Internal Rhymes as Evidence for Old Hijazi
It has traditionally been taken for granted that the Qur'an was composed in Classical Arabic. But recent research, pioneered by Ahmad Al-Jallad of Ohio University and Marijn Van Putten of the University of Leiden, has shown that the Qur'an was actually composed in a different language, which they call Old Hijazi, the ancient vernacular dialect of the Hijaz region which includes Makkah and Medina.
Old Hijazi has two hallmarks that distinguishes it from classical Arabic and the Quranic reading traditions: The loss of Hamzah (glottal stop) (in Arabic ء) and the loss of nunation (the addition of an "N" sound) and final short vowels except in the genetive (possession-showing) noun construct form. In classical Arabic, final short vowels and nunation are only lost when the word is in a pausal position, i.e., when the word is at the end of utterance. This would mean that unlike classical Arabic, the original language of the Quran entirely lacked noun-final nunation and final short vowels except in the genetive construct form. This means that the last word in a sentence always lacks nunation and a final short vowel while all the words before it don’t lack them. A careful examination of the Quran reveals that if all words were treated in the same way as the words in pausal positions are treated, this would lead to the appearance of hundreds of hitherto unknown internal rhymes.
The Grammar of Pausal positions
A pausal position means the word at the end of an utterance such as the last word of a sentence or the last word uttered before pausing to take a breath. When a word is in a pausal position, it receives special treatment in Classical Arabic: Neither a final short vowel nor nunation can be attached to the word. For example:
هذا كتاب جديد hādhā kitābun jadīd (This is a new book)
In this example, the final short vowel ‘u’ and nunation 'n' are added to the word kitāb (book) making it “kitābun” (spelled in Arabic as kitāb since that nunation is not usually written). The endings are part of the i'rab إعراب, the Arabic system of noun cases markings. There are three possible cases, the nominative, genetive, and accusative. These cases indicate how the noun is used the sentence, either as a subject, an object of a preposition, or an object of a verb. These case endings are written in certain texts such as the Qur'an but are not necessary for understanding the sentence and as such in spoken forms of Modern Standard Arabic are usually omitted. They consist, mostly, of unwritten short vowels and thus are also not usually written except in certain texts such as the Qur'an. Grammatically, the word “jadīd” (new) should also receive the same “un” as it is in the nominative case, but since that the word “jadīd” is at the end of the sentence, “un” is not added (though the rules of grammar call for it, and it is written but not pronounced), which leaves the word in its original form: jadīd. If the sentence was just “This is a book”, then the final “un” will not be added to the word kitāb (book) because the word here is at a pausal position (the end of the sentence):
هذا كتاب hādhā kitāb. (This is a book).
Special Pausal forms
The dropping of final short vowels and nunation isn’t the only effect of pausal positions. Other effects include:
1-The feminine ending “ah” doesn’t change to “at”.
Most of Arabic singular feminine nouns and adjectives end with “ah”. As in: madrasah مدرسة (school). But when anything is attached to the end of these words, the final ‘ah’ turns into ‘at’. As in: madrasatī (my school). Final short vowels also cause the same effect:
المدرسة جديدة al-madrasatu jadīdah. (The school is new).
The word madrasah is the subject of this sentence so it received a final ‘u’ vowel. And since a short ‘u’ vowel was attached to the end of the word, the feminine ‘ah’ of “madrasah” turns into ‘at’: madrasatu. It is incorrect to pronounce the word with the noun case marking as “madrasahu”.
The feminine adjective jadīdah (new) is describing the word “madrasatu” so the word “jadīdah” should also receive the same final short vowel ‘u’ that the word “madrasah” received. But since that the word jadīdah is at the end of the sentence, it didn’t receive the final short vowel. And since that nothing was attached to the word, the feminine ‘ah’ doesn't change to ‘at’ so the word remained in its original form: Jadīdah. In the following example, the word jadīdah is not at the end of a sentence so it received a final short vowel which turned the feminine ‘ah’ into ‘at’:
المدرسة الجديدة كبيرة al-madrasatu l-jadīdatu kabīrah. (The new school is big)
Another effect of pausal positions include:
2- The “an” marker for the indefinite accusative becomes a long ‘a’ vowel. For example:
اشتريت كتابا جديدا ishtaraytu kitāban jadīdā. (I bought a new a book).
