Approaching the Quran

Approaching the Quran

The following is based off of a talk I gave at UTSC on March 8th 2018. The talk was entitled, “Approaching the Quran”.

Every verse of the Quran can serve as an index to centuries of discussion amongst exegetes. All these discussions occur between various scholars each adopting potentially different approaches to understanding the Quran. The purpose of this post is to highlight a few of these approaches in a practical manner by discussing a fragment of verse 89 of sūrat al-Naḥl. The verse is as follows,

…وَ نَزَّلْنا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتابَ تِبْياناً لِكُلِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ…

…We have sent down the Book to you as a clarification/explanation of all things1

There have classically been two major understandings of this fragment, although there are many more understandings than that. The first understanding asserts that the Quran is comprehensive of all knowledge and sciences. That is, the Quran contains information relevant to subjects such as philosophy, the natural sciences etc. in addition to its content related to the guidance of humans towards God. The second view is of a more minimalist nature and asserts that the Quran necessarily contains what is relevant for humans to be guided to God and therefore does not necessarily contain information or references pertaining to unrelated subjects.

In what follows, I will cover each view sequentially, detailing proponents of each view, discussing the approaches taken by different scholars to reach each view and furthermore discussing areas where these views are applied. At the end I will mention some other possible thoughts on this verse. Continue reading “Approaching the Quran”

  1. Al-Naḥl 16:89, some translators translate the word tibyān/تبيان as clarification while others translate it as explanation

Verse 1 – Sūrat al-Ṣaff | Grammatical Analysis

Verse 1 – Sūrat al-Ṣaff | Grammatical Analysis

Introduction

I and a couple of other students, including the author of Iqra Online, have been holding weekly Qurānic grammar discussions and have decided to share our notes from our weekly discussions. The discussions, however, are quite technical, largely because the initial grammatical analysis of the verses is straightforward and we focus on parts of verses where there is room for advanced grammatical discussions.

In order to share these notes, we have decided to start each post off with a basic grammatical analysis taken from the Quranic Arabic Corpus. After that, we have documented our more advanced discussions. As such, these posts may be difficult to read for anyone not familiar with Arabic grammar although we have tried to explain or roughly translate the names of some concepts to help readers.

We started our weekly discussions from the first verse of sūrat al-Ṣaff. These posts will only document verses where we had a significant amount of discussion. Any verse that was grammatically straightforward to understand will not be mentioned. The first part of the first verse of sūrat al-Ṣaff is as follows1.

Verse 1 Part 1

Translation (Qarāī)

Whatever there is in the heavens glorifies Allah and whatever there is in the earth… Continue reading “Verse 1 – Sūrat al-Ṣaff | Grammatical Analysis”

  1. Images have been taken from the QAS’s syntactic treebank, http://corpus.quran.com/treebank.jsp

History of Sciences Related to the Arabic Language

History of Sciences Related to the Arabic Language

هو معكم أينما كنتم

After being briefly taken down due to some hackers I am back with a lot of (hopefully) interesting content ideas for this year. Recently I have been teaching some discussions on Arabic morphology and grammar and have been preparing a lot of different material for that, which I would like to share here.

The following is a table that documents some of the major scholars and works written, in the fields of Arabic morphology, grammar and rhetoric. I prepared this table as an introduction to the sciences of the Arabic language because I believe that understanding the history of this scholarly tradition can offer a lot of insight to the material that is typically studied to learn Arabic morphology, grammar and rhetoric. Continue reading “History of Sciences Related to the Arabic Language”

Al-Itqān: Meccan and Medinan Chapters

Al-Itqān: Meccan and Medinan Chapters

In a previous post I introduced “Al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qurān” by al-Suyūṭī. I have recently been reading through some chapters of the book and have found many interesting discussions. What follows is a summary of al-Suyūṭī’s discussion on Meccan and Medinan chapters.

Importance of Knowing the Location of Revelation

Many scholars have attested to the importance of knowing the location of revelation of the chapters of the Qurān, particularly for an exegete. This is because knowing where a chapter was revealed can aid one in knowing when the chapter was revealed. This in turn can assist one in determining if that chapter has verses that can act as abrogating verses for other verses. This is according to the view that abrogating verses must come after the verses that they abrogate.

