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The Qur'an As Literature

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The Qur'ān As Literature

 

II

 

Word Choice

 

The Qur'ān uses words with precision and subtlety, and often the text yields its full meaning only after a careful re-reading of it. For example, an impatient Jonah(P) shakes the dust of Nineveh off his feet and, boarding a ship, departs. 37:140 reads:

 

When he fled to a laden ship.

 

The Arabic word used for 'fled' is abaqa, which is specifically used for a runaway slave. Jonah(P) of course is no slave. But then he is one - a slave of God. This one word imparts a whole new meaning to the incident. Being in the service of God, Jonah(P) ought not to have decided on his own to quit prophesying; he should have waited for God's command. His 'running away' is thus not simply a physical act that may be reported as a historical event; it is an act fraught with moral implications.

 

In 622 AD, Muhammad(P) and his followers emigrated from Makkah to Madinah. Madinah (literally, 'city'- short for 'city of the Prophet') was formerly known as Yathrib. In the Qur'ān, the city is invariably called 'Madinah' - except once, in 33:13, where it is called 'Yathrib'. The verse reports how, at a time of crisis, a certain group of people deserted the ranks of Muslims, appealing to their compatriots ('O people of Yathrib!') to give up Islam for lost. The use of 'Yathrib' instead of 'Madinah' graphically portrays the mentality of the deserters: they were convinced that Islam was about to be wiped out and that the city would no longer be the 'city of the Prophet' but would revert to its pagan status, becoming once again 'Yathrib' (Islāhī V:200).

 

In another example, 'To strengthen someone's back or arm' is an Arabic idiom that means 'to support someone'. In 20:31, Moses(P) prays to God that He appoint Aaron(P) as his assistant. The Arabic literally translates: 'Strengthen my back by means of him'. In 28:35, which is a reply to the prayer, God says: 'We shall strengthen your arm by means of him'. The difference between 'back' and 'arm' in the two expressions appears to be a slight one, but perhaps it is not. 'To strengthen one's back' is like providing 'backing', while 'to strengthen one's arm' is like providing 'muscle'. As such, the former suggests furnishing A with support through B in a situation where the brunt of the task will be borne by A but B, who is standing close by - 'in back of him' - may be called upon to help when necessary. 'To strengthen one's arm', on the other hand, would suggest providing A with support through B in a situation where B will be an active partner to A throughout, or will be A's 'right arm'. If this analysis is correct, then the Qur'ānic use of each of the two idioms would be contextually significant: Moses(P), conscious that the chief responsibility for carrying out the mission is his own, humbly prays: 'Strengthen my back by means of Aaron'. His prayer is more than answered with: We shall strengthen your arm by means of him.

 

The Pictorial Element

 

The Qur'ānic language is frequently picturesque, and among the several devices that account for it are the simile and the similitude. The similes bear reference to the natural phenomena and existential situation the Arab was most familiar with, but one does not have to be an Arab to feel their force. God punished a certain rebellious people by unleashing upon it a windblast that 'uprooted people as if they were stumps of hollow palm-trees' (54:20). On the Last Day, people will come out of their graves and will spread out in all directions 'as if they were locusts scattered all over' (54:7). Disbelievers shy away from the divine message 'as if they are frightened ###### that run away from a lion' (74:50-51). The crescent moon passes through many phases and, after becoming a full moon, again 'becomes like an old twig' (36:39). The Arabs thought that the mountains were not subject to change, and called them 'the eternal ones'. When Muhammad(P) warned them of the Last Day, telling them that the world would be annihilated on that day, they sarcastically asked him, What about the mountains? Will they be destroyed too? The Qur'ān replied by saying that the seemingly immovable mountains will on that day float around 'like carded wool' (101:5).

 

24:35-40 contain a series of similitudes, contrasting the people of faith with the people of disbelief. The contrast is drawn in terms of light and darkness. Verse 35 makes the point that the light of divine guidance is given to one who has kept the natural goodness of his heart intact. Already possessing an inner light, such a person is prepared to receive 'the light of God'. His natural goodness reinforced by faith, he comes to possess 'light upon light'. The verse reads:

 

God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of his light is as if there is a niche, in which there is a lamp, the lamp in a glass; the glass looks as if it is a bright star. It [the lamp] is kindled from a blessed olive tree that is neither of the east nor of the west, one whose oil all but lights up, even though no fire has touched it. Light upon light! God guides to His light whomever He likes. God strikes similitudes for people, and God has knowledge of all things.

 

The niche is the heart of the good man, and in that niche is a lamp that burns with the light of his innate goodness. The high degree of the purity and brightness of the light is emphasised. First, the lamp is enclosed in a glass, so that it has a steady and bright flame and is not put out by the wind. Second, the glass is not dirty but clear and shiny. It is like 'a bright star' so that it reflects the light well. Third, the lamp is fed with olive oil that has been extracted from a tree that was planted not on the fringe of the garden - 'neither of the east nor of the west' - but right in the middle of it, so that, being secure against the fury of the elements, it has yielded the purest kind of oil. The oil, in fact, is so pure that it would catch fire before coming into contact with fire. And when the oil, or the inner goodness of a man, does come into contact with fire or divine guidance, the result is 'light upon light'. Possessing this 'double light', one sees the heavens and the earth lit up, acquiring the master key to all knowledge and understanding, for, as the opening part of the verse says, 'God is the light of the heavens and the earth.'

 

While verse 35 describes the state of the people of faith, verse 40 speaks of the condition of the people of disbelief. Here there is no light, only utter darkness:

 

or [their situation is] like layers of darkness out on a deep sea [the surface of] which is covered by a wave, on top of which there is another wave, on top of which there are clouds; layers of darkness piled one upon the other; when he [the disbeliever] puts out his hand he can hardly see it. And one who is not furnished with light by God has no light.

 

As in verse 35, so in verse 40 the details progressively heighten the effect. A sharper contrast between light and darkness could hardly be imagined.

 

Many other devices besides the simile and the similitude are used in the Qur'ān. There is, for example, anastrophe, in which the sequence of events is purposefully changed or inverted; zeugma, in which one verb does duty for two; anaphora, in which a series of verses begins with the same words, creating a crescendo effect and leading to a climactic point; epenthesis, in winch the medial vowel of a word is lengthened; and parallelism, with its several types. Another is significant use of pairs of adjectives or participles[7] in which relationships of several types are established between the adjectives or participles.

 

68:10 speaks of a person who is Hallāf mahīn. Hallāf is 'an inveterate swearer of oaths' and mahīn is 'base or despicable'. The use of the two words next to each other implies that one who swears oaths right and left does so because lie lacks self-respect and fears that his word will lack credence unless he supports it with oaths. In other words, a cause-and-effect relationship is established between the two words: a person is Hallāf because he is mahīn.

 

Many verses speak of God as being `Azīz (powerful) and Hakīm (wise). A 'powerful' being often abuses his power. The word 'wise' in this construction provides assurance that God does not use His power indiscriminately. Conversely speaking, a wise being may be ineffectual if he lacks the power to enforce a wise plan. But God does not labour under this limitation, for, besides being wise, He is also powerful. It can be seen that a relationship of complementarily exists between `Azīz and Hakīm. Variations on this relationship, yielding further subtleties of meaning, are also found. 8:10, referring to one of the battles Muhammad(P) fought, says that victory comes from God alone, the verse ending with the statement that God is powerful and wise. The meaning is that God grants victory, but, if in the course of battle the believers suffer a setback, their faith in God's power should not be shaken; rather they should understand that some good will come out of that setback too, for God is not only powerful but also wise. 29:42 threatens the idolaters, saying that He is powerful and wise. The verse means that God, if He so desired, could punish the idolaters on the spot, for He is powerful; but that, if He is giving them respite, then it is in accordance with the principle which, being wise, He has established, namely, that men will be given an opportunity to mend their ways and thus avert punishment.

