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Quran and Sunnah

The Arabic Qur’ān and Foreign Words


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quran_foreign.jpg“And if We had made this a foreign Qur’ān, they would have said, ‘Why are its verses not clarified? What! A foreign [book] and an Arab [prophet]?!’” Al-Qur’ān 41:44

It is an indisputable fact that the Qur’ān uses ‘foreign vocabulary’, that is to say, vocabulary that was adopted into the Arabic language of the Qur’ān as loanwords derived from Aramaic, Syriac, Ethiopian, Hebrew, Greek, and other languages, but already understood in the Meccan and Medinan environment of Muhammad’s time. Many of these loanwords are taken from their liturgical usage in the Jewish-Christian tradition. It is equally indisputable that the Qur’ān includes many passages that have their parallels in biblical or extra-biblical narratives. How do you critically assess these phenomena of the Qur’ān in view of the claim that the Qur’ān is divine revelation, word for word?

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Due to the multi-layered question, this response will be divided into three parts.1

1. The Issue of Foreign Words

The controversy regarding the presence of foreign words in the Qur’ān is an ancient one, and although modern scholarship can claim that this fact is indisputable, it was certainly not so in the eyes of some early Muslims.

The famous Andalusian exegete, Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Qurtubī (d. 671/1272), summarized the controversy in the introduction to his Tafsīr. He stated that the scholars of Islam have unanimously agreed that there are no non-Arabic sentences or phrases in the Qur’ān, and they have also agreed that there are non-Arabic proper names such as ‘Jesus’ (‘Īsā), Gabriel (Jibrīl) and ‘Noah’ (h). However, they differed into two groups regarding the presence of solitary foreign words in the Qur’ān.2

The controversy, of course, pre-dates al-Qurtubī by a few centuries. On the one hand were those who claimed that there were no foreign words in the Qur’ān, the most prominent amongst them being the jurist al-Shāfi’ī (d. 204/819), and also the exegete al-Tabarī (d. 310/922). They claimed that any word found in another language did not necessitate its origination in that language, for it could be the case that the other language took it from Arabic, or that both languages used those words simultaneously.3 The former, in his famous al-Risālah, has some harsh words for the followers of this opinion, and considered those who claimed that the Qur’ān has foreign words in it as being ignorant, bereft of wisdom and knowledge.4 Their concern, as they quite clearly delineate, was that the Qur’ān describes itself, in almost a dozen verses (e.g. Q. 16:103, 12:2, and 42:7) as being in pure Arabic, hence how could it be claimed that it contained foreign words? They also felt that, in accordance with the Qur’ānic principle that all prophets are sent speaking their native tongues, an Arab prophet would have to speak in Arabic to them. A third reason why such great consternation was felt, as the grammarian Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1004) stated, was due to the fact that if there were non-Arabic words in it, it would be unfair to challenge the Arabs to produce a work similar to it, as the Qur’ān does.5

It is poignant to note that there does not seem to be any indication in the writings of these early and even medieval scholars that admitting the existence of foreign vocabulary in the Qur’ān might somehow challenge its claim of Divine origin or expose it to allegations of ‘foreign’ influence. Rather, for them, it was a matter of reconciling specific verses that they presumed contradicted the assertion that foreign words existed in it.

On the other hand, quite a few early authorities seemed to have no problem acknowledging the foreign vocabulary of the Qur’ān. In particular the Companion Ibn ‘Abbās has much narrated from him in this regard (whether it can be deemed authentic or not is another question). The prolific al-Suyūtī (d. 911/1505) wrote the largest work of its kind in Arabic, entitled al-Muhadhab fī ma waqa’a fī al-Qur’ān min al-mu’arrab, in which he compiled around five dozen such examples. For al-Suyūtī, the few examples of non–Arabic words found in the Qur’ān did not negate its overall Arabic nature, hence there was no conflict with this and the verses describing it as being an Arabic revelation.

A third group of scholars tried to reconcile the two positions by claiming that there was an element of truth in both of them. The early linguist Abū ‘Ubayd al-Qāsim b. Sallām (d. 224/838) is the first that I know of who claimed that both of these groups were correct; he stated that the origin of some Qur’ānic words is indeed foreign, but they were introduced into Arabic, as is the case with any language, and were Arabicised by replacing their letters with Arabic letters, and eventually were incorporated into Arabic poetry and culture, such that for all practical purposes they could be considered Arabic.6 Al-Zarkashī (d. 794/1391), whose work al-Burhān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān is almost universally acknowledged as the greatest mediaeval work on the sciences of the Qur’ān, also leaned towards this position, as did al-Suyūtī in his other work, al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān. Some proponents of this camp quoted the ‘father’ of Arabic grammar, Sībawayh (d. 180/796) himself, who wrote in his al-Kitāb that non-Arabic words could become Arabic if one substituted Arabic letters for the foreign ones, and then appended it to a known morphological form (wazn).7 The exegete Ibn ‘Atiyyah (d. 541/1147), in his al-Muharrar summarized his position regarding this issue when he stated that there is no doubt that Arabs interacted with other civilizations, through trade and other journeys, and in the process they took some of their words and introduced them into the common vernacular of the Arabs, such that they began to be used in their lectures and poetry, and this was the state of affairs when the Qur’ān was revealed with these words. It is this third opinion which is now almost universally acknowledge as valid by Muslim specialists in the field, and all the modern works that are written in the field of ‘ulūm al-Qur’ān’ reflect this.

