CHAPTER 4 Form, Language and Style DIVISIONS OF THE TEXT Aya and Sura Aya (pl. ayat) actually means 'sign'. In technical language it is the shortest division of the Qur'anic text, i.e. a phrase or sentence. The revelation is guidance from God to mankind and it is therefore not at all surprising to find that its smallest divisions are called (guiding) 'signs'. The term 'verse' is not appropriate since the Qur'an is not poetry. Sura (pl. Suwar) means literally 'row' or 'fence'. In technical language, it is the passage-wise division of the Qur'anic text, i.e. a chapter or part, set apart from the preceding and follow- ing text. The Qur'an has 114 suras of unequal length, the shortest consisting of four and the longest of 286 ayat. All suras (with the exception of Sura 9) begin with the words bismillahir rahmanir rahim. This is not a later addition to the text, but was already used, even before Muhammad's call to prophethood. ' (1) All 114 suras in the Qur'an have names, which serve as a sort of heading. The names are often derived from an impor- tant or distinguishing word in the text itself, such as e.g. al- anfal (8) or al-baqara (2). In other cases it is one of the first few words with which the sSra begins e.g. ta-ha (20) or al-furqan (25). 1. See Sura 27: 30. Order and Arrangement Both the order of the ayat within each sura and the arrange- ment of the suras were finally determined by the Prophet under guidance from the Angel Gabriel in the year of his death, when Gabriel twice came to revise the text with him. (2) Scholars have also grouped the suras into four kinds: 1. al-tiwal (long ones): 2-10. 2. al-mi'un: suras with approximately 100 ayat: 10-35. 3. al-mathani: suras with less than 100 ayat: 36-49. 4. al-mufassal: the last section of the Qur'an beginning with Sura qaf: 50-114. Other Divisions of the Text Juz' (pl. ajza') literally means part, portion. The Qur'an is divided into 30 portions of approximately equal length for easy recitation during the thirty nights of a month, especially of the month of Ramadan. Usually they are indicated by the word and the number of it given alongside, (e.g. juz' 30 beginning with Sura 78). Some copies of the Qur'an have the suras divided into paragraphs called ruku'. They are indicated by the symbol and the explanation of the Arabic numerals written with each is as follows, e.g. 2:20: - The top figure (2) indicates that this is the second com- pleted ruku ' in the respective sura (here Sura al-baqara) . - The middle figure (13) indicates that this completed ruku' contains 13 ayat. - The lower figure (2) indicates that this is the second ruku' in the respective juz' (here first juz'). Copies of the Qur'an printed in the Middle East in particular have each juz' subdivided into four hizb indicated by the sign e.g. 2:74 is the beginning of the second hizb of the 2. See above. transmission of the Qur'anic revelation, p. 31. Qur'an, indicated by the figure 2: Each hizb is again subdivided into quarters, indicated as follows: - First quarter of the hizb: XXX - Half of the hizb: XXX - Third quarter of the hizb: XXX The Qur'anic text is also divided into seven parts of approximately equal length, called manzil, for recitation over seven days, indicated in some copies by the word manzil and the respective number in the margin. The following table shows the division of the text into juz' and manzil: (3) Manzil Juz Sura 1 1 1: 1 2 2:142 3 2:253 4 3:92 or 93 5 4:24 6 4:148 2 6 5: 1 7 5:82Or83 8 6:111 9 7:88 9 7:286 10 8:41 11 9:93 or 94 3 11 10:1 12 11:6 13 12:53 13 13:15 3. Hamidullah, Muhammad: Le Saint Coran. Traduction integraleetnores. Paris: Club Francais du Livre, n.d., p.XLI. 14 15: 1 or 2 14 16:50 4 15 17:1 15 17:109 16 18:75 16 19:58 17 21: 1 17 22:18 17 22:77 18 23:1 19 25:21 19 25:60 5 19 27:1 19 27:26 20 27:56 or 60 21 29: 45 or 46 21 32:15 22 33:31 6 22 35: 1 23 36:22 or 28 23 38: 24 or 25 24 39:32 24 41:38 25 41:47 26 46: 1 7 26 50: 1 27 51:31 27 53:62 28 58: 1 29 67: 1 30 78:1 30 84:21 30 96:19 The ends of the various manzil according to Qatada are 4:76, 8:36, 15:49, 23:118, 34:54, 49:18 and 114:6 (4) 4. Ibn Abi Dawud, p. 118. LANGUAGE AND VOCABULARY The language of the Qur'an - as is we11 known- is Arabic. The Qur'an itself gives some indication about its language: 'We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an in order that ye may learn wisdom' (12: 2). In another place the language of the Qur'an is called 'pure Arabic' ('arabiyyun mubin): 'This (tongue) is Arabic, pure and clear' (16: 103). The question that arises is: Why was the Qur'an revealed in Arabic, and not in any other language? The first and perhaps the most obvious reason is already referred to in the Qur'an, namely that because the messenger who was to announce this