How Can There Be Corn in the Quran?

wheat.jpg

I was reading something in the Quran yesterday that bothered me. It’s in Surah 12, Yusuf. I’ve read it before but I’ve never thought about it deeply before. Read this ayah carefully,

 

“One day the king of Egypt said: ‘I saw seven fat cows in my dream which were eaten up by seven lean cows, likewise, I saw seven green ears of corn and seven others that were dried up. O chiefs! Tell me the meaning of my dream if you can interpret the dreams.” (12:43 trans. by Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik)

 

So what’s wrong with this? The technical term is anachronism. The story of Prophet Yusuf, alaihis salaam (peace be upon him), takes place in Ancient Egypt, roughly 1000 B.C. But corn, as you might remember from American History, is a New World crop. Pilgrims in the 1600’s were unfamiliar with corn until the Native Americans showed them how to grow it. How could a king in Ancient Egypt been dreaming of a crop that would not be discovered for nearly three thousand years?

I was thinking if this might simply be a translation error and I believe it is a strong possibility. I was in Borders today, looking through different English translations of the Quran. Every one I saw had the word “corn.” I’m no Arabic scholar, but as near as I can figure from Malik’s translation, the Arabic word used for corn is “ijafun.” If anyone out there knows the Arabic etymology, I would love to read it.

The problem may not be in the Quran, but in the English word, “corn.” In the U.S., when we say “corn,” we mean a yellow plant with kernels. But in England, “corn” can refer to just about any cereal grain, including wheat and oats. I think what may have happened was that an early English translation of the Quran used the British term, referring to either wheat or oats (both Ancient Old World plants). Subsequent translators probably kept the word “corn” without realizing the ambiguity.

Also, you might wonder, as I did, about the word “ear.” In English, we commonly talk about “ears of corn” but are there such things as “ears of wheat?” Indeed there are ears of wheat. According to www.dictionary.com, “ear” is defined as

1.

the part of a cereal plant, as corn, wheat, etc., that contains the flowers and hence the fruit, grains, or kernels.

 

            Has anyone else seen something strange in the Quran or Bible that you would like to discuss?

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  1. #1 by abunooralirlandee on March 20, 2008 - 4:59 pm

    As salaamu ‘alaykum,

    The word used in the ayah which has often been translated as corn is not ‘ijafun’ but ‘sunbulatin’ or ‘sunbulah’ (depending on whether you stop on that word or continue).

    sunbulah means a stalk of wheat, so you are right about that guess and the translation being misleading.

    Allaah knows best.

  2. #2 by Muhammad Umar Chand on June 13, 2009 - 4:00 am

    I wish to add three comments on this issue.
    (1) While most translators have translated the word sunblat (plural)of 12.43 and 12.46 and ‘Sunbulihi (in its sunbul stalk/ear singular, as corn and ear of corn, Muhammad Shamim and Maulana Muhammad Taqi Usmani have rendered it as seven ears of grain.. There are two sets of other words in this context: cows are called simaanun (fat) and ijaaf (lean) and corn/ grain ears are referred to as khudurin (green) and yaabisaat (dry).
    (2) More noteworthy matter in the context of grains mentioned in the Quran (the information is not mentioned in the book of Genesis) is that the grain was to be kept in ears, the reason was that no rust, rain or insect will be able to damage the grain if it remained in the ears. If the grain were to be thrashed and separated from the chaff, it would be damaged by climate as well as insects.
    (3) One more notable thing in this context that Prophet Joseph, while staying within the prison premises, voluntarily gives out the interpretation of the dream as well as the steps which are to be taken to meet the hardship of famine years. When the king asks for him to come to his court, Joseph asks for his affair to be settled withthe women who cut their fingers before he would come out of the prison. This is also contrary to the narration of the Biblical story. His insistence on being exonarated before coming out of prison is based on the assumption that if he were to come out of prison before his innocence is proved, his character will always remain under suspicion in the eyes of the people of Egypt. He comes out when the women declare that they did not find any fault in him (Hashaa lillah i, maa ‘alimnaa ‘alaihi min sooe– and Aziz Misr’s wife also confesses that she was the one who had tried to seduce him (12.51)
    Three good points to ponder on

  3. #3 by Gull on September 2, 2009 - 10:37 pm

    Actually, I’ve wondered about this myself. But it seems that “sunbul” actually means a ‘spike of grain’, not necessarily an ear of corn. The thing is, corn originally meant grain, before maize was discovered in America. In many eastern countries, it is still used this way sometimes. The fourth definition in dictionary.com for corn is “the edible seed of certain other cereal plants, esp. wheat in England and oats in Scotland.” Many of the translators choose to use this word instead of grain. I’m not exactly sure why, though. YBut yes, I think this is definitely misleading.
    WAllahu ‘alim.

