IQSA – Promoting Scholarship & Building Bridges #GivingTuesday

Dear Friends,

For over five years the International Qur’anic Studies Association has made fostering Qur’anic scholarship its mission. The Qur’an is an integral part of world literature, and it has shaped and continues to shape the world in which we live. By giving to IQSA you are promoting high quality scholarship and building bridges across the globe, which in turn has positive ripple effects on high quality education, journalism, publishing and public engagement.


IQSA is the only non-profit learned society exclusively dedicated to convening regular Qur’an conferences in North America and in Muslim majority countries around the world, as well as to publishing rigorous cutting edge scholarship on the Qur’an. Within five short years IQSA has convened seven major conferences. These have included large scale conferences in throughout major US cities, Carthage, Tunisia and Jogjakarta, Indonesia, as well as co-sponsored panels in Berlin, Germany and St Andrews, Scotland. IQSA conferences showcase cutting edge research on manuscripts, historical documents, and high tech digital resources, as well as debate critical issues including methodology, hermeneutics and gender. This is possible because IQSA members include the very best scholars in the field.

The first issue of the bilingual Journal of the International Qur’an Studies Association (JIQSA) is now in print and online; and IQSA’s first book is in production for 2018. IQSA members receive free access to JIQSA, the Review of Qur’an Research (RQR), the exclusive member directory (including world renowned Qur’an specialists) and PhD students and recent graduates gain valuable professional development experience. Lifetime Membership and Institutional Membership will be available in early 2018, and carry additional member benefits. IQSA also rewards junior scholars and international academics with the opportunity to learn from colleagues around the world and publish their research. By giving, you help IQSA keep membership dues low and you reward those members of our community who need it most.

Donate NOW

It goes without saying that the current political climate has made our task — especially critical scholarship and building bridges — more important than ever. As academics, professionals and philanthropists we have a duty to support the Humanities and Social Sciences at a time when they are under threat. This also means we have the opportunity to bring about a much more intellectual discussion of the Qur’an when the public needs it most.

IQSA was founded by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, and is now funded through the generous support of its members, partners and friends.

Donate NOW

Most gratefully,

Emran El-Badawi, Executive Director

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

NEW Membership Tiers: Institutional & Lifetime

The International Qur’anic Studies Association is pleased to announce the addition of two new membership tiers: Institutional and Lifetime Membership. These levels are NOW AVAILABLE for registration and have been introduced by the Board of Directors to further IQSA’s mission of facilitating collaboration in the field of Qur’anic Studies across parties around the world.

Renewal Policy: One Time Installment (No Renewals required)
Special Benefits:
– Automatic access/subscription to all paid individual member benefits (JIQSA online, RQR online & Membership database)
– Free online & print subscription to JIQSA
– Discounts on Lockwood publications 

Renewal Policy: Annual
Special Benefits:
– SAME benefits as above, plus…
– One free advertisement annually (program book, JIQSA, online or mailing list)
– Discounted registration

To register for IQSA Membership, click HERE. Questions or concerns? Email! We hope you join us soon!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.


Call for Papers: International Conference and Workshop “The Translation of the Qur’an in Indonesia”

International Conference and Workshop
“The Translation of the Qur’an in Indonesia”

Organised by
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Department of Islamic Studies,
Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Graduate School 

Yogyakarta, July 30-31, 2018


Indonesia, the worlds most populous Muslim-majority country, has brought forth an ever-growing number of Qur’an translations during the colonial period and after the nation’s independence in 1945. The formation of Bahasa Indonesia during the colonial period, its nomination as official language of the Indonesian Republic and its use as a standard medium of literacy after independence have been instrumental to that development. Even the Indonesian government has been active in the production of Qur’an translations. However, the translation of the Qur’an in Indonesia is not restricted to works in Bahasa Indonesia. The country is home to a great number of local languages and a variety of regional customs, a fact that is reflected in the substantial number of Qur’an translations into these languages.

Despite the importance and – at times – highly contested nature of this genre of religious literature, it has received comparatively little scholarly attention. This conference invites scholars, researchers, and advanced students in Islamic studies, social sciences, literature or translation studies to contribute to the study of Qur’an translations both into Bahasa Indonesia and into local Indonesian languages. The event aims to elucidate and discuss, among other issues, the role of specific translations, the intentions of their authors, their social relevance, the linguistic dimension of transferring Arabic content into a local target language, and the emergence of conflicts focusing on the translation of the Qur’an.

