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Book Title Arabic English Dictionary Of Quranic Usage
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Arabic English dictionary of Quranic usage


Book’s Preface

From an early date, the study of the text of the Qur’an has been the central concern of all scholars in Islamic civilization.

Before the death of the Prophet, if the believers did not understand the revelation, they could ask the Prophet himself.

Many prophetic traditions relate how believers asked him about the meaning of a verse or a word, and how he explained its meaning to them.

 But after Islam had spread across a large area, and many new converts whose mother tongue was not Arabic began to recite the text and listen to its recitation, problems of comprehension became a real issue. From an early period, scholars collected difficult lexical items from the Qur’anic text.

 No less an authority than ibn abbas (d. 68 A.H./687 A.D.) is often credited with the first commentary on the text.

His Tafsir is quoted by many later commentators, and although the collections that have been published under this title probably do not go back to him, there can be no doubt that his explanations found their way into later commentaries through his students.

Likewise, the treatise on the Lughat ‘al-Qur’an that has been transmitted under his name may not really be his, but there can be no doubt that he initiated a concern about difficult lexical items in the text.

In the first centuries of Islam, philological and theological

exegesis of the Qur’an still went hand in hand, but in later times philology became a separate field.

This led to the publication of treatises with titles such as Gharzb ‘al-Qur’an, in which difficult words with an obscure meaning were collected.

Such treatises are reported from grammarians like Jabu ubayd, ibn Durayd, ibn Faris, ibn al-Sikkit and Thalab, to mention only some of the best known.

Most of these treatises have not been preserved, but the famous Kitab tafszr gharzb ‘al-Qur’an by Jibn Qutayba (d. 276 A.H./889 A.D.) was edited by aqr (Cairo: 1958; repr. Beirut 1978).

The lexicographical exegesis of the Qur’an was not confined to wordlists, but it became an integral part of the Tafsir literature as well.

The earliest commentaries on the Qur’an that have been preserved give us a fairly good picture of which items were regarded by the commentators as difficult.

They explain difficult words in the text by paraphrasing them with other words that were more likely to be understood by their readers. Muqatil Jibn Sulayman (d. 150 A.H./767 A.D.), for instance, paraphrases the word mubzn whenever it occurs with bayyin ‘clear’, and when the phrase khalidzna fzha occurs in a verse, Muqatil always adds ‘ay la yamiitiina ‘i.e., they do not die’.

These are not exegetical, but lexicographical, remarks, instigated by the presumed lack of knowledge on the part of the believers.

This procedure gives us a unique window onto the level of comprehension by common believers in the first and second centuries of Islam.

One may assume that the overriding concern of the early commentators was to make sure that the believers understood every single word of the Holy Text.

Yet, they were also interested in the meanings of the words as such, witness their interest in foreign loanwords in the vocabulary of the Qur’an.

This became a controversial issue at a later period, but at this early stage was apparently not regarded as something out of the ordinary.

Thus, for instance, Muqatil informs us that the word firdaws ‘paradise’ is a Greek word, and that the word ‘istabraq ‘brocade’ comes from Persian.

 This is purely lexicographical information, which does not serve any exegetical purpose.

The tradition of quoting from the Qur’an to illustrate the basic meaning of words was continued by later lexicographers, even though they concentrated more on shawahid from poetry. In the first dictionary of Arabic, the Kitab ‘al- cayn that is attributed to Jal-Khalil Jibn Jamad (d. 175 A.H./791 A.D.), for instance, the number of quotations from the Qur’an is surprisingly low.

Yet, the importance of the language of the Qur’an as a source of linguistic knowledge is obvious from the thousands of quotations in grammatical treatises.

 Some of the earliest grammatical treatises were direct commentaries on the text, for instance Jal-FarraJ’s (d. 207 A.H./822 A.D.) Macanz ‘al-Qur’an and Jal-Jakhfash’s (d. 215 A.H./830 A.D.) book with the same title.

In these commentaries, lexicographical information was integrated in the general discussion, although the authors seem to have been more interested in analysing the linguistic structure of the text.

