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Preserving the Integrity of the Qurʾānic Text by Means of Philology

Subproject by Andreas Ismail Mohr

While we have detailed descriptions of the philological measures taken in the pre-modern era for the formation and correct presentation of the texts both of the Hebrew Bible alongside its Aramaic and Greek translations as well as the New Testament, a corresponding exposure for the Qurʾān is a much-needed desideratum. Diacritical marks as well as vowel dots, the use of which can now be dated back into the first century of Islam (7th century C.E.), were used to complement the consonantal Arabic script and reduce ambiguity, which lead to a scholarly discpline which not only secured the grammatically correct reading but also the euphonic embodiment of the text, i.e. “orthoepy” (tajwīd). Being a sacred text, the Qurʾān had to be instituted as a “performable” text for its appropriate proclamation during worship. The fixation of a phonetically ideal pronunciation of individual sound complexes (in such cases as gemination or assimilation, madd, idghām) was accompanied by the definition of a whole range of different pauses (wuqūf) in recitation that can be compared to the division marks among the accents of the Hebrew Bible (sōf pāsūq, sillūq, atnāḥ).

Not only the modern printed Qurʾān copies (such as the famous edition of Cairo, 1924, or the more recent Muṣḥaf al-Madina), but already many old lithographic prints as well as innumerable manuscripts seek to preserve the archaic, so-called ʿuṯmānic orthography of the 7th century and at the same time to make it readable – besides exact vocalisation – through special marks. Similar to the māsōrā of the Hebrew Bible, codices of the Qurʾān mark textual divisions (such as rukūʿāt, being paragraphs according to meaning, or pericopes; sixtieth parts, thirtieth parts etc.) and even alternative readings (qirāʾāt) as well as those places where the reciter has to perform a prostration (sajda) – all being measures to ensure the integrity of the text within the framework of the spectrum of recognized “canonical” readings as well as its realization of the recitation required for worship. 

The aim of the project is to trace the text of the Qurʾān – not in the quest for an “urtext” as others have tried, but along the practices reflected in the text itself which served its integrity as well as limited its diversity of variants. The approximate historical coincidence and geographical proximity of the philological efforts around the integrity of the text of the Hebrew Bible as well as its Aramaic (targūm) and Syriac translations invite to follow the complex ways of transfer that led to that shape of the Qurʾānic text, which is so radically different from any profane text.