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More proposed emendations to the text of the Koran.

For Franz Rosenthal, the first recipient of the American Oriental Society Medal of Merit, awarded at Madison, Wisconsin, on March 22, 1994.

Those who read this journal regularly will be aware that for the past few years I have been conducting a survey of the Koran with the purpose of isolating copyists' errors in the text and emending them wherever possible. So far this has resulted in the publication of three articles;(1) the present article is the fourth and last in the series, since the survey is now complete. Of course, I cannot claim to have found every mistake in the Koranic text, but I do hope that I may have aroused sufficient interest in the textual criticism of the Koran so that other scholars may pursue the study further and that ultimately we may get a text that is somewhat closer to what the prophet really said.

Most of the mistakes that we find in the Koran are of the same sort that occur in other MSS. The copyist or, more likely, the man who dictated to him, misread the text for one of the usual reasons: poor handwriting, damage to the papyrus or vellum, failure to grasp the meaning, or perhaps just plain carelessness. The first two mistakes we will look at, however, are of a different kind and are of particular interest, since they will give us some small insight into how the Koran was composed and copied. These two, I believe, resulted from misunderstood corrections in the text; that is, the copyist (or dictator) caught his mistake and corrected it, but a subsequent copyist misunderstood the correction and so produced a new error.


In Surah 11:111 we read: wa-inna kullan lamma layuwaffiyannahum rabbuka a malahum (see translation below). The crux here is the word lamma, for which we find the variants: la-ma lamman (acc.), which is said to mean "all" (jami an), or inna is changed into in-negative and lamma given the sense of illa "except."(2) The latter variant was facilitated by the fact that we do find in kullun lamma (= in kullun illa) elsewhere in the Koran.

R. Bell, p. 215, translates "not yet" and notes that the construction is uncertain and disputed. However, lamma cannot possibly mean "not yet" before an energetic expressing an emphatic future. R. Blachere, p. 450, says that lamma does not offer any acceptable sense. Neither scholar proposes any improvement in the text.

G. Bergstrasser, p. 14, has a long note on this problem, in which he cites the variants and proposes his own solution. He reads in kullan lamma, taking kullan as a preposed object and lamma as meaning illa. R. Paret, Kommentar, p. 245, cites Bergstrasser with approval but notes that his explanation goes against Tabari's express statement that in Arabic a verb following ilia cannot govern the accusative in a noun preceding illa.

The best suggestion was made by J. Barth, p. 136, who correctly says that lamma cannot be construed and probably ought to be deleted. I would add that once this is done the sentence is good grammatical Arabic and fits perfectly in the context: "Surely to all your Lord will give full requital for their deeds."

Barth, however, did not go far enough, for he does not explain how the intrusive lamma got into the text, an essential element in emendation. The copyist's eye, after he had written inna kullan strayed back to v. 109, where we find wa-inna la-muwaffuhum nasibahum (indeed, we shall give them their full portion). He proceeded to write la-muwaffuhum, but caught his mistake after writing only lam and mim, which he then cancelled with a vertical stroke. This stroke was read by a later copyist as alif after the mim, thus producing the meaningless lamma.


Surah 43:88 reads wa-qilihi ya rabbi inna ha lai qawmun la yu minun (And his words, O my Lord, verily these are a people that do not believe), for which we find the variants wa-qilahu and wa-qiluhu,(3) none of which can be construed. Blachere, p. 267, notes that the commentators make vain efforts to determine the case of qil, and he thinks that the word is certainly displaced. This is probably not correct. Displacements of blocks of text do occur in MSS, but it is rare - if indeed it occurs at all - that a single word is removed from a position so remote that it cannot be located, and inserted in a place where the word makes no sense. I have checked several pages before and after v. 88, but cannot find any place where the word can be fitted in, however it is vocalized. We are on much firmer ground if we assume that the word has always been in its present location, and try to get at the meaning through emendation.