message was an Arab, it is only natural that the message should be announced in his language: 'Had We sent this as a Qur'an (in a language) other than Arabic they could have said: Why are not its verses explained in detail? What! (a book) not in Arabic and (a messenger) an Arab? Say: It is a guide and a healing to those who believe ...' (41: 44). Another important reason concerns the audience which was to receive the message. The message had to be in a language understood by the audience to whom it was first addressed, i.e. the inhabitants of Makka and the surrounding areas: 'Thus We have sent by inspiration to thee an Arabic Qur'an: that thou mayest warn the mother of the cities and all around her- and warn (them) of the day of assembly of which there is no doubt (when) some will be in the garden and some in the blazing fire' (42: 7). The Qur'an Needed to be Understood The Qur'an contains revelation from Allah and the true nature of revelation is to guide mankind from darkness to light: 'A book which we have revealed unto thee in order that thou mightest lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light- by the leave of thy Lord- to the way of (Him) the exalted in power, worthy of all praise' (14: 1). The revelation came in the language of the messenger and his people in order that it might be understood: 'We have made it a Qur'an in Arabic that ye may be able to understand (and learn wisdom)' (43: 3). In the nrocess of understanding a message two steps are essential: - To receive the message correctly and completely, in this case to receive its words correctly and completely. - To 'decode' it, to grasp the meanings of the message received. Only the combination of the two elements, i.e. reception and decoding, lead to proper understanding of the message. To Understand the Qur'an It is not correct to assume that understanding the Qur'an in order to take guidance from it depends upon direct knowledge of the Arabic language, since there are numerous Arabic- speaking people who do not understand the message of the Qur'an. Rather the Qur'an tells us that right guidance comes only from Allah: 'This is the guidance of God: He giveth that guidance to whom He pleaseth of His worshippers ...' (6: 88). However, to understand the language of the Qur'an is a prerequisite to fully grasp its meanings. Hence many Muslims have learned this language. Others, who have not done so, make use of translations, which for them is an indirect means of knowing the language, as in the translations the meanings of the Qur'an have been rendered into their mother tongues so that they may familiarise themselves with the message from Allah. This message can be understood by all human beings who are willing to listen, for the Qur'an is not difficult but easy: 'We have indeed made the Qur'an easy to remember: but is there any that remembers it?' (54: 17). Non-Arabic Words in the Qur'an There is some difference of opinion among scholars whether the language of the Qur'an includes expressions which are not Arabic. Some (among them Tabari and Baqillani) hold that all in the Qur'an is Arabic and that words of non-Arabic origin found in the Qur'an were nevertheless part of Arabic speech. Although these words were of non-Arab origin the Arabs used and observed them and they became genuinely integrated in the Arabic language. However, it is conceded that there are non-Arabic proper names in the Qur'an, such as Isra'il, Imran, Nuh., etc. Others have said that the Qur'an does contain words not used in the Arabic language, such as e.g.: - al-Qistas (17:35), derived from the Greek language. - al-Sijjil (15: 74), derived from the Persian language. - al-Ghassaq (78: 25), derived from the Turkish language. - al-Tur (2:63), derived from the Syriac language. - al-Kifl (57: 28), derived from the Abyssinian language. Some scholars have written books on the topic of 'foreign vocabulary in the Qur'an', e.g. Suyuti, who compiled a small book with a list of 118 expressions in different languages. (5) 5. The Mutawakkili of Al-Suyuti7, trans. by William Y. Bell, Yale University Dissertations, 1924; see also Itqan. LITERARY FORMS AND STYLE The Qur'an is the revelation from Allah for the guidance of mankind and not poetry or literature. Nevertheless it is ex- pressed verbally and in written form, and hence its literary forms and style may be considered here briefly. Broadly speaking there are two main literary forms: - Prose. - Poetry. By prose is meant a way of expression close to the everyday spoken language, and distinct from poetry insofar as it lacks any conspicuous artifice of rhythm and rhyme. The Qur'an is not Poetry Not only European orientalists have described some passages of the Qur'an as more 'poetic' than others: the opponents