By Dr. B=Nabil A Haroon
Source : Qu’ran, The Miracle of Islam Chapter 1
1/4 Purpose of Using Various Speech Styles in the Qur’an
As was mentioned previously, speech styles in the Qur’an do not vary or change haphazardly. On the contrary, this variation occurs in precision according to the context, the intended meaning, the situation, the topic and the addressees, with what befits the Sublimity of Lordship of Allah (SWT) and suits the state and degree of the addressee/addressees.
- Direct speech from Allah(SWT) using the pronouns, “I”, the royal “We”,
“My” and the royal “Our”:
- Referring to Allah’s blessings upon His creations:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And indeed We have already honored the Seeds (Or: sons) of Adam and carried them on land and sea, (Literally: in the land the sea) and provided them of the good (things), and graced them over many of whom We created with marked graciousness” (TMQ, 17:70).
- Referring to a decisive command:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And We decreed for Seeds (Or: Sons) of Israel) in the Book: “Indeed you will definitely corrupt in the earth twice, and indeed you will definitely (become) exalted a great exaltation” (TMQ, 17:4).
- Referring to a firm judgment:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “On that account We prescribed for the Seeds (Or: sons) of Israel) that whoever kills a self-other than for (killing another) self or (Literally: nor) for corruption in the earth-then it will be as if he had killed mankind altogether; and whoever gives life to it, (i.e., a self) then it will be as if he had given life to mankind altogether…” (TMQ, 5:32).
- Referring to a powerful promise:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Surely We indeed vindicate Our Messengers and the ones who have believed in the present life (Literally: lowly life, i.e., the life of this world) and upon the Day when the (noble) Witnesses rise up …” (TMQ, 40:51).
- Referring to a foreboding admonition:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And when We will to cause a town to perish, We command its (people) luxurious (life), then they committed immorality therein; so the Word came true against it, (and) then We destroyed it an utter destruction” (TMQ, 17:16).
- Referring to Allah’s absolute power in creation and resurrection:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Surely We, Ever We, give life and make to die, and to Us is the Destiny” (TMQ, 50:43).
- Speech from Allah(SWT) referring to Himself while using the 3rd person pronoun “He”, which is usually used in reference to His 99 Most Beautiful Names and in reminding us of His blessings and our duties towards Him:
Allah says what can be translated as, “Allah. There is no god except He, The Ever-Living, The Superb Upright Sustainer. Slumber does not overtake Him, nor sleep; to Him (belongs) whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Who is there that intercedes for His Providence except by His Permission? He knows whatever is in front of them (Literally: between their hands) and whatever is behind them, and they do not encompass anything of His Knowledge except whatever He has decided. His Chair embraces the heavens and the earth; the preserving of them (Literally: them both) does not tire Him; and He is The Ever-Exalted, The Ever-Magnificent” (TMQ, 2:255).
“The All-Merciful, He taught the Qur’an, He created man, He has taught him distinct (Literally: evident (demonstration) (speech)” (TMQ, 55:1-4).
“He is Allah, (other than Whom) there is no god except He. He is The Knower of the Unseen and the Witnessed. He is The All-Merciful, The Ever-Merciful” (TMQ, 59:22).
“Surely Allah has purchased from the believers their selves and their riches for (the reward) that the Garden will be theirs; they fight in the way of Allah; so they kill, and are killed…” (TMQ, 9:111).
“And He has brought you of all you asked Him; and in case you number the favor (s) of Allah, you (cannot) enumerate them. Surely man is indeed constantly unjust, most disbelieving” (TMQ, 14:34).
“Surely We, Ever We, have been sending down the Remembrance, and surely We are indeed Preservers of it” (TMQ, 15:9).
“If We had sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, indeed you would have seen it submissive, sundered apart out of apprehension of Allah; and those similitudes We strike for mankind, that possibly they would meditate” (TMQ, 59:21).
Notice in the above ayahs – and in many others – that when Allah (SWT) refers to His attributes, blessings and the wonders of His omnipotence, He never says “I am so and so” or “I did so and so”. This is because using “I” particularly in such contexts usually diminishes the value of the speaker. On the contrary, using “He” – or the royal “We” – maintains the distance in status and grandeur between Allah and His creation, as indeed befits the Sublimity of His Lordship. If you attempt to turn all the pronouns in the above ayahs into the first person “I”, you will realize what I mean here.
- Speech from Allah(SWT) addressing the Prophet (SAWS):
Direct speech to the Prophet (SAWS):
- Reminding him (SAWS) of Allah’s blessings and omnipotence:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “O you Prophet, why do you prohibit what Allah has made lawful to you, seeking the complete satisfaction of your spouses? And Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.” (TMQ, 66:1).
“Do you (i.e., the Prophet) not know that Allah has the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and that in no way do you (i.e., the believers) have, apart from Allah, either a constant patron or a constant vindicator” (TMQ, 2:107).
