|Is Quss Bin Sa'idah's 'Poetry' Meeting The Challenge Of The Qur'an?|
|Written by mquran.org|
|Monday, 20 November 2006|
A few years ago cAbdur Rahim Green debated on various issues of Qur'an with Joseph Smith. One of the issues was also the inimitability of the Qur'an which I think he answered reasonably well. This post was addressed to Jochen Katz too who is now shelling out cheap excuses that the challenge is irrelevent. The issue was discussed by cAbdur Rahim Green.
For the sake of easy reference of the issues, I have divided the contents in the following manner:
The Challenge Of The Qur'an
The Qur'an in many places challenges the people to produce a surah like it. The ayahs of the Qur'an dealing with the challenge are given below (Hilali and Muhsin Khan's Translation):
cAbdur Rahim Green mentions that:
The pagans of Mecca repeated accuse Prophet Muhammad(P) for being a forger, a soothsayer etc. Interestingly enough, these old arguments are recycled again and again by the people even today! The Arabs who were at the pinnacle of their poetry and prose during the time of revelation of the Qur'an could not even produce the smallest surah of its like. Poetry in Arabic falls into sixteen different al-Bihar as mention above and other than that they have the speech of soothsayers, rhyming prose, and normal speech. The Qur'an's form did not fit into any of these categories. It was this that made the Qur'an inimitable, and left the pagan Arabs at a loss as to how they might combat it as Alqama bin cAbd al-Manaf confirmed when he addressed their leaders, the Quraish:
Of course, when challenged to produce something of the sort present in the Qur'an, the obvious reaction of the Christian missionary is to shell out cheap excuses.
As we have seen before the Christian's "Holy Spirit" did not tell them that the Surah al-Waliya and Surah an-Nurayn were forgeries. Neither we expect from them any solid answer when asked about the Arabic poetry itself.
When this post came in I was still busy with gathering the references which are quoted in the Christian missionary's page as well as gaining knowledge about the Arabic poetry from a learned Muslim brother who happened to be there on a holiday in Cambridge (May Allah, The Most High, reward him for his patience and help). The reference which I could catch hold of was Shucara' al-Nasraniyah (The Christian Poets) by Louis Cheikho, published from Beirut (Lebanon) in 1890-1891. The other reference is not available in the University of Cambridge library. This book was re-published in two volumes by Dar al-Mashriq, Beirut in 1968 as
to make a division between the poets who came before Islam and the poets who came after Islam, respectively. Louis Cheikho was a Jesuit priest in the city of Beirut who was responsible for collecting a lot of poetry from pre-Islamic as well as post-Islamic times and labelling all the poets as Christians. His work has been critically reviewed which I will be discussing later in this post, inshallah.
Quss bin Sa'idah's Works and Jahiliyyah Poetry
Being experienced in dealing with some people for quite some time in their deception when it comes to the references which they quote, I decided to start off from the sources which they quote. From the above reference  we see that in the chapter "Shucara Najad wa al-Hijaz" (Poets of Najd and the Hijaz) the poetry of Quss bin Sa'idah al-Iyad has been placed. After the brief introduction of the lineage of the poet Quss bin Sa'idah, his poetry is discussed. In the beginning of each poem, the type of poem (i.e., the Bihar) is also quoted. This is done through out the book. Let me start off with the poems one of one. [The Bihar is in the square brackets]
We see that the above mentioned poems fall in to the 'Bihar' which are quoted by cAbdur Rahim Green. For a quick recapitulation, the sixteen al-Bihar are
The conclusion here is very obvious. The poetry of Quss bin Sai'ada does not come anywhere near the Qur'an.
And all this by the way, is from the sources which is quoted in Jochen's homepage. The source itself gives the answer which Jochen has asked for!! This not only shows Jochen does not even read his own sources but also hides the information given in them. It has been a routine habit of some people to do such a thing.
Now let us go into the second part, i.e., what Jochen has stuck into his homepage. It says "A verse by Quss bin Sa'idah". To start with: The material quoted is not a verse, it is a prose which is called Sajc. The level of knowledge of Jochen Katz in Arabic literature is very obvious here. Need I say: Is it worth casting pearls before the swine? But anyway, let us go further and expose the case. The prose quoted is present just before the starting of Poem 2 as discussed above. The quotation is only partial not even one fourth of what is there in the whole of the prose!!