As a final point, the fact that words of non-Arab origin are undeniably found in pre-Islamic poetry (in particular, the ‘Seven Hanging Odes’) clearly shows that Arabs, like all cultures, took specific phrases from other languages and incorporated them into their own.

Mention must be made here of the seminal work on this field in Western scholarship, and that is Arthur Jeffery’s The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān (Brill, 2007). There is no doubt that this masterpiece of scholarship outshines anything else written on the subject, however, at the same time, it cannot be taken as the final authority on each and every word that it lists. Rather, it serves as an indispensable index to see which words might possibly qualify as being non-Arabic in origin. What sets Jefferey’s work head and shoulders above all other works is that he specifically links each alleged foreign word back to its original language, be it Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, or other.8

2. The Issue of Judaeo-Christian Influence on the Qur’ān

It is a given fundamental amongst non-Muslims, be they Christian, Jew, or secular, that Muhammad composed the Qur’ān from whatever sources were available to him, in particular Judaeo-Christian sources. And it is just as much a fundamental amongst Muslims (by definition!) that the Qur’ān was a revelation from God.

The earliest modern researcher who sought to methodologically prove this claim was Abraham Geiger, who published his Was had Mohammed aus dem Judenthem aufgenommen in 1833 (translated as Judaism and Islam). This was followed by a flood of writings on the topic, such as those of Wilhelm Rudolph, Tor Andrae, Richard Bell, and C. C. Torrey. In particular, the Scottish Orientalist William Muir (d. 1905) did much to lay the foundations of this viewpoint.

Muir maintained that the Prophet had obtained his knowledge of Judaism and Christianity via the followers of those religions who lived in the Hijaz, and who visited the ‘Ukādh fairs, as well as having learnt about them via his own journeys to Syria. Claims Muir, “We may be certain that Mahomet lost no opportunity of enquiring into the practices and tenets of the Syrian Christians or of conversing with the monks and clergy who fell in his way.” Muir laments that the Prophet was exposed to a distorted and faulty view of Christianity, for had he been given the correct understanding of the religion instead of ‘…the misnamed catholicism of the Empire,’ he would have instead converted to it rather than misleading others through a new faith.9

W. Montgomery Watt, taking the ideas of Muir a step further, claimed that one of the theses of his book Muhammad at Mecca is that the greatness of Islam is largely due to a fusion of some Arab elements with certain Judaeo-Christian conceptions. He also posits (p. 27), based upon Q. 16:103, that there was a ‘monotheist informant’ of the Prophet. For Watt, the Prophet intentionally launched a new monotheistic religion in order to avoid the political implications of adopting Judaism or Christianity (p. 38).

H. A. R. Gibb, in his Muhammadanism: A Historical Survey, puts forward another possibility concerning the sources of the Qur’ān. In view of the close commercial relation between Mecca and Yemen, he states, it would be natural to assume that some religious ideas were carried to Mecca with the caravans of spices and woven stuffs, and there are details of vocabulary in the Qur’ān which give color to this assumption.10 The Lebanese Philip K. Hitti wrote that the sources of the Qur’ān are unmistakably Christian, Jewish and Arab heathen, and that what Muhammad did was to Islamise, Arabicise and nationalize the material.11 Richard Bell, in his The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment, opines that much of the Qur’ān is directly dependent on the Bible (p. 42), yet also admitted that there was no evidence of any seats of Christianity in the Hijāz, and especially in Mecca and Medina (p. 100). The more modern Kenneth Cragg, while conceding the Christian influence on the Qur’ān, opines: “The Biblical narratives reproduced in the Qur’ān differ considerably and suggest oral, not direct acquaintance. There is almost complete absence of what could be claimed as direct quotation from the Bible.”12

And the quotes go on and on. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states quite correctly, regarding the divine origins of the Qur’ān:13

Non-Moslem scholarship has taken a different view of the matter. It has nearly always held that the major influences on Mohammed must have been principally, but not exclusively, Jewish and Christian, and that those influences were colored by Mohammed’s own character and made over to conform to aspects and need of the pre-Islamic Arabian mind.

It later goes on to claim that it was highly likely that the Prophet had access to the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity.

