One of the few distinct impressions gleaned from a first perusal of the bewildering confusion of the Qur'an, is that of the amount of material therein which is borrowed from the great religions that were active in Arabia at the time when the Qur'an was in process of formation. From the fact that Muhammad was an Arab, brought up in the midst of Arabian paganism and practising its rites himself until well on into manhood,1 one would naturally have expected to find that Islam had its roots deep down in this old Arabian paganism. It comes, therefore, as no little surprise, to find how little of the religious life of this Arabian paganism is reflected in the pages of the Qur'an. The names of a few old deities2; odd details of certain pagan ceremonies connected with rites of sacrifice and pilgrimage3; a few deep-rooted superstitions connected with Jinn, etc., and some fragments of old folk-tales,4 form practically all the traces one can discover therein of this ancient religion in the midst of whose devotees Muhammad was born and bred. It may be true, as Rudolph insists,5 that in many passages of the Qur'an the Islamic varnish only thinly covers a heathen substratum, but even a cursory reading of the book makes it plain that Muhammad drew his inspiration not from the religious life and experiences of his own land and his own people, but from the great monotheistic religions which were pressing down into Arabia in his day.6 Most of the personages who move through the pages of the Qur'an, viz. Ibrahim, Musa, Dawud, Sulaiman, Nuh, 'Isa, are well-known Biblical characters. So also the place-names - Babil, Rum, Madyan, Saba', and many of the commonest religious terms - Shaitan, Tawrah, Injil, Sakina, Firdaus, Janannam, are equally familiar to all who know the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. So one is not surprised

1 Convincing proof of this is found in the statement of the Prophet quoted in Yaqut, Mu'jam, iii, 664, to the effect that on a certain occasion he sacrificed a ewe to Uzza, which he excuses on the ground that at that time he was following the religion of his people.

2 Sura, liii, 19, 20; lxxi, 22, 23.

3 ii, 153; xxii, 28-30; v, 1-4; xxii, 37.

5 Such as those of 'Ad and Thamud.

6 Abhängigkeit, 26, n. 9. His reference here is to Sura cxiii, cxiv in particular, but the statement is true of many passages elsewhere.

7 Nöldeke-Schwally, ii, 121; Buhl, EI, ii, 1066; Ahrens, Muhammed als Religionsstifter, 22 ff.


at the judgment of some of the earlier investigators, such as Marracci, Prodromus, i, 41: "Ita ut Alcoranus sit mixtura trium legum, seu religionum, Hebraicae, Christianae, et Israeliticae, additis paucus quisquillis, qiae e cerebro suo Mahumetus extraxit."

Closer examination of the question reveals even further and more detailed correspondences than these which appear on the surface,1 and forces on one the conviction that not only the greater part of the religious vocabulary, but also most of the cultural vocabulary of the Quran is of non-Arabic origin. The investigation of the "Fremdwörter" of the Qur'an thus becomes a question of primary importance for the study of the origins of Islam, for as Hirschfeld remarks: One of the principal difficulties before us is . . . to ascertain whether an idea or expression was Muhammad's spiritual property or borrowed from elsewhere, how he learnt it and to what extent it was altered to suit his purposes.2 By tracing these words back to their sources we are able to estimate to some extent the influences which were working upon Muhammad at various periods in his Mission, and by studying these religious terms in their native literature contemporary with Muhammad, we can sometimes understand more exactly what he himself means by the terms he uses in the Qur'an.

Quite early in the history of Islam, Muslims themselves were confronted with the perplexing problem of these foreign words, for it presented itself immediately they were called upon to face the task of interpreting their Scripture. With the death of the Prophet and the cutting off of the fountain of revelation, came the necessity of collecting the scattered fragments of this Revelation and issuing them in book form.3 Then as the Qur'an thus collected became recognized as the ultimate source of both religion and law, there came the necessity of interpretation.4 The primary source of such interpretation was the immediate circle of the Prophet's Companions, who were naturally

1 Vide Rudolph, Abhängigkeit des Qorans von Judenthum und Christenthum, 1922, and Ahrens, Christliches im Qoran, 1930.

2 New Researches, p. 4.

3 The popular Muslim account of the collection is given in as.Suyuti, Itq., and in many other well-known works, e.g. Fihrist, 24 ; Ya'qubi, Historia, ii; Ibn al-Athir, Chronicon (ed. Tomberg), ii 279; iii, 86. See also Nöldeke-Schwally, ii, 11 ff., and the criticism in Caetani, Annali, vii, pp. 407-418.

4 Goldziher, Richtungen, 35 ff.


supposed to know best what the Prophet meant in many of his revelations 1; so the tendency grew in later days to trace back all explanations to this circle, with the result that we frequently find various conflicting opinions traced back through different chains of authorities to the same person.2

Now it is conceivable that there may have been correct tradition from the Prophet himself in many cases as to the interpretation of some of the strange words that meet us in the Qur'an, but if so, it is evident that this tradition was soon lost,3 for by the time the classical exegets came to compile their works there was a bewildering entanglement of elaborate lines of conflicting tradition as to the meaning of these words, all emanating from the same small circle of the Prophet's immeditite Companions. Numerous examples of this can be found on almost every page of the great Commentaries of at-Tabari, al-Baghawi, or ar-Razi, but a typical case may be cited here in illustration. Thrice in the Qur'an 4 we find metition of a people called Sabians, , who with the Jews and Christians (i.e. the ), and the Magians, receive special recognition and favour. Yet as to the identity of these Sabians we find among the authorities the widest divergences. Thus at-Tabari, in commenting on ii, 59, tells us that some held that they were a community without a religion, others said they were a monotheistic sect but without a Book or a Prophet others said they worshipped angels, and others that they were a community of the People of the Book who followed the Zabur , is the Jews followed the Taurah and the Christians the Injil. Later writers have a still greater variety of opinions about them, that they were star-worshippers, descendants of the people of Noah, or some sect midway between

1 Quite early we find popular opinion claiming that only the Companions, or followers of Companions, were capable of giving correct interpretations of the difficulties of the Qur'an.

2 e.g. in commenting on in xviii, 8, at-Tabari gives us lines of tradition all going back to Ibn 'Abbas to prove that Raqim means a village, a valley, a writing, or a mountain. Thus we are forced to conclude either that Ibn 'Abbas is a very unsafe authority whose opinion on the meaning of important words varied considerably at different times, or that the lines of tradition are worthless.

3 Lists of interpretations coming form the Prophet himself are given by some writers, e.g. as-Suyuti, Itqan 9l8 ff. (and see Goldziher, Richtengen, 64), but such have little value.

4 ii, 59 v, 73; xxii, 17.


Jews and Christians, or between Jews and Magians - and in all these cases the chains of tradition go back, of course, to the immediate circle of the Prophet. It would seem almost incredible that when the Qur'an grants special privilege and protection to four communities as true believers, no exact tradition as to the identity of one of these communities should have survived till the time when the Traditionists and Exegetes began their work of compilation. The facts, however, are plain, and if so much uncertainty existed on so important a matter as the identity of the protected community, one can imagine how the case stands with regard to unimportant little details which are of profound interest to the philologist today, but which, in the early days of Islam, had no doctrinal or political significance to bring them prominently before the attention of the Muslim savants.

The traditional account of the development of Qur'anic exegesis, 1 of which this problem of the foreign words forms a part, makes it begin with Ibn 'Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet, whom later writers consider to have been the greatest of all authorities on this subject. 2 He is called the the or sea of Qur'anic science, the Rabbi of the Community, and many traditions give wonderful accounts of his vast erudition and infallible scholarship. 3 Modern scholarship, however, has not been able to endorse this judgment, 4 and looks with considerable suspicion on most traditions going back to Ibn 'Abbas. It would seem, however, that he had access to stores of information supplied by Jewish converts such as Ka'b b. Mati'5 and Wahb b. Munabbih,6 so that frequently, although his own interpretation of a word or verse may be of little value, the material he produces from these authorities with the phrase etc., may be of the first importance. Tradition also credits Ibn 'Abbas with founding a

1 as-Suyuti, Itq., 908 ff., gives an account of the earliest exegesis of the Qur'an. Goldziher, Richtungen, chaps. i and ii.

2 "Ergiltals Übermensch des tafsir," as Goldziher neatly expresses it, Richtungen, 65.

3 See an-Nawawi, 351-4; Ibn Hajar's Isaba, ii, 802-813 (and Kamill, 566-9, for examples of his authoritative explanation).

4 Siddiqi, 12, 13, treats him with more deference than is merited. As illustrating the opinion of modern scholarship, we may note the judgment of three very different savants : Buhl, EI, i. 20; Nöldeke, Sketches, p. 105 ; Sacco, Credenze, p. viii.

5 Usually called Kab al-Ahbar. See an-Nawawi, 523; Ibn Hajar, iii, 635-639; EI, ii, 582.

6 See an-Nawawl, 619.


School of Qur'anic Exegesis, and gives him several famous pupils, notable among whom were Mujahid,1 'Ikrima,2 Ibn Jubair,3 'Ata',4 and Ibn Abi Rabab 5. It is probable that all these men had more or less contact with Ibn 'Abbas, but it is hardly correct to think of them pupils of his in this science or as carrying on his tradition as a School in the way we speak of the pupils of the great Jewish Doctors. Any student of the Tafsir will have noticed how much of the traditional exegesis is traced back to this group, much of it possibly quite correctly, and this is particularly true of the statements as to the foreign words in the Qur'an,6 so that al-Jawaliqi at the commencement of his Mu'arrab7 can shield himself behind their authority from any accusation of unorthodoxy.

It is clear that in the earliest circle of exegetes it was fully recognized and frankly admitted that there were numerous foreign words in the Qur'an. Only a little later, however, when the dogma of the eternal nature of the Qur'ran was being elaborated, this was as strenuously denied, so that al-Jawaliqi can quote on the other side the statement of Abu 'Ubaida 8 as given by al-Hasan - "I heard Abu 'Ubaida say that whoever pretends that there is in the Qur'an anything other than the Arabic tongue has made a serious charge against God, and he quoted the verse 'Verily we have made it an Arabic Qur'an.'"9 The question is discussed by many Muslim writers, and is excellently summarized by as-Suyuti in the Introduction to his treatise Al-Muhadhdhab, and further in chap. xxxviii of his Itqan (Calcutta ed., pp. 314-326). The discussion is of sufficient interest to engage our attention here.

1 Mujahid b. Jabr died in A.D. 719 at the age of 83. See an-Nawawi, 540; adh-Dhahabi, i, 14.

2 He was a Berber slave of Ibn 'Abbas and died about A.D. 723 at the age of 80. He is said to have traveled widely in Iraq, Khorasan, Egypt, and S. Arabia. See an-Nawawi, 431; Yaqut, Irshad, v, 62 ff. ; adh-Dhahabi, i, 14.

3 Said Ibn Jubair died in A.D. 713 at the age of 49. See adh-Dhahabi, i, 11; an-Nawawi, 278.

4 'Ata' b. Yasar died in A.D. 712. Sec an-Nawawi, 424; adh-Dhahabi, i, 13.

5 'Ata' b. Abi Rabah died A.D. 733. See an-Nawawi, 422: adh-Dhahabi, i, 16.

