Sources of the Quran

Revised by Montgomery Watt




Contact Truthnet

Sources of the Quran


Chapter 1
The Historical Context

Chapter 2

Mohammed's Prophetic Experience

Chapter 3

The History of the Text

Chapter 4

The external form of the Quran

Chapter 5

The features of Quranic style

Chapter 6

The Shaping of the Quran

Chapter 7
The Chronology of the Quran

Chapter 8
The names of the revealed message

Chapter 9
The Doctrines of the Quran

Chapter 10
Muslim Scholarship and the Quran

Chapter 11
The Quran and Occidental Scholariship



Bell's Introduction to the Quran
Revised by Montgomery Watt
Chapter 5: Features of Quranic Style

1. Rhymes and strophes

There is no attempt in the quran Qurn to produce the strict rhyme of poetry. In an Arabic poem each verse had to end in the same consonant or consonants surrounded by the same vowels-an interchange of i and u was allowed, though considered a weakness. Short inflectional vowels following the rhyme-consonant were usually retained, and, if retained, were pronounced long at the end of the line. Only in very exceptional cases is it possible to find this type of rhyme in the quran Qurn. What one finds rather is assonance, in which short inflectional vowels at the end of a verse are disregarded, and for the rest, the vowels, particularly their length, and the fall of the accent, that is the form of the end-word of the verse, are of more importance than the consonants. Of course the consonant may remain the same, but that is not essential. Thus in sura 112 the four verses rhyme in -ad, if one disregards the inflections; in 105 the rhyme is in il -  l, if one disregards end-vowels and allows u in place of i in the last verse. In sura 103 r is rhyme-consonant, but the inflections vary and have to be disregarded, though, for pronunciation, we require a short vowel sound of some kind after the r, or, alternatively, a short vowel before it which is not in the form. In sura 54, where r as a rhyme-consonant is carried through 55 verses, we have not only to disregard the end-vowels but to accept variations of the preceding vowel, i and u and even a occurring in that position; the assonance is technically described as fail - fail, that is, an open syllable with short vowel which takes the accent, followed by a syllable with short vowel closed by r which thus becomes a rhyme-consonant. On the other hand, the accusative termination -an is often retained, being probably pronounced as a - ; for example in suras 18, 72 and 100, where the accusative termination seems to be essential to the rhyme. Further, the feminine termination -atun loses not only its inflections but also its t sound, as in sura 104 where, if one drops end-vowels and pronounces the feminine termination as a or a, there is a consistent assonance formed by an accented syllable followed by a short unaccented syllable and the ending (technically faala faala) in which both vowels and consonants are variable, but the place of the accent and the ending -a remain the same. The actual rhyme-words are: lmaza, addada addada, khlada, hutama al-ama, hutama al-ama, muqada al-mqada, afida al-fida, musada mada, mumddada; this illustrates the retention of the same sound formation with variation of consonant, and even of vowel. In sura 99 we have a similar assonance, formed by a long accented a , followed by a short syllable, and the feminine suffix ha - h, that is alaha - lah, the ha - h being in one verse replaced by the plural suffix -hum. The assonance of sura 47 is the same, but with greater variation of suffix.

The structure of the Arabic language, in which words fall into definite types of forms, was favourable to the production of such assonances. Even in the short suras, however, there is a tendency to rely in part for the assonance on grammatical terminations, such as the suffix ha - h in suras 99 and 91. In the longer suras this tendency increases. Thus in 55 the assonance depends largely upon the dual-ending an - n. Often in the longer suras, though seldom carried through without a break, the assonance is a - (l), that is, a long a vowel followed by a (variable) consonant; so in parts of suras 2, 3, 14, 38, 39, 40 and sporadically elsewhere. In the great majority of the suras of any length, however, and even in some short ones, the prevailing assonance is i - (l), that is, a long i or u sound (these interchange freely) followed by a consonant. This is formed largely by the plural endings of nouns and verbs, un - n and in - n, varied by words of the form technically known as fail fail, one of the commonest forms in Arabic. By far the greater part of the quran Qurn shows this assonance.