 

Humour, Satire & Irony

 

Is not humour out of place in a scripture? To be sure, there are not many instances of humour in the Qur'ān. Still, a touch of it is found here and there. During a voyage, Moses(P), tired, asks his young companion to bring out the food they have brought with them. The food consists of fish, but, strangely enough, the fish some time ago jumped into the water and vanished. The youth is hesitant to tell Moses(P) about it, for Moses(P) is not likely to believe this story. Little does he know that the disappearance of the fish was a sign appointed by God: exactly at the spot where the fish disappeared, Moses(P) was to meet a certain guide. But explain he must, and so he utters a long-drawn-out sentence (18:63) in which he spends more time apologising than explaining how the fish disappeared. The comical effect is increased when he notice that Moses(P) completely disregards the apology and hastens back to the designed spot.

 

Some of the satire in the Qur'ān is blunt. The affluent wicked, when they receive punishment in the Hereafter, will be told: 'Taste it [boiling water]! It is you who were the noble dignitary [in the world]! (44:49). On other occasions, the satire is pungent in tone, but no less pungent for that. Abraham(P), finding his opportunity, is about to smash the idols in the temple. But, upon noticing the offering of food laid out before them, he decides to take his time. 'Won't you eat?' he asks them in mock seriousness (37:91). Receiving no response, he pretends to be angry: 'What is the matter with you that you are not speaking?' (verse 92). Humour and satire blend when, after destroying all but one of the idols in the temple, Abraham(P), questioned by the temple custodians, denies that he destroyed the idols, saying: 'O no, it is their chief god over here [the one Abraham(P) had spared] who did that; ask them [idols] if they can speak' (21:63). The point is driven home and the idolaters are put to shame.

 

The Qur'ān is quite rich in irony.[8] In tempting Adam and Eve(P) is the garden of Eden, Satan suggests to them that the fruit of the forbidden tree could transform them into angels, but that God would not like them to become angels, hence the prohibition to eat of the tree (7:20). Ironically, the angels have already bowed before man and acknowledged his supremacy, so that man's attempt to become an angel would constitute a descent, and not an ascent, for man.

 

In an incident from Abraham's(P) life, he uses irony to confute his idolatrous people. According to the Qur'ān, Abraham's(P) people worshipped the heavenly bodies. Worship of the heavenly bodies is predicated, among other things, on the view that their extraordinary brilliance entitles them to godhead. In 6:74-79, Abraham(P) shows the untenability of this view by arguing that the heavenly bodies not only rise and dazzle but also set, thereby 'losing' their brilliance. But he chooses a novel method to make his point. The passage reads:

 

When night enveloped him, he saw a star. He said 'This is my Lord'. But when it set, he said 'I do not like the ones that set.' When he saw the moon shining, he said 'This is my Lord.' But when it set, he said 'If my Lord does not guide me, I shall become one of the misguided.' When he saw the sun shining, he said 'This is my Lord, this is the biggest [of them all].' But when it set, he said 'My people, I have nothing to do with your idolatry'.

 

Once can see how Abraham(P) sets his people up, so to speak, using irony to systematically cut the ground from under the belief-system of his people.

 

Wordplay & Ambiguity

 

Wordplay is involved in the use of the word Misr in 2:61. As an indefinite noun, Misr means 'city'; as a diptote, 'Egypt'. The israelites, just out of Egypt, are already tired of the austere existence of the desert and recall their life in Egypt. The verse says: 'Go into some city and you shall have what you have asked for.' In the verse, Misr is indefinite, but the pun is obvious: If you want to enjoy a life of ease and comfort, then go back to your life in Egypt (Islāhī, I:61). Also, 'What you have asked for' is quite ambiguous. What have the israelites really asked for. The good food they used to eat in Egypt, or the life of slavery? They would not, of course, opt for slavery, but then they must remember that a life of hardship in a state of freedom is preferable to a comfortable existence in a state of servitude.

 

In another instance of ambiguity, the Makkan opponents of Muhammad(P) accused him of fabricating the Qur'ān and passing it off as divine speech. 11:13 challenges them to produce ten chapters like it, and then adds the word Muftarayat, which means 'fabricated'. In the context, the word gives two different but equally applicable meanings: (a) if you succeed in producing a discourse like the Qur'ān, you will have proved that Muhammad(P) has fabricated the Qur'ān, so go ahead and make your attempt; (b) it is the discourse produced by you that will be a fabrication, so go ahead and fabricate.

 

Narrative

 

To begin with, there is the graphic description. The theme of the Last Day occasions many passages that would fall in this category. Cataclysmic changes will take place on that fateful day (82:1-4):

 

When the heavens explode,

 

When the stars are scattered,

 

When the oceans are poured out,

 

When the graves are ransacked:

 

On that day one will find out the [value of] actions one has performed or failed to perform.

 

Again: 'The entire earth will be [no more than] His handful on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavens, all rolled up, will be in His right hand' (39:67). And there is the haunting picture of the Zaqqūm (37:62), the 'accursed tree' (17:60) that will grow in hell: 'It is a tree that sprouts in the very core of Hell. Its spathes make it out to be like so many heads of devils' (37:64-65).

 

A reader of the Qur'ān will notice that the Qur'ān does not usually tell a complete story in one place but relates different parts of it different sūrahs. This may cause bewilderment. But if the ideas of the sūrah unity is accepted, the Qur'ānic narrative might appear in a new light. The Qur'ān never tells a story for its own sake, but rather uses it to drive home the point it happens to be making in a sūrah or in a section of it. As a rule, considerations of the thematic unity determine which portion of a story will be narrated in which sūrah. In other words, the story told in a given sūrah is likely to be sūrah specific, the apparent disjointedness of the Qur'ān in this case concealing a carefully worked-out technique of storytelling.

 

Among the sūrahs that narrate the story of Abraham(P) are 6, 21, 51, and 60.[9] In each of these sūrahs, a different portion of the Abraham(P) story is told. Sūrah 6 is mainly addressed to the idolaters of Makkah, and criticism of idolatry figures prominently in it. The opening verse of the sūrah, for example, reads: 'Grateful praise is due to God, Who created the heavens and the earth and made darkness and light; and yet the disbelievers set up partners To God'. Now the Makkan idolaters regarded Abraham(P) as their ancestor. Sūrah 6, therefore, selects from Abraham's(P) life (verse 74-83) that incident in which he is shown as refuting his idolatrous people. The connection between the incident and the sūrah's theme is obvious, the sūrah and the incident both making the point that the Makkans, if they wish to follow Abraham(P), must abandon their idolatry and worship the one true God.