6 A glance at as-Suyuti's Mutawakkili will serve to show how large a proportion of the foreign words he treats are traced back to the authority of one or other of the members of this circle.

7 Ed. Sachau, p.4, quoted also by al-Khafaj'i, 3.

8 Abu 'Ubaida Ma'mar b. al-Muthanna, the great Humanist of the reign of Harun ar-Rashid, who was of Judaeo-Persian origin and a student of the rare words in Arabic. See Fihrist, 53, 54; Ibn Khallikan, iii, 388; 'al-Anbari, Tabaqut al-Udaba', 137; an-Nawawi, 748; Siddiqi, Studien, 29.

9 as-Suyuti, Itqan, 315, gives the tradition a little differently.


It appears that in the Schools a majority of authorities were against the existence of foreign words in the Qur'an. "The Imams differ," says as-Suyuti (Itq, 314) "as to the occurrence of foreign words in the Qur'an, but the majority, among whom are the Imam ash-Shafi'i,1 and Ibn Jarir,2 and Abu 'Ubaida, and the Qadi Abu Bakr,3 and Ibn Faris,4 are against their occurrence therein." The fundamental argument of these authorities is that the Qur'an in many passages refers to itself as an Arabic Qur'an,5 and they lay particular stress on the passage xli, 44:

"Now had we made it a foreign Qur'an they would have said - Why are its signs not made plain? Is it foreign and Arabic?"6 The Qur'an thus lays stress on the fact that this revelation has been sent down in a form which the Arabs will easily understand - 7- and how,

1 This is the great Jurist who died in A.D. 820. He seems to have been particularly vehement in his denial of the existence of non-Arabic elements in the Qur'an, for as-Suyuti says (Itq, 315).

2 This is at-Tabari, the well-known commentator, whose full name was Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir at-Tabari (A.D. 838-923), whom as-Suyuti frequently quotes under the name Ibn Jarir. The reference here is to his great Commentary in the Introduction to which he treats of this question of" Fremdwörter."

3 This is in all probability the Qadi Abu Bakr al-Baqilani whose book as-Suyuti mentions among his sources for the compilation of the Itqan, cf. Itq, 14.

4 Abu'l-Husain Ahmad b. Faris of Qazwin, also very frequently quoted by as-Suyti both in the Itqan and in the Muzhir as well as in his smaller works. See Yaqut's Irshad, ii, 6, arid for his works, Fihrist, 80; Hajji Khalifa, 770 and Flügel, Die gramrnatischen Schulen der Araber (Leipzig, 1862), p. 246.

5 e.g. xii, 2; xxxix, 29; xli, 2,44; xlii, 5; xliii, 2; xvi, 105; xxvi, 195; xivi, 11: xiii, 37.

6 Some points in this translation need a note. First, the is usually rendered as "unless" and the sentence left an unfinished one. In Qur'anic Arabic, however, seems to be used frequently as a simple interrogative (cf. Reckendorff, Syntax, p. 35; Nöldeke, Neue Beiträge, p. 21), and Tab. on this verse expressly takes it as meaning . As properly means "signs", that rendering has been left here though this is one of the passages where it approaches very near its later sense of verses. The concluding words are capable of many interpretations, the usual being to contrast the clauses as, "Is it a foreign Qur'an and they to whom it is sent Arabs?" or "Is it a foreign Qur'an and he who speaks an Arab?"

7 xliii, 2; xii, 2, etc.


they ask, could the Arabs have been expected to understand it, were it sent down in a non-Arabic tongue?1

Others took a different line of argument, and claimed that the existence of foreign words in the Qur'an would be a reflection on the sufficiency of Arabic as a medium for the divine revelation. The Qur'an, said the theologians, is the final and most perfect of divine revelations, and Allah naturally chose to reveal the final revelation in the most perfect of all languages, so how can one pretend that Arabic was lacking in the necessary religious vocabulary, and that Allah had to borrow Nabataean or Persian or Syriac words to express His purpose? As-Suyuti (Itq, 315) quotes Ibn Faris as representative of this attitude. "Ibn Faris said that if there is therein anything from a language other than Arabic that would raise a suspicion that Arabic was imperfect as compared with other tongues, so that it had to come in a language they did not know." If asked to account for the fact that the early authorities had great difficulty in explaining certain words which they were forced to conclude must be of foreign origin, a thing which would hardly have been likely were they ordinary Arabic words, the advocates of this view reply that the Arabic language is so rich and copious that it is practically beyond the powers of any ordinary mortal to encompass all its variety,2 so it is no wonder if certain words were strange to the interpreters. In illustration of this they refer to a tradition that Ibn 'Abbas was uncertain about the meaning of the word until one day he overheard two desert Arabs quarrelling over a well, when suddenly one of them said , and immediately its meaning became clear.3 If further asked how the Prophet could have known all these words, they quote the dictum of

1 Dvorák reminds us (Fremdwörter, 5) that Muhammad himself used these words to reply to the charge of his contemporaries that a foreigner instructed him (xvi, 105 ; xxv, 5; xliv, 13), his argument being - what he hears from this foreigner is a foreign tongue, whereas he himself understands only Arabic. Yet the Qur'an is Arabic which they understand perfectly, so their charge is false, for how could they understand the Qur'an if it were composed of what he learned from this foreigner? This argument does not seem to have had much effect in convincing the Meccans to whom it was addressed (see Osborn, Islam under the Arabs, 20, 21), though later Muslim theologians regarded it as conclusive.

2 So as-Suyuti, Itq, 315:

3 Vide Baid, on vi, 14.


ash-Shafi'i, "None but a Prophet thoroughly comprehends a language. "1

The authority of the great philologers, however, carried much weight, and many were fain to admit that ibn 'Abbas and his successors must have been right in stating that certain words were Abyssinian, or Persian, or Nabataean, and yet they were very unwilling to grant that Arabic was thus confessedly imperfect.2 To meet the difficulty they came forward with the suggestion that these were odd cases of coincidence where Arabic and these other tongues happened to use the same word for the same thing, but which in the case of Arabic happened to be used for the first time in the Qur'an. This, curiously enough, is the position taken by at-Tabari in his Tafsir,3 and is even seriously defended at the present day by the ultra-orthodox in spite of the overwhelming weight of the probabilities against such a series of coincidences, not to speak of the definite linguistic evidence of borrowing on the part of Arabic.

This line of argument was not one which was likely to commend itself to many of the more instructed Muslim savants, so we are not surprised to find others taking up a more likely-looking position and claiming that in cases where the two languages agree, it is the Abyssinian or Nabataean, or Syriac, or Persian which has borrowed from Arabic. Since Arabic is the most perfect and richest of all languages, they argued, it is much more likely that the surrounding peoples would have borrowed vocabulary from the Arabs than that the Arabs took over words from them. This, as-Suyuti tells us, was the

1 The reference is to ash-Shafi'i's Risala (Cairo, 13l2), p.13. See further on this point, Dvorák, Fremdw, 10, with his references to Goldziher, ZDMG, xxvi, 768. There are several traditions as to Muhammad's great linguistic attainments, and he is said to have been particularly skilled in Ethiopic cf. Goldziher, op. cit., 770. Perhaps the most curious of these traditions is that in Kanz. ii, 41, that the language of Ishmael was a lost tongue but that Gabriel came and instructed Muhammad therein.

2 This jealousy for the perfection of their language is characteristically Oriental. An interesting example of it from a Syriac writer will be found in Budge's Cave of Treasures, 1928, p. 132.

3 Cairo ed. of 1323, vol. i , pp.6-9, on which see Loth in ZDMG, xxxv,595. As-Suyuti,.Itq, 315, summarized his view "Said Ibn Jarir - What is handed down from Ibn ‘Abbas and others on the interpretation of words of the Qur'an to the effect that they are Persian or Abyssinian or Nabataean, etc., only represents cases where there is coincidence among the languages, so that the Arabs, Persians, and Abyssinians happen to use the same word." There is an excellent example of this line of argument in as-Sijistani. 111.


opinion of Shaidhala. "Said Abu'l-Ma'ali 'Azizi b. 'Abd al-Malik,1 these words are found in the Arabic language for it is the widest of languages and the most copious in vocabulary, so it is possible that it was the first to use these words which others then adopted."2

The swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction is represented at its furthest extreme by those who say that the very fact of the Qur'an being in Arabic is a proof that it is not a Divine Book, for had it been a heavenly revelation it would have come down in one of the Holy tongues, i.e. Hebrew or Syriac. Unfortunately, we know little about the supporters of this opinion, but the fact that at-Tabari considers it necessary to refute them would seem to show that they exercised no inconsiderable influence in certain circles. Such an extreme position, however, was never likely to gain general acceptance, and the popular view among such as were constrained to admit the conclusions of the philologers as to the existence of foreign words in the Qur'an, was that this was not strange in view of the fact that the Qur'an is the final revelation. The Qur'an itself states that when a Prophet was sent to any people he preached in the language of that people so as to be understood by them. Thus, e.g. we read in xiv, 4,

"and we have sent no Prophet save in the tongue of his own people that (his message) might be plain to them ". So it is obvious that the Qur'an, being sent to the Arab people, must be in Arabic, but since it sums up and completes all previous revelations, it is only to be expected that technical terms of Hebrew and Syriac or other origin which were used in previous revelations should be included in this final revelation. Moreover, as the Qur'an is intended for all peoples, oue should not be surprised to find in it something from all languages,3 a

1 i.e. Shaidhala, whom as-Suyuti frequently quotes among his authorities vide Itq, 13; Mutaw, 45.

2 Itq, 315.

3 at-Tabari quotes in favour of this idea the savant Abu Maisara at-Tabi'i al-Jalil, whom as-Suyuti, Itq, 316, also quotes, adding that Sa'id b. Jubair and Wahb. B. Munabbih were of the same opinion, and that Ibn an-Naqih claimed that one of the of the Qur'an distinguishing it above all other Scriptures, is that while it was revealed in the tongue of the people to whom it was first sent, it also contains much of the tongues of the three great Empires of Roum, Persia, and Abyssinia. Dvorák, Frmdw 11, 12, points out that some Muslim writers have illustrated this point by taking the tradition of the seven to refer to seven different languages from whose vocabulary something is used in the Qur'an. Here, however, there is no question of "languages" but of different Arab dialects (cf. as-Suyuti, Itq, 110; Ibn al-Athir, Nihaya, i, 250, 251) this is really irrelevant in the discussion.


point which is sometimes emphasized by a reference to the claim that the Qur'an contains all previous knowledge, and information about everything, which would not be true if it did not contain all languages.1 Obviously all of all languages was not contained, but what was sweetest, most pleasant, and most suitable.2

The most sensible statement on this whole question, however, is that suggested by as-Suyuti, Itq, 316, and expounded by ath-Tha'alibi 3 in his Kitab al-Jawahir, i,17 : " In my opinion the truth of the matter is this. The Qur'an is in plain Arabic containing no word which is not Arabic or which cannot be understood without the help of some other language. For these (so-called foreign) words belonged to the (language of the) ancient Arabs, in whose tongue the Qur'an was revealed, after they had had contact with other languages through commercial affairs and travel in Syria and Abyssinia, whereby the Arabs took over foreign words, altering some of them by dropping letters or lightening what was heavy in the foreign form. Then they used these words in their poetry and conversation so that they became like pure Arabic and were used in literature and thus occur in the Qur'an. So if any Arab is ignorant about these words it is like his ignorance of the genuine elements of some other dialect, just as Ibn 'Abbas did not know the meaning of Fatir, etc. Thus the truth is that these words were foreign, but the Arabs made use of them and Arabicized them, so from, this point of view they are Arabic.4 As for at-Tabari's opinion that in these cases the two languages agree word for word, it is far-fetched, for one of them is the original and the other a derivative as a rule, though we do not absolutely rule out coincidence in a few exceptional cases."

