The language of the Qur'an is unsurpassed in its accuracy of meaning and expression. Each letter and word has its place while the language is free from fault. These unique features are found manifested in the use of one single letter or a preposition, as is demonstrated in the following verse:
"Say (unto the disbelievers): Travel in the land..." (Qur'an al- An'am 6:11)
Here, the reader may wonder why Allah has used the preposition Fi' ('in') instead of 'Ala ('on') as correct Arabic usage dictates. However, this structure may be justified if we assumed that the proposition Fi' ('in') entailed adverbiality, and considered the word Al-ard ('earth') to be an adverb of the word 'walk,' and the meaning permitted it. But in the Qur'an there is no allowance for likelihood. Each expression is measured to fit strictly the meaning it conveys leaving no shadow of doubt as to its interpretation. Each letter or word has one definite meaning and purpose which unfolds itself readily to the inquisitive mind.
With the advance of science into the nature and function of our universe, we have come to learn that the earth is not limited to its terrestrial and aquatic components. It also comprises a gaseous envelope which cleaves to it and gives it life, and without which life on earth would have been impossible. People living on earth make use of the properties of this gaseous extension or atmosphere for their benefit and progress in exactly the same way as they make use of the rocky crust and the liquid surfaces, or land and sea. Thus, when we travel in an aeroplane at about thirty thousand feet above the surface of the earth we are still moving within the boundaries of the earth. We pass beyond this boundary when we cross the limit of the atmosphere and plunge into space.
This scientific fact was a mystery to man when the Qur'an was first revealed. Only Allah possessed this knowledge. Now we know that we are living and moving amidst two layers of matter: the solid matter of the earth and the gaseous matter which is air. No one today is ignorant of the fact that the three states of matter are solids, liquids, and gases, but this primary knowledge was not available to man fourteen centuries ago, and neither Muhammad nor anyone else could have known this.
A further example of the accuracy of usage and clarity of meaning, where no redundancy or synonymity exists, can be seen in the following verses:
"... And persevere whatever may befall you. Lo! That is of the steadfast heart of things." (Qur'an Luqman 31:17)
"And verily whoso is patient and forgiveth - lo! That, verily is (of) the steadfast heart of things." (Qur'an al-Shura 42:43)
In the second verse the preposition "of" (LAMIN) may pass unnoticed or be taken as an emphatic synonym. But this is not so, because every letter or word in the language of the Qur'an is selected with the utmost care to convey one intrinsic meaning and definite purpose. There is no such thing as synonymity in the Qur'an. Each letter and word has its own fixed meaning which no other word can express as accurately, irrespective of their seeming similarity.
If we consider thoughtfully the meticulous selectivity of the words in the above verses and their underlying meaning, we soon come to realize that there are two kinds of patience. In the first kind there is no direct adversary or person responsible for hardship or misfortune; for example a brick falling from a building under construction onto the head of an unsuspecting pedestrian, or the collapse of a newly- built house over peacefully sleeping tenants. In all incidents and mishaps of this nature no individual bears the responsibility for the victim's misfortune. It is therefore easy for the unfortunate man to restrain his anger and accept his misfortune as an act of Allah. This kind of patience does not require a great deal of energy and can be easily achieved. But patience which is "verily of the steadfast heart of things" is that which involves an antagonist against whom a victim has the freedom to retaliate and avenge himself, but prefers to suppress his anger and vengeful tendencies and forgive him. This kind of patience is deemed by Allah to be worthier than the first, because in this kind the aggrieved is dominated by his instinctive anger and feelings of injustice, and has to exercise a great deal of self-restraint. He is restrained by his fear of Allah, and refrains from responding to evil with evil. In the above verses, Allah defines the merits of the two types of patience and their corresponding heavenly rewards. He also describes the human responses of retaliation that ought to be observed in each case by the faithful. Thus, in the first case they are commanded to accept what befalls them with humility and resignation to His will. In the second they are commanded to be forgiving and to maintain their faith in Allah's justice.
The preposition 'of' has obviously been used to accentuate the distinction between the kind of patience in which forgiveness is not a necessity, and that in which forgiveness represents a test of endurance of injustice and of the believer's trust in Allah's providence and will. This shows how a single letter or preposition can bear such dept of meaning and discriminating power in the language of the Qur'an.
