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Thus We have revealed this [Qur'an] to you in your own tongue
Principles of understanding the Quran

                         Principles of understanding the Qur’an

The Qur'an has been revealed in the clear Arabic spoken in Makkah. It was spoken in the age of ignorance by the tribe of Quraysh. No doubt the Almighty has endowed it with inimitable eloquence and articulacy in the Qur'an, yet as far as its substance is concerned, it is no different from the one spoken by messenger of God and which in those times was the tongue of the people of Makkah: translated as:
“Thus We have revealed this (Qur'an) to you in your own tongue so that they may take heed. ” (44:58)
“Thus We have revealed to you the Qur'an in your own tongue that you may thereby proclaim good tidings to the upright and give warning to a contentious nation. ” (19:97)


Consequently, a correct understanding of this book is dependent on the correct knowledge and true appreciation of this language. It is essential that a person who wants to reflect on the Qur'an and attempts to interpret and explain it should be a very fairly knowledgeable of this language. He should also be adept in appreciating its styles and linguistic features so that at least the language is not an impediment to him in understanding the Qur'an.


An important fact about the language of the Qur'an which every student of this divine book should be well aware of is that its Arabic is not the Arabic in which poets like Hariri and Mutanabbi composed their poetry nor is it the Arabic in which Zamakhshari and Razi wrote their commentaries on the Qur'an.

It is also not the Arabic of the newspapers which are published in current times in Arab countries nor is it the Arabic prose and poetry written by their literati of today. No doubt, all this is Arabic too; however, it is very different from the Arabic of the Qur'an which can rightly be termed as clear Arabic.

Thus the difference in the vocabulary, style and construction of clear Arabic and the one spoken and written today is the same as the difference, for example, between the Urdu and Persian of Ghalib and Mir, and Sa'di and Khayam and the Urdu and Persian of the newspapers and journals of the Indian sub-continent and Iran. Similarly, this difference can be gauged if one compares the wide difference in the English of Shakespeare and Milton and the one written and spoken today in Britain for example.

It is thus an essential reality that not only does contemporary or medieval Arabic has no role in creating an appreciation of the language, this Arabic is in fact detrimental to this appreciation, and if one becomes totally involved in it he may end up losing his understanding of in the Qur'an.

 
Consequently, the very first thing which one a person must turn to in order to understand the language of the Qur'an is the Qur'an itself. No one can deny the fact that when it was revealed, the people of Makkah did dispute its divinity for a long time; however, no one was able to challenge its language. It said thaontinent and Iran. Similarly, this difference can be gauged if one compares the wide difference in the English of Shakespeare and Milton and the one written and spoken today in Britain for example.

It is thus an essential reality that not only does contemporary or medieval Arabic has no role in creating an appreciation of the language, this Arabic is in fact detrimental to this appreciation, and if one becomes totally involved in it he may end up losing his understanding of in the Qur'an.

 
Consequently, the very first thing which one a person must turn to in order to understand the language of the Qur'an is the Qur'an itself. No one can deny the fact that when it was revealed, the people of Makkah did dispute its divinity for a long time; however, no one was able to challenge its language. It said that it was not the work of a non-Arab because it was revealed in the most articulate Arabic. It declared itself to be a miracle of language and literature and that of lucidity and eloquence and dared them to produce a surah (chapter) like it.

So much so, it challenged them to bring to their aid their literati, poets, soothsayers, orators and even their jinn, devils and deities. It is however an irrefutable reality that none among the Arabs could refute the magnificence of its language nor was it possible for any person to respond to this challenge: translated as:
“And if you doubt what We have revealed to Our servant, produce just one surah(chapter) like it, and for this call upon all your supporters except God if you are truthful.” (2:23)
“Tell them: "If men and jinn combined to produce a book like this Qur'an, they would be unable to do so even if they become helpers of one another." (17:88)


Moreover, this is also an established reality that this astounding miracle of language and literature has been transmitted to us without any change whatsoever. Thus, it is an acknowledged fact that the Qur'an is not only the final and ultimate authority in all matters of religion, it also represents the final criterion and standard for the language of its times.