If challenged as to how, on this view, the Qur'an could be called a plain Arabic Qur'an ", its defenders reply with as-Suyati,.5 that the presence of a few foreign words therein no more makes it

1 as-Suyuti, Itq, 316 - an opinion which is quoted also by al-Khafiji, 3 and 4. See also Itq, 322.

2 As as-Suyuti says:

3 This is not the famous philologer whose Fiqh al-Lugha we shall have occasion to quote frequently in the course of our work, but a N. African exegete 'Abd ar-Rahman ath-Tha'alibi, whose Tafsir was published in four volumes at Algiers in 1905.

4 See al-Jawaliqi, Mu'arrab, 5, says a sentiment which is echoed by al-Khafaji.

5 Itq, 3l5.


non-Arabic than the presence of many Arabic words in a Persian ode makes the ode non-Persian. In any case the reference of is to the Qur'an as a whole, and not to individual words in it, as-Suyuti even finds one authority 1 who considered that the presence in the Qur'an of such words as and for fine silk brocade, and for precious spices, and for other articles of luxury and civilization, is a proof of the excellence of the Qur'an, for the Qur'an was to tell men of the best things and thus could not be bound down and limited by the rude civilization of the Arabs of the Jahiliyya. Naturally the pre-Islamic Arabs had not words for many things belonging to the higher stage of civilization to which the Qur'an was to lead them, and it was only natural that the Qur'an should use the new words that were necessary to describe the new excellences, words which indeed were not unknown to many of the Arabs of the Jahiliyya who had come into coutact with the civilization of Persia and of Roum.

So as-Suyuti concludes with al-Jawaliqi and Ibn al-Jauzi that both parties to the quarrel are right. 2 The great philologers were right in claiming that there are foreign words in the Qur'an, for in regard to origin these words are Persian or Syrian orAbyssinian. But the Imam ash-Shiafi'i and his followers are also right, for since these words have been adopted into the Arabic langutge and polished by the tongues of the Arabs, they are indeed Arabic. 3 So we can comfortably conclude –

Turning now to the question of the lauguages from which these

1 Itq, 316, 317.

2 Itq, 318, and al-Jawaliqi, Mu'arrab, 5. The reference to Ibn al Jauzi is doubtless to his Funun al-Afnan, which as-Suyuti often quotes, cf. Itq, and Mutaw, 44.

3 Note as-Suyuti's quotation on this point from Abu- 'Ubaid al-Qasim b. Sallam, a quotation which is also given with slight verbal alterations in TA, i, 9, as from Abu ‘Ubaida.


borrowed words came, we find that as-Suyuti,1 whose classification is the most complete that has come down to us, divides them in the Mutwakkili into the following classes: -

(i) Words borrowed from Ethiopic

(ii) Words borrowed from Persian

(iii) Words borrowed from Greek

(iv) Words borrowed from Indian

(v) Words borrowed from Syriac

(vi) Words borrowed from Hebrew

(vii) Words borrowed from Nabatiean

(viii) Words borrowed from Coptic

(ix) Words borrowed from Turkish

(x) Words borrowed from Negro

(xi) Words borrowed from Berber

It is obvious at the first glance that much of this is mere guesswork, and equally obvious that the philologers whom as-Suyuti quotes had frequently very little conception of the meaning of the linguistic terms they use. It is necessary, therefore, to inquire a little more closely into what may have been meant by these terms and what may have been the possibilities of Arabic having drawn on any of these languages for religious and cultural vocabulary.

(i) Abyssinian. - Philologically, Ethiopic, the ancient language of Abyssinia, is the most closely related to Arabic of all the Semitic tongues; Ethiopic and Arabic, with the languages of the S. Arabian

1 Sprenger's list, "Foreign Word Occurring in the Qoran," in JASB, xxi (1852), pp. 109-114, is taken from his MS. of as-Suyuti's Al-Huhadhdhab.


inscriptions, being grouped together as South Semitic as opposed to the North Semitic group. The modern Abyssinian languages, and particuarly Amharic, have in some respects diverged very considerably from the ancient Ge'ez, but it was presumably this ancient language with which the Arabs were in contact in pre-Islamic days and during Muhammad's lifetime. These contacts, as a matter of fact, were fairly close. For some time previous to the birth of Muhammad the southern portion of Arabia had been under Abyssinian rule,1 and tradition relates that Muhammad was born in the Year of the Elephant, when Mecca was saved from the Abyssinian army which marched up under Abraha to destroy the city. It is practically certain that there were trade relations between Abyssinia and Arabia at a much earlier period than the Axumite occupation of Yemen,2 and that friendly relations continued in spite of the Year of the Elephant is clear from the fact that Muhammad is said to have sent his persecuted followers to seek refuge in Abyssinia,3 and that the Meccan merchants employed a body of mercenary Abyssinian troops.4

That Muhammad himself had personal contact with people who spoke seems to be indicated from the fact that tradition tells us that his first nurse was an Abyssinian woman, Umm Aiman,5 that the man he chose as first Muezzin in Islam was Bilal al-Habashi, and the tradition already noted that the Prophet was particularly skilled in the Ethiopic language.6

Abyssinian slaves appear to have been not uncommon in Mecca after the rout of the famous army of the Elephant,7, and it would not have been difficult for Muhammad in his boyhood to have learned many words of religious significance from such sources.8 It must

1 at-Tabari, Annales, i, 926 ff. Ibn Hisham, 25 ff. al-Mas'udi Muraj, iii, 157, and see particularly Nöldeke's Sasaniden, 186 ff.

2 El, i, 119, and Lamme's, La Mecque, 281 ff.

3 This was in A.D. 616, and is known as the First Hijra, cf. at-Tabari, Annales, i, 1181. Dvorák, Fremdw, 25, would derive some of the Ethiopic elements in the Qur'an from the two Abyssinian migrations, but this is hardly likely.

4 Lammens, "Les Ahabish," in JA, xi ser., vol. viii, 1916, p. 425 ff.

5 Abu'1-Fida. Vita Mohammedis, p. 2, an-Nawawi, 756.

6 Infra , p. 8. al-Khafaji, 111, under gives an example of the Prophet's use of Ethiopic.

7 Azraki, p. 97 See also Essay I in Lameen's L'Arabie occidentale avant l'Hégire, Beyrouth, 1928.

8 Sprenger, Moh. und der Koran, p. 54, suggests that the mentor referred to in Sura xvi, 105, xxv, 5, 6, may have been an Abyssinian.


also be borne in mind that during the Axumite occupation of S. Arabia many Ethiopic words of cultural significance may have come into current use in Arabia through commercial and political intercourse.1

(ii) Persian. - The contacts between Arabia and the Sasanian Empire of Persia were very close in the period immediately preceding Islam. The Arab Kingdom centering in al-Hira on the Euphrates had long been under Persian influence and was a prime centre for the diffusion of Iran culture among the Arabs,2 and in the titanic struggle between the Sasanian and Byzantine Empires, where al-Hira had been set against the kingdom of Ghassan, other Arab tribes became involved and naturally came under the cultural influence of Persia.3 The court of the Lakhmids at al-Hira was in pre-Islamic times a famous centre of literary activity. The Christian poet 'Adi b. Zaid lived long at this court, as did the almost-Christian al-A'sha, andl their poems are full of Persian words.4 Other poets also, such as Tarafa and his uncle Mutalammis, Al-Harith b. Hilliza, 'Amr b. Kulthum, etc., had more or less connection with al-Hira,5 while in some accounts we find 'Abid b. al-Abras and others there. There is some evidence to suggest that it was from al-Hira that the art of writing spread to the rest of the Arabian peninsula.6 But not only along the Mesopotamian area was Persian influence felt. It was a Persian general and Persian influence which overthrew the Abyssinian suzeranity in S. Arabia during Muhammad's lifetime,7 and there is even a suspicion of Persian influence in Mecca itself. How far Persian cultural influence penetrated the peninsula we have little means of telling, but it will be remembered that one of Muhammad's rivals was

1 It has been noted by more than one scholar that the terms connected with sea-faring and sea-borne trade seem to be greatly influenced by Ethiopic. Andrae, Ursprung, 15, speaking of this Axumite occupation says "Mit den neuen herrschern kamen aber sicher auch Geistliche herüber, und wir dürfen annehmen, dass eine grosse Zahl der Ethiopischen Lehnwörter mis Bezeichnung für kultische und religiöse Dinge, die uns im Koran begegnen, während dieser Periode ihren Weg in den arabischen Sprachschatz. gefunden haben."

2 Rothstein, Die Dynastie der Lakhmidem in al-Hire, passim, and Siddiqi, 76.

3 We even hear of Arabs in that region becoming Zoroastrians. vide note on in Siddiqi, 79.

4 Ibn Qutaiba, Shi'r, 136 f, Siddiqi, 82 ff., gives examples from other poets showing how great was the Persian influence on the poetry of that period.

5 Nicholson, Literary History, p. 107, and Shanqiti's introduction to the Mu'allaqat, Cairo, 1338.

6 Rothstein, Lokhmiden, 27.

7 at-Tabari, Annales, i 948 ff. Ibn Hisham, 41-6; Hamza, Annales, 139; and see Spiegel, Eransiche Altertumskunde, iii. 454.


an-Nadr b. al-Harith, who frequently drew away the Prophet's audiences by his tales of Rustam and Isfandiyar.1

By the Muslim writers obviously mean the later Persian language which was known to them when Persia had long been an important part of the Islamic Empire, but the language which would have been known in Arabia in pre-Islamic times, the language with which Muhammad himself may have come in contact, was Pahlavi,2, the official language of the Sasanian Empire (A.D. 226-640).3 This Pahlavi was a curious language whose written form was strangely compounded with Semitic elements, but which in its spoken form doubtless represented a more archaic form of the Persian we find in the later Muslim literature of Persia, though with a greater admixture of Semitic words.

The fact that the pre-Islamic and early Muslim contacts with Persia were with a people using Middle and not Modern Persian has frequently been forgotten by Oriental invrstigators into the foreign elements in Arabic. Thus Addai Sher on p. 4 of the Introduction to his study , in detailing the changes which Persian words have undergone in passing into Arabic, complains that the Arabs frequently added a or at the end of words, e.g. they wrote or for the Persian , and or for the Persian . In such cases, or course, the Arabic or represents the Pahlavi suffix k, which in Modern Persian becomes after a short vowel, but is dropped after a long vowel,4 as in beside Arm. from Phlv. . A good example

1 Ibn Hisham, 235, 236, and see Blochet in RHR, xl, 20 ff. Nadr is supposed to be the person referred to in Sura xxxi, 5.

