Special Qur`aanic Concepts

21 05 2007

B i s m i l l a a h i r R a h m a a n i r R a h e e m

Guidelines forUnderstanding the Qur`aanConclusion

Part 7

Special Qur`aanic Concepts

By Ayub A. Hamid
Special Qur-aanic Concepts

There are certain words that the Qur-aan has used as special terms. Those special terms were given new meanings by the Qur-aan. Those meanings were clearly communicated, demonstrated and established by the Messenger, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam, himself. Since that time, they have always been generally accepted, without any break from generation to generation, by almost the whole Ummah. Their authenticity is as certain as the Qur-aan’s because both the Qur-aan and those established concepts have been collectively communicated with perpetuity through the same channel, with the same care and caution. These concepts include Salaah, Sowm, Zakaah, Hajj, Masjid-ul-Haraam, Tawaaf, etc. Although there are differences of opinion in some matters of detail, there has always been a consensus among the Ummah about the meaning of these concepts and their substance. The reader must not violate these established concepts that have been preserved by the Ummah throughout its history. Rejecting such perpetually established concepts will destroy unity of the Ummah even in the precious few matters in which there already is consensus.

The Interpretation by the Action or Words of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam
Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala did not only reveal the Holy Qur-aan, but sent a messenger with it as well. The job of the messenger was not only to teach the words but also to explain their meanings and implications and to demonstrate practically how they are to be put into action. The way he run the Islamic movement, the way he led his followers, the way he dealt with adversaries and the way he lived his whole life was a practical demonstration of the Holy Qur-aan. Obviously, a deep understanding of his Seerah, its missionary aspects and the wisdom he, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam used to deal with diverse situations is essential to fully understand the message of the Holy Qur-aan and to draw guidance from it.

Also, If the meaning of a word, phrase or verse or command of the Holy Qur-aan was determined by the actions or the words of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam that is the meaning of the said segment of the Qur-aan. He being the direct recipient of the revelation, Allaah’s messenger, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam and directly instructed and taught by Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, his word is the final authority for all the believers to follow. These practices of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam were transmitted to us by two means: the continuous practical demonstration and transmission through actions of the believers from generation to generation and authentic reporting of those actions and behaviours through narrators of Hadeeth.

The Qur-aan and the Seerah
The Qur-aan is not a theoretical set of precepts that were just presented in a vacuum or in an abstract world. Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala sent a messenger and charged him with the responsibility of establishing a society that puts the teaching of the Qur-aan in practice exactly as intended and with the task of launching and completing the Islamic mission or movement to establish such a society. As the mission was launched and as it progressed, the Holy Qur-aan provided him the guidance at every stage. As each revelation of the Qur-aan was received, the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam put it into practice exactly as directed. Hence, the Seerah (the biography) of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam and the Qur-aan have a very intricate relationship. The reader must recognize that relationship and understand its significance. It will help him visualize the circumstances of when the verses were revealed and help him understand their impact and wisdom. The ability to relate the various parts of the Qur-aan with the pertinent stage of the Prophet Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam’s mission really enables a person to get the complete picture and understanding of the message. It also helps him to understand the order of the revelation, to help deduce appropriate injunctions from the verses. Not keeping the timing and background in mind can cause a person to draw wrong conclusions. I have seen many conflicts arising and fights erupting among Muslims because people do not keep the proper perspective of the stage and the circumstance of the mission in mind while interpreting some verses. They interpret and apply the injunctions from those verses without regard to the need of the time and end up creating Fitnah.

This concludes the discussion of important principles that must be used while understanding and interpreting the Qur-aan. If our brothers and sisters would like to discuss interpretation of some specific verses in the light of these principles, they can write to us and inshaa`Allaah we shall try our best to present their authentic interpretation in compliance with the rules of Tafseer so far discussed.

And Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala is the Guide to the Straight Path.


the Timing of the Revelation

21 05 2007

B i s m i l l a a h i r R a h m a a n i r R a h e e m

Guidelines forUnderstanding the Qur`aanPart 6

The Significance of the Timing of the Revelation

By Ayub A. Hamid
It was mentioned that the Holy Qur-aan was revealed to guide the Islamic movement through its evolutionary stages as and when the guidance or directions were needed. To fully understand the reason for particular tone, style or impact of the verses, a familiarity with the approximate phase of the Islamic movement at the time of revelation will be helpful. That familiarity comes from the knowledge of the Seerah (biography) of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam.

The whole movement can easily be divided into pre-migration (Makkan) period and post-migration (Madani) period. Within these two distinct stages, it is not easy to segregate the continuous, evolutionary movement into phases. We can, however, roughly divide the Makkan period into three phases.

The first phase started with the beginning of the revelations and the Prophet’s, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam calling of people around him to Islam. Initially, the message (the verses of the Qur-aan) consisted of small lyric type sentences of dazzling quality according to the refined literary tastes of the Arabs at that time. They contained initial instructions on the performance of the job, description of the core message, identification of fundamental problems with the contemporary human life style and responses to the criticism by the people. They came in small sets Soorahs (Chapters) and were easier to remember and quote. They were so effective in their impact that they touched the hearts of listeners. Ears were tuned to them because of their beauty and tongues would repeat them impressed with their elegance. As soon as one was presented by the Holy Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam it was repeated and quoted from person to person thereby spreading quickly in the society. Every one quoted for one’s own reasons, whether it was belief, disbelief, anger, amazement, impact or mere gossip. The end result was that the message and the response to the criticism spread swiftly far and wide. They described universal realities, but in a local context. Although the message was timeless, the examples, the anecdotes, the social and moral issues all were such that the first audience can easily relate to them. This phase continued for about four or so years until:

· The good-natured, open-minded persons joined the Islamic movement;

· Most people, in support of the status quo, started opposing the mission through mockery, making fun, accusations, verbal

abuses of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam and the Muslims, and the physical abuse of the poorer, weaker Muslims; and,

· Non-Quraish Arabs around Makkah started hearing about the movement.

The second phase was characterized by an intense struggle between the Islamic movement of reformation and the ignorant Arab majority that wanted to kill it. The opponents used every sinister means at their disposal to suppress and destroy the Islamic movement. Their techniques included false propaganda, violations of basic rights, violence, and persecution of the believers. People were physically tortured, violently treated, socially boycotted, economically strangled, excommunicated, imprisoned, thrown out of their homes, expelled from the city and killed. But none of this could stop the tide of Islam. More and more people continued to be attracted to the beauty and the rationality of the Islamic message. This phase continued for about six years until the 10th year of the Prophet Muhammad’s, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam prophethood.

The third phase was the toughest period in the life of Prophet Muhammad, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam and his followers. Due to the death of his uncle and wife, the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam had lost all the support and protection he used to enjoy because of the utmost respect and influence these two personalities commanded in Makkah. The Makkans grew so hostile to the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam that it became impossible for him to live in Makkah or to carry on his mission. In an effort to find an alternative place, he, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam went to Taaif but the residents of Taaif were found to be even more hostile. Every other tribe approached for that purpose had also refused to provide him shelter, protection and freedom to carry on his mission. Back in Makkah, plans to kill him or expel him were being made and pursued. This toughest time continued for three years until his migration to Madeenah.

During the second and third phases, which lasted in total of about nine years, the Qur-aanic discourses that were revealed had the eloquence of a swift current on the one hand and a fiery impact on the other. Although the style, the intensity, and the emphasis progressed in forcefulness step by step according to the criticality of the situation and to the circumstances of the movement, the message essentially remained similar. Believers were educated in their obligations to Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, community building, moral purity, excellence in behaviour, and steadfastness. They were foretold about the success of their movement and frequently reminded of their rewards in Jannah (paradise). They were inculcated with the spirit of loyalty to the movement and fidelity to the mission so that they would bear the worst of the persecutions without responding in kind (violence) or in desperation. The non-believers, on the other hand, were invited to Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala by drawing their attention to the natural phenomena, rational arguments, and historical examples of the peoples and nations before them. Every question raised was answered, doubt logically addressed, and objection responded to. In addition to the rational appeal and gentle admonitions, they were strongly warned of the consequences of their behaviours in this world and in the Hereafter. They were told of the anger of Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, reminded of the previously destroyed/punished nations and vividly informed of the horrors of Hell. The essential points were reiterated time and again in different styles and tones to increase the impact of the message.
The Soorahs of the Qur-aan revealed during 13 years of these first three phases of the Islamic movement in Makkah are called Makkan Soorahs.

