The Problem of the Meccan Verses in the Research of Certain Orientalists


Eltigani Abdelgadir Hamid Rahma


A number of Orientalist scholars of Qur’anic studies as well as earlier Muslim exegetes have noted a remarkable difference between the Meccan surahs revealed at the beginning of the Prophet’s mission and the relatively long surahs revealed later at the Madinah. The difference appears not only in style but also content. Relying on such distinguishing features, this group of scholars has concluded that the Prophet re-wrote and/or re-edited the Qur’anic text according to the psychological and visionary transformations he was undergoing.

This assumption enabled the Meccan verses to play a special role. They were singled out as material evidence by these scholars and readily used to substantiate their multi-dimensional thesis. Several of these scholars argued that the Meccan verses reflect no less than a pessimistic outlook, which primarily focuses on scenes of the Day of Judgment without reference to society or politics. In the opinion of these scholars, this pessimism is a precise sign of the psychological suffering that the Prophet endured under the Quraish oppression. Thus, the Hijra was not merely a reaction to certain changes in the political environment, as might be thought. Rather, it was a period of radical, psychological change after which the Prophet began to perceive things differently. He began, for instance, to be more optimistic, to widen the horizons of his mission, and to view himself as a statesman and a leader of a community. It was in this post-Hijra era that the Prophet began, through the Madinah Qur’an, to pay extensive attention to the legal, economic and political dimension of Islam.       

To shed light on these issues, we attempt in this paper to respond to the following questions. A): What are the main conclusions of the previously noted orientalists regarding the arrangement of the Qur’anic surahs? B): How did they reach these conclusions? C): In contrast, what are the most important contradictory conclusions that we might reach when we reexamine the Meccan verses?

We devote the first section of this paper to four prominent orientalists. We present a thorough exposition of their research, methods and arguments. In the second section, we focus on the Meccan verses themselves to determine whether careful analysis validates or invalidates the described arguments. Our research conclusions appear in the paper’s final section together with remarks on several methodological issues.



Meccan verses
Madinah verses
Internal history

Articles in Arabic
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