Understanding dīn and islām in Q 5:3

by Rachid Benzine*

It seems that the section of Q 5:3 that reads “al-yawm akmaltu la-kum dīnakum…al-islām dīnan” is an interpolation inserted between two parts of the verse that should be read continuously, as they pertain to dietary restrictions and to exemptions in life-threatening situations or in case of force majeure (cf. Q 2:175 and 16:115). The key words in the interpolated section are dīn and islām, with islām possibly meaning “being in the act of islām,” referring to various modalities of joining a protection contract with God.

Arabic text of Qur'an 5:3; image from quran.com.

Arabic text of Qur’an 5:3; image from quran.com.

In order to better understand this section of Q 5:3, it is helpful to compare various translations:

Yusuf Ali: “This day have those who reject faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” 

Pickthal: “This day are those who disbelieve in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so fear them not, fear Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam.”

Jacques Berque: “Aujourd’hui les dénégateurs désespèrent (de venir à bout) de votre religion. Ne les craignez pas; craignez-moi. Aujourd’hui j’ai parachevé pour vous votre religion, parfait pour vous mon bienfait en agréant pour vous l’islam comme religion.”

Hamza Boubakeur: “Aujourd’hui les mécréants désespèrent (de vous détourner) de votre religion. Ne les redoutez pas; redoutez moi. Aujourd’hui j’ai parachevé pour vous votre religion, vous ai comblé de mon bienfait et ai agréé l’islam comme doctrine religieuse pour vous.”

It is also instructive to compare the use of islām and dīn in other Qur’anic verses. The word islām appears in Q 61:7: “Who does greater wrong than the one who forges a lie against Allah, even if he is being invited to islām? And Allah does not guide those who do wrong” (trans. Yusuf Ali). The meaning of the verbal noun islām is complicated, and best understood in light of its foundational meaning as a verb (aslama), as in Q 2:112: “man aslama wajhahu lillāh.” This phrase should not be translated as “whosoever surrendereth his purpose to Allah” (Pickthall) or “whoever submits his whole self to Allah” (Yusuf Ali), but more accurately as “he who turns his face towards God” in an act of salām. This would mean that the person approaches God peaceably, without any hostility, which enables him to receive God’s protection and guidance (as Q 61:7 indicates with the word hudā). Thus islām is actually a contractual relationship between man and God.

As for the word dīn, it cannot be adequately translated as “religion.” It rather expresses the idea of a way or path, as in Q 109:6: “lakum dīnukum wa-lī dīn (to you your way [conduite] and to me mine),” and in Q 30:43: “aqim wajhaka lil-dīn al-qayyim min qabl an ya’tiya yawm lā maradd lahu min Allāh (follow [turn your face towards] the right path before there comes the day when there is no chance to escape from God).” The phrase aqim wajhaka can be considered similar to “making an act of islām,” by turning one’s face to God as a gesture of commitment to Him in request of His approval and protection. The phrase “al-dīn al-qayyim” refers to the content of the contract into which man enters, namely the behavior adopted on the right path.

Returning to the interpolated section of Q 5:3, it announces God’s will to take care of those who seek His protection. Concerning the interpretation of the two factitive verbs, akmala and atmama, they designate effects not of time but of quality. The verb akmala, which signals the signing of the contract between man and God and accepting of all its terms, should be understood not as “to complete” but “to make kāmil (perfect).” Likewise, the verb atmama should be understood not as “to finish” but “to make tamām (entire).” Thus I propose the following translations, in French and English:

“Aujourd’hui ceux qui récusent désespèrent [de vous détourner] de la conduite que vous avez adoptée, dīn: ne les craignez pas; c’est moi que vous devez craindre [en raison du Jugement eschatologique annoncé et de ses conséquences]. Aujourd’hui j’ai validé entièrement la conduite que vous devez tenir [eu égard au contrat qui a été conclu]; [en vertu de ce contrat] je vous ai fait bénéficier de ma totale bienfaisance; [et en retour] j’ai agréé le fait que vous vous soyez engagés à vous mettre sous ma protection en adoptant la conduite convenue.”