2 Or Middle Persian, as the philologists prefer to call it, see Salemann in Geiger and Kuhn's Grundriss, and Nöldeke, "Zum Mittelpersischen,'' in WZKM, xvi, 1-12.

3 Haug, "Essay on the Pahlavi Language," p. 33 in PPGl; Herzfeld, "Essay on Pahlavi" in Paikuli, pp. 52-73.

4 Vide Haug, Essay on Pahlavi, p. 117, and Blochet in Revue Sémitique, iv, 267. "Note sur l'arabisation des mots persans."


of this occurs in the Qur'an in the word where the Persian word is and the Arabic and Persian represent a Pahlavi which appears again very clearly in the Syriac and Armenian , which are borrowed from the same Pahlavi word.

It is unfortunate that the Middle Persian literature which has survived to our own time has survived only in late copies, but we have every reason to believe, as in the similar case of the Hebrew codices of the O.T., that the MSS. in our hands represent the genuine ancient books very faithfully. What is even more unfortunate is that so little of the Pahlavi literature has come down to us. It will be noticed in any treatment of the Persian element in early Arabic that there are many cases where there can be little doubt that we are dealing with words borrowed from an Iranian source, but where the only form which can be quoted in comparison is from Modern Persian, the older form from which the word would have been derived not having survived in the remnants of the Pahlavi literature which have come down to our day.1

As-Suyuti sometimes refer's to Persian by the definite title and sometimes by the more indefinite , which like he also frequently uses as meaning nothing more than foreign.2 There is no ground, however, for thinking that any distinction of dialect is meant to be indicated by the varying use of these terms.

(iii) Greek. - as-Suyuti uses two terms for Greek in his discussion of the foreign words, viz. and . Thus in discussing the word in Itq, 321, he tells us that Shaidhala said it was whereas on the same page in connection with the word he quotes Shaidhala again as saying that the word was . Dvorák, Fremdw, 20, thinks that a distinction is being made here between ancient and medieval

1 It is possible that a fuller acquaintance with Pahlavi would enable us to explain a number of strange terms in the Qur'an for which at present we have no solution.

2 The discussion on the use of these terms in Dvorák Fremdw, 20, 21.


Greek, and that when the word is used we are to understand the ancient Classical Greek, whereas in contradistinction to this stands for Byzantine Greek. When, however, we come to examine the words which are said by as-Suyuti's authorities to be either or we find that these authorities have no understanding whatever of the matter, and it seems in the last degree unlikely that any of them would have known the distinction between the two forms of Greek.1

Any direct contact with the Greek language at the time of Muhammad or the period immediately preceding his birth would necessarily have been with Byzantine Greek. At that time Byzantine influence was supreme in Syria and Palestine, and the Arab confederacy of Ghassan, which acted as a buffer state between the Byzantine Empire and the desert tribes, and was used as an offset to the Persian influence it al-Hira, was a channel whereby Byzantine influence touched the Arabs at many points.2 Intercourse with Constantinople is constant, and both the pre-Islamic poet Imru' ul-Qais,3 and the Hanif 'Uthman b. al-Huwairith 4 are said to have visited the Byzantine court. Contact with Christian communities in Syria which used the Greek language was a channel for the introduction of Greek words, and some trade words may have come as a result of Greek commercial ventures along the Red Sea littoral,5 as we learn from the Periplus Maris Erythraei6, that Arab captains and crews were employed in this trade.

Byzantine Greek as a spoken language was doubtless widely spread in Palestine and Syria at the time, and the presumption is that it would be not unfamiliar to many Arabs connected more or less closely

1 But see Jahiz, Three Essays, ed. Finkel, pp. 14, 17.

2 Nöldeke, Ghassanischen Fürsten, p. 12 ff. Note also the Greek words occurring in the Nabataean inscriptions, e.g. , etc. (on all of which see Cook, Glossary), and the number of Greek words in the Palestinian Talmud (cf. S. Krauss, Griechische und lateinische Lehnwörter im Talmud, Berlin, 1899).

3 Rückert, Amrilkais der Dichter un König, 94 ff.; Shanqiti, p. 9; Nicholson, Literary History, 104.

4 Ibn Hisham, 144; and see Caetani, Annali, i, p. 190.

5 Thus there is reason to believe that the Ar. is from ; cf. Vollers in ZDMG, li, 300, 325.

6 In C. Müller, Geogr. Graec. Min., i, 271.


with the Ghassanid confederacy. Epigraphical remains collected by de Vogüé 1 and others, show many bi-lingual inscriptions from N. Arabia in which one of the languages is Greek, so we cannot absolutely rule out the possibility that Greek words may have been borrowed directly into Arabic in the pre-Islamic period, as they undoubtedly were later,2 but the Greek words in the Qur'an seem nevertheless with few exceptions to have come into Arabic through Syriac.3

(iv) Indian. - It is somewhat difficult at times to decide what the philologers meant by . West Syrian ecclesiastical writers both in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period commonly use the word for South Arabia and Ethiopia, and generally means Ethiopian even in the oldest literature.4 Thus in the fatuous passage, Jer. xiii, 23, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard change his spots," we find used to translate the Hebrew , (LXX )5 and in the writings of Dionysius of Tell Mahre,6 and Michael the Syrian,7 we find the S. Arabian and Abyssinian area called India.8 It was not only the Syriac writers, however, who made this confusion. Epiphanius in the fourth century details the nine kingdoms of India,9 and his mention among them of the Homeritae10 and Azumitae11 makes it obvious that he is referring to the Ethiopian Kingdom. Sozomen 12 and Socrates,13 in their accounts of the mission of Frumentius to convert the people of this Kingdom, speak of them as , and so the term passed to the Latin writers and from them to the geographers of the Middle Ages.14 It is thus probable that in early Arabic referred to the language of S. Arabia.

1 La Syrie centrale, 1868-1877.

2 e.g. the Chancellor of the Byzantine Court (cf. de Goeje, Glossary, p. 349) ; from and (Dozy, Supplément, ii, 410); , a sacerdotal robe (Dozy, Supplément, 21).

3 Dvorák, Fremdw, 25 agrees.

4 PSm, sub voc.


6 In Assemani, Bibl. Or., i, 359 ff.

7 Ed. Chabot, ii, 183 ff.

8 Mingana, Rylands Library Bulletin, x, 445, gives quotations from other less-known writers.

9 Ed. Dindorf, iv, 179, 180, in the tractate Libri de XII Gemmis.

10 i.e. the of Haer, lxvi, 83.

11 i.e. the of Haer, lxvi, 83.

12 Hist. Eccl.. ii, § 24.

13 Hist. Eccl. § 19. See also Philostorgius, ii 6.

14 See Yule's Marco Polo (ed. Cordier), ii, 431 ff., and Nöldeke, Sasaniden, 222 ii.


This S. Arabian language, or language group, as revealed to us from the inscriptions of the Minaean, Sabaean, Himyaritic, and other kingdoms, belongs to the S. Semitic group, and is closely related to Ethiopic, the classical language of Abyssinia. The latest inscriptions in the to language date from A.D. 550, and the language would seem to have been supplanted by Arabic as a spoken language in those regions,1 even before the time of Muhammad, though the survival to the present day of the Mahri and Soqotri 2 dialects would seem to indicate that in odd corners this old language might have survived until quite a late period. With the break-up of the S. Arabian kingdom tribes of these peoples migrated to other areas of Arabia, so that at the commencement of the Islamic period we find them widely scattered over the peninsula.3 Though when we meet them there they are using the N. Arabian dialects of the tribes among whom they dwelt,4 there can be no doubt that words of S. Arabian origin could have found their way into Arabic from these scattered communities.

When we examine the words which the philologers class as Indian5, we find, however, that none of them are real S. Arabian words. They are merely words which the early authorities could not explain, and had to refer to some remote origin, and so for them might quite well have meant the distant land of India, with which the Muslim conquests in the East had made them vaquely familiar.

(v) Syriac. - This is undoubtedly the most copious source of Qur'anic borrowings. Syriac, which still survives today as a liturgical language and as the dialect of a few communities of Oriental Christians in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia, was at that time the spoken language of those Christian communities best known to the Arabs.6 How widely Syriac was spoken at the time of Muhammad

1 Nicholson, Literary History, p. 6.

2 Cf D.H. Müller, Die Mehri und Soqotri-Sprache, Wien, 1902-5.

3 Vide Blau, Die Wanderung der sabäischen Völkerstämme," ZDMG, xxii (1868), p. 654 ff.

4 This fact has been forgotten by Taha Husein in his essay on the pre-Islamic poetry, where he argues against the genuineness of some of the old poetry on the ground that while the poet was of a South Arabian tribe his language is North Arabic, and not one of the South Arabian dialects.

5 Cf. the list in as-Suyuti, Mutaw, 51, 52.

6 For the purposes of this Essay, Syriac = Christian Aramaic, and thus includes the Christian-Palestinian dialect and the Aramaic dialect of the Christian population of N. Syria as well as the Classical Syriac dialect of Edessa, which is the one best known to us from the literature and commonly usurps to itself the title of Syriac.


in the area now known as Syria, is difficult to determine, but it seems fairly certain that while Greek was the dominant literary language in the region at that period the common people of native origin generally spoke Syriac. South of Syria, however, we find that the so-called Christian-Palestinian dialect was more or less in literary use down to the eleventh century,1 while in the fifth and sixth centuries it was in such common use there and of such importance as to warrant a special translation of the Scriptures and Church manuals into the dialect.2 It was in Mesopotamia, however, that Syriac was in widest use as a literary and as a colloquial language. It was from this area that Aramaic made such a profound impress on the Middle Persian language and literature,3 and there can be no doubt that from the Syriac used by the Christian portion of the community of al-Hira and the surrounding districts came the major portion of Syriac influence upon Arabic.

It will be remembered that it was in this area that one of the earliest forms of Arabic script, the Kufic, was invented, based apparently on a modification of the Syriac script,4 and it was from the same area that the system of vowel pointing in Arabic was developed from the old Nestorian system.5 Here also in the court of the kings of al-Hira, the Christian 'Ibadites laid the foundation of Arabic literature,6 and it was in this area that Arab tribes such as Tamim and Taghlib and Quda'a seem first to have come under Christian influence,7 so that from here, along the trade routes, streams of Christian culture spread throughout Arabia.8

We are still in need of a critical discussion of the spread of Christianity in Arabia,9 but one fact seems certain, namely that such Christianity as was known among the Arabs in pre-Islamic times was

1 The date when the scribe Abud copied the Lectionary published by Erizzo, Evangelarium Hierosolymitanum, Verona. 1861.

2 Nöldeke, ZDMG, xxii, 525, gives this as the date of the version. Since about A.D. 700 (Schulthess, Grammatik, p.7), the language has been superseded as a colloquial by Arabic, and there are Arabicisms to be met with in the MSS. which were written by Arabic-speaking monks, cf. Nöldeke, loc. cit., p.523 n.

