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Quranic Terminology: Better

Quranic Terminology: Better


Was published in Arabic in October 30, 2015

Translated by Ahmed Fathy


1- We do not say that the Arabic language is a changeable organic living creature; rather, the "Arab tongue" is a changeable organic living creature. As the Quran has been revealed in Arabic, it retains its own terminology that differs from the changeable elements and features and traits of the progress of Arabic dialects in every geographical localities and historical stages. We still have the traditional classical Arabic as a sort of lingua franca, but dialects of Arabic from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean differ a great deal now and in the past. They differ to the extent that sometimes Arabs do not understand one another when speaking in dialects and idiolects! Yet, all Arabs understand the Quranic variety Arabic since 14 centuries ago and until now. The Quranic variety of Arabic is both simple and deep and rich in meanings.

2- Dialects of vernacular Arabic sometimes vary within the boundaries of one country; and they differ certainly from the Quranic variety of Arabic. This Quranic variety differs as well from the modern standard Arabic and classical Arabic.

3- Accordingly, the term ''better'' in the Quranic context has two usages: the comparative usage and the usage that denotes the betterment in one's endeavor or efforts.


Firstly: the comparative usage:

 In English, we have both the comparative and the superlative forms: (good, better than, and the best). In Arabic, there are no superlative forms; we have only the comparative form. That is why the Quranic term ''better'' is used to denote both the comparative and the superlative usages, understood and differentiated from each other within the Quranic context. Let us reflect on the following examples.

1- "Better than" in the comparative sense: to compare between two items:

1/1: to compare between repeating the salutations or greetings in the same manner or by a better greeting form: "When you are greeted with a greeting, respond with a better greeting, or return it…" (4:86). The Salafist/Wahabi creed, opposite to true Islam in the Quran, prohibits its followers from greeting non-Muslims, especially Christians, and it prohibits responding to anyone who does not greet them in the classical Arabic terms: (Assalamo Alaikum!) i.e. pax vobiscum / peace be upon you! Salafists/Wahabis look at one angrily if one greets them by saying, for instance, Bonjour! / Good morning! The Salafist attitude of the Wahabis is wrong and runs contrary to 4:86; we can return the greetings of anyone of any creed, or lacking it, in any language, gesture, manner…etc. as we please by either returning it as it is or in a manner better that the greeting addressed to us, according to 4:86.

1/2: in the following verse, "When Our clear revelations are recited to them, those who disbelieve say to those who believe, "Which of the two parties is better in position, and superior in influence?" How many a generation have We destroyed before them, who surpassed them in better riches and splendor?" (19:73-74), we see that non-believers in every era assume that they are better than believers, and that God has destroyed non-believers before them who were their betters in terms of appearance and riches.

1/3: God asserts in the Quran that inhabitants of Paradise are better than the rest of humanity: "The inhabitants of Paradise on that Day will be better lodged, and more fairly accommodated." (25:24).

1/4: We see from the following verse that the heavenly reward for inhabitants of the Paradise is better than their good deeds in this transient life: "Whoever comes up with a good deed will have ten times its like…" (6:160). Other similar examples are the following verses. "…That God may reward them in a manner better than their deeds." (9:121), "God will reward them in a manner better than what they did …" (24:38), "…We will reward them in a better manner than what they used to do." (29:7), "God will acquit them of the worst of their deeds, and will reward them in a manner better than what they used to do." (39:35), and "Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant them a good life, and We will reward them in a manner better than what they used to do " (16:97).

2- "Better" in Arabic in the superlative sense (the Best) in relation to God the Almighty and religion, judgment, the Quran itself, and all issues related to the Quran:

2/1: As for God's religion: "And who is better in religion than he who submits himself wholly to God, and is a doer of good, and follows the faith of Abraham the Monotheist?..." (4:125).

2/2: As for God's judgment: "Is it the laws of the time of ignorance that they desire? Who is better than God in judgment for people who are certain?" (5:50).

2/3: As for God's divine books: "Then We gave Moses the Scripture, perfect for the righteous, and explaining everything in the better way…" (6:154), "We narrate to you the better, accurate history, by revealing to you this Quran…" (12:3), "Whatever argument they come to you with, We provide you with the truth, and a better exposition." (25:33), "God has sent down the better narration: a Scripture consistent and paired…" (39:23), and "God's coloring. And who gives better coloring than God? "And we are devoted to Him."" (2:138).

2/4: God the Almighty alone is the Creator; He has created the universe/ the entire existence out of noting, with no prior example to follow. Human beings create things using matter created first by God. That is why there is the human creator and the Divine Creator; the Quran describes God as the Best Creator. In the Levant, in ancient Phoenician civilization, the worshipped idol was called Baal. From the name Baal, they derive the name of the Lebanese city Baalbek and the name of the Carthaginian leader Hannibal, whose name in Phoenician language is Hanna-Baal. God has sent a prophet called Elias to the worshippers of the idol/deity Baal: "Do you call on Baal, and forsake the Best of Creators?" (37:125), so, God is the Best Creator: "…Most Blessed is God, the Best of Creators." (23:14).

3- "Better" in the relative sense of human beings' application and obedience of the sharia of Allah in the Quran:

3/1: The real test in a believer's life is sharia application and obedience of divine commands. Such divine commands are absolute, but they are applied within the dimensions/levels of the human being and the spatial/temporal conditions. Hence, we perceive the relativity of the application of the absolute divine commands by human beings. For instance, we find in the following verse, "O you who believe! Obey God and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you dispute over anything, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you believe in God and the Last Day. That is best, and a most excellent determination." (4:59) that we are to consult the Quran in everything to settle disputes as the best policy to follow in one's life. This command is applied relatively by human beings who believe in the Quran. That is why we find in the same verse the phrase: "… if you believe in God and the Last Day…"; faith in God and in the Day of Judgment might increase and decrease in stages of one's life. This is a changeable factor, not a stable one; it is a variable that affects the relativity of application of divine commands. See as well: 17:35, 6:152, and 17:34.   