Migration to Madeenah provided the movement an opportunity to collect its followers at one place and establish a small Islamic state where the Muslims were free to practice Islam and create a just and caring Islamic society. Thus through migration, the Kingdom of Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala was founded. The foundation of the state, however, posed its own challenges.

The well-established and powerful Arab leadership saw the new Muslim community as the beginning of the end of their hegemony. They perceived this little society of freedom and emancipation as a threat to the existence of their existing social order that was the source of their power and leadership. They brought armies after armies to crush and destroy the fledgling Islamic state. In addition, Muslims had to deal with the animosity of the Jews and Christians. They also had to deal with another new enemy in their own ranks. These were some of the inhabitants of Madeenah who instead of being part of the movement or explicitly opposing it, opted for hypocrisy and playing dirty games. Dealing with the intense onslaught of all these counter revolutionary forces, while at the same time continuously working on improving the quality of the society towards it goal of establishing the most excellent of the societies (the beautiful Kingdom of Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala), was an arduous task. Against all odds of its survival, the movement was successful within 10 years. By that time, the whole Arabian Peninsula had become part of the Islamic state and the Muslims had become a powerful force for global reformation.

During various phases of this 10-year period, like the previous 13 years of the Makkan period, the revelations from Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala fulfilled the guidance needs of the movement at every stage. Depending on the needs of the time, the revelations were made up of fiery oratories, royal decrees, scholarly teachings, reformatory analyses, affectionate coaching, terse warnings and inspirational discourses. They covered: The principles on which to build a social structure; the ways to construct a society and a state; the guidance on how to deal with the hypocrites, the disbelievers, and the People of the Book (the Jews and Christians); the rules of war and peace; the international law and external relations; the guidelines for establishing and keeping treaties; the social and economic policies; the penal code and family law; etc. In addition, Muslims were coached to excel in personal behaviour, and trained to become the leaders of the world. They were given reviews of their strengths and weaknesses; they were encouraged to put down their wealth and lives in the way of Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala; and they were coached in excellence whether winning, losing, failing, succeeding, prospering, suffering, in peace or in war. The admonition to all non-believers, be it Jews, Christians, hypocrites, idolaters, continued throughout. Every opportunity and every style was availed to invite them to Islam: Softly and tersely; through anecdotes and warnings; and, with rational as well as emotional appeals.

The Soorahs revealed during these 10 years in Madeenah are called Madani Soorahs.

The important point to note is that through every stage of the movement (hence, throughout the Qur-aan), the work on the development of the Islamic community continued concurrently with the invitation to non-Muslims and with removing the hurdles set up by them in the way of the Islamic movement.

Some of the commandments given for the development of the Islamic community were given in graduated stages. Thus, for the Muslims today, the familiarity with the order of revelation is important from another point of view as well; i.e., to identify the final applicable law for us.

The Holy Qur`aan Explains Itself

21 05 2007

B i s m i l l a a h i r R a h m a a n i r R a h e e m

Guidelines forUnderstanding the Qur`aanPart 5

The Holy Qur`aan Explains Itself

By Ayub A. Hamid
The Holy Qur-aan uses as few words as possible to make a statement, give an order or narrate an incident. A lot is left unsaid that can be determined by other means within the Holy Qur-aan. This brevity is one of the most outstanding beauties and miracles of the Holy Qur-aan.

The Holy Qur-aan wisely and effectively repeats many of its themes, messages and teachings throughout its text to inculcate the message in the minds of a variety of people of different levels of intellect and to highlight different points from the same anecdote.