With an assonance depending thus upon grammatical endings there may occasionally be doubt as to whether it was really intended. The varying systems of verse-numbering depend to some extent, though not entirely, upon varying judgement as to where the rhyme was intended to fall in particular cases; but it cannot be doubted that there was assonance at the end of verses. In passages with short verses and frequently recurring assonances this is unmistakable. Yet even in suras in which the verses are long, there are special turns of phrase employed in order to produce the assonance. Thus the preposition mim with a plural participle is often used where a participle in the singular would have sufficiently given the sense; so that we get phrases like 'one of the witnesses' instead of simply 'a witness' (min shahidin ash-shhidn instead of shahid shhid) because the former gives the rhyming plural-ending, while the latter does not [3.81/75; f. 60/53; 7.106/3]. kanu Kn 'were', with an imperfect or participle in the plural often takes the place of a simple perfect plural; for example in 2.5 7/4 and 7.37/5. Or an imperfect plural may be used where a perfect might have been expected, as in 5.70/4. Occasionally a phrase is added at the end of a verse which is really otiose as regards sense but supplies the assonance, as in 12.10 and 21.68, 79, 104, Sometimes the sense is strained in order to produce the rhyme, for instance in sura 4, where statements regarding God are thrown into the past by the use of kana kna, 'was', in front of them and are thereby given the accusative ending on which the rhyme depends. The form of a proper name is occasionally modified for the sake of rhyme, as sinin Snn [95.2] and ilyasin Ilysn [37.130].

Statements regarding God occur frequently at the end of verses, especially in the long suras where the verses also are of some length. Where the verses are short, the word or phrase which carries the rhyme forms as a rule an integral part of the grammatical structure and is necessary to the sense. In a few passages it appears that the phrases which carry the rhyme can be detached without dislocating the structure of what remains [e.g. 41.9/8-12/11]. Usually the phrase is appropriate to the context, but stands apart from the rest of the verse. These detachable rhyme-phrases-most of which carry the assonance in i (1)-tend to be repeated, and to assume a set form which recurs either verbally or with slight changes in wording. Thus inna fi dhalika dhlika la ayatan la-yatan li l muminin li-l-muminn 'truly in that is a sign for the believers', often closes the account of a 'sign'. ala Al llahi llhi fa-l-yatawakhal il muminun il-muminn (il mutawakkilun il-mutawakkiln) 'in God let the believers (the trustful) trust' occurs 9 times. wa llahu Wa-llhu alim alm hakim akm 'and God is all-knowing, wise' occurs 12 times, or, if we include slight modifications, 18 times. Other combinations of adjectives referring to God are frequently used in the same way. Perhaps the most frequent of all such phrases is inna llaha llha ala al kulli shayin shay'in qadir, 'verily God over everything has power', which is used 6 times in sura 2, 4 times in sura 3, 4 times in sura 5, and some 18 times in other suras. There is a certain effectiveness in the use of these sententious phrases regarding God. Mostly they close a deliverance, and serve at once to press home a truth by repetition and to clinch the authority of what is laid down. They act as a kind of refrain.

The use of an actual refrain, in the sense of the same words occurring at more or less regular intervals, is sparse in the quran Qurn. One is used in sura 55, where the words 'Which then of the benefits of your Lord will you two count false?' occur in verses 12, 15, 18, 21, and from there on in practically each alternate verse, without regard to the sense. The same tendency to increasing frequency and disregard of sense appears in the use of the words, 'Woe that day to those who count false!' as a kind of refrain before sections of sura 77. More effective didactically is the use of the refrain in the groups of stories of former prophets which occur in various suras [e.g. 11, 26, 37, 54]. The stories in these groups not only show similarities of wording throughout, but are often closed by the same formula.

In addition to the rhymes which occur at the end of the verses, we can occasionally detect rhymes, different from the end-rhymes, occurring in the middle of verses. These give the impression of a varied arrangement of rhymes. Rudolf Geyer pointed out some of these, and argued that stanzas with such varied rhymes were sometimes deliberately intended in the quran Qurn. 1 If that were so, we should expect the same form to recur. In going through Geyer's examples, however, we do not get the impression that any pre-existing forms of stanza were being reproduced, or indeed that any fixed forms of stanza were being used. There are no fixed patterns. All that can be said is that in some passages there is such a mixture of rhymes, just as, within a sura there are often breaks in the regular recurring rhyme at the end of the verses. As will be seen, however, these facts may be otherwise explained.