3 See Haug in PPGI, and Essay, p. 81 and Salemann in Geiger and Kuhn's Grundriss, i, 250.

4 Rothstein, Lukhmiden, 27 Moritz in El, i, 383.

5 Moritz in El, i, 384.

6 Nicholson, Literary History, 138.

7 Cheikho, Nasraniya, see Index under these names.

8 Nicholson, op. cit., 39.

9 The discussion was begun by Wright, Early Christianity in Arabia, 1855, and continued, though in an uncritical way, by Cheikho in his Nasraniya. The latest and best discussion, though by no means complete, is in Andrae's Ursprung, 1926.


largely of the Syrian type, whether Jacobite or Nestorian. In the kingdom of Ghassan the dominant party appears to have been Monophysite,1 though some, under Byzantine influence, became Melkite.2 In al-Hira also many important Christian families would seem to have been Monophysite, if we can believe the accounts of the mission of Simeon of Beth Arsham,3 though the predominant party there was Nestorian.4 The Christian community in S. Arabia at Najran, which was perhaps the oldest Christian community in Arabia,5 and whose persecution by the Jewish king Dhu Nawas is mentioned in the Qur'an,6 appears to have been a mixed community. There is no doubt that many of them were Nestorians,7 while others as clearly were Monophysites more or less related to the Monophysite Church of Abyssinia.8

Vocabulary of Syriac origin was already coming into use in Arabia in pre-Islamic times. The court of al-Hira was a rendezvous of the poets and litterateurs of the day, and many of the pre-Islamic poets, such as Imru'ul-Qais, Mutalammis, and 'Adi b. Zaid, were Christians. Their poetry, naturally, was impregnated with Christian words and ideas, but even in the extant poetry of such non-Christians as an-Nabigha and al-A'sha, 9 who spent much time at al-Hira, we find the same strong influences of Syrian Christianity.10 The trade routes again were channels whereby Syriac vocabulary entered Arabic. The wine trade,11 e.g. , was largely in the hands of these Christians,12 and so

1 Nöldeke, Ghassanischen Fürsten, pp. 20, 21.

2 Andrae, Ursprung, 31.

3 See "Lives of the Eastern Saints," by John of Ephesus, in Patr. Orient, xvii, p. 140. These converts of Simeon are said to have been brought back to the orthodox faith by the preaching of Maraba (Labourt, Le Christianisme dans l'Empire perse, p. 191) Assemani, Bibl. Or., iii, 2, 606, mentions Monophysite Bishops of al-Hira.

4 Andrae, Ursprung, 25 Lammens in ROC, ix, 32 ff.

5 See the long account of them in Andrae, Ursprung, 7-24.

6 Sura lxxxv, 4 ff. It is only fair, however, to state that Western scholars are not unanimous in accepting this as a reference to the persecution of Najran, though the weight of probability is strongly in its favor.

7 Cf. the "Histoire Nestorienne," in Patr. Orient., v, 330 ff.

8 Littmann, Deutsch Aksum-Expedition, i, 50.

9 There is a tradition that an-Nabigha was a Christian, on the strength of which Cheikho includes him among the Christian Arab poets, but Nicholson (Literary History, 123), rightly rejects the tradition as without authority. Al-A'sha also is frequently claimed as a Christian, and is included by Cheikho in his collection, but see Nicholson, p. 124.

10 Wellhausen, Reste, 234; Lyall, Ancient Arabian Poetry, pp. 92 and 119; von Kremer in SBAW, Wien (1881), vol. xcviii, 555 ff.

11 Jacob, Altarabisches Beduinenleben, 99, has an interesting note hereon, referring to Aghani, viii, 79; cf. Wellhausen, Reste, 231.

12 Though Jews also engaged in the trade, cf. Goldziher, ZDMG, xlvi, 185.


we find that most of the early Arabic terms in connection with this trade are of Syriac origin.1

There were slight differences in pronunciation between the Jacobites and the Nestorians, and Mingana notes that the vowelling of the proper names in the Qur'an seems to follow the Nestorian pronunciation rather than the other,2 though in many cases, as we shall see, the Qur'anic forms approximate most closely to those found in the Christian-Palestinian dialect.

It is possible that certain of the Syriac words we find in the Qur'an were introduced by Muhammad himself. That he had personal contact with Christians of the Syrian Church is definitely stated in the Traditions. We read that he went in early life on trading journeys to Syria with the caravans of the Quraish,3 and there is an account of how on one occasion he listened to a sermon by Quss, Bishop of Najran,4 at the festival of 'Ukaz near Mecca.5 Earlier Christian writers suggested that his mentor was a monk named Sergius,6 and the legends of Nestor and Bahira7 at least show that there was an early recognition of the fact that Muhammad was at one time in more or less close contact with Christians associated with the Syrian Church.8

1 Rothstein, Lakhmiden, p. 26.

2 Syriac Influence, 83. As-Suyuti once (Itq, 325) quotes a word as being from the Hauranic dialect, by which he apparently means some dialect of Syriac.

3 at-Tabari, Annales, i, 1123; Ibn Sa'd, I, i, 75 ff.; al-Mas'udi, Muraj, iv, 132, 152; Sprenger, Mohammed und der Koran, p. 6, sees in Sura xxxvii, 137, a recollection of his having passed the Dead Sea on one of those journeys.

4 That he was Bishop of Najran we learn from LA, viii 58. From al-Baihaqi's Mahasin, 351 ff., we would gather that he was rather an Arab soothsayer and fortune teller.

5 Jahiz, Bayan, i, 119, Khizana, i, 268. On Quss see Sprenger, Leben, i, 102 ff. and Andrae, Ursprung, 202 ff.

6 Al-Kini, Risala, p. 76, and the Byzantine writers, e.g. , says that George Phrantzes (ed. Niebuhr, p. 295). It is doubtful whether Sergius and Bahira are different personages.

7 at-Tabari Annales, i, 1124; Ibn Sa'd, I, i, 76; al-Mas'udi, Muraj, iv, 153. On these legends see Hirschfeld, New Researches, 22 ff.; Gottheil, ZA, xiii, 189 ff.; Sprenger, Leben, i, 178 ff.; Caetani, Annali, i, 136, 169; Nöldeke, ZDMG, xii, 6399 ff.

8 Nestor is obviously connected with Nestorianism (cf. and Buhaira or Bahira is the Syr. (Nöldeke, ZDMG, xii, 704 n.), commonly used of monks (Nau, Expansion nestorienne, p. 215), though Hirschfeld, p. 23, argues that it is a Jewish word. Loth, ZDMG, xxxv, 620 ff., suggests that some of Muhammad's material may have come from one Suhaib, a Greek from the region of Mosul. The question as to whether Muhammad could have had a Scripture teacher has been discussed by the present writer in an essay in the volume, From the Pyramids to Paul (New York, 1935), pp. 95-118.


It goes without saying that not all the words which as-Suyuti's authorities class under the term are of Syriac origin. Goldziher has pointed out 1 that was frequently used by Muslim writers for anything ancient, time honored, and consequently little understood, and he quotes a line from Ibn 'Abd Rabbihi, who in his 'Iqd al-Farid, speaking of a notoriously bad copyist, says "if he copied a book twice 'twould be Syriac " Dvorák 2 also refers to a common Turkish phrase quoted by Vambéry "Is it perhaps Syriac? We could not understand it,'' somewhat as we say, ''It was all Greek to me.'' It is thus clear that in the writings of the Muslim exegetes may frequently have meant nothing more than that a word was of the old learned tongues and so more or less unintelligible to the ordinary person.

(vi) Hebrew. - We learn from the Muslim historians that Jews were prominent in the pre-Islamic community at Madina,3 and that there were in fact three considerable tribes of Jews in that area, the Banu Qanuqa', Banu Quraiza, and Banu Nadir,4 who were proprietors of lands and plantations of palm trees, and who excercised no little influence on the Arabs around them.5 There were also many Jewish tradesmen in the city who are said to have been particularly skilled as jewelers and armourers.6 We learn also of communities at al-'Ala 7 (the ancient Dedan), Taima 8, Khaiba,9 and Fadak,10 in North Arabia

1 ZDMG, xxvi, 774.

2 Fremdwörter, 22n.

3 Ibn Hisham, 351; at-Tabari, Annales, 1359 ff. For a discussion of their position and influence there, see Hirschfeld, REJ, vii, 167 ff.; Leszynsky, Die Juden in Arabien, 1910; and Sensinck, De Joden te Medina, Leiden, 1908.

4 We learn also of a tribe Banu Hadal (or Handal or Bahdal), cf. Yaqut Mu'jam, iv, 462, and see Hisrchfeld, REJ, vii 169 ff. The Aghani also mentions other smaller tribes or families.

5 Aghani, xix, 94.

6 Cf. Hirschfeld, op. cit.; Wellhausen, Reste, 230; Caetani, Annale, i, 386.

7 Rudolph, Abhängigkeit, p. 1.

8 Shammakh, Divan, ed. Shanqiti, p. 26; Yakut, Mu'jam, i, 907.

9 Yaqut, Mu'jam, ii, 504 ff.

10 Yaqut, Mu'jam, iii, 856, 857; Abu Da'ud, Sunan, xix, 26.


and doubtless they were known in many other areas from which, however, no evidence of their presence has survived. We have no evidence as to when they arrived in N. Arabia, but it was possibly. at an early period.1 Arabian legend places their first settlements there in the time of Moses and Aaron.2 Acts ii, 11, would seem to indicate that there were settlements of them there at the commencement of the Christian era, and in the Mishna (Shabb. vi, 6)3 we have fairly reliable evidence of early settlements in that area.4 It has been frequently suggested that the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 drove many Jewish families to seek refuge in N. Arabia, and thus added to the importance of the communities already settled there.5

There were Jewish settlements also in S. Arabia.6 Whether they were founded by Jews who had followed the spice road from N. Arabia,7 or by traders who had crossed from Egypt or Abyssinia,8 it is impossible now to say. Perhaps there were communities there from both these centres of trade. That they exercised no little religious influence there is indicated both by the Jewish imprint on many of the S. Arabian religious inscriptions,9 and by the fact that we have very consistent tradition as to the conversion of one of the Himyarite kings to Judaism.10 It was the persecution of the Christian communities by this proselyte Dhu Nawas, or Masruq, which was said to have led to the Axumite invasion and occupation of S. Arabia.

The polemic of the Qur'an itself is sufficient evidence of the importance of the Jews as a religious body in the community to which Muhammad addressed his message. As, however, these Arabian Jews all bear Arab names, are organized in tribes on the Arab fashion, and, when we meet them in the literature, act and talk like genuine Arabs, some have thought that they were not real Jews but Arab

1 Torrey, Foundation, 10 ff., argues for a considerable settlement of expatriated Jews in Taima as early as the sixth century D.B..

2 Aghani, xix, 94.

3 i.e. fol. 65a.

4 Notice also that there are numerous Arabic words and Arabisms in the Mishna, cf. Margioliouth, Schweich Lectures, p. 58.

