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Ungrateful or Honorable: A Re-examination of the Word Kanūd in Qur'ān 100 (al-'Ādiyāt)

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In a previous study, and building on the work of Günter Lüling and Christoph Luxenberg, I argued that the first five verses of Q100 were either misunderstood or deliberately modified by the Qur'an editors from an original text that can be characterized as a pre-Islamic hymn. Instead of the traditional Muslim interpretation of horses charging into battle and striking at the enemy, the "reconstructed" version presents an image of maidens going out in the morning and lighting a flame to benefit others.

This paper focuses on the second half of the sūra, vv. 6-11. Starting with a reexamination of the word kanūd in v. 6, which is a hapax legomenon in the Qur'an and which is virtually non-existent in the language in general, I argue for a radically different interpretation of these verses. Evidence is provided from the sūra itself, from other parts of the Qur'an, and from a comparison with a related form in Hebrew, a language which is known to have influenced the Qur'an. Just as the reconstruction of vv. 1-5 results in an image of peace and sharing in place of war and destruction, the reconstruction of vv. 6-12 results in an image of man honoring and glorifying his Lord and loving to do good deeds rather than a selfish and ungrateful creature whose selfishness and ingratitude cannot be hidden from God.

One of the problems with the traditional interpretation of Q100 is the lack of thematic unity: vv. 1-5 portray horses charging into battle, while vv. 6-11 condemn man as being an ingrate. My reconstruction of the sūra gives it a high degree of coherence. The first half shows women doing good deeds in worship, while the second confirms that mankind loves to do good deeds in the service of God and that God knows all about such deeds.

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Affiliations: 1: Cornell University


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