Naturally, a term, concept or an idea would not be fully explained at every place it is mentioned. At least at one place, it would be explained fully. At some places it may just be hinted at; and at others, it may be described partially only to the extent required for the point under discussion at that moment. Explaining every point everywhere will be a very defective style of communication because it would make the text unnecessarily voluminous, distract the attention from the main point under discussion, confuse the readers and annoy them with repetition. Thus, when studying the Qur-aan, we must always remember that a word or idea or concept used in the verse under consideration may have been only alluded to briefly or partially because the context did not require the rest of the details and that it probably has been fully and completely described at some other place (or places) in the Holy Qur-aan. Hence, the meaning of any Qur-aanic term, phrase or verse must be determined in conjunction with all its occurrences in the Holy Qur-aan and the contexts where they appear. That is why the first and foremost principle of the exegesis (Tafseer) or explanation of the Holy Qur-aan is that the Qur-aan explains itself and determines the meanings of its own contents. It is also the reason that anyone who does not have the knowledge of the whole Qur-aan should not try to determine the meanings of its words, phrases or verses on one’s own without referring to Tafseer written by knowledgeable writers who honour this principle.

A very simple example is that of term ‘faith’ or ‘Eemaan’. The Holy Qur-aan frequently describes that salvation and success of people depends on faith and good deeds. But not everywhere is the full list of articles of faith given. Mostly just the word ‘faith’ is used to represent the complete concept of Islamic faith that includes all its articles. However, in An-Nisaa 4:136, Islamic faith has been fully described as containing belief in Allaah, His angels, His messengers, His books and the Hereafter. At some places, that basic Islamic faith is described by two of its articles because other articles are corollaries of these two articles. Belief in Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala and Hereafter automatically implies the belief in messengers, books and angels, because books and messengers are what tell us about Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala and Hereafter and guide us about what to do to be successful in accountability to Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala in the Hereafter; while angels are the means Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala has used to convey the guidance and they will be the workers in the affairs of the Hereafter. At some other occasions, only belief in Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala and His Messenger, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam is mentioned because of the need for emphasis on those aspects. The point is that regardless of how many words or articles are used to describe ‘faith’ at a certain point in the Qur-aan (for varying needs of highlighting or emphasis), wherever the term faith is mentioned, full Islamic faith will be implied.

Another familiar example is the last part of Soorah Al-Faatihah. The straight path has been qualified to be the path of people who are bestowed Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala’s favours. In Soorah An-Nisaa 4:69, the Qur-aan explained that the people who are bestowed Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala’s favours are the prophets`alayhimussalaam their most sincere and truly dedicated followers, those who give their lives in witnessing the truth of Islam and pious people. Ignoring the definition given by the Qur-aan itself, someone could have concluded that if a nation is prosperous, strong and glorious in this world, perhaps they are the people who have been bestowed Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala’s favours whose path we should all follow. While the reality is that the bounties and favours Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala is talking about are: faith and piety and dedication to Islam, not the prosperity and power. About prosperity and power without faith and Islamic practices, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala says:

“The hustle-bustle of the Kuffaar throughout the land should not deceive you. That is a temporary enjoyment after which their destiny is the Hell – and what a wretched abode.” (Aali-‘Imraan 3:196-197)

A good commentator or translator of the Qur-aan would strongly believe in explaining the Qur-aan with the Qur-aan. Such an author will ensure that he does not translate or explain a word or verse in isolation but does so in the light of all uses of that word or coverage of that subject matter throughout the Qur-aan as explained within the context of each occurrence. He will also ensure that meanings are determined consistently.

One can determine whether the author had done so or not by looking at the kind of examples the author has given in explaining any subject matter or word. A good Tafseer will refer to the mention of that word, point or subject matter in other places in the Qur-aan and show the consistency of their meaning, every where taken within context, as a support of the explanation given by the author.

