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- 1 Rippin, “Muḥammad in the Qurʾān: Reading the Scripture in the 21st Century”, p. 299.
- 2 Text translitered: wa-llaḏīna yu’minūna bi-mā unzila ilayka wa-mā unzila min qablika wa-bi-l-āḫirat (...)
1This article introduces a graph of the Qurʾān. It aims to exclusively determine, quantify and interpret the distribution of a rhetorical and literary form designated by the expression “first addressee”. By this expression, I mean the ‘implied privileged speaker’ frequently addressing an individual as ‘you’,1 commonly identified by Muslim Tradition as Muḥammad. The first example in the canonical text appears in Q. Baqara 2: 4:2
والَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ مِن قَبْلِكَ وَبِالآخِرَةِ هُمْ يُوقِنُونَ.
- 3 Read also other similar examples: Q. III, 3, 58; VII, 2; XX, 2; VII, 103; XII, 102. Bentaibi, Quelq (...)
- 4 “Toute énonciation est, explicite ou implicite, une allocution, elle postule un allocutaire”, Benve (...)
- 5 “Un énonciateur omniprésent, magistral, qui intervient explicitement pour transformer radicalement (...)
- 6 Mohammed Arkoun noticed : “La totalité du discours coranique obéit à une même structure des relatio (...)
- 7 Alford T. Welch wrote: “I have dared to ask of the Qurʾān the question: ‘What was Muhammad’s unders (...)
- 8 Neal Robinson wrote: “one of the reasons why the quranic discourse is so effective is that, in reci (...)
- 9 Andrew Rippin wrote: “It does seem that in no sense can the Qurʾān be assumed to be primary documen (...)
2In this verse, two assertions or pronouns of the second person masculine singular (إِلَيْكَ ,قَبْلِك) explicitly reveal a symbiotic relation between a speaker (the Qurʾānic God) and a particular addressee (The Qurʾānic messenger).3 Here, the speaker informs the audience or reader(s) that the first and privileged addressee has received a revelation (أُنزِلَ). As Émile Benveniste puts it: “Any utterance is, explicitly or implicitly, an address, it postulates an addressee.”4 Mohammed Arkoun reminds us that for the Qurʾān, there is “an omnipresent, stately speaker who intervenes explicitly to transform radically the conscience of the first addressee”.5 This structural relation between speaker/(first) addressee is a significant aspect of Qurʾānic utterance.6 Three previous and meaningful contributions have already indicated how this literary phenomenon functions across the Qurʾān: large quantity (A.T. Welch),7 variety of forms and rhetorical effects (Neil Robinson),8 and its possible but not systematic reference to the context of Muḥammad’s life (Andrew Rippin).9
3However, this issue has never been considered from a systematic linguistic approach. In fact, from studies cited above, the first addressee is always understood through its possible (or not) identification with Muḥammad and the context of his life. In considering the evidence from this perspective alone, we avoid a critical issue of the Qurʾān, namely the specific interactions between God’s “voice” and a privileged addressee. Intratextual comparison can thus illuminate a hitherto underappreciated aspect of the text as a whole. The question is no longer who is the first addressee implied in each verse but how the Quranic God adresses him. The purpose is to construct a typology that will characterize the relation between these two enunciative instances.
4In this regard, Zarkašī or Suyūṭī’s reflexions on Qurʾānic patterns of address and J.L. Austin’s linguistic theory of illocutionary forces are decisive and insightful works.
- 10 Zarkašī, al-Burhān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, chapter 42.
- 11 Suyūṭī, al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, chapter 51.
- 12 Gwynne, « Patterns of Address », p. 73.
- 13 Nine occurrences in the Qurʾān: 33, 1, 9, 28, 45, 49, 50, 59 ; 65, 1 ; 66, 1.
- 14 For an brief and systematic categorisation of his patterns of utterance, read Azaiez, “Muhammad, un (...)
