Nicolai Sinai


Professor of Islamic Studies; Fellow of Pembroke College

Faculty / College Address:

Oriental Institute / Pembroke College



Principal Research Interests:

  • Literary aspects of the Qur’an
  • The Qur'an's engagement with Jewish and Christian traditions and with ancient Arabic poetry
  • Late antique Arabia and the life of Muhammad
  • Islamic exegesis (tafsīr) of the Qur’an, both pre-modern and modern
  • The history of philosophy (falsafah) and theology (kalām) in the Islamic world


Courses Taught:

– FHS Islamic Religion (together with Christopher Melchert)

– Additional Arabic: Islamic texts (for students of Arabic as a subsidiary language)

– Introduction to Islamic studies for 1st year MPhil students (together with Christopher Melchert)

– Various undergraduate and graduate options (esp. on the Qur'an, Qur'anic exegesis, and the history of philosophy and theology in the Islamic world)


Recent Publications:

(Downloads of some of the following publications are available at




         Articles, book chapters, review essays etc.:

  • "Qurʾānic Self-Referentiality as a Strategy of Self-Authorization”, in Self-Referentiality in the Qurʾān, edited by Stefan Wild, Wiesbaden 2006, pp. 103–134.
  • “Orientalism, Authorship, and the Onset of Revelation: Abraham Geiger and Theodor Nöldeke on Muhammad and the Qurʾān”, in “Im vollen Licht der Geschichte”: Die Wissenschaft des Judentums und die Anfänge der kritischen Koranforschung, edited by Dirk Hartwig et al., Würzburg 2008, pp. 145–155.
  • "The Qurʾan as Process", in The Qurʾān in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qurʾānic Milieu, edited by Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, and Michael Marx, Leiden 2010, pp. 407–439.
  • "Spinoza and Beyond: Some Reflections on Historical-Critical Methodology", in Kritische Religionsphilosophie: Eine Gedenkschrift für Friedrich Niewöhner, edited by Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann and Georges Tamer, Berlin 2010, pp. 193–214.
  • "Die klassische islamische Koranexegese: Eine Annäherung", Theologische Literaturzeitung 136 (2011), pp. 123–134.
  • "An Interpretation of Sūrat al-Najm (Q. 53)", Journal of Qur'anic Studies 13 (2011), pp. 1–28.
  • "Religious Poetry from the Quranic Milieu: Umayya b. Abī  l-Ṣalt on the Fate of the Thamūd", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 74 (2011), pp. 397–416.
  • "Hisham Djait über die 'Geschichtlichkeit der Verkündigung Muḥammads'", Der Islam 86 (2011), pp. 30–43.
  • "'Weihnachten im Koran' oder 'Nacht der Bestimmung'? Eine Deutung von Sure 97”, Der Islam 88 (2012), pp. 11–32.
  • "When Did the Consonantal Skeleton of the Quran Reach Closure?", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 77 (2014), pp. 273–292 and 509–521 (Arabic translation by the Tafsir Center for Qur’anic Studies available here).
  • "The Qur'anic Commentary of Muqātil b. Sulaymān and the Evolution of Early Tafsīr Literature", in Tafsīr and Islamic Intellectual History: Exploring the Boundaries of a Genre, edited by Andreas Görke and Johanna Pink, Oxford 2014, pp. 113–143.
  • "Gottes Wort und menschliche Deutung: Überlegungen zum Verhältnis von islamischer Schriftauslegung und historischer Kritik", in Deutung des Wortes – Deutung der Welt im Gespräch zwischen Islam und Christentum (Beiheft zur Berliner Theologischen Zeitschrift), edited by Andreas Feldtkeller and Notger Slenczka, Leipzig 2015, pp. 151–171.
  • "Historical-Critical Readings of Abrahamic Scriptures", in The Oxford Handbook of the Abrahamic Religions, edited by Adam Silverstein and Guy Stroumsa, Oxford 2015, pp. 209–225.
  • "Al-Suhrawardī on Mirror Vision and Suspended Images (muthul muʿallaqa)", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 25 (2015), pp. 279–297.
  • "Der Koran", in Islam: Einheit und Vielfalt einer Weltreligion, edited by Rainer Brunner, Stuttgart 2016, pp. 132–166.
  • "Al-Suhrawardī’s Philosophy of Illumination and al-Ghazālī", Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 98 (2016), pp. 272–301.
  • "Reading Sūrat al-Anʿām with Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā and Sayyid Quṭb", in Reclaiming Islamic Tradition: Modern Interpretations of the Classical Heritage, edited by Elisabeth Kendall and Ahmad Khan, Edinburgh 2016, pp. 136–159.
  • "The Unknown Known: Some Groundwork for Interpreting the Medinan Qur'an", Mélanges de l'Université Saint-Joseph 66 (2015–2016), pp. 47–96.
  • (with Helmer Ringgren) "Qurʾān",
  • (with W. Montgomery Watt) “Muhammad”,
  • "Inheriting Egypt: The Israelites and the Exodus in the Meccan Qurʾān", in Islamic Studies Today: Essays in Honor of Andrew Rippin, edited by Majid Daneshgar and Walid Saleh, Leiden 2017, pp. 198–214.
  • "Going Round in Circles", review essay on Michel Cuypers, The Composition of the Qur’an: Rhetorical Analysis, and Raymond Farrin, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and Coherence in Islam’s Holy Text, Journal of Qur’anic Studies 19, no. 2 (2017), pp. 106–122 (author's manuscript available here).
  • “Processes of Literary Growth and Editorial Expansion in Two Medinan Surahs”, in Islam and its Past: Jahiliyya, Late Antiquity, and the Qur’an, edited by Carol Bakhos and Michael Cook, Oxford 2017, pp. 69–119.
  • “The Qurān”, in Routledge Handbook on Early Islam, edited by Herbert Berg, Abingdon and New York 2017, pp. 9–24.
  • “Die arabisch-persische Philosophie bis zur Mongolenzeit (13. Jh.)”, in Handbuch der Iranistik, vol. 2, edited by Ludwig Paul, Wiesbaden 2017, pp. 462–470.
  • "The Eschatological Kerygma of the Early Qur’an", in Apocalypticism and Eschatology in Late Antiquity: Encounters in the Abrahamic Religions, 6th-8th Centuries, edited by Hagit Amirav, Emmanouela Grypeou, and Guy Stroumsa, Leuven 2017, pp. 219–266.
  • “Two Types of Inner-Qur’anic Interpretation”, in Exegetical Crossroads: Understanding Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Pre-Modern Orient, edited by Georges Tamer et al., Berlin 2018, pp. 253–288.
  • “Muhammad as an Episcopal Figure”, Arabica 65 (2018), pp. 1–30.
  • “Pharaoh’s Submission to God in the Qur’an and in Rabbinic Literature: A Case Study in Qur’anic Intertextuality”, in The Qur’an’s Reformation of Judaism and Christianity: Return to the Origins, edited by Holger Zellentin, Abingdon 2019, 235–260.
  • “The Qurʾān’s Dietary Tetralogue: A Diachronic Reconstruction”, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam (2019), pp. 113–146.
  • “Beyond the Cairo Edition: On the Study of Early Quranic Codices”, review essay on Asma Hilali, The Sanaa Palimpsest: The Transmission of the Qur’an in the First Centuries AH, and Éléonore Cellard (ed.) with the assistance of Sabrina Cimiotti, Codex Amrensis 1, Journal of the American Oriental Society 140, no. 1 (2020), pp. 189–204.

