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Ibn ‘Abbās's Al-lughāt fī'l-Qur’ān

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


The study of Muslim lexicology concerned with the Qur'ān has a short but illustrious bibliography, the highlights of which may be summed up for the purposes of the following discussion by mentioning four people: Arthur Jeffery, whose Foreign vocabulary of the Qur'ān contains a lengthy introduction concerning various classical Muslim attempts to come to grips with the Qur'ānic lexicon; Chaim Rabin, who in his Ancient West-Arabian attempts to use a text which deals with dialect words in the Qur'ān as one of Ms sources for the reconstruction of ‘pre-literary Arabic dialects’; Lothar Kopf, who, through his articles and posthumously published dissertation extracts, exposes many of the trends and pitfalls in Arabic dictionaries, most notably those features which result from the influence of the Qur'ān; and John Wansbrough, who via his Quranic studies has treated us to his analysis of some of the early texts and has provided some very cogent and persuasive arguments concerning the motivations behind the compilation of such treatises.

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies 1981

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1 Baroda, 1938, 1–41. See the bibliography (pp. xi–xiv) for a full listing of earlier works relevant to the topic.

2 London, 1951.

3 Religious influences on medieval Arabic philology’, Studia Islamica, v, 1956, 3359Google Scholar; ‘The treatment of foreign words in medieval Arabic lexicology’, in Heyd, Uriel (ed.), Studies in Islamic history and civilization (Scripta Hierosolymitana, ix), Jerusalem, 1969, 191205Google Scholar; extracts from: ‘Arabic lexicography—its origin, development, sources and problems’ [in Hebrew] in his Studies in Arabic and Hebrew lexicography, Goshen-Gottstein, M. H. (ed.), Jerusalem, 1976, 13114Google Scholar; the above two articles are reprinted in this latter volume, pp. 19–45 and 247–61 respectively.

4 Quranic studies: sources and methods of scriptural interpretation (hereafter QS), Oxford, 1977Google Scholar. Mention should perhaps also be made of Wild, Stephan, Das Kitāb al-'Ain und die arabische Lexikographie, Wiesbaden, 1965Google Scholar, especially ch. iv.

5 Sezgin, , GAS, i, 25–8Google Scholar, works nos. 2, 3, and 4.

6 QS, 218–19; al-Suyūtī, , al-Itqān fi ‘ulūm al-Qur’ān, Cairo, 1967, II, 646Google Scholar; I have been unable to consult the manuscripts of this work and am thus unable to ascertain the degree of similarity between the lists. The ascription of the Atif Efendi manuscript is multifarious; see GAS, I, 27; I, 31 (no. 7); I, 39 (no. 8).

7 cf. al-Anbāri, , Kitāb idāh al-waqf iva'l-ibtidā', Damascus, 1971, I, 77Google Scholar, and elsewhere where Nāfiʻʼs statement is more explicit: ‘Did the Arabs know that before the Qur'ān was revealed ?’

8 ʻal-Bāqi, Abd, JHu'jam gharib al-Qur'ān, Cairo, 1950, 234–92Google Scholar; ‘Ā’isha ʻal-Rahmān, Abd, al-Iʻjāz al-bayāni li'l-Qur'ān wa Masā'il ibn al-Azraq, Cairo, 1971, 267507Google Scholar—references in this article are to this edition.

9 Al-Suyūti, , al-Itqān, II, 5588.Google Scholar

10 Apparently not printed, see Brockelmann, , GAL, Suppl. I, 279Google Scholar.

11 Al-Anbāri, , Iḍāḥ, I, 7699Google Scholar; note also the ‘supplement’ to this, i, 57–75, where poetry is used to define the Qur'ānic lexicon but is not put within the framework of the Ibn ʻAbbā;s/Nāfiʻ confrontation.