 

The thesis of sūrah 21 is that defeat of the Makkans at the hands of the Muslims is imminent. Verse 18, for example, says: 'Rather, We launch the truth at falsehood and it [the truth] crushes it [the falsehood], the latter taking flight'. Verse 44 is more explicit, as it refers to the steady advance of the Muslim faith, from its base in Madinah, toward Makkah: 'Do they not see that We are approaching the land [of Makkah], shrinking its borders? Is it they [idolaters] who are going to be victorious?'. The portion selected from Abraham's(P) story (verses 51-70) for this chapter relates how Abraham(P) breaks the idols worshipped by his people. The image-breaking signifies the defeat of idolatry, and it should be remembered that, upon conquering Makkah, Muhammad(P) ordered that all the images in the sanctuary of the Ka`bah be destroyed. In other words, Abraham's(P) action in the sūrah prefigures Muhammad's(P) action in later history.

 

The theme of sūrah 51 is reward for the virtuous and punishment for the evil in the hereafter. Verse 6 announces the theme: 'Recompense is certainly going to take place'. The incident related from Abraham's(P) (and Lot's(P)) life (verses 24-34) illustrates the theme: Abraham(P) will be rewarded with a son in old age, and the people of Lot(P) will be destroyed for their evil; the reward-and-punishment system in this world thus serves as a pointer to the reward-and-punishment system that will operate in the hereafter.

 

Sūrah 60 stresses the need for the Muslims to make a break with the Makkans, in whose midst they had lived for so long. This theme is stated in the opening verse, which enjoins Muslims not to lake 'My enemies and your enemies for friends', and in the concluding verse, which rephrases that thought. Abraham(P) is mentioned in verses 4-6, which present him as a model for Muslims: he broke with his people when the latter turned hostile to him. The lesson is clear: the Muslims must likewise dissociate themselves from the Makkans. As in sūrahs 6, 21, and 51, the incident related in sūrah 60 is found to be sūrah-specific.

 

Although the Qur'ān usually describes only a portion of a story at a time, the portion given in any place is usually self-contained. The story of Adam(P) told in 2:30-39, for example, is complete in itself, as is the story of Abraham(P) and Lot(P) in 11:69-83. Just as only that part of a story will be told in a sūrah that contributes to the sūrah's overall theme, so if several stories contribute to that end, they will be combined in a single sūrah. Sūrahs 18, 21, and 25 contain some obvious examples. Despite what has been said about the narrative technique of the Qur'ān, one should not think that there is no sustained storytelling in the Qur'ān. Sūrah 12, 'Joseph', is the longest uninterrupted story in the Qur'ān. In a published study of it,[10] I have tried to show that it has a unified plot, and that the plot is organised on (the analogy of the rhetorical device of 'involution and evolution': the first half of the story creates a series of tensions which are resolved in reverse order in the second half.

 

Dramatic Dialogue

 

One of the features of the Qur'ānic style that has received practically no attention is the dramatic dialogue. A close study of the Qur'ānic dialogue reveals that its usually simple text contains profound insights into the workings of the human mind and the motives behind human conduct. Abraham's(P) dialogues are eminently suited for such a study. Here we shall confine ourselves to a few remarks about the dialogue of Moses(P) and Pharaoh in 26:16 ff. This is a fast-paced dialogue in which the character of Moses(P) is contrasted with that of Pharaoh. The cunning Pharaoh, initially on the offensive, soon finds himself beating a retreat before the relentless attack of a self-confident Moses(P), his (Pharaoh's) mood changing from mock gentleness and condescension to that of satire and ridicule to that of utter frustration and indignation. An interesting feature of the dialogue is that while Pharaoh continually changes his stance, Moses(P) sticks with the position he states in the beginning and only reinforces it with his subsequent remarks.

 

The dialogue opens with Moses'(P) declaration that he is a prophet sent by the 'Lord of the universe', and with his demand that Pharaoh allow the israelites to go with him. Pharaoh condescendingly reminds Moses(P) of the upbringing he received in Pharaoh's palace, and, by reminding Moses(P) that he is guilty of killing a Copt, also makes an unambiguous threat (verse 19). Moses(P) replies that his killing of the Copt was an accident. As for his upbringing in Pharaoh's house, he acknowledges it as a favour by Pharaoh, but curtly tells him that he cannot on that count enslave the israelites (verses 20-21). Cornered by this trenchant reply, Pharaoh makes another move, asking Moses(P) in an obviously satirical tone: 'Who is this 'Lord of the universe' you speak of?' (verse 24). Moses'(P) reply is brief but to the point: 'The Lord of the heavens and the earth.' Pharaoh, who claims to be the supreme lord, feels the blow of the answer. At the same time, he senses that some of his courtiers may have been unduly impressed with the boldness of Moses(P), and so, in an attempt to laugh Moses(P) off, he turns to his courtiers, saying: 'You hear that, don't you?' (verse 25). Undaunted, Moses(P) presses the attack: 'Your Lord, and also the Lord of your ancestors of former times'. A powerful dent is made in the ancestral religion of Egypt, and Pharaoh, until now feigning self-control, shows visible signs of impatience. He suggests to his courtiers that Moses(P) is insane (verse 27), hoping to put an abrupt end to the discussion. Moses(P) refuses to let up: 'Lord of the East and the West', he adds. This is the last straw. Pharaoh threatens to imprison Moses(P) (verse 30). 'Even if I should present a clear sign [miracle]' asks Moses(P). Pharaoh has to consent, for his courtiers must have been intrigued by the offer of Moses(P), and it would be imprudent of Pharaoh to disregard the mood of the court. It might also have occurred to him that if Moses(P) showed a miracle, then he (Pharaoh) might be able to explain it away as a cheap trick. At any rate, he consents, probably grudgingly. When Moses(P) performs his miracles, Pharaoh is perplexed, but soon pulls himself together, observing that Moses(P) is at best an accomplished sorcerer. But something must be done about this sorcerer if he is not to steal the show. The courtiers advise that the official magicians be summoned to compete with Moses(P). It is not necessary to recount the rest of the story, for the above analysis should make it sufficiently clear that the Qur'ānic dialogue can be a rewarding field of study.

 

Characterization

 

Seen from a theological standpoint, the Qur'ānic characters would appear to be embodiments of abstract traits rather than real flesh-and-blood figures which I believe they are. Obvious candidates for a study of Qur'ānic characterisation would be like prophets, particularly figures like Abraham(P) and Moses(P). Here I will confine my remarks to the Qur'ānic technique of presenting memorable characters in a few lines - the vignettes. One such vignette is to be found in 74:18-25.[11] The context presents before us a typical rich leader of Makkah who is worried by the spread of Muhammad's(P) message in the city. He is in danger of losing his following, unless he can convince his followers that the Qur'ān is Muhammad's(P) own speech falsely attributed to God. How does he accomplish his purpose? Finding himself in the company of his followers, who look up to him for a response to Muhammad's(P) message, he plays a game. His mind is of course made up, but he does not want to give the impression that he is rejecting that message without giving it a serious thought. So he reflects on the message, and appears to be making a careful assessment of it (verse 18). In a parenthetic remark (verses 19-20) the Qur'ān suggests that he is only going through the motions. But his followers, unable to see through his game, are impressed by the careful thought lie is devoting to the whole matter. Then, serious thinker that he is, he looks up, as if weighing an idea that has just flashed into his mind. But no, he must give it more thought, and so he knits his brows, not forgetting to contort some of his facial features (verse 22). He is about to deliver his verdict and his followers await the moment anxiously. What does he do? Issue a statement rashly? That would not be prudent. He slowly turns around, takes a step backward, and gives his judgement: the Qur'ān is not divine in origin; it is at best an eloquent discourse that, like magic, has a spellbinding effect on its audience. This is a complete portrait, and it is presented in only a few short verses.