5 Caetani, Annali, i, 383; Leszynsky, Die Juden in Arabien, p. 6.

6 Aghani, xiii, 121.

7 Rudolph, Abhängigkeit, p. 1; Wellhausen, Reste, 230.

8 Caetani, Studi, i, 261.

9 Margoliouth, op. cit., 67 ff., thinks there is some doubt about this, but see MW, xix, 13.

10 Moberg, Book of the Himyarites, xlii ff.; Fell in ZDMG, xxxv, 1-74; Ibn Hisham, 20 ff.; at Tabari, Annales, i, 918 ff.; al-Mas'udi, Muruj, i, 129.


proselytes.1 It is difficult, however, in face of the polemic of the Qur'an, to think of them as other than Jews by race as well as religion, and their adoption of Arab customs may well be explained by the Jewish habit of assimilating themselves to the community which they dwell.2

Whether these Jews had any great familiarity with Hebrew, however, is a different question. One would gather from the Qur'an that they were far better acquainted with the Rabbinic writings than they were with the Scriptures, and when we find Muhammad borrowing technical terms of Jewish origin they are generally of an Aramaic rather than a Hebrew form. It would seem from a passage in Ibn Hisham,3 that they had a Beth ha-Midrash which Muhammad visited on at least one occasion,4 though we are left to conjecture what they studied there. Some accounts we have do not speak very highly of their intellectual acquirements.5 On the whole, one would judge that much of Muhammad's knowledge of Judaism was gained from the general stock of information about Jewish practice and versions of Jewish stories and legends that were current among the Arabs who had lived in contact with Jewish communities, for much of this material as we shall see, can be found also in the old poetry. 6 Certainly some of his knowledge of Judaism came through Christian channels, as is demonstrated by the Christian form of many Old Testament

1 Winckler, MVAG, vi 222; Margoliouth, op. cit., 61. Hirschfeld, New Researches, p. 3, notes that the Arabs seem to have intermarried freely with them.

2 The second essay in Lammen's L'Arabie occidentale contains much interesting material on the position of the Jews in the Hijaz at the time of Muhammad, though he is inclined to emphasize their influence a little to strongly.

3 p. 383 and Baid. On Sura, ii, 91. Abu Bakr also visited this Beth ha-Midrash, vide Ibn Hisham, 388. Pautz, Offenbarung, 39, translates the words by Synagogue, but see Geiger, 13.

4 There is a tradition that Muhammad used to listen to Jabr and Yasar, two Jewish smiths at Mecca, as they read together out of their Scriptures. Vide Margoliouth, Mohammed, 106.

5 This is indeed suggested by the Qur'an itself, Sura ii, 80, though we also gather from the Qur'an that they had copies of their Scriptures and could write (ii, 73, 169). Tabari, Tafsir, xxi, 4, has a tradition that the Madinan Jews read the Torah in Hebrew and interpreted it in Arabic. (On their dialect, cf. Caetani, Annali, i, 386; Leszynsky, 22 ff.) As to what Scriptures we may reasonably suppose them to have possessed, see Hirschfeld, New Reasearches, 103.

6 Torrey, Foundations, following Aug. Müller, assumes that these Arabian Jews spoke a Judaeo-Arabic dialect, and refers to this dialect all the curious forms found in the Qur'an, e.g. and etc. The theory is interesting but hardly convincing. Even less convincing is the theory of Finkel, elaborated in an essay in MW, 1932, p. 169 ff. that the Jewish material in the Qur'an comes from non-Talmudic old Israelitish tradition.


names that occur in the Qur'an.1 It is probable that in the Qur'an there is evidence that Muhammad attempted to purchase information about the Scriptures from certain Jews of the city only to find later that they had deceived him,2 and Geiger seems to suggest 3 that perhaps Muhammad deliberately sought for and incorporated Jewish terminology into his revelation in order to win over the Jews before he made his final break with them.

as-Suyuti sometimes uses or to denote Hebrew, and sometimes and once, in discussing he says that the word was "in the tongue of the Madinan Jews ".4 Dvorák, Fremdw, 19, would draw a distinction from as-Suyuti's use of these terms, taking and to mean classical Hebrew, and as the language of the Jews of later times, perhaps the dialectal Hebrew used in Arabia.5 One is inclined to doubt, however, whether the Arab philologers had sufficient knowledge to make such a distinction between the earlier and later forms of Hebrew, and an examination of the words which as-Suyuti's authorities place in the two classes,6 makes it perfectly clear that there is nothing more in this distinction than there is in his varying use of and

Moreover, from Muzhir, i 105, it would seem that the term was used somewhat vaguely by philologers.

(vii) Nabataean. - We find in as-Suyuti's lists quite a number of words which various authorities claim to be of Nabataean origin. The Nabataean kingdom, which from about the sixth century B.C. had stretched over the territory from the old Edomite kingdom in the

1 See herein under etc. Mingana Syriac Influence, 82, goes so far as to say that there is not a single Biblical name in the Qur'an which is exclusively Hebrew in form.

2 Sura, ii. 74, 169.

3 Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen, p. 36.

4 Itq, 324.

5 Especially in view of the phrase

6 Vide Mutaw, pp. 56-9


south-east of Palestine as far north as Damascus,1 was of Arab origin, and exercised no little influence on the Hauran and N. Arabia, even after it was absorbed in the Roman Provincia Arabia. Its deities Allat, Manuthu, and Hubalu, were reverenced even in Mecca 2, and its period of power and prosperity was near enough to the period when we first come in contact with the pre-Islamic literature for the memory of it still to linger, much embellished with legendary details, in the poetic lore of the desert Arabs. We have a fair idea of the Nabataean language 3 from numerous inscriptions collected in N. Arabia,4 but the Nemara inscription from the Hauran, dated A.D. 328, 5 is in classical Arabic, though written in Nabataean characters, and shows that by that date the old Nabataean language had been supplanted by Arabic. When the philologers use the term however, it does not necessarily refer to these of Petra and the Hauran for the Arabs used the word for many communities in Syria and Iraq, and as Nöldeke has shown,6 the Muslim philologers really mean Aramaic when they speak of

We have already discussed how Syriac words may have come into Arabic, and need say no more on the subject of the Christian Aramaic. If the Jews of Arabia were Jews by race, and not merely proselytes, we might expect that Jewish Aramaic would have been more commonly known among them than Hebrew,7 and this is confirmed by the fact that, as we have already noted, the Jewish words in the Qur'an are more generally Aramaic in form than Hebrew. It is not necessary

1 ERE, ix, 121, and Quatremère in JA, xv (1835, p. 5 ff.)

2 and are the and of Sura liii, 19, 29, and is the who as we learn from al-Mas'udi Muruj, iv, 46, was the chief god of the Ka'ba.

3 Nabataean was a dialect of West Aramaic, though full of Arabic words and idioms.

4 Collections will be found in CIS, vol. ii' de Vogüé, Inscriptions sémitiques; and Euting, Nabatäische Inschriften aus Arabien, Berlin, 1885.

5 Lidzbarski, Ephemeris, ii, 34.

6 ZDMG, xxv, 122 ff. Al-Mas'udi, Muruj, iii, 240, says that the country of Babel was occupied by the Nabataeans. Sometimes, however, is used just like to mean something in which a language unintelligible to the Muslim savants, cf. the reference in Margoliouth's Schweich Lectures, p. 55 n., to Islah al-Mantiq, p. 168.

7 "The Jews in North Arabia and Syria read the Bible in Synagogues in the Hebrew original, but for domestic study they probably used Aramaic translations as did the Christians. Many Biblical words which occur in the Qur'an have evidently gone through an Aramaic channel." - Hirschfeld, New Researches, 32.


to assume that many of these words were borrowings of the Prophet himself, for in a city like Madina, where Jewish influence was so strong and where there was apparently a keen interest in religious matters, it is probable that many such words would have been borrowed in pre-Islamic times, and as a matter of fact many such are to be found in the old poetry.1

It is not impossible, of course, that Aramaic words may have entered from sources which were neither Syriac nor Jewish, but it is doubtful if any words of the genuine Nabataean dialect are to be found in the Qur'an. A glance at as-Suyuti's list of so-called Nabataean words2 gives one the impression that the philologers used the term many as a cloak for their ignorance, being a good enough designation for any strange word whose origin they could not ascertain.3

(viii) Coptic. - as-Suyuti finds some six words which his authorities, Shaidhala, al-Wasiti, and other, classed Coptic loan words 4. It hardly needs saying that none of them are Coptic, and indeed in the case of some of them one wonders why anyone ever thought of considering them other than Arabic. Coptic was the liturgical language of the Christian communities of Egypt at the time of Muhammad, as indeed it has remained to the present day. How much more than a liturgical language it was is doubtful, though we have reason to believe that the cultural language, if not the language of everyday life in Egypt at that period, was Greek.5 It is practically certain that Greek would have been the language of commerce, and we may well doubt whether any Coptic vocabulary would have entered Arabic along the trade routes.6 it is a remarkable fact that the colloquial Arabic of Egypt which grew up after the Muslim conquest of the country, while it is full of Greek loan words contains but few words derived from Coptic.

That Muhammad himself had at least one point of intimate contact

1 The classical discussion of this element in Arabic vocabulary is Fraenkel's Aramäische Fremdwörter im Arabischen, Leiden, 1886.

2 Mutaw, 59-62.

3 So Dvorák, Fremdw, 21, 22.

4 Burkitt, JThS, xxvii, 148 ff. suggests that Coptic was perhaps never much more than a liturgical language.

5 Evidence of early contact with Mecca may be seen in the story of Coptic workmen having been employed in the rebuilding of the Ka'ba.


with Egyptian Christianity is evident from the fact that one of his concubines was Miriam, a Coptic slave girl,1 who was the mother of his beloved son Ibrahim, and the cause of no little scandal and flurry in the Prophet's domestic circle. It is possible that he learned a few Christian legends from Miriam, but if he learned along with them any new Christian terminology of Coptic origin, this has left no trace in the Qur'an.

As we might expect, the Muslim philologers show no real acquaintance with the Coptic language, in spite of the fact that in discussing the word as-Suyuti (Itq, 323) refers to a dialect of Coptic, viz., 2 Dvorák, arguing from the fact that the philologers states that meant in Coptic, and meant 3 suggests that the Muslims simply made these statements in order to throw contempt on the Coptic community.4 In any case it is clear that there is no philological justification whatever for their attribution of a Coptic origin to any Qur'anic words.

(ix) Turkish. - It goes without saying that no dialect of Turkish had any influence on Arabic until well on into the Islamic period. There is one word, however, which we find given as Turkish by quite an array of authorities including even al-Jawaliqi,5 and Ibn Qutaiba,6 viz. which occurs twice in the Qur'an (xxxviii, 57, lxxviii, 25), and is said to mean the corruption which oozes from the bodies of the damned. The word certainly be found in the Turkish

1 There is, of course, no certainty that Miriam was a Copt by race and there are some grounds for thinking that she may have been an Abyssinian slave-girl living in Egypt before she was sent as a gift to Muhammad.

2 is a district of Upper Egypt, cf. Yaqut, Mu'jam, iii, .516.

3 Itq, 319 Mutaw, 63.

4 Fremdw, 23, 24. Along with must be classed of lv .54, which cleary means "inner linings ", but which the same authorities, according to as-Suyuti, say means '' exteriors" in Coptic. It should be noted, however, that as-Suyuti also quotes authorities as claiming that was Nabataean for , see Itq, 325; Mutaw, 61.

5 Mu'arrab, 107 (cf. Khafaji. 142); as-Suyuti, Itq, 323; Mutaw, 64. Others, however, as we have seen, said it was Coptic.

