Consonance in the Qur’an: A conceptual, intertextual and linguistic analysis

Consonance in the Qur’an: A conceptual, intertextual and linguistic analysis. By Hussein Abdul-Raof. (Languages of the world 34.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2005. Pp. 339. ISBN 3895868019. $204.12.

Reviewed by † Alan S. Kaye, California State University, Fullerton

This interesting, well-researched volume uses the framework of text linguistics, largely following Teun A. van Dijk’s Text and context (London: Longman, 1977) and M. A. K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan’s Language, context, and text: Aspects of language in social-semiotic perspective (Victoria: Deakin University Press, 1997) to analyze the Qur’an in Arabic. It focuses on consonance (translated inconsistently by the author as Arabic nasq (22), but also as munaasabah (25)), which is defined as a ‘text linguistic term that refers to the sequentiality and connectivity of propositions’ (16). This phenomenon refers to the cohesion and coherence of the sentences of the text of the Arabic Qur’an, the holy book for Muslims no matter what the native language of the Muslim happens to be. A significant point for non-Muslims to realize is that the faithful believe that the Qur’an is kalaamu llaah ‘God’s word’, and thus it cannot be translated into any other language (but paraphrases in another language are possible). The author is correct in his observation that although the Qur’anic text was revealed in both Mecca and Medina over a period of approximately a quarter of a century, there are conceptual and intertextual connections of ideas that have influenced consonance throughout the tome ‘at both micro and macro levels’ (16). The author has found the following types of consonance: between chapters; within one chapter; and at parable level, word level, phrase level, letter level, semantic level, phonetic level, and so on (17).

As illustrative of the methodology of text linguistics employed, the author compares two Qur’anic verses (ayahs) with identical lexical and semantic content (37): Q6:102 reads laa ’ilaaha ’illaa huwa xaaliqu kulli shay’in ‘There is no deity [‘god’—ASK] except Him, the Creator of all things’, and Q 40:62 has the reverse word order, xaaliqu kulli shay’in laa ’ilaaha ’illaa huwa ‘The Creator of all things, there is no deity [‘god’—ASK] except Him’. The first verse is embedded in a context of monotheism as major theme. Therefore, ’ilaaha ‘god’ occurs in first position (the author’s wording is: ‘made communicatively more salient in terms of information output’). The latter ayah has a ‘context of situation’ dealing with creation. Thus, xaaliqu ‘Creator’ occurs initially. Then the author adds the following explanation: ‘These variations are deliberately made for good communicative functions [sic]’ (37).

The tome is wordy in many places, and thus difficult and frustrating to read. Consider the following not untypical example: at the beginning of a section entitled ‘Consonance in text linguistics’ (25) we read: ‘In Arabic, the expression [sic] consonance means al-munasabah [sic] which is one of the derivative forms of the verb nasaba meaning “related or linked to someone or something” ’ (25). The next section, entitled ‘Consonance in Qur’anic studies’, begins: ‘The notion of consonance in Qur’anic studies is called al-munasabah [sic]. This word is derived from the verb yunaasibu “to be a relative to someone, to have a resemblance to someone, like two brothers, a cousin, a brother-in-law” ’ (25).

Occasionally, the author’s English is ungrammatical or awkward. Consider but two examples. He says that his book consists of seven chapters: ‘The book falls into seven chapters’ (17). And he writes: ‘The findings of this work is [sic] highly vital for text analysts as well as for those interested in text linguistics’ (20).

Finally, it should be noted that the bibliography lacks the diacritics necessary for an accurate Arabic transcription. Hopefully, these types of stylistic infelicities will be corrected in a subsequent edition.