“Today those who disbelieve are desperate of [leading you away from] the conduct you have adopted (dīnikum). Do not fear them, but fear Me [because of the eschatological Judgment that has been announced and its consequences]. Today I have perfected the behavior by which you are to live [in fulfillment of the contract]. [Following the content of this contract] I made you benefit from My entire good will; [in return] I have agreed to the fact that you have committed yourself to My protection in adopting the right conduct.”

Alternatively, “akmaltu lakum dīnakum wa-atmamtu ʿalaykum niʿmatī” may be rendered: “Today I gave you the best rule of conduct and I fully dispense to you My good will, and I accept the fact that you are committed to adopt this way.”

* Rachid Benzine is a lecturer at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Aix en Provence and the Institut Protestant de Theology in Paris, and a research associate at the Observatoire du religieux (Aix en Provence). He is the author of Les nouveaux penseurs de l’islam (Albin Michel, 2008) and Le Coran expliqué aux jeunes (Le Seuil, 2013).

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

IQSA Annual Meeting: Full Program Available!

The full program for the IQSA Annual Meeting 2014 in San Diego is now available. You can view it here, and access it anytime under the “Meetings” menu. Please note that the IQSA Annual Meeting starts on FRIDAY 21 November, one day before the SBL/AAR Annual Meetings. Highlights in the IQSA program include:

• 11/21/2014, 4:00 PM
Keynote Lecture by Angelika Neuwirth, Freie Universität Berlin
Qur’anic Studies and Historical-Critical Philology: The Qur’an’s staging, penetrating, and eclipsing Biblical tradition – with a Response by IQSA President, Andrew Rippin
• 11/21/2014, 5:15 PM
Reception following Keynote Lecture
• 11/22/2014, 12:00 PM
Mentorship Lunch, with an opportunity to network with senior professors in Qur’anic and Islamic Studies

Please join us! We look forward to seeing you soon!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

Mentorship Lunch at IQSA San Diego: A Special Opportunity to Connect with Leading Scholars

cropped-header22.pngCurrent grad students and new PhDs! IQSA is delighted to offer you a special opportunity to connect with established scholars of the Qur’an and learn practical tips for finding your place in the field. This year’s IQSA Annual Meeting, which brings together students and scholars from around the world, includes a one-hour Mentorship Lunch scheduled for Saturday 22 November. If you are planning to attend the Annual Meeting, please consider signing up for this Lunch. It is an especially valuable opportunity to develop your knowledge and skills in the business side of Qur’anic studies – things that aren’t necessarily covered in grad school! You can learn more about:

  • networking skills
  • publishing strategies
  • marketing your work in a diverse job market
  • achieving a healthy work-life balance
  • charting your career path for long-term success

IQSA Board members Fred M. Donner, Ebrahim Moosa, Gabriel Reynolds, and Andrew Rippin will be happy to meet you and share their insights into what it means to be a professional in Qur’anic studies.

If you are interested in signing up for the Mentorship Lunch, please email IQSA at contact@iqsaweb.org.

The full program for our Annual Meeting 2014 is now available! Please visit: http://iqsaweb.wordpress.com/meetings/am2014/

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

International Qur’an Conference: “Recent Trends in Qur’anic Studies”

by Mun’im Sirry

cropped-header1.jpgIQSA and State Islamic University (UIN) Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, are co-hosting an international conference on “Recent Trends in Qur’anic Studies,” to be held in Yogyakarta on 4-7 August 2015.

This international Qur’an conference will be a forum where the Islamic tradition and rigorous academic study of the Qur’an will meet, and various approaches to the Qur’an will be critically discussed. In the spirit of learning from, and enriching, one another, we are working on a conference that will introduce our unique model of collaboration between IQSA and UIN Sunan Kalijaga to enhance the field of Qur’anic studies.