  • “Von Philon zu Ibn ʿArabī: Abraham im islamischen Kontext”, in Das Leben des Weisen: Philon von Alexandria, De Abrahamo, edited by Daniel Lanzinger, Tübingen 2020, pp. 275–296.

  • “Inner-Qur’anic Chronology”, in The Oxford Handbook of Qur’anic Studies, edited by Mustafa Shah and Muhammad Abdel Haleem, Oxford 2020, pp. 346–361.

  • “Towards a Redactional History of the Medinan Qur’an: A Case Study of Sūrat al-Nisāʾ (Q 4) and Sūrat al-Māʾidah (Q 5)”, in Structural Dividers in the Qur’an, edited by Marianna Klar, Abingdon 2020, pp. 365–402.


         Co-edited volume:

  • Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, and Michael Marx (eds.), The Qurʾān in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qurʾānic Milieu, Leiden 2010.


Further info:

Qur'anic Commentary: An Integrative Paradigm

Editor, Journal of the International Qur'anic Studies Association (from vol. 3 onwards)

Member of Publications and Research Committee, International Qur'anic Studies Association


Audiovisual content:

Introducing the Qur'an (series of four brief talks introducing central aspects of current research dealing with the historical context and literary character of the Islamic scripture)

Qur’anic Semantics and the Nascency of an Islamic Lexicon”, invited lecture at the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization, Yale Law School, 11/2/2021.

Photograph of Nicolai Sinai