Please submit your abstracts (approx. 1000 words) by February 28, 2018 to Professors Moch. Nur Ichwan ( and Johanna Pink ( The abstracts should be submitted in English as a PDF file. The working language of the conference will be English.

You will be notified of the acceptance of your paper by March 31, 2018, at the latest. You will then be required to submit a draft of your paper by July 15, 2018. Your travel costs and accommodation during the conference will be fully funded.

All accepted papers will be considered for inclusion in an edited volume on the translation of the Qur’an in Indonesia that will be submitted to an international publisher.


© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

Review of Qur’anic Research, Vol. 3 no.10 (2017)

In the latest installment of the Review of Qur’anic Research (Vol. 3 no.10), Feras Hamza (University of Wollongong in Dubai) reviews Christian Lange’s Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).  


“There was a time not long ago in Islamic Studies when one was hard pressed to find much about the Islamic afterlife, Paradise and Hell, or eschatology in general…A watershed in the field was the 2009 symposium held in Göttingen, entitled Roads to Paradise, which despite its title, included papers on several different aspects of the afterlife, including eschatology in general and Hell in particular. However, the voluminous proceedings of the symposium were not published until this year. During the eight-year period between the Göttingen symposium and the publications of its proceedings, Christian Lange’s research has constituted a mainstay in this subfield of Islamic Studies with his Justice, Punishment and the Medieval Muslim Imagination(2008), a major European Research Council-funded project from 2011–2015 that resulted in his Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions(2015), as well as several smaller publications on key related topics. In short, Lange’s work over the last decade has become a major reference for scholars interested in Muslim ideas about the afterlife and the understanding of eschatology within Muslim piety, practice and tradition. His latest work, under review here, is a consummation of several years of Lange’s immersion in and thinking about the question of the afterlife in Islam…” 

Want to read more? For full access to the Review of Qur’anic Research (RQR), members can log in HERE. Not an IQSA member? Join today to enjoy RQR and additional member benefits!


© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

Le parfait manuel des sciences coraniques al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān de Ğalāl ad-Dīn as-Suyūṭī (849/1445–911/1505)

Dans Le parfait manuel des sciences coraniques al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān de Ğalāl ad-Dīn as-Suyūṭī (849/1445–911/1505), nous avons une description complète des problèmes relatifs au texte coranique qui se posent encore aujourd’hui, des solutions proposées et des méthodes employées. Ce texte témoigne de la liberté du débat et de la variété des solutions. Il s’agit d’un recueil de témoignages multiples antérieurs et contemporains à l’auteur et non d’une opinion subjective et isolée. Son but est d’être le guide de tout bon commentateur du Coran, en raison de la profusion des informations fournies sur l’ensemble des sciences coraniques. Cet ouvrage est un précieux point de repère pour l’histoire de la culture arabo-musulmane, en général, et de la linguistique, en particulier.


In al-Suyūṭī’s (1445-1515) The Perfect Handbook of the Qurʾānic Sciences, we find a complete description of the problems concerning the Qurʾānic text that still arise today, of the solutions proposed and the methods employed. This text bears witness to both freedom of debate and the variety of solutions. It is a collection of multiple accounts, both prior to and contemporary with the author, and not simply an isolated, subjective opinion. Its aim is to be the guide for every good Qurʾān commentator because of the abundant information it provides on all the Qurʾānic sciences. This work is an invaluable point of reference for the history of the Arab-Islamic culture in general and of linguistics in particular.

Translated by Michel Lagarde, Le parfait manuel des sciences coraniques is published by E. J. Brill (2018) and can be ordered on their website or at a library near you.