The connection between the foreign vocabulary of the Qur’ān and its alleged foreign sources is obvious, as the quotation from Gibb above hints at. Arthur Jefferey’s work, mentioned above as well, is a perfect illustration of this frame of mind. He states factually that “…it is plain that Muhammad drew his inspiration…from the great monotheistic religions which were pressing down into Arabia of his day.“14 Based on this premise, he then asserts that researching the foreign vocabulary of the Qur’ān will allow us to understand the influences and sources that Muhammad used to come up with his religion.15 Jefferey then proceeds to lay out how Muhammad might have had possible access to Ethiopic, Persian, Greek, Syrian, Hebrew, Nabataean and Indian sources, how he had ‘…close contact with the Syrian Church,’ how he attempted to purchase information from the Jews, was possibly taught Coptic legends from his slave-girl, and was inspired by the success and might of the Byzantine and Persian Empires to lead the Arabs to higher levels of civilization.16

3. The View From Within: Muslim Responses

For Muslims, such a view as expressed by Jefferey and others is inherently biased. Many of the earlier generation of Orientalists were quite staunch Christians who made no qualms about their religious views on Islam. For later scholars, who worked in a time when, even if such a bias existed, its admittance would be looked upon disapprovingly, the general paradigm from which academic research was (and is) undertaken is that of a secular one, where there is no God who communicates with man and who sends different prophets with the same message to different peoples. Of course, this paradigm is applied to the same standards by most modern researchers to all faiths, and not just Islam. To do otherwise would automatically constitute an unacceptable bias that modern academia would not allow. Thus, the ‘The Great Flood’ that is mentioned in the Bible (and the Qur’ān) is viewed as a universal myth that has its origins in a plethora of sources, such as the Hindu Puranas, Greek mythology, and even the Epic of Gilgamesh. The mythology of Christianity is seen as having been derived from previous parallels, some of which are indeed quite striking, such as the stories of the Egyptian Sun god Horus and the Hellenistic cult of Mithra.

Hence, some of the problems that religiously devout Muslim academics will have when dealing with such research into the origins of the Qur’ān are very similar to the problems that members of other faiths will have when dealing with their respective traditions.

But this is not the only line of defense that Muslim academics draw. They point out the social and intellectual milieu that the Prophet found himself in and ask whether the portrayal of him tallies with historical facts and realities. One cannot be blamed for getting the distinct impression that some Western authors attribute to Muhammad a type of encyclopedic knowledge that no one else of his time or era reputedly had, or could even come close to. The impression is given that either he knew or had access to a library that included Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and ancient Arab beliefs, and was cognizant of many different languages and dialects, before ‘writing’ the Qur’ān. Yet, modern research has failed to show any significant center of Jewish or Christian learning in Arabia, or translation of the Holy Scriptures into Arabic. In fact, some specialists have shown that the first known translation of the Gospels into Arabic occurred in the third century after the hijra.17

Again, for Muslims, such claims seem to ignore simple historical realities of the time, some of which even the Qur’ān alludes to. Of them is that Muhammad was an illiterate man raised in an uneducated Bedouin society. Both Q. 10:16 and 29:48-9 remind listeners that the Prophet had spent an entire lifetime (i.e., forty years) in their midst, during which he showed absolutely no inclination for any sort of literary activity or flair for writing skills – had he done so, the Qur’ān explicitly states, there would indeed be a legitimate reason to be skeptical.

Another issue that must be kept in mind is that any ‘parallels’ found between Qur’ānic and Biblical stories or materials are seen as proving, rather than disproving, the Qur’ān’s claim that it, along with the previous revelations, are Divinely revealed. A number of verses (e.g., 12:3, 12:102 and 28:44-6) plainly link the mentioning of such stories as proof that these revelations are not from mortal sources, but from God, “…for neither you, nor your people, knew of them before this” (Q 11: 49). Believing Muslims point out that even at the revelation of this Meccan verse, there are no recorded instances of anyone challenging the veracity of this claim, and state, “Actually, I was aware of these particular stories before the revelation.” Hence, far from looking at such stories and any similarities between them and other literature as proof against his prophethood, believers take them to be proofs for his claims!18

The same applies for any theological or moral similarity between Islam and Judaism or Christianity, or even ancient Arab customs, for they are taken to be of the common rubric given to Moses, Jesus and Abraham respectively. Hence this type of ‘back-projecting’ of ideas is not as much of a problem for Muslims as it is, say, for Christians when confronted with clear parallels between Christian theology and pagan beliefs (since, for them, there should be no Divine connection between the pagan cult of Mithra and the image of Jesus Christ, for example). For Muslims, the continuity of theology between prophets is a clear Qur’ānic principle and a proof for prophethood (as in Q. 46:9). In fact, in more than one verse the Qur’ān quite explicitly and unabashedly states that God has given the same message to the previous prophets in their respective Scriptures. In Q. 21:105, the Qur’ān states that God had already written, in the Psalms, that the righteous shall inherit the Earth (‘anna al-arda yarithuhā ‘ibadiy al-sālihūn’). This is almost an exact parallel of Psalm 37:29 “The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell therein for ever.”19 Other verses also give quotations from Biblical Scripture (see, for example, Q. 49:29).

