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  • Date :
  • 7/9/2003

In the Name of Allah

#577041">Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an
by: Moiz Amjad

Mr. P. Newton with Mr. Rafiqul-Haqq has written an article titled: "Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an" (1) . He writes: "Muslims claim the Qur'an not just to be a human literary masterpiece, but a divine literary miracle. But this claim does not square with the facts. For the Qur'an, which we have in our hands contains obvious grammatical errors which is plain to see for all who know Arabic".

Mr. Newton has cited the following verses of the Qur'an to substantiate his claim:

1. Al-Maaidah 5: 69

2. Al-Nisaa 4: 162

3. Ta Ha 20: 63

4. Al-Baqarah 2: 177

5. Aal Imraan 3: 59

6. Al-Anbiaa 21: 3

7. Al-Mominun 22: 19

8. Al-Hujraat 49: 9

9. Al-Munaafiqun 63: 10

10. Al-Shams 91: 5

11. Fussilat 41: 11

12. Al-Aa`raaf 7: 57

13. Al-Aa`raaf 7: 160

After citing these examples, Mr. Newton ends his article with the following words:
The Qur'an, because of these errors, is not even a masterpiece. If, humanly speaking, the Qur'an cannot be called a masterpiece; can anyone honestly call it a divine literary miracle?
The object of this article is to give answers to the following questions:

1. How does the grammar of a language develop?

2. Why and how did the Arabic grammar develop?

3. What were the sources of deriving grammatical rules of the Arabic language?

The writer believes that answers to these questions will themselves be an adequate evidence of the absurdity of trying to find Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an.

Grammar - A Stage in the Development of a Language

It is a commonly known and an established fact that compilation of grammar is a stage in the development of a language. This statement needs a little explanation.

Laying down 'Grammatical Rules' of any language does not and cannot precede speaking and comprehension of that language by its native speakers. For instance, the English language was being spoken for a long time before someone sat down to lay down the rules of the English language. The grammar of a language is created, but not before that language is spoken and understood by the natives.

We can take Greek, as a case in point. Greek, as we know is a very old language. But it was only in the second Century B.C. that Dionysius Thrax wrote a book of Grammar on the Greek language and that too was limited only to the word morphology. This work, incidentally, was the first systematic grammar of the Western tradition. It was not before the second century A.D. that a study of sentence syntax of the Greek language was conducted by Apollonius Dyscolus. Dionysius Thrax also defined Grammar. His definition is as under:
The acquaintance with [or observation of] what is uttered by poets and writers. (2)
A close look at this definition would further substantiate the obvious. According to it, Grammar was developed:

1. through the observation of the utterances of (established) poets and writer of that language - which obviously implies that before any grammatical rules were laid down, writers and poets were using that language to convey their messages and to do their works,

2. to get acquainted with the language of these (established) poets and writers - which, to some extent implies that such grammatical rules are not a need for a people whose native language is under consideration. It is a need for peoples for whom the language in question is either a foreign language or is a language not completely the same as the language they speak. For instance, a modern-day Englishman normally does not need to study English grammar to fully comprehend modern-day works. However, for comprehension of the classical English literature he may require to take a course in grammar and word usage of the classical English language.

It should be clear from the foregoing points that knowing the correct language is really a matter of knowing what and how the native speakers of that language speak. Grammatical rules are derived from this usage of the native speakers. This fact is irrefutable. (3) This fact also points out the reason and basis of development and change in a language. It is stated in Britannica:
When a child learns to speak he tends to regularize the anomalous, or irregular, forms by analogy with the more regular and productive patterns of formation in the language; e.g., he will tend to say "comed" rather than "came," "dived" rather than "dove," and so on, just as he will say "talked," "loved," and so forth. The fact that the child does this is evidence that he has learned or is learning the regularities or rules of his language. He will go on to "unlearn" some of the analogical forms and substitute for them the anomalous forms current in the speech of the previous generation. But in some cases, he will keep a "new" analogical form (e.g., "dived" rather than "dove"), and this may then become the recognized and accepted form. (4)

The reader should note the words: '... and this may become the recognized and accepted form.' This statement once again is evidence of the fact that what we refer to as 'correct language' is really the language recognized and accepted by the natives of that particular language as correct.