*Accessed from the publisher’s product page.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

REMINDERS + NOW ONLINE – Program Book for Boston, Nov 17-20

Dear Friends,

We are now days away from the fifth Annual Meeting of the International Qur’anic Studies Association taking place in Boston, November 17-20. We are looking forward to another exciting meeting of scholars and friends. For a complete showcase of our events, participants and sponsors we are proud to present the official AM 2017 PROGRAM BOOK (PDF). Viewers are encouraged to further circulate the program book. (Program Book link:

Reminders — Please make sure to attend the following events or perform the needed duties outlined here:

  1. If you want to gain access to all IQSA session in Boston as well as our exclusive member benefits please RENEW your 2017 IQSA MEMBERSHIP immediately here ( It is not too late!
  2. The FRIDAY sessions are FREE and OPEN to the PUBLIC. So do not forget to attend the AFTERNOON PANEL, KEYNOTE ADDRESS “‘The House and the Book’: Some reflections on scripture and sanctuary in early Islam”, followed by our general RECEPTION with snacks and refreshments, all on Friday Nov 17. See program for details. It is imperative that we spread the word about our Friday afternoon sessions and attend accordingly!
  3. On Saturday Nov 18 Graduate students should attend the Graduate Student Reception, 11:15am-12:45pm, where they will enjoy lunch with leading scholars in the field and share their own research. See program for details. Only a handful of spots remain. RSVP now
  4. On Sunday Nov 19 I call upon all IQSA members to fulfill their duty by attending our Business Meeting at 11:30am-12:30pm. See program for details.
  5. Finally, the world’s political climate continues to change, making international travel and collaboration  more challenging. Our work is now more important than ever. Please support IQSA and DONATE ( Meanwhile do not forget to enjoy this VIDEO ( and share accordingly — thank you.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, Standing Committees and our partners we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all friends of IQSA, and we look forward to seeing you in Boston.


Emran El-Badawi, Executive Director

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

Suggestions for Presenting a Conference Paper at IQSA

With the IQSA Annual Meeting quickly approaching this month, there has never been a better time to catch up on Dr. Devin Stewart’s (Emory University) suggestions for effective presentations at academic conferences!


Attendance at many conferences over the years and observing the presentations of both neophytes and older scholars has proved to me that nearly no one is taught in explicit terms how to write or deliver a conference paper. For the most part scholars have learned by osmosis, watching examples, whether good, middling, or bad. It is my hope that the scholars who participate in IQSA will be able to rise above the sea of mediocrity and make excellent presentations. I have witnessed a number of papers at IQSA that fall short of that mark, and while such lapses are not more prevalent at IQSA than at other conferences, my hope for the performances at IQSA is that they will be exceptionally high.

[The following statements represent my own considered opinions. It does not represent the opinion of the IQSA board or any other identifiable body in academia. My intention in presenting these comments and guidelines is only to help improve the quality of papers at the annual conference and thus to improve the experience and edification of all conference attendees.]


Alba Fedeli presents her work on the “Birmingham Qur’an” manuscript at the 2015 IQSA Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA.


The main purpose of a conference paper is to announce to the world a new result that you have discovered. In practical terms, it is also to force you to write something, or to finish writing something, that you will publish, and to get feedback from scholars in the field before you do so. If you are lucky, members of your audience may alert you to problems in your argument, plausible counter-arguments, sources you have overlooked, or relevant secondary studies you have not come across. They may push you to explain your argument better, more clearly, or more precisely. All of this will help improve the resulting publication and help ensure that you do not publish something that is unoriginal, incompletely documented, or badly argued.


A conference paper should be a report about completed research that 1) is new, 2) makes a solid argument and 3) emphasizes concrete results. Especially for this society, 4) concrete results primarily consist of concrete conclusions regarding the text of the Qur’an, its meaning, or its historical interpretation and use. This definition has several implications that may go against what young scholars have been told by their sophomoric graduate student peers or benighted advisors and what they have seen performed by droves of misguided conference-goers.