I believe that it should be read wa-qablahu, and that it was inserted by a copyist to indicate that v. 87 was displaced and that v. 88 should be put before it. Orientalists have always been willing to find displaced verses in the Koran - perhaps too many - but certainly some such errors must have occurred in a book the size of the Koran, and some were doubtless found by the copyists and/or editors.

What would a copyist do if he found he had made such a mistake? He could tear up the whole sheet and start again from scratch, or he could cross out the displaced passage and copy it again in its correct position, but both procedures would result in the loss of valuable papyrus or vellum. The sensible thing to do would be to add a note at the head of the verse to indicate its displacement. In later Arabic MSS the words muqaddam and mu akhkhar are used for this purpose, but wa-qablahu is just as effective. In this case the notation crept into the text and its real purpose was forgotten.


The earliest version of the story of the prophet Shu ayb is found in Surah 26:177-89, in which it is told how he was sent to the People of the Thicket (Ashab al-aykah), whom he urged to fear God and obey the prophet, to give honest weight and measure, and not to engage in fraud, or work corruption in the land. He was rejected by his people, who were punished by a Day of Shadow. In the later versions, the Ashab al-aykah are replaced by the people of Midian (Madyan); however, they are mentioned three more times in the Koran on lists of ancient peoples who disobeyed their prophets and so perished.(4)

There are two major problems in the story of Shu ayb, first, the form of his name, and second, the identity of the Ashab al-aykah. The name Shu ayb does not appear in pre-Islamic Arabic sources nor in the proto-Arabic inscriptions from North Arabia, in which thousands of personal names have been preserved.

The name has no good etymology in Arabic. It has the form of a diminutive of either sha b "people, tribe," or shi b "road, ravine," neither of which is suitable for a man's name. However it contains an ayn, which, if correct, allows us to assume a Semitic origin, but I have not been able to find any Shu aybs in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Under these circumstances, we must assume that the text is corrupt and seek an appropriate emendation. The only place to look in hopes of finding a prophet with a Semitic name that is not Arabic, but could have been known to the Arabs, is the Old Testament, and here the search is not long or difficult. I believe that Shu ayb is a mistake for Sha ya (spelled with final alif), the Arabic form of Isaiah. The emendation is easily justifiable palaeographically since the difference between Sha ya and Shu ayban (in the accusative) is only a single minim; so Shu ayb in the original source was probably in the accusative.(5)

We should ask, however, since the name Shu ayb appears eleven times in the Koran, how the same mistake could have been repeated so often. There are two possible answers to this question; first, that the mistake occurred only once at the first recording of the name and that subsequently it was copied from, or at least checked against, its first occurrence. Second, since the name is from a foreign source, it is more likely that the mistake was already in the pre-Koranic source from which the name was taken.

It should not surprise us that such a mistake could have occurred in a sacred text. Since there was no Jewish colony in Mecca, the source was probably Christian, or possibly the Hunafa, who were interested in sacred scriptures. But the Meccans could not have known the biblical languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac, so must have gotten their biblical lore from other sources, such as preachers' homilies, or by word of mouth from their co-religionists, or from brief written passages that were passed from hand to hand. Under such circumstances mistakes were inevitable.

The next step is to turn to the book of Isaiah to see if we can find any feature common to both the text of Isaiah and that of the Koran which will corroborate our claim that Shu ayb and Isaiah are the same. In Isa. 21:13-17 we find the following:

The oracle concerning Arabia. In the thickets of Arabia you will lodge, O caravans of Dedanites. To the thirsty bring water, meet the fugitives with bread, O inhabitants of the land of Tema. For they have fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow, and from the press of battle.

For thus the Lord said to me, "Within a year, according to the years of a hireling, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end; and the remainder of the archers of the mighty men of the sons of Kedar will be few; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken" (Oxford translation).

I believe that the Ashab al-aykah are the Dedanite merchants who were driven into the thickets of Arabia by an incursion of the sons of Kedar, who are to be punished for their sins. Isaiah addresses the Dedanites in the second person, but the Kedarites are referred to only in the third; thus the oracle was directed to the former. That there is some confusion between the two versions over who the real sinners were is not serious enough to invalidate this piece of evidence, which, taken together with the emendation, is sufficient not only to identify the Ashab al-aykah, but also to confirm that Shuayb and Isaiah are the same.