This process is the usual case in the development of grammar and the dependable sources of deriving its 'rules'. Now, once these concepts are clearly understood, consider the following example:

Suppose that Group X was the accepted and recognized literati of Latin, prior to the compilation of Latin grammar. Later on, some scholars of Latin sat down to compile the Latin grammar. They looked for various sources for their work. The scholars find that the works of Group X comprises of Latin literature, recognized and accepted to be correct by the natives of that language. So these scholars, without any reservations accept the works of Group X as one of the sources for their work. Time moved on. After a few hundred years, some other 'scholars' sit to analyze the works of Group X on the basis of the work done by the 'grammarians' (the scholars who compiled the rules of grammar). Now, after "thorough deliberation" if they declare, on the basis of the work of the grammarians, that the writings of Group X contains a number of 'grammatical' errors, these modern "scholars" in their exuberance may even claim (or at least expect) a literary award for their findings, yet even an ordinary person would only laugh at their findings. For he would hopefully have the common sense of asking himself: "How can something be analyzed for errors on the basis of another thing which itself is based on the first thing". This basis for analysis would really be like saying: "the human body (the source) does not correspond to the books written on human physiology (the derived result), and therefore, the human body (the source), when analyzed on the basis of these books has such and such errors". The common man, rather than going into such "sick" logic, would almost certainly take to the point that the books written on human physiology (the derived result) do not adequately describe the human body (the source). Obviously, the same principle would also apply to the appraisal of the writings of Group X on the basis of the work of the grammarians. If the rules laid down by the grammarians do not correspond to the writings of Group X, then the fault lies with the rules of the grammarians and not with the writings of Group X. Obviously, appraising the source, on the basis of the results derived from that very source is nothing but absurd.

Two Distinct Stages in the Development of a Language

There is yet another important aspect of history of the development of a language.
If we analyze the development of a language closely, we shall see that in relation to conformity to grammatical rules, the history of a language can normally, be divided into two distinct stages. One is the "Pre-grammar" stage, and the other is the "Post-grammar" stage. Each of these stages has a set of characteristics peculiar to it.
First let us see the Pre-grammar stage. In this stage, a language is in its purest and most natural form. The natives of the language speak their hearts and minds out, and whatever and however they speak and accept and recognize as correct is the standard for correct language. In these times, poets, writers and orators are criticized, not for wrong grammar, as no such thing as compiled grammar has any existence, but for lack of clarity, non-idiomatic use of language, improper use of words and poor style. It is not just improbable, but inconceivable that these writers, poets or orators commit such mistakes as may be termed as "grammatical errors". For whatever they say and however they say it provides the very grounds on which, later on, the grammarians base their "grammatical rules". It is on the very authority of these writers, poets, orators and other established users of a language that "rules" of grammar are laid down. For instance, in later times, a grammarian might say: "XYZ is a rule of language A, as is obvious from the statements/verses of the poet D, who was accepted and recognized by the natives of language A, as qualified to be held as an authority on that language", or "XYZ is a rule of language A, because this is how it is spoken by the natives of that language". Another important aspect of this stage is that even such deviations from the common and regular usage as are recognized and accepted by the natives of that language to be correct, cannot be termed as incorrect. What the grammarians, in fact, do is to try and find out the reasons for such deviations and the added meaning a certain deviation provides to the regular and common usage, but even if some grammarians are unable to find out the reasons for these deviations, they still cannot be termed as incorrect.

Now, let us also have a brief look at the Post-grammar stage of a language. In the first stage, it is the poets, writers, orators and users of that language that provide guidelines for the work of the grammarians. In the Post-grammar stage, it is normally, the other way round. In this stage, generally, grammatical rules are held by the writers, poets, orators and other users, as the standard for the correctness of their written or spoken words. In the first stage, grammatical rules are derived from the usage of writers, poets etc., and every grammatical rule along with every deviation from such a rule, which can be substantiated by the usage of such writers and orators is held to be correct. On the other hand, in the second stage it is normally the accepted rules (and the accepted deviations from these rules) that substantiate the correctness of a writer's, poet's, orator's or anyone else's usage. Obviously, it can so happen that a writer uses a style, which is considered to be against the general grammatical rules of the language. The writer is then criticized for this deviation. Nevertheless, sometimes the writer can provide examples of such deviations from the 'Original' authorities of the language, which had previously been missed by the grammarians of that language. In such an event, the style of the writer is then accepted to be correct. Furthermore, sometimes a writer, because of the native acceptance that he may acquire over time for his usage and style, can become so influential that even his deviations may later on be considered as authentic. Thus, grammatical rules may even be modified on the authority of the deviations of such a writer. This tendency of accepting new grammatical rules because of any new styles introduced by modern writers is far less in peoples who are more conscious and conservative about maintaining the purity of their language, as compared to those who are not.

These are some of the major changes that take place in the development of a language before and after the compilation of grammatical rules.

The Particular Case of the Arabic Language

Generally, the grammar of a language is developed to teach that language to such peoples, who are not native speakers of that language. However, in the case of the development of the Arabic grammar there was a difference. One other factor played an important role in the initiation of the compilation of Arabic grammar. This factor was the concern and the consciousness of the Arabs for maintaining the purity of their language.