  • The content of your conference paper should not have been published before. It should be a new contribution to the field. You should not deliver a paper that is an info-mercial for your latest book. You should not present something that is an article already in press.
  • A conference paper is a report about research that you have completed. It is not a verbatim, blow-by-blow transcript of the publication you intend to complete. You do not have time to read the entire article or book chapter that you are working on. You are presenting the news story about the project you have completed. Emphasizing the results.
  • A conference paper should not be an interim progress report. While in many organizations, researchers and scholars present such reports as conference papers and lectures, doing so is akin to submitting one’s tax forms or an application for a business license. Many papers produced as part of a government-funded project or by scholars working in teams or for industry are presented as evidence that the project is moving forward and producing tangible results. However, unless the project has reached the point where there are actual results and conclusions can be drawn, it is not yet time to inflict it on the audience. It is acceptable to present something that is not 100% complete, or in which the conclusion is tentative or provisional. It is not acceptable to present something that has no identifiable conclusion yet. One should avoid presenting something that simply states that we have reached the middle of our work, this is the procedure that we are following, and this is where we stand. That is just shop-talk.
  • A conference report should not be a plan for or introduction to research that will be carried out in the future, a prolegomenon, the equivalent of the introduction to a dissertation, a book, or an article. Papers that do this are quite frequent, and leave one asking, “Where’s the beef?” Avoid presenting an introduction to a blank.
  • A conference paper must have a conclusion. Show and tell is not enough. No matter how fantastic the manuscripts you have to show are, it is insufficient merely to describe them. You must explain what they tell us that we did not know before about something greater: the historical transmission of the Qur’ān, its textual variants, patterns of copyists’ errors, and so on. A negative result is still a conclusion; it can make for a good presentation if it is interesting for some particular reason.
  • If you must present the theoretical background or describe a controversy in order to frame your results, do it quickly. An excessively long wind-up is one of the most common faults of conference papers in general. If you write an article or the introduction to your book or dissertation, you can take the time to write at length, but in a conference paper, a long introduction merely delays and in some cases completely displaces the concrete results, which is a disappointment for the audience.
  • Do not leave out the concrete results. Your colleagues in the field are most interested in these, and if you don’t get to specific results, you are robbing them. Include as many results as you can explain well in the time allotted. If you only have only a few examples, then you can spend some time. If you have many examples to choose from, select examples that are representative and can stand in for the others.  A long wind-up to a simple and small example is disappointing.
  • Your paper should take into account the relevant scholarship in the field. There may be too much for you to address in your presentation in any detail, but you should briefly indicate that you are aware of it. Especially in Qur’anic studies, there is a problem with reinventing the wheel. Do not assume that your idea has not been said before. Consult other scholars about the studies that might be relevant, especially studies in German and Arabic.


  1. Problem or issue.
  2. Earlier scholarship on the issue, presented briefly.
  3. Your sources, method, approach, briefly
  4. Your results, conclusions [This should be the main part.]
  5. Implications


The single biggest problem with conference presentations in general is that presenters read a prepared text that was written as if it were a journal article or a book chapter.  If you read a prepared text, you must write it to be read aloud in the first place. Most scholars are not trained to do this type of writing. Doing so is a skill on its own, and it takes practice. An alternative is to prepare notes, a handout, or a power-point presentation, and to speak to the audience from these notes.

If you use power-point, do not read out paragraphs of text from the power-point slides—this is an insult to the audience, whom you are accusing of being inattentive or lazy.

Speaking to the audience directly is about ten times better and more engaging than reading, unless you can write like P.G. Wodehouse. Unfortunately, speaking directly to the audience is a road not taken by 80-90% of conference presenters in all fields, and not just ours.

-Dr. Devin Stewart, IQSA Board of Directors (Emory University)

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

The Status Quaestionis of ʿArabiyyah, Pre-Islamic Poetry and the Quran

By Marijn van Putten

When speaking about the language of the Quran, it is these days almost universally accepted that it was composed in the ʿArabiyyah, a poetic koine that functioned as an intertribal form of communication of high poetic culture.[1] This ʿArabiyyah was close – if not identical – to what eventually came to be thought of as Classical Arabic.

However, this assumption is far from obvious. If we look at the Quranic Consonantal Text, the only linguistic layer of the Quran which can with any certainty be taken as stemming from a time close to the revelation, we find that its orthography is woefully inadequate to write the ʿArabiyyah. The hamz goes completely unwritten (e.g. يسل yasʾalu), nunation is unwritten (e.g. عظيم ʿaẓīmun), and the orthography insists on distinguishing the final ā of final weak verbs and nouns that have a final root consonant w from those with a final root consonant y, even when followed by pronominal clitics, even though in the ʿArabiyyah these vowels are supposed to be pronounced identically (e.g. دعا daʿā, دعاه daʿā-hu but  هدى hadā, هديه hadā-hu).