Eloquence of Language The Qur'an has not merely been revealed in Arabic: it has been revealed in eloquent Arabic. The language is clear and cogent, and there is no vagueness in it; every word is unambiguous and every style adopted is known to its addressees. The Qur'an says: translated as:
“The faithful Spirit has brought it down into your heart (O Prophet)that you may become a warner (for people)in eloquent Arabic.” (26:193-195)

“In the form of an Arabic Qur'an, free from any ambiguity that they may save themselves from punishment.” (39:28)


This is an obvious reality about the Qur'an. If this premise is accepted, then it must be conceded that no word used or style adopted by the Qur'an is rare or unknown. Its words and styles are well known and conventionally understood by its addressees. No aspect of the language has any peculiarity or rarity in it. Consequently, while interpreting the Qur'an, the conventionally understood and known meanings of the words should be taken into consideration. Apart from them, no interpretation is acceptable.

Thus in the verses: 6:55, the meaning of the word can only be "stars". In 52:22, the word can only mean "desire". In 17:88, the word has only been used for "camel". The only meaning of the word in the verse 49:37"is eggs". In the verse 2:108, the word only means "sacrifice". They do not mean "plants", "recital", "clouds", "the hidden sheath of eggs" and "tying hands on the chest" respectively.


Similar is the case with declensions and styles adopted. Scholars of grammar and rhetoric have regarded many such aspects of the Qur'an as rare and as exceptions; however, the truth of the matter is that this conclusion is based on incomprehensive research. In recent times, the works of few pioneers have fully proven that the declensions and styles adopted by the Qur'an are all in fact well-known and conventionally understood by the Arabs.


Taking into consideration this principle is a requisite of the eloquence of the Qur'anic language, which as stated above, is mentioned in the Qur'an itself. No explanation of the Qur'an is acceptable while disregarding this principle.


Uniqueness of Style
The Qur'an has a unique style. It has the simplicity and continuity found in prose, yet it is not prose. It has the beat, rhythm and poise of poetry, yet it is not poetry. It is not the book we are usually acquainted with in which there are chapters and sections which deal with a specific topic or topics. The people of Arabia would sometimes call it as poetry and sometimes likened it to rhymed prose of the soothsayers, and it is this uncertainty of theirs which itself shows that they were not satisfied with what they said about it.

In reality, the Qur'an is a unique book as per its style. It has the flow of tumultuous torrents and the vigour of pounding seas waves. Its sound reasoning has many variations that cannot be emulated; topics are connected to one another with subtle harmony; it cites stories and anecdotes; the discourse returns to its central theme every now and then; verses which portray threat, intimidation and punishment are found in various styles; other verses depict sorrow and longing; emphatic expressions are another hallmark of its style; similarly, we find verses which express intense emotions of disgust, indifference and unconcern.

Instances which reflect warmth and affection are as warm and affectionate as dew drops and instances which reflect wrath and rage, are as fiery and compelling as thunder. The unique ways of address it contains simply enchants a reader to a state of trance. It is because of this unique and inimitable style that it has said about it: translated as:
“Had We brought down this Qur'an upon a mountain, (O Prophet) you would have seen it humble itself and break asunder for fear of God. And we mention these parables to these people that they may deliberate.” (59:21)

 
But what exactly is the genre of the Qur'an? What at best can be said as an answer to this question is that it resembles an oration. No doubt this is only a mere resemblance; it cannot be termed oratory in the strict sense of the word. However, it does come close to it, and on this basis the following things should remain in consideration before a student of the Qur'an:
First, in order to understand the Qur'an, its ambience should be studied; this means that the background, situation and the requisites be determined in which a surah was revealed. Nothing is required for this beyond deliberation on the Qur'an itself, and the light of the Qur'an itself suffices for this. When a person deliberates on the Qur'an, concentrates on each and every word of it, tries to understand the rhythm and beat of the words and the construction of the sentences, the occasions on which a discourse is uttered become fully clear. Such is the extent of this clarity that they become an evidence on themselves and no external argument is required for any corroboration.


The only correct way is to comprehend the background from indications and clues within the Qur'an. Once a person is able to ascertain the addressees of the discourse such that which among them are addressed directly and which indirectly; what is the phase whose circumstances the addressees are facing; what are the questions which have been raised by this phase whose answer is awaited by both friend and foe; what is the nature of the hostility by the enemies and what are the circumstances in which allies and friends find themselves in; what are various groups which have joined forces with the enemies while adopting various measures and tactics and what are the thoughts of the allies and associates, then the whole structure and sequence of the discourse shall become fully evident.

All these aspects speak of themselves within the drift of the discourse. Thus if they are ascertained through hard work, the whole sequence and arrangement of the Qur'an becomes fully evident and the effect of reading a surah (chapter) is the same as that of listening to an apt and timely oration of a great orator.