It is quite clear to all those who are aware of the history and psyche of the Arabs that they were a people who took great pride in the beauty, simplicity, purity and eloquence of their language. This pride was so deep-rooted in their psyche that the word used for non-Arabs in the Arabic language - 'ajami' - means 'a person who stammers and is not eloquent'.

The conquests of the Arabs and the conversion of a large number of non-Arabs to Islam, during the first century after the Prophet (pbuh) created a need for the compilation of Arabic grammar as a large number of non-Arabs, now developed an inclination of learning the Arabic language to understand the Qur'an and the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). Furthermore, these conquests and the resultant expansion of the Muslim state also opened up the hitherto closed Arabian society. This situation, on the one hand, provided an opportunity of rich social, cultural, political and economic exposure to the Arabs and, on the other, threatened the more conscious among them with the adulteration of their language by the social and cultural interaction with other peoples. This fear provided the other important basis for the yet unknown and unconsidered task of the compilation of Arabic grammar. (5)

The first person to take up this task was Abu al-Aswad Al-Du'wali (A.D. 605-688). Some people ascribe the book "Usul al-Nahw al-`Arabi" to Abu al-Aswad. Later on, a chain of grammarians made their contribution to the now esteemed task of the compilation and research on Arabic grammar. The grammarians' job, in the later stages became so esteemed and exalted that the most outstanding grammarian, along with the best Jurist, was given a distinct position in the royal assemblies.

The Primary Sources in the Compilation of the Arabic Grammar

The Grammarians and other scholars of linguistic fields, in their task of compiling their rules, used all the compiled or scattered Arabic literature that was accepted by the Arabs to be in its unadulterated verbal tradition and representative of the correct usage of their language. The two major, unanimously accepted sources of this literature were the Qur'an and the pre-Islamic and Islamic poetry. There was a difference among the linguists regarding whether or not the words of the Prophet (SWS) and addresses of well known orators as reported in isolated narrations may be used as source material in their work. Those who were in favor of using these narratives believed such material to be reliable enough for the derivation of linguistic and grammatical rules and were of the opinion that because of the recognition of the Prophet (SWS), in particular, and the considered orators, in general by the Arabs as authorities in the Arabic language, such material should be held as a source for their work. On the other hand, those who were against using these traditions as source material gave their dissent on the basis that contrary to the Qur'an and the poetic works, it is difficult to rely on these narratives to be verbally accurate and unadulterated. The basis of their argument was that the Qur'an, because of its religious importance and the Arabic poetry, because of the Arab culture were not only accepted authorities in Arabic language, but were also transmitted from one generation to the other, in their exact and unaltered verbal form, whereas the narratives of the Prophet (SWS) and the addresses of the well known orators lacked this quality. `Abd al-Qadir ibn `Omar al-Baghdadi states in his book "Khazanatul-Adab" ( 6) writes:

Undalasi explaning his colleague's - Ibn Jabir's - literature says: "There are six sciences related with language: Linguistics, Morphology, Syntax, Rhetoric, Connotation and the science related to the figures of speech. In the first three, a citable authority can only be the Classical Arab speech. While in the later three, as they are a matter related to the common sense and reason, even the post-classical people or even non-Arab people may be cited. This is the reason why in these fields citations have also been made from the literature of people like Buhtari, Abu-Tamam, Abu-Tayyeb etc.
My point of view is that a citable authority in linguistic sciences is of two kinds: one is poetry and the other anything besides poetry. As far as the first category is concerned, scholars have divided the Arab poets in four categories: 1) "Al-Sho`ara al-Jahiliyyah", that is the Classical, pre-Islamic poets... 2) "Al-Mukhadhramun" or the poets who witnessed the pre-Islamic as well as the Islamic era... 3) "Al-Mutaqaddimun" or the poets of the early Islamic era... and 4) "Al-Muwalladun" those after the early Islamic era till the poets of our day.
Citations from the first two groups are unanimously accepted by all linguists as authority... As far as the third group is concerned, [although there exists some difference] but it is [normally held to be] correct to accept their references as authoritative... While from the fourth group, citations from only those who are held to be reliable among them are accepted as authority, this opinion is also held by Zamakhshuriy...
The non-poetic sources include either the Blessed Book of our Lord, the purest, the most fluent and the most eloquent piece of Arabic literature, citations therefrom are accepted to be authoritative, whether they are from its continual [most well known] tradition or from its irregular [not so well known] traditions, as has been declared by Ibn Janni in the beginning of his book "Al-Mohtasib". Besides [the Qur'an] such [non-poetical] sources include [speech] references from the first three categories of Arabs, as we have mentioned in the categorization of poets, above. As far as citations from the Hadith (narrative traditions) of the prophet are concerned, Ibn Malik accepts them as authoritative... while, Ibn Dhai` and Abu Hayyan refuse to do so. Their refusal is based on two reasons: 1) these traditions are not verbal narrations of the speech of the Prophet. On the contrary, only their content has been narrated [in the words of the narrators]. And 2) the great grammarians of Basra and Kufa do not hold them as citable authorities [in the derivation of Grammatical rules].

