In the Name of God most Gracious most Merciful
Some answers to the claimed grammatical errors in the Holy Quran
The following material is meant to answer the false claims made on http://debate.domini.org/newton/grammar.html concerning the Holy Quran. After giving an answer off the cuff on my newsgroup soc.religion.islam on the 26th of June 1997, I have promised to give a detailed answer about this issue after checking my reference books. So, in the following article, I will be referring to two major interpretations of the Holy Quran which are :
In order to consult a specific section, you can follow the following shortcuts: 1/2/3/4/5/6/7&8/9/10/11/12/13.
First claimed error :
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"Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Sabaeans, and the Christians, whosoever believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness - no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow." (Arberry)
"Innal-ladhiina aamanuu wal-ladhiina haaduu was-Saabi'uuna wan-Nasaaraa man aamana bilaahi wal Yawm il-'Aakhiri wa 3amila Saali7an falaa khawfun 3alayhim wa laa hum ya7zanuun."
Concerning this verse the author of the criticism claims that the word Saabi'uuna should be declined Saabi'iina and that Saabi'uuna is definitely wrong (according to him). From a grammatical point of view, there are many arguments to put forward in support of the famous declension Sabi'uuna.
TK, chapter 12, page 51/52 :
In conclusion, the mistake made by Mr. Newton is to claim that the declension Saabi'uuna is wrong and that the right declension is so and so. Maybe, he was not aware of some aspects of the Arabic language. In fact, a major characteristic of the Arabic language is that it is elliptical. Many linguistic sets like "shukran" ("Thank you.") or "3afwan" ("welcome") are examples of omission because the original sentences are "I thank you" and "You are welcome". While these examples are rather rare in English, they are a common place in Arabic and they are considered to be of better linguistic level. These omissions also account for the multiplicity of grammatical analysis for the same word in the same set as it appears many times in the Holy Qur'an. This also explains that grammarians can suggest different explanations for the same declension of a word as you may notice through this article. Of course, the existence of several explanations for the same verse does not mean it is erronous. The only thing it means is that the verse can be understood in many similar ways and that the reader chooses the meaning depending on his sensitivity.
Second claimed error :
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"But those of them that are firmly rooted in knowledge, and the believers believing in what has been sent down to thee, and what was sent down before thee, that perform the prayer and pay the alms, and those who believe in God and the Last Day - them We shall surely give a mighty wage." (Arberry)
"Laakin ir-raasikhuuna fil 3ilmi minhum wal Mu'minuuna yu'minuuna bimaa 'unzila 'ilayka wa maa 'unzila min qablika wal muqiimiin aS-Salaata wal mu'tuunaz Zakaata wal Mu'minuuna billaahi wal Yawmil 'Aakhiri 'ulaa'ika sanu'tiihim ajran 3adhiimaa."
Once more, Mr. Newton claims that there is "an obvious error" in the word muqiimiin. But, once more, he makes hasty conclusions. In fact, many arguments were put forward about the correctness of the declension of muqiimiin.
RM, chapter 6, page 14/15:
Moreover, the muqiimiin/muqiimuun difference refers to the Science of Readings (3ilm al-qiraa'aat). There is no acceptable claim about the falsehood of muqiimiin because it comes from a continuous trusted chain of transmitters up to the Prophet Muhammad (S). On the other hand, the declension muqiimuun is also transmitted by "tawaator" (continuity and trustfulness of the chain of narrators) as in the readings of 3abdullaah (Ibn Mas3ood) and Maalik Ibn Deenaar and Al_Jo7dory and 3eesaa Ath-thaqafy. But of course, the author of the criticism is likely to ignore everything about readings. For more information about readings, you are kindly invited to check the following address http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/5603/hafs.html
The third claimed error:
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"They communed secretly saying, 'These two men are sorcerers'." (Arberry)
"Qaaluu inna haadhaani la-saa7iraani ..."