It should be noted that al-Suyūṭī only mentions a few benefits for studying the location of revelation of different chapters. Perhaps the most important reason to study the location of revelation of different chapters is that such knowledge provides necessary context when interpreting different verses. Many verses can be understood very differently if taken to have been revealed later on in the Prophet’s life versus earlier on in his life. In short, any sort of added context aids in the understanding of a text.

Definitions of Meccan/Medinan

To begin with, it should be noted that the words, “Meccan” and “Medinan” have been defined in 3 different ways. That is there are three different understandings of what these words mean which are as follows. Continue reading “Al-Itqān: Meccan and Medinan Chapters”

“Al-Raḥmān” in the Quran

“Al-Raḥmān” in the Quran

الرحمن على العرش استوى

The All-beneficent, settled on the Throne1

I was recently writing an article about the word “al-raḥmān”, particularly focusing on its philological background amongst other discussions. While doing so, I came across a verse that was the source of some interesting philological discussions. The verse is as follows,

وَ إِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اسْجُدُواْ لِلرَّحْمَانِ قَالُواْ وَ مَا الرَّحْمَانُ أَ نَسْجُدُ لِمَا تَأْمُرُنَا وَ زَادَهُمْ نُفُورًا

When they are told: “Prostrate yourselves before the All-beneficent,” they say, “What is ‘the All-beneficent (al-raḥmān)?’ Shall we prostrate ourselves before whatever you bid us?” And it increases their aversion2.

In what follows, I would like to briefly discuss the following verse in terms of its role within the broader philological discussion on the word “al-raḥmān”. In order to do so, I will briefly summarize the general philological discussion about the word “al-raḥmān” so as to contextualize the role of this particular verse.

Origins and Philological Background

In short, there are two main views about the origins of the word “al-raḥmān”. Some scholars argue that the word was originally an Arabic word. Such scholars typically resort to quoting pre-prophetic usages of the word to establish a precedent for the word within the Arabic language.

The second view is that the word was taken from another language, that is, it is a loanword. This view has two groups of proponents. One group is that of the orientalists who largely resort to usages of similar words within other Semitic languages to establish that this word is a loanword3. The other group is that of the classical Muslim exegetes, many of whom resort to this particular verse amongst other proofs to establish the plausibility that this word was a loanword. They particularly use this verse as evidence that the Arabs were not familiar with this word, as indicated by the question, “What is ‘the All-beneficient (al-raḥmān)?’”

Regardless of whether or not the word is indeed a loanword, my goal here is simply to outline some other interpretations and understandings of this verse. This is in order to highlight that often times it is not an easy task to use a verse of the Quran within arguments because of the multiplicity of plausible interpretations that can be offered for Quranic verses.

For this purpose, I have quoted the relevant exegesis about this verse from The Study Quran and offered some criticism. Furthermore, I have also mentioned another interpretation of this verse. Continue reading ““Al-Raḥmān” in the Quran”

  1.  Ṭaha 20: 5
  2. Al-Furqān 25:60
  3. For a discussion concerning such usages see Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān pg. 140

Grammatically Understanding Surat al-Tawhid

Grammatically Understanding Surat al-Tawhid

Photo credits: Faleh Zahrawi

In the previous term, I had the opportunity to spend some time on focused exegetical discussions on sūrat al-Tawḥīd with some colleagues. We covered many different aspects of sūrat al-Tawḥīd, but one aspect that I found to be the most interesting was the grammatical discussion surrounding the first verse.

The following is an attempt to grammatically understand the first verse of this chapter. I have relied heavily on a lot of grammatical jargon and have tried to explain it as best as I can so as to facilitate readers not well versed in Arabic grammar.

The first verse of sūrat al-Tawḥīd is as follows,

ٌقُلْ هُوَ اللهَ أَحَد

(Tentative Translation) Say,” He is Allah, the One… 1

Defining the Text

Before, attempting to understand the verse grammatically, the actual verse and any other potential variant readings must be defined. Works documenting the 7, 10 or 14 readings of the Qurān indicate that most scholars of the readings of the Qurān were in agreement over the popular recitation of the verse that is present in the Qurān today, that is, “قل هو الله أحد”.

Further evidence of the fact that the text of the verse has been correctly preserved is that some books of history have recorded that this verse was minted in the same form on Syrian coins between the years 42 A.H. and 49 A.H. during the caliphate of Marwān bin al-Ḥakm2.

Zamakhsharī and Variant Readings

In light of this, it is interesting to note that Zamakhsharī (d. 538 A.H.) mentions some differences in reports of the recitations of this verse3.