In Surah 44:23 God orders Moses to lead the Children of Israel through the Red Sea in the following words:fa asri bi- ibadi laylan innakum muttaba un 23, wa-truki l-bahra rahwan innahum jundun mughraqun 24 (Make my servants travel by night, indeed you will be pursued; and leave the sea gaping wide, indeed they are an army that will be drowned).

The crux lies in the words utruki l-bahra rahwan. The exegetes assume that God spoke these words to Moses after the Israelites had crossed over, although the first clause, asri bi- ibadi, could have been spoken only before they started out. It is explained that Moses was about to strike the sea with his staff to cause it to close up again because he feared Pharaoh's army would catch up with them, but God forbade him to do so and then destroyed the army himself. Some commentators take rahwan to mean "way, route, hard ground," or that the phrase means simply "leave it the way you found it."(6) Others say that rahwan means "open, with a wide gap" (maftuhan dha fajwatin wasi atin),(7) and it is this interpretation that has influenced the translators. Paret, Koran, p. 413, "und lass das Meer gespalten"; Bell, p. 499, "and leave the sea gaping wide." Blachere, p. 170, however, translates "traverse la mer beante," and notes that utruki l-bahra rahwan made no sense to the commentators, and that rahwan has only the meaning "marcher doucement." See however, Lane, p. 1174.

The necessary emendation here is obvious. One should read wa-nzili l-bahra rahwan, which means "and descend into the sea at an easy pace." There is no longer any need to shift the scene from before to after the crossing since inzil fits well with the first imperative, asri, and rahwan now has its most commonly accepted meaning. Confusion of isolated lam and kaf is common in Arabic manuscripts, and the verb nazala is frequently found with an acc. dir. obj. of the place in which one is descending; a good example is nazalu l-sahila, "they descended on the seacoast."(8)


Surah 74:49-51 describes with some exasperation the rejection by the Meccans of Muhammad's message. Fama lahum ani l-tadhkirati mu riduna 49, ka-annahum humurun mustanfirah 50, farrat min qaswarah 51 (Why do they turn away from the reminder as if they were frightened asses fleeing from a qaswarah?).

The exegetes are not of one mind on the meaning of qaswarah. They knew that the wild ass, or onager, was a formidable beast, so qaswarah had to be something even more formidable. Tabari, Jami, 29:106, notes that some commentators say that it means "archers, hunters," others "lion," which is the most common translation, or a "band of men, voices of men," or "noise (rikz) made by men." Some hold that qaswarah is Abyssinian for "lion."

The lexicographers do not help. They note, in addition to the above, that qaswarah can also mean "the middle of the night," and is the name of a plant that causes camels feeding on it to grow fat and yield much milk.(9)

In view of the uncertainty as to the meaning of qaswarah despite the limited possibilities, it is best to conclude that the word is somehow wrong. I believe that qaswarah derives from the Syriac pantora "panther," which goes back ultimately to the Greek [Greek Text Omitted].(10) The Greek [Pi] was transcribed into Syriac with the ambivalent letter p/f; this in turn was transliterated into Arabic with the ambivalent letter f/q, which closely resembles Syriac p, and which of course was left without dots. The only real mistake in the Koranic rasm is a minim error which occurred when a copyist wrote a sin instead of -nt-.

Panther is really a better comparison in this passage than lion, since it is most unlikely that Arabs ever had the opportunity to see a lion chasing an onager; however, the cheetah, under the name fahd, which also means "leopard" and "panther," was well-known to the Arabs as a hunting animal. The caliph Yazid b. Muawiyah is said to have been the first to carry cheetahs on horseback.(11)

Readers will have noticed that fanturah does not make a perfect rhyme in this passage, which presents a problem, but one for which we can suggest a reasonable solution. The Koranic form ultimately derives from a written source that was neither pointed nor vocalized, so the reader who first attempted to pronounce the unfamiliar word changed the vowel u to the consonant w, just as he read q for f. If panturah had been borrowed orally, it would probably have been pronounced banturah, since p in foreign words borrowed into Arabic becomes b.


