Does the Qurʾan Quote the Qurʾan?

Does the Qurʾan Quote the Qurʾan?

Gabriel Said Reynolds

Crowley Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology

University of Notre Dame

In a series of recent studies, Nicolai Sinai (professor at the University of Oxford) develops a model to identify earlier and later elements in the Qurʾanic text.[1] While traditional Muslim scholars, and earlier generations of western scholars, generally attempted this task by identifying reports (known as asbāb al-nuzūl) that offer an occasion for the revelation or proclamation of particular verses, Sinai seeks to set these reports aside and identify literary characteristics that signal a relationship between two (or more) Qurʾanic passages. For example, if one passage refers back to another, or in some way elaborates on another, scholars would have internal criteria by which to establish a relative order of Qurʾanic material.

The characteristics identified, however, are often ambiguous and a case for such inner relationships may seem inevitably putative. There are a few examples, however, where the Qurʾan may unambiguously be referring to, or commenting on, an earlier passage. In a few of these cases the Qurʾan indeed seems to be quoting itself. Among these is Qurʾan 32:13: “Had We willed, We could have given every soul its guidance. But the declaration from Me will come true: ‘I will fill Hell with jinn and humans, all together’” (translation Itani). Here it seems (as suggested by the quotation marks in Itani’s English translation) that the divine voice of the Qurʾan is quoting an earlier statement (“I will fill Hell with jinn and humans, all together”) and affirming that it has, or will, come true. Intriguingly, in two passages (Q 7:18; 38:84–85) we find something close to this statement. Compare:

Q 32:13b

حَقَّ الْقَوْلُ مِنِّي لَأَمْلَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنَ الْجِنَّةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ

But the declaration from Me will come true: ‘I will fill Hell with jinn and humans, all together’”

Q 7:18

قَالَ اخْرُجْ مِنْهَا مَذْءُومًا مَدْحُورًا ۖ لَمَنْ تَبِعَكَ مِنْهُمْ لَأَمْلَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنْكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

He said, “Get out of it, despised and vanquished. Whoever among them follows you: I will fill Hell with you all.

Q 38:84-85

قَالَ فَالْحَقُّ وَالْحَقَّ أَقُولُ

84. He said, “The truth is, and the truth I say.

لَأَمْلَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنْكَ وَمِمَّنْ تَبِعَكَ مِنْهُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

85. I will fill Hell with you and with whoever follows you from among them, all together.”

To complicate things a bit further, a second passage seems close to the statement of Q 32:13:

Q 11:119b

وَتَمَّتْ كَلِمَةُ رَبِّكَ لَأَمْلَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنَ الْجِنَّةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ

119. And the Word of your Lord is final: “I will fill Hell with jinn and humans, all together.”[2]

One might notice that despite some variation there are certain features that link all four of these statements. They all include the emphatic nna-ending on the verb la-amlahanna “Indeed I will fill” and they all end with the rhyming word ajmaʿīn. Meanwhile, neither Q 7:18 or 38:84–85 refer to “jinn and humans” whereas this reference appears in the two “meta” verses which may be referring back to these other statements. It is also intriguing that Q 32 uses the verb ḥaqqa (“will come true”), while Q 38:84 introduces the statement in question with with qāla al-ḥaqqu wa-l-ḥaqqa aqūlu (“He said, ‘The truth is, and the truth I say’”).

However, whereas Q 32:13 introduces the quotation with ḥaqqa al-qawl minnī (“But the declaration from Me will come true”), Q 11:119 does so with tammat kalimat rabbika (“And the Word of your Lord is final”). Yet the translations of these two phrases given above suggest that they are more different than they truly are. Now, the quotation in Q 32:13 is introduced with God’s first person speech, whereas that of Q 11:119 is introduced with a reference to God’s speech in the third person. However, the two verbs used (ḥaqqa, tammat) may not be so different. Itani renders ḥaqqa, “will come true” while he renders tammat, “is final.” Nevertheless, not all translators agree with these renditions. Compare:

The Study Qurʾan

ḥaqqa al-qawl minnī (Q 32:13): “But the word from me comes due”

tammat kalimat rabbika (Q 11:119): “And the Word of thy Lord is fulfilled”


ḥaqqa al-qawl minnī (Q 32:13): “my word has proved true”

tammat kalimat rabbika (Q 11:119): “But the word of your Lord is fulfilled”


ḥaqqa al-qawl minnī (Q 32:13): “mais que se réalise la Parole [émanant] de Moi”

tammat kalimat rabbika (Q 11:119): “Que s’accomplisse l’arrêt de ton Seigneur”


ḥaqqa al-qawl minnī (Q 32:13): “Aber das Wort von mir ist in Erfüllung gegangen (das besagt):”

tammat kalimat rabbika (Q 11:119): “Und has Wort deines Herrn ist in Erfüllung gegangen (das besagt):”

In discussing the verb ḥaqqa, al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī ((d. 502/1008), author of Mufradāt alfāẓ al-Qurʾān,)[3] writes: “The true statement according to what is necessary, to the degree that is necessary, and at the time that it is necessary.” He also writes: “It is said: aḥqaqtu something [kadhā] means, “I have established it truly’ (athbattuhu ḥaqqan).” This is not far from his definition of tamma (168), “Tamām al-shayʾ is its completion according to the extent that it does not need anything other than itself.”

