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Arabic Qur'an? Or is it a Syriac Qeryana?

Reader comment on item: Uncovering Early Islam
in response to reader comment: Non-Arabic Quran?

Submitted by dhimmi no more (United States), Jul 12, 2012 at 21:27

Hi WmarkW

... This question is specifically about Robert Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist, and related secular history of the Quanic period.

I'm assuming that you read the book

One of the most obvious features of the Quran is how much the Mecca suras differ from the Medina ones in both style and content.

This is true. However what is most surprising is that the ulama that wrote the great commentaries in distant Mesopotamia in the 3rd century of Islam realized early on the Qur'an is a confused and confusing book and in the words of Gred Puin of al-San3a Mosque the Qur'an does not make any sense and that if you read it in isolation without reading the great commentaries written in the 3rd century, then it does not make any sense. What is indeed very strange is that you cannot even reconstruct the life of Muhammad by reading the Qur'an only.

The Ulama also realized that the Qur'an is full of mistakes in Arabic grammar and mistakes in spelling of perfect Arabic and it has its share of foreign words and strange words that have no meaning but they also noticed that one can split the Qur'an into two sections one less strident and more spiritual and a second part that is filled of the kill the this and slay the that and they had no clue about the why would it be this way. And here are more details http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/195711

Now the only sure date in the history of early islam is the year 622CE which was called in the extant non Muslim sources as the year of the Arab kings and then we do not hear about this hijra until the 3rd century of islam and then et voila we are told by the historicizing Islamic historical tradition that this is the year of the Hijra or the immigration of the Praisworthy (aka Muhammad) but I suspect that the year 622CE was viewed as the year of the divide between two styles of writing. And the first is the so called Mecca period and the second is the so called Medina period

Now if you read let us say Q53 and I urge you to check it in Arabic and you will find that it has very short verses then out of nowhere Q53:32 sticks out as a sore thumb as it is long and awkward and very different from the almost poem like rest of the sura and this was indeed a puzzle to the masorites and you can find many explanations in the tradition and among them that it was an interpolation but we also read that inspite of the fact that Q53 is a Meccan sura but Q53:32 is really a Medina verse! Go figure

So you see the split between Meccan and Medina suras is not as easy as you would expect

They don't seem to represent the same body of thought.

I wish the answer would be this simple. I agree with Puin that the Qur'an is really a melange of texts that we do not have anymore and many of them pre-date Muhammad

I do not believe that the Qur'an was canonized or even regarded as an authoritative text during the time of Abd al-Malik and here is one of the reasons http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/195726

A Judeo-Christian reader would have no trouble accepting the former as an implementation of Abrahamic monotheism in a particular cultural setting.

I'm not sure I can agree with you but I will leave this for later on

The latter is more a political polemic to justify the conquests of the Umayyad Dynasty, and IMO was likely written at that time (~690).

I do happen to believe that the Umayyads were Christian Arabs and that islam as we know it now did not emerge until the time of al-Khalifa al-Ma'muun and not any earlier and it was also the time that the Christian Arab tribes in Mesopotamia and the Syrian desert were forced to convert to what was to became Islam

If the above is correct, we should expect the Umayyad material to have been written in modern Arabic;

This is far from the truth the Arabic language did not become stable before the masoritic activity and if you read the inscriptions of al-Masjid al-Aqsa and if you read the chancery papyri of the umayyads you will realize that the Arab language had some long way to go and even in the 9th century the masorites were still debating the many grammatical mistakes and spelling of perfect Arabic words and here is a case in point


And as you can see that al-Tabari was still struggling with Arabic grammar and the much celebrated Quranic grammatical mistake in hadhan lasahiran which means that even this early the Ulama were still working in understanding Arabic grammar and explaining what this opaque revelation is really saying

and the issue of awkward Syriac translation that Spencer discusses in the chapter A Non-Arabic Quran should appear primarily in the Mecca suras.

Not really. An example would be surat al-ikhlas which is a Medina sura and you can read this http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/194230 and you will realize that the most important word in the sura 'ahad' is really a loan word from Syriac (it is also a Hebrew word but it is not an Arabic word for one as the word one in Arabic is WAHID and not AHAD and notice that this is a Median sura but it has its share of Syriac/Hebrew word and words that do not make any sense (al-samad) and why would it be this way?

Is this correct?

I wish it was this simple

That the issue of awkward translation is confined to Mecca suras, as if written by a different people at a different time; and the Medina suras are in a more "pure and clear" Arabic,

There is nothing "pure Arabic" about the Qur'an not in the Meccan or the Medina Suras

as if written originally in that language.

Well I believe that any book the language of the book and the grammar of the language of the book is a function of a point in time and a cultural and linguistic milieu of that time period. The most important language in the late antique Middle East at the time of the Arab invasion was Syriac and I suspect that if the Qur'an was written now it would have its share of English words as it is the alpha language now so it should not be surprising to find Syriac words and grammar in the Qur'an but the real question is as was posed by Wellhausen is how much of the Qur'an is really in Arabic?

I hope I helped


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