BY DR. OVAMIR ANJUM
What reasons can Muslims give for believing that the Quran is the words of God? in Part 1 We address points regarding both its content and its language. We continue in Part 2, here addressing its lingual characteristics.
9. Its Preeminence over Literature
One cannot do justice to this characteristic of the Quran in a brief article, especially in a language other than Arabic. Professor Michael Sells, in his book Approaching the Quran: The Early Revelations, nonetheless does very well in presenting some of this literary excellence of the Quran in English; I refer the readers to that discussion.
10. Its Rhetorical Excellence and Immaculate Choice of Words
Muslim scholars have written tomes and spent lives studying the linguistic beauty and precision of the Quran. Mufti Taqi Usmani lists a few of these studies in his book (An Approach to the Quranic Sciences). An example is the Quranic choice of the word for ‘death.’ While the Arabic language had at least two dozen words for death prior to Islam, the choice of the Quran to use ‘mawt’ or ‘tawaffi,’ for instance, is amazingly accurate and profound in terms of concept. Most of these synonyms for death had the connotation of complete extinction, while the Quranic choices had the connotation of passing into a different stage of existence.
Similarly, some words in Arabic that had coarse sounds have been amazingly avoided by the Quran while only the best and most harmonious words have been used. Some words that are considered in harmonious and rough by the Arabs however were used in such a perfect way as to indicate the harshness of the action itself without compromising the beauty of expression: anyone familiar with the Arabic language who has read Surat Al-Najm (53) is taken by the power of the word ḍiza (unjust) in verses 21-22, even though, by itself, this word can sound quite rough.
11. Its Edifying Repetition
Allah has revealed the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book that is mutashabih (consistent within itself, yet repeating its teaching in various aspects): the skins of those who fear their Lord tremble thereat; then their skins and their hearts do soften to the celebration of Allah’s praises. Such is the guidance of Allah. He guides therewith whom He pleases, but such as Allah leaves to stray, can have none to guide. [Surat Al-Zumar, 39:23]
Anyone who knows common Arabic writing knows the Arabs like to repeat words for their own sake—to complete a rhyme or to emphasize a point. Modern English, on the other hand, considers repetition and verbosity in eloquent and clumsy. The repetition in the Quran is exquisitely measured and perfectly used. Never are any words used for their own sake without reference to the whole expression—they always convey a precise and unique sense that no other word would. The commonly repeated words, Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim, both refer to ‘mercy,’ but in different senses. While scholars have written much about the connotation of the two, no able Arabic speaker fails to notice the ‘raging storm of mercy’ in Al-Rahman, and ‘the peacefully flowing river of mercy’ in Al-Rahim.
Another aspect of repetition in the Quran is in the stories. The stories are returned to, but so aptly that only that aspect of the story relevant to the point at hand is evoked, while the rest of the story is left out, and can be recalled by the knowledgeable reader who wishes to explore it in further depth. The story of the creation of Adam, for instance, is mentioned in at least seven different places, but each time with a different emphasis. In Surat Al-Baqarah (2), the focus is on the purpose of creation, while in Al-A’raf (7), the emphasis falls on the deceptiveness of Satan and the human desires he manipulates. In Surat Ta Ha (20), the focus is on Adam’s mistake as an indication of human weakness and forgetfulness and God’s complete and unconditional forgiveness of human errors upon one’s repentance.
Yet another advantage of repetition in the Quran is that one can understand the basic message of the Quran no matter which page one opens to and begins to read. This is precisely what reminder and remembrance mean: the recalling of an image to mind that has been previously stored in it for the sake of deeper reflection and contemplation. The Quran masterfully creates an image, so to speak, of the ultimate truth, and of various concepts and stories that point to that truth, and then evokes them again and again to recall and emphasize their different aspects. This myriad of connections and associations hidden in its repetitions is one of the reasons why reading the Quran with understanding and reflection is never boring and unrewarding. Our minds grasp something new each time we read the same passages afresh.
12. Its Narration of Stories
We do relate unto thee the most beautiful of stories, in that We reveal to thee this (portion of the) Quran: Before this, thou too was among those who knew it not. [Surah Yusuf, 12:3]
Malik Bennabi in his book The Quranic Phenomenon ably demonstrates through a careful juxtaposition of the Quranic and Biblical narratives of the same story, that of Yusuf (Joseph), how the telling of a story by God is so different from the human rendering.
The eyes of the Quranic narrative are always on a timeless message, an essence underneath the surface—an essence that only God can so authoritatively recognize. The focus of Quranic stories is not enumeration of historical facts, for there are enough ‘facts’ littering our minds at any given moment. What matters is the eternal, universal essence underneath the facts— in other words, the meaning of those facts.
13. Its Recitation— Miraculous, Musical, and Healing
The Quran has said that upon its recitation,
…the skins of those who fear their Lord tremble thereat; then their skins and their hearts do soften to the celebration of Allah’s praises. [Surat Al-Zumar, 39:23]
Dr. Ahmed Elkadi of Panama City, Florida wished to investigate this reaction. In order to observe the effect of the Qur’anic recitation on the subjects, he employed specialized computers connected to their bodies that measured heartbeat, blood pressure, blood viscosity, skin temperature and muscle conductivity. In all such settings, the soothing effect of the Noble Quran was confirmed in 97% of the experiments. This effect was observed as physiological changes like spontaneous lowering of muscle tension. These effects were not seen even when another Arabic text was recited. The details of these results were presented in the seventeenth annual convention of the Society of Islamic Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri in August 1984.
All of the above characteristics, which represent only a small and incomplete selection of what could be said about the Noble Book of God, are sufficient to make us understand the challenge of inimitability (i’jâz) that the Quran poses to all its detractors and enemies.
1. Gary Miller. For a wonderful article by Gary Miller on the prophesies, logic and scientific allusions in the Quran, seehttp://http://www.muhammad.net/quran/amazingQuran.htm. For another brief article, see http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/scislam.html
2. Michael Sells, Approaching the Quran, The Early Revelations, 1999
3. Al-Suyuti, Al-itqân and Al-Baqillani,I’jâz al-Quran
4. Mufti Taqi Usmani, An Approach to the Quranic Sciences, 2007.