In other words, both Q 32:13 and Q 11:119 may be relating a similar idea, namely that an earlier proclamation of God has been, or will have been, proven true. Both ḥaqqa and tammat are in the perfect tense/mood, and thus refer to completed action. As they both refer to an eschatological event (the damnation of unbelievers), it is presumably better to understand them as referring to a completed event in the future. From this perspective, one might express a preference for Itani’s translation of Q 32:13: “But the declaration from Me will come true….”

The question remains, however, whether Q 32:13 (and 11:119) is quoting earlier statements in the Qurʾan, namely Q 7:18 and/or 38:85. Muhammad Asad suggests something to this effect when he writes in a footnote to his Qurʾan translation on Q 11:119: “The ‘word of God’ reiterated here as well as in 32:13 has originally been pronounced in 7:18 with reference to the ‘followers of Satan’, i.e., those how reject the guidance offered them by God.”[4]

The idea that Q 11:119 and Q 32:13 are “reiterations” of an earlier statement in Q 7:18 (or Q 38:85) is a manner of harmonizing similar or repeated material in the Qurʾan. In a recent article I suggest that there is another approach to repeated Qurʾanic passages.[5] While I acknowledge that a harmonistic approach to such passages is possible (that is, that Muḥammad could be quoting something that he said earlier), I argue that a “redactional” or “source” explanation is more likely. A redactional explanation would suggest that one original statement (composed either in a written or oral manner) was deployed more than once in the formation of the scripture. A source explanation would imply that two original sources included a version of the same phrase and both versions were included in the scripture, thereby creating a doublet.

This case, however, would seem to be unique, since the Qurʾan seems to have an explicit descriptor (ḥaqqa al-qawl minnī or tammat kalimat rabbika) that signals an earlier statement (qawl or kalimah).

Yet there is something more to be noticed about these four verses. The two “primitive” verses (7:18; 38:84–85; thought by Asad to be earlier) are both in the context of the punishment of Satan after he leads Adam and Eve astray (for example: Q 7:17 concludes Satan’s boastful and vengeful promise to assault humans now that he has been given a “respite” by God). The two “meta” verses (Q 32:13; 11:119) are both in the context of more general reflections about the fate of unbelieving humans.

Accordingly one can begin to see a pattern. The Satan material (which may very well be sort of doublet) is more primitive and forms an earlier stratum of text. The Qurʾan then in two places (the “meta” verses) refers back to this stratum (indeed it is possible that the “meta” verses are doublets as well). The Qurʾan may thereby be referring specifically to one or both of these “primitive” verses. It is also possible that it is referring to an earlier version of them, one pre-scriptural logion involving God’s statement about filling hell with those whom Satan will lead astray.

This perspective represents a real, though perhaps subtle, difference from that of Asad. One can still think of the Qurʾan “quoting” the Qurʾan. However, one need we might be attentive to the way in which repeated material reflects a process of redaction that led to the formation of the canonical text. The study of the formation of the Qurʾanic text, from initial composition (whether written and oral) to canonization, is in its infancy. However, cases such as the Qurʾan’s quotation of itself in Q 32:13 and 11:119 might offer a starting point for more robust work in form and redaction criticism.


[1] Sinai, Nicolai. Fortschreibung und Auslegung: Studien zur frühen Koraninterpretation. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009.

———. “The Unknown Known: Some Groundwork for Interpreting the Medinan Qurʾan.” Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph 66 (2015–2016): 47–96.

———. “Processes of Literary Growth and Editorial Expansion in Two Medinan Surahs.” In Islam and its Past: Jahiliyya, Late Antiquity, and the Qurʾan, edited by Carol Bakhos and Michael Cook, 69–119. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2017.

[2] Rudi Paret, in his Kommentar, notes the following verses as well, all of which include declarations that many humans and jinn will be lost in hell: Q 7:179; 41:25; 46:18.

[3] Ed. Ṣafwān ʿAdnān Dāwūrī. (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 1433/2011), 246.

[4] Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qurʾān (London: Book Foundation, 2003), 375.

[5] “The Qurʾanic Doublets: A Preliminary Inquiry,” Journal of the International Qurʾanic Studies Association 5 (2020), 5–39.