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Author: Sharif Randhawa

A Bibliography of Studies in English on the Coherence and Structure of the Qur’an’s Suras

The topic of the Qur’an’s naẓm, “arrangement” or “composition,” has achieved significant interest in contemporary study of the scripture, giving rise to a number of extremely interesting and insightful studies of the coherence and structure of the Qur’anic suras.  Here I would like to provide a bibliography of such studies in English for interested readers and students of the Qur’an.  This post can be continually updated as further studies in this field are published.

First, however, I would like to give mention of two contemporary pioneering works outside of the English language.  First, Amin Ahsan Islahi has written a commentary of the entire Qur’an in Urdu focused on the study of coherence, titled Tadabbur-i Qur’ān (Pondering the Qur’an).  His commentary of suras 32-114 have been translated into English and may be found on http://www.tadabbur-i-quran.org/text-of-tadabbur-i-quran/.  For studies of this commentary in English, see Mustansir Mir, Coherence in the Qur’an (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1986), as well as Neal Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 2003), pp. 271-283.

Second, the formal structure of all of the Meccan suras, and especially the early Meccan suras, has been studied by Angelika Neuwirth, Studien Zur Komposition Der Mekkanischen Suren (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1981). Although this work has yet to be translated into English, her findings are refined by Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text), pp. 97-161.  Neuwirth’s structural or thematic divisions of the Meccan suras are also outlined in an appendix by Carl Ernst, How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide, With Select Translations (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), pp. 213-222.

What follows is a bibliography of coherence-based studies of particular suras in English.


Sura 1: The Opening (al-Fātiḥa)

  • Michel Cuypers, “Semitic Rhetoric as a Key to the Question of the Naẓm of the Qur’anic Text” Coherence in the Qur’an 13 no. 1 (2011): 13-15.
  • Raymond Farrin, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and Coherence in Islam’s Holy Text, Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 2014, 1-7.

Sura 12: Joseph (Yusuf)

  • Mustansir Mir, “The Qur’anic Story Of Joseph: Plot, Themes, And Characters,” Muslim World1 (1986): 1-3, points out the chiastic structure of the sura.
  • Michel Cuypers, “Semitic Rhetoric,” 15-19, offers a deeper and more refined analysis of the sura as a ring composition.

Sura 15: al-Ḥijr

  • Ernst, 111-120, underscores the structure of the sura and its anchors with earlier suras.

Sura 17: The Night Journey (al-Isrā’)

  • Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an, 188-195.

Sura 23: The Believers (al-Mu’minūn)

  • Neal Robinson, “The Structure and Interpretation of Sūrat al-Mu’minūn,” Journal of Qur’anic Studies 2, no. 1 (2000): 89-106.

Sura 51: The Scatterers (adh-Dhāriyāt)

  • Mir, Coherence in the Qur’an, 39-41, summarizes Hamid al-Din Farahi’s analysis of the sura.
  • Ernst, 78, outlines the structure and balance of the sura.

Sura 53: The Star (an-Najm)

  • Ernst, 98-104, provides some observations on the structure and balance of the sura.

Suras 54: The Moon (al-Qamar) and 55: The All-Merciful (ar-Raḥmān) (as a sura pair)

  • Farrin, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation, 63-69.

Sura 55: The All-Merciful (ar-Raḥmān) – also 54 and 56

  • Muhammad Abdel Haleem, “Context and Internal Relationships: Keys to Qur’anic Exegesis” Approaches to the Qur’an, eds. G. R. Hawting and Abdul-Kader A. Shareef (London: Routledge, 1993), 71-98; also presented in Muhammad Abdel Haleem, Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Styles, 3rd ed. (London: I.B. Taurus, 2011), 161-186.

Sura 75: The Resurrection (al-Qiyama)

  • Neal Robinson, “The Qur’ān as the Word of God” in Heaven and Earth: Essex Essays in Theology and Ethics, ed. Andrew Linzey and Peter J. Wexler (Worthing: Churchman, 1986), 38-54.
  • Salwa M.S. El-Awa, Textual Relations in the Qur’ān: Relevance, Coherence, and Structure (Routledge: New York, 2006), 101-159.

Sura 78: The News (an-Naba’)

  • Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an, 167-176.

Sura 79: The Pullers (an-Nāzi‘āt)

  • Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an, 177-188.

Sura 101: The Crashing Blow (al-Qāri‘a)

  • Cuypers, “Semitic Rhetoric,” 7-9.



Sura 2: The Cow (al-Baqara)

  • Mustansir Mir, “The Sūra as a Unity: A Twentieth Century Development in Qur’an Exegesis” in Approaches to the Qur’an, eds. G. R. Hawting and Abdul-Kader A. Shareef, eds. (London: Routledge, 1993), 211–24; reprinted in Colin Turner, ed., The Koran: Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies (4 vols. London: Routledge, 2004), vol. 4, 198–209.
  • Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an, 201-223.
  • H. Mathias Zahniser, “Major Transitions and Thematic Borders in Two Long Sūras: al-Baqara and al-Nisā’” in Literary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qur’an, ed. Issa J. Boulatta (Richmond: Curzon, 2000), 26–55.
  • David E. Smith, “The Structure of al-Baqarah,” Muslim World 91 (2001): 121–36.
  • Raymond Farrin, “Surat al-Baqara: A Structural Analysis,” Muslim World1 (2010): 17-32.
  • Farrin, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation, 9-21.
  • Nevin Rida El-Tehry, Textual Integrity and Coherence in the Qur’an: Repetition and Narrative Structure in Surat al-Baqara (PhD diss., University of Toronto, Toronto, 2010).