 

III

 

This brief survey has left out many literary features of the Qur'ān, some of which are symmetrical structures; ellipsis; implicit transitional links; parenthetic extension; use of motif words; use of passives to convey certain shades of meaning; periphrasis; and oaths. But I hope it has succeeded in suggesting that the Qur'ān is a vast quarry that awaits the attention of literary scholars.

 

This study is by no means the very first to be written on the subject of the Qur'ān as literature. A few, if not many, works dealing with some literary aspect of the Qur'ān exist in European languages. There is, however, a great need for developing a theory that is, on the one hand, based on a recognition of the subject as an independent field, and that will, on the other hand, take an integrated view of the various literary aspects of the Qur'ān. Western scholars with their highly developed discipline of literary criticism can make a significant contribution in this regard. Should they undertake to do so, the 'Qur'ān as literature' might well become an important meeting-ground for Muslim and Orientalist scholars.

 

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Qur'anic Incoherence?

 

One of the claims brought about against the Quran is the claim that it is incoherent, and the stories are scattered around. I wanted to share some notes on a few things that Nouman Ali Khan (one of the instructors at Bayyinah Institute) touched upon in this regards that I thought were absolutely beautiful. The first miracle is amazing, but the second one I mention here completely blew my mind.

 

Rhyming Scheme

 

The first miracle is regarding the rhyme scheme used in the Quran. In Surah Maryam the rhyming pattern is very distinct and consistent throughout the beginning of the Surah all the way up until the point that it begins to address Isa (alayhis Salam). After that part is finished and it starts talking about Ibrahim (alayhis Salam) it returns back to the original pattern.

 

Part of the characteristics of the Quran is that it is something meant to be recited and heard by the people. When someone is listening to this, and they notice an abrupt change they will automatically pay more attention. The rhyme scheme is not beautification only, but it serves a very real purpose in drawing attention to a very important point in the Surah.

 

Coherency between Surah Isra and Surah Kahf

 

Surah Isra and Surah Kahf are the 17th and 18th Surahs in the Quran. Isra has 111 ayaat, and Kahf has 110 ayaat.

 

Surah Isra begins with:

 

ÓÈÃÇä ÇáÃí ÃÓÑì ÈÚÈÃÃ¥

 

[Glory to ((Allah)) Who did take His servant]

 

And Surah Kahf begins with:

 

ÇáÃãà ááå ÇáÃí ÃäÒá Úáì ÚÈÃÃ¥

 

[Praise be to Allah, Who hath sent to His Servant]

 

Notice the similarities and differences here. Both are glorifying and praising Allah, and both are discussing revelation. In Surah Isra, the Prophet (sal-Allahu alayhi was-Sallam) is ascending up to receive the revelation, and in Surah Kahf the revelation is being sent down. Both of them have the word ‘abdihi.

 

In the middle of both surah’s is also an ayah talking about the story of Iblis refusing to prostrate to Adam (alayhis Salam).

 

In Surah Isra the ayah is as follows:

 

And (remember) when We said to the angels: “Prostrate unto Adam.†They prostrated except Iblis (Satan). He said: “Shall I prostrate to one whom You created from clay?â€

 

In Surah Kahf it reads:

 

And (remember) when We said to the angels; “Prostrate to Adam.†So they prostrated except Iblis (Satan). He was one of the jinns; he disobeyed the Command of his Lord.

 

This is an example of something that some Non-Muslims may claim is an incoherency. Why is the same story split up into different places with different details? Good question.

 

Let’s take a quick step back. We know that Surah Isra is also sometimes called Surah Bani Israa’eel. It also contains a series of ayaat that Ibn Abbas(ra) mentioned were similar to the 10 commandments given to Musa (alayhis Salam). So this surah is primarily addressing Bani Isra’eel, who had knowledge but became arrogant.

 

Surah Kahf is addressing the Christians. We can see this from ayah 4, “And to warn those who say, ‘Allah has begotten a son (or offspring or children).’†The Christians disobeyed their Lord.

 

So when the surah is addressing those who were afflicted with arrogance, the part of the story mentioned is the one pertaining to them. When the surah is addressing a different audience, it uses the part of the story most pertinent to them. SubhanAllah!!

 

If that was not enough, there is still more (and this is only touching upon a small treasure of the many treasures of the Quran). The second to last ayah in each surah is,

 

Surah Isra:

 

Say (O Muhammad SAW): “Invoke Allah or invoke the Most Beneficent (Allah), by whatever name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names

 

Surah Kahf:

 

Say (O Muhammad SAW to mankind). “If the sea were ink for (writing) the Words of my Lord, surely, the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord would be finished, even if we brought (another sea) like it for its aid.â€

 

There are 2 primary ways in which we get to know Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala). First is by His Names and Attributes, and this is mentioned in Surah Isra. The other way is by recognizing Allah by His creation, and this is what is mentioned in Surah Kahf. It is amazing the way that they line up together. These 2 sets of ayaat form a foundation of Tawheed. Knowing and recognizing the Oneness of Allah(swt).

 

Also His Words actually are manifested in two ways, and both of these meanings are indicated in the verse from Surah Kahf:

 

1. His Creation (as in how Allah says “kun fa yakoon†i.e. “be and it isâ€, so His Words are immediately apparent in Creation)

2. His Revelation (as in the Qur’an itself, the literal Word of Allah)

 

The last ayah in each surah takes it to the next step and gives a protection from shirk. The last ayaat of each surah are as follows,

 

Surah Isra:

 

And say: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has not begotten a son (nor an offspring), and Who has no partner in (His) Dominion, nor He is low to have a Wali (helper, protector or supporter). And magnify Him with all the magnificence, [Allahu-Akbar (Allah is the Most Great)].â€

 

Surah Kahf:

 

Say (O Muhammad SAW): “I am only a man like you. It has been inspired to me that your Ilah (God) is One Ilah (God i.e. Allah). So whoever hopes for the Meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.â€

 

Lastly, the last ayah of Surah Isra begins with,

 

æóÞõáö ÇáúÃóãúÃõ áöáøåö ÇáøóÃöí

 

[say: Praise be to Allah]

 

And this is exactly what Surah Kahf begins with. When one ponders on this, it is amazing that anyone could then come and make a claim against this book, and surely had it not been from Allah we would have found within it much discrepancy, not the uncovering of gem after gem, jewel after jewel, and miracle after miracle.

 

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Sudden Changes In Person & Number: Neal Robinson On Iltifāt

 

For European readers, one of the most disconcerting features of Qur'ānic style is the frequent occurrence of unexpected (and apparently unwarranted) shifts from one pronoun to another. Non-Muslim scholars have tended either to regard these changes as solecisms or simply to ignore them. Muslim specialists in Arabic rhetoric, on the other hand, refer to this phenomenon as iltifāt - literally 'conversion', or 'turning one's face to' - and define it as:

 

the change of speech from one mode to another, for the sake of freshness and variety for the listener, to renew his interest, and to keep his mind from boredom and frustration, through having the one mode continuously at his ear.

 

Far from dismissing it as a stylistic imperfection, they have prized it as Shajā`at al-`Arabiyya - 'the audacity of Arabic' - and have attempted to explain the purpose of the various types of shift. As this subject has recently been dealt with at length by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, I shall limit my discussion to a few striking examples which occur within single ayahs or sequences of ayahs devoted to the same theme. In order to facilitate the task of the reader, first-person-plural discourse will be printed in bold type and first-person-singular discourse will be printed in bold italics.