5Zarkaši’s al-Burhān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān10 (The proof in the Sciences of the Qurʾān) and Suyūṭī al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān11 (Mastery in the Sciences of the Qurʾān) propose a systematic reflection on the “most prominent forms of address: vocatives and those whom they designate, imperatives and the actions they prescribe, and the effects that the passages have on their intended audiences”.12 They underline that these forms make a basic distinction between a particular addressee (ḫāṣṣ) and a general addressee (ʿāmm). The most obvious example of the former is the Quranic expression: يا أيها النبي.13 This formulation implies a direct address to the first adressee identified as Muḥammad. Other patterns of speech are also discussed, such as ‘to say’ (qul), ‘to inform’ (uḏkur) or ‘to act in a certain way’ (iqra, iṣbir)14. The variant uses of these epxressions demonstrate the unique relationship between the speaker’s dominant voice and its first addressee. But this analysis of Qurʾānic address can be completed also by the linguistic theory of Austin’ speech act.
- 15 Austin, How to Do Things with Words, p. 2.
- 16 Text translitered: “innā arsalnāka bi-l-haqq” (Qurʾān 35, 24); translation (Haleem): “We have sent (...)
- 17 Read also Arkoun, La pensée arabe, p. 14-15. He wrote : “(…) les énoncés coraniques obéissent à une (...)
6Austin observed that “there are indeed utterances that do not describe or report or ‘constate’ anything at all; moreover the uttering of these kinds sentences is, or is a part of doing of an action”.15 These sentences are “performative” utterances. Based on this ‘constatation’, Austin distinguished a locutionary act (an actual utterance and its ostensible meaning: the act of making a meaningful utterance), an illocutionary act (an utterance and its intented meaning: the act I may perform in performing the locutionary act), a perlocutionary act (the act I may succeed in performing by means of my illocutionary act). For example, in performing the locutionary act of saying إنا أرسلناك بالحق 16, the Qurʾānic Speaker performs a semantic or locutionary act with its distinct phonetic, syntactic and semantic meaning. It informs about the quality of the first addressee and its function as a messenger sent to his people. But this statement is also an illocutionary act: the reality described by the statement (innā arsalnāka) is performed by the statement itself.17 More difficult to consider, the perlocutionary act is possibly performed when this utterance achieves a particular effect on the behavior of the first addressee: we can suppose it reinforces its faith on the truth of his mission.
7Applied to the second chapter of the Qurʾān (al-Baqara), this categorization of act of utterances defines four types of relation between the Quranic God’s Speaker and its first addressee:
Verses that refer to the first addressee as a messenger, receiving revelation (tanzīl) or obvious signs (āyāt bayyināt): v. 4, 97, 99, 119, 252.
Verses that prescribe to the first addressee to act as a messenger, thereby making him an intermediary between the divine voice and Men (bašīr, naḏīr): v. 6, 25, 155, 186, 189, 215, 217, 219, 220, 222.
Verses that confirm the existence of the first addressee as a messenger to the audience: v. 23, 108, 143, 151, 285.
- 18 I express my sincere thanks to Emmanuelle Stefanidis who made this categorization for this chapter.
Verses that made the addressee a hearer in the intimacy of the divine figure without necessarily constituting an intermediate messenger: v. 30, 96, 107, 120, 144, 145, 147, 149.18
- 19 For a similar approach applied to the qur’anic counter-discourse, read Azaiez, Le contre-discours c (...)
8Aware of the valuable theoretical contributions in the above mentioned works and their application to the second chapter of the Qurʾān, it is now possible to apply this methodology to the entire quranic corpus. Our goal is to determine for each quranic verse if an explicit or implicit allusion of the first addressee is attested. To this end, I elaborate an excel sheet which represents an overview of Qurʾānic Vulgate with its 6237 verses. This synopsis contains seven pages that have three levels of readings: verses (represented by a small square), sūra (represented by the sum of small square corresponding to the number of verse by sūra), and the Qurʾān in its integrality (represented by the following seven excel pages).19 When the first addressee is involved in a verse, I color in the quarrel corresponding to the verse.
9This initial survey indicates three general categories. First, there are assertions or declarative statements defining the nature or status of the first addressee and its relation to the divine speaker (in blue). Secondly, there are imperative statements intended to influence the behavior of the first addressee (in green). Third, there are interrogative statements consisting primarily of rhetorical questions to remind the first adressee of God’s omniscience (in red or yellow).
10Based on the Table 1 and Graphic 1, two remarks can be made with regard to the quantitative results and distribution of this literary feature.
- 20 For many verses, it is difficult to know exactly who is the implied addressee. In fact, Neil Robins (...)
- 21 Among 84 occurrences (between sūra 2 to 50), 62 refer to the first addressee as the recipient of th (...)