3/2: According to this relativity in applying God's commands, as well as the degree of obedience and faith, the inhabitants of eternal Paradise will be subdivided into two categories: see Chapter 56 in the Quran. The forerunners are nearer and better than those on the Right, who in their turn better than the inhabitants of Eternal Hell. Hence, we can now contemplate the following verses: "It is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days-and His Throne was upon the waters-in order to test you-which of you is best in conduct..." (11:7), "We made what is upon the earth an ornament for it, to test them as to which of them is best in conduct." (18:7), and "He who created death and life-to test you-as to which of you is better in conduct…" (67:2). By testing human beings in transient life, those who did best deeds will be shown their reward as a result in the Afterlife.

3/3: Hence, the divine command in the Quran tells believers to do their best as much as they can so that they have the best possible reward in the afterlife as a result of their good deeds. We now perceive the meaning in the divine command to follow the best we understand in His book, the Quran. God says in the Quran about the Torah of Moses: "And We inscribed for him in the Tablets all kinds of enlightenments, and decisive explanation of all things." Hold fast to them, and exhort your people to adopt the best of them. I will show you the fate of the sinners."" (7:145). God says about the Quran: "Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best of it. These are they whom God has guided. These are they who possess intellect." (39:18) and "And follow the best of what was revealed to you from your Lord, before the punishment comes upon you suddenly, while you are unaware." (39:55).

3/4: In the above-mentioned lines, we perceive the greatness of the moral side of Islam; for instance, in the field of calling to God and Islam, the Quran alone, one has to follow the verses: "Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good advice, and debate with them in the most dignified manner." (16:125) and "And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in the best manner possible, except those who do wrong among them. …" (29:46), as for those who do wrong among them, Muslims are to avoid them and never argue with them. In all cases, a true believer should speak justly in the best manner: "Tell My servants to say what is best…" (17:53).

3/5: Moral superiority in Islamic laws in the Quran shows itself when believers are wronged, harmed, and dealt with in an unjust manner. Forgiving is better than meted out justice; justice is retribution; but forgiveness is to forgive wrongdoers in cases when one can exact revenge on them: "The repayment of a bad action is one equivalent to it. But whoever pardons and makes reconciliation, his reward lies with God. He does not love the unjust" (42:40). Forgiving is better than exacting revenge. "Repel evil by what is better. We are aware of what they describe." (23:96). Thus, one is addressing the good side of the foe/ aggressor. Thus, conscience and feelings of being ashamed of oneself will be awakened. All of us contain evil and good tendencies in our brains. "And who is better in speech than someone who calls to God, and acts with integrity, and says, "I am of those who submit"? Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with good, and the person who was your enemy becomes like an intimate friend." (41:33-34). This goes against Wahabi/Salafist terror and legalizing the bloodshed of foes.

Secondly:  Better in the sense of doing good deeds:

1-  God has created everything in the best way: "He who perfected everything He created, and originated the creation of man from clay." (32:7), "…And He designed you, and designed you well; and He provided you with the good things…" (40:64), and "We created man in the best design. " (95:4).

2- People should so the best deeds they could and afford: "God commands justice, and goodness, and generosity towards relatives. And He forbids immorality, and injustice, and oppression. He advises you, so that you may take heed. " (16:90).

3- One of the best good deeds is spending money for God's sake: "And spend in the cause of God, and do not throw yourselves with your own hands into ruin, and be charitable. God loves the charitable. "(2:195) and "…And be charitable, as God has been charitable to you..." (28:77).

4- God will reward the charitable persons in a better way here in this life as well as in the Afterlife: "…For the virtuous and the pious among them is a great reward." (3:172), "…and be charitable. God loves the charitable." (2:195), "…obey, and believe, and do good deeds, then maintain piety and faith, then remain righteous and charitable. God loves the charitable. " (5:93), "For those who have done good is goodness, and more. Neither gloom nor shame will come over their faces. These are the inhabitants of Paradise, abiding therein forever. " (10:26), "And it will be said to those who maintained piety, "What has your Lord revealed?" They will say, "Goodness." To those who do good in this world is goodness, and the Home of the Hereafter is even better. How wonderful is the residence of the pious." (16:30), "Say, "O My devotees who have believed, keep your duty to your Lord. For those who do good in this world, is goodness. And God's earth is vast. The steadfast will be paid their wages in full, without reckoning."" (39:10), and "As for those who believe and lead a righteous life-We will not waste the reward of those who work righteousness." (18:30). Thus, those who do good, do it for their own sake and reward in this life and in the Afterlife: " If you work righteousness, you work righteousness for yourselves; and if you commit evil, you do so against yourselves…"(17:7). Joseph has done a good deed when he refused the temptation of the Potiphar's wife: "…God forbid! He is my Lord. He has given me a good home. …" (12:23), and as a result, he held the command of all Egypt and rose in high stature. He said to his father Jacob: "And he elevated his parents on the throne, and they fell prostrate before him. He said, "Father, this is the fulfillment of my vision of long ago. My Lord has made it come true. He has blessed me, when he released me from prison, and brought you out of the wilderness, after the devil had sown conflict between me and my brothers. My Lord is Most Kind towards whomever He wills. He is the All-knowing, the Most Wise." (12:100). God says nothing but the Truth.            

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