12 Al-Mubarrad, , al-Kāmil fi'l-lugha, Leipzig, 1874, i, 566–72Google Scholar. Sezgin, , GAS, I, 27Google Scholar, also gives Abū ʻUbaid (d. 224/838), Fatfā'il al-Qur'ān, as a source for the text. There, two words (wasaqa and sāhira) are denned and given poetical shawāhid by Ibn ʻAbbās; wasaqa is also found in al-Mubarrad while the Masā'il itself treats ittasaqa, found in the same Qur'ānic verse, with the same root meaning suggested and basically the same shāhid employed. Sāhira is not found in either of these other two sources. Most notably, however, Abū ‘Ubaid does not mention the figure of Nāfi’; he prefaces these quotations by saying ‘Ibn ʻAbbās used to be asked about the Qur'ān and he would recite poetry concerning it'. See Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Orientabteilung, Petermann MS 449, foil. 47a, 11. 19–27. For further considerations on the text of Masā'il see Mittwoch, E. in A volume of oriental studies, Cambridge, 1922, 339–44Google Scholar and QS, 216 at note 7.

13 GAS, I, 27; ʻ Hasan, Izza (ed.), Fihris makhtūtūt dūr al-Kutub al-Ẓāhiriyya, I: 'ulūm al-Qur'ān, Damascus, 1962, 425Google Scholar.

14 Al-Anbāri, Īḍāḥ, e.g.: I, 77, n. 1; 80, n. 5; 87, n. 2 citing a word not found in al-Suyūti's text; 97, n. 6; 97, n. 4; 98, n. 2.

15 e.g. Watt, W. M., Bell's introduction to the Qur'ān, Edinburgh, 1970, 168Google Scholar: ‘It appears to be the case… that [Ibn ʻAbbās] employed the method of referring to pre-Islamic poetry in order to establish the meaning of obscure words.’

16 QS, 216–17.

17 Kitāb al-lughāt fi'l-Qur'ᾰn rawāya ibn Hasnūn al-Muqrī bi-isnādihi ilā Ibn ʻAbbas, Cairo, 1946Google Scholar (repr. Beirut, 1972—this latter is used here); cf. QS, 219, n. 4.

18 Arberry, A. J., The Chester Beatty Library: a handlist of the Arabic manuscripts, Dublin, 1962, v, 82Google Scholar.

19 Mach, Rudolf, Catalogue of Arabic manuscripts (Yahuda Section) in the Oarrett Collection, Princeton University Library, Princeton, 1977, 15Google Scholar.

20 II, 91–102.

21 Al-Suyūti, , al-Itqdn, I, 19Google Scholar. Compare the popular, two-volume Halabī edition: i, 7.

22 Al-Suyūti, , al-Itqdn, III, 59Google Scholar; see QS, 193–4, 198–9 on Kitāb al-nāsikh wa'l-mansūlch by Abū ‘Ubaid. The editor of the latest edition of al-Itqān, Muhammad Abū'1-Fadl Ibrāhim, has complicated the matter even further. He seems to think that al-Suyūtī is using two works: 1. Lughāt al-Qur'ān by Abū’ 1-Qāsim al-Lālakā'ī, i.e. the list found on n, 91–102; a person with this name is found in GAL, I, 181; Suppl. I, 308 (d. 418/1027) but there is no particular reason to suppose that our Abū '1-Qāsim was al-Lālakā'ī; al-Suyūti does not state it; 2. Lughāt al-Qabā'īl by Ibn Sallām (i.e. Abū ‘Ubaid) mentioned only in the bibliographical introduction and ad one citation (n, 198) which is, indeed, credited to Abū ʻUbaid al-Qāsim ibn Sallām; that quotation deals with foreign words, not dialect words and, regardless, al-Suyūtī mentions no title from which the quotation is taken. See al-Suyūtī, al-Itqān, Index, iv, 289 and Addendum, iv, 308. The potential for confusion here is almost endless: witness the work by Abū ʻUbaid Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Harawī (d. 401/1011), Kitāb al-Gharībain: Gharīlbai al-Qur'ān wd'l-hadīth, Cairo, 1970Google Scholar (see GAL, i, 131–2; Suppl. I, 200). Ibn Sallām is also known by his nisba, al-Harawī.

23 GAL, Suppl. i, 167.

24 Rabin, , Ancient West-Arabian, 7Google Scholar, para, d and the Addenda ad p. 7, found on page 211; this information has then been repeated in Zwettler, Michael, The oral tradition of classical Arabic poetry, Columbus, , Ohio, 1978, 113Google Scholar. Rabin stated that he hoped to deal with the various versions of the list in a future publication. As far as I have been able to determine he has never done so.