11First, it is noticeable that 1/6 of the Qurʾānic corpus refers to a possible20 first addressee (1094 v.). Almost half of the occurrences are injunctions (574 v.); more than 1/3 are assertions (434 v.); less than 1/10 are inquiries (87 v.). Second, among the ‘assertions’ category discussed in this article, 45% are located in the first ten verses in suras. In these verses, 74% describe the role and the nature of the first addressee as a recipient of the Qurʾānic revelation (tanzīl).21 This last percentage concerns only the first fifty chapters of the Qurʾān. If we consider now the rest of the text (chapters 50 to 114), injunctions and imperatives to the first addressee are prominent.
- 22 Dye, “Réflexions méthodologiques sur la ‘rhétorique coranique’”, p. 167.
12Much can be made from these general observations. Guillaume Dye’s reflections on the introductions and conclusions of Qurʾānic sūra is instructive: « On a là, à mon sens, un bon exemple du travail éditorial et rédactionnel des scribes—un travail qui ne se limite pas à replacer, avec plus ou moins de liberté, les « pièces du puzzle », mais à rédiger des versets et à mettre en scène une figure prophétique et un discours adressé au prophète. De ce point de vue, le rôle des scribes dans le travail de composition du Coran n’est peut-être pas moindre que celui des scribes qui ont composé les livres prophétiques de la Bible, même si la période entre la prédication de muḥammad et la composition du muṣḥaf coranique est beaucoup plus brève. »22 In this vein, the importance of strategic introductory literary units is corroborated by our statistical findings. The graph below shows these forms in their distribution accross the Qurʾānic and its edification of a figure of the first addressee.
Table 1 : Number of the first addressee’s occurrences in the Qurʾān.
31,9% (Qul) /
20,4 % (other injunctions)
350 v. (Qul injunctions) / 224 v. (other injunctions)
Graphic 1 : Qu'anic patterns of address between God's “voice” and its first addressee
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Arkoun, Mohammed, La pensée arabe, Paris, PUF, 1975.
Arkoun, Mohammed, Lectures du Coran, Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1982.
Arkoun, Mohammed, Ouvertures sur l’Islam”, Paris, J. Grancher, 1989.
Austin, John Langshaw, How to Do Things with Words, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1962.
Azaiez, Mehdi, “Muhammad, une relation coranique”, Religions & Histoire, 2011, p. 48-53.
Azaiez, Mehdi, Le contre-discours coranique, Berlin, De Gruyter, 2015.
Bentaibi, Mustapha, Quelques façons de lire le texte coranique, Préface de Frédéric François, Limoges, Editions Lambert-Lucas, 2009.
Benveniste, Émile, Problèmes de linguistique générale, Paris, Gallimard, 1974.
Dye, Guillaume, “Réflexions méthodologiques sur la ‘rhétorique coranique’”, in Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali, De Smet Andrew Daniel, Controverses sur les Écritures canoniques de l’islam, Paris, Cerf, 2014, p. 147-176.
Gwynne, Rosalind Ward, « Patterns of address » in Rippin A., The Blackwell Companion to the Qurʾān, Oxford and Malden, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p. 73-87.
Rippin, Andrew, ‘Muḥammad in the Qurʾān: Reading Scripture in the 21st Century’, in Harald Motzki (ed.), The Biography of Muḥammad: The Issue of the Sources, Leiden, Brill, 2000, p. 298-309.
Robinson, Neal, Discovering the Qur’an, A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, Washington, Georges University Press, 2003.
al-Suyūṭī Ǧalāl al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-, al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, Beyrouth, Dār al Ǧīa, 1998, 2 vols.
Welch, Alford T., “Muḥammad’s Understanding of Himself: The Qurʾānic Data”, in Richard G. Hovannisian and Speros Veronis Jr. (eds.), Islam’s Understanding of Itself, Malibu, Calif.: Undena, 1983, p. 15-52.
al-Zarkašī, Badr al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-, al-Burhān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, Le Caire, Maktabat Dār al Turāṯ, 1985, 4 vols.
Rippin, “Muḥammad in the Qurʾān: Reading the Scripture in the 21st Century”, p. 299.
Text translitered: wa-llaḏīna yu’minūna bi-mā unzila ilayka wa-mā unzila min qablika wa-bi-l-āḫirati hum yūqinūna. Translation (Haleem): “Those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the Hereafter.