The name of the prophet or holy man Dhu l-Kifl appears twice in the Koran. In 21:85-86 we read: wa-Ismaila wa-Idrisa wa-Dha l-Kifli kullun mina l-sabirina 85, wa-adkhalnahum fi rahmatina innahum mina l-salihina 86 (And Ismail and Idris and Dhu l-Kifl, all were of those who were patient, and we caused them to enter into our mercy; indeed, they are of the pious); and in 38:48: wa-dhkur Ismaila wa-l-Yasa a wa-Dha l-Kifli wa-kullun mina l-akhyari (And remember Ismail and Elisha and Dhu l-Kifl, they are all of the best).

The exegetes do not know what to make of Dhu l-Kifl, and most of the attempts to elucidate the name depend on the etymology of the word kifl, which can mean both "pledge, guarantee" and "double." For example, one interpretation, according to which Dhu l-Kifl supported (takaffala) certain prophets who were being persecuted by a wicked king, is traced by A. Geiger to the story of Obadiah (I Kings 18:4-13), who hid prophets who were being massacred by Jezebel, but it is clear that this cannot be the origin of the name itself. In another account (II Kings 2:8f.), Elijah "doubles" his cloak and strikes the waters of the Jordan with it; the waters part and he and Elisha pass over. Later Elisha receives a "double" portion of the spirit of Elijah.(12) These interpretations arose much later than the Koranic text itself, and while their provenance may have been accurately detected, it is most doubtful that the Meccans in Muhammad's time could have known anything definite about Elijah, Elisha, Obadiah, and Jezebel, who becomes a king (Ahab?)!

I believe that Dhu l-Kifl is a copyist's mistake for Dhu l-Tifl, "He of the Child," and that it, like the story of Shu ayb and the Ashab al-aykah, goes back ultimately to the book of Isaiah. In Isa. 9:6 we find:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace";

and further in 11:6:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

Admittedly there is less corroborative evidence for this interpretation than we saw in the case of Shuayb = Isaiah, but since we know now that the source of Shuayb and the Ashab al-aykah is the book of Isaiah, it is reasonable to assume that other Koranic allusions could go back to the same source. The verses cited were regarded by Christians as foretelling the coming of Christ, so they would be the parts of Isaiah most likely to be circulated widely among Christians. Confusion of t and k is a common mistake in Arabic manuscripts.

The use of the particle dhu is a bit puzzling, but since the child is mentioned in the book of Isaiah, the phrase Dhu l-Tifl probably refers to Isaiah himself. He was, of course, a prophet and so deserves to be associated with Ismail, Idris, and Elisha.


In Surah 70:10-14, the Koran describes the desperate situation of those sinners who are about to be punished on Judgment Day: wa-la yasalu hamimun hamiman 10, yubassarunahum yawaddu l-mujrimu law yaftadi min adhabi yawmaidhin bi-banihi 11, wa-sahibatihi wa-akhihi 12, wa-fasilatihi llati tuwihi 13, wa-man fi l-ardi jamian thumma yunjihi 14 (And friends will not ask friends; they will be made to see them; the sinner would like to ransom himself from the punishment of that day with his children, his wife, and his brother, and his kinfolks who give him refuge, and everyone on earth; then [he thinks] this would save him).

The crux in this passage is the word yubassarunahum, which makes little sense in the context.

Blachere, p. 94, translates "en vue de qui il sera mis," but notes that he translates by intuition, and that the commentators can find no clear sense in this expression. Bell, p. 605: "they will gaze at each other," or, "being made to see each other clearly." Paret, Koran, p. 482, "Sie haben die Moglichkeit der Menschen (mit denen sie seinerzeit zusammengelebt haben?) zu sehen," and notes that the meaning of the expression is not certain.

