Grammatical Mistakes in the Quran

Mr. P. Newton with Mr. Rafiqul-Haqq has written an article titled: "Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an". 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:

Al-Maaidah 5: 69

Al-Nisaa 4: 162

Ta Ha 20: 63

Al-Baqarah 2: 177

Aal Imraan 3: 59

Al-Anbiaa 21: 3

Al-Mominun 22: 19

Al-Hujraat 49: 9

Al-Munaafiqun 63: 10

Al-Shams 91: 5

Fussilat 41: 11

Al-Aa`raaf 7: 57

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:

How does the grammar of a language develop?

Why and how did the Arabic grammar develop?

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. A close look at this definition would further substantiate the obvious. According to it, Grammar was developed:

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,

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. 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.

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" 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.

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

To be Concluded