Why is the Qur’an Inimitable?

“The Qur’an is inimitable
in that it employs the most
eloquent words in the ideal
forms of composition
embodying the truest
meanings”

[Imam Khattabi, “Thalath Rasaa’il”]

The Qur’an is a miracle because of both wording and meaning together. It simply uses the shortest amount of words to convey the most [fullest] meaning. This is done by choosing the most perfect words for each situation and combining them in the most perfect way. This is known as eloquence (balaghah). This is comprised of 3 areas: style (bayan), meaning (ma’ani) and grammar (badi’). This has not and cannot be imitated.  This is known through tawatur (multiple reports) and to those that are knowledgeable of Arabic eloquence.

1.Example :Surah 7 Verse 131 (Definite)

فَإِذَا جَاءَتْهُمُ الْحَسَنَةُ قَالُوا لَنَا هَٰذِهِ ۖ وَإِنْ تُصِبْهُمْ سَيِّئَةٌ يَطَّيَّرُوا بِمُوسَىٰ وَمَنْ مَعَهُ ۗ أَلَا إِنَّمَا طَائِرُهُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
“And if good befell them they
would say ‘this is ours’, but if
an evil befell them they would
put the bad omen down
to Moses and those around him”
[Qur’an 7:131]

The word ‘the’ (called a definite particle (tankir)) and the conditional particles ‘if’  (‘idha’ & ‘in’) can be used or omitted different places to add meaning.  In this ayah all four are used in different places to give specific meanings. This is a good example of eloquence since in this ayah Allah (swt) used the definite particle ‘the’ and ‘if’ connected to the word ‘good’.

‘idhaa……. ‘l hasanatuu’

This is perfect for the requirement here.  But for ‘evil’ he uses the words ‘a’  and   ‘if’:

‘in …………..sayyi’atun’ .

The combination of ‘al’ [the] and ‘idhaa’ [if] in the first clause means many good things are plentiful, often, frequent and the normal situation. Therefore this clause really means when many good things occur to them often and normally and most of the time they attribute it to themselves and give no thanks to Musa!! This expresses ingratitude. All of this is done by Allah (swt) in the shortest amount of words without having to say so in any explicit way but only by placing these particles.
The combination of ‘in’ [if] and the inflection of ‘un’ [a] means together that a single bad is rare, infrequent and the exception. Therefore this clause means when only a single bad happens infrequently and very rarely they then attribute it to Musa!![1] [1] Taken from “Talkhis fi Ulumul Balaghah”, Imam Qazwini, 100-2 & “The Secrets & Subtleties of the Arabic Language”, Herbjorn Jenssen, p95

2 example :Surah 7 Verse 92 (Definite)

الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا شُعَيْبًا كَأَنْ لَمْ يَغْنَوْا فِيهَا ۚ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا شُعَيْبًا كَانُوا هُمُ الْخَاسِرِينَ

“Those who disbelieved
Shu’ayb, they were the losers”
[Qur’an 7:92]

The word ‘the’ (‘al’) has been placed in the most perfect place to complete the meaning and reach a high level of eloquence. When the word ‘al’ is placed before words like he, she, we.. (relative pronouns) it can give different meanings. In the above ayah the meaning that is necessary is to show intensification for the rejection of Prophet Shu’ayb’s people for their disbelief. Therefore instead of just saying ‘they were losers’ Allah (swt) says they were ‘they were the losers’. The extra ‘the’ [al] imparts intensification..[1] [1] Taken from “Talkhis fi Ulumul Balaghah”, Imam Qazwini, 50-52 & “The Secrets & Subtleties of the Arabic Language”, Herbjorn Jenssen, p87

3 example :Surah 12 Verse 23 – Definite (Tankir)

وَرَاوَدَتْهُ الَّتِي هُوَ فِي بَيْتِهَا عَنْ نَفْسِهِ وَغَلَّقَتِ الْأَبْوَابَ وَقَالَتْ هَيْتَ لَكَ ۚ قَالَ مَعَاذَ اللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّهُ رَبِّي أَحْسَنَ مَثْوَايَ ۖ إِنَّهُ لَا يُفْلِحُ الظَّالِمُونَ
“But she in whose house he was,
sought to seduce him”
[Qur’an 12:23]

This ayah eloquently conveys the most accurate meaning by adding the word ‘the’ (al) in the most correct place. It is used to emphasis of the injustice of the Pharaoh’s wife on Joseph.  When ‘the’ (‘al’) is placed before relative pronouns (like he, she, we… ) it can give 6 different meanings:

1.singling out
2.definition (taqrir)
3. intensification
4.informing of fault
5.attention
6.glorification

