Friday, July 4, 2014

Divine Speech - Literary Characteristics of the Quran (Part 3)

Assalamualaikum wbt and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

The first and second part from the previous posts had discussed about the micro study of the Quran. Therefore this post will discuss on the macro study of the Quran that was also delivered by Nouman Ali Khan. The flow of the discussion is as such. First, the definition of surah is presented. After that, an explanation on how the surah is organized is given, some literary features of Surah Yusuf is discussed and an example of coherence between surahs are forwarded. Lastly, three frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the Quran are discussed before this post is concluded. 

What is Surah?

A surah is something that has a lot of different things in it and each of these things connect with one another. A surah is akin to a city where there are people, government, animals, houses etc where each of these connect with one another in some way. Therefore to call a surah a chapter is unfair. Furthermore, later chapters in a book never repeat the content of previous chapters, instead the book would instruct you to refer to those previous chapters. This is actually a very different concept with surahs in the Quran because surahs do have repetitions.  

How the Surah is Organized

Firstly, we should know that there are two types of surahs namely Makki and Madanee. Makki surahs are surahs that were revealed before the Prophet Muhammad's pbuh (peace be upon him) hijra to Madinah while Madanee surahs are revealed after the Prophet's pbuh hijra to Madinah.

There are two opinions in terms of the arrangements of surahs in the Quran; one opinion says that the surahs are arranged by ALLAH while another opinion says that the surahs were arranged by the Prophet's pbuh companions. Regardless, there is a sequence between one surah to another because of the following reasons: 

1) Historical
Zaid bin Thabit had witnessed the Prophet's pbuh recitation of the whole Quran to the angel Jibril in a sequence. This sequence is the sequence that Muslims had been using until today.

2) Textual
ALLAH had said in Surah Al-Qiyama (no. 75) ayah 17 that HE had arranged the surahs:
"It is for Us to collect it and to give you (O Muhammad) the ability to recite it (the Qur'an)"

3) Observed
Based on observation, we can also see a certain sequence. For instance, in Surah al Isra' (no. 17) ayah 1:
"Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing."
In this ayah, ALLAH  had taken his slave away meaning that the slave (which is the Prophet) traveled to get the message.
Meanwhile, in Surah al-Kahfi (no.18) ayah 1:
"[All] praise is [due] to Allah , who has sent down upon His Servant the Book and has not made therein any deviance."
In this ayah, instead of making HIS messenger to travel, the message itself had traveled to the messenger.

Literary Features of Surah Yusuf (no. 12)

Nouman Ali Khan had also explained about some of the literary features of Surah Yusuf. As you read this, kindly refer to Surah Yusuf (no.12).

Ayah 4 to 6 talks about Yusuf's dream while in ayah 100, Yusuf's dream is made into reality. 
In ayah 8 to 18, the plot of the brothers against Yusuf is revealed while in ayah 58, Yusuf's brothers were beginning to learn their lesson. I
Then in ayah 23 to 31, the Minister's wife plus the Egyptian ladies attempted to seduce Yusuf but to no avail. Meanwhile in ayah 51, the ladies and the Minister's wife confessed on their wrongdoings. 
In ayah 35, Yusuf was sent to prison and in ayah 50, Yusuf was acquitted. 
Lastly, in ayah 43 to 44, the king speaks about his dream while in ayah 45 to 49, Yusuf interpreted the king's dream.

Thus as you can see, there is some sort of order between the ayahs in this surah.

Coherence between Surahs

Despite the fact that there are repetitions from one surah to another, there is still a sequence between them. For example in Surah An-Nasr (no. 110), ALLAH had promised victory whereby many will convert to Islam (bear in mind that this surah was revealed long before Islam was widespread). As a proof of HIS promise, ALLAH talks about the worse enemy of Islam at the time in Surah Al-Masadd (no. 111) namely Abu Lahab, who will be punished and burned in hell. Then surah no. 112 (Al-Ikhlas) was revealed after many had converted to Islam (after victory came). This is because a person who travels in a long journey (spreading Islam and faced hardships), tend to forget his true purpose after such a long time (in this case, worshiping ALLAH, the one God).  And in order to successfully worship HIM, Muslims must seek protection from outside influences (Surah Al-Falaq, no. 113) and from what's inside of him (Surah An-Nass, no.114).   

FAQ about the Quran

How can we claim that the Quran is truly authentic when the text is based solely on memorization? Won't people who memorizes something tend to forget the thing that he had memorized?
If the Quran is not authentic, if some of its contents were left out because the person who memorized it had forget, we will surely find many versions of the Quran. However until this day, there is only one version of the Quran that is recited by all the Muslims in this world.

Why does ALLAH use WE, I and HE in the Quran?
We is used when ALLAH describes about kingdom, gifts, water, life etc. An example of ayah that uses "We" is in Surah At-Tin (no.95) ayah 4:
"Verily, We created man of the best stature (mould)."
In this ayah, ALLAH is speaking about the creation of human.

I is used when ALLAH speaks about something to the extreme such as when HE is extremely angry, extremely forgiving, really listening etc. One example is in Surah Al-Baqarah (no.2) ayah 186:
"And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright."
Here, ALLAH is saying that he is definitely listening.

He is used in the context of formality or in the context of distance. One example is in Surah Al-Ikhlas (no.112) ayah 1:
"Say (O Muhammad): "He is Allah, (the) One."Here, ALLAH is being formal.

Why does ALLAH make oaths in the Quran? 
Oaths are used in the Quran for five reasons:
1. When in anger
2. When not being believed
3. When we are in the court of judgement
4. To get our attention
5. To use the object of the oath as evidence. In turn, the object of the oath prepares us for the subject of the oath.

For example in Surah Al-'Asr (no.103), ALLAH uses time as the subject of oath to bring to our attention on who will be the winners in this life:
"By Al-'Asr (the time). Verily! Man is in loss, Except those who believe (in Islamic Monotheism) and do righteous good deeds, and recommend one another to the truth (i.e. order one another to perform all kinds of good deeds (Al-Ma'ruf)which Allah has ordained, and abstain from all kinds of sins and evil deeds (Al-Munkar)which Allah has forbidden), and recommend one another to patience (for the sufferings, harms, and injuries which one may encounter in Allah's Cause during preaching His religion of Islamic Monotheism or Jihad, etc.)."


After learning about the micro study and macro study of the Quran, Nouman Ali Khan gave these conclusions. Firstly, we can see that the grammar used in the Quran is very different than the grammar used in English; in fact it's even different than the formal Arabic grammar. This goes to say that ALLAH sets HIS own standard of grammar that is incomparable with humans. This befits a God. In addition, based on the Quranic literary features, we can also say that the Quran is clear but it is not simple.

With this, the posts on the Literary Characteristics of the Quran has ended. I sincerely hope that you have benefited from all of the posts. 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.