It is also interesting to note that while the classical works related to the sciences of the Qur’ān discussed a multitude of issues, and strove to ‘defend’ the purity of the Revelation by tackling, head on, the claims of those who opposed it, it is rare to find in their works, or even in the treatises that responded to Christian polemics against Islam, a detailed defense of the accusation that the Qur’ān is taken from Judaeo-Christian sources because of parallels between them. Again, this returns to the psychological frame of mind that Muslims have, in which they see such parallels as being an indication of the continuity of the same chain of prophets and the same message, revealed from the same God. In other words, such parallels are simply not as ‘troubling’ to them as they are to a secular, Christian or Jewish observer, since each of these three groups will explain such parallels from within his or her own paradigm.20

In conclusion, and on a personal note, I accept as a given that, as a believer in a particular faith, there are certain areas where academic scholarship and religious belief will simply have to agree to disagree. I find claims of neutrality and objectivity to be purely relative; secular researchers into any field of religion will have their biases (although they would probably not label them as being ‘biases’), believing adherents to one tradition will have other biases when they examine other faiths, and they will have yet another set of biases when they examine their own faith.

That does not mean that research in any religious field is doomed to be bound by one’s own religious views. Rather, it is precisely because of such alternate viewpoints that academics and researchers will continue to enrich and engage with one another and provide fertile ground for ideas to be tossed around and explored; eventually, some will germinate and be nurtured, while others will fail to take root. And even of those that are nurtured, the fruits produced by such ideas will always be sweet to some, and bitter to others.


  1. I must point out that it is not even remotely possible to do justice to this question in the space allotted; however the goal is to show as wide a grasp of the sources and issues as possible, and that is what I intend to accomplish.
  2. Al-Qurtubī, al-Jāmīʾ li Ahkām al-Qurʾān, v. 1, p. 104.
  3. Al-Tabari, Tafsīr, v. 1, p. 8.
  4. Al-Shafiʿī, al-Risālah, p. 41
  5. Ibn Fāris, al Sāhibī, p. 28.
  6. Ibn Fāris, al Sāhibī, p. 29.
  7. Sībawayh, al-Kitāb, v. 4, p. 304.
  8. There is one minor reservation that I have about the work, and I say this fully recognizing and appreciating the level of scholarship it displays (apart from the fact that it includes proper nouns such as Ilyās, Sabiʾūn, and Majūs – this is a matter that even the likes of al-Shafiʿī would not have had an issue with!) Jeffery shows that many common nouns and verbs (such as khubz, p. 121, kataba, p. 248 and sajada, p. 162) have ‘originated’ from a foreign language; this might very well be the case, but their use and understanding amongst the Arabs, perhaps for centuries before the coming of the Prophet, had made them as ‘Arabic’ as could possibly be. My point here is that the case cannot be made with such common nouns and verbs that the Prophet himself had anything to do with them or that he somehow introduced them into the language of the Arabs (whereas the case may indeed be made with other words). Hence their inclusion on a list of ‘foreign’ vocabulary of the Qurʾān (as opposed to a list of foreign vocabulary of the Arabic language), seems, to me at least, foreign.
  9. Muir, The Life of Mahomet, (Edinburgh, 1923) v. 2, p. 20-21.
  10. Mohammadanism: A Historical Survey (London, 1961) p. 37.
  11. Hitti, Islam and the West: A Historical Cultural Survey (New York, 1979), p. 15.
  12. The Call Of The Minaret, p. 66
  13. New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. VII, p.677.
  14. Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary, p. 1.
  15. Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary, p. 2.
  16. Ibid., p. 22, 28-9, 38.
  17. Sidney H Griffith, “The Gospel In Arabic: An Enquiry Into Its Appearance In The First Abbasid Century” Oriens Christianus, Volume 69, p. 131-132.
  18. For the above paragraphs, see, inter alia: Mohammad Khalifa, The sublime Qur’ān and Orientalism (London; Longman, 1983), Hamza Njozi, The Sources of the Qurʾān: A Critical Review of Authorship Theories, (WAMY Press, 1995); Mohar Ali, Sirat al-Nabi and the Orientalists (Madina, 1997); my own comments in Qadhi, An Introduction, p. 274-6. Also see Watt’s comments on this verse in Mohammed at Mecca, p. 45.
  19. Although I am not knowledgeable of Hebrew, I am told that the parallel in the original is even more profound.
  20. I am not implying that such defense does not exist in the classical sources, for it does; what I am saying is that when one compares the quantity of material on this specific issue, versus other issues (for example, proving the iʿjāz of the Qurʾān), it is quite clear that this issue was not of as great a concern to them as other issues.