The difficulties of the passage are reflected in the translations, two of which are obviously wrong. Blachere uses the sg. pronoun "il," though both the verb and its object are plural; and Bell translates -hum as a reciprocal, although the suffixed pronouns do not have this function.(13)

Among the commentators, Tabari, Jami, 29:47, choosing from among several interpretations, prefers: "No friend asks a friend about his situation, but they see them and know them, then they flee from one another." Baydawi, 2:356, explains yubassarunahum as a new sentence (istinaf) or hal, that makes clear that what prevents them from asking is their preoccupation (with their own plight).

Since la yasalu requires a second object, the best emendation here is to read yansurunahum, without altering the rasm, and translating: "Friends will not ask friends to help them." Since they are so desperate to ransom themselves that they are willing to sacrifice their own families and, indeed, the whole world, they would not consider asking help from mere friends. The word hamim may be used as a plural, justifying the pl. verb (Lane, p. 637). When an is omitted, the following verb is in the indicative: see another Koranic example in 39:64: a-fa-ghayra llahi tamurunni abudu (Do you command me to worship other than God?). This construction is found after verbs of command, including qala, refusing, forbidding, knowing, and in oaths and asseverations.(14) Since asking is a mild form of command and also involves an utterance, it seems reasonable to admit this construction here, although I have not found another example with saala. Less acceptable would be nusurahum, though it gives the required sense, and bi-nusurihim, which is not as appropriate; both involve changes in the rasm, which should be avoided wherever possible.


The word surah occurs nine times in the Koran in the singular(15) and once in the plural suwar.(16) In seven of these occurrences the word is accompanied by some form of the verb nazala, in the three others by the imperative atu "produce," where the prophet challenges the pagans to produce a surah like it. The word always refers to a portion of the divine revelation, though not as yet a specific portion. The problem with surah is not its meaning but its derivation, and on this point there is considerable difference of opinion among the Muslim exegetes and Orientalists alike.

The Orientalists agree that the word must be a foreign borrowing, but they have not successfully identified the original. A commonly accepted origin is Mishnaic Hebrew surah "row, rank, file," which was first proposed by J. Buxtorf, and accepted by Noldeke in the first edition of GdQ. He reverts to this explanation in his Neue Beitrage, p. 26, but qualifies it with "vermutlich." Schwally (GdQ, 1:31) notes that surah means a "row" (of persons or objects) in Mishnaic Hebrew, but that its use for "line" (in books and letters) is found only in later Hebrew. Jeffery, Foreign Vocab., 180-82, adds that surah seems not to be used in connection with scripture. He gives extensive references, and himself prefers the Syriac surta "writing," which, he says, "occurs in a sense very like our English lines." None of the origins proposed by Orientalists is a good equivalent of a divine revelation.

The exegetes are equally at a loss. They etymologize the word, trying to derive it from either swr or sr. The word surah may mean "eminence of nobility, exalted state, rank," as well as "row of bricks or stones in a wall" (Lane, p. 1465). If one reads surah with hamzah, the meaning is "remnant of food or drink left in a vessel," or "remnant of youthful vigor" (Lane, p. 1282). Tabari, Jami, 1:35, lists both possibilities but does not commit himself to either. Both are unacceptable. One cannot believe that the Koran would employ a word meaning "dregs and orts," or "row of bricks" as a metaphor for a divine revelation. These are very poor metaphors, much inferior to the generally high level of rhetoric that we find throughout the Koran.

In emending the text, the main consideration is to find a word that is fitting and appropriate for a revelation sent down by God from on high. I believe we can find it in the Hebrew besorah, which means "tidings, good tidings, news." The mistake is another instance of a minim error, in which the copyist wrote three minims instead of four. As in the case of Shuayb and qaswarah, the error did not originate in the Koranic tradition, but was already present in the source from which surah was taken. The borrowing must have been fairly old, since the word had already acquired a broken plural.