For a mysterious reason, Mr. Newton fails to read this verse as it is in the Holy Quran! In fact, the verse is written: "Qaaluu in haadhaani la-saa7iraani ...", in and not inna. Many things were said about this verse:
RM, chapter 16, page 221 to 224
The fourth claimed error:
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"It is not piety, that you turn your faces to the East and to the West. True piety is this: to believe in God, and the Last Day ... to give of one's substance ... and to ransom the slave, to perform the prayer, to pay the alms. And they who fulfil their covenant ... and endure with fortitude." (Arberry)
"Laysal-birra an tuwalluu wujuuhakum qibalal-Mashriqi wal-Maghrib wa laakinnal-birra man aamana billaahi wal-yawmil 'aakhiri wal-malaa'ikati wal-Kitaabi wan-nabiyyiinna wa 'aatal-maala 3alaa 7ubbihii dhawil-qurbaa wal-yataamaa wal-masaakiina wabnas-sabiili was-saa'iliina wa fir-riqaab: wa 'aqaamaS-Salaata wa 'aataz-zakaata; wal-muufuuna bi3ahdihim idhaa 3aahaduu waS-Saabiriina fil-ba'saa'i waDDarraa-'i ..."
Concerning this verse, Mr. Newton does not hesitate to say that there are five errors, one concerning the declension of the word "Saabiriina" and four errors in the tense of the verbs "aamana, aata, aqaama, aata". Once more, in my humble opinion, Mr. Newton is either unaware of some aspects of the Arabic grammar (which is what I hope) or trying to deceive those who do not have a sound background in that field.
Here are the explanations given by major grammarians:
R.M, chapter 2, page 44 to 48 & T.K, chapter 5, page 34 to 45
Note that the pronoun used in the Arabic verse is "man" and not "an", if we had to follow the suggestion of Mr. Newton and change the tenses of the four verbs from past to present, the sentence would be grammatically incorrect. This explains the reason of my opinion about his intention and/or his background.
The fifth claimed error:
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"the likeness of Jesus, in God's sight, is as Adam's likeness; He created him of dust, then said He unto him, 'Be,' and he was." (Arberry)
"Inna mathala 3Isaa 3ind-Allaahi kamathali Aadama khalaqahu min turaabin thumma qaala lahu kun fayakuun."
RM, chapter 3, page 186/187 & TK, chapter 7, page 74/75/76.
As I said in my preliminary answer on June the 26th, this verse raises interesting questions about God's will and how and when it is executed. The meaning of the verse is correctly translated: God said unto him, 'Be' and he was. What does the usage of the present tense in "yakuun" - instead of the past "kaana" - add to the meaning? Actually, the conjunction thumma (then) implies an elapsed time between the creation of the matrix/body of Adam and his coming to existence/life. And the present tense of the verb "yakuun", although the meaning is past, illustrates this matter from the point of view of a spectator of the creation of Adam. When God ordered Adam to be, his existence was to take place in the future which is expressed by the delay (thumma) and the present tense. Of course, the same applies for the creation of Jesus whose existence was many centuries after God's order. It also means that whatever God orders to be will be, even if , sometimes, the spectator has to wait a while before it becomes.
The sixth claimed error:
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"The evildoers whisper one to another ..."
"Laahiyatan quluubuhum. Wa 'asarru-nnajwa-lladhiina Dhalamuu..."
The reader may refer to RM, chapter 17, page 8 & TK, chapter 22, page 141.
I have already given a detailed answer on June 26th, and I repeat it herein:
Mr. Newton said: ### The word 'asarru should be 'asarra. The above is a verbal sentence, and the rule for such a sentence, where the verb comes before the (masculine) subject, is that the verb must be in the third (masculine) singular form, if the active subject of the verbal sentence is stated in the sentence. (The same rule holds for substituting the two mentionings of "masculine" by "feminine".) But the verb in the above Qur'anic verse came in the plural form.##
The answer is: Actually, the author thinks that "alladhiina" is the subject of the verb "assarru" and the subject being a masculine stated noun ... he concludes to an error. But, he is MISTAKEN. Any pupil in grade six can tell you the reason: the subject of "assarru" is a pronoun , an attached pronoun (or, in Arabic, "Dameer mottasil") it is the letter "u" at the end of "assarru".
Then you may ask what the case of "alladhiina" is since it is not the subject. Here you need to ask a student in the secondary school (let's say in grade 10) to have the answer: This is a case of "specification" (ikhtiSaaS in Arabic) and as you might know, in this form of style, the verb and the subject are eclipsed and only the object of the verb remains. Like when you use an apposition in English, you may say: "We, the Muslims, believe in one God" actually you can turn it otherwise: "We, (I mean or I point out or I specify) the Muslims, believe in God" and thus "the Muslims" are pointed out, they are the object of the verb point out, or mean, or specify. And notice that this is a common place in the Arabic language to omit words of the sentences while the meaning is preserved...And that is the reason why translating an Arabic text (especially the Quran) into any other language is usually tough because one has to add a lot of words in order to communicate the full meaning. That's why many words in the foreign translations of the Quran are between brackets...The Arabic speaker understands the meaning without saying every word (because it will be redundant otherwise) while in other languages one has to give more details to have a correct construction.