Thus, all the grammarians and other linguists of the Arabic language, without exception have accepted the Qur'an as a source of grammar and other linguistic sciences of the Arabic language. It is because of this reason that such well known grammarians and linguists as Al-Siibwayh, Al- Zamakhshuriy, Ibn Hisham, Malik, Al-Akhfash, Al-Kasai, Al-Farazdaq, Al-Farra', Khalil, Al-Farahidi and innumerable others, while stating a particular grammatical or linguistic rule present wherever possible, as evidence supporting their claim not only poetical but also Qur'anic verses. It would be accurate to say that for them - the fathers and founders of the compiled Arabic Grammar - the Qur'an has always been the most dependable source for their work. All that is required to appreciate the importance that these people give to the Qur'an is to have a look at their works. Al-Farahidi writes in the preface of his book, "Kitab al-Jumal Fi al-Nahw" (Muassasatul-Risalah, Beirut, 1987):
We have placed all the discussions in their respective chapters providing support for each argument from the Qur'an and Arabic poetry.

Likewise, Howell writes in the preface of his book, "A Grammar of the Classical Arabic language":

The object of the Grammarians being to demonstrate the classical usage, they endeavor to support every proposition and illustrate every rule by one or more evidentiary examples taken from the classical language. These examples consist of texts from the Kur`an, passages from tradition, proverbs, phrases transmitted by the learned from the Arabs of the desert, and verses from the poets.... A text from the Kur`an, as being the very word of God, delivered in the purest dialect of the Arabs, according to the theory of direct verbal inspiration inculcated by Muslim theologians, is of necessity infallible. A passage from tradition, if it be the word of the Prophet, is universally accepted as conclusive evidence; and if it be the word of a Companion, is generally so received, while some hyper critical purists affect to consider the Companions as liable to the suspicion of solecism. A proverb if it dates from heathen times is admittedly excellent evidence of classical usage. But a saying transmitted by a Grammarian or a Lexicologist from an Arab of the desert varies in authority with the antiquity of its transmitter, a saying transmitted by Ibn Hisham, for instance, not being nearly so authoritative as one transmitted by Al-Akhfash al-Akbar. (7)

This then is the accepted and acknowledged position of the Qur'an in all the sciences of Arabic language and literature.

The Absurdity of Searching For Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an

Once this position of the Qur'an, which it holds in the eyes of the most approved native or naturalized authorities of the Arabic language and literature and also in the eyes of the grammarians, lexicologists etc. of the Arabic language is fully understood and appreciated, one can easily see the absurdity of claiming 'Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an'.

The Qur'an being one of the major source materials of the grammarians' works can obviously not be judged on the basis of the grammarians' work. Trying to do so would actually be like trying to find faults in in the Universe on the basis of the books written by astronomers.

Logically, had the position of the "Human Body" or the "Universe" as a source material for the works of physiologists and astronomers respectively, been fully appreciated it would be more appropriate and understandable if someone challenged the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the works of these physiologists and astronomers. Similarly, had the position of the Qur'an as a source material of the compiled Arabic grammar been fully appreciated, it would have been more appropriate and understandable if someone had challenged the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the grammarians' work, rather than challenge the reliability of the Qur'an, when and if an inexplicable deviation was found in the Qur'an.

To sum it up, the process of the development of the Arabic grammar is such that does not allow the appraisal of the Qur'anic language on the basis of the rules laid down by the grammarians of the Arabic language. Appraising or criticizing the Qur'an or any other source material used by the linguists, grammarians, lexicologists etc. is like refusing to accept Arabic, even as a language... and this, obviously is absolutely absurd.

The Sayings Ascribed to `Ayesha and `Uthman

From the foregoing discussion, it should be quite clear that the Qur'an, logically cannot be criticized on the basis of the work of the grammarians and other linguists, because of the simple fact that the Qur'an was the very basis (or one of the bases) of the works of these linguists and grammarians, and, furthermore, the Qur'an been recognized and accepted by all the linguistic authorities of the Arabic language as the most outstanding, in fact, miraculous piece of their literature. How, then, can we appraise or critically evaluate the reliability or otherwise of the language of the Qur'an.

