Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage

This eighty-fifth volume in Brill’s Handbook of Oriental Studies Series attempts to fulfill the long-standing need for an Arabic-English dictionary of Qur’anic usage. Adding an important resource for the study of the Qur’an, the Dictionary is distinguished by many features: It brings to English-speaking readership contextualized interpretations of the Qur’anic vocabulary through the works of classical scholars; it follows the Arabic root system, devoting one section to each of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet; roots are alphabetically arranged with special attention given to the classification of roots with geminated second and third radicals, which are classified unlike the tradition followed by by Western lexicographers such as Lane and Wehr (thus the root s-b-b appears after the root s-b-‘ and not after it); cross references provide easy access to roots of certain foreign words which could be thought of as arising from more than one possible combination (e.g. A-z-r and a-z-r); an inventory of the basic concepts covered by the root provides a broad framework of what it encompasses; it recognizes that abstract derivatives in Arabic are derived from concrete ones, rather than the other way around (jamal, beauty, comes from jamal, camel, not the other way around); and it presents all morphological derivatives of a given root which are found in the Qur’an, along with their frequency.

By necessity, such a work has to base itself on existing source material. The authors chose the al-Mu’jam al-mufahras li afaz al-Qur’an al-Karim, the well-known concordance of Muhammad Fu’ad ‘abd al-BAqi, both for their dictionary entries as well as foi the frequency count. The glosses are based on Abdel Haleem’s The Qur’an–A New Translation with necessary changes.Other translations mentioned in the bibliography (under “English Sources”) are The Holy Qur’an: Arabic Text, English Translation and Commentary by Maulana Muhammad Ali, a follower of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadyan, who is considered an imposter by majority of Muslims;
The Message of the Quran by Muhammad Asad, whose rationalistic interpretations of the supra-rational of the Qur’an led him, among other things, to deny such fundamental tenets of Islam as the role played by angels and jinn and whose translation often chooses the far-fetched rather than familiar meanings of certain words; and the equally problematic An English Interpretation of the Holy Quraan by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who reduced the Qur’anic concept of Jihad to striving against one’s inner evil and imposed imagery of Romantic poets onto Qur’anic vocabulary. These are clearly inappropriate choices for the English translations of the Qur’an to be used in a work which claims to be “based upon the interpretations by classical Qur’anic commentators of the contextualized occurrences of the finite vocabulary items used in the Qur’anic text” (xvi). The Dictionary has, however, managed to avoid some of the doctrinal problems which the choice of the aforementioned modernist translations of the Qur’an would have brought to it. There is, for instance, no trace of the Lahori Ahmadi creed in its gloss on Prophet Isa [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], no mention of his alleged death in Kashmir and the transference of the role of the messiah to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. In some cases, however, the reliance on these translations becomes apparent–for instance, the Dictionary takes the more obscure meaning of ibil (clouds) used by Muhammad Asad in his translation of Q. 88:17 as compared to the more generally held view that the Qur’an refers to camels.

It took the authors seven years to complete this work. In the course of their project they had to make certain difficult decisions, such as whether or not to include the so-called scientific interpretations in their work. Such decisions and the editorial parameters have been indicated in the “Introduction”. The Arabic text used in the Dictionary is clear though not elegant; due consideration has been given to properly transliterate words; and the work has received proper editorial care. Notwithstanding the reservations mentioned above, Arabic-English Dictionary of Quraanic Usage is an important contribution to Qur’anic scholarship and will provide an important resource for researchers and English-language scholars.

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