 

Third Person Singular To First Person Plural

 

Consider the following extract from the revelation section in Surah 69. After the rebuttals of the accusations, the polemical asides, and the affirmation concerning the status of the message, there is a dramatic disclaimer in the first person plural:

 

It is not the statement of a poet - little do you believe! Nor is it the statement of a soothsayer - little do you remember! It is something sent down by the Lord of the Worlds. And if he had fabricated against Us some of the sayings, We would certainly have seized him by the right hand. Then We would certainly have cut his main artery and not one of you could have prevented it! (69.41-47).

 

I have already drawn attention to the way in which this disclaimer achieves its effect by objectifying the Messenger, but that is only part of the story. In addition, there is the shock effect of the sudden shift from third-person discourse about 'the Lord of the Worlds', which makes Him seem distant and transcendent, to the immediacy with which He speaks in the first person. The fact that He employs the first person plural emphasizes His majesty and power.

 

A similar effect may be observed in the polemical section of Surah 96 in the transition from the first part of the lampoon to the menacing peroration:

 

Does he not know that Allah sees?

Of course not! Yet if he does not stop We shall drag him by the forelock ... (96:14f.)

 

Note that here, too, the first person plural is used when violent action is envisaged.

 

The sudden shift from the third person singular to the first person plural is also common in signs passages, where it invariably occurs at the point where the sending down of life-producing water is mentioned. The following example is typical:

 

And it is Allah who sends the winds so that they stir up the clouds, and We drive them to a dead land and revive therewith the earth after its death. Such will be the resurrection (35:9)

 

The reason why the shift occurs at this point is that God's revival of the land is seen as evidence of His power to raise the dead.

 

Third Person Singular To First Person Singular

 

Passages in which there is a sudden shift from the third person singular to the first person singular are much less common. In the following example, as with the first passage considered in the previous section, a shock effect is produced by the way in which language which stresses God's transcendence is followed by the irruption of first-person discourse:

 

The command of Allah comes; so seek not to hasten it. Glory be to Him! High be He exalted above that which they associate with Him. He sends down His angels with the Spirit on whomsoever He wills of His servants, Warn that there is no deity but I. So fear Me! (16:1f).

 

In this instance, the first person singular is obviously more appropriate than the the first person plural, because it is the unity of God which is in question, rather than His power. The first person singular is also required by the exigencies of rhyme.

 

A similar effect may be observed in the following passage, which is likewise polemical:

 

So worship what you like beside Him. Say: 'The losers are those who will lose themselves and their families on the Day of Resurrection. Truly that will be a manifest loss!' They shall have sheets of fire above them and below them. That is how Allah frightens His servants. O My servants, so fear Me! (39:15f.).

 

Here, too, the unity of God is in question. Moreover, once again the first person singular is also necessitated by the rhyme.

 

My third example is somewhat different from the previous two, because the first-person discourse represents what God will say on the Day of Resurrection:

 

So on that day none will punish as He will punish and none will bind as He will bind. O tranquil soul, return to thy Lord well pleased and pleasing. Enter among My servants, and enter My garden (89:25-30).

 

Note, however, that although the unity of God is not mentioned explicitly, the words 'return to thy Lord' are a reminder of the primordial covenant with Adam's descendants (7:172f), in which they ascribed to the exclusive Lordship of Allah. Note too that the shift is highly effective because it occurs at the very end of a surah in which there is no other first-person discourse, but in which Allah is repeatedly referred to as 'thy Lord'.

 

First Person Plural Or Singular To Third Person Singular

 

A shift from the first person plural to the third person singular generally marks a transition from the expressive function to the cognitive function, as in the following example:

 

Thus We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'ān and We have turned about in it something of threats in order that they may be godfearing or it may arouse in them remembrance. Exalted be Allah the True King . . . (20:113f.).

 

In this instance, the shift not only ensures the presence of a message, by furnishing a statement which can be re-employed by believers, but also serves to efface the Messenger by making it clear that it is not he who is to be extolled.

 

The same process is at work where the shift is from the first person singular to the third person singular, as in the following two passages:

 

Their predecessors cried lies and how great was My horror! Have they not regarded the birds above them, spreading their wings and closing them? Nought holds them but the All-merciful. Surely He sees everything (67:18f.).

 

Therefore fear not humankind but fear Me and sell not My signs for a paltry price. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has sent down - they are the losers (5.44).

 

In both instances, the shift furnishes a message which can be repeated. It also affirms Allah's transcendence.

 

First Person Singular To First Person Plural

 

A shift from the first person singular to the first person plural often occurs in order to stress the power and majesty of the speaker, as in the following passage:

 

And whoever turns away from My reminder, his shall be a straitened life, and We shall raise him on the day of resurrection, blind (20:124f.).

 

Shifts of this kind occur in four surahs which begin with oaths. The following is typical:

 

Nay I swear by the Day of Resurrection!

Nay I swear by the self-accusing soul!

Does Man think that We shall not gather his bones? (75:1-3).

 

Because the oaths are in the first person singular, they establish direct and immediate communication, but the shift to the first person plural is necessary in order to safeguard against the reader wrongly inferring that it is Muhammad who is swearing them.

 

First Person Plural To First Person Singular

 

A shift from the first person plural to the first person singular introduces a note of intimacy or immediacy. The context may concern the provision of guidance, as in God's words when expelling Adam from paradise:

 

We said: 'Get down all of you from this place. So surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve ... '(2:38).

 

Alternatively, the shift may mark the transition from instruction to threat, as in God's words to Noah:

 

And make the ark before Our eyes and [in accordance with] Our revelation, and do not speak to Me in respect of those who are unjust; surely they shall he drowned. (11:37).

 

The following passage, in which God addresses Muhammad, is another example of this:

 

We know best what they say, and thou art not one to compel them; therefore remind by means of the Qur'ān him who fears My threat. (50:45).

 

In this instance, the shift to the first person singular is also necessitated by the rhyme. It is particularly effective, coming as it does at the very end of the surah.

 

From The Third Person To The Second Person

 

All the passages examined so far have involved a change in the person or number of the pronouns representing the speaker, but iltifaat also occurs with respect to the addressee. Most commonly this involves a shift from the third person to the second person, which I shall indicate by changing from roman to italic. The best-known example occurs in the fatihah, where it marks the worshippers' turning to God in request:

 

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds

The Most-merciful, the All-Merciful,

the Master of the Day of Recompense.

Thee only do we worship, thee only do we ask for help (1:2-5).

 

Usually, however, shifts of this kind occur when God is the speaker. Sometimes He turns to address those whom He has been speaking about, in order to threaten them:

 

They say the All-merciful has taken to Himself a son. You have advanced something monstrous! (19:88f.).

 

Sometimes, on the contrary, He turns to address them in order to honour them by His nearness:

Surely the godfearing shall be in gardens and bliss, rejoicing in what their Lord has given them. And their Lord will guard them against the punishment of Hell. Eat and drink with wholesome appetite because of what you used to do (52:17-19).

 

From The Second Person To The Third Person

 

More rarely, the shift may be from the second person to the third person This has the effect of objectifying the addressees. It may be done in order to enable them to gain self-knowledge by seeing themselves externally, as in the following example:

 

And Allah has given you wives of your oarn kind, and has given you sons and grandchildren from your wives, and has 6estowed good things on you. Do they then believe in falsehood and disbelieve in Allah's favour? (16:72).