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Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.



  1. Sunie Nizami

    May 21, 2008 at 10:38 AM

    JazakAllahukhair Sheikh, for a great supplement to your class on ‘uloomulQuran.

    I am wondering how the Muslim scholars who came after Abu Obaid bin Salaam and heard of his opinion felt about it. Was there an immediate trend of acknowldgment and acceptance(especially since its much easier to defend the quran from this position) or did they continue to put forth previous opinions spurred by Ibn Abbass’ comment?

  2. MR

    May 21, 2008 at 10:51 AM

    This is a very thorough and interesting article. JazakAllah khair. I’d love to read other articles from various contemporary scholars on this.

  3. Ridwaan

    May 21, 2008 at 11:46 AM

    assalaamu alaikum,
    Please fix the Quranic reference.

    “Other verses also give quotations from Biblical Scripture (see, for example, Q. 49:29).”

    jazakumullah khayr

  4. AnonyMouse

    May 21, 2008 at 1:11 PM

    Wonderful article, jazakAllahu khair! I love the study of linguistics and especially of the Qur’an :)

  5. Abu Abdurrahman

    May 21, 2008 at 1:33 PM


    JazakAllahu khairan YQ!

    Just a quick question…

    With reference to the issue of subjectivity and objectivity entailed in the arriving at the conclusion of truth or falsehood – what would be your response to (an apparently sincere) non-muslim who points to the fact that much of ‘evidences’ of the Divine origin of the Quran are either purely or mainly subjective in nature, and give examples of the challenge of producing a Surah similar to the Quran, or how the Quran was unique in that it differentiated itself in its very structure. (with Poetry in Arabic falling into sixteen different ” Bihar ” (rhythmic forms), and other than that they have the speech of soothsayers, rhyming prose, and normal speech. The Qur’an’s form did not fit into any of these categories..etc). But still it is subjective.

    Me personally, I also feel inclined to state that there is going to be a degree of subjectivity in anything – other than a few things which would render this life no longer a test or would lead to ‘further confusion’ (such as angels coming down etc.). However, one of the many things which make one feel indifferent to this approach is the fact that in reality these evidences are nothing short of a body of clear proof – like the sun shining in the clear sky, a “burhan” and “bayyinat.” These are not subjective things, as I understand it.

    Could you help fill the missing link in the argument. Wa jazakAllahu khairan

    wassalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatyllah

  6. Charles

    May 21, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    My point here is that the case cannot be made with such common nouns and verbs that the Prophet himself had anything to do with them or that he somehow introduced them into the language of the Arabs (whereas the case may indeed be made with other words). Hence their inclusion on a list of ‘foreign’ vocabulary of the Qurʾān (as opposed to a list of foreign vocabulary of the Arabic language), seems, to me at least, foreign.

    From what you’ve written here, I would understand “list of ‘foreign’ vocabulary of the Quran” to be a subset of “foreign vocabulary of the Arabic language.” That is, these scholars are limiting the foreign vocabulary found in Arabic to one particular instance, much like we might focus on the Greek vocabulary in medical language, rather than the Greek vocabulary in all of the English (or other) language. Thus, they are simply being precise about which part of the Arabic language they are looking at.

    Of them is that Muḥammad was an illiterate man raised in an uneducated Bedouin society.

    Could you comment on the meaning of “illiterate”? I ask because in the Bible the phrase doesn’t necessarily mean someone who cannot read or write but someone who has not studied under a teacher or scholar. You can see this in John 7:14 where the Jews wonder how Jesus could be “lettered” (or “literate”) “without having studied.” (Compare also to Acts 4:13 where Peter and John are called illiterate and untrained.)

  7. Ibrahim

    May 21, 2008 at 9:43 PM

    JazakAllahu khairan for a wonderful article. You have addressed this in this article, but I kept wondering why would somebody question the divinity of the Quran if it contains non-Arabic words. I would assume a non-Muslim or a very confused Muslim asked this question.

  8. Talha Syed

    May 21, 2008 at 11:04 PM

    Wonderful Article!

    Ibrahim, Sh. Yasir pointed out that the only potential problem Muslims had with non-Arabic words was the verse that said the Qur’an was in Lisanaan Arabiyyan (an Arabic tongue).

    For Muslims, other than the above issue, the presence of non-Arabic words was/is not a problem at all, just as the presence of supposedly ‘Biblical’ stories (universal in our view) is actually a proof for the Qur’an.

    As the Sheikh points out, for Christians, similarities to previous major religions are a theological problem, because the previous nations and cultures were pagan.

