Iltifāt and Narrative Voice in the Qur’ān Grammatical Shifts and Nested Dialogue in Sūrahs 19, 20 and 28

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Jessica Mutter

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Abstract

This article analyzes the Qurʾān’s use of an Arabic rhetorical device called iltifāt, the shift of person within a text. It addresses the way iltifāt has been interpreted by medieval Muslim exegetes and the implications of its use for the structure and cosmology of the Qurʾān. By analyzing the use of iltifāt in the Qurʾān, the article demonstrates that the qurʾānic narrator exclusively refers to itself in the first-person plural, and that shifts to other persons (e.g., first-person singular) signify shifts into nested dialogues, asides, and/or narratives within narratives. Furthermore, the way this narrator refers to earthly and heavenly beings suggests that this first-person plural narrator holds a distinct place in the Qurʾān’s cosmology, one that is linked to but distinct from God and other inhabitants of the heavens.

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