A similar argument applies to the contention advanced by D. H. Mller. 2 He sought to show that composition in strophes was characteristic of prophetic literature, in the Old Testament as well as in the quran Qurn, and even in Greek tragedy. From the quran Qurn he adduced many passages which appear to support such a view, such as sura 56. If we are to speak of strophic form, however, we expect some regularity in the length and arrangement of the strophes; but Mller failed to show that there was any such regularity. What his evidence does show is that many suras of the quran Qurn fall into short sections or paragraphs. These are not of fixed length, however, nor do they seem to follow any pattern of length. Their length is determined not by any consideration of form, but by the subject or incident treated in each.

Interpreted in this way, Mller's contention brings out a real characteristic of quranic Qurnic style, namely that it is disjointed. Only seldom do we find in it evidence of sustained unified composition at any great length. The longest such pieces are the addresses found in some of the later suras. The address before uhud Uud appears to have become broken up and it is now difficult to decide which sections from the middle of sura 3 ordinally belonged to it. The address after the Day of the Trench and the overthrow of the clan of Quragza [33.9-27], however, and the assurance to the disappointed Muslims after the truce of hudaybiya al-udaybiya [48.18-29] may be taken as examples of fairly lengthy pieces relating to a single occasion. Some of the narratives, too, in the quran Qurn, especially accounts of Moses and of Abraham, run to considerable length; but they tend to fall into separate incidents instead of being recounted straightforwardly. This is particularly true of the longest of all, the story of Joseph in sura 12. In other suras, even where one can trace some connection in thought, this arrangement in paragraphs is evident. In sura 50, for instance, it is arguable that a line of thought governs the collection of the separate pieces, running from the Prophet's dissatisfaction with his cajoling of the wealthy, through the sublimity of the message, which ought to commend itself but is thwarted by man's ingratitude for religious and temporal benefits, up to the description of the final Judgement-day. The distinctness of the separate pieces, however, is more obvious than their unity; and one of them, verses 24-32 bears traces of having been fitted into a context to which it did not originally belong. In the longer suras devoted largely to political and legal matters, one finds, as is natural enough, that subjects vary. Yet, while there exist considerable blocks of legislation devoted to one subject, for example, the rules regarding divorce in 2.228-32, it does not appear that any subject was dealt with systematically in a single sura or lengthy passage. On the contrary one mostly finds that one sura contains passages dealing with many different subjects, while the same subject is treated in several different suras, The quran Qurn itself tells us that it was delivered in separate pieces [17.106/7; 25.32/4]; but it does not tell us anything about the length of the pieces. The traditional accounts of 'the occasions of revelation', however, often refer to passages consisting of a verse or two and this favours the assumption that the pieces were short. Examination of the quran Qurn itself gives further support to this assumption. Not only do many short pieces stand alone as separate suras but the longer suras contain short pieces which are complete in themselves, and could be removed without serious derangement of the context. Consideration of the passages introduced by a formula of direct address exemplifies this. Thus 2.178/3-179/5 deals with retaliation; but though it comes amongst other passages also addressed to the believers and dealing with other subjects, it has no necessary connection with them. Again 5.11/14 stands by itself and is clear enough, if only we knew the event to which it refers, but if it had been absent we should never have suspected that something had fallen out.