The Qur’anic Guidance

21 05 2007

B i s m i l l a a h i r R a h m a a n i r R a h e e m

Guidelines forUnderstanding the Qur`aanPart 4

The Qur`aanic Guidance
Must be Accepted as One Complete Package

By Ayub A. Hamid

Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala revealed the whole Qur-aan for human guidance. Those who want to benefit from its guidance must accept the whole guidance, not some of it. The Qur-aan gives us a system of life. Systems, by nature, work properly and deliver their benefits only when used and implemented as complete systems, not just bits and pieces. That is why the Holy Qur-aan warns Muslims, through the example of Israelite behaviour, against accepting only a part of it and rejecting or ignoring other parts:

“So do you believe in part of the scripture and disbelieve in part? Then what is the recompense for those who do so except disgrace in worldly life; and on the Day of Judgement they will be brought back to the severest of the punishments.” (Al- Baqarah 2:85)

For example, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala expects us to strive for personal excellence as well as for organizing the Ummah into an Islamic entity that establishes peace and justice all over the world. He has obligated us to establish five pillars as the support structure for both of these objectives. If someone performs the pillars as rituals instead of the means for the two (personal and collective objectives) objectives; or if stresses only on one of the objectives and ignores the other; or if objectives are stressed without the establishing of pillars; any of these situations is adopting only part of the guidance and ignoring the rest.

As the whole Qur-aan is a complete package of guidance, it implies that not only should the people accept the whole guidance contained in all parts of the Qur-aan, but also they must not interpret a part of the Qur-aan or deduce guidance from it in isolation. The interpretation of a part must be consistent with the rest of the body of knowledge and must fit properly within the whole package of guidance.

For example, the Qur-aan proposes that Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala has given people freedom to make certain choices and decisions and that they will be held accountable and rewarded or punished according to the choices they make. An interpretation of a verse in negation of this central theme will not be accurate.

Another aspect of the same principle can be exemplified through Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala’s attributes. The Holy Qur-aan mentions very many different attributes of Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala according to which He deals with human beings. Emphasizing one attribute while ignoring His other attributes will lead to misguidance in terms of human relationships with Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. For example, He is very forgiving and extremely merciful to those who repent and try to do better continuously, while He is severe in punishing those who rebel, ignore or defy His authority. We cannot dwell on one aspect of His attributes and disregard others.

The Context is Crucial

20 05 2007

Guidelines forUnderstanding the Qur`aan
Part 3 – 3
Understanding the Qur`aan

The Context is Crucial
By Ayub A. Hamid

The Context is Crucial
Along with the language and grammar, context is a crucial determinant of the meaning. Whether it is the context of a word within a sentence, the sentence within a paragraph or a paragraph within a chapter, every context has a significant bearing on the meaning of a word. For example, common words such as monitor, mouse, drive, key, cell, etc. will mean totally different things in different contexts. Most people will be easily able to think of different meanings of these words in different contexts. But also consider an uncommon example. See how the context determines the meaning of the word ‘duck’ in the following sentence:

While looking at the different cloth samples, he really liked one of them and exclaimed, ‘this duck is lovely’ and ordered 100 meters for his sewing shop.’

As you can see, the word ‘duck’ in the phrase ‘this duck is lovely’, when removed from its context, will convey totally different meaning.

These crude examples are being used just to demonstrate the point that the context can have a major impact on the meaning of a word or sentence, hence it must be considered for deriving the meaning. When it comes to the Qur-aan, however, many people take its verses out of context and derive meanings from them that are not warranted when considered within the context. They think that because every word of the Qur-aan is true and valid, we should be able to apply it in every situation without considering its context. This is not the right approach. Considering the significance of the context and the widespread disregard for it, this point will be explained in greater detail.

It is a common knowledge that the Holy Qur-aan was compiled in an order different from the order of the revelation on the instructions of its author, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. With every revelation, the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam was instructed as to the exact order and location of the newly revealed verses or Soorah. The Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam would dictate to the scribes in that order and recite it in the daily Salaah in that order. Thus the Qur-aan is not a collection of unrelated miscellaneous verses that have been randomly assembled. Otherwise, it would have been compiled in the order of revelation. The specific order to the verses that Allaah Himself gave cannot be without purpose, wisdom and profound reason.

