A New Project for an Etymological Dictionary of the Qurʾan

Prof. Salih Akdemir, of Ankara University in Turkey, presented at the First International Symposium on Rethinking the Qur’an earlier this year (on which Dr. Andrew Rippin reported for IQSA here). His paper, “Linguistic Approaches to the Qur’an: Contribution to Creating a Great Dictionary of the Qur’an” brought attention to an issue that he frames in the following way: “The Qur’an is a divine book revealed in the Arabic language. But which Arabic language?”. Here he argues that, since the revelation of the Qur’an in the Arabic of the Prophet’s time, the language has undergone so many semantic changes that it is no longer possible to understand the Qur’an as the Prophet and his companions understood it. The project for an etymological dictionary of the Qur’an that Akdemir proposes would therefore aim to be a part of the solution to this important problem.

The following excerpt summarizes Akdemir’s conclusions in the aforementioned paper:

General Conclusion

“The diachronic semantic research we carried out in the Hebrew Bible, in the New Testament and in the Qur’an concerning many roots—in this paper, exempli gratia E- M-R and R-H-M roots, were studied—allows us to arrive at the following results:

1. Among Semitic languages the Arabic reflects the Proto-Semitic perfectly and can be counted as older than Akkadian in that regard. So to deny this common origin would be the biggest harm to be done to the Semitic languages, since the Semitic languages are those languages that fulfill each other and hence explain one another. The togetherness which will be realized on the basis of these languages will contribute to the mutual understanding of the Semitic Peoples.

2. Semantic changes are the natural process all languages underwent and will continue to undergo. What is important is to be aware of this process. This awareness is especially  crucial for the understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, it seems that Islamic World is not aware, apart from some exceptions of this vital issue for our common future. Since the Arabic language underwent semantic changes over the course of time, is there any possibility for us to understand the Qur’an as the Prophet and his prestigious companions understood it?

Unfortunately the answer to that crucial question is no, because all Arabic dictionaries, however ancient they may be, are far away from accomplishing this task. Sadly, no work has been done so far to fill this gap in the Islamic world.

But even more upsetting is the fact is that, apart from a few researchers, no one is aware of this crucial issue. The fact that we do not have even nowadays any dictionary of the Qur’an that will be able to provide us with Arabic language of the Prophet’s time, is, according to al-Khûlî’s expression, a shameful situation. As far as our country is concerned, even more shameful than this is the fact that the dictionary of the Qur’an that was compiled by the English orientalist John Penrice in 1873 in London was translated into the Turkish languages in 2010. Finally, the dictionary of Qur’anic usage that was compiled by Egyptian researchers ElSaid M. Badawi, Muhamad Abdel Haleem and edited by Brill in 2008 is far away from fulfilling this vital task, since it was not prepared by scientific methods. Thus it only repeats the past, as it were. 

Today more than ever, it is obvious that all the world is in urgent need of a new dictionary of the Qur’an that will be composed by taking into consideration not only the semantic changes the Arabic roots have undergone over the course of the time but also the data of the modern lexicology.

3. Compiling the dictionary of the Qur’an that will provide us with the Arabic language of the Prophet’s time will only be possible if we carry out the diachronic semantic method of approaching the holy Scriptures, taking into consideration all the Semitic Languages. It goes without saying that we must realize the diachronic semantic analysis of the 1505 Qur’anic roots by benefiting from Comparative Semitic studies. To understand the Qur’an correctly, it is also necessary to study the early revelations. We must keep in mind that we will not be able to understand the Qur’an correctly without first studying these early revelations.

4. Our aim is to compose this dictionary of the Qur’an in accordance with the rules and principles we determined and to present it to the people of the world. That is why we want to compose this dictionary in Turkish and in English at same time. Success will come only from Allah.”

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

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