Once it is known that the Qur'an was generally accepted and recognized by the Classical, pre-Islamic Arabs, as a piece of unparalleled literature in its purity, fluency and eloquence, then it has to be accepted as such by the later people as well. As far as the primary evidence, in this regard is concerned, it is overwhelmingly in favor of the general acceptance of the Qur'an. It was obviously, primarily on the basis of this Qur'an that the Arabs - eloquent and proud of their language as they were - started converting to Islam. The Prophet during the first thirteen years of his prophethood had just the Qur'an to present to the people. Surprisingly, no one objected to the language or style of the Qur'an. On the contrary, even those Arabs who refused to accept Islam had nothing to say regarding its language and style. They could obviously see that it was effectively winning the hearts of more and more people each day. They knew that it was not human literature... yet they were just not willing to accept it to be Divine. Under these circumstances, they direly needed a good excuse for their refusal to accept the Qur'an as a revealed word of God. Yet, even under these circumstances, they - with all their eloquence and linguistic pride - were unable to point-out even a single error in the Glorious Qur'an; all that they could come up with was that "it is nothing but 'Magic' and 'Sorcery'."

Obviously, had the Qur'an - that claimed to be in "Arabiyun Mobin" (clearest and purest Arabic dialect) - entailed any grammatical or other linguistic 'errors', it would then have been impossible for the Prophet to win even a single Arab soul. However, we know that during the first thirteen years, it was only the character of the Prophet and the content of Qur'an that had actually won the hearts and minds of the God-fearing Arabs, through whom, later on an Islamic State was setup first in Medina, and subsequently, in the whole of Arabia.

This is an irrefutable historical fact.

Now, with this in mind, let us examine another aspect of the arguments presented by the author of the referred article. He writes:

It is reported that `Uthman, after viewing the first standard copy of the Qur'an, said, 'I see grammatical errors in it, and the Arabs will read it correctly with their tongues.'

Then, he further states:
The Muslim scholar Ibn al-Khatib who quoted the above report in his book al-Furqan, went on to mention another report on the authority of 'Aa'isha, one of Mohammad's wives, saying, 'There are three grammatical errors in the Book of Allah, they are the fault of the scribe:
In 20:63

"Qaalu inna haazaani la-saahiraani ..."

And in 5:69

"Innal-laziina 'aamanuu wal-laziina haaduu was-Saabi'uuna wan-Nasaaraa man 'aamana bilaahi wal-Yawmil-'Aakhiri wa 'amila saali-hanfalaa khaw-fun 'alay-him wa laa hum yah-zanuun."

And in 4:162

"Laakinir-Raasi-khuuna fil-'ilmi minhum wal-Mu'-minuuna yu'-minuuna bi-maaa 'unzila 'ilayka wa maaa 'unzila min-qablika wal-muqiimiin as-Salaata wal mu'-tuunaz-Zakaata wal-Mu'-mi-nuuna billaahi wal-Yawmil-'Aakhir: 'ulaaa 'ika sanu'-tii-him 'ajran 'aziimaa."

In the following paragraphs, we shall analyze the cited sayings of `Ayesha and `Uthman.

The Saying Ascribed to `Uthman

The first among these narratives is ascribed to `Uthman (ra). According to this narrative, `Uthman is reported to have said that he could see (a few/many?) mistakes in the official standardized copy of the Qur'an, but was of the opinion that because the Arabs shall have no difficulty in finding these errors - appreciating them as "errors" - and shall be in a position to correct them, themselves, he, therefore, did not give such "errors" much importance.

Now, the first thing about this tradition is that even if we accept that the later generations were not aware of these errors (because of any reason), still it relates to a matter that concerns not a few but all the Muslims that were present during `Uthman's (ra) time. It thus relates to a matter, which, if it had really happened, should have been reported, not by one, two or a few people, but by hundreds and thousands of people. It should have become as well known a fact as, for instance the existence of a person called `Uthman is, but as we see, that is not the case. According to one of the principles of some of the Jurists, especially Abu Hanifah, if one, two, three or a few people report an incident that should logically be reported by hundreds or thousands of people, such traditions shall not be accepted. To understand this concept, let us consider an example of our everyday life. If someone declares that an earthquake in a neighboring country has killed thousands of people and that "someone" is the only person giving such a news, none of the newspapers or any other of the well known communication media is giving such a news, every reasonable person shall reject such a news on the same principle. Obviously, something as big, as significant and as well known cannot be accepted on the basis of a report of one, two or just a few people.

Furthermore, looking at this narrative closely, we are faced with another very serious question. If `Uthman (ra) had really known that there were mistakes in the text of the Qur'an, why did he not correct them immediately. It is generally believed that in his effort to standardize the reading of the Qur'an and to disseminate the official copy of the Qur'an, `Uthman ordered the burning of all the other copies of the Qur'an, which were in circulation at that time. If `Uthman could, as is generally believed, destroy all the copies of the Qur'an once, for the purpose of standardization, then why could he not do it a second time, for the purpose of correction? Obviously, the tradition does not answer this question. This simple, unanswered question leaves the tradition inconsistent with common sense. According to another one of the principles laid down by the Muhaddithin (the scholars of the Prophet's traditions), if a tradition is inconsistent with common sense, it shall not be accepted.