The word Kitāb is the object of the verb in the sentence so it receives a final ‘a’ vowel. The word is also indefinite so it also received nunnation, an ‘n’. The word “jadīd” describes the word “kitaban” so it should also receive the same final “an”, but since that the word is at the end of the sentence, the “an” is turned into a long ‘a’ vowel: jadīdā.
3- The dropping of the vowel of the third person masculine singular pronoun.
This final pronoun has four possible forms: hū, hu, hī or hi. But in pausal positions, this pronoun becomes a mere h. For example:
كتابه جديد Kitābuhū jadīd. (His book is new).
Kitābuhū (his book) has the final pronoun (his) as hū. But in a pausal position, this pronoun loses its vowel and becomes a mere ‘h’:
هذا كتابه Hādhā kitābuh. (This is his book).
Pausal positions in the Quran
Quranic recitation rules (Tajwīd تجويد ), as set out by Muslim scholars, state that during recitation one should avoid pausing at a non-pausal position except when the reciters runs out of air and needs to take a breath. To aid the reciter with this, modern prints of the Quran include marks showing where it’s possible to pause in the middle of a verse. The position of such a mark in a verse is determined based on the meaning and the grammar of the verse. For example, the following verse has four mid-verse pausal signs. You can notice that the pausal positions fit the meaning and context:
So if they argue with you, say, "I have submitted myself to Allah [in Islam], and [so have] those who follow me." (Pausal position) And say to those who were given the Scripture and [to] the unlearned, "Have you submitted yourselves?" (Pausal position) And if they submit [in Islam], they are rightly guided;(Pausal position) but if they turn away - then upon you is only the [duty of] notification. (Pausal position) And Allah is Seeing of [His] servants.
The pausal form as a spelling rule
There exists a mismatch between Arabic spelling and classical Arabic pronunciation. For example:
المدرسة جديدة al-madrasatu jadīdah (The school is new)
In Arabic, this sentence is spelled as if it were pronounced as al-Madrasah jadīdah. Meaning that the feminine ending of the word “madrasah” is written as an ‘h’ and not a ‘t’. If it was spelled with a ‘t’ then the sentence would be spelled like this: المدرست جديدة
كتابه جديد kitābuhū jadīd. (His book is new)
The two words are spelled as if they were pronounced as Kitābuh jadīd. The final long ‘u’ vowel attached to the ‘h’ isn’t spelled. If it was, then the sentence would look like this: كتابهو جديد
هذا كتاب جديد hādhā kitābun jadīd (this is a new book)
The word Kitābun is spelled as if it were pronounced as kitāb. The final short ‘u’ vowel cannot be spelled as Arabic doesn’t write short vowels. But the final ‘n’ can be written, yet nunation is never written in Arabic. If it was, then the sentence would look like this:
هذا كتابن جديد
Rather, Arabic orthography represents this nunnation via a doubling for the final short vowel:
كِتابٌ The final example for the mismatch between Arabic spelling and classical Arabic pronunciation is:
قرأت كتابا جديدا qaraʾtu kitāban jadīdā. (I have read a new book)
The word kitāban is spelled as if it were pronounced as kitābā. The “an” marker for the indefinite accusative is spelled as a long ‘a’ vowel (ā).
Arab grammarians tried to explain the mismatch between spelling and classical Arabic pronunciation by saying that every Arabic word is spelled as if the word was the first to be uttered and the last to be uttered. This rule explains why the alef of the definite article is always spelled although it’s only pronounced when it’s in the beginning of an utterance. It also explains all the previous mismatch examples:
المدرسة جديدة al-madrasatu jadīdah (The school is new):
In a pausal position, the feminine ending ‘h’ doesn’t turn into a ‘t’. The word “al-madrasatu” is not in a pausal position. But since that the rule says that every word must be written as if it was in a pausal position, the word al-madrasatu is spelled in Arabic as “al-madrasah” because that’s the pausal pronunciation.
hādhā kitābun jadīd (This is a new book) هذا كتاب جديد
Words in pausal positions don’t take nunation. So nunation is never spelled in any nunated word. That’s why the word kitābun is spelled in Arabic as “kitāb” although the word in the sentence isn’t in a pausal position.