 
Second, the direction of address of the Qur'an should be ascertained at each place. The direction of address shifts a number of times in the Qur'an at very short intervals and sometimes even in a single verse. At one instant, Muslims would be addressees and at the next the mushrikun (polytheists) would become the addressees; similarly, the People of the Book would be addressed in a verse and all of a sudden the address would shift to the Muslims. A similar shift is experienced in singular and plural entities.

This change occurs both in the speaker and the spoken to. At one instant the speaker would be God and then suddenly Gabriel would assume the speaker's role. At another instant, the speaker would be Gabriel and the suddenly the discourse would emanate from the mouth of Muhammad (pbuh). In short, just as an orator shifts from one addressee to another by shift in his tone, facial expressions and words used, in a similar manner, the address in the Qur'an also changes rapidly.

Thus it is essential that this aspect must be given full consideration while interpreting and explaining the Qur'an. It should be ascertained whether the speaker for example is God, Gabriel, the Prophet (pbuh) or the people. Similarly, it should be determined that the spoken to is God, the Prophet (pbuh) or the people. Among the people, it must be ascertained if they are Muslims or Hypocrites or the People of the Book or the Idolaters among the Ishmaelites or if they are two or three among these or if all of them are spoken to.

Then there may be instances of ambiguity in address as well. Sometimes, a verse would apparently address the Prophet (pbuh); however, in reality the address would be directed at the Muslim ummah. Similarly, an apparent address to him would actually be directed at the leadership of the Quraysh or to the People of the Book. Examples of such addresses abound in the Qur'an. Thus it is essential that this differentiation be made with full caution, and it should be fully ascertained as to who is the actual addressee. Without this, the real purport of the Qur'an cannot be grasped.


Third, general and specific verses should be differentiated. There are many places in the Qur'an where the words are general; however, the context testifies with full certainty that something specific is meant. The Qur'an uses the word (people), but it does not refer to all the people of the world; and many a time they do not even refer to all the people of Arabia: the word refers to a group among them. It uses the expression (on all the religions), and it does not refer to all religions of the world; it refers to (polytheists) but they do not refer to all those who are guilty of polytheism. Similarly, the words (And from these People of the Book) do not refer to all the People of the Book of the world. It mentions the word (man) but it does not refer to mankind.

This then is a common style of the Qur'an, and if it is not taken into consideration while explaining and interpreting the Qur'an, then a person can end up misunderstanding the whole purport of the Qur'an. Thus it is of paramount importance that the interpretation of words of the Qur'an must always remain subservient to its context and usage.

 
The Final Authority
The Qur'an is a mizan (scale that tells good from evil) and a furqan (distinguisher between good and evil) on this earth and a muhaymin (guardian) over other divine scriptures: translated as:
“It is God who has revealed with truth the Book which is this scale (of justice).” (42:17)
In this verse, the letter waw ( ) is for explication, and thus the word mizan (scale) is actually used to connote al-kitab. The verse means that the Almighty has revealed the Qur'an which is a scale of justice meant to distinguish good from evil. It is the only scale that weighs everything else, and there is in no scale in which it can be weighed: translated as:
“Blessed be He who has revealed al-furqan to His servant that it may warn the whole world.” (25:1)


The Qur'an is also a furqan in the same sense, ie a book which the final and absolute verdict to distinguish truth from falsehood. This word also connotes the fact that this Book is the standard on which everything needs to be judged and is a decisive word on matters which relate to religion. Everyone must turn to it to resolve differences of opinion. Nothing can be a judge on it; it shall reign supreme in the dominion of religion and every person is bound not make it subservient to any other thing: translated as:
“And (O Prophet!) We have revealed to you the Book with the truth in confirmation of the Book before it, and standing as a guardian over it. Therefore, give judgement among men according to the guidance revealed by God and do not yield to their whims by swerving from the truth revealed to you.” (5:48)


Here the word used to connote the above sense is muhaymin (guardian). It is an adjective formed from the words   which means "a guardian" and "a protector". In this verse, the Qur'an has been regarded as a muhaymin on the previous scriptures. It means that the Qur'an is the real authentic and trustworthy version of the Book of God. Thus when the texts of other scriptures were lost to posterity and their translations were greatly tampered with, it was this Qur'an which was reposed with the status of judging between the right and wrong of those scriptures. Whatever it declares to be right is right and whatever it declares to be wrong is wrong and must necessarily be rejected.


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