The form of these short pieces may be illustrated from 49.13; 'O ye people, We have created you of male and female and made you races and tribes, that ye may show mutual recognition; verily, the most noble of you in God's eyes is the most pious; verily God is knowing, well-informed'. Here, following the words of address, there is an indication of the subject that has called for treatment, then comes a declaration regarding it, and finally the passage is closed by a sententious maxim. This form is found not only in passages with direct address, but in a multitude of others. They begin by stating the occasion; a question has been asked, the un-believers have said or done something, something has happened, or some situation has arisen, The matter is dealt with shortly, in usually not more than three or four verses; at the end comes a general statement, often about God, which rounds off the passage. Once the reader has caught this lilt of quranic Qurnic style it becomes fairly easy to split up the suras into the separate pieces which constitute them, and this is a great step towards the interpretation of the quran Qurn . It is not, of course, to be too readily assumed that there is no connection between these separate pieces. There may sometimes be a connection in subject and thought, and even where this is absent there may still be a connection in time. On the other hand, there may be no connection in thought between contiguous pieces, or the sura may have been built up of pieces of different dates that have been fitted into a sort of scheme.

2. Various didactic forms

It is only when the modern student has dissected the suras into the short units of which they are constituted that he can speak of the style of the quran Qurn. The insistence frequently met with on its disjointedness, its formlessness and its excited, unpremeditated, rhapsodical character, partly rests on a failure to discern the natural divisions into which the suras fall, and to take account of the numerous displacements and undesigned breaks in connection. Since muhammad Muammad's function as a prophet was to convey messages to his contemporaries, what should be looked for are didactic rather than poetic or artistic forms. One such form, indeed the prevailing one in later suras, has just been mentioned. Various others may also be distinguished.

(a) Slogans or maxims.

The simplest of these didactic forms is the short statement introduced by the word 'Say'. There are about 250 of these scattered throughout the quran Qurn. Sometimes they stand singly; elsewhere groups of them stand together, though distinct from each other (for instance, in 6.56-66); sometimes they are worked into the context of a passage. These statements are of various kinds; there are answers to questions, retorts to the arguments or jeers of his opponents, and clarifications of muhammad Muammad's own position; there are one or two prayers [e.g. 3.26/5f.]; there are two credal statements for his followers to repeat, the word 'Say' being in the plural [2.136/0; 29.46/5], and to these may be added sura 112, though the verb is singular; finally, there are a number of phrases suitable for repetition in various circumstances, such as: 'God's guidance is the guidance' [2.120/14]; 'God is my portion; on him let the trusting set their trust' [39.38/9].

It is evident that these were separate phrases designed for repetition, and not originally as parts of suras or longer passages. They were thus of the nature of slogans or maxims devised for public use by themselves and only later found their way into suras. Where a context is given, as is usual in the later parts of the quran Qurn, one sees how the formula is revealed to deal with some matter of concern to muhammad Muammad or the Muslims. muhammad Muammad is asked about new moons [2.189/5], about contributions [2.215/1], about what is allowable [5.4/6], about 'windfalls' [8.1], and various other matters; or some hostile argument or jeering remark has come to his notice [e.g. 6.37]. The problem or the criticism has led to general concern. muhammad Muammad may be presumed to have 'sought guidance', and has then received the revelation instructing him what to say. The statement or formula thus becomes a part of one of the paragraphs already described as characteristic of quranic Qurnic style.

These slogans or maxims are difficult to date, and it is doubtful if any of those which appear in the quran Qurn are very early, though some of them may well be so. They are so common, however, that the presumption is that they were a constant element in the life of the Muslim community, and that the repetition of such maxims proved an effective way of stabilizing the attitudes and practices associated with Islam.

The use of assonance in these formulae might be expected; but it is not found to any extent. Most of the formulae fall naturally enough into the rhyme of the sura in which they occur, but few of them rhyme within themselves. Possible exceptions are 34.46/5 and 41.44. Though not preceded by 'Say', the early passage 102.1-2 is not unlike a slogan. On the whole, it would seem that the association of rhythmic assonanced prose with the kahin khin or soothsayer made it inappropriate for formulae and maxims.

(b) Soothsayer utterances.

The quran Qurn asserts that muhammad Muammad is not a soothsayer (kahin khin) [52.29] and that the revelations are not the speech of a soothsayer [69.42]; and this is certainly true of the great bulk of the quran Qurn. The need for such a disclaimer, however, suggests that there were similarities between some of the early passages and the utterances of soothsayers. Among the Semitic peoples there was a deep tradition linking knowledge of the supernatural with unusual forms of verbal expression, such as rhyme. An early example, of this is to be seen in the pronouncements of Balaam in the Old Testament [Numbers, 22-24]. Muslim writers give some allegedly pre-Islamic Arabian examples, one of which, foretelling muhammad Muammad, may be thus rendered in English:

Thou sawest a light

Come forth from night,

Then on lowlands alight

Then all devour in its flight.