- Reminding him (SAWS) of the unseen and the hereafter:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And who is more unjust than he who has fabricated against Allah a lie, or has said, “To me it has been revealed” and nothing has been revealed to him, and who has said, “I will send down the like of what Allah has sent down.” And if you could see, as the unjust (people) are in the perplexities of death and the Angels are stretching out their hands. “Get yourselves out! Today you are recompensed with the torment of degradation for what you were saying against Allah other than the truth, and you used to wax proud against His signs” (TMQ, 6:93).
- Determining the Prophet’s (SAWS) role:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “O you Prophet, surely We have sent you as a witness, and a bearer of good tidings, and a constant warner …” (TMQ, 33:45).
- Supporting and encouraging him(SAWS):
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “In no way has your Lord disregarded you, and in no way has He disfavored you, And indeed the Hereafter will be more charitable (i.e., better) for you than the First (i.e., the present life), And indeed your Lord will eventually give you so that you will be satisfied” (TMQ, 93:3-5).
- Honoring him(SAWS):
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “How then will it be when We cause to come from every nation a witness and cause you to come as a witness against these?” (TMQ, 4:41).
- Reminding him(SAWS) of Allah’s blessings upon him.
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Have We not expanded your breast for you, and laid aside from you your encumbrance which weighed down your back, and did We not raise for you your remembrance?” (TMQ, 94: 1-4).
- Giving the Prophet(SAWS) a personal command:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “O you Prophet, why do you prohibit what Allah has made lawful to you, seeking the complete satisfaction of your spouses? And Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful” (TMQ, 66:1).
- Giving a command to all the believers through him (SAWS):
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “O you Prophet, when you divorce women, then divorce them at their (fixed) spell, and enumerate the (fixed) spell, and be pious to Allah, your Lord. Do not send (Literally: drive) them out of their houses, nor should they go out, except (when) they come up with a demonstrably evident obscenity…” (TMQ, 65:1).
- Answering the queries of the believers through him(SAWS):
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “They ask you what (things) they should expend, Say, “Whatever charity you expend is for parents and nearest kin, and orphans, and the indigent, and the wayfarer; and whatever charity you perform, then surely Allah is Ever-Knowing of it” (TMQ, 2:215).
- Recording certain incidents or reminding him(SAWS) of them:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And (remember) as you went forth early from your family to locate the believers in their positions (Literally: seats) for fighting; (The reference is to the Battle of’ Uhud) and Allah is Ever-Hearing, Ever-Knowing” (TMQ, 3:121).
- Divulging the perversity of the disbelievers and their deception:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And the Jews will never be satisfied with you, neither will the Nasara (i.e., the Christians) till you (closely) follow their creed. Say, “Surely the guidance of Allah is the Guidance.” And indeed in case you ever (closely) follow their prejudices, after the (share of) knowledge that has come to you, in no way will you have from Allah either a constant Patron or a ready Vindicator” (TMQ, 2:120)
l. Refuting the falsehoods of the disbelievers:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “They indeed have already disbelieved who say, “Surely Allah, He is the Masîh, son of Maryam.” (The Missiah son of Mary) Say, “Who then (can) avail (Literally: possess) anything against Allah in case He wills to cause the Masîh son of Maryam to perish, and his mother, and whoever is in the earth altogether? And to Allah belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them. He creates whatever He decides. And Allah is Ever-Determiner over everything” (TMQ, 5:17).
- Guiding us through him(SAWS) how to deal with the disbelievers:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “So, whoever argues with you concerning him, (Or: it, i.e., the truth) even after (such) knowledge as has come to you, then say, “Come! We should call our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves; thereafter we should imprecate, (and) so lay (Literally: make) the curse of Allah on the liars” (TMQ, 3:61).
- Forbidding certain behavior:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Do not definitely extend forth your eyes to what We have given pairs of them to enjoy; and be not grieved for them, and lower your wing to the believers” (TMQ, 15:88).
From the previous ayahs, and as was explained in the second chapter “The Messenger and The Revelation”, it is clear that the Prophet (SAWS) – regarding the Qur’anic Revelation – is no more than a receiver and a messenger who delivers whatever is revealed to him honestly to the people. He (SAWS) is in no way related to the formulation of the Qur’an, and this can be perceived from the kind of speech addressed to him (SAWS).
Indeed, there are many other speech styles used in the Qur’an, but they are not our concern in this chapter. For example, there are speeches of narrative nature, references to Qur’anic stories, incidents, facts, miracles, maxims, juristic laws, promises, admonitions, etc.
1/5 Shifting between Speech Styles in the Qur’an
The Qur’an is different from any regular speech due to its continuous variation and change in style in addressing, which is based upon the context varying from one ayah to to the next, or even within the same ayah. This is known as ‘style shift’ in the Qur’an.
Style shift is one of the strongest kinds of literary eloquence. It also attracts the reader’s attention successfully, and happens to be one of the strongest – if not in fact the strongest – proof of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an.