Another answer was given according to the language of "akalooni-lbraagheeth": the reader can refer to the given references for more details. But the principle is the same: omission/7adhf.
The seventh & eighth claimed error:
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"These are two disputants who have disputed concerning their Lord." (Arberry)
"haadhaani KhaSmaani 'ikhtaSamuu fi rabbihim ..."
"If two parties of believers fight, put things right between them." (Arberry)
"wa 'in-Taa'ifataani min almu'miniin-aqtataluu fa'aSli7uu baynahumaa."
Concerning these verses, refer to RM, chapter 21, page 133 & TK, chapter 23, page 22 and RM, chapter 26, page 150 & TK, chapter 28, page126/127.
Fortunately, the preliminary answer I have given is enough. Here it is:
Mr. Newton said: ## In Arabic, like English words are declined or conjugated with respect to number. In English there are two numbers: singular and plural. So in English two men are treated as plural. But in Arabic there are three numbers: singular, dual, and plural. So in Arabic the verbs and nouns are treated according to the singular or the dual or the plural. The verb in that verse was conjugated as if the subject is more than two. But the verse speaks only of two. So the rules of the dual should be followed and the word 'ikhtaSamuu should be 'ikhtaSamaa. So this is yet another error. ##
The answer: In these two cases, Mr. Newton claims that the verbs "IkhtaSamuu" and "iqtataluu" should be in the dual form and not in the plural form as it is in the Quran. Everybody will admit that in both cases we are dealing with TWO antagonists, fine!! But each antagonist is a group of persons in reality. Concerning the 1st verse, we should read the following verses. We will realize that the two antagonists are, on one hand, those who deny their Lord and, on the other hand, the believers. In the 2nd verse, the Arabic word Taa'ifa means group or party. So, one can put the verb in the plural form since we are dealing with MORE THAN TWO persons (as it is in these verses) or put the verb in the dual form as Mr. Newton wishes since we are dealing with TWO groups. Both choices are grammatically correct and it is strange to claim it should be this way and not that way because it reflects either the ignorance of the author or his willing to fool people like you and me.
NOTE: As I have stated previously, it is reported that Arab Tribes like Kinaanah, and Bani 3odhrah, and Khath3am, and Moraad, and some of Bani Rabee3ah, and Bel7aarith Ibn Ka3b, never declined dual words. (TK, chapter 24, page 74 to 80) Thus, in all the grammatical cases, dual words remain with an alef letter. 12Mr. Newton is a good student of Arabic grammar, he states many rules but he fails to take everything into consideration.
The nineth claimed error:
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"O my Lord, if only Thou wouldst defer me unto a near term, so that I may make freewill offering, and so I may become one of the righteous." (Arberry)
"... Rabbi lawlaa akhartanii ilaa ajalin qariibin fa'aSSaddaqa wa akun min aSSali7iin."
First, let me remind the reader about "7uruf al3aTf" (coordination conjunctions). There are nine conjunctions: wa, fa, thumma, laakin, 7attaa, aw, am, bal and laa. These conjunctions usually appear between two nouns, or two verbs, or two clauses of the same nature. However, sometimes they do refer to the grammatical location of a noun, verb or clause and not to the noun, verb or clause themselves. This is what is called "3aTf 3alaa mawDi3".
RM, chapter 28, page 117/118 & TK, chapter 30, page 19.
According to the grammarians Az-zajjaaj and Abu 3ali Al-faarecy, the case of the verb akun is jazm because the coordination conjunction "wa" refers to the location of the clause "fa'aSSaddaqa" and not to the verb aSSaddaqa as claimed by Mr. Newton. So, only the verb "aSSaddaq" takes the mark of the subjunctive as an effect of the causative "fa", the verb "akun" is not concerned. In the light of this explanation the English translation should be: "O my Lord, if only Thou wouldst defer me unto a near term, so that I may make freewill offering, and so that I may become one of the righteous." An illustration of "3aTf 3alaa mawDi3" is the verse of Seebaweih: "Mo3aawi innanaa basharon fasja7 falasnaa b-iljibaali wa la 7adeedaa" In this sentence, the case of the word "7adeedaa" is naSb (it ends with an "a" because it is in the same case of the clause "b-iljibaali". If we had to follow the argument of Mr. Newton "7adeed" would be in the case of "jarr" (it would end with an "i").
