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Posted on: 09-Jul-2009
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Linguistic Resources of Interpretation

   Not only did the Almighty guarantee protection and security of the Qur’ān from being lost, He also promised to explain it. Both of these facts have been mentioned in the following verses respectively:

 
It is indeed We who have revealed the reminder and upon us is to protect it. (15:09)
 
We shall Ourself explain it. (75:19)
 
The fulfillment of this latter promise required that the Almighty guard Arabic, the language of the Qur’ān, from extinction. He has, therefore, sustained it and has given it eternal life. Similarly, He has guarded the meanings of the religious terms of the Holy Qur’ān like ṣalāh (the ritual prayer), zakāh (the obligatory alms), Jihād (the holy war), ṣawm (the fast), ḥajj (the annual pilgrimage), masjid (mosque), ḥaram (the inviolable precinct in Makkah), ṣafa and marwah (two hills in the vicinity of Ka‘bah), the rites of ḥajj and the related practices. The meanings of all the religious terms have traveled though later generations from generality to generality. Minor differences over the method of observing these rites exist but they are negligible. An example would best explain my viewpoint. There is no denying the fact that the Arabic word ‘asad denotes a lion in spite of the minor differences in the color and shape of lions of different geographical regions. Similarly the ṣalāh we are required to offer is the ṣalāh Muslims offer today in spite of the minor differences in its form and method. Whoever splits hair in this regard in fact abandons the stance of the firm religion of the Lord. The Almighty says:
 
Neither their meat nor their blood reaches Allah: instead, it is your piety that reaches Him. (22:37)
 
The controversialists follow the footsteps of the Jews who dissevered their religion and succumbed to doubts. God has depicted their attitude in the Holy Qur’ān with reference to their response to the divine command to offer a cow. They kept on asking hairsplitting questions while their Prophet continually told them to “do what they were commanded to do.”[1] They were even not ready to follow the command after that much unreasonable questioning. It was only because of the blessing of the words “God willing”,[2] which they mechanically uttered during this conversation, that they were led to obey their Messenger. This is evidenced by the words of the Almighty Allah, concerning their insistence, saying, “they were not to do [what they were commanded].[3]
When dealing with unqualified terms of the Sharī‘ah, of which we do not find any clear definition and implication in the Holy Qur’ān, we may not blindly fall upon the akhbār-i āḥād.[4] This can cast us in uncertainty and we may end up in falsifying and negating other approaches and thus inflicting pain upon their upholders. None of us, the contesting parties, will have a criterion to resort to. In such cases it is advisable to content ourselves with what is agreed upon by the ummah and avoid condemning others concerning which we have no clear proof in the text of the Holy Qur’ān or agreed upon practice of the Holy Prophet (sws) handed down by the Muslim generations. To sum up, talking about the Sharī‘ah terms in the Holy Qur’ān, we must follow the above mentioned highway and a clear understanding of the Holy Qur’ān ignoring minor differences.
The classical Arabic poetry and the text of the Holy Qur’ān are two resources which can be used as foundational reference in ascertaining the meaning and signification of the remaining literal and figurative diction of the Qur’ān and its style of expression. Arabic dictionaries and lexicons do not help much in this regard because they do not cover the all the words and their usage in the language. They discuss many issues quite inadequately and do not help us differentiate between the pure classical and the naturalized Arabic diction. Neither do they guide us to the root of the words enabling us to discern the foundation from the branch and the literal from the figurative. When a student, who is not fully groomed in classical Arabic poetry, consults these dictionaries he fails to ascertain the true meanings and real significations of the Qur’ānic words. Moreover the extant classical Arabic poetry also contains much manufacture. Many extinct words and rare usages (shādh) have crept into it. However, the difference between the unsound and the sound is not lost upon a connoisseur of the language. This forces us to avoid putting anything in service that is ready to hand while interpreting the Holy Qur’ān. We must only employ what is established as sound and abandon the rare usages. An example may explain what I want to bring to the fore. Some exegetes have interpreted the word “tamannā” in the following verse to mean recitation:
 