Style shift in the Qur’an are of different types; we are mainly concerned here with only five:
- Shifting from the absentee to the speaker:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And when the Saying befalls them, We will bring out for them from the earth a beast that will speak to them that mankind had no certitude in Our signs” (TMQ, 27:82).
“And the ones who emigrated in (the cause of) Allah even after they were done an injustice, indeed We will definitely locate them in the present life (Literally: the lowly life, i.e., the life of this world) a fair (location), and indeed the reward of the Hereafter is greater, if they did (only) know” (TMQ, 16:41).
“Whoever is willing (to gain) the tillage of Hereafter, We will give him increase in his tillage; and whoever is willing to (gain) the tillage of the present (life), (Literally: the lowly “life”, i.e., the life of this world) We will bring him of it, and in no way will he have in the Hereafter any assignment. ” (TMQ, 42:20).
- Shifting from the speaker to the absentee:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And thus We have sent it down supremely evident signs, and for that Allah guides whomever He wills” (TMQ, 22:16).
“Then We took each one for his guilty (deed); so of them was he on whom We sent (a squall of) gravel and (some) whom the Shout took (away), and of them was he who was caved in (into) the earth, and some We drowned. And in no way, indeed, did Allah do (any) injustice to them, but they did injustice to themselves” (TMQ, 29:40).
- Shifting from the speaker to addressing the Prophet(SAWS):
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “We know best whatever they say; and in no way are you a potentate over them. So remind by the Qur’an him who fears (My) threat” (TMQ, 50:45).
“And (this is) a Qur’an; We have distinctly separated (its ayahs) that you may read it to man-kind staidly, (Or: at intervals) and We have been sending it down successively (i.e., by successive revelation on different occasions)” (TMQ, 17:106).
- Shifting from addressing the Prophet(SAWS) to the speaker:
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And among them are they who listen to you, and We set (Literally: make) upon their hearts lids, (so) they do not comprehend it…” (TMQ, 6:25).
“Repel the odious (act) with that which is fairest. We, Ever We, know best whatever they describe” (TMQ, 23:96).
- Shifting from the absentee to addressing the Prophet(SAWS):
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “So Supremely Exalted be Allah, The True King! And do not hasten with the Qur’an before its revelation is accomplished to you, and say, “Lord! Increase me in knowledge” (TMQ, 20:114).
“And the ones who have disbelieved have said, “If only the Qur’an had been sent down upon him as one complete whole.” Thus, that We may make firm your heart-sight thereby, and We have recited it in a (distinct) recitation” (TMQ, 25:32).
All the above ayahs are examples of many others in the Qur’an The Qur’an uses this style shift method in its every single page,– if not within every few ayahs of the same page. Such method is a perfect proof of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. Moreover, it provides the Qur’anic language with the vividness needed to attract the reader. There is no question about this since Allah (SWT), The Creator of the whole uniayah, is The One Who made it.
In conclusion, the Qur’an cannot be a speech of mankind. Therefore, any careful and analytical reader of the Qur’an cannot but submit to the following conclusions regarding the source of the Qur’an:
- It is completely independent from the Prophet(SAWS), who was only a receiver of the Qur’anic revelations and a messenger to the people.
- It is independent from all mankind, who are all nothing but addressees.
- It comes from The Sublime, Who always uses the kind of speech that befits His Sublimity and Glory.
- It comes from The Ever-Wise, The All-Knowing, Who knows the nature and the state of the addressees (i.e. His creations), and knows the kind of speech that influences them and thus guides them to the right path.
With some reflection and careful attention to how the Qur’anic speech styles change and shift from one context to another, any reader of the Qur’an easily becomes certain that the Qur’an is the words of Allah (SWT) to all mankind, without any kind of human interference or distortion. No human can ever come up with a speech as eloquent as that of the Qur’an.
The entire Qur’an is miraculous in all its aspects. However, the speech style adopted in the Qur’an is considered one of its most dominant miracles, since no human can overcome his limited intellectual and emotional capabilities to try address mankind in such an eloquent speech that influences in such a magnificent way. This is an existing challenge for mankind until the Day of Judgment.
To become certain that the Qur’an is the words of Allah (SWT), the reader does not need to be professional in the Arabic grammar or the science of eloquence. I believe that even the non-Arabs who read the translated Qur’an – only if translated accurately – will easily perceive that the Addresser in the Qur’an is far beyond all mankind.
Perhaps this realization was the main motive that made the first generations of Arabs in the early Islamic period embrace this religion, upon listening to just a few ayahs of the Qur’an. Through their innate language skills and intuition, they realized that those words could never be that of a human and that they exceed mankind’s limited disposition and innate literacy. It is not, however, simply a matter of astonishment at the glory of the Qur’anic text It is rather the light of faith that grew deeper in their hearts and led them to certainty, which made them defy the whole world and work hard for Jannah (paradise) without even having seen it.