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Divine Poetry?

Early Modern European Orientalists on the Beauty of the Koran

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This article discusses Western attitudes to the style of the Koran from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century. The subject is of particular interest because the question of the Koran's aesthetic value is ultimately linked with the Islamic belief that the inimitable beauty of Muhammad's revelation is the very proof of its divine origin (i'jāz al-Qur'ān). Given the apologetic function of this doctrine in Islamic theology, many early modern European orientalists, from Theodor Bibliander to Ludovico Marracci, criticised the style. Some of the arguments presented were remarkably persistent and can be followed up to the present day. This article also shows, however, that since the end of the seventeenth century scholars such as Andreas Acoluthus, George Sale and Claude-Etienne Savary had developed a more favourable attitude to the Koranic style, while, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Prophet Muhammad was seen as an inspired genius and the Koran as an example of 'divine poetry'.

Affiliations: 1: The Warburg Institute, University of London, Woburn Square, London WC1H OAB;, Email:


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