It is of course possible that the orthography does not adequately represent the ʿArabiyyah. It certainly is not the first time that we are confronted with an orthography which deviates significantly from the language it is supposed to write. The Quran, however, is unique in that its orthography points to a linguistic situation which is less archaic than the language it is supposed to represent. This is different from other languages with a large disconnect between their spoken language and orthography that represents it. Invariably, in such cases the orthography represents a stage of the language significantly more archaic than the way it is spoken presently.

To maintain that the Quranic text represents the ʿArabiyyah requires a large amount of trust in the accurate transmission of the reading traditions of the Quran as Ibn Mujāhid canonized them in the fourth century AH. This trust is not warranted. By the time Ibn Mujāhid canonized the reading traditions, the ʿArabiyyah had become much more than just a “poetic koine”: it had become a highly linguistically unified language of high culture that permeated all forms of religious and scientific writing. It is extremely improbable that this diglossic situation would have had no effect on the way that authors such as Ibn Mujāhid would treat the language of their holy book. If not a given, it is at least extremely likely that they adapted the language of the Quran to more closely resemble Classical Arabic, consciously or unconsciously.

So far, this discussion has proceeded on the assumption that there truly was a highly unified poetic koine in the pre-Islamic period. Some scholars have even gone as far as stating that the Arabic before Islam was itself extremely unified,[2] and that the exclusive association with poetry and high culture is something that only develops in the Islamic period, when the influx of new speakers created a new, more simplified, variety of Arabic. In other words, pre-Islamic Arabic would simply be identical to the ʿArabiyyah. In recent years, this second position has become untenable. The epigraphic record shows that there is a remarkable amount of linguistic variation in pre-Islamic Arabic. The pioneering work by Ahmad Al-Jallad has demonstrated that Safaitic,[3] Hismaic,[4] and early and late Nabataean Arabic[5] are all remarkably different from each other and from the ʿArabiyyah. This is certainly, in part, due to a diachronic distance between these different varieties, but it should be noted that not a single one of these varieties could be the ancestor of the ʿArabiyyah by the simple fact that none of them retain nunation. Anything that looks close or identical to the ʿArabiyyah as defined by the Arab grammarians has remained elusive in the epigraphic record. But also many modern dialects of the Arabian peninsula such as Rāziḥīt,[6] Tihāmī Arabic, and Shammari Arabic[7] cannot be taken as direct descendants of the ʿArabiyyah or even something close to it as they retain ancient Semitic features lost in the ʿArabiyyah.

Even the conceptualization of the ʿArabiyyah as a highly unified poetic register is not without its problems. First, we have several instances of pre-Islamic poetry, not transmitted through the Muslim tradition, but in the epigraphic record in a variety of different scripts, namely, the Nabataean Arabic ʿEn ʿAvdat inscription,[8] the Safaito-Hismaic Baal Cycle poem[9] and the Safaitic War Song.[10] The elusive ʿArabiyyah has had three chances to appear in the pre-Islamic record, in a context where we would actually expect it, yet it has not. However, there are certainly indications that the muʿallaqāt reflect, at least partially, accurate representations of the pre-Islamic period. Labīd’s torrents that flush over the landscape like a pen that renews the zubur (zuburun tajiddu mutūna-hā ʾaqlāmu-hā) makes much more sense if we take the zubur to refer to the pre-Islamic Ancient South Arabian zabūr sticks than books or scripture of ink on parchment.[11] This sense of the word zabūr appears to be lost to the classical commentators.

Second, in the same way that the diglossia would likely have distorted any trace of non-ʿArabiyyah reading of the Quran, we cannot exclude the possibility that classicizing forces acted upon the highly regarded pre-Islamic poetry. As such, the statement that the ʿArabiyyah is remarkably unified may simply be a result of the historical context of their collection. The collection of pre-Islamic poetry takes place centuries after this poetry was supposedly composed, in a sociolinguistic environment where diglossia is the norm. Pre-Islamic poetry may therefore simply look homogenous because it was unified towards the ideal of the ʿArabiyyah.