Keeping in view that Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala himself directed the compilation of verses in a certain order in a Soorah and Soorahs in a certain order in the Qur-aan, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala has Himself provided every verse and every Soorah its appropriate context. Thus, the context becomes even more important for the Qur-aan in determining the meaning of a verse of a group of verses than for a segment of any human literature. In fact, it is one of the most important factors in determining the intent and the meaning of any segment of the Holy Qur-aan for yet another reason. Context is one of the tools used for the miraculous brevity of the Qur-aan that amazed and mesmerized the Arabs with its literary excellence. The Holy Qur-aan uses context of the words, phrases and sentences in a very sophisticated manner to deliver a lot of meaning with fewest possible words by putting significant reliance on context to convey the message properly. Thus, to understand the Holy Qur-aan properly, its phrases and sentences should never be taken in isolation of its context. When deriving the meaning of a word, phrase or verse of the Qur-aan, the intended meaning must be put in context and reviewed to ensure that it fits properly with the verses before and the verses after to give a coherent message and that it appropriately relates to the subject mater being discussed at that point in the Qur-aan. It is absolutely unacceptable to take any verse out of context and make it mean whatever one likes. A meaning derived without considering the context might be invalid.

Most people rely on the books of Tafseer or exegesis to understand the Qur-aan. When selecting these works for study, care should be taken to ensure that the author you rely on for helping you in the understanding of the Qur-aan must be conscious of the context of a verse or a Soorah. A Tafseer or translation composed with this perspective will explicitly indicate the relationship of parts of the Qur-aan to other parts.

Those who study the Qur-aan keeping the order and context in mind soon realize the fact that the order of the Qur-aan is in fact an order of miraculous coherence and flow. Every verse of the Qur-aan fits like a gem in its place. Every verse of a chapter is in profound relationship to the verse before and after it. In the same manner, every section and every Soorah has a strong relationship in meaning and theme to the section and the Soorah before it and after it. In turn, the Soorahs are divided into seven groups, each group with its own main theme. Within groups, each Soorah is paired with another Soorah that complements its central idea and presents it from a different angle. Every group has an evolutionary relationship to the other groups preceding and succeeding it. Each group starts with one or more Makkan Soorah(s) and ends with one or more Madani Soorah(s).
The description of relationships, coherence and flow of the verses, sections and Soorahs belongs in the detailed commentary and exegesis (Tafseer) of the Qur-aan. Amin Ahsan Islaahi has done a wonderful job in his Tafseer “Tadabburul Qur-aan” explaining these relationships.

While reflecting on the points already mentioned about this topic, think about this: How a series of revelations occurring over a 23 year period organized in a totally different order than the order of their revelation ended up to be an extremely meaningful and coherent whole. It is humanly impossible for a person to develop a thought in one way and arrange it in another way still making perfect sense, especially for an unlettered man going through the toughest circumstances a human can ever go through. This is another aspect of the Qur-aan that presents evidence that it is the Word of and revelation from Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala.

The Basic Rules of Grammar And Literature

20 05 2007

B i s m i l l a a h i r R a h m a a n i r R a h e e m

Guidelines forUnderstanding the Qur`aan

Part 3 – 2

Understanding the Qur`aan
The Basic Rules of Grammar & Literature

By Ayub A. Hamid

The Basic Rules of Grammar and Literature must be Complied with

It may sound odd that this point has to be brought up, but unfortunately, when it comes to Qur-aan, many people feel that they have an inalienable right to deduce from the Qur-aan whatever they want disregarding even the very basic, generally accepted rules applicable to any literary work. Considering that many Fitnah’s are being spread in the Ummah through the strange ideas that are usually supported by twisted meanings of a verse or some verses, it would be expedient to go over the basic rules so that the reader is able to recognize a Fitnah when he sees these rules broken.

Firstly, the meaning construed must be valid considering the syntax; e.g., concord of verb, subject, object and pronouns in number and gender as well as in I’raab (the variation in the expression of the ending of a word through changes in its vowel formation). To provide an English example for this point is difficult. In case of agreement in number or gender, any example will look ridiculous. For example: “John and Jane were talking. She suddenly became quiet.” There is no way that any person would even assume for a moment that ‘she’ refers to John. But unfortunately, I have seen examples of this kind of treatment being given to the verses of the Qur-aan.