25 Al-Dirīni, al-Taisīr, 139 (margin). The editor obviously makes reference to the Kastaliyya edition of al-Itqān.

26 Eabin, , Ancient West-Arabian, 7Google Scholar; Tafsir al-Jalalain, Cairo, 1342/1923, I, 124Google Scholar.

27 See pp. 58–9 of Z for full listing.

28 Information cited by Munajjid in footnotes throughout the text.

29 The variation in dialect attribution in many cases may well be a copyist's error (dittography especially seems likely, , e.g. ad Q. 9Google Scholar: 39) and misreadings (especially Kināna/Kinda, e.g. ad Q. 11: 29; 18: 60; also Quraish/Fars ad Q. 39: 63).

30 e.g. ad Q. 3: 49; 11: 8; 19: 8; 56: 86; 61: 5; 72: 6; 79: 8.

3 Q. 2: 63al-haadīh, read al-harf with D, CB, P; ad Q. 11: 78 where th e omission of didd ‘opposite’, found in D, has resulted in strange definitions !; ad Q. 11: 101 tafrayyur read takhsīr with D, CB, P, also Masā'il, 380Google Scholar.

32 Q. 12: 23; the original text has as a definition for haita laka, according to Munajjid, which he has corrected to halumma laka (in agreement with CB, P as it happens)—the original would seem closer to D and Masā'il (pp. 381—2) tahaiya.Hu laka in basic idea (i.e. ‘I am ready for you !’), cf. ʻal-Raḥmān's, Abd remarks in Masail, 382Google Scholar.

33 QS, 218.

34 Reading li-kulli nabiy bi-lisan qaumihi of Z/D/CB contra QS/P.

35 Rather than wa rubbamd wdfaqat al-lugha al-lughdt of QS and Z orwa rubbamā wāfaqat ba'du'l-lughāt ba'dan of D, this phrase reads in C B and P wa rubbamā al-lughāt. This may well not be lapsus calami, but rather an attempt to make the preface relevant to the argument of the text as a whole (see further below) by giving the meaning ‘there is not in the Qur'ān any language other than the language of the Arabs or perhaps (their) dialects’.

36 Z, p. 16; CB, fol. lb; P, fol. 2a.

37 Z, p. 7; in the following list, note that D always uses the spellings Qais Ghailan and Madhaj.

38 Ad Q. 23: 20sainiā appears, but it is not treated as a proper name (meaning husn, coinciding with Aramaic). Cf. the list of 119 foreign words in the Qur'ān in al-Suyūtī, al-Itqān, ii, 108–19.

39 The presence in Masā'il of eight instances of identification of tribal dialects or foreign languages can hardly invalidate the contention that this text is arguing for an Arabic Qur'ān (alongside arguing for the use of poetry in clarifying the Qur'ān, see QS, 217). See Masā'il:

cf. al-Suyūtī, , al-Itqān, II, 90–1Google Scholar, where only five of these are enumerated.

40 See, among many Arabic sources, Abū 'Ubaid, Fadā'il al-Qur'ān, fols. 46b—17a; al-Tabari, (d. 310/923), Jāmiʻ al-bāyan ʻan ta'wīl āy al-Qur'ān (ed. Shākir, ), Cairo, 1373/1953, I, 21, 46–8Google Scholar; also Rabin, , Ancient West-Arabian, 19Google Scholar, paras, e, f.

41 e.g. al-Zarkashī, (d. 793/1390), al-Burhān fi ʻulūm al-Qur'ān, Cairo, 1957, I, 218Google Scholar, citing Ibn Qutaiba (d. 276/889). Also see Rabin, , Ancient West-Arabian, 21–3, paras, n-rGoogle Scholar; Kopf, , ‘Religious influences’, 4650Google Scholar; Zwettler, Classical Arabian poetry, ch. iii; QS, ch. iii.