    We Muslims are saved from this trial, Alhamdulillah.

    BTW, here is the tranliteration I found for Pslams 37:29:
    tsaddiyqiym yiyrshu-‘ârets veyishkenu lâ`adh `âleyhâ
    Can a Hebrew speaker please translate each Hebrew word into Arabic so we can see the similarities/differences?

  9. aarij

    May 22, 2008 at 2:39 AM

    Awesome piece, Sh. Yasir.

    These orientalist kafs (kafs = short for kafirs) are really no different than the mushrikeen of Makkah who claimed that Rasool Allah [SAWS] made up the Qur’an. What I find amazing (and as mentioned in the article) is that when it is an established historic fact that:

    a) the Prophet [SAWS] had no formal education (i.e. he was illiterate)
    b) the Prophet [SAWS] had shown no inclination towards poetry or literature his entire life

    then how can he all of a sudden produce such amazing work of literature?

    Like Allah [SWT] says, “Or do they say that he [SAWS] made this Qur’an up? Rather, they do not believe” in Surah AtToor (51), 33.

    BTW, for the uninitiated, orientalist = a kafir who studied Islam formally. This question came up during the Route 114 class in Toronto.

  10. dawud

    May 22, 2008 at 2:39 AM


    mashAllah and well-written, ya ustadh Yasir.

    I think the last statement you made was interesting, calling for a reflection on what my Christian father would term worldviews and how they affect study, along with a request for intellectual integrity and respect for diverse views.

    Without re-opening the debate from the Ashari/Athari debate, I would just like to ask, given your last statement about the fruits of intellectual labor being ‘sweet to some and bitter to others’ whether you’d apply the same statement to the non-academic reviews of Hellenistic philosophy which Imam ibn Taymiyyah and Imam Ghazali both engaged in, and whether you would apply the same doctrine of tolerance – without acceptance of corrupted doctrine that may follow – towards those views within the Islamic tradition – “agree to disagree” or “what we agree on is greater than what we disagree.”

    I’m sure, given your signing of the Amman declaration and explicit statements here, that you already regard those who hold Asha’ri and Maturidi interpretations of ‘aqeedah as muslims, but would like to know what you think of the scholars, such as Bediuzzaman Said al-Nursi, Tariq Ramadan, Abdul-Hakim Murad, Sayyid Hossein Nasr (not endorsing all of the perspectives of these scholars, but I do find some value in each) who attempt to deal with the immense challenges posed to muslims exposed to modern philosophy.

    It’s definitely true that the Salaf-us-Salih didn’t recourse to philosophy or have the challenges of deconstructionist doctrine, kufr and shirk were rather more blatant and the bedouin didn’t go about theological disputes so subtly – but given that muslims are being exposed to these questions by studying in Western universities and inevitably being exposed to Western philosophy, implicitly and explicitly, how do you perceive the responses which scholars like those I’ve named above have offered?

  11. Al Madrasi Al Hindee

    May 22, 2008 at 11:24 AM

    Assalamu alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi wabarakatuhu .

    Brilliant and very well-researched piece . Barakallhumma feek Ya Ustadh .
    It’ll make a good addendum or an appendix for a revised edition of ‘Introduction to the sciences of the Quran’ though you briefly touched upon this topic in your masterpiece on Uloomal Quran .

    Akhi , just as you lamented in the critiques on translations of the Quran in your book , a humble request to you and I am sure a lot of people may have this on their mind . Why not O Sheikh take up the translation of the Quran in English when you get the all elusive ‘time’ . I know this will be a humoungous project …but I am sure the one that you translate may inshallah stand the test of time with the amount of knowledge and resources you have access to . I would suggest you give this suggestion some serious thought . The English speaking world has waited in earnest for the ‘most-authentic- English translation-of-the-quran-as-it-ought-to-be-understood-with proper- footnotes- sans Aqedah problems-in-flawless English-sans-brackets!!(Phew!) ‘ and the wait goes on ………..

    Al Madrasi Al Hindee

  12. Yasir Qadhi

    May 23, 2008 at 4:13 PM

    Salaam Alaikum

    @ Sunie Nizami,

    Although a few scholars tried to hold on to the more ‘left’ and ‘right’ wing positions, I would say that the more informed researches all gravitated to this middle-of-the-road position, and it is really the one that makes the most sense.

    @ Ridwaan

    Type, it should be last verse of Surah al-Fath; 48:29

    @ Abu Abdurrahman

    Your point is indeed profound, and is the common response of those informed non-Muslims who are genuinely more sincere and sympathetic and yet are still not Muslims. But I do believe this is an intellectual hiding hole for them rather than an actual excuse; fair enough, if you believe that, then why not actually produce something similar to the Quran, and let’s see if your claims hold true. There have indeed been attempts, starting from Musaylamah and continuing to our times amongst anonymous internet authors, to try to ‘imitate’ the Quran. Let us take a panel of judges, Muslims and Arab non-Muslims, and put these fabrications to the test, from all aspects.

