Monday, 5 September 2011

A bedrock of Muslim belief is that the Qur’an is a flawless record of the divine revelations made to the Prophet Mohammed, a perfect copy in Arabic of the book that resides with Allah in Paradise.

Arabic is a difficult language and the overwhelming majority of native Arabic speakers use a simplified version in their everyday lives. However, one could reasonably expect that the author of the Qur’an, Allah, would have no trouble in writing Arabic free of mistakes. It’s all the more surprising, then, to find that the Qur’an contains grammatical errors. Some are just about forgivable—for example, altering the correct ending of a word to fit a rhyming pattern—but others are worryingly basic.

In Arabic, the genitive plural of a noun is used between three and ten but, from 11 to 99, the noun reverts to the accusative singular. So in this verse…

[7:160] We divided them into twelve tribes, each a nation.

…‘tribes’ should be in the singular. In fact, the plural is used—a mistake as glaring as the title of this blog. Later in the same verse, ‘twelve springs’ correctly appears in the Arabic as ‘twelve spring’.

If the Qur’an as we have it is a flawless record then Allah made mistakes when writing it. Alternatively, if Allah made no mistakes then the Qur’an itself is flawed. Either way, the bedrock that is the Qur’an looks shaky and all too human.


Cheradenine Zakalwe said...

Years ago, before I knew anything significant about Islam, I thought about learning Arabic specifically to read the Koran after coming across a description of its language as being "so beautiful that it could only have been written by God." I wanted to experience that for myself. Never got round to it, though.

Looks like it was just another Muslim lie.

In a parallel with cultural relativism, however, there are some linguistic theorists who argue that grammars don't have strict inviolable rules, that they evolve according to the way people use the language. So, for them, it's not possible to be ungrammatical.

No doubt that point could be raised to defend these grammatical errors, although the fact that the same term is used differently elsewhere in the same text could counter that to some degree.

Johnny Rottenborough said...

I know a little Arabic but not enough to read it appreciatively. Many Western scholars, though, point out that the Arabic of the Qur’an is often incoherent; one fifth of the text is said to be incomprehensible. A believing Muslim would brush such matters aside by saying that the language must be perfect because it was written by Allah and that any ‘mistakes’ cannot be mistakes at all but intended usages.

An Egyptian scholar, Nasr Abu Zaid, wrote of the need to analyse the Qur’an as a literary text but, for his pains, he was declared an apostate and was ordered to divorce his wife (as he was no longer a Muslim). They fled to Europe.

In an ordinary book, grammatical errors could be explained away by invoking the evolutionary principle but the Qur’an is far from ordinary: it is the Word of Allah and it should be perfection.

Anonymous said...

good site with plenty of mistakes of the dorks that wrote down the koran.

Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ Anonymous—Thanks for the link. The site mentions verse 7:160 but it claims the Qur’an gets the gender of ‘tribe’ wrong. To the best of my knowledge (and, much more importantly, the knowledge of scholars and my Arabic grammar) the mistake lies in using the plural instead of the singular.

Malakh said...

I am Arab, I have read the qur'an in Arabic. It sucks SHIT!! Arabic is a very aggressive language anyway. Now imagine... how beautiful can a phrase calling you "sons of pigs" be anyway huh?

Johnny Rottenborough said...

Malakh—Even in English translation, it’s clear the Qur’an is a deeply unpleasant book. It must be even worse in Arabic. Thanks for your feedback.

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