42 SeeQS, 138–9.

43 I can hardly agree with Rabin, , Ancient West-Arabian, 7Google Scholar, that ‘the dialect meanings recorded in the Risāla hardly ever fit the passage they are supposed to elucidate, a circumstance which lends some verisimilitude to the information’. The examples here cited prove, I believe, the exact opposite point. Even definitions which at first sight may seem absurd, for example, bard ‘cold’ meaning naum ‘sleep’ in the dialect of Hudhail, ad Q. 78Google Scholar: 24, in fact have long exegetical traditions behind them and were meanings established for good exegetical reasons; for further details of this point, see my forthcoming study: ‘Qur'ān 78: 24: a study in Arabic lexicography.’

44 Arabi, Ibn al-ʻ, Ahkām al-Qur'ān, Cairo, 1967, i, 249Google Scholar.

45 al-Farrā', , Maʻāni al-Qur'ān, Cairo, 19551966, I, 297Google Scholar; see the editor's footnote there for other interpretations of the passage.

46 Rippin, , ‘Qur'an 21: 95: “A Ban is upon any town”’, JSS, xxiv, 1, 1979, 4353Google Scholar, esp. 51, n. 1.

47 ad Q. 3: 140; 6: 99; 6: 111; 8: 60; 9: 21; 18: 96; 21: 95; 23: 72; 38: 6 3; 47: 15; 81: 24 readings are found from the 7 readers; ad Q. 2: 255; 9: 124 are shawādhdh readings; ad Q. 37: 16 the reading mitna or mutna (i.e. ‘we died’), see Rabin, , Ancient West-Arabian, 114–15, 159Google Scholar; the presence of non-canonical variants would tend to suggest that this text is at best peripheral to the mainstream of masoretic exegesis.

48 of. al-Zamakhshāri, (d. 538/1144), al-Kashshāf ʻan haqā'iq al-tanzil, Calcutta, 1856, I, 424Google Scholar, who proposes a different solution: ‘constricting the breast’ is the end result of God ‘holding back his grace’ and faith therefore is resisted and refused.

49 Rabin, , Ancient West-Arabian, 89, para. iGoogle Scholar.

50 Al-Farrā', , Ma'dni, II, 371 (ad Q. 36)Google Scholar; n, 174 (ad Q. 20); also see Ubaida, Abūʻ (d. 210/825), Majāz al-Qur'ān, Cairo, 19541962, II, 15Google Scholar, where tā-hā in the meaning of yā insān is suggested (but rejected). On the whole subject, with the complete range of suggested solutions to the ‘mysterious letters’ including the one put forth by this text, see Seale, M. S., ‘The mysterious letters of the Qur'an‘in his Qur'an and Bible: studies in interpretation and dialogue, London, 1978, 2946Google Scholar which includes a translation of the relevant section from al-Suyūtī, , al-Itqān (III, 2131)Google Scholar.

51 Other early exegetical works are devoted to working these methods out in full, e.g. Muqātil, (d. 150/767), Al-AshbAāh [al-Wujūh] wa'l-nazā'ir fīl-Qur'ān, Cairo, 1975Google Scholar, also the extract of MuqSātil (?) found in al-Malatī, (d. 377/987), Kitāb al-lanbīh wa'l-radd ‘aiā ahl al-ahwā’ wa'l-bidaʻ, Cairo, 1949, 7280Google Scholar, and al-Kisā'ī (d. 189/805), Kitāb Mushtabihāt al-Qur'ān, MS Beyazit 436 (note that another manuscript exists, Princeton, Yahuda 903). On the whole topic see QS, esp. pp. 208–16.

52 Z, pp. 53–4; CB, fols. 8b–9a; P, fol. 12a; 12b is blank and the text is incomplete.

53 Kopf, , ‘Religious influences’, 40–5Google Scholar; ‘Foreign words‘, 200–4; Jeffery, , Foreign vocabulary, 411Google Scholar; Tabarl, al, Jāmi’ al-bāydn, I, 1320Google Scholar.

54 See QS, 142–3; Kopf, , ‘Religious influences’, 42–3Google Scholar.

55 would like to express my thanks to Dr. John Wansbrough, SOAS, for having read and commented on an early draft of this paper. Thanks are also due to the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, the Chester Beatty Library and the Princeton University Library for microfilms of the manu-scripts consulted in this study.

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