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Abstract

This paper attempts to define the term, ḥikāyat ḥāl māḍiya, as it is explained by the Qur’ān commentators, who can be considered as the primary source for understanding this term. The term, ḥikāyat ḥāl māḍiya, is not a unique phenomenon of the Arabic language in general or of the Qur’ān in particular. ḥikāyat ḥāl māḍiya, a term typically translated in the research literature as the historical present, is a universal phenomenon used especially in narratives. Before examining the use of the term, ḥikāyat ḥāl māḍiya, in Qur’ānic exegesis, we first provide the Western definition of the term, historical perfect or, as it is also called, historic imperfect, historical present tense or narrative present.1 As will be shown in the first part of the paper, the Western definition is almost identical to the definition of the term, ḥikāyat ḥāl māḍiya, provided by the commentators on the Qur’ān. In both Western and Arabic sources these terms refer to verbs in the present tense used in order to provide a vivid effect and to evoke a past event recounted in a narrative. However, this traditional usage is criticized by Western scholars who propose, based on discourse-analysis, alternative explanations for the tense-switching between the simple past and the historical present. Alternative explanations for verbs in the imperfect which are considered to be cases of ḥikāyat ḥāl māḍiya are also mentioned by the commentators on the Qur’ān and are presented in the second part of this paper.
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