The Dark Koran: A Semantic Analysis of the Koranic Darknesses (ẓulumāt) and their Metaphorical Usage

in Arabica
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Darkness (ẓulumāt) as a Koranic literary image has not been systematically analyzed, even though it is connected to fundamental Koranic topics such as understanding, salvation and the omniscience of God. The aim of this article is to argue for a close reading of the occurrences of ẓulumāt in the Koran and to discuss their metaphorical usage. By joining cognitive metaphor theories with the Koranic material, the article contributes to a new understanding of how and why modes of darkness are applied in the Koran. In the article, I argue for a six-fold classification of the occurrences, in which the utilization of particularly two conceptual metaphors, a mental state is darkness and protection is darkness appear. The former is employed to explain the imperative difference between belief and unbelief through the binary pair of darkness and light, whereas the latter is chosen to elucidate the omniscience of the Koranic God.

The Dark Koran: A Semantic Analysis of the Koranic Darknesses (ẓulumāt) and their Metaphorical Usage

in Arabica




Andrew Rippin“The Poetics of Qurʾānic Punning”Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies57/1 (1994) p. 193-207.


Ibid. p. 62; for Madigan it is central to “disregard for the moment how the later community of faith presents the Qurʾân to us and look more carefully at how the Qurʾân presents itself. This is useful not because the former has no validity or because the latter is the only ‘real’ Qurʾân but because of the insight it might afford into the earliest community’s experience of revelation.”


IzutsuGod and Man p. 3.


Ibid. p. 11-12. Madigan criticizes Izutsu’s definition of the ‘basic meaning’ as something inherent in the word detached from its cultural context. Madigan sets out to show how the word kitāb has been mistakenly perceived as something written in its basic meaning. The term appears to be much more complex coming into the Koranic vocabulary. For the whole argument as well as other points of criticism see Madigan The Qurʾân’s Self-Image p. 82-83.


Ibid. p. 16-28; key-words in a specific semantic field can be focus-words in another field and that is how semantic fields overlap. The selection of both focus-words and key-words is arbitrary and should according to Izutsu be discussed from case to case (p. 18 22). This is what Madigan does arguing for kitāb as a focus-word see Madigan The Qurʾân’s Self-Image p. 90 ff.


IzutsuGod and Man p. 32 ff.


MadiganThe Qurʾân’s Self-Image p. 86-90.


Rippin“The Commerce of Eschatology” p. 128; for some critical remarks concerning Torrey’s work see p. 130 132 and 134.


Ibid. p. 16-17.


Ibid. p. 87; Kor 6 1 97; 27 63; 39 6; 6 59.


Gary Alan Long“Dead or Alive? Literality and God-Metaphors in the Hebrew Bible”Journal of the American Academy of Religion62/2 (1994) p. 513-514; the emphasis is mine.


PunterMetaphor p. 2; in this sense the conventional literality could contain metaphor “but metaphor that is no longer novel it is dead”; Long “Literality and God-Metaphors in the Hebrew Bible” p. 514. This notion of ‘dead’ metaphors will be treated below.


IzutsuGod and Man p. 76 ff.


IzutsuConcepts p. 130.


Ibid. p. 99-124; Robinson argues inspired by Neuwirth for the Koranic use of ‘six principal subjects’ (eschatological narrative sign revelation polemical and messenger sections) in analyzing the coherence and unity of the Koranic suras cf. Neuwirth Studien p. 290.


IzutsuGod and Man p. 142 ff.


HaleemUnderstanding the Qurʾan p. 123-125.


George Lakoff and Mark JohnsonMetaphors We Live ByChicagoUniversity of Chicago Press1980.


George Lakoff and Mark TurnerMore than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic MetaphorChicagoUniversity of Chicago Press1989.


Lakoff and JohnsonMetaphors We Live By p. 117; the body is not the only ‘natural kind of experience’ also “our interactions with our physical environment” and “Our interaction with other people within our culture” are mentioned i.e. embodiment is not equal to conceptual metaphor theory.


Mark JohnsonThe Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning Imagination and ReasonChicagoUniversity of Chicago Press1987 p. 29; cf. Lakoff and Turner More than Cool Reason p. 59.


Hoffmann“Qurʾānic Wilderness” p. 172.


Lakoff and TurnerMore than Cool Reason p. 67 ff.


Ibid. p. 70.


Rippin“Metaphor” p. 53.


Rippin“Metaphor” p. 55.


See also Gerhard Böwering“The Light Verse: Qurʾānic Text and Sūfī Interpretation”Oriens36 (2001) p. 115.


Ibn Kaṯīr (d. 774/1373)Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīmRiyadhDarussalam2000ii p. 34.


IzutsuGod and Man p. 143.


This is certainly argued by Mona FarstadChaste Chosen and Purified: An Analysis of the Qurʾānic Narratives about MaryamBergenBergen University2012.


SchipperDisability Studies and the Hebrew Bible p. 64-73.


George Lakoff and Mark TurnerMore than Cool Reason p. 71.


Ibid. p. 58.


Denny“The Problem of Salvation in the Quran” p. 197.


NeuwirthStudien p. 290.


Denny“The Problem of Salvation in the Quran” p. 206.


Ibn KaṯīrTafsīrviii p. 361-363.


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