قرأت كتابا جديدا qaraʾtu kitāban jadīdā. (I have read a new book)
In a pausal position, the “an” marker for the indefinite accusative is pronounced as a long ‘a’ vowel. That’s why the “an” has turned into a long ‘a’ vowel in the word “jadīdā” because the word is at the end of the sentence. The Arabic spelling of the word jadīdā matches its pronunciation. But the word kitāban is spelled as if it was in a pausal position: kitābā. Its pronunciation doesn’t match its Arabic spelling.
Historical linguists Marijn Van Putten and Phillip Stokes say:
Van Putten and Phillip Stokes challenge the pausal convention by two arguments:
A- The treatment of the final ī in the Quran is usually lost in pause, yet it’s kept in context. This means that the spelling of the Quran isn’t based on the pausal rule. Otherwise, the treatment of the final ī wouldn’t have changed between pausal and non-pausal positions.
B- Internal rhymes exist in the Quran that only show up if every word is pronounced in the pausal form. This means that what was thought to be a special treatment for the pronunciation of pausal words was actually the norm for almost all words in the original language of the Quran. The mismatch between the Quranic spelling and the Classical Arabic pronunciation is the result of imposing classical Arabic on a text that wasn’t written in Classical Arabic. The Quran was written in a language that Van Putten and Ahmad Al-Jallad call “Old Hijazi”.
Internal rhymes in the Quran
In the Quran, the last word of nearly every verse rhymes with the last words of the surrounding verses. Sometimes within the same verse, words in pausal positions rhyme with each other. But there are many cases where a word that’s in context (i.e., not in a pausal position) does rhyme with another word that’s either in a pausal position or in context. This type of rhyming was never noted by Muslim scholars despite the presence of obvious examples such as:
﴿وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ أَغْنَى وَأَقْنَى﴾ Quran 53:48
Classical Arabic: ʾaghnā wa ʾaqnā.
Old Hijazi: aghnē wa aqnē (the difference in pronunciation of the final letter in each word here reflects a difference between Classical Arabic and Old Hijazi as reconstructed by van Putten)
﴿لَوْ أَنْزَلْنَا هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ عَلَى جَبَلٍ لَرَأَيْتَهُ خَاشِعًا مُتَصَدِّعًا مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ﴾ Quran 59:21
Classical Arabic: khāshiʕan mutaṣaddiʕan. (The two words are in context)
Old Hijazi: khāshiʕā mutaṣaddiʕā.
﴿وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ﴾
Classical Arabic: al-baʾsāʾi wal-ḍarrāʾi
Old Hijazi: al-baʾsāʾ wal-ḍarrāʾ
This example occurs three times: Quran 2:177,Quran 6:42, Quran 7:94. It also occurs once in the nominative Quran 2:214 “al-baʾsāʾu wal-ḍarrāʾu”. In all these 4 occurrences, the two words were in context, not in pausal form. In Old Hijazi, the two words in the four instances are pronounced as: al-baʾsāʾ wal-ḍarrāʾ. Note that although Old Hijazi had lost the use of Hamzah/glottal stop, the Hamzah is still retained in a word-final position that is preceded by a long 'a' vowel.
The previous examples were internal rhymes that appear both in a classical Arabic pronunciation and in an Old Hijazi pronunciation. But when the Quran is read in Old Hijazi, hundreds of internal rhymes appear, which means that imposing classical Arabic on the Quran has led to the loss of hundreds of internal rhymes.
Old Hijazi internal rhymes
﴿نَاصِيَةٍ كَاذِبَةٍ خَاطِئَةٍ ﴾ )(A lying, sinning forelock.)
Classical Arabic pronunciation: nāṣiyatin kādhibatin khāṭiʾah.
The verse consists of three feminine indefinite words that are in the genitive case so all of them should take the suffix “in”. And since that a suffix is added to a feminine word, the feminine “ah” is turned into “at”:
nāṣiyah => nāṣiyatin
kādhibah => kādhibatin
As for the last word of the verse, it didn’t take the genetive “in” suffix because the word is at a pausal position, and thus the word stayed in its original form: khāṭiʾah (instead of khāṭiʾatin).