Then again, according to the cited narrative, `Uthman ignored the so-called 'mistakes' and 'errors' because he thought that the Arabs would have no problems in recognizing these 'errors' and, consequently, making emends in them. However, this narrative completely ignores the point that the original idea of the `Uthmanic compilation of the Qur'an - if it ever actually took place - was to standardize the style of writing and the recitation of the Qur'anic text, for the very purpose of making it possible for the newly conquered non-Arab territories (and peoples) to be able to read the Qur'anic text in a standardized manner. It seems quite ridiculous that even though the whole exercise of standardizing the Qur'an was undertaken for the purpose of making it easier for the newly converted non-Arabs to read the Qur'anic text in a standardized manner, yet the so-called 'errors' and 'mistakes' were so easily ignored on the presumption that the 'Arabs would have no problems in recognizing these errors'. The whole incident reported in the cited narrative is, obviously, an unfounded concoction of someone, whose intention were only to create doubts about the Qur'anic text in the minds of the subsequent generations.

Moreover, this tradition ascribed to `Uthman very seriously questions the correctness of the verbal tradition of the Qur'an. It, therefore, can be termed as a tradition against the Qur'an. Thus, according to yet another one of the principles laid down by the Muhaddithin any narrative, which is against the Qur'an or the established unanimously held beliefs or unanimously followed actions of the Muslims is not acceptable. The aforementioned principles of the Muhaddithin have been combined in a single statement, in one of the most well known and accepted books on the principles of the Muhaddithin relating to the acceptance of narratives. Khatib Baghdadi in his book "Kitab ul-Kifayah fi `ilm al-riwayah" writes (8):

No such narative reported by a few people shall be accepted, which is against common sense, or against an established ruling of the Qur'an or against a known Sunnah of the Prophet or against any thing accepted and followed by the Muslims as the Sunnah, or against logic.

Unless satisfactory answers are provided for these questions, this narrative cannot be taken as correctly ascribed to `Uthman (ra). The general acceptance of the vast Arab population of the Qur'an as an infallible piece of Arabic literature makes the content of such narratives highly questionable. If such was really the opinion of `Uthman, as is mentioned in this narrative, the Qur'an would obviously not have received such tremendous acceptance from, at least the Arabs. To the contrary, we see that it was none other than the Arabs themselves, who not only accepted the Qur'an to be infallible in language, literary style, grammar etc., but were also the primary source of propagation of this book in the whole world.

The Saying Ascribed to `Ayesha

Now let us turn to the narrative ascribed to `Ayesha

Acceptance of this narrative again hangs on the answers to the following questions:

1. Why were these so-called 'errors' not recognized and reported by a large number of Arabs, rather than just one or two of them? It is even more surprising that even after these 'errors' were pointed-out by two of the most well known personalities of Islamic history, the common Arabs remained oblivious of them. If such narratives had any truth in them, they would have gained the status of generally accepted public narratives, which, even if they were not reported in the various compilations of narratives, would most certainly have become well known through simple public transmission.

2. Why did `Ayesha (ra) not take any step to correct these 'errors'? It must be kept in mind that `Ayesha (ra) is the person, who is said to have made a public appearance in a political matter after `Uthman's murder. Why did she not plan any action to correct the 'errors' that she knew were only a result of scribal and human mistakes? Why did she let these mistakes become so sacrosanct that even the possibility of retrieving the correct (original) words, in future, was reduced to non-existent?

3. This narrative is against the Qur'an. Thus, according to the cited principles of the Muhaddithin it cannot be accepted.

Besides these reservations, there are also some other problems in accepting these narratives as correct. Some of these problems are given below:

. This narrative is reported by Abu Mu`awiyah Mohammad ibn Khazim al-Tamimi al-Dharir al-Kufi to Ibn Hamid or Ibn Humaid. According to Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal, his father Ahmad ibn Hanbal said: Abu Muawiyah's narrations except those reported by Al-Aa`mash, are not reliable.(9) Likewise, Abu Dawood states: I asked Ahmad ibn Hanbal: what do you think about the narratives of Hisham ibn `Urwah (another narrator in this narrative) that are reported by Abu Muawiyah? He replied: These narratives include such narratives that are not reliable. According to Ibn Kharrash, narratives reported by Abu Muawiyah are dependable if they come through Al-Aa`mash. (10)
The first verse stated in this narrative (20: 63) has been transliterated by the author of the article thus:

"Qaaluuu inna haazaani la-saahiraani ..."