 In Sibawayhi’s (d. 177 A.H./793 A.D.) Kitab the shift is complete: he quotes the Qur’an (more than 440 times!), not in order to elucidate its meaning, but as evidence of the structure of Arabic, of which the text of the revelation is the prime example.

Grammarians were primarily interested in the value of the text of the Qur’an as the most important source of correct Arabic.

Their entire discipline was intended to be an ancillary to the religious sciences, but one sometimes gets the impression that they used this important function as an excuse for their passionate study of the Arabic language itself.

Later grammarians routinely introduce their treatises by pointing out how important the study of grammar and lexicography is for the study of the Qur’an.

The grammarian Jal- Zamakhshari (d. 538 A.H./1144 A.D.), for instance, states in the introduction to his Mufa$$al that he felt compelled to write his grammar because of the slander advanced by the Shucubiyya against the Arabic language.

He argues that God has chosen Arabic, rather than any foreign language, for His last revelation, which demonstrates its superiority. Therefore, knowledge of grammar is indispensable for all those who wish to understand this revelation and the Islamic sciences.

Apparently, even when grammarians were mainly attracted by the subtleties of Arabic grammar, they still felt the need to justify their interest by pointing out how important the study of grammar was for understanding the Qur’an.

The emphasis on the grammatical aspects of the language of the Qur’an rather than the lexical aspects is obvious from the many treatises on the declension of the Qur’an or the style of the Qur’an.

By contrast, no special dictionaries of the Qur’anic lexicon seem to have existed in the Classical period.

That is to say, there were collections of difficult words, but no dictionaries that dealt with the entire lexicon, no monographs dealing exclusively with the lexicon of the Qur’an.

One reason for this apparent lack may have been that the lexicographers did not feel the need to compile such a dictionary because all words from the Qur’an could be found in any dictionary.

In the modern age this has changed, and special dictionaries are now produced regularly, chief  among them  being  the  Egyptian  Mucjam ‘alfai ‘al-Qur’an ‘al-karzm published in two volumes by the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo (1970).

The absence of trustworthy dictionaries used to be true of the Western study of Arabic, as well.

All Orientalist lexicographers, from Golius to Dozy, did include the lexicon of the Qur’an in their dictionaries, but they do not seem to have felt the urge to compile a dictionary of those words exclusively contained in the revelation.

For a long time, Fltigel’s concordance of the Qur’an (Leipzig, 1842) remained the only work in which all words were listed, albeit without a translation.

The concordance was reprinted regularly (for instance, in New Delhi 1992), until it was superseded by cabd Jal- Baqi’s concordance, ‘al-Mucjam ‘al-mufahras li-‘alfai ‘al-Qur’an ‘al-karzm (Cairo, 1958).

In Islamic languages other than Arabic, dictionaries were compiled to facilitate the comprehension of the text of the Qur’an for common believers with little knowledge of Arabic.

There is, for instance, a dictionary compiled by Shaikh Abdulkarim Parekh entitled Complete Easy Dictionary of the Qur’an (Kuala Lumpur: Noordeen, 2003), in which each Arabic word has its meaning in English given beneath, in the order of the text.

This dictionary was also translated into Bengali, Urdu, and Turkish. Other dictionaries of this category include Abdul Mannan Omar’s Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an (Rheinfelden: Noor Foundation International, 3rd ed., 2005), though dictionaries of this kind were never meant to be scholarly research tools.

The first Arabic/English Qur’anic dictionary, and for a long time the only one, was John Penrice’s, Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran, which was published in 1873, and has been reprinted ever since.

Nothing much is known about the author, except that he came from East Anglia, and that he was Patron of the Living in Little Plumstead in the Diocese of Norwich, as Serjeant mentions in the introduction to the reprint of 1971 (New York: Praeger).

No other publications are listed under Penrice’s name.

Apparently, he was an admirer of the style of the Qur’an, of which he writes in his preface, ‘beauties there are, many and great; ideas highly poetical are clothed in rich and appropriate language, which not infrequently rises to a

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