6 Adab al-Katib, 527.


Lexicons, but is obviously a loan word from Arabic.1 The only reason one can suggest for the common opinion that it was Turkish is that the word may in later times have come to be commonly used by the Turkish soldiery at the Muslim courts, so that the scholars, at a loss how to explain so curious a word, jumped to the conclusion that it must be Turkish, and this opinion was then, as usual, attributed to the circle of Ibn 'Abbas.

(x) Negro. Two words, meaning fuel and a staff, as-Suyuti tells us,2 were considered by some authorities to be borrowings from the language of the woolly haired blacks . This is the language of the and the Lexicons inform us that is ,3 so that or from is like from or from . The only reason for the philologers classing Qur'anic words as is that they were entirely at a loss to explain the words and so suggested an origin in some remote corner of the earth, which perhaps appealed to them as better than giving no origin at all.4

(xi) Berber - Sometimes we find as-Suyuti quoting authority for words being , and at other times for their being or which mean the same thing.5 By

1 See Redhouse, Turkish Lexicon, sub voc.

2 Itq, 320 Mutaw, 64. Other authorities, however, said that was Ethiopic (Itq, 325; Mutaw 42).

3 LA, iii 114 The word s familiar to us from Zanzibar.

4 "Es lässt sich nicht verkennen, dass wir mit willkürlicher Verhüllung und Verschönerung der Unwissenheit zu thun haben, die sich überdies, indem sie eine weit abliegende Sprach als Ursprung eines Wortes hinstellt, möglicherweise auch den Schein der Gelehrsamkeit zu geben trachet. Dies scheint mir der Fall bei den Wörten zu sein, die auf die Sprache der Berbern, Neger, Afrikabewohner u.a. zurückgeführt warden, Sprachen, die von unserem erweiterten Standpunkte der Wissenschaft wenig bekannt sind: umso weniger können wir eine Kenntniss derselben bei den Arabern voraussetzen, und noch weniger ihr Vorkommen im Koran erklären." Dvorák, Fremdw, 21.

5 This is obvious from as-Suyuti's discussion of vide Itq, 325.


Berber, the philologers meant the Hamitic languages of N. Africa,1 known to us at the present day from the Tamashek, Kabyli, and kindred dialects. The spread of Islam along N. Africa brought the Arabs into contact with these Berber tribes,2 whose influence on Islam in that area was as profound as that of the Turks in Mesopotamia, but it is ridiculous to think that any elements of Berber vocabulary entered Arabic in the pre-Islamic or Qur'anic period. One may doubt whether any of the Muslim philologers had any acquaintance with the Berber dialects,3 and certainly the words quoted as Berber by as-Suyuti's authorities have no connection with any Hamitic tongue. Again all we can say is that these words are puzzles to the scholars of the day, and or at least sounded well as a cloak for their ignorance.

From the discussion thus far it has become obvious that we cannot rate very highly the work of the Muslim authorities who have dealt with this difficult and important subject.4 Goldziher has well said that "to attempt to explain all that has been set forth (by these authorities) as Hebrew, Syriac, Nabataean, etc., from one's knowledge of these tongues would be undertaking a fruitless task. These, languages, like the people who spoke them, belong to a grey antiquity, and are merely general terms for anything mysterious, esoteric, and ununderstaudable, and to which belongs everything of whose origin there is no certainty, but whose great age is obvious."5 Occasionally one gets flashes of what looks like philological learning e.g. when we find at-Tabari in the Introduction to his Tafsir (i, 6), quoting Hammad b. Salama on 6 to the effect that the word for lion in

1 See al-Mas'udi, Muruj, iii, 242, for the home of the Berbers.

2 Once, in dealing with as-Suyuti (Itq, 323) refers to by which he probably means Berber.

3 Their theories as to the origin of the Berbers are interesting. As-Mas'udi, Muruj, iii, 241, makes a curious confusion between the Philistines and the Phoenicians, for he tells us that the Berbers came from Palestine and settled in N. Africa, and their kings were known as a dynastic name, the last bearer of which was the Jalut who was killed by David.

4 The philologers did much better in dealing with such foreing words outside the Qur'an, i.e. with later borrowing of Islamic times. Some account of them and their methods will be found in Siddiqi, Studien, 14-64.

5 ZDMG, xxvi, 766.

6 xxiv, 51. Hammad's line of Tradition as usual goes back to Ibn 'Abbas.


Arabic is , in Persian , in Nabataean , and in Ethiopic . An examination of the Lexicons, however, shows that there is nothing in Aramaic or Ethiopic even remotely resembling these words, though somewhat like the Persian Pahlavi sher meaning tiger or lion.1 Indeed, as a general rule, the philologers are at their best when dealing with Persian words, a fact which may perhaps be explained by the Persian origin of so many of these savants themselves.

All things considered, one is not surprised that they had so little success with the problems of the foreign words in the Qur'an, or that they detected so few out of the relatively large number recognized by modern scholarship, for they had but the most meagre philological resources at their disposal. What is cause for surprise is that as-Suyuti is able to gather from the older authorities so many words whose Arabic origin to us is obvious, but which they regarded as foreign.

One group of these we may explain as Dvorák does,2 as cases where the Arabic word is rare,3 or occurs in a context where the usual meaning perhaps does not lie immediately on the surface, but where the word can be easily explained from related words or from the sense of the passage, and so comes to be regarded as a foreign word with that meaning. As examples we may take two words that are said to be the one Nabataean and the other Coptic.

(i) In xix, 24, we have the word which as-Suyuti tells us 4 was considered by Abu'l-Qasim in his Lughat al-Qur'an, and by al-Kirmani in his Al-'Aja'ib, to be a Nabataean word meaning . The grow of this theory is fairly clear. The word occurs in a passage where Muhammad is giving an account of the birth of Jesus, an account whose main features he had derived from some oral reproduction of the fables of the Hist. Nativ. Mariae. In the first place we note that the Qura' were not certain of the reading, for Baid, in loco, tells us that some read while others read

1 Cf. PPGl, 214; Horn Grundriss § 803.

2 Fremdw, 29.

3 In the list of words of this class it will be noted that most are hapax tegomenn in the Qur'an.

4 Itq. 321 Mutaw, 63.


Secondly, there was some difference of opinion among the exegetes as to whether the one who called was Gabriel, standing at the foot of the hill, or the babe Jesus. Now it seems clear that when they felt some difficulty over this certain of the exegetes who knew from Christian sources that the one who called was the babe, and who had probably heard of the legends of Jesus speaking to his mother before his birth,1 assumed that could not be taken here in it usual Arabic meaning of beneath, but must be a foreign word it meaning or womb. The guess of Nabataean of course, has nothing to support it, for the Aramaic like the Hebrew , Syriac , and Ethiopic exactly the same meaning as the Arabic

(ii) In xii, 23, we read that Joseph's mistress says to him

The word occurs only in this passage in the Qur'an and is a rare expression even outside the Qur'an, though, as has been pointed out by Barth,2 there can be no question that it is genuine Arabic. It was so rare and unusual a word, however, that it was early taken by the exegetes as foreign 3 and explained as Coptic,4 doubtless on the ground that the Egyptian lady would have spoken to her slave in the Egyptian tongue, and as the only Egyptian language known to the Muslim philologers was Coptic, this rare word was taken to be of Coptic origin.

Similarly in xii, 25, which is explained as Coptic for 5 was doubtless a case of the same sort, and likewise two other Coptic suggestions in the same Sura, viz.. and of xii, 88 both of

1 See Tha'labi, Qisas al-Anbiya', p. 269.

2 Sprachwiss. Untersuch, i, 22, with reference to Ibn Ya'ish, i, 499, 1ine 7. Cf. also Reckendorf, Die syntaktischen Verhältnisse des Arabischen, Leiden, 1898, p. 325; Wright. Arabic Grammer, i, 294 d.

3 Siddiqi, Studien, 13.

4 Itq, 325. Others thought it Aramaic (Mutaw, 54) or Hauranic (Muzhir, 130), or Hebrew (Itq. 325).

5 Itq, 322, from Al-Wasiti.


which are said to be Coptic for 1 though, of course, there is nothing in the Coptic vocabulary to justify this assertion, and the words are undoutbedly genuine Arabic.

In this group we may also class the following words collected by as-Suyuti from earlier authorities as foreign borrowings, but which are all obviously Arabic. in xxvi, 21, which is said to be Nabataean for 2 also in xi, 46, which some took to be Indian or Ethiopic for 3; and of vii, 175, which was said to be Hebrew for 4; and of xxi, 98, said to be Zinji for 5; also in iii, 36, said to be a Hebrew word meaning 6 and of xliv, 23, said to be of Nabataean or Syriac origin 7; and of ii, 139-145 which is claimed as Ethiopic 8; and in xi, 46; xiii, 9, also said to be Ethiopic 9; also of xxxix, 7 ; lxxxi, 1, explained as the Persian for 10; and of lix, 5, said to be Hebrew 11; and of xxxviii, 2, said to be Nabataen or Coptic

1 Itq, 324, and Mutaw, 63. There is apparently some confusion between the two on the part of the Mutaw, for in the Muhadhab, from which both the Itqan and the Mutaw draw, only is given.

2 Itq, 323; and see Dvorák, Fremdw, 29.

3 Itq, 318, 19, 51. Ethiopic (Heb. Syr. Aram. ) will give a form but the Qur'anic is doubtless a normal Arabic formation from , cf. Raghib, Mufradat, 59.

4 Itq, 318; Mutaw, 56.

5 Itq, 321; Mutaw, 64; see also Fleischer, Kl. Schr, ii, 132.

6 Itq, 321; Mutaw, 57.

7 Itq, 321; Mutaw, 54, 61.

8 Itq, 322; Mutaw, 37.

9 Itq, 323; Mutaw, 45.

10 Itq, 324; Mutaw, 46.

11 Itq, 324; Mutaw, 59; and see Dvorák, Fremdw, 20.


for 1; and of xxxiv., 132 of lxxiii, 6,3 both of which are said to be derived from an Abyssinian source; also of xxv, 64, claimed as Syriac or Hebrew4; and of lxxv, 11, said to be Nabataean for 5; also of lxxxiv, 14, explained by some as Ethiopic for 6 and of xxii, 21, said to be Berber for 7; also in iii, 75, which is said to be Nabataean for 8; and of ix, 115 ; xi, 77, which took to be Abyssinian or Hebrew 9; and in xvii, 27, etc., which also claimed as of Abyssinian origin 10; and of xliii, 57, which some said meant in Ethiopic.11

Another group consists of rare words used in the Qur'an, which may be Arabic or may not be. A word like in lxxiv, 51, is a puzzle at the present day, so that it is no wonder if it gave some trouble to the early exegetes. It is usually taken to mean lion, and as-Suyuti quotes authorities for its being an Abyssinian word.12 There is no such word, however, in Ethiopic words for lion being Ar. or (sometimes = Ar. . Addai Sher, 126, suggest that the word is of Persian origin, but there seems no basis for this. So far as one can see there is nothing in any of the other languages