Whenever a Prophet of an Apostle, sent before you, whished (something) Satan tempered with his wishes. (22:52)
 
In order to escape explaining a complex theme the commentators have adopted rare meaning of the word (“tamannā”) abandoning its clear and obvious significance. This however, did not help. Contrarily, it opened door of disputation, disruption and difference in the ummah. Whoever deviates from the highway is destined to wander in the mazes of ignorance.
Books compiled in the fields of the remaining disciplines like grammar, logic, Islamic jurisprudence, rhetoric, balāghah, and meter, though many, also are not helpful in understanding the Holy Qur’ān.
Our present knowledge of the discipline of Arabic grammar needs a lot of improvement. Its role is limited to establishing rules for a discourse of mediocre quality. Therefore the exegete should not subject the word of God to these grammatical rules, changing the obvious meanings of the text and ignoring its basic style. Such analysis would make the Holy Qur’ān seem like a very strange kind of discourse not inline with the customary literary style of the Arabic language. On the contrary, the exegete’s duty is to adduce Arabic poetry, so that those enthusiastically looking for grammatical and stylistic errors in the Book of God can get to know that it is a discourse of the highest literary order.
As for logic, it involves hairsplitting discussion over the techniques of reasoning and argumentation, and over the usage of the words generally used in definition, negation and exception. The exegetes employing this discipline in interpreting the Qur’ānic text find it difficult to grasp the meaningfulness of assertions like ‘wa ‘allama ādama al-’asmā’a kullahā[5] and ‘wa mā mana‘nā ’an nursila bil-āyāti ‘illā ’an kadhdhaba bihā al-awwalūn’.[6] They also fail to understand the Qur’ānic style of reasoning. This issue will be elaborated upon in a separate discussion.
‘Im al-bayān (the science of rhetoric) also falls short as much as grammar does. Those who excel in this field remain unable to appraise and analyze the nuances of a discourse gushing forth from the arteries of a living heart. Such a science would therefore be utterly useless when applied to the text revealed by the Most High. Every Prophet who receives the divine revelation, rather every caller to the truth, spontaneously expresses his feelings, while considering the circumstances of his audience. He employs figurative language here and literal there. He strictly follows conventional style of expression and carefully considers the competence and level of understanding of his addressees. Therefore, we see that a divine prophet uses words like ’ab (father) and ’ibn (son); talks of his body being divided up in many; alludes to transferring his flesh and blood into someone else’s. He uses words and expressions like yad (hand), sāq (shin) and wajh (face), ‘arsh (the throne) and kursī (chair), basṭ (expansion) and qabẓ(recession), nashr (dispersion) and tayy (folding), ḥasrah (pathos) and intiqām (retribution), ghazab (wrath) and ḥanān (compassion). The addressees always grasp it all fully. However, whoever chains himself in the art of rhetoric walks clumsily on this path of understanding and explaining the divine text like an ant. He jolts like the blind and gets knocked off. Those acquainted with the style of expression of the Psalms and the other divine Books can best understand that the revealed Books heavily rely on figurative language.
As regards the discipline of Islamic jurisprudence the founder ‘usūlis did in fact render a laudable service. They did not borrow this discipline from the Romans, Indians or any other nation. They found this knowledge indispensable for their pursuit to understand the Holy Qur’ān and the Sunnah. Therefore, in order to enable themselves derive legal rulings from these sources in a systematic way they needed to form some guiding principles. This undoubtedly makes them the pioneers of the discipline and in this case others have emulated them. Unfortunately the scholars of the later generations did not develop this useful discipline. They failed to systematize it. Consequently the discipline remained inadequate and imperfect and was left short of becoming a science in the true sense of the term. This explains that the lack of uniformity of principles in this field leads the people to different conclusions concerning rulings of the Holy Qur’ān, something undesirable. This, however, is not the case with the other disciplines like grammar, logic and the like which can properly be called disciplines. In this short introduction I can only refer to some points of cardinal importance and cannot go into detail. However, I intend to work on this branch of Islamic sciences, for which I beseech help of God, in whose hands are all matters.[7]
The science of balāghah has been constructed upon the Arabic poetry alone. Poetry, every one knows, only deals with fine sentence structure, nuances of words and phrases and also manipulation of badī‘.[8]It leaves out a lot including, for example, many aspects of reasoning, relationship of words with the intended meaning, use of examples and parables, various ways of narratives yielding morals, ‘awd ’ila al-bad‘a (going back to the initial discussion), promise [of reward], admonition and stress produced by the overwhelming confidence of the speaker. It also does not cover other important techniques. For example sometime a self sufficient speaker consciously ignores the objections of the addressees. Sometimes he shows pathos like a concerned well-wishing teacher. These and some other techniques used by the eloquent speakers and the divine Books are not covered in this discipline. The scholars could not mention this greater part of styles of expression because they did not treat the speeches of the famous Arab orators. This is possibly because they did not find sufficient material from the oratory of the Arabs while they intentionally disregarded the oratory of the non-Arabs.
Therefore we see that ‘Allāmah Bāqilānī, despite his utmost efforts to unearth the unparalleled Qur’ānic eloquence, [does not cite the oratory and] evokes only Arabic poetry as evidence. He has however recorded some famous speeches as specimen, so that one can see the difference between the two genres of speech, the poetry and the oratory. As regards those of the above mentioned aspects of language which ought to be treated under this discipline and which he did not deal with, they are ten in number. Five of them are intellectual or rational and five emotive or psychic. Since they are the common characteristics of all the languages of the world, we can evoke any language other than Arabic or rather merely allude to them. The Holy Qur’ān itself contains sufficient examples of such devices.
The discipline of balāghah, in its present form, does not help in understanding the styles of expression employed by the Holy Qur’ān. Most of the contributors in this discipline were non-Arabs, who found it difficult to study, analyze and understand the Arabic styles of expression. Therefore, it would not be fair to complaint over what they failed to accomplish. We should rather thankfully acknowledge that they successfully laid foundations of the science. They sometimes reached at the correct conclusion and at some other instance only referred to what they targeted at.
To further explain my point I will discuss some of the Arabic styles of expression in a separate introduction to this book. I will also discuss the meter and its use in a separate introduction.[9]