The person who foretold the future in this way, the soothsayer or kahin khin, does not appear to have been specially attached to any sanctuary or god, but to have had his own special prompter, one of the jinn or spirits, who inspired him. Such a person might be consulted on all sorts of matters. He would be called on for prognostications of the future, for the solution of past mysteries, and for decisions on litigious questions. His oracles were often cryptic, frequently garnished with oaths to make them more impressive, and usually couched in the saj saj or rhythmic rhymed prose of which an example has been given.

Originally, according to the evidence of the Arabic language, there was little difference between the soothsayer, the poet and the madman; and thus it is not surprising that the quran Qurn contains denials that muhammad Muammad was a poet and a madman [as in 69.41 and 52.29]. The poet or shair shir was etymologically the one who is aware, 'the knower', who had insight into matters beyond the ken of ordinary men; but by AD 600 this connotation had been largely lost, and the poet was conceived much as he is nowadays, though he had greater public recognition. Since both soothsayer and poet were aided to knowledge of the unseen by one of the jinn, they might be described as majnun majnn, 'affected or inspired by jinn'; but this word even by the seventh century had come to have its modern meaning of 'mad'.

At least five passages in the quran Qurn [37.1-4; 51.1-6; 77.1-7; 79.1-14; 100.1-6] are suggestive of the utterances of soothsayers. In each there are a number of oaths by some female beings, which form a jingle and lead up to an assertion which does not rhyme with the oaths. In Arabic the last of these runs:

wa adiyati wa-l-diyti dabhan daban

wa muriyyati wa-l-mriyyti qadhan qadan

wa mughirati wa-l-mughrati subhan uban

fa-atharna bi-hi naqan naqan

fa wasatna fa-wasana bi hijaman bi-hijaman

inna insana l-insna li-rabbi-hi la kanud la-kand

The following verses may be part of the original assertion or may have been added later; and this may also be the case in sura 79. The sense of the first five verses here is uncertain, but the passage (which is usually interpreted of war-horses) might perhaps be rendered:

By the runners panting,

By the kindlers sparking,

By the raiders early starting,

Then they raised up a dust-cloud,

Then they centred in a crowd-

Truly man to his Lord is ungrateful.

In the other passages the feminine participles are mostly taken to refer to angelic beings, and for this suggestion some slight support is claimed from the quran Qurn, since the participle of 37.1 is used of angels (but in the masculine) in 37.165. It may be doubted, however, whether those who first heard muhammad Muammad recite these passages attached any definite meaning to the asseverations. If there was one unequivocal interpretation, it would seem to have been forgotten by later Muslims. Even without a definite meaning, however, the oaths would serve to make the final assertion more impressive; and this was doubtless in line with the traditional methods of soothsayers.

The utterances of the soothsayers which were rhythmic but not in a fixed metre, and which were assonanced but not always exactly rhymed, are said to be in saj saj, which is thus distinct from both poetry and prose. 3 The whole of the quran Qurn is often said to be in saj saj because of the assonances at the end of verses; but Muslim scholars have sometimes held that the quran Qurn is not in saj saj in the strict sense. Certainly the great bulk of it is very different from the utterances of the soothsayers.

(c) Asseverative and 'when' passages.