  1. It has been reported that Ibn Mas’ūd and Ubay bin Ka’b read the verse without the word “قل”, thus reading it as “هُوَ اللهُ أَحَد”
  2. A’mash read the word “أَحَد” as “وَاحِد”. Thus the verse would be, “قُلْ هُوَ اللهُ وَاحِد”
  3. It has been reported that the Prophet read the verse without the words, “قُلْ هُو”. Thus the verse would simply be, “اللهُ أَحَد”. This has apparently been recorded in a narration that says, “To read ‘اللهُ أَحَد’, is equitable to reading the whole Qurān”.

Continue reading “Grammatically Understanding Surat al-Tawhid”

  1. Al-Tawḥīd 112:1
  2. Details about this can often be found in entries about Marwān, refer to Ibn al-Athīr, Asad al-Ghābbah fī Ma’rifat al-Ṣaḥābah, v. 4 pg. 348
  3. Zamakhsharī, al-Kashshāf ‘an Ḥaqāiq Ghawāmiḍ al-Tanzīl v. 4 pg. 817 – 818

Tafsīr al-A’immah: A Glance Through al-Dharī’ah

Tafsīr al-A’immah: A Glance Through al-Dharī’ah
Pictured above: ‘Allāmah Buzurg Tehranī

The following is an excerpt from “al-Dharī’ah Ilā Taṣānīf al-Shia” by the famous bibliographer ‘Allāmah Buzurg Tihranī describing an exegesis entitled “Tafsīr al-A’immah lī Hidāyat al-Ummah” by al-Shaykh ‘Abdallah bin Muhammad Riḍa al-Nuṣayrī.

Al-Dharī’ah

(The exegesis is) By the master, the exegete and scholar of hadith, Muhammad Riḍa bin ‘Abd al-Husain al-Nuṣayrī al-Ṭūsī, who lived in Isfahān and was the writer of “Kashf al-Āyāt (Discovering the Verses)” which he finished writing in the year 1067/1657(A.H./A.D.) as will be mentioned in another volume.

The above mentioned exegesis of his was very large. It is said that it was thirty volumes long, I saw two volumes of it. One of the volumes was the first, it was a large and thick volume in which the author began with an introduction of the exegesis in about 20 chapters related to the Qurān. He then began with the exegesis of sūrah al-Fātiḥah, and then subsequently the exegesis of some verses from sūrah al-Baqarah until the end of the fourth verse.

The first volume started with the following words:

أين رتبة الانسان الذي بدئ خلقه من طين و أعلى مقام محامد رب العالمين و أنّى قدرة المخلوق من سلالة من ماء مهين و العروج على ذروة وصف من هو فوق وصف الواصفين: كيف نحمده و نحن من الجاهلين

On the back of the volume there is an ownership statement, in the handwriting of the son of the writer himself, denoting that the book was owned by him. He has written that that he came to own the book through inheritance, however he has not mentioned the date upon which he inherited the book. The owner’s name in his signature is as such, “ ‘Abdallah bin Muḥammad Riḍa al-Nuṣayrī al-Tūsī”.

This volume was subsequently owned by al-Sayyid Shubbar bin Muḥammad Tanwān al-Ḥawīzī al-Najafī 1 from the year 1160/1747 until 1182/1769 as is evident from some of his writings in the book during the two mentioned dates. It was finally transferred to al-‘Allāmah al-Shaykh Asadallah al-Dizfūlī al-Kāẓimī, the author of, “al-Maqābīs” who endowed the volume and wrote a statement of endowment on the volume in his writing. I saw the volume in Kāẓimīyah in the library of the deceased al-Shaykh Muḥammad Amīn who was from amongst the family of the previously mentioned al-Shaykh Asadallah. Continue reading “Tafsīr al-A’immah: A Glance Through al-Dharī’ah”

  1. ‘Ayān al-Shia v. 7 pg. 330

LQS 4: Asbāb al-Nuzūl – The Causes of Revelation

LQS 4: Asbāb al-Nuzūl – The Causes of Revelation
و كلهم آتيه يوم القيامة فردا

And each of them will come to Him alone on the Day of Resurrection1

This post is the seventh in a series of summaries of Āyatullah Hādī Ma’rifat’s book entitled, Āmūzish ‘Ulūm Qurānī (Learning the Qurānic Sciences). For an introduction to Āyatollah Hādī Ma’rifat and his works, click here. To read the previous post which covered Sheikh Yūsufī Gharavī’s critique of the suspension of revelation (fatrah), click here.