One of the most intriguing textual problems of the Koran is the identity of the Sabians, a religion or sect that is ranked along with Muslims, Christians, and Jews as believers who will be given their just reward in heaven. They receive this promise in Surah 2:62, and it is partially confirmed in 5:69. In Surah 22:17 added to the list are the Magians (Zoroastrians) and the Polytheists, and God promises only to decide which of them was in the right on judgment day. Despite the illustrious company they keep, the Sabians were unknown to the earliest generation of Arab commentators, who had not the faintest notion of who they were.

Their confusion is amply demonstrated by the great variety of explanations of the term they offer. The Sabians are described as: a people with no religion; neither Jews nor Christians; something between the Magians and the Jews, whose sacrifices cannot be eaten nor their women married (i.e., by Muslims); a group, neither Jews, Magians, nor Christians, living in the sawad (of Iraq); or living in the Jazirat Mawsil, having no works, book, or prophet, and saying only la ilaha illa llah; worshippers of angels who pray the five prayers to the qiblah and recite the psalms; one of the peoples of the book.(17)

To these the dictionaries add: they falsely claim that they follow the religion of Noah; they are one of the ahl al-kitab, whose qiblah is to the north at midday; a group resembling the Christians, whose qiblah is to the south; they are named after Sabi b. Lamak, the brother of Noah; they are worshippers of the stars.(18)

Since the rasm sbwn/sbyn admits of reading the masc. pl. act. part. with either hamzah or ya, later readers disagree on this point. Of the seven canonical readers, only Nafi reads ya; all the others prefer hamzah.(19) The finite verb sabaa does not occur in the Koran. The best attested meanings for it are "to grow out" (used of a hoof or nail) and "to rise, appear" (used of the moon and stars). Other definitions are "to go forth against someone with enmity, or unexpectedly," "to come upon suddenly," and "to put one's hand, or head, into food."(20) None of these fits into the context of the Koran.

The verb saba, however, does occur once in the Koran with the meaning "lust after" (12:33), and the noun sabi "child" occurs twice, in 19:12, 29. The participle is scarcely suitable for a sect of believers who will get their reward in heaven.

Faced with this difficult word, the exegetes attempted to redefine it, as was their custom. So it was said to mean "change from one religion to another," and it is claimed that the polytheists called Muhammad and his followers "Sabiun" because they had left their old religion for Islam. Despite the preference of the readers for hamzah, the verb saba plays a large role in the exegesis of sabiuna, and necessarily so, since the Hijazi dialect of Arabic had lost its hamzahs; thus the word was surely pronounced by the earliest readers as sabiyuna. It comes into the discussion on the basis of its meanings "long for" (hanna) and "incline" (mala), i.e., long for or incline toward a different religion. The lexicographers point out that the plural is sometimes subat, as if formed from sbw, like qadi, qudat.

The only occurrence of Sabiyuna in poetry that I have found occurs in one of five verses ascribed to a certain Suraqah b. Awf b. al-Ahwas,(21) whom I have not found mentioned elsewhere. The verses were not picked up by the exegetes or lexicographers for use as a shahid. In the fourth verse Suraqah levels a reproach at the famous poet Labid b. Rabiah:

wa-jita di-bini l-Sabiyina tashubuhu bi-alwahi Najdin buda ahdika min ahdi

And you brought back the religion of the Sabians to mingle it with the stones of Najd; away with this imposition of yours!

The verse, even if genuine, tells us nothing about the meaning of the word or the identity of the sect, but only that Suraqah disapproved of Islam, which he confused with Sabianism.

There are two major events in the early history of Islam that were taken as a kind of historical matrix into which the lexicographical treatment of sabaa was inserted. They are the conversion of Umar b. al-Khattab to Islam and the raid led by Khalid b. al-Walid against the Banu Jadhimah. In both of these there are difficulties that warn against taking them at face value.

The future caliph Umar, on becoming a Muslim, informed Jamil b. Mamar al-Jumahi, who immediately went to Quraysh in their assembly at the Kabah, crying out: Ibn al-Khattab qad sabaa. Umar, who had followed him, indignantly denied this, saying: kadhabta lakinni aslamtu (You lie! I have become a Muslim).(22) If sabaa meant "change one's religion," Umar could not have denied it, since that is precisely what he had done. It is clear that sabaa here - if the account is authentic and most likely it is not - must mean "convert to some specific religion" (other than Islam).