 

Alternatively, the speaker may wish to distance himself from the addressees in order to humiliate them,

 

That is because you took Allah's signs for a jest and the life of the world deceived you. So on that day they shall not be brought forth from it, nor shall they be granted goodwill (45:35),

 

or in order to honour them,

 

Then give to the near of kin his due, and to the needy and the wayfarer; this is best for those who desire Allah's pleasure, and these it is who are successful (30:38).

 

More Complex Examples

 

There are in the Qur'ān a number of passages which contain two or more pronominal shifts in the space of a few ayahs. To the reader who is familiar with the different types of shift and their significance, these should not pose too many problems. My first example is relatively straightforward, despite the fact that the speaker shifts from the first person plural to the first person singular, and then to the third person singular, before finally reverting to the first person plural:

 

By no means! Surely We have created them of what they know. But nay! I swear by the Lord of the eastern places and of the western places that We are certainly able to replace them by others better than them ... (70:39-41).

 

The two pieces of first-person-plural discourse would be perfectly intelligible if read consecutively, ignoring the intervening material. God is the speaker, and His use of 'We' is entirely appropriate in this context where He speaks of His power to create human beings. The temporary adoption of the first person singular establishes the immediacy of the oath, while thc reference to God as 'the Lord of the eastern places and of the western places' ensures that the cognitive function of the Qur'ānic discourse is not neglected.

 

My next example is the celebrated reference to the Night Journey, together with the two ayahs which follow it:

 

Glory be to Him who caused His servant to travel by night from the inviolable place of worship to the furthest place of worship, the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him some of Our signs; surely He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing And We gave Moses the Scripture and made it a guidance to the Children of israel, 'Do not take a protector hesides Me'. [They were] the offspring of those whom We bore with Noah; surely he was a grateful servant (17:1-3).

 

The words in ordinary type, with which the surah opens, correspond to the language which human beings customarily employ when engaging in worship, but the reference to Muhammad as 'His servant' safeguards against the inference that these words are uttered by him. The sudden shift to the first person plural is appropriate in view of the fact that the Night Journey was an expression of God's majesty and power. This shift also makes clear that God is the speaker. The shift back to third-person discourse maintains the sense of worship and ensures the cognitive function of the communication. The resumption of the first person plural for the references to Moses and Noah serves to put what happened at the furthest place of worship on a par with two previous demonstrations of God's majesty and power: the revelation of the Torah and the preservation of Noah's family from the flood. Within this first-person-plural discourse, the brief quotation in which God speaks in the first person singular strikes a note of peculiar intimacy and draws attention to the central importance of the exclusive claims of the One God. . Now let us examine three ayahs which begin with the singular imperative 'Say', but which include words spoken by God in the first person:

 

Say, 'It the sea were ink [for writing] the words of my Lord, surely the sea would be used up before the words of my Lord were completed, even if We brought another like it to replenish it' (18:109).

 

Say, 'If there were on the earth angels walking about in peace and security, We would certainly have sent down for them from the sky an angel as a messenger' (17:95).

 

Say, 'O My servants who have transgressed against themselves, do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Truly Allah forgives sins He is the All-forgiving, All-merciful' (39:53).

 

In the first of these, a surprise effect is achieved by the sudden shift to the first person plural. God Himself intervenes in all His majesty to utter fresh words, thereby showing that (as stated) His words will never be complete. In the second, the intervention is again in the first person plural, but it coincides with a shift to the third person plural 'them' to refer to the addressees. Thus, at the moment when God intervenes to express His power and majesty, He also distances Himself from the unbelievers in order to humiliate them. The third ayah is more puzzling because the imperative 'Say' is immediately followed by God's speech in the first person singular. Although this strains the normal rules of syntax, it establishes intimate communication between God and the believers, thus making them more receptive to the cognitive element of the message which is to follow.

 

My final example is a passage which non-Muslim scholars have frequently treated with scorn:

 

He it is who makes you travel by land and sea; until when you are in the ships and they sail on with them in a pleasant breeze, and they rejoice, a violent wind overtakes them and the billows surge in on them from all sides, and they become certain that they are encompassed about, they pray to Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience: 'If Thou dost deliver us from this, we shall most certainly be of the grateful ones.' But when He delivers them, lo! they are unjustly rebellious in the earth. O humankind! your rebellion is against your own souls - provision of this world's life - then to Us shall be your return, so We shall inform you of what you did (10:22f.).

 

At first sight it may appear hopelessly garbled, but the three consecutive pronominal shifts are all perfectly logical. The shift from the second person plural to the third person plural objectifies the addressees and enables them to see themselves as God sees them, and to recognize how ridiculous and hypocritical their behaviour is. The shift back to the second person plural marks God's turning to admonish them. Finally the speaker's shift from the third person singular to the first person plural expresses His majesty and power, which is appropriate in view of the allusion to the resurrection and judgment.

 

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What Is The Challenge Of The Qur'an With Respect To Arabic Prose & Poetry?

 

Assalamu-alaikum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

 

The Qur'an in many places challenges the people to produce a surah like it. It appears that the Christian missionaries who call the challenge irrelevent or an utterly subjective criterion are pretty much unaware of how the Arabic poetry and prose compares with the Qur'an. This article is devoted to deal with one aspect of the Qur'anic challenge of produce a surah like it. What is meant by surah like it with respect to the Arabic prose and poetry?

 

The verses of the Qur'an dealing with the challenge are given below (Hilali and Muhsin Khan's Translation):

 

Say: "If the mankind and the jinns were together to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they helped one another." [Qur'an 17:88]

 

And if you (Arab pagans, Jews, and Christians) are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down (i.e. the Qur'an) to Our slave (Muhammad Peace be upon him ), then produce a surah (chapter) of the like thereof and call your witnesses (supporters and helpers) besides Allah, if you are truthful. [Qur'an 2:23]

 

And this Qur'an is not such as could ever be produced by other than Allah (Lord of the heavens and the earth), but it is a confirmation of (the revelation) which was before it [i.e. the Taurat (Torah), and the Injeel (Gospel), etc.], and a full explanation of the Book (i.e. laws and orders, etc, decreed for mankind) - wherein there is no doubt from the the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns,and all that exists).

 

Or do they say: "He (Muhammad(P)) has forged it?" Say: "Bring then a surah (chapter) like unto it, and call upon whomsoever you can, besides Allah, if you are truthful!" [Qur'an 10:37-38]

 

Or they say, "He (Prophet Muhammad(P)) forged it (the Qur'an)." Say: "Bring you then ten forged surah (chapters) like unto it, and call whomsoever you can, other than Allah (to your help), if you speak the truth!" [Qur'an 11:13]

 

Or do they say: "He (Muhammad(P)) has forged it (this Qur'an)?" Nay! They believe not! Let them then produce a recital like unto it (the Qur'an) if they are truthful. [Qur'an 52:33-34]

 

cAbdur Rahim Green mentions that:

 

These are the sixteen al-Bihar (literally "The Seas", so called because of the way the poem moves, according to its rhythmic patterns): at-Tawil, al-Bassit, al-Wafir, al-Kamil, ar-Rajs, al-Khafif, al-Hazaj, al-Muttakarib, al-Munsarih, al-Muktatab, al-Muktadarak, al-Madid, al-Mujtath, al-Ramel, al-Khabab and as-Saria'. So the challenge is to produce in Arabic, three lines, that do not fall into one of these sixteen Bihar, that is not rhyming prose, nor like the speech of soothsayers, and not normal speech, that it should contain at least a comprehensible meaning and rhetoric, i.e. not gobbledygook. Now I think at least the Christian's "Holy spirit" that makes you talk in tongues, part of your "Tri-Unity" of God should be able to inspire one of you with that!