The miraculous features of the language of the Qur'an are not limited to the accuracy of its words and letters or to their suitability of meaning. They are also exhibited in its unequaled ability to reach the deeply-hidden desires and tendencies of human nature, thus illustrating the all- encompassing and perfect knowledge of its true Maker. Allah, throughout the Qur'an, always addresses human attributes and tendencies, accurately answering any uncertainty that His injunctions may arouse in the minds of His worshippers. But this accuracy may, sometimes, require some modification in the use of one word in order to convey a new, broader and more apt meaning. This unsurpassed dexterity of language is a dominant feature of the language of the Qur'an, as can be observed in the following verse in which Abraham says, "Lo! They are (all) an enemy unto me, save the Lord of the worlds, Who created me, and He does guide me." (Qur'an al-Shu'ra 26:77-78)
Here a question could be raised as to why Abraham said "Who created me," and not 'He is the One Who created me," which would emphasize the notion of creation. The answer is that creation does not require confirmation or assurance, for no one except Allah has the power to create a human being, and, therefore, no confirmation of this power is necessary or needed. But as far as guidance is concerned, there many people who pretend to posses this power or talent. Some have constructed disciplines along the lines of religion, while others have distorted them. Both have declared that their purpose was to guide mankind. Thus anyone could set out his own views and pretend that they are the worthiest disciplines of guidance for humanity to follow. It was therefore necessary to stress that guidance is in the hands of Allah and is bestowed upon mankind according to His will and design. The situation required that the pronoun HUWA ('He') be introduced in the phrase FA HUWA YAHDINI ('and He does guide me'), in order to stress this fact and remind worshippers that guidance is a blessing that only Allah can bestow. The verse goes on to confirm this precept,"And Who feeds me and waters me, and when I sicken, then He heals me, and Who causes me to die and then gives me life (again)." (Qur'an al- Shu'ara 26:79-81)
The pronoun huwa ('He') was introduced in the above verse because the actions needed confirmation that Allah was behind these blessings. It is only by His will that we are able to attain them. Both sustenance and cure from sickness are made possible by His will and providence. In contrast, the pronoun 'He' was omitted in the last sentence because no one could pretend to posses the power of giving life or taking it away. The exclusiveness of this attribute to Allah needed no justification or confirmation.
Thus, Allah adds one word or omits another according to the needs of the situation, so that the precise and desired meaning be accurately and adequately expressed. If Allah had added the pronoun 'He' to the above verse, or omitted it altogether, it would have passed unnoticed, and the controversy that the Qur'an was man-made would have continued unabated.
The accuracy of meaning and expression may sometimes require the restructuring of words; changing them from transitive to intransitive verbs and vice versa. The verb SAQA ('to water') for instance, is sometimes used in four forms. This multiple and varied usage can be observed in the following verse:
"... Their Lord will slake their thirst with a pure drink." (Qur'an al- Insan 76:21)
In another passage, we notice that the verb SAQA ('to water, to give a drink, or quench thirst') is used to denote an entirely different meaning:
If they (the idolaters) tread the right path, We shall give them to drink of water in abundance." (Qur'an al-Jinn 72:16)
Although the two words stem from the same root, the omission or addition of a letter gives the modified word an entirely new and different meaning. The addition or the omission is not used for the sake of expediency or to avoid repetition of the same word. Actually each word has a definite meaning that cannot be substituted by any other word. Thus, the expression in the second verse "We shall give them to drink" means that although Allah has provided water in abundance for man, he has to look for its source, whether it is a well, a spring or river. In contrast the expression 'Their Lord will slake their thirst' entails no effort on the part of man, for in Paradise water will automatically come to the lips of the thirsty whenever they wish. There is no toil or effort for the dwellers of Paradise.
All their wishes are answered instantaneously in response to their thoughts. This differentiation in the use of words and their correspondent meanings is well demonstrated throughout the whole of the Qur'an, as can be remarked in the following verses:
"...What! Even though their fathers had no knowledge whatsoever, and no guidance?" (Qur'an al- Ma'idah 5:104)
"...What! Even though their fathers were wholly unintelligent and had no guidance?" (Qur'an al- Baqarah 2:170)
Whereas to the casual reader the two words LA YA'LAMUN (no knowledge) and LA YA'QILUN (unintelligent) may seem to refer to the same thing, a thorough examination of their full context will reveal their entirely different and true meaning:
And when it is said unto them: Follow that which Allah has revealed, they say: We follow that wherein we found our fathers. What! Even though their fathers were wholly unintelligent and had no guidance? The likeness of those who disbelieve (in relation to the messenger) is as the likeness of one who calls unto that which hears naught except a shout and cry. Deaf, dumb, blind, therefore they have no sense." (Qur'an al-Baqarah 2:170-171)
"When it is said unto them: Come unto that which Allah has revealed and unto the messenger, they say: Enough for us is that wherein we found our fathers. What! Even though their fathers had no knowledge whatsoever, and no guidance? O ye who believe! He who errs cannot injure you if you are rightly guided." (Qur'an al- Ma'idah 5:104-105)
Orientalists contend that the two words are synonymous in meaning; that knowledge and intellect are one and the same thing; and that an intelligent person is capable of gaining knowledge and comprehending it.