Q3:87 جَزَاؤُهُم lacking the ʿarabiyyah case-marking in the Codex Parisino-Petropolitanus

Third, the assumption that the ʿArabiyyah was linguistically unified seems to be explicitly denied by the classical tradition itself. Sibawayh describes a remarkable amount of linguistic variation, most of which does not surface at all in pre-Islamic poetry. It could however not be argued that Sibawayh was describing anything other than the ʿArabiyyah; any dialect of Arabic lacking full case inflection completely escapes attention in his monumental Kitāb. Nevertheless, transcriptions of Arabic into Greek in the early Islamic papyri as well as in the psalm fragment[12] leave little doubt that already before Sibawayh’s time varieties of Arabic without case inflection and nunation existed and formed the everyday norm. It is not possible that all the linguistic variation that Sibawayh describes developed from the ʿArabiyyah in the Islamic period either. He describes features that are more archaic than what is reflected in what becomes the normative form of ʿArabiyyah, that is, Classical Arabic,[13] which reflects only a subset of the variation that Sibawayh describes.[14]

This is also clear in light of the fact that the Quranic reading traditions reflect significantly more linguistic variation than pre-Islamic poetry does. This is the case in spite of the fact that the Quranic reading traditions were bound to the Quranic Consonantal Text and could therefore not introduce features that too massively deviated from whatever the rasm suggested. Pre-Islamic poetry was not subject to such constraints, but nevertheless happens to look exactly like Classical Arabic. This important point often gets overlooked because the ʿArabiyyah of pre-Islamic poetry is extremely close to the reading tradition that Arabists are most familiar with, that of Ḥafṣ. It is probably not a coincidence that the reading tradition that ends up becoming the most dominant tradition in the world today is also the closest to Classical Arabic. It is, however, still unclear whether Ḥafṣ’ rise to popularity is due to its close similarity to Classical Arabic or vice-versa.

Nevertheless, several linguistic features of pre-Islamic poetry remain unassailable. The rhyme of the poetry relies heavily on vocalic rhyme which more often than not consists of the case vowels. Any understanding of the varieties of pre-Islamic poetry without case vowels is certainly wrong. However many other features could have been quite different without ever affecting some of the restraints imposed upon it by the metre and form. For example, nunation could have been lost with compensatory lengthening, which would have yielded long case vowels. This would not give any metrical problems as a CVV syllable is metrically identical to a CVC syllable, e.g. *baytun > baytū. Such forms are in fact attested in modern Yemeni Arabic of the Tihāmah which have forms like bētū ‘a house’ besides im-bēt ‘the house’.

Likewise, the shape of the definite article may have differed significantly. In Yemen today we find varieties of Arabic with a definite article im-, in- and iC-[15] besides those with normal Arabic distribution. We similarly find evidence of different definite article shapes in pre-Islamic Arabic such as a non-assimilating al-, and forms like an- and completely assimilated forms like aC-. These would pose no challenges to the metrical structure of the poetry.[16] In other words, some of pre-Islamic poetry could have had a completely Tihāmī-like nominal system baytū, baytī, baytā; im-baytu, im-bayti, im-bayta and it would have posed no problem to the metre of pre-Islamic poetry.[17]

The retention of a fourth vowel ē, in the final weak verbs with y as their third root consonants as we find it in the Warš ʿan Nāfiʿ reading tradition, could also have been part of some forms of pre-Islamic poetry. I argued in a recent study,[18] this ʾimālah[19] is not a shift from ā to ē, but rather an ancient retention of a contrast that has been lost in Classical Arabic, the Ḥafṣ tradition and pre-Islamic poetry (as it has reached us) alike.

Many other forms of variation would leave some traces in metrical irregularities, and in fact they sometimes do. In Muʿallaqah of Imruʾ al-Qays, for example, we find that the 3sg.m. pronominal suffix is long, despite being in a context where Classical Arabic would require it to be short, e.g. ʾiḏā hiya naṣṣat-hū wa-lā bi-muʿaṭṭali (line 34). In Muʿallaqat Ṭarafah, on the other hand, we find that it is treated as short, e.g. ḥiqāfay-hi šukkā fi l-ʿasībi bi-misradi (line 17). The invariably long suffix also appears in the reading tradition of Ibn Kaṯīr.

Another issue in pre-Islamic poetry that requires an explanation is its mixed linguistic character. A line like tarā baʿara l-ʾarʾāmi fī ʿaraṣāti-hā (Muʿallaqat Imriʾ al-Qays, line 3) has lost post-consonantal hamz in tarā < *tarʾā, but not in ʾarʾāmi. Exceptions to sound changes occur, but they do require an explanation. It is important to note that a reading tarā baʿara l-ʾarāmi fī ʿaraṣāti-hā with loss of the hamz would be metrically regular and therefore there is, in fact, no reason to assume the hamz was preserved in this word.