Over the last few decades, Qur’anic studies emerged as an exciting and vibrant field of research among scholars both in the West and in the Muslim-majority countries. This is evident not only in the flurry of books and articles that deal with the Qur’an and in the convening of various workshops and seminars on the subject, but also in the controversies that this field engenders. Diverse methodologies are currently applied to Qur’anic studies, and various issues are raised. Some of these methodologies and issues are new discoveries, while others revive older researches. As a result, many assumptions that for years have been taken for granted are now under rigorous scrutiny and often disputed to such an extent that, as Fred Donner has rightly noted, the field of Qur’anic studies seems today “to be in a state of disarray,” in the sense that there is little consensus among scholars. Questions such as the milieu within which the Qur’an emerged, the Qur’an’s relation to the Biblical tradition, its chronology, textual integration, and literary features are hotly debated today.

This international conference aims to explore major methodological and thematic issues in recent scholarly studies of the Qur’an in different parts of the world. We also wish to engage in scholarly conversations about the possibility of collaborative works to enhance the field of Qur’anic studies by bringing together scholars who may have little other chance to directly interact. There clearly needs to be closer collaboration among scholars of different perspectives and backgrounds. Rather than deepening conflicting approaches to the Qur’an, these scholars will explore the extent to which they may learn from one another in terms of methodological/hermeneutical approaches as they will also address current issues being debated in the field.

Among scholars in the field who will participate in the conference, to mention a few names (in alphabetical order), are: Fred Donner, Ali Mabrouk, Daniel Madigan, Jane McAuliffe, Gabriel Reynolds, Andrew Rippin, Abdullah Saeed, Nayla Tabbara, along with Indonesian scholars such as Amin Abdullah, Noorhaidi Hasan, Moch. Nur Ichwan, Syafaatun el-Mirzanah, Yusuf Rahman, Quraish Shihab, Sahiron Syamsuddin.

If you are interested in presenting your research on any of the following topics, please send your abstract (250 words) to Mun’im Sirry (msirry@nd.edu).

Possible topics:

  1. Critical Approaches to the Qur’an
  2. Qur’anic Milieu
  3. Intertextuality: The Qur’an and the Biblical tradition
  4. The Qur’an and Other Religions
  5. Re-assessing the Exegetical Tradition of the Qur’an
  6. Modern Trends in the Tafsir Tradition
  7. The Indigenization of the Qur’an: Is there an Indonesian Tafsir

Please note that abstracts, papers and presentation must be in English.

Important Dates:

  • Deadline for submission of abstract: November 1, 2014
  • Notification of acceptance: November 15, 2014
  • Confirmation of attendance: December 1, 2014
  • Submission of full paper: June 1, 2015
  • Conference dates: August 4-7, 2015

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

New Book: Les emprunts à l’hébreu et au judéo-araméen dans le Coran

by Catherine Pennacchio*

My new book, Les emprunts à lhébreu et au judéo-araméen dans le Coran, builds on Arthur Jeffery’s work, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an (Baroda, 1938), the last major study of Qur’anic loanwords. This lexicon identifies 325 loanwords and gathers all that had been written by Muslim and Western scholars about them. My book addresses the need pennachio_emprunts_rectofor this earlier work to be revised, updated, and supplemented. Progress made in comparative linguistics and the discovery of thousands of inscriptions in the Arabian Peninsula invite us to reconsider Qur’anic loanwords in their linguistic and historical contexts. This new publication examines 189 loanwords from Hebrew and Aramaic, checking the status of these terms and scrutinizing arguments about them, starting from Jeffery’s work.

First, Les emprunts provides some definitions and typologies of loanwords, and describes previous works about lexical borrowings by both Muslim and Western scholars. Then, it classifies loanwords into two main classes: loans prior to Islam and loans related to the message of Islam. The loans before Islam, coming from Akkadian, Aramaic, Persian, Greek, and Latin, reflect the historical, political, and trade contacts of the Arab tribes with their neighbors. These loans are common words that seem to have been imported with the concept or object that they denote (e.g. furāt, tijāra, rummān). The loans related to the message of Islam correspond to religious technical terms. Those borrowed from Hebrew and Judeo-Aramaic seem to come from direct contacts of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions with Hijazi Jews (e.g. muʾtafika, rāʿinā), from the Hebrew Bible (e.g. asbāṭ, baʿīr), or from rabbinical scriptures (e.g. jubb, darasa). Some were also known in Arabia long before Islam (e.g. ʿabd, khātam, raḥmān, zakāt). I also added to Jeffery’s list loans that are already known (e.g. ummī, ḥajj, sabʿ, miḥrāb) and a completely new one that I discovered (jalāʾ in Q 59:3).

