History of Muslim-Christian Dialogue: A five-week intensive summer course


Online Summer Program

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History of Muslim-Christian Dialogue:  A five-week intensive summer course for 3 credit hours


Dr Ida Glaser (Director, CMCS Houston), Dr Charles Ramsey​, (Baylor University History Faculty) Dr Martin Whittingham (Director, CMCS Oxford)

Specialist lectures from Dr Rana Abu-Mounes (CMCS Oxford), Dr David Coffey (CMCS Houston), Dr David Cook (Rice University, Houston), Dr Abdul-Massih Saadi (Baylor University) and Dr Ghulam Zarquani (Hijaz Muslim College, Houston)


Dates:  6/2/20-7/7/20

This intensive course will introduce students to the long history of Christians and Muslims writing about each other and discussing with each other, using both focused study of primary sources and broader readings and lectures on different historical periods.   The class will meet every morning Monday-Friday 1000-1130 CST.  On most Tuesdays and Fridays, 1030-1130 will offer opportunities for one-on-one and small group tutorials.  Students will be expected to give an average of at least 2 additional hours per day to further private study and preparation.  The course is suitable for graduate students with an academic interest in Muslim-Christian relations, and for final year undergraduate students majoring in history, or in the study of Islam or of Christianity.

If you wish to attend this course, submit this application form to receive further details.  

COST    Full fee: $1,000          Majority world students:  $400 

CMCS Houston has a limited number of full and half scholarships available.  Letters of application should be sent to  by May 18th.  You should include details of interest in and experience of Muslim-Christian relations, and of how attendance at the course is expected to enhance your scholarship and your future relationships.  You should also include a c.v. and contact details for an academic referee and a personal referee.


Post courtesy of Prof. Ida Glazer, Director, CMCS Houston

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2020. All rights reserved.

Intensive Summer Course: Arabic Codicology


FROM 17 TO 21 JUNE 2019

Due to the use of original manuscripts during the hands-on sessions, the number of students cannot exceed 16. Thus, alongside the application form, a motivation letter (1,000-1,5000 words) and a one-page CV are required and will be considered during the selection process. Applicants have to send these documents to mss.arabicscript@gmail.com. Please note that the course will be taught in English. Application deadline is April 15th, 2019.

More information: https://arabiccodicologycourse.weebly.com/programme.html


The VI edition of the course Arabic Codicology: the Islamic manuscript heritage in the El Escorial Collection will provide the students with the basic codicological knowledge and the research procedures needed to study and analyze Arabic manuscripts. Moreover, it will familiarize them with the libraries of the Arabic-Islamic world in Medieval and Modern times, particularly with the library that belonged to the Moroccan sultan Muley Zaydān.

The course is designed on an eminently practical dynamic. In the evenings, the students will be able to apply the theoretical knowledge previously acquired in the mornings to the actual manuscripts hosted at the Royal Library of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (RBME). This is the most important Arabic Manuscript Collection of Spain and one of the most relevant in Europe.

The venues of the summer courses are a privileged location due to the proximity to the Library. The course will be taught entirely in English by leading experts in Arabic Codicology Prof. Nuria de Castilla (EPHE, PSL, Paris) and Prof. François Déroche (CdF, PSL, Paris). It is sponsored by the European project SICLE (“Saadian Intellectual and Cultural Life”, ERC 670628) and is designed for historians, art historians, philologists, documentalists, antiquarians, curators, bibliophiles, conservation specialists, etc., preferably with a Master’s degree.

Affiche Escorial sin-1

Content Courtesy of Nuria de Castilla

The Qurʾān and Ethiopia: Context and Reception

The Catholic University of America extends an open invitation to next week’s symposium The Qurʾān and Ethiopia: Context and Reception. The symposium will take place on Monday April 8, 2019 from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM in May Gallery, Mullen Library.

Quran and Ethiopia EMAIL

This event is sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences, Institute of Christian Oriental Research, Center for Medieval and Byzantine Studies, Center for the Study of Early Christianity, and Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures. Interested parties should kindly RSVP to Aaron Butts via email and direct all questions to buttsa@cua.edu. Please find a detailed program at this link.

Content courtesy of Dr. Aaron Butts, Catholic University of America

Preliminary Considerations on the Corpus Coranicum Christianum: The Qur’ān in Translation – A Survey of the State of the Art | December 5 – 7, 2018, Berlin

The Corpus Coranicum project requires little introduction to the readers of this blog. Its emerging daughter project, hosted by the FU Berlin, Corpus Coranicum Christianum, developed out of the doctoral research conducted by Manolis Ulbricht, co-supervised by Angelika Neuwirth, on the early Greek translation of the Qurʾān preserved in Nicetas of Byzantium’s Refutation of the Qurʾān (c.870). At present, the long-term goal of this interdisciplinary project is to study qurʾānic translations from the seventh century to the early modern period, in the principal ‘Christian’ languages, i.e. Greek, Syriac, and Latin, comparatively, and to make these texts available online through a synoptic digital edition. The aim of this initial workshop was three-fold: (i) to bring together scholars from various disciplines working on qurʾānic translations; (ii) to establish a methodological framework for a future digital database and a comparative analysis for translation techniques; and (iii) to explore avenues for further collaboration.