of Mu4ammad had already used this argument, accusing him of being a poet or a soothsayer. This is refuted by the Qur'an itself: 'It is not the word of a poet; little it is ye believe! Nor is it the word of a soothsayer: little admonition it is ye receive. (This is) a message sent down from the Lord of the worlds' (69: 40-3). The accusations against Muhammad refuted in the above passage are based on the usage of a particular style, employed in the Qur'an, which is said to be like saj' or close to it. The word saj' is usually translated as 'rhymed prose', i.e. a literary form with some emphasis on rhythm and rhyme, but distinct from poetry. Saj' is not really as sophisticated as poetry, but has been employed by Arab poets, and is the best known of the pre-Islamic Arab prosodies. It is distinct from poetry in its lack of metre, i.e. it has no consistent rhythmic pattern, and it shares with poetry the element of rhyme,6 though in many cases somewhat irregularly employed. 6. Called fasila ( pl. fawasil) when used for the Qur'an The Difference between Literature and the Qur'an Ibn Khaldun (d. 809H/1406), the well-known author of the muqaddima pointed out in a passage on the literature of the Arabs the difference between literature and the Qur'an in general and between saj' and the Qur'an in particular: 'It should be known that the Arabic language and Arab speech are divided into two branches. One of them is rhymed poetry ... The other branch is prose, that is, non-metrical speech ... The Qur'an is in prose. However, it does not belong in either of the two categories. It can neither be called straight prose nor rhymed prose. It is divided into verses. One reaches breaks where taste tells one that the speech stops. It is then resumed and "repeated" in the next verse. (Rhyme) letters, which would make that (type of speech) rhymed prose are not obligatory, nor do rhymes (as used in poetry) occur. This situation is what is meant by the verse of the Qur'an: 'God revealed the best story, a book harmoniously arranged with repeated verses ...' (39: 23). (7) Examples: A good example for a saj'-like passage in the Qur'an would be Sura al-ikhlas (112: 14). It is somewhat irregular in its rhythm, and it has a rhyme ending with the syllable ad: Qul huwa llahu ahad Say: He is God the One and Only Alahus samad God the Eternal, Absolute Lam yalid wa lam He begetteth not nor is He yulad begotten wa lam yakun lahu And there is none kufuwan ahad like unto Him. Of the many passages more like plain prose, although not quite identical to it, as the kind of end-rhyme indicates, the following may serve as an example: 7. Ibn Khaldun: The Muqaddima, Princeton, 1967, Vol. 3, p.368; Ibn Khaldun: Muqaddima, Cairo, n.d., p.424. 'Inna auhaina ilaika kama We have sent thee inspiration auhaina ila nuhin wa nabiyina as We sent it to Noah and the min ba'dihi wa auhaina ila messengers after him: We sent ibrahima wa isma'ila wa inspiration to Abraham, ishaqa wa ya'quba Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the wa-l-asbati wa 'isa wa ayyuba tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, wa yunusa wa haruna wa Aaron, and Solomon, and to sulaimana wa ataina dawuda David we gave the Psalms. Of zabura. Wa rusulan qad some apostles We have already qasasnahum 'alaika min told thee the story, of others qablu wa rusulan lam We have not. And to Moses naqsushum 'alaika wa God direct spoke. APostles kallama llahu musa taklima. who gave good news as well as Rusulan mubashshirina wa warning that mankind after mundhirina li'alla yakuna (the coming) of the apostles li-nnasi 'ala llahi hujjatun should have no plea against ba'dar rusuli wa kana llahu God; for God is exalted in 'azizan hakima (4: 163-5). power, wise. Narrative in the Qur'an STYLE The Qur'an contains many narratives (qisas, sg. qissa), referred to in the Qur'an itself: 'We do relate unto thee the most beautiful of stories, in that We reveal to thee this (portion of the) Qur'an ...' (12: 3). These narratives, which illustrate and underline important aspects of the Qur'anic message, fulfil their functions in a variety of ways. The following are some of the more common patterns: Explanation of the general message of Islam. - General guidance and reminder. - Strengthening the conviction of the Prophet and the believers. - Reminder of the earlier prophets and their struggle. - Indication for the continuity and truth of Muh. ammad's message. - Providing arguments against some opponents of Islam, such as e.g. Jews and Christians. As far as the contents of these narratives are concerned, one may, broadly speaking, distinguish between the following three kinds: - Stories of the Prophets of Allah, their peoples, their message, their call, their persecution, etc.; such