The tenth claimed error:
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"By the heaven and that which built it." (Arberry)
"was-samaa-'i wa maa banaahaa."
Note: In TK, chapter 31, page 190/191, the argument of "maa" being "maSdariyah" is refuted as well. So, it is not something new put forward by Mr. Newton. It has already been dealt with by scholars and grammarians centuries ago.
The eleventh claimed error:
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Then He lifted Himself to heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth, 'come willingly, or unwillingly!' They said, 'we come willingly.'"
"... faqaal lahaa wa lel'arDi i'teyaa taw3an aw karhan qaalataa ataynaa Taa'e3een."
RM, chapter 24, page 103 & TK, chapter 27, page 106
In this verse, we have a reported speech. Let's rewrite it in the direct speech:
The criticism made by Mr. Newton can be divided into two parts: the number and the gender of Taa'e3een. Let's consider the gender. In Arabic, we distinguish two genders: masculine and feminine. But, feminine is divided into two sections: real feminine ("mo'annath 7aqeeqy") and metaphoric feminine ("mo'annath majaazy"). The real feminine is "whatever gives birth or lays an egg" (in Arabic: "kollo maa yalid aw yabeeD"). And the rule is that we have the choice between considering metaphoric feminine words as masculine or feminine. One can say: "ashraqa ashshamsu" ("The has risen", the verb ashraqa agrees with the masculine.) or "ashraqat ishshamsu" where the verb "ashraqat" takes a final "t" agreeing with the feminine. Both sentences are correct, because the sun is not a real feminine. Now, are the heaven and earth real feminine? NO. Consequently, merely from a grammatical point of view, it is correct that the heaven and earth speak about themselves using a masculine adjective. Somebody might say that the masculine is restricted on "wise" nouns (in Arabic: "al3aaqel") and that the heaven and earth are not "3aaqel". Then, we kindly remind them that, in this context, God speaks to the heaven and earth and they reply. So they are given the faculties of a 3aaqel object and consequently they are considered in this context as 3aaqel. Thus, they admit the masculine form. The fact that the verb of the reported speech "qaalataa" ("they said") is feminine does not imply feminine in the speech itself. Once more Mr. Newton makes wrong assertions.
The criticism concerning number is more fallacious. In fact, in the same line of the "two disputants" in verses 22:19 & 49:9, the heaven and earth contain the whole creation and sometimes, the heavens are referred to with plural. So, even though 1 heaven + 1 earth = 2 entities, the fact that each entity contains many many creatures makes both the plural and dual acceptable. In conclusion, the word "Taa'e3een" put in plural and masculine form is a 100% correct.
The twelfth error:
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"The mercy of God is near."
"... inna ra7mata Allahi qariibun min almo7seneen."
TK, chapter 14, page 127
RM, chapter 8, page 141 to 144
Note: Concerning this verse, many opinions were given by specialists. These opinions are all the more difficult to translate in English that they are not easy to explain to beginners. So, if you are interested in all that has been said about this verse, please refer to the sources I have quoted.
The thirteenth error:
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"We divided them into twelve tribes or nations."
"wa qaTTa3naahomu-thnatay 3ashrata asbaTan omamaan."
R.M, chapter 9, page 87 & TK, chapter 15, page 32.
Moreover, Mr. Newton, who tries to impress the readers by his grammatical seeming knowledge (actually, he states rules very well and finds up to five "errors" in one single verse!!), failed to highlight another issue in this verse. How does it come that the gender of the word "ithnatay" is feminine while -as he should have said- it has to be "ithnay" to agree with the gender of "asbaaTan" which is masculine? May be he felt it unnecessary to point this issue out. :-) However, for the readers' information, the gender of the word "ithnatay" can agree with feminine and masculine without any preference for any of the two alternatives because there are two substitutes ("badal") which are "asbaaTan" and "omaman". The first being masculine and the second feminine, the gender of the number can be either way. And this opinion is due to the grammarian Al-farraa'.
Now that the technical part is solved, the following comments have to be done:
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