Sura 3: The House of ‘Imrān (Āl ‘Imrān)

  • Neal Robinson, “Surat Al ‘Imran and Those with the Greatest Claim to Abraham,” Coherence in the Qur’an 6, no. 2 (2004): 1-21.
  • Neal Robinson, “The Dynamics of Surah Āl ‘Imrān” Pak Tae-Shik, Saramui Jonggyo, Jonggyoui Saram (Seoul: Baobooks, 2008), 425-486.
  • Farrin, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation, 24-32.
  • Bilal Gökkir, “Form and Structure of Sura Maryam—A Study from Unity of Sura Perspective,” Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 16, no. 1 (2006): 1-16.

Sura 4: Women (an-Nisā’)

  • Mustansir Mir, Coherence in the Qur’an (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1986), 46-62, provides a summary and analysis of Islahi’s study of the structure and coherence of the sura.
  • A. H. Mathias Zahniser, “Major Transitions and Thematic Borders in Two Long Sūras: al-Baqara and al-Nisā” in Literary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qur’an, ed. Issa J. Boulatta (Richmond: Curzon, 2000), 26–55.
  • A. H. Mathias Zahniser, “Sura as Guidance and Exhortation: The Composition of Surat al-Nisa” in Humanism, Culture, and Language in the Near East: Studies in Honor of Georg Krotkoff, ed. Asma Afsaruddin and A.H. Mathias Zahnisr (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 71-86.

Sura 5: The Dining Table (al-Mā‘ida)

  • Neal Robinson, “Hands Outstretched: Towards a Re-Reading of Surat al-Mā’ida” Coherence in the Qur’an 3, no. 1 (2001): 1-19.
  • Michel Cuypers, The Banquet: A Reading of the Fifth Sura of the Qur’an, trans. Patricia Kelly (Miami: Convivium Press, 2009); cf. Cuypers, “Semitic Rhetoric,” 9-13.

Sura 33: The Confederations (al-Aḥzāb)

  • El-Awa, Textual Relations in the Qur’ān, 45-100.

Sura 60: She Who is to Be Examined (al-Mumtaḥana)

  • Ernst, 163-166, analyzes the sura as a ring composition.

Suras 113: Daybreak (al-Falaq) and 114: Mankind (an-Nās) as a sura pair

  • Farrin, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation, 22-24.


The Exodus in the Qur’an, the Bible, and History (Part 2):

Alleged Evidence Against a Historical Exodus

There are several arguments regularly cited, even in reputable textbooks and scholarly works, for regarding the Exodus as largely unhistorical (though not necessarily lacking a historical core).  A popular presentation of these arguments is laid out in Israel Finkelstein’s and Neil Asher Silberman’s popular book, The Bible Unearthed[1].  Because the assertion that the Exodus tradition conflicts with archaeological evidence is so common, it is appropriate to first address these arguments and show why they are misplaced.  I have summarized these responses from Kitchen.

1. No records of the Israelites in Egypt

The most common argument against the historicity of the Exodus is that ancient Egyptian records do not attest to a large group of Israelites in Egypt.  The Egyptians were meticulous record-keepers, yet there are no records of the Israelites in ancient Egyptian papyrus documents, temple walls, or tomb inscriptions.  Similarly, there are no records of the plagues or of the drowning of the Pharaoh’s army.  Additionally, the border between Egypt and Canaan (the biblical term for ancient Palestine) was closely controlled during the New Kingdom period, when the Exodus is usually assumed to have happened.  If a great mass of fleeting Israelites passed through these border fortifications, a record should exist, just as we do have a record of the escape of a small group of Edomite slaves.  The only mention of Israel is the Merneptah Stele (c. 1208), which mentions the Israelites as a group existing in or around Canaan.

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The Exodus in the Qur’an, the Bible, and History (Part 1):

The Exodus and Wilderness in Tradition and History

I am starting a new series of articles, in which I will be presenting gems in the Qur’anic account of the Exodus and Wilderness traditions that come to light when it is studied against the background of history and archaeology, particularly in biblical studies and Egyptology.

By the “Exodus,” I am referring to the story of the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites (or Hebrews) from slavery in ancient Egypt under the leadership of Moses.  This story forms the basis for the Israelites’ obligation to adhere to the Torah in Judaism (Exod. 20:2-3), and as we will see, serves as a model for the nascent Muslim community in the Qur’an.

By the “Wilderness” (a.k.a. “Wandering” or “Sinai”) tradition, I am referring to the story of the Israelites’ sojourn in the deserts of the Sinai peninsula (and to a lesser extent, northwestern Arabia and Jordan) for forty years following the Exodus.  It is in this setting that the Torah was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, and many famous incidents occurred such as the Israelites’ worship of the Golden Calf, the divine provision of the quail and manna, the springs of water from the rocks, and so on.  In the title of this series, I am using the term “Exodus” more broadly to allude to the Wilderness tradition as well.

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Introduction to Parallelisms and Chiastic Structures in the Qur’an

Over the next several posts I want to talk about one of the subjects that has fascinated me the most recently, namely chiasmi and ring compositions in the Qur’an. But first, let me explain what those are.

In Biblical studies (particularly of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament), the focus of most scholars over the last two centuries has been on historical and textual criticism: the historical context of the books of the Hebrew Bible, the dates of their composition, their authorship, how the stories developed and how they correlate with archaeological discoveries. Those are all fascinating and important subjects, but in recent decades there has emerged a greater focus on the literary study of the Bible: its poetics, literary devices, literary composition, and its narrative qualities.

Scholars with a literary focus have discerned that various biblical authors employed considerations of symmetry as major principles of composition. (The use of these compositional techniques has since been discerned in ancient Greek, Persian, Indian, and Chinese writings as well, and even in medieval and modern writings and oral literature) There are three major types of symmetrical composition, though they contain many subtypes. Each of these types, as we will see, are also important for the study of the Qur’an.

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