In another version of Umar's conversion, better known than the one referred to above, he is said to have gone through the streets girt with his sword. A certain Nu aym b. Abdallah asked him where he was going and he replied, "I am seeking Muhammad, that Sabi (here follows a stream of invective) to kill him." Nuaym warns him off and tells him to worry about his own sister and brother-in-law, who have become Muslims and followed the religion of Muhammad (qad aslama wa-tabaa Muhammadan ala dinihi). Umar goes to them and is so impressed by the reading of the Koran that he converts.(23)

The same story is told by Ibn Sad, 3.1:191, but here Umar does not refer to Muhammad as a Sabi but rather rebukes the man who warns him off, saying, ma araka illa qad sabawta wa-tarakta dinaka. The man replies that your brother-in-law and sister qad sabawa wa-taraka dinaka. Here tarakta (taraka) dinaka is virtually a gloss on sabawta (sabawa), which probably would not have been intelligible without it. It seems clear that aslama is the older version, which was displaced in order to provide a shahid for saba.

There is, furthermore, an anachronism in the use of Sabiyun in the Koran and Umar's conversion, since he is said to have converted while the prophet was still in Mecca, but Sabiyun occurs only in Medinese Surahs.

In the year 8 of the Hijrah Muhammad sent Khalid b. al-Walid against the Arabs of the lower Tihamah to summon them to Islam but not to fight them. Khalid exceeded his instructions. He persuaded the Banu Jadhimah to disarm and surrender, and then, after binding them, killed a number of the men in cold blood. To Ibn Ishaq's account of this affair Ibn Hisham adds a note: lamma atahum Khalidun qalu sabana sabana (we have changed our religion); with no further explanation.(24) In Tabari's account, which duplicates much of the material found in Ibn Ishaq, the statement by Ibn Hisham does not appear.(25)

Khalid's action is explained in a hadith, in which it is stated that the Banu Jadhimah said sabana because they did not know how to say aslamna (lam yuhsinu an yaqulu aslamna).(26) This is hardly credible, since they could have been taught to say aslamna, or they could have said amanna, which verb is more common in the Koran than aslama.

This story becomes even less credible when one compares it to another episode in Khalid's career, the execution of members of the Banu Tamim, among them the famous poet Malik b. Nuwayrah, in the year 11. The event turned on a confusion of dialect words, adfaa (to make warm) and adfa (to kill). Khalid's excuse was that he told his troops to warm the prisoners - it was a cold night - but they misunderstood and killed them.(27) The prophet is also said to have made the same mistake and paid the bloodwit for the prisoner wrongly killed.(28)

Both sabaa and saba, and derived forms, occur a number of times in hadith but the passages seem to be contrived to provide examples of the words. One example should suffice. In a lengthy hadith, which contains several episodes, there is an account of an expedition of the prophet during which the men complained of thirst. The prophet sent out Ali and some unnamed man in search of water. They meet a woman on a camel carrying two water bags, and invite her to come to the prophet. She asks: alladhi yuqalu lahu l-sabi? They reply: huwa lladhi tanina (he is the one you mean). The woman goes with them and a miracle ensues. Her water bags remain full no matter how much water is drained from them. She and her people convert to Islam.(29) The commentators do not know which expedition is referred to. Mentioned are the return from Khaybar, the return from Hudaybiyah, the way to Mecca, the way to Tabuk, and Mutah, even though the prophet did not participate in the last-named raid.

Western scholarship has not come to any definite conclusion as to who the Sabians were.(30) For a summary of Orientalists' opinions on this point, see Jeffery, pp. 191-92.

My own view is that the word Sabiuna/Sabiina (rasm: sbwn/sbyn, with no diacritics or vowels), is a copyist's error for mnwn/mnyn, which means Manichaeans. The Arabs used three terms for Manichaean, Mani, Manani, and Manawi,(31) and the emended rasm could easily accommodate the first two of these. Emending s to m is no problem; both consist of loops, and examples of this mistake are found in later MSS.(32) No further emendation is required in the case of Mani, and for Manani we need only add one minim.