  4. #4 by C on January 6, 2010 - 2:43 pm

    I admire your quest for knowledge and the analyzation to clarify the meaning of the words of the Quran. I am an Arab and I was shocked when I heard that Sunbulatin was translated into corn and I kept debating it with a non Arab, saying that it means (Spike of grain,like wheat). Yes for sure in the Arabic language “Sunbulatin” means a “Spike Of Grain” like the wheat that we make bread from. Wassalam

  5. #5 by Core on June 4, 2010 - 8:35 am

    Here in lays the problem of translation…

    the word CORN in common American-English actually is named ‘MAIZE’, However the term CORN can refer to three type of grain (all part of the grass family)

    – wheat
    – barley
    – Maize

    The above are ALL known as CORN.

    So taking into account the timeline of the Quran, I’d say they were refering to BARLEY.

    • #6 by asad123 on June 4, 2010 - 4:58 pm

      I think barley is a strong possibility but it could be wheat also. Both barley and wheat have been grown in the Fertile Crescent (now Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon) for thousands of years. Trade routes from Syria to Arabia are ancient so it is likely that both wheat and barley would have been well known to the Prophet and his people.

    • #7 by Sameeh on November 30, 2010 - 9:12 am

      As salaamu ‘alaykum,

      I found a new miracle in the Quran, its in the chapter (Al Rahman)
      Corn is native to only north America as you said, which i agree with and was not introduced to Europe until the late 1600′s. And the Noble Quran was revealed about 1400′s years ago.

      When we define Corn , like you said
      -wheat
      – barley
      -Maize

      But this chapters makes very clear in high detail
      “Therein are fruits, date palms producing sheathed fruit-stalks.And also Corn, with its leaves and stalk for fodder and sweet-scented plants”

      Now if we examine wheat and barley, these are considered as grains and not sweet at all, but the Quran mentions sweet and with leaves with regards to Corn, so this is one of thousands of sign for mankind that Islam is the Truth.

      • #8 by Kaethe on December 1, 2010 - 9:39 pm

        In response to your posting, most of us assume that the ancients had no contact with the “new” world, however, there is scientific evidence that the Egyptians had contact with the Incan civilization way before the 1600’s . The coca plant is native to South America and does not grow elsewhere. Traces of cocaine have turned up in the mummies of ancient Egypt. If cocaine made it to the Middle East, then certainly corn could also have been brought prior to the Europeans knowing of it. I think we often rely too much on the European versions of history for our base of “knowledge”, when Allah has already laid it all out before us.

  6. #9 by Kaethe on November 19, 2010 - 7:19 pm

    I too, am confused about the corn issue because today as I was reading Sura 2:261
    “The likeness of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah, is as the likeness of a grain (of corn); it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains.”
    So, I read from the postings that what is being called corn is actually any of several grains, however, what grains grow seven ears with each having a hundred grains?
    I do not in any way doubt the Qur’an, I’m just very curious about the mention of corn along with such an accurate description of it.

    • #10 by asad123 on November 19, 2010 - 10:44 pm

      Even though we most commonly hear of “ears of corn,” farmers also speak of “ears of wheat” and “ears of barley.” Both wheat and barley have been known in the Middle East since the beginning of civilization (around 5000 B.C.E.). I do not know if it is biologically possible for wheat to grow a hundred grains per ear, but I imagine that the number of grains can vary quite a bit depending on the genes of the plant. Also, the parable is asking us to imagine seven ears of grain each with a hundred grains, so even if such a thing does not occur in nature, it is not difficult to imagine.

  7. #11 by Sameeh on November 30, 2010 - 9:10 am

    As salaamu ‘alaykum,

    I found a new miracle in the Quran, its in the chapter (Al Rahman)
    Corn is native to only north America as you said, which i agree with and was not introduced to Europe until the late 1600’s. And the Noble Quran was revealed about 1400’s years ago.

    When we define Corn , like the other repliers said
    -wheat
    – barley
    -Maize

    But this chapters makes very clear in high detail
    “Therein are fruits, date palms producing sheathed fruit-stalks.And also Corn, with its leaves and stalk for fodder and sweet-scented plants”

    Now if we examine wheat and barley, these are considered as grains and not sweet at all, but the Quran mentions sweet and with leaves with regards to Corn, so this is one of thousands of sign for mankind that Islam is the Truth.

  8. #12 by Sabatino on September 26, 2011 - 4:45 pm

    Corn is simply a word for Grain…it is obvious by the pollen specimen found with ancient artifacts and tombs…never was Corn, as it was known in the new World, ever found in the Egyptian tombs..the answer is obvious..Sabatino

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