These random and mysterious oaths are only impressive when used sparingly. Sura 89 begins with four clauses so cryptic as to be unintelligible-'By the dawn, By ten nights, By even and odd, By the night elapsing . . .'-and these are followed by a verse [5/4] which is probably to be taken parenthetically, and which may either suggest the efficacy of the asseverations (as in Paret's translation)-'is that not for a man of understanding an (effective) oath?'-or may (with Bell's translation) question their value-'is there in that an oath for a man of sense?' Yet even the former interpretation must have left men wondering. In a passage like 52.1-8, while there is the same device of making the statement stand out by change of assonance, the oaths, though still difficult to interpret, seem to have had a clear sense for the first hearers. In other asseverative passages, of which there are not a few, 4 the oaths are chosen as having some bearing on the statement to which they lead up, and this statement in the same assonance makes an effective close to the passage. The best example is perhaps 91.1-10, where four pairs of oaths by contrasted things (sun and moon, day and night, heaven and earth, and what formed the soul and implanted in it its wickedness and piety) lead up to an assertion of the contrast between him who purifies his soul and him who corrupts it. This asseverative style tends to be less frequent in later revelations. Passages occur where a single oath comes at the beginning, but in the Medinan period oaths hardly appear at all.

A modification of the asseverative passage is the use of a number of temporal clauses, introduced by idha idh 'when', or yawma 'the day when' leading up to a statement pressing home the fact of the Judgement upon the conscience. In 75.26-30, a death-scene is described in the temporal clauses, but usually it is the Last Day which is conjured up by a selection from its awe-inspiring phenomena. In 84.1-6 the statement of the main clause is left unrhymed, but in all the others it has the same rhyme as the clauses which lead up to it. The longest of these passages is 81.1-14, where twelve idha clauses idh-clauses lead up to the statement: 'A soul will know what it has presented', that is, the deeds laid to its account. The effectiveness of such a form is even more evident in some of the shorter pieces, and there can be no doubt that these passages impressed the conscience of the hearers. 5

(d) Dramatic scenes.

A homiletic purpose of this kind is evident throughout the quran Qurn. The piling up of temporal clauses did not continue, but at all stages of the quran Qurn the scenes of the Judgement and the future life are evoked, not for any speculative purpose but in order to impress the conscience and clinch an argument. Despite all the details which the quran Qurn gives of the future abodes of the blessed and the damned, there is nowhere a full description. Such a picture seems to have been partially given [e.g. in 55, 76 and 83], but it is not completed. On the other hand there are short well-polished pieces depicting luscious attractions or lurid terrors. The same applies to the descriptions of the Judgement; evidently the interest in these scenes is not for their own sake but for their homiletic value. Only once or twice does the quran Qurn describe the theophany, and then only partially [39.67-74; 89.22-30].

In many of these scenes of Judgement there is a dramatic quality which is often unrecognized, but very effective. Some of the passages are difficult to understand, because they are designed for oral recitation, and do not indicate by whom the various speeches are made; this was left to be made clear by gesture or change of voice as the passage was delivered. As examples may be cited, 50.20/19-26/5 and 37.50/48-61/59; in both of these passages we have to use our imagination to supply the accompanying action of the speeches, but when this is done the result is an intensely vivid and moving picture. Such passages, if recited with appropriate dramatic action, must have been very telling. This dramatic quality is, in fact, a pervading characteristic of quranic Qurnic style. Direct speech is apt to be 'interjected' at any point, as the personages mentioned in the narrative express themselves in words. In the story of Moses in sum 20, for example, more space is occupied by the spoken words of the actors than by narrative. Even where narrative predominates, the story is hardly ever told in a straightforward manner, but tends to fall into a series of short word-pictures; the action advances incident by incident discontinuously, and the intervening links are left to the imagination of the hearers.

(e) Narratives and parables.

 In the relatively few narrative passages in the quran Qurn, the homiletic element is again apt to intrude. The longest narrative is the story of Joseph in sura 12, and there every now and then the account of events is interrupted by a parenthesis to make clear the purpose of God in what happened. Another of the didactic forms of the quran Qurn, the parable or mathal, 6 tends to be dominated by the homiletic element. The best of these parables is that of the Blighted Garden in sura 68. The parable of the Two Owners of Gardens is less clear and more didactic [18.32/1-44/2]. Others are little more than expanded similes: 14.24/9-27/32; 16.75/7f.; i8.45/3f.; 30.28/7; 39.29/30. That of the Unbelieving Town is difficult to classify; [36.13/12-29/8] it is perhaps a simile expanded into a story.

(f) Similes.