It seems to me that metrical and linguistic irregularities in pre-Islamic poetry are too often taken as poetic licenses, rather than indispensable – albeit highly obscured – insights into possible dialectal differences in the ʿArabiyyah. If one ignores these pieces of information, we cannot help but conclude in an absolutely circular manner that pre-Islamic poetry is linguistically homogenous.

So how does all this relate to Quranic studies? As I have pointed out at the beginning of this article, the orthography of the Quran is very ill-suited for writing the ʿArabiyyah. This may of course be purely orthographic practice, but this cannot be assumed without further investigation. Due to the enormous advances in epigraphy in recent years, we now know that Arabic in the pre-Islamic period is far from linguistically homogenous and instead is surprisingly diverse. Moreover, the conviction that there existed a state of linguistic homogeneity in light of classical sources like the reading traditions and Sibawayh’s al-Kitāb does not seem to follow from the evidence presented.

Even if we do assume that there was a “poetic koine”, an archaizing, oral poetic register not dissimilar to Epic Greek, as so eruditely argued for by Michael Zwettler,[20] it does not follow that Quran was composed in this register. Epic Greek’s archaizing nature is entirely dependent on ancient metrical formulae; the strict metrical requirements of the dactylic hexameter helped resist contractions and loss of consonants that would introduce metrical irregularities. While one can certainly argue that pre-Islamic poetry had similar metrical requirements, this is simply not the case for the Quranic text. As such, Zwettler failed to notice the contradiction of claiming that the Quran was composed in impeccable ʿArabiyyah prose, while this means it would lack the traditional oral formulaic framework that gave the poets the ability to compose in this highly archaic poetic language.

What we are left with is an open field for enquiry. What was the language of the Quran like? How does it relate to early Islamic Arabic? How does it relate to the ʿArabiyyah? How can we tell? Ahmad Al-Jallad,[21] Phillip Stokes[22] and myself[23] have attempted to answer such questions by starting with the only truly contemporary source of Quranic Arabic that we have: the Quranic Consonantal Text. By closely examining orthographic idiosyncrasies, rhyme and the reading traditions, we can start to unravel just what kind of language Quranic Arabic is, and what the linguistic situation of the early Islamic period was like. Through this examination we may start to understand how Classical Arabic developed and how classicizing trends may have developed.

Marijn van Putten is a linguist at Leiden University who specializes in Arabic and Berber historical linguistics. His current post-doctoral research project “Before the Grammarians: Arabic in the formative period of Islam” aims to reconstruct the language of the early Islamic period, using sources such as early Islamic papyri, Quranic documents and transcriptions in non-Arabic scripts. He is currently working specifically on the reconstruction of Quranic Arabic as it can be deduced from the Quranic Consonantal Text.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.


[1] Nöldeke, T. et al. 2013. The History of the Quran. Leiden & Boston: Brill, p. 260; Rabin, C. 1955. “The Beginnings of Classical Arabic”, Studia Islamica 4, p. 23f.; Rabin, C. 1951. Ancient West-Arabian. London: Taylor’s Foreign Press, p. 3-5; Zwettler, M. 1978. The Oral Tradition of Classical Arabic Poetry, p. 101-102; Versteegh, K. 1997. The Arabic Language, Columbia University Press: New York, p. 46ff.

[2] One such a suggestion comes from Blau, J. 1977. “The Beginnings of the Arabic Diglossia. A Study of the Origins of Neoarabic”, Afroasiatic Linguistics 4:3, pp. 175-202.

[3] Al-Jallad, A. 2015. An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions. Leiden & Boston: Brill.; Al-Jallad, A. & A. al-Manaser. 2015. “New Epigraphica from Jordan I: a pre-Islamic Arabic inscription in Greek letters and a Greek inscription from north-eastern Jordan”, Arabian Epigraphic Notes 1: 51-70.

[4] Al-Jallad, A. forthcoming. “The earliest stages of Arabic and its linguistic classification” in: The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics.

[5] Al-Jallad, A. forthcoming. “One wāw to rule them all: the origins and fate of wawation in Arabic and its orthography”.

