Mustafa Ayoub, who passed away in Montreal, Canada on October  31, 2021. He was a master with humble origins, hailing from the rural mountain coun-tryside of southern Lebanon, where he was born June  1, 1935. Ayoub’s schooling inculcated within him an appreciation for both Muslim and Christian education. After attending the British Presbyterian Missionary School, he converted to Chris-tianity which came into conflict with his working class family’s Shīʿī-Muslim faith. Ayoub would later revert back to Islam. However, little did the world know that the bright and curious lad would grow into one of the greatest scholars of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations in modern times.

Marijn van Putten. Quranic Arabic: From its Hijazi Origins to its Classical Reading Traditions. Leiden: Brill, 2022. Pp. xiii + 351. Hardcover USD $149.00. ISBN: 978-90-04-50625-1

The Qurʾān has been the topic of scholarly discussion and debate since the begin-ning of the Islamic period and until today. Critical scholarship on the Qurʾān, as with the critical study of the Bible, began in earnest in the nineteenth century CE, and continues to be active and lively. In recent decades, a particularly vigorous debate has swirled around the date and manner of the qurʾānic composition, as well as the nature of the codification process. Compared to this (and other) debates, there has been surprisingly little discussion of the language of the Qurʾān. Most scholars have accepted variations on the same narrative, namely that the Qurʾān was composed in a language similar – if not identical – to the language of the pre-Islamic qaṣīdah poems, described by the early grammarians of Arabic, attested to by the reading traditions (qirāʾāt), and typically considered (more or less) identical to textbook Classical Arabic (al-fuṣḥā).1 The consonantal base of the Qurʾān (often called the ‘Qurʾānic Consonantal Text’, or QCT for short; Arabic rasm), insofar as it differed from the reading traditions (and Classical Arabic), has been considered an inaccurate guide to the original lan-guage, the result of pausal spelling practices and a general mismatch between the language the script was developed to represent and the language of the Qurʾān.