The "error" in this verse, as is stated by the author is:

The word saahiraan should be saahirayn.
The word saahiraan was declined incorrectly because the word inna in the beginning of the nominal sentence causes a form of declension called "nasb" to the nominative and the "yeh" is the "sign of nasb".

At close examination of the actual verse, as it appears in the Qur'an, it, however, becomes obvious that the whole objection is unfounded. The referred verse does not even read as the author has stated. The reading as it appears in the Qur'an is:

"Qaalu in haazaani la-saahiraani ..." (Ta Ha 20: 63)

'Unfortunately', in this verse, it is not the word "inna" but "in". Because of this, the whole argument of the author is completely unfounded. The word "in" as the learned author would obviously be well aware of, does not "cause a form of declension called 'nasb' to the nominative".
Thus, the narrative cited by the author does not even state the verse in its correct form. Now, how can such a narrative be accepted to be correctly ascribed to `Ayesha?

. The second 'error', mentioned in `Ayesha's narrative, lies in 5: 69. The verse reads thus:

"Innal-laziina 'aamanuu wal-laziina haaduu was-Saabi'uuna wan-Nasaaraa man 'aamana bilaahi wal-Yawmil-'Aakhiri wa 'amila saali-hanfalaa khaw-fun 'alay-him wa laa hum yah-zanuun."

The author states:

There is a grammatical error in the above verse. The word "Saabi'uuna" has been declined wrongly.
In two other verses, the same word, in exactly the same grammatical setting was declined correctly.
2:62 "Innal-laziina 'aamanuu wal-laziina haaduu wan-Nasaaraa was-Saabi'iina ..."
22:17 "Innal-laziina 'aamanuu wal-laziina haaduu was-Saabi'iina wan-Nasaaraa ..."
You notice that the word was written Saabi'uuna in 5:69 and was written Saabi'iina in 2:62 and 22:17. In the last two verses the word was declined correctly because the word inna in the beginning of the sentence causes a form of declension called "nasb" (as in cases of accusative or subjunctive) and the "yeh" is the "sign of nasb". But the word Saabi'uuna in 5:69 was given the 'uu, waw which is the sign of "raf'a" (as in cases of nominative or indicative). This then is an obvious grammatical error.

As is clear from the cited argument, the author has tried to establish that the two verses of the Qur'an: 2: 62 and 22: 17, are themselves an evidence that the word in the above verse should have been "Saabi'iina" rather than "Saabi'uuna". The author, by quoting the two verses (2: 62 and 22: 17) has, at least, recognized the fact that whoever authored the Qur'an was not unaware of the "correct" declension of the word "saabi'uuna". However, even after recognizing this fact, the author finds no option but to term such a deviation, of even someone who is fully aware of the general rule as an "Error".
The most well known and acknowledged grammarians of the Arabic language were also faced with the same situation. However, they dealt with it differently and thus, drew a different conclusion. After looking at the Qur'an, they felt that there could be no doubting the fact that the author of the Qur'an was fully aware of the general rules of the language (and most certainly that of the declension of nouns after "inna"). Then they were also faced with the verse 5: 69. Now, rather than finding the easier way out by calling the deviation from the general rule an "error", the grammarians, on the presumption that a "person" as knowledgeable as the author of the Qur'an, could not commit such a trivial mistake in a book as important and as significant as the Qur'an, started looking for such deviations in other sources of the Arabic literature and grammar.... and found them. They collected all such deviations and tried to analyze them. They drew their conclusions and were, subsequently, in a position to safely say that such deviations in the Qur'an were not "errors". Even though these, indeed, were deviations from the normal usage, yet such deviations could not be called "errors". Thus, al- Zamakhshuriy in his commentary on the Qur'an, under the referred verse has alluded to a verse of one of the pre-Islamic poets. The alluded verse reads as follows:

the part "anna wa antum" of this verse, as per the argument presented by the author of the article, should have read "anna wa iyya kum", but we can see that there is a deviation here from the generally followed rule. This is adequate evidence that such deviations cannot be termed as "Grammatical Errors". As far as the meaning added by such a deviation is concerned, it is not directly related to "grammar" or to "Grammatical Errors" and therefore, we leave it out of the folds of our discussion here.
The argument presented above, substantiates the fact that such deviations were and are known to be existent in the works of, at least the poets of the pre-Islamic era, and therefore cannot and could not have been termed as 'errors' by anyone, who was well versed with the language and its literature. It is thus difficult to accept that `Ayesha (ra) could have missed the existence of such deviations in the Arabic literature. Furthermore, even if someone as knowledgeable of the Arabic literature as `Ayesha, could have missed-out on such deviations, it is unlikely that even all the Arabs who heard `Ayesha's (ra) cited statements would be so ignorant of their own language that they did not correct her.


