Iltifat

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Iltifat (التفات, iltifaat), also known as grammatical shift or grammatical errors, refers to cases where the Quranic text doesn't follow the rules of grammar or makes some strange grammatical change for no apparent reason.

The apologetic interpretation is that the so called "iltifat" is intentional and that it makes the Quran better. And the critical interpretation is either that the author of the Quran made mistakes or that the Quran was poorly preserved.

In pronouns

The Quran in some verses switches pronouns in a strange way.

Change from 1st to 2nd person

This example is debatable. In the verse 36:22 a man asks his people:

And why should I not worship He who created me and to whom you will be returned?


It would make more sense to say "who created me and to whom I will be returned". But if he was created and they will be returned that sounds like he and them are in 2 categories, one was created and the second will return.

But it was also interpreted as "why should I not worship He who created me" being the reason for the belief and "and to whom you will be returned" as a warning to the people. Although from the verse it doesn't sound like warning, it looks more like "you will be returned" is connected to the "why should I not worship".

Change from 1st to 3rd person

In this verse it cannot be clearly seen in the translation (Sahih International):

Say, [O Muhammad], "O mankind, indeed I am the Messenger of Allah to you all, [from Him] to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. There is no deity except Him; He gives life and causes death." So believe in Allah and His Messenger , the unlettered prophet, who believes in Allah and His words, and follow him that you may be guided.

Arabic doesn't have capital letters and the Arabic Quran doesn't have punctuation. So the "raw" text would be:

say o mankind indeed I am the messenger of allah to you all to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth there is no deity except him he gives life and causes death so believe in allah and his messenger the unlettered prophet who believes in allah and his words and follow him that you may be guided

So it begins by "I am the messenger" (1st person) but ends up referring to himself in the 3rd person ("his messenger the unlettered prophet who believes in allah..").

As we've seen, translators "solved" (interpreted) it by adding quotation marks. "He gives life and causes death" is the speech of Muhammad (which god commanded him to say) and "So believe in Allah and His Messenger" is the speech of.. Allah?? They're both mentioned in the 3rd person, so who's speaking here? Also there's no reason to break the two parts, it would make sense to say it together: "He gives life and causes death, so believe in Allah and His messenger".

Change from 3rd person to 1st person

This example is clear. "We" refers to Allah in 1st person, although Allah was in 3rd person in the beginning:

And it is Allah who sends the winds, and they stir the clouds, and We drive them to a dead land and give life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness. Thus is the resurrection.


Change from 3rd person to 2nd person

Again it's not easy to see it in the translation, but the people are referred to as "they", but then then next verse says to them "you". The "[And it will be said]" and quotation marks were added by translators:

76:21 Upon the inhabitants will be green garments of fine silk and brocade. And they will be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord will give them a purifying drink.

76:22 [And it will be said], "Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated."


Without the translation patch it would be just "and they will be adorned.. indeed this is for you a reward".

Change from 2nd person to 1st person

This example is debatable. "The Lord" is in the 3rd person the whole time. The difference is only in the possessive pronouns:

And ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him. Indeed, my Lord is Merciful and Affectionate."


It would make more sense to say "Indeed, your Lord is Merciful and Affectionate".

Change from 2nd person to 3rd person

Again, translators added quotation marks to resolve it:

43:70 Enter Paradise, you and your kinds, delighted."

43:71 Circulated among them will be plates and vessels of gold. And therein is whatever the souls desire and [what] delights the eyes, and you will abide therein eternally.


In verbs

Change from past tense to command

Again, it can't be seen in the translation (Sahih International):

Say, [O Muhammad], "My Lord has ordered justice and that you maintain (أمر ربي بالقسط وأقيموا وجوهكم) yourselves [in worship of Him] at every place [or time] of prostration, and invoke Him, sincere to Him in religion." Just as He originated you, you will return [to life] -


It doesn't say in present tense "you maintain", but it's imperative "maintain!" (أقيموا) [1]. ٍSo it's "My lord ordered justice and maintain yourselves", which is strange.

Change from present tense to command

"I call Allah to witness" is followed by a command "witness!" (the "[yourselves]" was added by translators):

..He said, "Indeed, I call Allah to witness, and witness [yourselves] (أشهد الله واشهدوا) that I am free from whatever you associate with Allah


It would be more natural to say "I call Allah to witness and I call you to witness" (أشهد الله واشهدكم).

Change from past tense to present

Sahih International translation patched it:

And We did certainly give Moses the Torah and followed up after him with messengers. And We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the Pure Spirit. But is it [not] that every time a messenger came to you, [O Children of Israel], with what your souls did not desire, you were arrogant? And a party [of messengers] you denied and another party you killed. (فريقا كذبتم وفريقا تقتلون)


In reality "you denied" is in the past, but "you killed" is actually in the present: "you kill" (تقتلون).

Yusuf Ali made a more precise translation:

We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?- Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay!


The Sahih International translation "a party [of messengers] you denied and another party you killed" (with both verbs in the past) would make more sense, but it's not in the Quran.

Change from present tense to past

This one can't be seen in the translation at all:

And [warn of] the Day the Horn will be blown (ينفخ), and whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth will be terrified (ففزع) except whom Allah wills. And all will come to Him humbled.


It seems that the verbs are both in future tense, however, the first one is in the present [2] and the second in the past [3]. So "the day the horn is blown, they were terrified".

See also

References