An Introduction to ‘Ulum-al-Qur’an: The Field of Qur’anic Studies
Published: March 30, 2022 • Updated: September 18, 2023
Author: Sh. Yousef Wahb
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
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Definition of the Qur’an
The scope and significance of ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān
Brief history of the classical field of ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān
Al-Bulqīnī’s taxonomy of ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān
- Places, Occasions, and Circumstances of Revelation (12 sub-disciplines)
- Textual Transmission and Transmitters (6 sub-disciplines)
- Phonetics and Elocution (6 sub-disciplines)
- Linguistic Forms and Rhetorical Devices (7 sub-disciplines)
- Meanings related to Rulings: Interpretive Principles (14 sub-disciplines)
- Meanings related to Words: Rhetorical Devices (5 sub-disciplines)
Places, occasions, and circumstances of Revelation
- The Meccan revelation
- The Medinan revelation
- Verses revealed during travel
- Verses revealed in the city
- Verses revealed at night
- Verses revealed during the day
- Verses revealed in the summer
- Verses revealed in the winter
- Verses revealed in the Prophet’s bed or while he was asleep
- The occasions and causes of revelation
- The first revealed verses
- The last revealed verses
- Adopting one as the original occasion (sabab) and considering the other to be its explanation (tafsīr).
- Considering the earlier incident to be the original sabab and the later one an understanding of the application of the verse. This may be due to the possibility of a companion hearing the Prophet ﷺ reciting a previously-revealed verse following a particular situation and assuming it to be a new revelation.
- Considering the two occasions as one sabab for the same verse.
- Considering the verse to be revealed on two different occasions (that share the same Qur’anic ruling or objective).
- Considering that the same verse was revealed more than once on different occasions.
Textual transmission and transmitters
- The mutawātir, readings narrated by mass transmission
- The āḥād, readings narrated by solitary chains of transmission
- The shādh, anomalous readings attributed to some of the companions’ successors (tabiʾīn) which did not meet the conditions of authentic readings
- Qirāʾāt al-Nabī, different readings recited by the Prophet ﷺ
- The memorizers (ḥuffāz) of the Qur’an
- The transmitters (ruwāt) of the Qur’an
- The companions who did ʿard of the entire or most of the Qur’an to the Prophet ﷺ (such as ʿUthmān, ʿAlī, Ubay, Zayd b. Thābit, Ibn Masʿūd, Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī, and Abū al-Dardāʾ).
- The companions who received iqrāʾ from the Prophet, whether one-on-one or in groups.
- The companions who memorized the entire Qur’an (ḥuffāz).
- The companions who read the Qur’an to other companions (such as Abū Hurayrah and ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAbbās).
- The companions who were dedicated public Qur’an teachers (teaching the masses with no restrictions, such as Zayd ibn Thābit and ʿAbdullah ibn Masʿūd).
- The companions who were private teachers (instructing dedicated students such as ʿUthmān, ʿAlī, and Ubay ibn Kaʿb).
Phonetics and elocution
- Waqf (pause) identifies instances of pausal modes in recitation in coherence with tafsīr and accommodation of different teaching and learning methods.
- Ibtidā (resume) describes how to resume the recitation after a pausal mode was adopted.
- Imāla (inclination) is an Arabic dialectic phenome that shifts the long vowel ā to incline towards the long vowel ī, articulating a vowel’s sound between the two. Imāla also includes the inclination of one consonant towards another such as the ṣ toward the s which is known to be a type of ishmām. Imāla exists in most canonical qiraʾāt but is mostly present in certain readings such as Hamzah and Kisāʾī. The different styles of imāla showcase the Qur’an’s encompassment of distinct dialects, which accommodated the tribal diversity of the Arabs.
- Madd (lengthening lone vowels) classifies vowels and delineates the grades or levels of their duration. In many instances, madd transcends phonetical performances to draw the reader’s attention towards certain words, lengthen the spiritual experience of their meanings, and beautify the intonation of syllables.
- Takhfīf al-Hamzah (a lightened articulation form of the letter hamzah), an Arabic phoneme marking the devocalization of the hamzah for the sake of lightening the pronunciation of a word. In addition to accommodating dialectical diversity, takhfīf al-hamzah makes fluent one’s articulation of the Qur’anic words. Arabs used to lighten the articulation of hamzah in different styles such as lightening (tashīl), substituting (ibdāl), omitting (isqāṭ), and transferring the vowel to an unvocalized consonant preceding it (naql). Takhfīf al-hamzah, which was adopted by many Arabs including Quraysh and Hijaz tribes, was triggered by the fact that hamzah is the heaviest letter in pronunciation and the farthest point of articulation (makhraj) in the deep throat.
- Idghām (assimilation), an Arabic phoneme indicating the assimilation of identical or similar consonants.
We have lived a long period of time when one of us is taught faith (imān) before the Qur’an. The sūrah would be sent down upon Muhammad ﷺ so we learned its [rulings of] permissibility and prohibition, and where to pause upon reading it as you now learn the Qur’an. Today, we see men to whom the Qur’an is given before imān so that they recite it from beginning to end knowing nothing of its commands and prohibitions, nor where to pause when reading it.
Linguistic forms and rhetorical devices
The context (maqām) that demands the definition, generalisation, pre-positioning of part of a discourse, and inclusion (of particular words) differs from the context that demands the indefinite, specification, post-position and omission; the context of disjoining differs from that of joining; the situation that requires conciseness differs from that requiring expansiveness. Discourse with an intelligent person differs from discourse with an obtuse one. Each word with its companion is suited to a particular context. A high standard of beauty and acceptability of speech depends on its appropriateness to the situation and vice versa.
- al-Gharīb (obscure words), a sub-genre of Qur’anic lexicology that examines uncommon or exceptional words, as well as idiomatic expressions. Gharīb works catalogue these words alphabetically or according to sūrah appearance.
- al-Muʿrrab (loan words), a sub-genre that investigates if the Qur’an contains originally non-Arabic words and examines their process of Arabization.
- al-Majāz (non-literal or figurative expressions)
- al-Mushtarak (homonym)
- al-Mutarādif (synonym)
- al-Istiʿārah (metaphor)
- al-Tashbīih (simile)
Meanings related to rulings: Interpretive principles
- The universal whose applicability is universal
- The universal whose applicability is particular
- The universal whose intended meaning is particular
- The Qur’an that particularizes the Sunnah
- The Sunnah that particularizes the Qur’an
- The ambiguous, mujmal
- The explicit, mubayyan
- The interpreted, muʾawwal
- The implied, mafhūm
- The absolute, muṭlaq
- The qualified, muqayyad
- The abrogating, nāsikh
- The abrogated, mansūkh
- Rulings which were temporarily applied by only one morally obligated individual.
Meanings related to phrases: Rhetorical styles
- The conjunction, faṣl; disjoining of parts of a sentence
- The disjunction, waṣl; joining of parts of a sentence using conjunctions
- The brevity, ījāz
- The expansion, iṭnāb
- The allocation and emphasis or restricting statements, qaṣr