 

To begin with; the Arabic language and Arab speech are divided into two branches. One of them is rhymed poetry. It is a speech with metre and rhyme, which means every line of it ends upon a definite letter, which is called the 'rhyme'. This rhymed poetry is again divided into metres or what is called as al-Bihar, literally meaning 'The Seas'. This is so called because of the way the poetry moves according to the rhythmic patterns. There are sixteen al-Bihar viz; at-Tawil, al-Bassit, al-Wafir, al-Kamil, ar-Rajs, al-Khafif, al-Hazaj, al-Muttakarib, al-Munsarih, al-Muktatab, al-Muktadarak, al-Madid, al-Mujtath, al-Ramel, al-Khabab and as-Saria'. Each one rhymes differently. For metres of Arabic poetry please see please see Lyall's book Translations Of Ancient Arabian Poetry, Chiefly Pre-Islamic.[1] He discusses al-Kamil, al-Wafir, al-Hajaz, at-Tawil, al-Bassit, al-Khafif and al-Madid briefly.[2]

 

The other branch of Arabic speech is prose, that is non-metrical speech. The prose may be a rhymed prose. Rhymed prose consists of cola ending on the same rhyme throughout, or of sentences rhymed in pairs. This is called "rhymed prose" or sajc. Prose may also be straight prose (mursal). In straight prose, the speech goes on and is not divided in cola, but is continued straight through without any divisions, either of rhyme or of anything else. Prose is employed in sermons and prayers and in speeches intended to encourage or frighten the masses.[3] One of the most famous speeches involving sajc is that of Hajjaj bin Yusuf in his first deputation in Iraq in post-Islamic and Quss bin Sa'idah in pre-Islamic times.

 

So, the challenge, as cAbdur Rahim Green mentions, is to produce in Arabic , three lines, that do not fall into one of these sixteen al-Bihar, that is not rhyming prose, nor like the speech of soothsayers, and not normal speech, that it should contain at least a comprehensible meaning and rhetoric, i.e. not gobbledygook. Indeed

 

The Qur'an is not verse, but it is rhythmic. The rhythm of some verses resemble the regularity of sajc, and both are rhymed, while some verses have a similarity to Rajaz in its vigour and rapidity. But it was recognized by Quraysh critics to belong to neither one nor the other category.[4]

 

It is interesting to know that all the pre-Islam and post-Islamic poetry collected by Louis Cheikho falls in the above sixteen metres or al-Bihar.[5] Indeed the pagans of Mecca repeated accuse Prophet Muhammad(P) for being a forger, a soothsayer etc. The Arabs who were at the pinnacle of their poetry and prose during the time of revelation of the Qur'an could not even produce the smallest surah of its like. The Qur'an's form did not fit into any of the above mentioned categories. It was this that made the Qur'an inimitable, and left the pagan Arabs at a loss as to how they might combat it as Alqama bin cAbd al-Manaf confirmed when he addressed their leaders, the Quraysh:

 

Oh Quraish, a new calamity has befallen you. Mohammed was a young man the most liked among you, most truthful in speech, and most trustworthy, until, when you saw gray hairs on his temple, and he brought you his message, you said that he was a sorcerer, but he is not, for we seen such people and their spitting and their knots; you said, a diviner, but we have seen such people and their behavior, and we have heard their rhymes; you said a soothsayer, but he is not a soothsayer, for we have heard their rhymes; and you said a poet, but he is not a poet, for we have heard all kinds of poetry; you said he was possessed, but he is not for we have seen the possessed, and he shows no signs of their gasping and whispering and delirium. Oh men of Quraish, look to your affairs, for by Allah a serious thing has befallen you.

 

It is a well known fact that the Qur'an was revealed in seven ahruf (or seven forms) to facilitate greater understanding of it among the Arabs who had different dialects. This was also to challenge them on their own grounds to produce a surah like that of the Qur'an. The challenge became more obvious when none of the seven major tribes could imitate it even in their own dialects as no one could claim that it was difficult to imitate due to it not being in their own dialect.[6]

 

What Do The Orientalists Say About The Inimitability Of The Qur'an?

 

E H Palmer, as early as 1880, recognized the unique style of the Qur'an. But he seem to have been wavering between two thoughts. He writes in the Introduction to his translation of the Qur'an:

 

That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur'an itself is not surprising. In the first place, they have agreed before-hand that it is unapproachable, and they have adopted its style as the perfect standard; any deviation from it therefore must of necessity be a defect. Again, with them this style is not spontaneous as with Muhammad and his contemporaries, but is as artificial as though Englishmen should still continue to follow Chaucer as their model, in spite of the changes which their language has undergone. With the Prophet, the style was natural, and the words were those in every-day ordinary life, while with the later Arabic authors the style is imitative and the ancient words are introduced as a literary embellishment. The natural consequence is that their attempts look laboured and unreal by the side of his impromptu and forcible eloquence.[7]

 

The famous Arabist from University of Oxford, Hamilton Gibb was open upon about the style of the Qur'an. In his words:

 

...the Meccans still demanded of him a miracle, and with remarkable boldness and self confidence Mohammad appealed as a supreme confirmation of his mission to the Koran itself. Like all Arabs they were the connoisseurs of language and rhetoric. Well, then if the Koran were his own composition other men could rival it. Let them produce ten verses like it. If they could not (and it is obvious that they could not), then let them accept the Koran as an outstanding evident miracle.[8]

 

And in some other place, talking about the Prophet(P) and the Qur'an, he states:

 

Though, to be sure, the question of the literary merit is one not to be judged on a priori grounds but in relation to the genius of Arabic language; and no man in fifteen hundred years has ever played on that deep-toned instrument with such power, such boldness, and such range of emotional effect as Mohammad did.[9]

 

As a literary monument the Koran thus stands by itself, a production unique to the Arabic literature, having neither forerunners nor successors in its own idiom. Muslims of all ages are united in proclaiming the inimitability not only of its contents but also of its style..... and in forcing the High Arabic idiom into the expression of new ranges of thought the Koran develops a bold and strikingly effective rhetorical prose in which all the resources of syntactical modulation are exploited with great freedom and originality.[10]

 

On the influence of the Qur'an on Arabic literature Gibb says:

 

The influence of the Koran on the development of Arabic Literature has been incalculable, and exerted in many directions. Its ideas, its language, its rhymes pervade all subsequent literary works in greater or lesser measure. Its specific linguistic features were not emulated, either in the chancery prose of the next century or in the later prose writings, but it was at least partly due to the flexibility imparted by the Koran to the High Arabic idiom that the former could be so rapidly developed and adjusted to the new needs of the imperial government and an expanding society.[11]

 

As the Qur'an itself says:

 

And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true. But if ye cannot- and of a surety ye cannot- then fear the Fire whose fuel is men and stones,- which is prepared for those who reject Faith. (Qur'an 2:23-24)

 

Lastly, the beautiful style of the Qur'an is admired even by the Arab Christians:

 

The Quran is one of the world's classics which cannot be translated without grave loss. It has a rhythm of peculiar beauty and a cadence that charms the ear. Many Christian Arabs speak of its style with warm admiration, and most Arabists acknowledge its excellence. When it is read aloud or recited it has an almost hypnotic effect that makes the listener indifferent to its sometimes strange syntax and its sometimes, to us, repellent content. It is this quality it possesses of silencing criticism by the sweet music of its language that has given birth to the dogma of its inimitability; indeed it may be affirmed that within the literature of the Arabs, wide and fecund as it is both in poetry and in elevated prose, there is nothing to compare with it.[12]

 

The above sentences speak of themselves. Summing up: Within the Arabic literature, either poetry or prose, there is nothing comparable to the Qur'an. Muslims throughout the centuries are united upon the its inimitability.