The quran Qurn contains numerous similes. These occur in all contexts. In descriptions of the Last Day, when the heavens are rolled up like a scroll [21.104], when the people are like moths blown about, and the mountains like carded wool [101.4/3, 5/4], the similes sometimes belong to the same traditional framework as the rest of the material; but there is also much that is fresh and original in the quran Qurn by way of vivid and even grimly humorous comparisons. Jews who have the Torah but do not profit by it are compared to an ass loaded with books [62.5]. Some who in the early days in Medina made advances to muhammad Muammad and then drew back are likened to those who have lit a fire which has then gone out and left them in the darkness more bewildered than ever [2.17/16; cf. 19/18f.]. Polytheists who serve other gods besides God are like the spider weaving its own frail house [29.41/0]. The works of unbelievers, from which they hope to benefit at the Judgement, are like ashes blown away by the wind [14.18/21], or like a mirage which appears to be water, but, when one comes to it, turns out to be nothing [24.39]. People who pray to gods other than God are like a man who stretches out his hand to raise water to his mouth, but no water reaches it [13.14/15]. The prayer of the unbelieving Quraysh of Mecca at the kaba kaaba Kaba is only whistling and clapping of hands [8.35]. Lukewarm supporters, asked for their opinion and getting up to speak, no doubt hesitatingly, are compared to logs of wood propped up [63.4]. Other comparisons will be found in 2.171/66, 261/3, 264/6, 265/7; 3.117/3; 7.176/5; 10.24/5; 57.19; 74.50/1. Many of these reflect the Arab's experience of life in the desert in a way reminiscent of pre-Islamic poetry. Where a simile is expanded into an allegory or parable, it tends to be further removed from actual experience [as in 30.28/7 and 39.29/30].

(g) Metaphors.

Metaphors are even more frequent than similes. A modern Arab scholar 7 has collected over four hundred metaphorical uses of words. Many of these, however, were, no doubt, already so common in ordinary speech as to be no longer felt as metaphorical. It is not easy to say how far the quran Qurn added new metaphors to the language. The number of commercial terms transferred to the religious sphere is noteworthy and examples have been given above (p. 4). From bedouin life come the designation of the delights of Paradise as nuzul, 'reception-feast', and the application of the verb dalla alla, 'to go astray', to those who follow false gods. The use of metaphors from bodily functions to describe spiritual matters is almost unavoidable; thus unbelievers are deaf, unable to hear, blind, unable to see; they cannot discern the truth; they have veils over their hearts, heaviness in their ears; they are in darkness. The revelation is guidance and light, and the task of a messenger is to lead people out of the darkness into the light. Doubtful supporters among the people of Medina are said to have disease in their hearts; after their conduct at uhud Uud they are dubbed munafiqin munfiqn, 'jinkers', 'those who dodge back into their holes like mice'. 8


3. The language of the Qurn

The quran Qurn itself asserts that the revelation is in 'a clear Arabic tongue' [16.103/5; 26.195], and from this assertion later Muslim scholars developed the view that the language of the quran Qurn was the purest variety of Arabic. Such a view, of course, is a theological dogma rather than a linguistic theory; and modern scholarship tends to leave it aside and to study at a purely linguistic level the relation of the language of the quran Qurn to contemporary varieties of Arabic.

It is now generally accepted even by critical scholars that at least some of the so-called pre-Islamic poetry was genuinely composed before the time of muhammad Muammad; and it is further agreed that the language of this poetry is not the dialect of any tribe or tribes, but is an artificial literary language, usually called 'the poetical koine koine', which was understood by all the tribes. Traditional Muslim scholars, influenced by their theological dogma, tended to assume that, since muhammad Muammad and his first followers belonged to the tribe of Quraysh in Mecca, they must have recited the quran Qurn according to the dialect of Quraysh; and the scholars further assumed that this was identical with the language of the poetry. On the other hand, Muslim scholars preserved a certain amount of information about the dialects of the Arabian tribes in the time of muhammad Muammad, and this information tends to refute the belief that the dialect of Quraysh was identical with the language of poetry.