The scope of the sources included in this preliminary workshop was intentionally broad, ranging from full translations to quotations, or mere allusions to the qurʾānic text. As most source material is available in Latin, the Corpus Coranum Latinum made up the most prominent part of the programme, with three panels. In a first panel devoted to the earliest sources, the translations by Robert of Ketton and Mark of Toledo were assessed with regards to the issue of the readership (Nàdia Petrus Pons) and the presence of scientific vocabulary (Julian Yolles). In addition, the qurʾānic quotations included in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Latin translations of Arabic scientific treatises were examined (Charles Burnett). A second panel examined the sources through which Latin Christians read the Qurʾān, with papers on the Latin glosses in Latin and Arabic Qurʾāns (José Martínez Gázquez), Robert of Ketton’s use of Ṭabarī’s tafsīr (J. L. Alexis Rivera Luque), and the question of the character of Ramon Marti’s Islamic sources (Görge K. Hasselhoff). The focus of the third panel was on early modern Qurʾān translations, with papers on the sixteenth-century translation by Egidio da Viterbo (Katarzyna K. Starczewska), the seventeenth-century translation and commentary by the Jesuit, Ignazio Lomellini (Paul Shore), and the recently discovered 1632 translation by Johann Zechendorff (Reinhold F. Glei). Finally, a presentation of the ERC-funded project on the Qurʾān in European cultural history, which will commence soon, should also be mentioned here (Jan Loop).

The single panel of Greek Qurʾān translations covered both the first appearances of the Qurʾān in Byzantium, as well as the late Byzantine Period. The former period was addressed with papers on the linguistic character of the eighth – ninth-century Greek translation, especially its non-classical vocabulary (Erich Trapp), and the historical background of Muslim-Byzantine rivalry behind its emergence (Jakub Sypiański). The late period involved papers appraising the knowledge of the Qurʾān and Islam by Gregory Palamas (Evangelos Katafylis) and John VI Cantacuzene (Marco Fanelli)

Papers on the Corpus Coranicum Syriacum, the language least represented at this workshop, were presented on the qurʾānic quotations in the Arabic disputation of Abū Qurra with the Caliph al-Maʾmūn, which were compared with those contained in the Garshuni version of the Legend of Sergius Baḥīrā (Yousef Kouriyhe), and on the double/triple occurences of qurʾānic verses in Dionysius Bar Ṣalībī’s Disputation against the Arabs (Alexander M. Schilling).

A special panel on the interdisciplinary nature of the overall project and its implications was entitled Corpus Coranicum ChristianumA Digitalized Trial Version. It consisted of papers on the Greek translation preserved by Nicetas of Byzantium (Manolis Ulbricht), the Syriac excerpts from the Qurʾān in Dionysius Bar Ṣalībī’s Disputation against the Arabs (Bert Jacobs), and the Latin translation by the seventeenth-century Fransiscan Germanus de Silesia (Ulisse Cecini). Prior to the workshop, these three scholars had agreed to provide micro-editions of selected common passages (Q 3:42-7; 90:1-4; 112), which were digitally processed in an online interactive edition by Joel Kalvesmaki (see http://textalign.net/quran/). The trial session continued with a presentation on the make-up and functions of this tool (Joel Kalvesmaki), and concluded with a brief comparison of the translation techniques applied to the selected materials.

Besides the work on the sources themselves, the workshop gave special attention to the use of digital humanities in the study of qurʾānic translations. This included an introductory workshop on the goals and techniques of the DH (Nadine Arndt, Oliver Pohl), as well as presentations on the Paleocoran Project (Oliver Pohl), the interactive digital edition of the New Testament (Holger Strutwolf), Ediarum (Nadine Arndt), and the valence of TEI for editing synoptic editions (Joel Kalvesmaki).

The proceedings of this first Corpus Coranicum Christianum workshop are planned for publication. A second workshop will be held in the near future.

Bert Jacobs, KU Leuven

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2019. All rights reserved.

Suggestions for Presenting a Conference Paper at IQSA

With the IQSA Annual Meeting quickly approaching next 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 President Elect (Emory University)

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2018. All rights reserved.

