Statistical Methods for Identifying Unknown Qur’anic Readings: An Application to Pronominal Variat..

Hythem Sidky, Independent Scholar, IQSA
IQSA International Conference 2021 “Giorgio La Pira” Library, Palermo, Italy
Panel 7. Carriers of the Text and Readings 2: The Qur’an in Light of Digital Humanities

Understanding the similarities and differences between Qur’anic reading traditions is critical to the study of their emergence and proliferation. Existing works comparing the reading traditions have typically relied on the relative number of agreements between readings to establish closeness and draw conclusions. However, this one-dimensional approach does not make full use of the rich information contained within the data. In particular, the patterns of agreement and disagreement among readings can provide evidence of local traditions and reveal a lot about their shared origins. In this paper I present the development of a new quantitative methodology for comparing Qur’anic readings. I leverage Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and other dimensionality reduction techniques to produce visual representations of the similarities between readings. This new approach makes it possible to identify regionality and other characteristics of unknown or indeterminate readings found in manuscripts and the secondary literature. I demonstrate the utility of this methodology through a study of pronominal suffixes in the Qur’an. I also discuss some of the key challenges associated with defining distance metrics which are key to obtaining accurate results.