[6] Behnstedt, P. 1987. Die Dialekte der Gegend von Ṣaʿdah (Nord-jemen). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz; Watson, J.C.E., B.G. Stalls, K. Al-Razihi & S. Weir.  2006. “The language of Jabal Rāziḥ: Arabic or something else?” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 36, pp. 35-41; Putten, M. van. 2017. “The Archaic Feminine ending -at in Shammari Arabic”, Journal of Semitic Studies 62:2, p. 365, fn. 9.

[7] Putten, M. van. 2017. “The Archaic Feminine ending -at in Shammari Arabic”, Journal of Semitic Studies 62:2, pp. 357-369.

[8] Kropp, M. 2017. “The ʿAyn ʿAbada Inscription Thirty Years Later: A Reassessment”, in: A. Al-Jallad (ed.) Arabic in Context. Leiden & Boston: Brill; Al-Jallad, A. forthcoming. “One wāw to rule them all”.

[9] Al-Jallad, A. 2015. “Echoes of the Baal Cycle in a Safaito-Hismaic Inscription”, Journal for Near-Eastern Religions 15, pp. 5-19.

[10] Al-Jallad, A. 2017. “Pre-Islamic ‘Ḥamāsah’ Verses from Northeastern Jordan: A New Safaitic Poetic Text from Marabb al-Shurafāʾ, with further remarks on the ʿĒn ʿAvdat Inscription and KRS 2453”, Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 47,pp. 117–128.

[11] As already observed by Maraqten, M. 1998. “Writing Materials in Pre-Islamic Arabia”, Journal of Semitic Studies 43:2, p. 301-302.

[12] Most recent edition of this text can be found in Blau, J. 2002. A Handbook of Early Middle Arabic. Jersualem, The Max Schloessinger Memorial Foundation, pp. 68-71. A monograph by A. Al-Jallad discussing the linguistic features of the psalm fragment is currently in preparation.

[13] By Classical Arabic I mean the variety of Arabic as described by, e.g. W. Fischer. 1972. Ein Grammatik des klassischen Arabisch. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, the variety that forms the basis for Modern Standard Arabic.

[14] For example, Sibawayh describes varieties of ʿarabiyyah that have lost the hamz, and varieties of ʿarabiyyah that have retained the ancient ē vowel in some medial weak verbs such as xēfa ‘to fear’ and ṭēba ‘to be suitable’. Neither feature occurs in Classical Arabic, nor is it attested in pre-Islamic poetry, yet Sibawayh does not seem to hold any negative views of such forms.

[15] C here indicates complete assimilation to the following consonant, regardless of the type of consonant.

[16] Other attested pre-islamic forms of the definite article such as haC– and han-, however, would.

[17] This system is not at all removed from what we find in what the Arab grammarians call Ḥimyarī; see chapter 5 of Rabin, C. 2015.  Ancient West-Arabian. London: Taylor’s Foreign Press.

[18] Putten, M. van. 2017. “The development of the triphthongs in Quranic and Classical Arabic”, Arabian Epigraphic Notes 3, pp. 47-74.

[19] ʾimālah is one of the most misused terms in Arabic linguistics. The term is essentially the Arabic phonetic term for the vowel e. However, it is mostly thought of as a development from a historical to a ē or ī. This is often incorrect, and when correct, an incomplete description.

[20] Zwettler, M. 1978. The Oral Tradition of Classical Arabic Poetry. Its Character and Implications. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.

[21] Al-Jallad, A. 2017. “Was it sūrat al-baqárah? Evidence for antepenultimate stress in the Quranic Consonantal Text and its Relevance for صلوه Type Nouns”  ZDMG 167:1, pp. 81-90.

[22] Putten, M. van & P. W. Stokes. in preparation. “Case in the Quran”.

[23] Putten, M. van. 2017. “The development of the triphthongs”; Putten, M. van. forthcoming. “The Feminine Ending -at as a Diptote in the Qurʾānic Consonantal Text and Its Implications for Proto-Arabic and Proto-Semitic”, Arabica 64; Putten, M. van. in preparation. “Hamzah in the Quranic Consonantal Text”; Putten, M. van. in preparation. “Some notes on the QCT syllable structure and Consonantism”.