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Iltifat (التفات, iltifaat), also known as grammatical shift or grammatical errors, refers to cases where the Quranic text makes strange grammatical shift in point of view or addressee for no apparent reason.
The Islamic interpretation is that the so called "iltifat" is intentional and that it makes the Quran better. Critics, however, suggest that iltifat is the result and evidence of an imprecisely produced or preserved Qur'an.
Professor Suleiman Mourad comments on this phenomenon, "There are a few grammatical mistakes in the Qur'an - sometimes a sentence starts in the singular and ends in the plural (e.g., 9:49-50), or two particles are connected when they should not be (e.g., 3:178), or some vowels go wrong in the declensions (e.g., 22:78). This from the viewpoint of a strict linguist. From the traditional vantage point, since the Qur'an is miraculous, these are not errors."
- This is not a complete list of examples. Every category has only one example
- Some examples are debatable, but the purpose is to show all kinds of iltifat that were suggested
The Quran in some verses switches pronouns in a strange way. The most remarkable are switches between the 1st and the 3rd person.
Change from 1st to 2nd person
This example is debatable. In the verse 36:22 a man asks his people:
And why should I not worship He who created me and to whom you will be returned?
It would make more sense in the context to say "who created me and to whom I will be returned".
But it was also interpreted as "why should I not worship He who created me" being the reason for the belief and "and to whom you will be returned" as a warning to the people. Although from the verse it doesn't seem like a warning, it rather seems as if "you will be returned" is being given as a reason for why the speaker should "worship He who created" him, which proves to be an awkward, impersonal justification for his personal devotion to God.
Change from 1st to 3rd person
In this verse it cannot be clearly seen in the translation (Sahih International):
Arabic doesn't have capital letters and the Arabic Quran doesn't have punctuation. So the "raw" text would be:
So it begins by "I am the messenger" (1st person) but ends up referring to himself in the 3rd person ("his messenger the unlettered prophet who believes in allah..").
As we've seen, translators "solved" (interpreted) it by adding quotation marks. "He gives life and causes death" is the speech of Muhammad (which god commanded him to say) and "So believe in Allah and His Messenger" is made out to be the speech of Allah. They're both mentioned in the 3rd person, so who's speaking here? Also there's no reason to break the two parts, it would make sense to say it together: "He gives life and causes death, so believe in Allah and His messenger".
Change from 3rd person to 1st person
This example is clear. "We" refers to Allah in 1st person, although Allah was in 3rd person in the beginning:
And it is Allah who sends the winds, and they stir the clouds, and We drive them to a dead land and give life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness. Thus is the resurrection.
Change from 3rd person to 2nd person
Again it's not easy to see it in the translation, but the people are referred to as "they", but then the next verse says to them "you". The "[And it will be said]" and quotation marks were added by translators:
76:21 Upon the inhabitants will be green garments of fine silk and brocade. And they will be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord will give them a purifying drink.
76:22 [And it will be said], "Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated."
Without the interpolation introduced in the translation, it reads "and they will be adorned.. indeed this is for you a reward".
Change from 2nd person to 1st person
This example is debatable. "The Lord" is in the 3rd person the whole time. The difference is only in the possessive pronouns:
And ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him. Indeed, my Lord is Merciful and Affectionate."
It would make more sense to say "Indeed, your Lord is Merciful and Affectionate".
Change from 2nd person to 3rd person
Again, translators added quotation marks to resolve it:
43:70 Enter Paradise, you and your kinds, delighted."
43:71 Circulated among them will be plates and vessels of gold. And therein is whatever the souls desire and [what] delights the eyes, and you will abide therein eternally.
Change from past tense to command
Again, it can't be seen in the translation (Sahih International):
Say, [O Muhammad], "My Lord has ordered justice and that you maintain (أمر ربي بالقسط وأقيموا وجوهكم) yourselves [in worship of Him] at every place [or time] of prostration, and invoke Him, sincere to Him in religion." Just as He originated you, you will return [to life] -
It doesn't say in present tense "you maintain", but it's imperative "maintain!" (أقيموا) . ٍSo it's "My lord ordered justice and maintain yourselves", which is strange.
Change from present tense to command
"I call Allah to witness" is followed by a command "witness!" (the "[yourselves]" was added by translators):
..He said, "Indeed, I call Allah to witness, and witness [yourselves] (أشهد الله واشهدوا) that I am free from whatever you associate with Allah
It would be more natural to say "I call Allah to witness and I call you to witness" (أشهد الله واشهدكم).
Change from past tense to present
Sahih International translation patched it:
And We did certainly give Moses the Torah and followed up after him with messengers. And We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the Pure Spirit. But is it [not] that every time a messenger came to you, [O Children of Israel], with what your souls did not desire, you were arrogant? And a party [of messengers] you denied and another party you killed. (فريقا كذبتم وفريقا تقتلون)
In reality "you denied" is in the past, but "you killed" is actually in the present: "you kill" (تقتلون).
Yusuf Ali made a more precise translation:
We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?- Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay!
The Sahih International translation "a party [of messengers] you denied and another party you killed" (with both verbs in the past) would make more sense, but it's not in the Quran.
Change from present tense to past
This one can't be seen in the translation at all:
And [warn of] the Day the Horn will be blown (ينفخ), and whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth will be terrified (ففزع) except whom Allah wills. And all will come to Him humbled.
Arabic words have singular, dual and plural forms.
Change from singular to dual
They said, "Have you come to us (أجئتنا) to turn us away from that upon which we found our fathers and so that you two may have (لكما) grandeur in the land? And we are not believers in you."
Change from singular to plural
When the light of the fire lighted around him, Allah took their light:
Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindled a fire; then, when it lighted all around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness. (So) they could not see.
Change from dual to singular
So We said, "O Adam, indeed this is an enemy to you and to your wife. Then let him not remove you (يخرجنكما) from Paradise so you would suffer (فتشقى).
This also seems to suggest, strangely, that if Adam and Eve were removed from paradise, then only Adam would suffer.
Change from dual to plural
And We inspired to Moses and his brother, "Settle (تبوءا) your people in Egypt in houses and make (واجعلوا) your houses [facing the] qiblah and establish (أقيموا) prayer and give good tidings (وبشر) to the believers."
It starts in the dual, "settle" is dual. Then "make your houses" is plural. And "give good tidings" is singular.
The change to plural could be interpreted that it's a command for the two and their people, but still it's a little strange. Since it begins with "We inspired to Moses and his brother", god doesn't talk to their people, so we would expect that the commands would be for them two.
Change from plural to singular
Both "we" and "me" refers to god:
We said, "Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance - there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.
Change from plural to dual
55:33 is in the plural, 55:34 in the dual:
55:33 O company of jinn and mankind, if you are able (استطعتم) to pass beyond the regions of the heavens and the earth, then pass. You will not pass except by authority [from Allah ].
55:34 So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny (تكذبان)?
- Mourad, Suleiman (2016) The Mosaic of Islam: A Conversation with Perry Anderson, London: Verso, p.7
- present - imperfect http://corpus.quran.com/wordmorphology.jsp?location=(27:87:2)
- past - perfect http://corpus.quran.com/wordmorphology.jsp?location=(27:87:5)