The three words are spelled in the Quran as: nāṣiyah kādhibah khāṭiyah. As discussed above, Arab grammarians claimed that this spelling is the result of the rule that every word is spelled in its pausal form. But if each of these words is pronounced in the pausal form, the result is that the three words would rhyme with each other:
nāṣiyah kādhibah khāṭiyah.
The internal rhyme is clear as all of the three words follow the same scheme:
Consonant + ā + consonant + i + consonant + ah
Marijn Van Putten and Phillip Stokes discovered a few more internal rhymes, including this general rhyming scheme:
Based on the evidence of internal rhymes in the Quran, Van Putten and Stokes concludes that the original language of the Quran had the following prominent features (inter alia) that set it apart from classical Arabic:
1- Lack of nunation.
2- Lack of final short vowels except in construct.
3- The feminine ending is always “ah” and it only turns to “at” in construct.
4- The indefinite accusative marker is always a long ‘a’ vowel.
5- The third person masculine singular pronoun is always a mere ‘h’ with no vowel attached to it.
More Old Hijazi internal rhymes in the Quran
Besides the above mentioned rhymes, Idris Al-Arabi has discovered a huge number of Old Hijazi internal rhymes that you can see here. These internal rhymes can be classified into two categories:
2-Verse-final attributes of Allah, which were already noted by Van Putten but without laying out every unique case of them. There are 32 unique Old Hijazi internal rhymes of this type, 284 with repetition.
Special Old Hijazi Internal Rhymes
Among the internal rhymes in the Quran, there are cases that show an unusual word choice by the Quran which clearly shows that these unusual words were chosen so that they form an internal rhyme.
﴿ أُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْكَفَرَةُ الْفَجَرَةُ﴾ Quran 80:42 “Those are the disbelievers, the wicked ones”
Old Hijazi pronunciation: humu l-kafarah al-fajarah
Classical Arabic pronunciation: humu l-kafaratu l-fajarah
The Quran uses two words for “disbelievers”: kāfirūn/kāfirīn (used 126 times) and kuffār (used 19 times). This verse is the only time the Quran uses the word “kafarah” for “disbelievers”. The reason for this is for the word to internally rhyme with the next word: al-fajarah (the wicked ones). Reading the verse in Classical Arabic ruins the rhyme between the two words and thus makes this unique choice for the word pointless:
humu l-kafaratu l-fajarah.
The last word cannot be pronounced “l-fajaratu” because it’s at the end of the verse and hence the ‘u’ marker for the nominative isn’t added. And since that nothing was added, the final feminine ‘h’ remains and doesn’t turn into a ‘t’.
The verse is spelled in the Qur'an as: humu l-kafarah al-fajararh. The classical Arabic pronunciation turns the feminine ending of the word “al-kafarah” into a ‘t’. So the word should be spelled with a ‘t’ الكفرت if it were spelled as it is pronounced. Yet the word in the Quran isn’t spelled with a ‘t’ in accordance with the claimed pausal spelling rule (and all other feminine nouns with this ending are likewise not spelled this way) which justifies the mismatch between the spelling of the Quran and the Classical Arabic pronunciation. Note how if the verse is read the same way it’s spelled then the two words rhyme with each other. This observation applies on all Old Hijazi internal rhymes except the ones where the classical Arabic pronunciation only adds final short vowels on words that don’t end with the feminine ‘ah’. In this special case there’s no mismatch between the classical Arabic pronunciation and the spelling as short vowels cannot be spelled in Arabic. An example of this is:
al-ʕalīm al-ḥakīm (Old Hijazi)
al-ʕalīmu l-ḥakīm (Classical Arabic)
In the following examples, the first word of the two internally rhyming words is a unique word that wasn’t used anywhere else in the Quran. Which shows that these unique words were chosen to form an internal rhyme with the next word:
Quran 21:90 ﴿إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ وَيَدْعُونَنَا رَغَبًا وَرَهَبًا ۖ وَكَانُوا لَنَا خَاشِعِينَ﴾
Old Hijazi: raghabā wa rahabā
Classical Arabic: raghaban wa rahabā
The word “raghab” wasn’t used anywhere else in the Quran. The two words are spelled in the Quran as: raghabā wa rahabā. The classical Arabic nunation of the word “raghab” isn’t written "raghaban رغبن" in accordance with the claimed pausal spelling rule. Note how if the two words are read the same way they are spelled then they rhyme with each other.