    @ Charles

    Your point would be valid if they themselves didn’t state their goals for doing so: to try to show the ‘sources’ of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. To claim that the verb ‘kataba’ (to write) goes back a thousand years to another common Semitic root is of practically no value for any academic exercise.

    @ Al Madrasi al-Hindee

    I believe that with the two translations by Saheeh International and then M. S. Abdel Haleem’s, there is little need for such a huge endeavour. Not that their translations are perfect (none can ever be, and the latter certainly has a slight modernistic tinge to it), but rather that the works that have been done recently simply do not justify the effort of a simple translation.
    The next level is to write an original tafsir in English,for a Western audience; now THAT would indeed be a worthy effort!!

    @ dawud

    I might honestly concede to your argument were it not for a body of overwhelmingly explicit and unequivocal evidences, in the Quran and Sunnah, that this religion will be preserved,and that truth shall remain clear from error, and that the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa salaam has left us upon the shining path, etc. The fact that there *must* be one, clear authentic group (a fact believed in by both ‘orthodox Sunnis’ and ‘traditionalist Sunnis’) automatically puts to rest the claim that both are valid.
    With respect to the authors whom you mentioned, I confess I have not read all of their works in intimate detail, although of course I’m aware of the general trends of their thoughts and their attempts to defend Islam against greater threats. But I maintain that one does not need to compromise one’s theological positions in order to defend the religion. Historically speaking, the Mutazilah felt they were defending Islam against the falasifa, and look what happened to them. And then the Asharites felt they were defending Islam from the Mutazilah, and orthodox Islam claims ‘Look what happened to them’.
    When you read the works of, say, Ibn Sina, and then see how some of the Mutazilah, or even al-Razi or al-Ghazali tried to refute it, indeed it is undeniable that an average person finds much that is impressive. But then, when you get to Ibn Taymiyyah and you see how *he* critiques Ibn Sina, and then moves on to critiquing al-Ghazali’s critique, it leaves you dumbfounded. I have said many times – and I know that many will find this statement strange – that were it not for the blessings of Allah and then the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah, many many intellectuals would have fallen prey to Asharite or Mutazilite thought. A person reads their works and thinks they have struck gold, but that’s because they’ve never seen real gold. When you examine the real material, 100 % orthodox and pure, then you realize that all that glitters is indeed not gold ;)


  13. Musa Franco

    May 25, 2008 at 12:13 AM

    Salaam Alaykum All :)

    Just wondering if the sheikh can touch on Raghib Al Isfahani’s view.

    Jazak Allahu Khair

  14. Al Madrasi Al Hindee

    May 27, 2008 at 12:14 AM

    @ Sheikh Yasir Qadhi

    “….The next level is to write an original tafsir in English,for a Western audience; now THAT would indeed be a worthy effort!! ” . I really did have that in my mind before I suggested that !! . I totally agree a literal translation would not suffice and is not worth the endeavour you so rightly articulated . A Tafsir for the Western Audience with the right Aqeedah and authentic footnotes …. now that would be something worth waiting for inshallah . I hope we see the dawn of that soon …Inshallah Ta’la .

  15. Shibli Zaman

    July 18, 2008 at 5:50 PM

    السلام عليكم ورحمة الله يا شيخنا آبا عمار وفقكم الله تعالى

    I appreciate greatly that rather than position one particular perspective in regards to the “Foreign Vocabulary” of the Qur’an, you have clarified what you see as the prevailing positions on the subject. Yet, in our day and age it is difficult to accept the harsh positions of those such as Imam al-Shafi`i in regards to the Qur’anic vocabulary being 100% Arabic. Just analyzing a couple of words and phrases from the Qur’an can substantiate this. I’ll try to avoid referencing too much material directly in respect to the nature of this medium of communication:

    1) Qaswara – According to the majority of the exegetes on this subject (markedly, from the Sahaba, may Allah be pleased with them) this word is clearly East African (“Habashi as it was simplistically referred to by the Sahaba) in origin in reference to either a hunter or a lion. Research substantiates that both “lion” and “hunter” are plausible according to analyses of Proto-Highland Eastern Cushitic wherein “kas” is to stab, pierce or cut and the suffix of “wara” creates “agent nouns”. In modern “Ethiopic” languages such as Tigrinya and Ge’ez (as well as in some other African languages) the word “Wagatwara” means “hunter” and in earlier etymons of this word the “g” is rendered a “q” and the “t” is rendered an “s”. This is much akin to some modern dialects of Arabic that render the letters “Qaaf” and “Thaa” as a “gaaf” and “saa” respectively.

