logo The Paraclete Forum Archive

pre-Qur'an arabic


Hi, I had asked you if you knew of the existence of any
Arabic-language literature prior to the Quran.

This is important to me, so that I can prove or disprove a claim of
Persian historians of Islam, who say that it was in fact Salman Farsi
who wrote the Qu'ran, since Muhammad was illiterate, and Arabic was
not a written language until Salman Farsi put an alphabet to it.

I only received this by word of mouth from a grand nephew of Abdul
Houssain Zarin Koub.  So, I want to confirm it.

If no one ever can give me an example of pre-Quran Arabic language
literature, then I would have to conclude that Petroshevsky's and
Zarin Koub's assertions are correct in this regard.


first response

I'm sure you know that the Qur'an is a
collection of Mohammed's "recitations".  There are various theories,
beginning with Abu Bakr.  "The earlier theory (Rodwell's) was that the
various remnants of the Prophet's teaching were in the first instance
collected by his friend Abu Bakr, about a year after Mohammed's death, at
the suggestion of another friend, Omar, and that the actual work was
entrusted to Zaid Ibn Thabit, an ansar of Medina, who gathered together the
fragments from every quarter:  'from date leaves and tablets of stone, and
from the breast of men.'"  Later theories describe stages in the development
of the Qur'an.
I think that most would agree that it was indeed a work in progress.  There
was undoubtedly some sort of Arabic literature prior to the Qur'an.  I'll
have to check on when and by whom the Arabic alphabet was devised.  But,
suffice it to say that Aramaic and Hebrew had alphabets much prior to the
origin of Islam (proto-Semitic @1500BC).
I would add, too, that the obvious political battles that followed the death
of Mohammed set up some serious questions about the claim you mention.  I'm
sure people on both sides (Shiite vs Sunni) will stake a claim.  Just by the
character and names of the symbols of the Arabic alphabet (first letter
alif), it was designed to fit a Semitic language.  I believe most scholars
would say that it was adapted to Farsi (an Indo-European Language) with some
trouble.  As you follow the development of alphabetic writing, it fans out
eastward into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and so on from Phoenicia, the Sinai,
and most likely the Arabian Peninsula, making the linguistic claim that a
Persian invented the Arabic script.
I'll see if I can find more.

second response

I've e-mailed a couple of colleagues who will be able to give me a
definitive answer to your question.  But, I thought I'd also mention that my
gut feeling is that it is most likely that Zalman Farsi (Farsi of course is
the name of a Persian language) adapted the Arabic script to Farsi when the
Qur'an was first translated into Farsi.  That fits the historical accounts
that I'm familiar with.