Secondly, any word will be taken to mean its commonly understood meaning unless the context or idiom suggests a metaphorical meaning or text clearly indicates use of a rare meaning. For explaining this point simply, let us consider this example. Any one reading the sentence ‘This duck is lovely’ will think of duck as a waterfowl. However, if it is said, “John imports duck cloth from China”, the reader will know that it is some kind of cloth. Strangely, when dealing with Holy Qur-aan, some people have an attitude that if they do not like what the Qur-aan is saying plainly, they sit down with a dictionary and try to find a meaning of the word that will forcibly give the meaning they want to get out of it.

A complementary rule is that idiomatic use of a word cannot replace the original meaning of a word; i.e., whenever the word is used in itself, it will retain its original meaning regardless of whatever meanings it imparts idiomatically or proverbially. For example, ‘water’ will always mean ordinary water made of H2O, but ‘watered-down version of report’ is clearly a metaphorical or idiomatic use and has nothing to do with H2O. It implies something like ‘toned down’ or ‘compromised’ version. However, using the argument that ‘water-down’ means ‘thinning or toning down’, no one can claim that ‘He watered his plants’ implies that he thinned his plants or trimmed them down. Neither can it be confused with ‘He gulped the water down his throat’. Each usage here has it own clear meaning and none of the idiomatic meaning can alter the meaning of ‘water’ itself. If someone tries to confuse their meanings with each other, he will be looked upon as crazy. Similarly ‘Merchant’ will always mean a trader in goods unless it is qualified with another word such as ‘merchants of death’. Similarly, fire will always mean a physical energy that burns unless it is qualified with other words such as ‘fire in the belly’, ‘fire of jealousy’, ‘fire of war’. The metaphorical use of fire for jealousy, etc. cannot allow interpretation of the word ‘fire’ in any way other than physical fire, when there is no qualifier to give the other meaning.

Thus the use of a word in an idiom for a different meaning does not deprive the word from its original meaning. Unless it is a part of the idiomatic combination, it will always carry its original meaning. Some writers have been taking liberty with the Qur-aan to infer idiomatic or metaphorical meaning when it is absolutely unjustified.

A word will be taken to mean its original generally accepted and understood meaning unless it is qualified explicitly though an idiomatic or contextual usage to mean something differently. Proverbial, idiomatic or metaphorical meaning cannot be implied in the absence of a clear indication of that intent.

Another related principle is that a word concocted to mean something new cannot be interpreted on the basis of the original words constituting the composite word. For example, peacock is used for a bird with which most people are familiar. If it is used somewhere in a text, one is not at liberty to decompose it into ‘pea’ and ‘cock’ and then try to determine the meaning of ‘peacock’ by combining one of the many meanings of pea and one of the many meanings of cock, or even to go to the original Latin word from which pea was derived and try to come up with a meaning that is different from the composite word ‘peacock’ as it is commonly understood.

The last important principle is the consistency in the use of terminology. Any decent text will not confuse the reader with using any terminology haphazardly to convey different meanings of the same term. If a term is used for a specific meaning, it will consistently be used for that meaning unless it is redefined or clearly qualified through context or additional words (qualifiers).

These are general rules well established in civilized societies and are applicable to any and all languages. They are practiced on a continuous basis in our communications throughout our daily life. Unfortunately, when it comes to Qur-aan, some people tend to throw away all basic principles of communication and try to infer meanings from the text that are not conveyed by the text under the normal rules of communication. This usually happens when someone does not like the message of the Qur-aanic text as it is. Instead of changing their ideas to comply with the message of the Qur-aan, they try to fit the Qur-aan to their mode of thinking. For that purpose, they try to speculate on the meaning of the words and fish around to seek some meaning until they find something that can support their point of view. To give a good spin to this unhealthy attitude, we can call it ‘reverse re-engineering’, i.e. re-engineering the Qur-aan to fit one’s ideas. This is what Allaamah Iqbal called, “khood badaltay naheen qur-aan ko badal daytay hayn.” (Instead of changing their ideas to conform with the Qur-aan, they try to twist Qur-aan to conform with their thinking.)