Quran 56:37﴿عُرُبًا أَتْرَابًا﴾
OH: ʕurubā atrābā
CA: ʕuruban ʾatrābā
The word “ʕurub” wasn’t used anywhere else in the Quran.
Quran 71:27 ﴿وَلَا يَلِدُوا إِلَّا فَاجِرًا كَفَّارًا ﴾
OH: fājirā kaffārā
CA: fājiran kaffārā
The word “fājir” wasn’t used anywhere else in the Quran.
Quran 77:32 ﴿إِنَّهَا تَرْمِي بِشَرَرٍ كَالْقَصْرِ﴾
OH: bisharar kal-qaṣar
CA: bishararin kal-qaṣar
The word “sharar” wasn’t used anywhere else in the Quran. Note: In the canonical readings, the final word is read “qaṣr”. But a number of non-canonical readings read it as “qaṣar” which makes it rhyme perfectly with the preceding word “sharar”. The final word of the next verse "ṣufr" is non-canonically read as ṣufur.
Quran 104:1 ﴿وَيْلٌ لِكُلِّ هُمَزَةٍ لُمَزَةٍ ﴾
OH: humazah lumazah
CA: humazatin lumazah
The word “humazah” wasn’t used anywhere else in the Quran.
﴿مِنْ شَرِّ الْوَسْوَاسِ الْخَنَّاسِ﴾Quran 114:4
OH: min sharri l-waswās al-khannās
CA: min sharri l-waswāsi l-khannās
The word “waswās” wasn’t used anywhere else in the Quran.
Classes of Old Hijazi internal rhymes
1- Individual instances. This includes 78 unique examples (96 with repetition) where the rhyming words share identical final consonants. As for examples where the rhyming words don't share identical final consonants, they were so many that only the strongest 17 unique instances were counted, however there are many more than this.
2- Verse-final attributes of Allah. The majority of internal rhymes in the Quran fall under this type. Of this type, there are 7 (50 with repetition) examples where the rhyming words share identical final consonants. As for examples where the rhyming words don't share identical final consonants, there are 25 unique ones, 234 counting repeated occurrences.
Verse-final attributes of Allah
Verse-final attributes of Allah are used in the endings of hundreds of verses as a poetic device to form easy rhymes. These verse-final attributes consist of two words that rhyme with each other in Old Hijazi, while the second word of the pair rhymes with the last words of the surrounding verses both in Old Hijzai and classical Arabic. The majority of verse-final rhymes in the Quran fall under an easy type of rhyme that takes advantage of the fact that regular plural nouns and adjectives in Arabic end with ūn/īn and that verbs that are conjugated for masculine plural end with ūn. Since that in the language of the Quran ū rhymes with ī, Quranic rhymes freely alternate between ūn and īn. In this rhyming scheme, when a verse doesn’t end with a plural masculine noun or a plural masculine adjective or a verb conjugated for masculine plural, the Quran takes advantage of the fact that many emphatic forms in Arabic end with īC/ūC (C stands for consonant). So the Quran adds an emphatic attribute of God to the end of the verse and thus the verse ends with a rhyme that fits the surrounding verses. For example:
Surah no.6 follows an ūn/īn rhyme that’s mostly based on regular plural nouns and verbs conjugated for masculine plural. Verse no. 83 says:
“That was Our argument with which We equipped Abraham against his people. We raise, in degrees of rank, whom We will.”
The word nashāʾ (we will) doesn’t fit the rhyme of the surrounding verses. So the Quran employs the poetic device of using two attributes of God with the last attribute fitting the rhyme of the verses, and so the Quran adds to the end of the verse:
“Verily, your Lord is Wise, Knowing.”.