 


[1].The Holy Qur’ān 2:70
[2]. ibid.
[3].The Holy Qur’ān 2:71
[4].Traditions reported by a few or single narrator in each layer of the chain of transmission.
[5].And He taught Adam all the names. (Qur’ān 2:31)
[6]. Nothing hinders us from giving signs except that the ancients disbelieved them. (Qur’ān 7:59)
[7].Farāhī, however, could not accomplish this task. However, the manuscripts he has left contain some guidance around fundamental issues in this regard which, though resolve many knotty questions on the topic, yet do not suffice as a guide out of the problems highlighted here. (Iṣlāḥī)
[8].Badī‘ is a branch of balāghah which deals with the use of literary devices like mubālaghah (emphatic statement), istiṭrād (digression), muṭābaqah (contrasting parts), tajnīs (paronomasia) etc (For detail see Mir, The Coherence in the Qur’ān: A Study of Iṣlāḥī’s Concept of Niẓām in Tadabbur-i Qur’ān (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1986)
[9].This however does not form part of these introductions. The author has discussed the topic in his book ‘Jamharah al-Balāghah’ (A Manual of Rhetoric) (Al-Dā’irah al-Ḥamīdiyyah,A‘zamgarh, India).
_________________________
(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi from Muqaddamah Nizam al-Qur'an)

 

Author: Hamid Uddin Farahi

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