Job Vacancy: Islamic Studies Associate Prof. | University of Cincinnati


Photo Credit: https://www.uc.edu/ucomm/brand.html

The University of Cincinnati invites applications by advanced assistant and associate professors to fill the Inayat and Ishrat Malik Professorship in Islamic Studies. The position will begin in the fall of 2019. The search committee welcomes applications from scholars in the field of Islamic Studies, with research and teaching interests in such areas as Anthropology, Comparative Religion, Arabic, Ethics, Gender Studies, History, Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Theology.

Minimum Qualifications:

A Ph.D. is required, as well as prior teaching experience and evidence of scholarly excellence.

The successful candidate is expected to engage in research, to teach on the graduate and undergraduate  levels in their area, and to contribute, via interdisciplinary education and as appropriate, to undergraduate certificate programs in such areas as Religious Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Arabic Studies, Asian Studies, Security Studies, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. The successful candidate should be thoroughly knowledgeable in the Islamic intellectual tradition and in Qur’anic Studies. Enthusiasm to present Islamic teachings in multiple areas of thought and experience and in a style accessible to diverse student audiences is essential. This effort will include the presentation of at least one public lecture in Islamic Studies each academic year. The candidate should also have a track-record of engagement with the Islamic community, demonstrate a willingness to contribute to the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and be able to build productive relationships with academic partners across campus and with interfaith and cultural groups in the Cincinnati area.

The tenure-track position will be housed in the department in the College of Arts & Sciences most appropriate to the candidate’s degree. Joint appointments are possible.

The successful candidate will be expected to make service contributions to the mission of that department and commensurate with the position of Professorship in Islamic Studies. The teaching load will accord with that of research-active faculty. The University of Cincinnati is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer with a strong commitment to diversity. The University is interested in qualified candidates who can contribute, through their research, teaching and service, to the diversity and excellence of the academic community, and we hope to attract applicants who have experience in promoting the success of students from diverse backgrounds. We encourage women, members of racial/ethnic/gender groups underrepresented in higher education, persons with disabilities, and veterans to apply.

For full consideration, apply online at https://jobs.uc.edu (Search Requisition #31164). A complete application will include a letter of interest, a CV, an article-length writing sample, and a one-page statement summarizing your contributions or potential contributions to diversity and inclusion as they relate to teaching, research and/or mentoring. Please use the Additional Documents function to submit the required documents. Three letters of reference must be directly submitted by recommenders to history@ucmail.uc.edu.




The University of Cincinnati, as a multi-national and culturally diverse university, is committed to providing an inclusive, equitable and diverse place of learning and employment. As part of a complete job application you will be asked to include a Contribution to Diversity and Inclusion statement.

As a UC employee, and an employee of an Ohio public institution, if hired you will not contribute to the federal Social Security system, other than contributions to Medicare. Instead, UC employees have the option to contribute to a state retirement plan (OPERS, STRS) or an alternative retirement plan (ARP).


The University of Cincinnati is an Affirmative Action / Equal Opportunity Employer / M / F / Veteran / Disabled.

*Content courtesy of Dr. Jeff Zalar (University of Cincinnati)

Podcast Series: Introducing the Qur’ān

Professor Nicolai Sinai, of the University of Oxford, has recorded four short talks funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council which aim to introduce the general public to aspects of current research on the Qur’ān’s historical context and literary character. These are now available as podcasts online here:


Link: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/introducing-quran

Although most IQSA members will be familiar with more specialised scholarship on many of the issues covered in these talks, they may be useful for teaching purposes.

The four 10 – 20 minute talks are entitled:

  1. Hovering about the Qur’an without entering into it? On the academic study of the Qur’an, asks what it means to study the Qur’ān historically and considers how historically orientated research on the Qur’ān relates to religious belief and traditional Islamic scriptural interpretation.
  2. Rekindling Prophecy: The Qur’an in its historical milieu, examines the historical context in which the material now collected in the Qur’ān was first promulgated with special attention being paid to the various groups addressed by the Qur’ān.
  3. Confirming and Clarifying: The Qur’an in conversation with earlier Judaeo-Christian traditions, discusses the fact that the Qur’an’s original audience must have been familiar with earlier Jewish and Christian traditions, which the Qur’an claims both to “confirm” and “clarify”. Narratives about Abraham and the death of Pharaoh serve to exemplify what this means.
  4. The Qur’an as literature, takes as its starting point that the Qur’ān’s compelling literary aspect was the main reason it was able to establish itself as a text believed to constitute divine revelation. It further asks how Islamic and modern Western scholars approach the Qur’ān’s literary dimension.


Many thanks to Professor Sinai for sharing this free resource.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2018. All rights reserved.