The fourth chapter of sheikh Ma’rifat’s book discusses what are commonly referred to as asbāb al-nuzūl (causes of revelation) (s. sabab al-nuzūl). He defines a sabab al-nuzūl as, that which caused the Qurān to be revealed to address it2.

The asbāb al-nuzūl are typically documented in the form of narrations. The main work that is typically mentioned in the context of this subject is that of Wāhidī Nishapūrī (d. 468 AH/1076 AD) entitled, Asbāb al-Nuzūl al-Qurān. This work largely serves as the foundation of other Sunni works concerned with narrations of asbāb al-nuzūl such as Suyūtī’s (d. 911 AH/1505 AD), Lubāb al-Nuqūl fī Asbāb al-Nuzūl, which in addition to being largely composed of narrations taken from Wāhidī is also a much later work3.

As for Shia works, narrations related to the reason/cause for the revelation of certain verses can be found in the Four Books.

There are many examples of instances in which narrations of asbāb al-nuzūl aid one in understanding a verse of the Qurān. One such example which is often quoted in books about the Qurānic sciences is that of surah al-Baqrah, Verse 158 which is as follows: Continue reading “LQS 4: Asbāb al-Nuzūl – The Causes of Revelation”

  1. Maryam 19:95
  2. Ma’rifat, al-Tamhīd fī ‘Ulūm al-Qurān v. 1 pg. 267
  3. There is a lack of works written specifically about narrations related to asbāb al-nuzūl; for a more comprehensive survey of works related to asbāb al-nuzūl refer to, Andrew Rippin, The Exegetical Genre “asbāb al-nuzūl”: A Bibliographical and Terminological Survey

Āyatullah Jawadī on The Disjointed Letters

Āyatullah Jawadī on The Disjointed Letters

ن و القلم و ما يسطرون

Nun. By the Pen and what they write1

The following is an abridged translation of Āyatullah Jawadī Āmulī’s discussion concerning the hurūf al-muqatt’āt, the disjointed letters which are found at the beginning of some chapters of the Qurān.

Shaikh Jawadī begins his discussion by recounting some features related to the presence of these letters which are as follows:

  1. These letters are specific to the Qurān in so far as nothing similar to them is found in other divine books such as the Torah or Bible.
  2. The hurūf al-muqatt’āt are not specific to Meccan or Medinan chapters of the Qurān. There are 27 Meccan chapters and 2 Medinan chapters, a total of 29, that contain the hurūf al-muqatt’āt.
  3. The hurūf al-muqatt’āt at the beginning of chapters range from being 1-5 letters long such as;
    1. ق, ص, ن
    2. طس, یس
    3. الم, الر, طسم
    4. المص, المر
    5. كهيعص, حم عسق
  4. Some of the hurūf al-muqatt’āt have been counted as part of a verse, others as a complete verse and others as two verses.
  5. Some of the hurūf al-muqatt’āt have been repeated many times such as ص, which has been mentioned independently in sūrah Sād and in sura al-‘araf as part of المص. Other have only been mentioned once such as ن. Interestingly, حم has been mentioned 7 times and the chapters in which حم has been mentioned are collectively referred to as the “Hawāmīm al-sab’ah” (حواميم السبعة).
  6. There are 14 hurūf al-muqatt’āt (not counting repetitions) which are as follows; ي ,ه ,ن ,م ,ل ,ك ,ق ,ع ,ط ,ص ,س ,ر ,ح ,ا
  7. Some exegetes have mentioned the view that by organising the hurūf al-muqatt’āt in different ways, statements such as “صراط علي حق نمسكه” (The path of ‘Alī is the truth and we hold steadfast to it) or “علي حق نمسك صراطه” (‘Alī is the truth, we hold steadfast onto his path) can be formed2. Although this is an interesting point, there is no reliable proof for it. Ālūsī, after mentioning what the Shiites have formed using the hurūf al-muqatt’āt proposes other formations in favour of the ahl al-sunnah such as “صحّ طريقك مع السنة” (Your path is correct if in accordance with the sunnah(tradition))3.
    1. The lesson learned from this example that pertains to this or any discussion is that views and opinions which are offered should not be flawed; that is, they should be supported by either rational evidence or reliable textual evidence (from the Qurān or ahadith corpus).