To deal with what is there in Jochen's page requires a bit of understanding of Sajc which in english is loosely translated as "rhymed prose". According to Goldhizer, Sajc is the oldest form of speech in Arabic, pre-dating Rajaz and the Qasidah. For the terms used here, let me just briefly summarize them:
A quick reminder: when we have a end word rhyme in the poetry it is called Khaafiyah.
From pre-Islamic times until this century, Sajc has continuously occupied an important place in Arabic literature and in Arab society. It has been used in the sayings of pre-Islamic kuhhan, in sermons and prayers, proverbs and aphorisms, epistles, maqamat, biographies, and histories. From the tenth until the twentieth century, book titles were almost invariably written in Sajc. Introductions to works of many genres were often written entirely in Sajc. In short, Sajc constitutes an extremely important feature in Arabic writing, including both elite and popular literature. For more information on various other types of poetry one can see this reference.
The transliteration given below deals with the prose which is only partially quoted in Katz's homepage (which is towards the end). This was the speech of Quss bin Sa'idah which he gave in the market of Ukaz. He uses Sajc in his speech where the sentences rhyme with each other (at least every couple of them and not necessarily all). I have arranged all the like sounding prose together for the quick identification of Sajc. Please enjoy the transliteration of the Arabic (which may be a bit improper because of Arabic sounds!! but I have tried as much as possible to faithfully reproduce it):
and then he goes to the Poem 2 which we have already discussed.
Coming back to the business. The use of Sajc is common when delivering a sermon or lecturing because it attracts the attention of the listener. Sajc is not a form of poetry that has to be remembered. It is a rhymed prose. So the challenge is to produce in Arabic, three lines, that do not fall into one of these sixteen Bihar, that is not rhyming prose (i.e., Sajc), nor like the speech of soothsayers, and not normal speech, that it should contain at least a comprehensible meaning and rhetoric, i.e. not gobbledygook.
It is anybody's guess whether Quss bin Sa'idah's Sajc can be of any comparision to the Qur'an. A bit of research needs to be done in the regularity of the metre of Sajc in the above mentioned prose of Quss bin Sa'idah to know how good is the composition. This is definitely a homework for me. And reminding what the Qur'an says:
It is a well known fact that the Qur'an is neither poetry nor prose. In the article Rhetorical Interpretation Of The Qur'an: Ijaz And Related Topics, Issa J Boullata deals with the modern writers who dealt the Qur'an from a literary point of view. One such work of A'isha cAbd al-Rahman who goes by the pseudonym of Bint Shacti has received a lot of attention. It is said that her work will provide new insights on the concept of I'jaz of the Qur'an. Issa Boullata says:
A better insight of the language of the Qur'an can be seen by the people who translated it. Going back to the last century, the Cambridge scholar Edward Henry Palmer was asked by Max Mueller who was planning his monumental series of "Sacred Books of East" for Oxford University Press, to contribute to a new translation of the Qur'an. Arberry says:
E H Palmer, as early as 1880, recognized the unique style of the Qur'an. But he seem to have been wavering between two thoughts. He writes in the Introduction to his translation of the Qur'an:
The famous Arabist H A R Gibb was open upon about the style of the Qur'an. In his words:
And in some other place, talking about the Prophet(P) and the Qur'an, he states:
On the influence of the Qur'an on Arabic literature Gibb says:
Before I go any further, a word of caution: Anyone trying to use the reference  which consists of pre-Islamic as well as post-Islamic poetry to challenge the Qur'an should be warned that all the poetry quoted in that book falls within the 16 al-Bihar mentioned above. I have personally checked all the poetry quoted in that book to make sure of it.
The Spin-Offs: Is The Qur'an Borrowed From The Bible?
Louis Cheikho's aim for collecting the poetry was to show that the Qur'an had the origins from jahiliyyah poetry. But what is remarkable is that the poetry which he collected resulted in the opposite conclusion!!
An observation from the point of view of Islamic traditions had been made by Richard Bell quite a long time ago. He says:
And some people to this date say that Muhammad(P) borrowed the Qur'an from the Judeo-Christian sources!! The evidence that we have point against their views. But they will still be parroting the same story again and again.
This is also mentioned in the books dealing with Christianity among Arabs in pre-Islamic times from the point of view of poets.