A good case can be made for the Manichaeans; among the major religions they ranked probably second behind Christianity, since by the time of Islam they had spread across North Africa, into southern Europe, and to the eastern borders of Iran. They had a sacred scripture, most of it written by Mani himself, so they qualify as a people of the book. The influence of Persia is well attested in sixth-century Arabia, especially in the Yemen, but also in Medina. The tribe of Quraysh was to some extent under Manichaean influence.(33) In Manichaeanism, ritual prayer, alms-giving, and fasting were very important; they are all pillars of Islam, so the pagan Arabs may have called the Muslims Manichaeans simply because they could not tell the difference between the two religions.

It is a curious irony of Koranic scholarship that the exaggerated confidence reposed by Orientalists in the correctness of the Uthmanic text has played a role, however small, in the diminution of the prophet's reputation in the West. Non-Muslim Koranic scholars agree that Muhammad, in one way or another, composed the Koran, so they tend to lay all the problems of the text at his doorstep, usually without considering that mistakes in the tradition of the text as well as in the sources from which parts of the Koran were drawn might be at fault. Perhaps one may hope that this and the preceding articles will go some way toward setting the record straight.

1 "Al-Raqim or al-Ruqud? A note on Surah 18:9," JAOS 111 (1991): 115-17; "Fa-Ummuhu Hawiyah: A Note on Surah 101:9," JAOS 112 (1992): 485-87; "Some Proposed Emendations to the Text of the Koran," JAOS 113 (1993): 562-73.

2 Baydawi, 1:448-49.

3 Ibid., 2:244.

4 Surah 26 is from the second Meccan period; the later versions in 7:85-92, 11:84-94, and 29:36 are from the third. The brief mentions in 15:78, 38:13, and 50:14 are from the second Meccan period.

5 The name is sometimes spelled Saya, which Lisan, 14:388, calls a lughah fi Sha ya.

6 Tabari, Jami, 25:72-73.

7 Baydawi, 2:246.

8 Baladhuri, 4.1:532 ult.

9 al-Zabidi, Taj, 13:411ff.

10 Brockelmann, 580b.

11 Damiri, 2:175.

12 See the article by I. Goldziher, [EI.sup.1], 2:962.

13 Reckendorf, 286 ult.

14 According to Rabin, 185f., the construction without an was current in the Hijaz; see also Wright, 2:27 and note; Lane 104; Reckendorf, 384.

15 In 2:23, 9:64, 86, 124, 127; 10:38; 24:1, and 47:20 bis.

16 In 11:13.

17 Tabari, Jami, 1:253.

18 al-Zabidi, Taj, 1:307; Lane, 1640; Ibn Manzur, Lisan, 1:107f.

19 Dani, 74.

20 Lane, 1640.

21 al-Isfahani, Aghani, 17:59; noted by Jeffery, 191, n. 2.

22 Ibn Hisham, 229.

23 Ibid., 226.

24 Ibid., 835.

25 Tabari, Ta rikh, 1:1649ff.

26 Ibn Hajar, 9:119.

27 The account in Tabari, Tarikh, 1:1925, is somewhat garbled but the gist of it is clear.

28 Lane, 895.

29 Ibn Hajar, 1:464ff.

30 This statement may soon have to be modified. F. C. de Blois in an article, "Sabi," [EI.sup.2], 8:672, notes that he has argued in a still unpublished study that the Sabians were Manichaeans. Since I have not seen his study, I cannot comment on it but it is possible that de Blois and I have reached the same conclusion by different routes.

31 Tabari Tarikh, Glossarium, CDXCV.

32 A good example is found in Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, tr. F. Rosenthal (Princeton, 1967), 1:5, n. 3: suhbatihi/mahabbatihi.

33 Ibn Qutaybah, 621: wa-kanati l-zandaqatu fi Quraysh; akhadhuha mina l-Hirah.


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