Those who want to develop a healthy understanding of the Qur-aan, and unity among our Ummah must respect these fundamental literary principles and read the writings and translations from the writers who respect these principles.

Qur’an is in the Language of the Quraysh

20 05 2007

Guidelines forUnderstanding the Qur`aan

Part 3 – 1

Understanding the Qur`aan

The Qur`aan is in the Language of the Quraish

By Ayub A. Hamid

Whether a person studies the Qur-aan directly without placing much reliance on the existing translations, Tafaaseer and commentaries or studies with the help of existing scholarly works, the following principles must be employed for understanding or deriving conclusions, evaluating which translations and commentaries to rely upon, and which opinions to accept or reject:

The Qur-aan is in the Language of the Quraish

The Holy Qur-aan was revealed in the Arabic language considered authentic by the literary authorities of the Quraish at the time of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam. To understand its message as it was meant to be understood, naturally, the first prerequisite is the knowledge of the language of that era.

Every language has its nuances of style, idioms and usage, all of which change with time. To appreciate a literary work and to fully comprehend its compositional impact and its literary subtleties, a reader must be knowledgeable about those nuances of style, idiom and usage of the time when the literature was produced, not merely the contemporary language; e.g. Chaucer’s or Shakespeare’s English as compared to contemporary English. The same is true for the Qur-aan. One cannot pick up contemporary dictionaries and lexicons and try to decipher the meaning of the Qur-aan. The reader of the Qur-aan or the author who translates or explains the Qur-aan must be well-versed in the literary (Faseeh) Arabic of the time of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam. He should be able to discern the subtleties of the idioms and usage of that period. To be able to do so, he should have a command of the poetry of the celebrated poets and speeches of the eloquent orators of that era such as: Qis bin Saaidah, Labeed, Imra-ul-Qais, Amr bin Kulthoom, and Zuahir. Only such a person will be able to understand the wisdom and beauty of the choice of the words used by Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala in a particular context or to express a particular idea. It was that literary language in which the Qur-aan was revealed. It was those authorities on Arabic language who were stunned by the miraculous beauty and elegance of Qur-aanic prose. To understand the Qur-aanic message and the nuances of its text, knowledge of their language and culture is an absolute necessity.

It is not the colloquial Arabic, dictionaries compiled by non-Muslim orientalists or modern dictionaries that determines the meanings of the Qur-aan, but the Arabic usage and idiom of the time of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam as documented by the works of the early scholars of Islam. For that purpose, mastery of the language and the poetry of that time is critically essential for which we must rely on those linguistic authorities who have dedicated their live in acquiring and retaining that knowledge. Those who know only the contemporary Arabic used in the modern Arabic magazines and newspapers or those who try to translate with the help of orientalists’ dictionaries may end up deducing wrong conclusions.

Some commentators of the Holy Qur-aan tend to rely on contemporary dictionaries and search for meanings of the words that suit their mindset instead of taking the meanings established in the literature of the Prophet Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam’s time. Naturally, as noted above, such authors may misunderstand or totally miss the point of the Qur-aanic text. Many non-Arabic people assume that Arabic speaking people have a better understanding of Qur-aan and its language. That is mostly not true. Unless an Arab Muslim has given special time and attention to learn the language of the Qur-aan (Language of the Quraish at the time of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam), he is as much prone to the danger of deriving wrong conclusions from the Qur-aan as any non-Arabic speaking person.

A Tafseer written by a person well versed in literary Arabic will have quotations and references to indicate the usage during the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam’s time. Hence, when reflecting on the Qur-aan in order to understand it properly, the readers must rely on the commentaries of the Qur-aan written by those who have acquired expertise in the Arabic language and usage of the time of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam. Such scholars will give examples of usage from literary giants of Makkah in support of a meaning they take for a word that is different from its commonly understood meaning.

Some people may think that if we do not resort to the new meanings given in the contemporary dictionaries, the miraculous nature of the words of the Qur-aan, as are being discovered through modern scientific research, will not be possible. Far from it, in fact, all the miracles of the Qur-aan that have been brought to light through scientific discoveries have been possible only by referring to the original meanings of the words at the time of the Prophet, Ŝall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam.
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