 

There is also a talk by Christian missionaries that there are grammatical 'errors' in the Qur'an. In retort, it can be mentioned that the Arab contemporaries of Muhammad(P) were most erudite and proficient in the idiosyncrasies of Arabic speech; and hence, if they had found any grammatical 'errors' in the Qur'an, they would have revealed it when Muhammad(P) challenged them with to do so. Therefore, since they did not take up his challenge on this issue, we can be rest assured that no such grammatical 'errors' exist in the Qur'an.

 

Indeed the grammatical errors claimed by Christian missionaries have been already discussed and refuted in a reputed journal.[13] It turns out that lack of knowledge of intricate constructions in classical Arabic by Christian missionaries gave rise to so-called grammatical 'errors'.

 

I'jaz al-Qur'an (Or Inimitability Of The Qur'an) & Its Exposition

 

I'jaz literally means "the rendering incapable, powerless". It is the concept relating to the miraculous nature of the Qur'an. What consitutes this miracle is a subject that has engaged Muslims scholars for centuries. By the early part of the third century AH (ninth century CE), the word i'jaz had come to mean that quality of the Qur'an that rendered people incapable of imitating the book or any part; in content and form. By the latter part of that century, the word had become the technical term, and the numerous definitions applied to it after the tenth century have shown little divergence from the key concepts of the inimitability of the Qur'an and the inability of human beings to match it even challenged (tahiddi).[14]

 

Thus, the Islamic doctrine of i'jaz al-Qur'an consists in the belief that the Qur'an is a miracle (mu'jizah) bestowed on Muhammad(P). Both terms, i'jaz and mu'jizah come from the same verbal root. While mu'jizah is the active principle of a'jaza, i'jaz is its verbal noun.[15]

 

The early theological discussions on i'jaz introduced the hypothesis of sarfah ("turning away") and argued that the miracle consisted of God's turning the competent away from taking up the challenge of imitating the Qur'an. The implication of sarfah is that the Qur'an otherwise could be imitated. However, cAbd al-Jabbar (d. 1025 CE), the Mu'tazilite theologian rejected sarfah because of its obvious weaknesses.

 

cAbd al-Jabbar rejects the doctrine of sarfah for two main reasons. Firstly, because it contradicts the verse of the Qur'an stating that neither jinn nor human can rival the Qur'an, and secondly because it makes a miracle of something other than the Qur'an, i.e., the sarfah, the prohibition from production, and not the Qur'an itself. In addition to this, according to 'Abd al-Jabbar, the doctrine of sarfah displays four major weaknesses:

 

1. It ignores the well-known fact that the Arabs of Muhammad's time had acknowledged the superior quality of speech of the Qur'an;

 

2. It is in direct conflict with the meaning of the verses of the Challenge;

 

3. It implies that the Qur'an is not a miracle; and

 

4. It asserts that the Arabs were out of their minds (khuruj 'an al-'aql).

 

This doctrine, in fact, implies that they could have produced a rival to the Qur'an, but simply decided against doing so. It effectively calls into question either their motives or their sanity. Therefore, according to cAbd al-Jabbar the correct interpretation of sarfah is that the motives to rival the Qur'an disappeared (insarafah) because of the recognition of the impossibility of doing so.[16]

 

cAbd al-Jabbar insisted on the unmatchable quality of the Qur'an's extra-ordinary eloquence and unique stylist perfection. In his work al-Mughni (The Sufficient Book), he argued that eloquence (fasahah) resulted from the excellence of both meaning and wording, and he explained that there were degrees of excellence depending on the manner in which words were chosen and arranged in any literary text, the Qur'an being the highest type.[17]

 

al-Baqillani (d. 1013 CE), in his systematic and comprehensive study entitled I'jaz al-Qur'an upheld the rhetorically unsurpassable style of the Qur'an, but he did not consider this to be a necessary argument in the favour of the Qur'an's uniqueness and emphasized instead the content of revelation.

 

The choice and arrangement of words, referred to as nazm was the focus of discussion by al-Jahiz, al-Sijistani (d. 928 CE), al-Bakhi (d. 933 CE) and Ibn al-Ikhshid (d. 937 CE). al-Rummani and his contemporary al-Khattabi (d. 998 CE) discussed the psychological effect of nazm of the Qur'an in their al-Nukat fi I'jaz al-Qur'an and Bayan I'jaz al-Qur'an, respectively.

 

The author who best elaborated and systematized the theory of nazm in his analysis of the i'jaz is cAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani (d. 1078 CE) in his Dala'il al-I'jaz. His material was further organized by Fakhr ad-Din al-Razi (d. 1209) in his Nihayat al-I'jaz fi Dirayat al-I'jaz and put to practical purposes by al-Zamakhshari (d. 1144 CE) in his exegesis of the Qur'an entitled al-Kashasaf, rich in rhetorical analysis of the Qur'anic style.[18]

 

Hardly anything new has been added by later authors.

 

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Thanks for your time in putting all this together brother. Jazakullahu khayr.

Redeem is a sister, but other than that, I agree, thank you Redeem.

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It is a well known fact that the Qur'an was revealed in seven ahruf (or seven forms) to facilitate greater understanding of it among the Arabs who had different dialects. This was also to challenge them on their own grounds to produce a surah like that of the Qur'an. The challenge became more obvious when none of the seven major tribes could imitate it even in their own dialects as no one could claim that it was difficult to imitate due to it not being in their own dialect.

 

Are these 7 versions extant?

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Are these 7 versions extant?

 

I don't know. I would guess that it's known in some form by the scholars. But I do know that Muslims worldwide follow the original style of the Qur'an. The reason for this is:

 

The Sahaabah [companions (may Allaah be pleased with them)] had dispersed to different lands, and they used to recite the Qur’aan according to what they had heard of the seven recitations from the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and each of their students used to recite according to what he had heard from his shaykh. If a student heard someone reciting in a manner different from what he knew, he would denounce him and accuse him of making a mistake, and this went on until the Sahaabah feared that there would be fitnah (trouble) between the Taabi’een (generation after the companions) and successive generations. So they thought that they should unite the people in following one recitation, which was in the dialect of Quraysh in which the Qur’aan had first been revealed, so as to dispel any disputes and resolve the matter. ‘Uthmaan (may Allaah be pleased with him) was consulted, and he agreed with this opinion.

 

(you are not allowed to post links yet)"you can't post links until you reach 50 posts_you are not allowed to post links yetIslam-qa(contact admin if its a beneficial link)/en/ref/10012/order%20qur%27aan"]you can't post links until you reach 50 posts_you are not allowed to post links yetIslam-qa(contact admin if its a beneficial link)/en/ref/10012/order%20qur%27aan[/url]

 

Salam.

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