    2) One of the most interesting examples is that whenever you find the word “Hanif” in the Qur’an you will find it qualified with “wa ma kana min al-mushrikin”. There are no exceptions. The word “Chanpa” which bears the same root as “Hanif” meant “Pagan” in early Chaldee and was used to denote an idol-worshipper in later Aramaic speaking communities (both Judaic and Christian). Yet, to the Chaldeans who were pagans themselves before Judaism and Christianity, Abraham (peace be upon him) would have been a “Chanpa” by their definition since the root of the word is someone who goes on a deviant path. To them, Abraham would have been the biggest deviant and “Pagan” against their religion. So is Allah defending Abraham (likely unbeknownst to the early Muslims reading the Qur’an) to the Jews and Syriac Christians who would have remarked that this word means “idolater” to them? By the way, Arabic simply did not exist in the time of Abraham and that is a historical fact that is a kind of folly to dispute. The Nabateans themselves did not exist yet.

    With these examples, it is important to note that often times the Sahaba appear to be clearly confused or simply “not in the know” regarding the meanings of words such as “Qaswara” and even phrases such as “Utulin ba`da thalika zanim”, etc. Does this not bear evidence against the theory that these were words and phrases, while originating in other languages, had long become part of the Arabic language?

    Most of the Sahaba were definitely not familiar with these and other examples of words and phrases in the Qur’an (though they were, indeed, relatively very few). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Sahaba were not scholars of linguistics nor are they expected to have been. Could this, perhaps, be evidence at the fact that the Qur’an was not of human origin as the alleged “author(s)” himself/themselves were not always very sure what the meanings were and there are no Prophetic clarifications regarding their meanings from the Sunnah? Is this not a type of I`jaz in and of itself?

    This is a heavy subject that most people scoff at as “useless knowledge”. Well, while we Muslims dismiss it as “useless knowledge” the non-Muslim scholars have been writing masterpieces interpreting OUR most Holy Scripture while we are clinging tenaciously to the often times insufficient explanations offered by exasperated Companions, Tabi`is and scholars doing the best they could with what they had at the time.

    Allah, indeed, knows best.

    If you can offer your opinion on these matters I would be grateful.

    وصلى الله على محمد الماحي واله وسلم
    جزاكم الله خيرا
    والسلام عليكم

  16. Amatullah

    September 10, 2008 at 8:19 AM

    I was wondering if someone can shed some light on the orientalists and their view on hadeeth? Someone commented on my blog and his comment and website were quite disturbing. He was quoting Schacht.

  17. ibnabeeomar

    September 10, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    amatullah: this book should give you what you need,

  18. Shibli Zaman

    September 10, 2008 at 12:01 PM

    Sister Amatullah, what is your blog?

  19. Pingback: Is arabic in Quran pure or not? | Vishwas Blogs

  20. Pingback: Is Quran preserved? in what sense? | Vishwas Blogs

  21. Zeeshan Ahmed

    March 16, 2010 at 6:13 AM

    jazakallah for the article sh. One question when Allah quotes a prophet or any other figure of the past from bani isreal for example. Would you not find non arabic words being used in those scenarios?

  22. Pingback: Are there non-Arabic words in the Quran? « Tafsir of the Quran

  23. menj

    October 21, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    This is a great article which explains the issue succinctly. Jazakallah.

  24. Ahmed Fuseini

    June 13, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    great response Sheikh : ibn Taymiah’s “intellectual” to our theology has been misrepresented or largely quite a few of his treatises lately and I agree with your response in to-to!

  25. Ibn Anwar

    June 23, 2016 at 4:50 AM

    I have also written an article on this subject. You may have a look at it here

  26. Fa'az

    March 9, 2017 at 5:45 AM

    Look, when Qoran came into existence (or sent by God) majority of Arabs were not Muslims and then became Muslims. And Arabic language was the language of, let say, non-Muslims which became ‘the language of Muslims’ by their number growing eventually and outnumbering non-Muslim Arabs. Logically, from the very beginning Qoran contained ‘non-muslim” (Arabic) language which later Islamized it. And this ‘non-Muslim’ Arabic language had lot of non-Arabic or rather borrowing words from other languages. And these non-Arabic borrowing words were also incorporated into the text of Qoran, just similar to pure Arabic words which previously were ‘non-Muslim” words (language) and later became, let’s say ‘Muslims’ words. Actually language has nothing to do with religion, it can be learned and spoken by followers of any religion. And borrowings is an undeniable fact of any language. So, claiming that Qoran does not have foreign (borrowing) words, is foolish.

  27. R.D.

    June 23, 2023 at 8:52 AM

    The puzzle is that all the Arabic words in Quran have Arabic root-words, but names of almost all prophets have Hebrew root-words. For example Adam has root Adamah which means earth. This means Quran contains words with Hebrew roots and it is not purely in Arabic.

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