European scholars paid some attention to the language of the quran Qurn during the nineteenth century, but the most vigorous discussions have followed on the publication of a novel theory by Karl Vollers in 1906. 9 Vollers held that the dialect of Mecca differed considerably both from the 'eastern' dialects used in Nejd and elsewhere, and from the poetical koine koine;  and he argued that the present form of the quran Qurn with its peculiarities of orthography had come about through scholars assimilating the Meccan dialect in which it was originally recited to the poetical language. In this process of assimilation many dialectical forms were removed, though some are still recorded as variants in the standard 'readings' or from uthmanic pre-Uthmnic codices. Vollers' theory received some support at a later date from Paul Kahle, 10 but on the whole was not accepted by scholars. Nldeke, 11 followed by Becker 12 and Schwally, 13 argued that the language of the quran Qurn could not be identified with any form of Arabic that was ever actually spoken. For these scholars the quran Qurn was written essentially in the poetical koine koine. More recently the hypothesis of Vollers has been criticized by Rgis Blachre 14 and Chaim Rabin. 15 The former holds that Vollers exaggerated the differences between the 'eastern' and 'western' dialects, and that the differences between quranic Qurnic forms and those of the poetry are not always what Vollers' theory would lead one to expect. Among other arguments Rabin urges that, if the quran Qurn had originally been revealed in the spoken Arabic of Mecca, it is difficult to see how after a century or two the bedouin poetic language could have become the authoritative form of Arabic. He quotes with approval the suggestion of Johann Fck 16 that in the quranic Qurnic phrase 'a clear Arabic tongue' the word 'Arabic' (arabi arab) refers to the arabiyya Arabiyya or literary language of the arab arab or bedouin. The final conclusion appears to be that the language of the quran Qurn falls somewhere between the poetical koine and the Meccan dialect. The omission of the hamza or glottal stop, which is mentioned as a peculiarity of Meccan speech, has affected the orthography of the quran Qurn. Perhaps one might say that the quran Qurn was in a Meccan variant of the literary language.

The dogma that the quran Qurn was written in pure Arabic also made Muslim scholars unwilling to admit that any of the vocabulary of the quran Qurn had been borrowed from other languages. Reluctantly, however, in course of time they recognized that a number of words in the quran Qurn were not derived from Arabic roots; but their knowledge of other languages was slight and they often failed to elucidate the origin of these words. The view of later Muslim scholars is represented by suyuti as-Suy (d. 1505) and abd ar rahman Abd-ar-Ramn ath thaalibi ath-Thalib (d. 1468) 17 who very reasonably held that as a result of the Arabs' foreign contacts various non-Arabic words had been incorporated into Arabic, but that, since these words had been arabicized, it was still true that the quran Qurn was in 'a clear Arabic tongue'. Modern scholarship has devoted much attention to the foreign words in quranic Qurnic Arabic. The wider knowledge now possessed of the languages and dialects used in pre-Islamic times in the countries surrounding Arabia has made it possible to trace the provenance of most of these words with a degree of accuracy.

The most convenient and accessible treatment of the question for English readers is Arthur Jeffery's work on The Foreign Vocabulary of the quran Qurn. 18 After an 'introduction' of some forty pages describing the attempts of Muslim scholars to deal with the question, he lists about 275 words, other than proper names, which have been regarded as foreign, discusses the views of modern scholars about their origin, and either sums up the previous discussion or gives fresh suggestions of his own. About three-quarters of the words in this list can be shown to have been in use in Arabic before the time of muhammad Muammad, and many had become regular Arabic words. To this extent the view of suyuti as-Suy is confirmed. Of the remaining 70 or so, though there is no written evidence of their earlier use, it may well be true that they were already employed in speech; but no record has come down to us prior to the quran Qurn of the form or special meaning. About half of the 70 come from Christian languages, chiefly Syriac, but a few from Ethiopic; some 25 come from Hebrew or Jewish Aramaic; the remainder, mostly of slight religious importance, come from Persian, Greek or unknown sources. While this result is roughly correct, there may be variations in detail, since, when there are similar forms in a number of Semitic languages, it may be difficult to say which is the source from which Arabic borrowed.