Critical Analysis: Qur'anic Grammar

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Islam: A Critical Analysis
By: S.T.
Ch.1: Burden Of Proof
Ch.2: Judaism and Islam
Ch.3: Imperfect Text
Ch.4: Qur'anic Grammar
Ch.5: What Others Say
Ch.6: Hypocrisy in Islam
Ch.7: Hell
Ch.8: Violence in Islam
Ch.9: Logical Fallacies
Ch.10: Women in Islam
Ch.11: Muhammad’s Wives
Ch.12: Inheritance Laws
Ch.13: Qur'anic Ethics
Ch.14: Existence of Allah
Ch.15: What is Prophecy?
Ch.16: Unclear Qur'an
Ch.17: The Need for Hadith?
Ch.18: Miscellaneous
Ch.19: Numerical Patterns in the Qur'an
Ch.20: Summary
Ch.20: Quotations
Ch.22: Further Reading

Amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims, a diversity of opinions exists regarding the Qur'an. How does the Qur'an view non-Muslims, other religions, women, violence and peace? What is the worldview of the Qur'anic author(s)? How are criminal penalties carried out? With so many divergent opinions, it is important (at least for those who speak Arabic) to use grammar and carefully read the Qur'an to understand it.

Polls often show that many people are ignorant of basic facts in history, geography, politics, math, science, grammar and other subjects. Likewise, the vast majority of those interested or immersed in Islam are not experts in Qur'anic grammar. One would then expect that a Divine book would be written for all or most people, not just the scholarly community.

But questions even arise as to how well many Qur'anic-grammar scholars understand Qur'anic grammar. Languages tend to be chaotic and grammarians tend to invent imperfect rules to explain the way a language is used. It is unrealistic to expect and futile to prove that grammar is a perfect science. Even scholars can disagree. And as many editors know, not all writers adhere to grammatical rules.

Diacritical marks and vowels were a later addition to the Qur'an and there is no way to prove that these were applied correctly. As previously discussed, there are reasons to suspect that the Qur'an has been altered. If one is serious about understanding the Qur'an, it is very important to study Qur'anic grammar, but its utility is limited.

Arabic is a 'defective' script: only consonants can be written with it, vowels are omitted. Furthermore, when the Qur'an was codified a script was used in which several consonants shared the same signs. Only 17 signs were used to write 28 consonants. Just 7 signs in this alphabet, called rasm, are unequivocal. About a century after the first compilation of the Qur'an the various consonants were distinguished by adding 'diacritical dots'. … Eventually, three centuries later, after some experimenting with systems for the notation of vowels, the vowels were also added.
Furthermore, the Qor’an contains sentences which are incomplete and not fully intelligible without the aid of commentaries; foreign words, unfamiliar Arabic words, and words used with other than their normal meaning; adjectives and verbs inflected without observance of the concords of gender and number; illogically and ungrammatically applied pronouns which sometimes have no referent; and predicates which in rhymed passages are often remote from their subjects. These and other such aberrations in the language have given scope to critics who deny the Qor’an's eloquence.
23 Years: A study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad
Ali Dashti, Mazda Publishers, p. 48

As soon as one is skeptical of the diacritical marks and vowels and one is open to the possibility of foreign languages such as Syriac, Hebrew and Ethiopic being in the Qur'an, the text becomes that much more elusive to interpret.

GERD-R. Puin speaks with disdain about the traditional willingness, on the part of Muslim and Western scholars, to accept the conventional understanding of the Koran. "The Koran claims for itself that it is 'mubeen,' or 'clear,'" he says. "But if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn't make sense. Many Muslims -- and Orientalists -- will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible -- if it can't even be understood in Arabic -- then it's not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not -- as even speakers of Arabic will tell you -- there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on."
What Is the Koran?
Toby Lester, The Atlantic, January 1999

The following discusses the grammatical principle called Iltifat. Having to resort to such grammatical rules implies a corrupt text.


We have seen how did the Muslim scholars invent pre-Islamic poetry, Hadith, and even imaginary words claiming them to be from foreign languages. We now turn to the last invention that won them the gold medal: Early Muslims as they wrestled with the various errors in the Qur'an, have advanced different reasons as to why they should not be errors. The early attempts to explain away the grammatical errors in the Qur'an relied on the performance of acrobatic feats in the field of grammar. The fact that these attempts differed indicate that some scholars were not content with others answers, which is an indication of idterab (perplexion). Dissatisfied with the different attempts that relied on the manipulation of grammatical rules some scholars have invented a sweeping new rule to fix most errors They called it iltifat. ...

Most of the authors who talk about iltifat use the examples from the Qur'an. No one seems to quote references in prose other than from the Qur'an: and indeed a sampling of hadith material found not a single instance.

The types of iltifatNewton and related features are of following types:

Changes in person, between 1st, 2nd and 3rd person, which is the most common and is usually divided into six kinds. The four important examples that are found in the Qur'an are: Transition from the 3rd to 1st person. This is the most common type. Over 140 instances can be found in the Qur'an.

From 1st to 3rd person - nearly 100 such instances can be found in the Qur'an.

From 3rd to 2nd person - nearly 60 instances.

From 2nd to 3rd person - under 30 instances.

Change in the number, between singular, dual and plural.

Change in the addressee.

Change in the tense of the verb.

Change in the case marker.

Using noun in the place of pronoun.
P. Newton, Answering Islam

The Qur'an is a book that impacts the entire society and not just its believers. It discusses the treatment of slaves, women, thieves, adulterers, non-believers, etc. So if the Qur'an is misinterpreted this will impact many people. A person might think that a person stole something and through an (mis)interpretation of the Qur'an amputates her hand.

People with ulterior motives, or who are not careful might impose their own values and biases onto a text. Therefore, to determine the true meaning of a text, one must adhere to the norms of grammar. Without this framework with regard to the Qur'an, one must rely on self-proclaimed Qur'anic experts, each claiming to have the truth while offering different opinions. Without a reliance on grammar, one can read almost anything into a text or manipulate the text to manipulate others. Since the Qur'an has such a major impact on society, society has a right to understand the grammatical principles underlying it, so the text is interpreted correctly.

When the Qur'an is interpreted by iltifat, one can read almost anything into it. Hence, even if it were a Divine text, it has at the very least, been manipulated by humans. The result makes the Quran sometimes seem vicious since -- at minimum – it is unclear about barbaric practices and this ambiguity leaves it open to human manipulation. Moreover, the Qur'anic author comes across as paranoid fighting against all sorts of people perceived as evil. Yet he would trust people to interpret this unclear book?

Many Muslims assume the Qur'an is a text from God, the current text is the same as the original, and that it is clear. Grammar is one way of testing this hypothesis. When one considers iltifat, it seems absurd to say that the text is clear and that it is a perfect text.

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