Sheikh Jawadī then goes onto recount 20 different opinions concerning the interpretation of the hurūf al-muqatt’āt according to different exegetes. Continue reading “Āyatullah Jawadī on The Disjointed Letters”

  1. al-Qalam 68:1-2
  2. Bahrānī, al-Burhān fī Tafsīr al-Qurān v. 1 pg. 167
  3. Ālūsī, Rūh al-M’ānī v. 1 pg. 172

LQS 3.1: The Suspension of Revelation

LQS 3.1: The Suspension of Revelation
ص و القرآن ذي الذكر

By the Qur’an bearing the Reminder1

This post is the sixth in a series of summaries of Ayatollah Hādī Ma’rifat’s book entitled, Amūzish Ulūm Qurānī (Learning the Qurānic Sciences). For an introduction to Ayatollah Hādī Ma’rifat and his works, click here. To read the previous post which covered Sheikh Mufīd and Sadūq’s discussion concerning the revelation of the Qurān, click here.

The dialogue between Sheikh Sadūq and Mufīd provided sufficient context in terms of the discussion of how the Qurān came to be revealed. What is certain, from the previous discussion, is that whether or not the Qurān was revealed all at once, it was definitely revealed piecemeal. This is a fact upon which there is general agreement, and as sheikh Ma’rifat points out, the Qurān seems to be indicative of this as well in the following verse,

وَ قُرْءَانًا فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلىَ النَّاسِ عَلىَ‏ مُكْثٍ وَ نَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنزِيلا

We have sent the Qurān in [discrete] parts so that you may read it to the people a little at a time, and We have sent it down piecemeal2 3

Sheikh Ma’rifat focuses his discussion on this aspect of the revelation of the Qurān. His discussion centers around the question of when the revelation of the Qurān began and how long it continued for.

This is an interesting subject considering that there seem to be two dates to consider when discussing the beginning of revelation. The first is referred to as the mab’ath i.e. the beginning of the Prophet’s prophethood. There is a difference of opinions concerning the specific date of this event, sheikh Ma’rifat adopts a common view, claiming that this event occurred on the 27th of Rajab, when the Prophet was 40 years old4. It is famously narrated that the first five verses of Sūrah al-‘Alaq were revealed upon the Prophet on this occasion5. The other date that should be considered is that of the Qurān being revealed in Ramadhan which is indicated by many verses and narrations.

Sheikh Ma’rifat attempts to reconcile these two dates. But in order to do that, he first makes note of an important point. That is, Sheikh Ma’rifat asserts that the Qurān was revealed over the course of 20 years, as indicated by the narration mentioned in the previous post, which is as follows,

Hafs bin Ghiyāth narrates from Imam al-Sādiq,

“I asked him [Imam al-Sādiq] about what Allah has said in the Qurān, ‘The month of Ramadhān is that in which the Qurān was revealed…’6 whilst at the same time, Allah revealed the Qurān over 20 years from beginning to end.

Abū ‘Abdallah responded, ‘The Qurān was sent down as one piece in the month of Ramadhān to bayt al-ma’mūr7 and then sent down over a period of 20 years'”8

Now as sheikh Ma’rifat notes, mab’ath occurred when the Prophet was 40 and the Prophet passed away at the age of 63. This leaves a period of 23 years as the duration of the Prophet’s prophethood, whilst the narration claims that the Qurān was revealed for a period of 20 years. Continue reading “LQS 3.1: The Suspension of Revelation”

  1. Suād 38:1
  2. al-Isrā 17:106
  3. There is an apparent reason provided for the Qurān being revealed piecemeal as opposed to all at once within the Qurān. This is found in al-Furqān 25:32, “The faithless say, ‘Why has not the Qurān been sent down to him all at once?’ So it is, that We may strengthen your heart with it, and We have recited it (to you) in a measured tone”
  4. Sheikh Mufīd presents the same date in Masār al-Shī’ah pg.59, Tabarī mentions that the maba’th occurred while the prophet was at the age of 40; Tabarī, Jāmi’ al-Bayān fī Tafsīr al-Qurān v. 2 pg. 292
  5.  Al-Mas’ūdī, Murūj al-Dhahab v. 2 pg. 282
  6. al-Baqra 2:185
  7. Often translated as “the oft-frequented house”
  8. Kulaynī, Usul al-Kāfī v. 2 pg. 649