In this case it is used in this ayah of Qur’an for the purpose is to intensify the emphasis of the injustice of the Pharaoh’s wife on Joseph. Therefore the requirement of the context is to increase the definition of the subject (which is Joseph). Allah (swt) does this perfectly and so completes the meaning by placing the word ‘the’ [an] before the word ‘nafsihi’ when it is not normally done. Hence He (swT) makes the relative pronoun definite. The ‘an’ is placed before the ‘nafisihi’: i.e.“baytihaa an nafsihi”.[1] [1] Taken from “Talkhis fi Ulumul Balaghah”, Imam Qazwini, 48-50 & “The Secrets & Subtleties of the Arabic Language”, Herbjorn Jenssen

4 example : Surah 62 Verse 5 (Simile)

  مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ حُمِّلُوا التَّوْرَاةَ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَحْمِلُوهَا كَمَثَلِ الْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَارًا ۚ بِئْسَ مَثَلُ الْقَوْمِ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ

“The example of those who carried
the Torah but failed to uphold its
injunctions is like the donkey
which carries heaps of books”
[Qur’an 62:5]

This is an example of a tasbihun murakabb (compound simile). Here a simile is used in order to only use a small amount of words which would otherwise take longer to explain and so is very eloquent. The meaning is also given in a strong form by using the simile by using an intense parallel.  In this verse objects are used such as ‘books’, ‘donkey’ and ‘carries’ to strengthen the meaning. The meaning being in this that

This similie is constructed of:
1.mushbbah  (thing being compared)
2.mushabbah bihi  (thing being compared to)
3.wajhu ashShabah  (aspect being compared)
4.Adwaatu Tasbhih  (linguistic form)

Again this simile conveys many ideas in a few words. Its basic meaning is that the kuffar who do actions think they are valuable and that some even think it will attain them salvation, however in reality it will be the opposite and lead to destruction. Such an idea will take many words in a literal form to convey. Instead the Qur’an using the simile as a technique to convey the meaning into a few words. This type of simile compares something new (the acts of kuffar) to something we can sense (a mirage). The technical word for it is called a tashbihu l maqool bil mahsoos (a rational simile based on a sensation). This is done concisely and using an extreme example of the mirage strengthens the meaning. Its basic form is correct as it fulfils the rules of simile construction. It includes the basic constituents;[1] [1] Taken from “Bayan In Arabic Rhetoric”, R. Deremi Abubakre, p67

5 example: Surah 24 Verse 39 (Simile)

وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ بِقِيعَةٍ يَحْسَبُهُ الظَّمْآنُ مَاءً حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَهُ لَمْ يَجِدْهُ شَيْئًا وَوَجَدَ اللَّهَ عِنْدَهُ فَوَفَّاهُ حِسَابَهُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

“And the unbelieving ones,
their deeds are but a mirage on
a lowland which the thirsty
one mistakes for water”
[Qur’an 24:39]

This simile is a technique of eloquence that conveys many ideas in a few words. It’s basic meaning is that the kuffar who do actions think they are valuable and that some even think it will attain them salvation, however, in reality it will be the opposite and lead to destruction. Such an idea will take many words in a literal form to convey. Instead the Qur’an, using the simile as a technique, conveys the meaning into a few words. This type of simile compares something new (the acts of kuffar) to something we can sense (a mirage). The technical word for it is called a tashbihu l maqool bil mahsoos (a rational simile based on a sensation). This is done concisely and using an extreme example of the mirage strengthens the meaning. Its basic form is correct as it fulfils the rules of simile construction. It includes the basic constituents:

1. mushbbah  (thing being compared)
2. mushabbah bihi  (thing being compared to)
3.  wajhu ashShabah  (aspect being compared)
4.  adwaatu Tasbhih  (linguistic form)[1] [1] Taken from “Bayan In Arabic Rhetoric”, R. Deremi Abubakre, p62

6 example :Surah 21 Verse 95 (Verb Gradation)

وَحَرَامٌ عَلَىٰ قَرْيَةٍ أَهْلَكْنَاهَا أَنَّهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ

“And it is forbidden for a population
which we have destroyed,
that they shall not desist
[from evil]”
[Qur’an 21:95]

A grammatical technique called verb gradation is used to convey an extra meaning of decision. This is done without even using the word ‘decision’ and so is eloquent. The verse actually means:

‘And it is forbidden for a population which we have decided to destroy that they shall not desist [from evil]’

In Arabic badi’ (grammar) the rules state that:

Past tense + Future Tense  = decision.