The identification of a loanword comes from an intuition, a feeling that a word calls to mind another culture. The uncertainty of the meaning and the form allows us to say that it is probably a loanword. For borrowings external to Semitic languages, their morphology enables us to identify them. It is easy when such loanwords display characteristics typical of the original non-Semitic language (such as firdaws and majūs). It is more difficult for loanwords belonging to the Semitic language family. The difficulty is to distinguish those roots that are common throughout the Semitic family tree from roots that are actually loans from one branch of the family tree to another. As a rule, a term is considered common if it is represented with the same phonetic and semantic values in the majority of the Semitic family. But some loans also have these characteristics (e.g. miskīn, sikkīn, safīna).

The next step is to determine the origin of a loanword. Religious words are often considered as borrowings to Hebrew or Syriac because Judaism and Christianity often use the same concepts and texts, and because Hebrew, Judeo-Aramaic, and Syriac are very similar. I relied on grammar, rules of comparative linguistics, and contexts to trace the history of these loans. I looked for the key that reveals the loan and its origin, a detail that can be a linguistic feature (as in the cases of kursī, zujāja, and qaṭirān), or the words themselves, as those who are definitely Jewish could be sufficient to prove a Jewish origin (such as sabt and minhaj). Some previous errors in loan attribution have been detected, and the number of loans has been lowered: some are in fact common to the Semitic languages (e.g. ḥabl, ʿankabūt), while others are properly developments within the Arabic language itself (e.g. maʿīn, kāhin).

* Pennacchio is a participant in the Glossarium Coranicum Project revising Arthur Jeffery’s The Foreign Vocabulary Of The Qur’an. This project is coordinated by the CNRS (UMR 8167 – Orient et Méditerranée) and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. She also participates in the ETYMARAB project about an etymological dictionary of the Arabic language, and will soon release software about the vocabulary of the Qur’an.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

CFP: International Conference on “Religions and Political Values”*

The Adyan Foundation, in partnership with the Lebanese American University (LAU), invites papers for a two-day conference on “Religions and Political Values,” to be held at LAU’s Byblos campus, 26-28 November 2014.

scholars in library_maqamat haririResponding to widespread interest in a values-based paradigm for engaging religions in the public domain, the goal of the conference is to create a forum for diverse sectors of society to reflect on how political values are defined and activated in Muslim and Christian discourses, and to explore and promote dialogue about these values across diverse worldviews. In so doing, the conference seeks to put recent scholarship in the humanities and social sciences in direct conversation with social-political and scriptural theologies, in Christianity and Islam specifically, and to confront questions and recommendations from public leaders and policy makers.

The conference will be conducted in English and Arabic. The deadline for abstract submissions is 1 September 2014. For more details and submission instructions, you can download the full call in PDF here: CFP: Religions and Political Values.

* Thanks to Nayla Tabbara, Director of Cross-Cultural Studies at Adyan, for sharing this CFP.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

Archaeologists Discover Oldest Known Arabic Inscription in South Arabia*

Frédéric Imbert, professor at Aix-Marseille Université and researcher with IREMAM, and a French-Saudi team of archaeologists have recently discovered the oldest known example of Arabic inscription in South Arabia, about 100 kilometers north of Najran.

Map of Najran in the Arabian peninsula; image accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

Map of Najran in the Arabian peninsula; image accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

The text is dated to 469-470 CE, and is written in an intermediate Nabatean-Arabic script, the earliest phase in the development of Arabic writing. Previously this script had been attested only in the north of the Hijaz, the Sinai, and the Levant. This newest discovery, made possible with funding from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, has significant implications for the history of the Arabian peninsula and of the Arabic language, including the study of Qur’anic Arabic from the first centuries of Islam.

*This post is adapted from the 31 July announcement of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.