Read also other similar examples: Q. III, 3, 58; VII, 2; XX, 2; VII, 103; XII, 102. Bentaibi, Quelques façons, p. 78.
“Toute énonciation est, explicite ou implicite, une allocution, elle postule un allocutaire”, Benveniste, Problèmes de linguistique générale, p. 82. Bentaibi, Quelques façons, p. 73.
“Un énonciateur omniprésent, magistral, qui intervient explicitement pour transformer radicalement la conscience de l’allocutaire”, Arkoun, Lectures du Coran, p. 33 ; M. Bentaibi, Quelques façons, p. 74.
Mohammed Arkoun noticed : “La totalité du discours coranique obéit à une même structure des relations grammaticales de personnes : un « Je/Nous » divin s’adresse sur le mode impératif (qul=dis) a un Tu médiateur (Muhammad) pour atteindre le « ils » des hommes subdivisés en Vous (les croyants et les croyantes) et « ils », les infidèles. Tel est l’espace de la communication grammaticalement défini dans tout le discours coranique.”, Arkoun, “Ouvertures sur l’Islam” p. 68-69.
Alford T. Welch wrote: “I have dared to ask of the Qurʾān the question: ‘What was Muhammad’s understanding of Himself’. And I have not been disappointed. If the Koran contained only few verses relevant to this question, then it might be difficult to reach firm conclusions. But this is not the case. In fact, there are several hundred verses that speak to the question I have posed”, in Welch, “Muhammad’s Understanding of Himself: The Koranic Data”, p. 16.
Neal Robinson wrote: “one of the reasons why the quranic discourse is so effective is that, in reciting the Qur’ân, the ordinary believer feels that in a sense he stands in the place of Muhammad, and that the message first vouchsafed to Muḥammad is now addressed personnaly to him”, Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an, p. 242.
Andrew Rippin wrote: “It does seem that in no sense can the Qurʾān be assumed to be primary document in constructing the life of Muḥammad. The text is too opaque when it comes to history; its shifting referents leave the text in a conceptual muddle for historical purposes”, Rippin, “Muḥammad in the Qurʾān: Reading the Scripture in the 21st Century”, p. 307.
Zarkašī, al-Burhān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, chapter 42.
Suyūṭī, al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, chapter 51.
Gwynne, « Patterns of Address », p. 73.
Nine occurrences in the Qurʾān: 33, 1, 9, 28, 45, 49, 50, 59 ; 65, 1 ; 66, 1.
For an brief and systematic categorisation of his patterns of utterance, read Azaiez, “Muhammad, une relation coranique”, p. 48-53.
Austin, How to Do Things with Words, p. 2.
Text translitered: “innā arsalnāka bi-l-haqq” (Qurʾān 35, 24); translation (Haleem): “We have sent you with the truth”.
Read also Arkoun, La pensée arabe, p. 14-15. He wrote : “(…) les énoncés coraniques obéissent à une syntaxe, telle que tout énonciateur – comme Muhammad – se trouve linguistiquement dans la même situation de locuteur lié par ce qu’il dit. On touche ainsi à un trait distinctif du langage coranique qui est performatif. Chaque fois que je prononce un verset, j’accomplis ipso facto l’acte visé par mon énoncé soit parce que je réactualise le Je du locuteur-auteur, soit parce que j’engage mon propre Je.”
I express my sincere thanks to Emmanuelle Stefanidis who made this categorization for this chapter.
For a similar approach applied to the qur’anic counter-discourse, read Azaiez, Le contre-discours coranique, p. 78-91.
For many verses, it is difficult to know exactly who is the implied addressee. In fact, Neil Robinson reminds us of the “possibility that there may be others [verses] in which the addressee is humankind or the typical believer rather than Muhammad”. In our analysis we consider even those ambiguous verses. Facing these uncertain identities, Neil Robinson argues convincingly that “one of the reasons why the quranic discourse is so effective is that, in reciting the Qur’ân, the ordinary believer feels that in a sense he stands in the place of Muhammad, and that the message first vouchsafed to Muḥammad is now addressed personnaly to him”. Robinson, Discovering, p. 242 (for both citations).
Among 84 occurrences (between sūra 2 to 50), 62 refer to the first addressee as the recipient of the revelation or tanzīl.
Dye, “Réflexions méthodologiques sur la ‘rhétorique coranique’”, p. 167.Top of page