The Arabic word for "Knowing" is ʕalīm which rhymes with the final word of the preceding verse: muhtadūn, and rhymes with the final word of the following verse: muḥsinīn. The word ʕalīm was used in the same manner in 44 verses. But the Quran usually doesn’t only use one word as an attribute of God in the ending of verses. The Qur'an when giving Allah an epithet usually uses a pair of two words that form an internal rhyme with each other while the second word of the pair forms an external rhyme with the final words of the surrounding verses. All the internal rhymes of verse-final attributes of God disappear if they are read in classical Arabic. Take for example حكيم عليم “Wise, Knower” which was used in the ending of 15 verses:
Old Hijazi: ḥakīm ʕalīm
Classical Arabic: ḥakīmun ʕalīm
Other examples of verse-final attributes of Allah that form Old Hijazi internal rhymes:
Note that in the rhyming of verse-final words (external rhymes), the Quran usually alternates between ūn and īn, which means that in the language of the Quran, ū rhymes with ī. Thus it’s natural to see internal rhymes such as غفور رحيم ghafūr raḥīm.
You can see the full list of examples here
Old Hijazi Internal Rhymes in Hadith
Hadith was written down in the second and third Islamic centuries, the same period that Arab grammarians wrote their first works. In their works there’s no mention of any variety of Arabic that lacks nunation and final short vowels. Yet the Hadith tradition has many internal rhymes that only appear if nunation and final short vowels were dropped. This leads to the same conclusion that Van Putten reaches based on the study of pre-Islamic Arabic varieties and the early Arabic texts written in scripts other than Arabic. He says:
Examples of Old Hijazi internal rhymes in Hadith
The first example is from the seven aḥruf Hadith listed in a huge number of Hadith sources. The two rhyming words in this Hadith always come at a possible pausal position and sometimes at the end of the Hadith, such as:
Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaybah. Dar Al-Taj. vol.6 p.137
نَزَلَ الْقُرْآنُ عَلَى سَبْعَةِ أَحْرُفٍ كُلٌّ شَافٍ كَافٍ
Old Hijazi: shāf kāf
Classical Arabic: shāfin kāf, or shāfin kāfī
Sahih Muslim. Matbaʿat Isa Al-Babi. vol.1 p.412
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْمَأْثَمِ وَ الْمَغْرَمِ.
Old Hijazi: al-mātham wal-maghram
Classical Arabic: al-maʾthami wal-maghram
Sunan Ibn Majah. Dar Al-Risalah Al-ʿilmiyyah. vol.5 p.17
اللَّهمَّ إنِّي أسألُكَ مِنَ الخيرِ كلِّهِ عاجلِهِ وآجلِهِ ، ما عَلِمْتُ منهُ وما لم أعلَمْ ، وأعوذُ بِكَ منَ الشَّرِّ كلِّهِ عاجلِهِ وآجلِهِ ، ما عَلِمْتُ منهُ وما لم أعلَمْ
Old Hijazi: ʕājilih wa ājilih
Classical Arabic: ʕājilihī wa ʾājilih
For more examples see this article
- Marijn van Putten. Quranic Arabic: From Its Hijazi Origins to Its Classical Reading Traditions. Brill. pp. 216. ISBN 978-90-04-50624-4. OCLC 1280309082, 2022. https://books.google.com/books?id=HDG5zgEACAAJ.
- Ahmad Al-Jallad. The Damascus Psalm Fragment . 2020. p59
- Ghanim Qadduri, rasm al-miṣḥaf, p.67
- Marijn Van Putten & Phillip Stokes. Case in the Quranic Consonantal Text. 2018. p.14
- "Dissimilation of ē to ā in the Qurʾānic Consonantal Text", Marijn van Putten, "Dissimilation of ē to ā in the Qurʾānic Consonantal Text", academia.edu, https://www.academia.edu/90427143/Dissimilation_of_%C4%93_to_%C4%81_in_the_Qur%CA%BE%C4%81nic_Consonantal_Text
- Marijn Van Putten & Phillip Stokes. Case in the Quranic Consonantal Text. 2018. p.12.
- Marijn Van Putten. Case in the Quranic Consonantal Text. p.13
- Abdul Latif Al-Khatib. Muʕjam al-qirāʾāt. dar sad al-din. vol.10 p.248, 251, معجم القراءات لعبد اللطيف الخطيب، دار سعد الدين
- Abdul Latif Al-Khatib. Muʕjam al-qirāʾāt. dar sad al-din. p.251