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Topics in Arabic Linguistics: The Historical and Linguistic context of the Qur’an


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies or the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) is required. Please, contact the student advisor or Dr. A.M. Al-Jallad, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of one of the above-mentioned MA programmes. Knowledge of Arabic is not required for this course! Those who know Arabic (level B2 European Common Framework, i.e. at least 80 EC = 2240 hs of language courses at BA level) will work with the original Qur’anic Arabic while those who do not will work in translation.


This course acquaints students with current research on the origins and development of Islam’s foundational text, the Qur’an. Source and text critical methods, drawing on recent developments in linguistics, epigraphy, codicology, archaeology, and history, will guide our discussion on formation of the Qur’an, its textual basis, literary and historical context, and its original audience.

Menu of topics

Meeting 1) Introduction to the study of the Qur’an

Muslim traditions
Meeting 2) Muslim narratives on the origin of the Qur’an and the ’asbābu n-nuzūl literature

Meeting 3) The Qirāʾāt ‘reading traditions’

The Qur’an as an artifact
Meeting 4) The linguistic context of the Qur’an and the development of the Arabic script

Meeting 5) The language of the Qur’an – spellings, vocabulary, stylistics

Meeting 6) The archaeology of the Qur’an

Meeting 7) The earliest codices and textual tradition

Meeting 8) In the shadow of an oral tradition

Towards a history of the Qur’an
Meeting 9) Nöldeke’s chronology of the Surahs

Meeting 10) Revisionist approaches

Meeting 11) Case study: the Alexander legend

Meeting 12) Religious communities in the Qur’an

Course objectives

1) To understand and engage with current Western scholarship on the Qur’an
2) Methods of source and text criticism
3) Arabia in late antiquity
4) Philology and linguistics of the Qur’an and Old Arabic
5) Learn and conduct research on the Qur’an



Mode of instruction


Students are required to read secondary literature at home and prepare to discuss key points. The discussions will be led by a team of two students alternating weekly.

Attendance and participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

1) Classes: 4 contact hours per week = 13×4: 52 hours
2) Literature reading: 10 hours reading for ca. 12 classes: 120 hours
3) Weekly assignment: 2 × 12: 24
4) Preparing presentation: 8 hours
5) Preparation of the two paper assignments: 76 hours
= 280 hrs.

Assessment method


Mid-term paper, class presentation, participation in class, assignments and term paper.


  • (Mid-term) Paper followed by class presentation (20%). Deadline paper: 26 October.

  • Participation in class (10%)

  • Assignments (30%)

  • Term paper of c. 7,000 words (40%) to be completed before the end of the course.

The term paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. The first version is due 9 May, 9.00 AM. The final version on 20 June.


In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. A new version of the final assignment may be written if the overall mark for the course is “5.49” (=5) or lower. The deadline for this version will be determined in consultation. In the case of a re-write the overall grade will not exceed 6.0.
The course is an integrated whole and must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam/paper results, an exam/paper review will be organized.



Reading list

Will be posted on Blackboard.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Dr. A.M. Al-Jallad


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).