Nicolai Sinai


Professor of Islamic Studies; Fellow of Pembroke College

Faculty / college address:

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern StudiesPembroke 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, and scriptural hermeneutics in general
  • The history of philosophical and theological thought in the Islamic world


Courses taught:

– FHS Islamic Religion (co-taught)

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

– Introduction to Islamic studies for 1st year MPhil students (co-taught)

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


Recent books (since 2017):

Key Terms of the Qur'an: A Critical Dictionary, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023 (xxi + 811 pp.).

Rain-Giver, Bone-Breaker, Score-Settler: Allāh in Pre-Quranic Poetry, New Haven: American Oriental Society, 2019 (79 pp.).

The Qur'an: A Historical-Critical Introduction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017 (242 pp.).

Der Koran: Eine Einführung [The Qur’an: An Introduction], Stuttgart: Reclam 2017 (revised and expanded edition of Die Heilige Schrift des Islams, Freiburg: Herder, 2012; 140 pp.).


Recent articles, book chapters, and review essays (since 2015):

– “The Christian Elephant in the Meccan Room: Dye, Tesei, and Shoemaker on the Date of the Qurʾān”, Journal of the International Qur’anic Studies Association 2024 (ahead-of-print version).

– “Introduction”, in Unlocking the Medinan Qur’an, edited by Nicolai Sinai, Leiden: Brill, 2022, 1–12.

– “Towards a Compositional Grammar of the Medinan Suras”, in Unlocking the Medinan Qur’an, edited by Nicolai Sinai, Leiden: Brill, 2022, 15–56.

– “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: Routledge, 2021, 365–402.

– “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): 189–204.

– “Von Philon zu Ibn ʿArabī: Abraham im islamischen Kontext” [“From Philo to Ibn ʿArabī: The Life of Abraham in an Islamic Context“], in Das Leben des Weisen: Philon v. Alexandria, De Abrahamo, edited by Daniel Lanzinger, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020, 275–296.

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

– “Historical Criticism and Recent Trends in Western Scholarship on the Qur’an: Some Hermeneutic Reflections”, Journal of [the] College of Sharia & Islamic Studies 38, no. 1 (2020): 136–146.

– “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, edited by Holger Zellentin, Abingdon: Routledge, 2019, 235–260.

– “The Qurʾān’s Dietary Tetralogue: A Diachronic Reconstruction”, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 46 (2019): 113–146.

– “Two Types of Inner-Qurʾānic Interpretation”, in Exegetical Crossroads: Understanding Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Pre-Modern Orient, edited by Georges Tamer et al., Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018, 253–288.

– “Muḥammad as an Episcopal Figure”, Arabica 65 (2018): 1–30.

– “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: Brill, 2017, 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): 106–122.

– “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: Oxford University Press, 2017, 69–119.

– “The Qurān”, in Routledge Handbook on Early Islam, edited by Herbert Berg, New York: Routledge, 2017, 9–24.

– “Die arabisch-persische Philosophie bis zur Mongolenzeit (13. Jh.)” [“Arabic-Persian Philosophy until the Mongol Age”], in Handbuch der Iranistik, vol. 2, edited by Ludwig Paul, Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2017, 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: Peeters, 2017, 219–266.

– “Der Koran” [“The Qur’an”], in Islam: Einheit und Vielfalt einer Weltreligion, edited by Rainer Brunner, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2016, 132–166.

– “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: Edinburgh University Press, 2016, 136–159.

– “Al-Suhrawardī’s Philosophy of Illumination and al-Ghazālī”, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 98 (2016): 272–301.

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

– “Gottes Wort und menschliche Deutung: Überlegungen zum Verhältnis von islamischer Schriftauslegung und historischer Kritik” [“Divine Word and Human Interpretation: On the Relationship between Islamic Exegesis and Historical Criticism”], in Deutung des Wortes – Deutung der Welt im Gespräch zwischen Islam und Christentum, edited by Andreas Feldtkeller and Notger Slenczka, Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2015, 151–171.

– “Historical-Critical Readings of Abrahamic Scriptures”, in The Oxford Handbook of Abrahamic Religions, edited by Adam Silverstein and Guy Stroumsa, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, 209–225.

– “Al-Suhrawardī on Mirror Vision and Suspended Images (muthul muʿallaqa)”, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 25 (2015): 279–297.


Edited volume and journal issues (since 2018):

Unlocking the Medinan Qur’an, Leiden: Brill, 2022 (ix + 589 pp.).

Journal of the International Qur’anic Studies Association, vols 3–6 (2018–2021; with the editorial assistance of Saqib Hussain).


Further info:

Qur'anic Commentary: An Integrative Paradigm (ERC-funded research project)


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)

Jewish Motifs in the Theology of the Meccan Qurʾān”, lecture at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 4/7/2022.

YouTube interview with Gabriel S. Reynolds, 12/12/2022.

Photograph of Nicolai Sinai