The third 'error', mentioned in `Ayesha's narrative, is in 4: 162. The verse reads thus:

"Laakinir-Raasi-khuuna fil-'ilmi minhum wal-Mu'-minuuna yu'-minuuna bi-maaa 'unzila 'ilayka wa maaa 'unzila min-qablika wal-muqiimiin as-Salaata wal mu'-tuunaz-Zakaata wal-Mu'-mi-nuuna billaahi wal-Yawmil-'Aakhir: 'ulaaa 'ika sanu'-tii-him 'ajran 'aziimaa."

The author, explaining the mistake in this verse, states:

The word muqiimiin should be muqiimuun. The word should be declined by the "raf'a sign" like the other nouns in the sentence. Indeed the two nouns before it (Raasi-khuun and Mu'-minuun), and the noun after it (mu'-tuun) are declined correctly. Some have argued that this word was declined as such to distinguish and praise the act of praying, but the scholar Ibn al-Khatib says that this is a sick reasoning. (al-Furqan by Mohammad M. 'abd al-Latif Ibn al-Katib, Dar al-Kutub al-'elmiyah, Beirut, p.43). Such reasoning defies logic. Why would one distinguish prayer, which is a branch of religion, and not faith, which is the fundamental and root of religion? Besides can this logic apply to the error of declension in the previous verse? Do we conclude that the Saabi'iin are more distinguished than those who believe, and the People of the Book? And why do they get distinguished in one verse and not the other as we have seen? God is much higher than this sick logic. This again is an obvious grammatical error.

It seems from the above statement that the author is in agreement with Ibn al-Khatib in his refusal to accept the explanation given by various grammarians. Even so, it must be clearly understood that this particular deviation, whether the explanation (of distinction) is accepted or held to be "sick", is an established deviation, and every person who has knowledge of even only the basics of the Arabic language is well aware of it (I am sure the author would not even question this point...). The only question that could be asked or the only objection that could be levied on this verse is that the meaning added by this deviation from the general rules is not clear or not logical. Such an objection, as should be clear on the readers, cannot and should not be termed as a "Grammatical Error".

Under these circumstances, it is obvious that ascribing the cited narrative to `Ayesha (ra), is highly questionable.

With the stated problems, it seems quite obvious that on the basis of a narrative reported by a few people, which themselves do not stand upto the test of acceptability, the infallibility of the Qur'an which has always been and still is accepted by the vast Arab population as the epitome of the purest, the most fluent and the most eloquent Arabic language cannot be challenged.

A Final Word

To summarize, the language and the style of the Qur'an, because of the general acceptance it has received from the classical, as well as the modern, Arabs is above all kinds of linguistic criticism. Any one who is seriously interested in challenging this position of the Qur'an can do so, only after establishing:

1. The Qur'an was not accepted by the classical Arabs to be a piece of unmatched Arabic literature. Evidence of this point must also include an acceptable answer to the question: With the existence of such grammatical and other linguistic errors, why did the Arabs - classical as well as modern - accept the Qur'an to be of a divine origin?

2. The linguists of the Arabic language did not hold the Qur'an to be a source material for their work.

3. The most recognized and acknowledged grammarians of the Arabic language have refused to substantiate their linguistic findings on the basis of any verses of the Qur'an.

Only after these points are established, the grammatical objections levied by the author of "Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an" need to be dealt with seriously and answered. Till such time, these objections do not even come upto the standard of being considerable.

[1] The original article may be seen at the following internet address: http://members.aol.com/AlHaqq4U/grammar.html
[2] Encyclopedia Britannica, Linguistics, Greek and Roman antiquity
[3] This, incidentally is also what the author of the referred article stated, in response to one of my questions: "What were the sources which were relied upon for the purpose of the development of Arabic Grammar?" His answer was: "So the source of the Arabic grammar is the Arabic language itself."
[4] Encyclopedia Britannica, Linguistics, The role of analogy
[5] For details, see "Grammar", Ibn Khuldoon's "Muqaddamah".
[6] "Khazanatul-Adab" (Arabic), Abd al-Qadir Ibn `Omar al-Baghdadi, Volume I, Dar Sadir, Beirut, (First Edition) Pgs. 3 - 5.
[7] For details, see "A Grammar of the Classical Arabic Language", Howell, Mortimer Sloper, Allahabad, 1883, pages xxxiv, xxxv - xxxvi (Preface).
[8] Page 432
[9] "Tahzib ul-Tahzib" (Arabic), Ibn Hajar, Dar Ihya al-Islami, First Edition, 1326 Hijrah, Volume 9, page 138, 139
[10] "Meezan ul ai`tidal", Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Uthman al-Zahbi, Al-Maktabatul-Athriyyah, Sheikhupura, Pakistan, Volume 4, Page 575.

Taken from: http://www.understanding-islam.com/related/articles

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