Reading is Believing? Sacred Texts in a Scientific Age (26-28 March 2018)


Mon, 26 Mar 2018, 16:00 – Wed, 28 Mar 2018, 14:00 BST


Clare College, University of Cambridge
Trinity Lane
Cambridge CB2 1TL
United Kingdom

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How have the scriptural traditions of Islam and Christianity been interpreted in the modern age? In particular, what challenges have been posed to the Bible and Qur’an by developments in science and technology? These are the core questions of this multi-disciplinary academic colloquium, which will be held at Clare College, Cambridge on 26-28 March 2018. Further details, including the Call for Papers, are available at http://sciencescripture.org/call-for-papers-reading-is-believing-sacred-texts-in-a-scientific-age/.

Registration and payment for the event can be made by following the instructions on this site. A student discount is available for attendees who are studying either full or part-time at a registered higher education institution. Proof of student status will be required at registration. All other attendees should select full-rate options on the payment page.

The event is facilitated by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in collaboration with the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. Any questions about the colloquium should be directed to Dr Caroline Tee at ct500@cam.ac.uk.

Registrations will close at midnight on Wednesday 14th March.


*Content courtesy of Dr. Caroline Tee (St. Edmund’s College) and https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/reading-is-believing-sacred-texts-in-a-scientific-age-26-28-march-2018-tickets-35899721032 


© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2018. All rights reserved.

Two Free Online Courses on the Qur’an

Contributor: Holger Zellentin

We are excited to announce two new initiatives presenting the Qur’an in between Judaism and Christianity: a new MOOC starting January 15, 2018, and the immediate online publication of a related lecture series. Both projects were sponsored by the British Academy, the University of Nottingham and the Karimia Institute, and convened by Holger Zellentin (University of Cambridge) and Jon Hoover (University of Nottingham).


About a year ago, we sought to bring cutting-edge research on the Qur’an in its relationship to Judaism and to Christianity to the broader public. In order to reflect the growing sense of a scholarly consensus in the field, we invited a number of outstanding scholars to present their research in Nottingham: Omar Ali-de-Unzaga (The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London), Mehdi Azaiez (Katholieke Universiteit Levuven), Harith bin Ramli (Cambridge Muslim College), Islam Dayeh (Free University of Berlin), Emran El-Badawi (University of Houston), Dirk Hartwig (Free University, Berlin), Asma Hilali (now Université de Lille), Marianna Klar (School of Oriental and African Studies), Shuruq Naguib (University of Lancaster), Gabriel Said Reynolds (Notre Dame University), Lena Salaymeh (University of Tel Aviv), Walid Saleh (University of Toronto), Nora K Schmid (Free University of Berlin), and Nicolai Sinai (University of Oxford) joined the organizers.

The lectures were designed to engage the public in three ways. First, we teamed up with the Karimia Institute, a Muslim community and charity based in Nottingham under the guidance of Dr Musharraf Hussain al-Azhari OBE. Members of the community constituted the primary audience of the live lectures, and engaged the academics in a series of insightful, respectful and vivid discussions.

Secondly, we recorded all lectures and discussions in their entirety and have now published the lectures on a dedicated website. We believe that both the academic acumen of the lectures and the spirit of the discussions themselves will be a wonderful resource for scholars, students and community leaders across the world for many years to come. Please feel free to share the news.

Finally, Holger Zellentin and Jon Hoover have teamed up with Shuruq Naguib (University of Lancaster) and Rachel Dryden (University of Cambridge) in order to build an open online course based on the same lecture series. We selected especially relevant excerpts of the lectures and, with the generous assistance of the University of Nottingham and FutureLearn, we developed the materials into a proper MOOC. We promise it’s worth having a look at the teaser video here, where you can also sign up. The great thing about the course is that you can explore all of it for free, and with no obligation to do anything! All you have to do is sign up on FutureLearn, and, once the course is running, you can access all the materials for the period of one month. Should you like what you find, feel free to spread the word to your students, friends, colleagues, family- we have worked hard to make the complex materials accessible to the broadest possible public. We hope to run the course once every two years or so, so it will also be a resource for many years to come (but note that it will only be accessible for four-week intervals at a time).

Please let us know what you think about the course. In the meantime, have a happy, blessed, and hopeful 2018!

Here are the two websites once more:



Moreover, please note that beginning on February 19 (running for eight weeks) Gabriel Reynolds will be hosting a free MOOC through EdX entitled “Introduction to the Qur’an.”  This is the new and updated version of the course (which initially ran in 2015).  It is meant to provide a basic introduction to the academic study of the Qur’an and likewise includes lectures, discussion with scholars and religious leaders, and live interactive sessions.  For more information and to enrol visit:


Prof. Reynolds and I have been in correspondence as we have developed these two open courses. We both think that they complement each other very well, and you might consider sharing, or even enrolling in both.


© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2018. 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”.