Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Divine Speech - Literary Characteristics of the Quran (Part 1)

Assalamualaikum wbt and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers!

Firstly, I am very sorry for not writing a blog post last week. But I'm going to make up to you by writing about a two day seminar that I had attended on the weekends which is the "Divine Speech - Literary Characteristics of the Quran" delivered by Nouman Ali Khan. This seminar will be discussed in three posts so I will be writing two blog posts this week to make up for last week's.


The seminar was divided into two parts. The first part was the micro study of the Quran while the second part was the macro study of the Quran. Micro study covers the verses of the Quran while macro study covers the chapters of the Quran plus the Quran as a whole. And as has been implied by the title of this seminar, participants were exposed to the literary side of the Quran only. To be precise, the purpose of this seminar is to expose people to the meanings of the Quran that were lost in translation and to show how beautiful the Quran is from the lens of literature.

Today's post will discuss partly on the micro study of the Quran, the later post will discuss the other half of it, while next week's post will cover the macro study of the Quran, insyALLAH.

First and foremost, we must understand that the Quran was revealed in Arabic. Not in the formal Arabic or the spoken Arabic that is presently used but in classical or ancient Arabic. It is on this premise that Nouman Ali Khan started the discussion.

Definition of Ayah (verses)

Usually, the ayah of the Quran is translated into "verses"of the Quran in English. However, this translation is too narrow. The genuine definition of ayah is:
1) Something that is valuable
2) Something that makes a person curious
3) Something that points to a direction
4) Something that amazes us
5) Something that is calling us
6) Something that convinces us
7) Something that serves us a purpose 
Thus, the challenges that we face everyday, the love between a husband and wife, the breeze that calms us, the words in the Quran, the moments in our life, basically everything in existence is actually ayahs.

Focusing back to the Quran, the ayahs in the Quran are in the forms of verbal idioms, intricate word choice, transition involving 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons, sentence structure and sequence in Quranic discourse. In addition, some alleged grammatical errors in the Quran were also discussed by Nouman Ali Khan. I will share with you one example for each.

Verbal Idioms

In Surah Al Isra' (Surah no. 17) ayah 24, ALLAH says:
"And lower unto them the wings of submission and humility through mercy, and say: "My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was small.""

At first glance, "To lower unto them the wings" or short, "to lower wings" seems senseless to us. However, this is actually an idiom that was used by the Arabs of the old which means to be humble, to protect and to sacrifice. Therefore, this ayah instructs us to be humble and to protect our parents (as has been stated in ayah 23) as well as sacrificing for them.  

Intricate Word Choice

In Surah Al Ahzab (Surah no. 33) ayah 13, Allah says:
"And when a party of them said: "O people of Yathrib! There is no stand (possible) for you (against the enemy attack!) Therefore go back!" And a band of them ask for permission of the Prophet saying: "Truly, our homes lie open (to the enemy)." And they lay not open. They but wished to flee."

Before the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him (pbuh) came to Madinah, the place was named Yathrib. Now in other ayahs of the Quran (63:8, 33:13, 33:60, 9:101, 9:120), ALLAH uses Madinah instead of Yathrib. This makes us wonder why in this particular ayah ALLAH uses Yathrib. Next, we need to know that this ayah is talking about this city (Madinah/Yathrib) going to be attacked and how the hypocrites refused to help defend the city; so they were talking privately among themselves saying that this city is doomed. We also need to know that the hypocrites had initially agreed to welcome Prophet Muhammad pbuh and changed the city's name to Madinah because he had been victorious in several occasions before. So, ALLAH had actually exposed these hypocrites by saying exactly what they were privately talking to themselves which is "O people of Yathrib! There is no stand (possible) for you (against the enemy attack!) Therefore go back!" and ALLAH uses Yathrib instead of Madinah to describe the hypocrites who are not sincere in welcoming the Prophet pbuh in the first place. 

Transition involving 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons

In Surah At-Tur (Surah no. 52) ayahs 18 and 19:
"Enjoying in that which their Lord has bestowed on them, and (the fact that) their Lord saved them from the torment of the blazing Fire."Eat and drink with happiness because of what you used to do.""

As you can read from ayah 18, "Enjoying in that which their Lord has bestowed on them, and (the fact that) their Lord saved them from the torment of the blazing Fire", ALLAH is talking in the 3rd person point of view. But suddenly in the next ayah, ALLAH talks in the 1st person point of view, "Eat and drink with happiness because of what you used to do". The reason for this, according to Nouman Ali Khan is, ALLAH's forcing us into this ayah. HE wants to bring us to the attention that we will be talking directly to him in Heaven. And that my fellow friends, is the best gift that a person can ever get :)

Camera Scenes in the Quran

Nouman Ali Khan had also presented an example of camera scenes in the Quran. In Surah Yunus (Surah no. 10) ayah 22: 
"He it is Who enables you to travel through land and sea, till when you are in the ships and they sail with them with a favourable wind, and they are glad therein, then comes a stormy wind and the waves come to them from all sides, and they think that they are encircled therein, they invoke Allah, making their Faith pure for Him Alone, saying: "If You (Allah) deliver us from this, we shall truly be of the grateful.""

Imagine that you are watching a movie with the scenes depicted in the above ayah. First, the movie shows the land and the sea. The camera then zooms in and shows that people are boarding a ship and they are sailing faraway from land. After that, the camera shows the happy faces of those on board. But suddenly, a scene where storms are raging and waters lashing on the occupants emerges. This can cause the boat to sink. In that paralyzing fear, the people raised their hands and prayed sincerely to God to help them.

Sentence Structure

In Surah Al-Baqarah (Surah no. 2) ayah 254:
When tanwin (circled red in the picture above) is used, it means that there could be an exception. According to the ayah above, there will be "no intercession" in the Day of Judgement. However, Muslims know that that is not true because the Prophet pbuh will intercede for some of us that are worthy during that Day.

This ends the post. Kindly wait for the next posts in which I will explain Part 2 and Part 3, insyALLAH :) 

p/s: Should you be interested in learning about the Quran, you can sign up to Bayyinah TV. But if you can't afford to sign up (because there's a fee to sign up), you can click on "Gift" in the Bayyinah TV webpage.