Verse 1 – Sūrat al-Ṣaff | Grammatical Analysis

Verse 1 – Sūrat al-Ṣaff | Grammatical Analysis


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…


Most discussions by grammarians on this verse focus on the role of the preposition (ḥarf) li on lafẓ al-jalālah (the ism/“noun” Allah). Lafẓ al-jalālah is taken to be the direct object (maf’ūl) of the verb سبّح, however Arabic dictionaries have documented that the verb is used along w ith its direct object without any preposition whatsoever. The following is an entry in Miṣbāḥ al-Munīr that establishes this.

التَّسْبِيحُ: التقديس و التنزيه، يقال سبّحت اللّه أي نزّهته عمّا يقول الجاحدون، و يكون بمعنى الذكر و الصلاة، يقال: فلان يُسَبِّحُ اللّه أي يذكره بأسمائه

In the above entry, the verb سبّح is used without any preposition. Since the verb does not seem to need any preposition in order to have a direct object, grammarians and exegetes naturally attempt to determine the purpose of the preposition in this verse.

There are generally two explanations offered for the preposition here. One is that it is zāid (extra – generally without any meaning). In explaining this, some scholars argue that the lām strengthens the bond between the verb and the direct object. This explanation is relatively unclear, but regardless in accordance with this view the lām would not bring any meaning to the verse apart from, perhaps, some “emphasis”.

The other understanding is that the lām here is lām al-ta’līl, that is, it indicates the cause of the glorification. This lām would roughly be translated as “because of” in this context. Therefore, the verse would be translated as “Whatever there is in the heavens and earth glorifies because of Allah”. The preposition here signifies the cause of the occurrence of the glorification.

According to this view, the direct object of the verb سبّح has not been mentioned. As seen in the above translation, it is not clear what is being glorified. Some scholars have presumed that another instance of the word “Allah” is hidden (in taqdīr) and is the direct object of the verb. In accordance with this view, the translation of the verse would be as follows, “Whatever there is in the heavens and earth glorifies [Allah] because of Allah”.

Below is a passage from al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ by Abū Ḥayyān with a summary of this discussion.

و اللام في‏ لِلَّهِ‏، إما أن تكون بمنزلة اللام في: نصحت لزيد، يقال: سبح اللّه، كما يقال؛ نصحت زيدا، فجي‏ء باللام لتقوية وصول الفعل إلى المفعول؛ و إما أن تكون لام التعليل، أي أحدث التسبيح لأجل اللّه، أي لوجهه خالصا.

As a side note, most discussions on the role of this lām do not actually take place under the exegesis of this particular verse because the exact same verse already occurred in the Qurān (Al-Ḥashr 59:1) and a very similar verse occurred even before that (Al-Ḥadīd 57:1). As such, most discussions take place under the first verse of sūrat al-Ḥadīd.

Verse 1 Part 2


Translation (Qarāī)

…and He is the All-mighty, the All-wise


There is another smaller discussion pertaining to the wāw at the end of the discussion. The QAS takes the wāw here to be wāw isti’nāfīyah. That is, the wāw acts almost like a period in Engish, it signifies another statement. However, it is completely plausible to understand the wāw as ḥālīyah. Many exegetes have also adopted this view. In this case, the translation would be rendered “While he is the All-mighty, the All-wise”. That is, Allah is praised by all things while he is simultaneously as such.

  1. Images have been taken from the QAS’s syntactic treebank,

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

An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qurān

An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qurān
سبحانک لا علم لنا الا ما علمتنا

Glory be to thee, We have no knowledge except for that which you have taught us[1]

For a while now I have wanted to briefly introduce some of the different subjects that are discussed and researched as a means to understand the Qurān. However, practically I have found this task very difficult due to numerous reasons, one of them being simply because of the numerous subjects that are associated with the Qurān[2]. Anyhow, my goal here is to introduce merely some of the numerous subjects that are critical to one’s understanding of the Qurān.

1. Exegesis of the Qurān (Tafsir)

Perhaps the most widely studied subject in relation to the Qurān is that of exegesis. Exegesis is sometimes defined as, “Attempting to understand the intent of Allah in accordance to the capabilities of human beings”[3]. That is, exegesis is an attempt to understand the intended meaning of Allah within the Qurān while taking into account that man is a limited being and is not necessarily capable of perceiving the depths of the meanings within the Qurān. Throughout history, exegesis has been the subject of a lot of debate and discussion and literally thousands of exegeses (tafasir) have been written in attempting to convey understood meanings of the Qurān. Continue reading “An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qurān”