Louis Cheikho work has come under a lot of criticism because he has labelled all the jahiliyyah poets as Christians. His book is surprisingly devoid of references. Camille has reviewed his work and found that the following:
Dr. Christopher Heger has informed us in a post dated 02/09/1997 that Camille also published a book in 1970 called Al-Ab Luwis Shaiho wa Shucara' an-Nasraniyah fi l-Jahiliyyah, 1970, Camille Hechaime (Kamil Hushaima), Dar al-Mashriq (Beirut),pp. 298-322, where he again distributes the 61 poets into four categories:
Unfortunately, this reference is not available in my library.
Now it is interesting to see what some people who read the Qur'an say about the book itself. St. Claire Tisdall states that:
Regarding one of the apocryphal books he states:
He does not prove the existence of other aprocryphal sources of the Bible in Arabic either. St. Claire Tisdall book, The Original Sources Of The Qur'an, once upon a time hailed as one of the most original work on the sources of Islam, is now considered as one of most speculative work on Islam. The reason why it is so is because the author assumes that the Prophet(P) knew all the sources before he could compile the Qur'an. The sources being Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Hanif and ancient Arab beliefs. This directly contradicts from the evidence that we have of what the Prophet(P) was. He was considered to be ummi, i.e., illiterate. This is the reason why it is not quoted by the scholars today, except of course, some people who still believe in living in the past.
Now we turn to the fact whether an Arabic Bible was present in the hands of the people during the time of the Prophet(P). Malik Ben Nabi narrates an interesting story:
So, the influence of Christian Jahiliyyah poets as well as lack of presence of the Bible suggests that the Qur'an is not borrowed from the Bible. A Critical Review of the Authorship theories of the Qur'an by Hamza Mustafa Njozi (Version 2.1 edited by Dawah to The People) can be seen here.
This is probably the most well researched work on this topic that I have come across on the internet.
Lastly, if the Qur'an was borrowed from the Bible then why would the Christian Arabs admire the style of a copied book?
And Allah knows best!
 Louis Cheikho, Shucara' al-Nasraniyah, 1890-1891, Beirut, pp. 211-218.
 Ibid., p. 212.
 Ibid., p. 213.
 Ibid., pp. 213-214.
 Ibid., pp. 214-216.
 Ibid., p. 216.
 Ibid., pp. 217-218.
 Ibid., p. 218.
 Ibid., p. 213.
 A F L Beeston, T M Johnstone, R B Serjeant and G R Smith (Ed. ), Arabic Literature To The End Of The Ummayad Period, 1983, Cambridge University Press, p. 33.
 Ibid., pp. 38-39.
 Ibid., Check out various chapters that deal with Arabic poetry and prose.
 Cheikho, Shucara' al-Nasraniyah, Op. Cit., pp. 212-213.
 Beeston et al., Arabic Literature To The End Of The Ummayad Period, Op. Cit., p. 34.
 Andrew Rippin (Ed.), Approaches of The History of Interpretation of The Qur'an, 1988, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 154.
 A J Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, 1955, Volume I, George Allen & Unwin Limited, London, p. 19.
 E H Palmer (Tr.), The Qur'an, 1900, Part I, Oxford at Clarendon Press, p. lv.
 H A R Gibb, Islam - A Historical Survey, 1980, Oxford University Press, p. 28.
 Ibid., p. 25.
 H A R Gibb, Arabic Literature - An Introduction, 1963, Oxford at Clarendon Press, p. 36.
 Ibid., p. 37.
 Malik BenNabi, The Qur'anic Phenomenon, 1983, American Trust Publications, pp. 153-154.
 Richard Bell, The Origin Of Islam In Its Christian Environment, 1926, The Gunning Lectures Edinburgh University, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London, p. 42.
 J S Trimingham, Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times, 1971, Longman Publishers, p. 247.
 Hechame Camille, Louis Cheikho et son livre le Christianisme et la Littrature Chretienne en Arabie avant l'Islam: Etude Critique: 1967, Dar el-Machreq, Beirut, p. 183.
 Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall, The Original Sources Of The Qur'an, 1905, Society For The Promotion Of Christian Knowledge, London, pp. 210-211.
 Ibid., p. 170.
 Malik BenNabi, The Qur'anic Phenomenon, Op. Cit., p. 154.
 Alfred Guillaume, Islam: 1990 (Reprinted), Penguin Books, pp. 73-74.
M S M Saifullah
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