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The Sūra of the Poets Revisited

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The sūra of the poets (xxvi) is unique among all the sūras of the Qur'ān. It is the only sūra which treats in a significant manner the secular art of Arabic poetry (verses 224-227) in the context of the defense of the Qur'ān as the Word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (verses 1-9). For Arabic poetry, verse 227 documents the birth of an entirely new genre in the history of Arabic poetry, the Islamic, and what is more, it legitimates poetic composition along strictly Islamic lines, bringing poetry within the purview of the Shari'a. For Qur'ānic studies, verse 226 "and they say what they do not do," has been closely examined and the examination has yielded the conclusion that this "unfulfilled promise" on the part of the poets is the key to discovering what the important Qur'ānic dogma inimitability, I' jāz, consists in. The regnant view of later times understood it in literary terms, but the detailed microscopic examination of the verses, 224-226 has revealed the soundness of this view, already confirmed in the Qur'ān itself. Hence, the twofold significance of these crucial verses in the sūra of the poets to both the history of Arabic poetry and to Qur'ānic studies and the importance of their correct exegesis, discussed by the present writer in JAL (2004, pp 175-220).

This has been challenged recently by Michael Zwettler in a long article which appeared in JAL (2007, pp 111-166) and so has reopened the debate on the sūra. It is therefore necessary to examine the arguments, advanced in this article, necessary for both the history of Arabic poetry and of Qur'ānic studies, and also for considering some new elements to be found in this article. This will be done in the spirit of a dialogue, that is essential for advancing the frontiers of knowledge in both disciplines, the literary and the Qur'ānic.

Affiliations: 1: Georgetown University


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