This contention is far from accurate as far as the meaning of the two words, as expressed in the above passages, is concerned. In fact, each word has its distinctive and intrinsic meaning. When Allah used the word LA YA'QILUN (unintelligent'), He meant that the idolaters did not understand anything about this universe and its divine portents, because they did not use their minds properly, and that if they had used their intellect, without bias or prejudice, they would have ultimately seen the truth. Thus, in using the word LA YA'QILUN ('unintelligent') Allah deemed them to be lacking in both reason and wisdom in matters of worship, as well as failing to perceive the true meaning and indication of the various divine portents in the universe and how it operates. In contrast, by using the words LA YA'LAMUN ('have no knowledge'), Allah deemed the idolaters to be lacking in both knowledge and intellect which means that in addition to their lack of reasoning and inability to perceive the true meaning of this universe and the power that governs it, they were ignorant of what others have learnt or acquired. For a man who lacks intellect does not reason or see the link between universal phenomena and their Creator and co-ordinator. But a man who has no knowledge does not use his mind, nor does he even try to acquire knowledge from others who have the insight to see Allah's might through His portents and His universe. The acquisition of meaning could be accomplished from someone else's recording of knowledge or the elucidation of the phenomena of the universe. This kind of learning happens all the time. For instance, when one reads a book written by a scientist or a scholar, he learns from what they have been able to record or discover, or from the product of their thinking. Thus he can learn about gravity or astronomy or any other field without actual research or experimentation.
The word 'unintelligent', therefore, referred to those persons who were reluctant to exert any worthwhile and purposeful mental or contemplative effort over Allah's portents and their meanings. They expressed this reluctance when they said, "Enough for us that wherein we found our fathers."
To which Allah commented, "Even though their fathers were wholly unintelligent?" (Qur'an al-Baqarah 2:171)
He describes those insensitive to His revelations as the deaf, dumb and blind. But the idolaters deemed by Allah to have no knowledge are those who refused to think or learn from others and were content with the religion of their forefathers.
"...and that ye slay not your children because of penury - We provide for you and for them..." (Qur'an al-An'am 6:151)
It is also demonstrated in the following verse from the passage of al- Isra' which deals with the same issue:
"Slay not your children, fearing a fall to poverty. We provide for them and for you..." (Qur'an al-Isra 17:31)
On the surface there seems to be no difference in meaning between the sentences 'We provide for you and for them' and 'We provide for them and for you'. But a close examination of the two verses will soon reveal that the first refers to poverty which already exists, for a poor man's primary concern is how to provide for himself and his wife. He is in constant fear of the hardship he is bound to face if the size of his family increases. Hence came Allah's assurance "We provide for you and for them" (i.e. when they are born). He is telling him not to worry in advance about the difficulties of providing for his future children, because He alone determines the sustenance of all His creatures. In the second verse the persons referred to are not poor, but although they are well provided for, they are still apprehensive that the birth of more children may create new difficulties, and eventually poverty. Here again Allah assures them that the birth of children will not take away any part of their parents' sustenance, and that each child's sustenance is being determined by Him at birth. Some may ask, why did Allah not say, "We provide for all 'instead of 'for you and them', or 'for them and you'? The reason is that He wanted to make it clear that every creature on this earth has its own share of His bounty, which is divided among them according to His will and wisdom, and that no one can take even the smallest part of the other's share, nor does the birth of a new child diminish what had already been decided for his parents.
The accuracy of meaning is impressively demonstrated in the following verse in which God speaks to Jesus:
"... O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? He says: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then You knew it. You know what is in my mind and I know not what in Your mind. Lo! You, only You, are the Knower of Things Hidden." (Qur'an al-Ma'idah 5:117)
Then Jesus continues, "If You punish them, lo! they are Your slaves, and if You forgive them, (lo! they are Your slaves). Lo! You, only are the Mighty, the Wise." (Qur'an 5:118)
Jesus' saying "If You punish them... they are Your slaves" is a settled case, for we all are Allah's slaves, governed by His will. We must submit to His justice and providence and abide by His commandments and injunctions. But if we consider the situation to be one of forgiveness, why then has Jesus used the word 'Mighty' whereas the word 'Forgiving' would seem more appropriate? This remarkable and selective use of words and expressions illustrates the fundamentally surpassing power of the language of the Qur'an. This same power is denoted in Jesus' plea 'If You forgive them', because it bears the actual meaning of forgiveness, for if Allah were not forgiving, how then could He forgive? In fact, ending the verse with the adjectives 'Mighty' and 'Wise,' indicates that in addition to Allah's freedom and power to bestow forgiveness at will, no one has the right to question His acts. He is the 'Mighty' and the 'Wise' who gives no account of what He does. The word 'Wise' (al- Hakim) has been introduced as a means of pleading for greater forgiveness and mercy for those who are misguided.
The Islamic Bulletin
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