Here Allah (swt) uses the words ‘destroyed’ (past) and ‘shall not’ (future) and combined them to mean His decision for the future. It is strange but ironic that if we were to read the ayah on as superficial level it would not make sense. This is since it mentions destroyed in the past tense! So Allah (swt) is talking about a population which he has already destroyed and killed that they will not be able to desist from committing evil?? [1]

[1] Taken from “Tafsirul Kashaaf an Haqa’iqit Tanzil wa uyuni Aqwal” Surah Anbiyah, Imam Zamakhsari & http://www.rennaisance.pk

7 example :Surah 3 Verse 83 (Preposing)

أَفَغَيْرَ دِينِ اللَّهِ يَبْغُونَ وَلَهُ أَسْلَمَ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ طَوْعًا وَكَرْهًا وَإِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ
“And whosoever turns
aside thereafter those are
the evildoers, and do they
seek another religion than
God’s”
[Qur’an 3:83]

This verse is eloquent as it uses two ways to emphasise the meaning of disapproval of wrongdoing.  Firstly, the normal word order is changed:  this shows emphasis. Normally the order should be:

“and do they seek another religion than God’s”.

[nominative + accusative]

BUT Allah (swt) changes it to

“Another religion than God’s do they seek” [accusative + nominative]

This emphasises disapproval of what they did since it emphasises that they have sought another religion.  Putting this first (the accusative) is called taqdeem.

Secondly, the word ‘afa’ is used at the beginning of the ayah. This in Arabic grammar connects it with the last sentence. Since the last sentence was talking about evil doers it adds the meaning of evil and wrong doing. ‘afa’ is called  a interrogative particle. [1] [1] Taken from “Tafsir” Surah 3, Imam Baydawi & “Chrestomathia Baidawiana: the Commentray of e-Baidawi on Surah III”, p57

8 example :Surah 12 Verse 100 (Syntax)

وَرَفَعَ أَبَوَيْهِ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ وَخَرُّوا لَهُ سُجَّدًا

“And he raised his parents
high on the throne and they
fell down in prostration
before him”
[Qur’an 12:100]

This verse eloquently conveys the extra meaning in a small amount of words by using perfect word arrangement. This is since the actual sequence of events what occurred was:

(1)Yusuf (as) parents first meet Yusuf and fall in prostration to him (out of respect).
(2) Yusuf (As) then raises them up from being on the floor. the raising of his parents from when they prostrated on the ground.

So the actual sequence that happened was 1st prostration, 2nd being raised. However, Allah (swt) reverses this in the word order. He (swt) first mentions the raising of his parents and then the fact that they prostrated. This according to laws of semantics (ma’ani) means the raising is more important than the prostration. This is perfect to convey the meaning that they were honoured by Yusuf without mentioning it explicitly. This is in pure conformity with the requirement of the context

Position of words and affects the meaning. Therefore in Arabic one can give the meaning that a particular thing is important without having to say it explicitly.  Therefore switching and changing the subject (musnad ‘ilayhi) and predicate (musnad) can affect the meaning. Importance is given to the first verb or noun mentioned. When the normal arrangement is changed this is called preposing (tadeem) and postposing (taqdeem).

In this ayah preposing (taqdeem) is used. The syntax (word arrangement) is perfect so to carry an extra meaning of honour.[1] [1] Taken from “Tafsir” Surah 12, Imam Baydawi & Badawi’s Commentary on Surah 12”, A.F.L Beeston, p49.

9 example : Surah 6 Verse 100 (Syntax)

وَجَعَلُوا لِلَّهِ شُرَكَاءَ الْجِنَّ

“and they ascribe to Allah,
as associates,
the Jinn”
[Qur’an 6:100]

“It is clear that the placing of the word ‘associates’ (shuraka) before ‘the jinn’, has a fascination, beauty and majesty which cannot be achieved if the ‘associates’ is placed after ‘the jinn’. The reason for this is that placing of ‘the associates’ first conveys a majestic meaning and has a noble implication not possible otherwise.

Although the general meaning is that they have ascribed to Allah the Jinn as associates, and worshipped them as they worshipped Him, and although this can be conveyed by both structures, the one placing ‘the associates’ before and the other after ‘the jinn’, the former structure conveys this and another meaning which is that Allah should not have been ascribed any associate, neither the jinn nor anyone else.

The other structure cannot convey this admonition, but only states the face that they worshipped both Allah and the jinn… When you comprehend the nobility of the structure and the meaning it conveys, you realize the majesty and importance of construction… The meaning it conveys by the shift in word order would otherwise have needed an additional expression to convey it, and even then its majesty, nobility and impact on the psyche would not have been produced.”[1] [1] Al-Jurjani’s Theory of Poetic Imagery, k Abu Deeb, p32, Taken from ‘Dala’il al Ijaz’, Imam Jurjani p222-223

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