1 Itq, 325; Mutaw, 63; the Muhadhdhab agrees with Mutaw.

2 Itq, 325; Mutaw, 42, 64.

3 Itq, 325; Mutaw, 43.

4 Itq, 325; Mutaw, 53, 56.

5 Itq, 325; Mutaw, 61.

6 Itq, 325; Mutaw, 44; from is perhaps in mind here, or may be .

7 Itq, 326; Mutaw, 65.

8 Itq, 319; Mutaw, 62.

9 Itq, 319; Mutaw, 38, 57.

10 Itq, 319; Mutaw, 42.

11 Itq, 326; Mutaw, 44.

12 Itq, 323; Mutaw, 43.


to help us out, and perhaps the simplest solution is to consider it as a formation from , though the great variety of opinions on the word given by the early authorities makes its Arabic origin very doubtful. Very similar is 1 which is said to mean either infused brass or the dregs of oil2. As-Suyuti quotes early authorities for its being a Berber word,3 which of course is absurd. Hebrew 4 and Aram. meaning to spoil wine by mixing water with it, may have some connection with the meaning or given by the Lexicons,5 but it is difficult to derive the Qur'anic from this, and equally difficult to explain it as an Arabic word.6

Yet a third group consists of those few words where a little linguistic learning has led the Muslim philologers into sad error. For instance, the word which occurs only in ix, 8, apparently means consanguinity, relationship, and is a good Arabic word, yet we find as-Suyuti 7 telling us that Ibn Jinni 8 said that many of the early authorities held that this was the name of God in Nabataean, the reference of course being to the common Semitic divine named El. Similarly of lxxiii, 18, which there is no reason for taking as other than a regular formation from to rend or cleave (cf. Heb. ; Syr. ), is said by some authorities to be Abyssinian,9 on the ground, apparently, of some hazy connection in their minds between it and . So also of xxiv, 35, which Shaidhala and

1 Sura, xviii. 28; xliv, 45; lxx, 8.

2 Jawhari, Sihah, ii, 241; Raghib, Mufradat, 494.

3 Itq, 325; Mutaw, 65.

4 Used only in Is. i, 22.

5 LA, xiv, 155.

6 of xxxviii, 57 ; lxxviii, 25 (cf. as-Suyuti, Itq, 323; Mutaw, 64), and of xx, as; lxxix, 16 (cf. as-Suyuti, Itq, 322; Mutaw, 57), are perhaps to be included along with these.

7 Itq, 319; Mutaw, 61.

8 The Mutaw, tells us that the reference is to his grammatical work Al-Muhtasib.

9 Itq, 325; Mutaw, 43.


Abu'l-Qasim said was of Abyssinian origin,1 cannot be other than Arabic, the Eth. providing a possibility of solution for philiogers who found some difficulty in deriving from to flow abundantly. With these we may perhaps class of xvi, 69, which was said to be Abyssinian for 2, though Eth. is from to get drunk (cognate with Heb. ; Syr. , and cf. Akk. sikaru, Gr. ), the difficulty apparently arising because the Arabic root means to fill a vessel. Also , a very common word, cognate with Heb. , was by some taken to be Abyssinian,3 doubtless because was commonly used in the technical sense of to consecrate or dedicate to God. Perhaps also from to suffer pain, which some thought was a Zinji word, and some Heb.,4 should come under this head.

Perhaps a fourth class may be formed of a few words like and . These particular signs occur among the mystic letters of the Qur'an, which Goossens takes with some probability as contractions for older names of the Suras,5 but which puzzled the exegetes, and are taken by them to be foreign words. 6 Similarly of xcv, 2, is obviously only a variant of used for purposes of rhyme, but we learn from as-Suyuti that some authorities took it to be Abyssinian.7

As was to be expected, modern scholarship has detected many more words of foreign origin in the vocabulary of the Qur'an than

1 Itq 320; Mutaw, 45.

2 Itq 321; Mutaw, 40.

3 Itq 320.

4 Itq 319; Mutaw, 58.

5 For see as-Suyuti, Itq, 322; Mutaw, 40, 52, 61; and for Itq, 325; Mutaw, 42.

6 Itq, 322; Mutaw, 44. As these authorities say it means beautiful in Eth. And does not mean to be beautiful, we might perhaps class in group three as a blunder due to uncritical knowledge of the cognate languages.


were ever noted by Muslim investigators. In the sixth century Arabia was surrounded on all sides by nations of a higher civilization, the Empires of Byzantium, Persia, and Abyssinia possessed most of her fertile territory, and mighty religious influences, both. Jewish and Christian, were at work in the peninsula at the time when Muhammad was born. In his young manhood Muhammad was greatly impressed by this higher civilization and particularly by the religion of the great Empire of Roum, and there can be no serious doubt that his conception of his mission, as he first clearly outlined it for himself, was to provide for the Arabs the benefit of this religion and in sonic measure this civilization.1 It was therefore natural that the Qur'an should contain a large number of religious and cultural terms borrowed from these surrounding communities. This religion, as he insists over and over again in the Qur'an, is something new to the Arabs it was not likely, therefore, that native Arabic vocabulary would be adequate to express all its new ideas, so the obvious policy was to borrow and adapt the necessary technical terms.2 Many of these terms, as a matter of fact, were there ready to his hand having already come into use in Arabia in pre-Islamic times, partly through Arab tribes who had accepted Christianity, partly through commerce with Jews, Christians, and Persians, and partly through earlier inquirers interested in these religions. In fact it is very probable that if we knew more about those elusive personalities - Umayya b. Abi's- Salt, Musailama, and the Hanifs, we should find that there was in Arabia at that time a little circle of seekers after monotheism who were using a fairly definite vocabulary of religious terms of Jewish and Christian origin, and illustrating their preaching by a, little group of stories partly of Judaeo-Christian, and partly Arabian origin. In the beginning Muhammad but followed in their footsteps, but he grasped the political arm and became a figure in the world, while of the others we can now discern but the hazy outlines, though they so largely prepared the way for him.

It is clear also that Muhammad set himself definitely to learn about things Jewish and Christian,3 and thus undoubtedly himself

1 Bell, Origin 98, 99.

2 Thus the Qur'an appeared so foreign to everything with which Arabic thought was familiar, that the ordinary vernacular was inadequate to express all these new idols," Hirschfeld, New Researches, p. 4.

3 Hirschfeld, however, goes a little too far when he says, New Researches, 13, Before entering on his first ministry, Muhammed had undergone what I should like to call a course of Biblical training."


imported new technical terms from these sources. It has been remarked not infrequently that the Prophet had a penchant for strange and mysterious sounding words,1 and seemed to love to puzzle his audiences with these new terms,2 though frequently he himself had not grasped correctly their meaning, as one sees in such case as and . Sometimes he seems to have invented words, such as , , and 3.

The foreign elements in the Qur'anic vocabulary are of three distinct kinds: -

(i) Words which are entirely non-Arabic, such as , etc., which cannot by any linguistic juggling be reduced to developments from an Arabic root, or which though seemingly trilateral, e.g. have no verbal root in Arabic. These words were taken over as such from some non-Arabic source.

(ii) Words which are Semitic and whose triliteral root may be found in Arabic, but which nevertheless in the Qur'an are used not in the Arabic sense of the root, but in a sense which developed in one of the other languages. Such words as are illustrations. Words of this class when once naturalized in Arabic may and do develop nominal and verbal forms in a truly Arabic manner, and thus frequently disguise the fact that originally they were borrowings from outside.

(iii) Words which are genuinely Arabic and commonly used in the Arabic language, but which as used in the Qur'an have been coloured in their meaning by the use of the cognate languages. For instance, meaning light is a common enough Arabic word, but when

1 Hirschfeld, op. cit., 5 Dvorák, Fremdw, 17, who says '' In solchen Fällen haben wir dann nichts anderes anzunehmen, als das Streben Muhammed's, durch die seinen Landsleuten mehr oder weniger unverständlichen Ausdrüke sich selbst den Schein der Gelehrsamkeit zu geben nud zu imponieren, vielleicht auch die Absicht, mystisch und undeutlich zu sein" ; Bell, Origin, 51.
2 Cf. Sura, ci, 1,2, 6, 7; lxxiv, 27; lxxxvi, 1, 2, etc.
3 Nöldeke, Sketches, 38.


used with the meaning of religion as in ix, 32 - "But God determineth to perfect His religion though the unbelievers abhor it," it is undoubtedly under the influence of the Syr. use of . So used in a theological sense has been influenced by 1 and in particular is obviously the Syriac 2. So the sense of metropolis in vi, 92, etc., was doubtless influenced by the Syr. 3, and when used as a technical religious term may have come under the influence of the Christian use of 4. Sometimes there is no doubt of the Qur'anic word being a translation of some technical term in one of the cognate languages. A clear instance is that of used of Jesus in iv, 169, etc., where it is obviously a translation of the Syr. of Jno. i, I, etc.,5 which like the Eth. and the Copt. represents the Gk. . Similarly is doubtless a translation of the Syr. , and and in eschatological passages translate the and the Judaeo-Christian eschatological writings.6 Casanova 7 claims that in such passages as ii, 140, 114; iii, 17, 54, 59, etc., has a technical meaning associated with and is opposed to the word 8 and is thus meant as a translation of 9 and so of Christian or Gnostic origin. So one might go on enumerating words of undoubtedly

1 Cf. the Mandaean in Lidzbarski's Mandäische Liturgien, Berlin, 1920.

2 Mingana, Syriac Influence, 85; Pautz, Offenbarung, 38; Fraenkel, Vocab, 24.

3 Mingana, op. cit., 88; Horovitz, KU, 141, though is used in precisely the same sense on Phoenician coins.

4 Mingana, op. cit., 85.

5 Margoliouth, ERE, x, 540.

6 Doubtless through the Syr. and . I

7 Mohammed et la fin du monde, 88 ff.

8 Which Wellhausen, Reste 71, n. 1, considered to be a translation of as in Acts xvii, 30. See also, Casanova, 90; Gerock, Christologie, 104; Nöldeke.Schwally, i, 242, n. 10. Lidzbarski, ZS, i, 94, suggested Gnostic influence here.

9 Again probably through the Syr. .


Arabic origin, but which as used in the Qur'an have been influenced more or less by the vocabulary of the religions which were so strongly influencing Arabia just before Muhammad's day and which made a profound impress on his own teachings. As these, however, can hardly be called foreign words, only in the rarest instances are they included in the following lists.

Philological question as to the changes which foreign words undergo in coming into Arabic, need not be discussed here, as such discussion has already been given for Aramaic words by Fraenkel in the Introduction to his Aramäische Fremdwörter, and for Iranian word by Siddiqi, Studien, 19 ff., 65 ff. On the broader question of demonstration of borrowing, the writer feels that the form of demonstration demanded by certain modern writers is really uncalled for and unnecessary. The English musical terms piano, cantata, soprano, fortissimo, contralto arpeggio, etc., are obviously borrowed from the Italian, and there is no need of an elaborate demonstration of cultural contact with dates and names and historical connections, to prove that these words, though English, are of Italian origin. Similarly such Arabic words as are on the very surface obvious borrowings from Middle Persian, and the philological argument for their foreign origin is perfectly valid on its own ground, without elaborate proof of cultural contact, etc., in each individual case.

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