as e g. the narratives about Nuh (Sura 26), Musa (Sura 28), 'Isa (Sura 19) and many others. - Other Qur'anic narratives about past people or events, such as the narratives about the Companions of the cave, or about Dhu-l-qarnain (Sura 18). - References to events that took place during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, such as the battle of Badr (3: 13), the battle of Uhud (3: 121-8), the battle of Ah. zab (33: 9-27), the israJ(17: 1), etc. Similes in the Qur'an The Qur'an also employs similes (amthal, sg. mathal) in many places to explain certain truths or to drive home important points of the message, by likening it to something well known or describing it in a pictorial manner. (8) Example: 'He sends down water from the skies and the channels flow, each according to its measure; but the torrents bear away the foam that mounts up to the surface. Even so, from that (ore) which they heat in the fire to make ornaments or utensils therewith there is scum likewise, thus doth God (by parable) show forth the truth and vanity, for thc scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth. Thus doth God set forth parables' (13: 17). 8. See, e.g. 16: 75-6. Passages with Qul More than 200 passages in the Qur'an open with the word 'Qul' (say:), which is an instruction to the Prophet Muhammad to address the words following this introduction to his audience in a particular situation, such as e.g. in reply to a question that has been raised, or as an assertion of a matter of belief, or announcement of a legal ruling, etc. Examples: 'Say: Nothing will happen to us except what God has decreed for us: He is our Protector ...' (9: 51). 'Say: O people of the book. Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in God, and the revelation that has come to us and that which has come before (us) and perhaps that most of you are rebellious and disobedient?' (5: 62). 'They ask thee concerning (things taken as) spoils of war. Say: (Such) spoils are at the disposal of God and the apostle: for fear God and keep straight the relation between yourselves: obey God and His apostle, if ye do believe' (8: 1). Oaths in the Qur*an In a number of places the Qur'an employs oath-like expressions (aqsdm, sg. qasam).9 Their function is to strengthen and support an argument, and to disperse doubts in the mind of the listener. In the Arabic text these passages are often opened by the word 'wa' or the phrase 'la uqsimu' (indeed I swear). Examples: Sometimes an oath is taken by Allah himself: 'But no, by thy Lord, they can have no real faith until they make thee judge in all disputes between them and 9. For a brief discussion see also Abdullah Yusuf Ali, op. cit., App. XIV, pp. 1784-7. find in their souls no resistance against thy decisions but accept them with fullest conviction' (4: 65). Other oaths are taken by Allah's creation: 'By the sun and his (glorious) splendour, by the moon as she follows him, by the day as it shows up (the sun's) glory, by the night as it conceals it; by the firmament and its (wonderful) structure, by the earth and its (wide) expanse, by the soul and the proportion and order given to it ...' (91: 1-7). 'I do call to witness this city ...' (90: 1). Man should only take an oath bv Allah the creator. but not by anything created. MUHKAMAT AND MUTASHABIHAT The word muhkamat - (sg. muhkama) is derived from the root uhkima which means to decide between two things. It is a verbal noun in the plural, meaning judgements, decisions and in technical language refers to all clearly decided verses of the Qur'an, mostly those concerning legal rulings, but also to other clear definitions such as between truth and falsehood etc. This is what is meant by 'general muhkamat'. Mutashabihat (sg. mutashabiha) is derived from the root 'ishtabaha' meaning 'to be doubtful'. It is a verbal noun in the plural, meaning the uncertain or doubtful things. In technical language it refers to those verses of the Qur'an the meanings of which are not clear or not completely agreed upon, but open to two or more interpretations. Example of muhkamat: 'O you who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations, in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties ...' (2: 282). Example of mutashabihat: '(God) Most Gracious is firmly established on the throne (of authority)' (20: 5). Note that the words in brackets have been added by the translator in an attempt to interpret this aya. The Qur'an on Muhkamat and Mutashabihat The Qur'an says of itself that it contains two kinds of ayat, both of which are fundamental components of the book, and both of which must be accepted: 'He it is who has sent down to thee the Book: in it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the book: others are allegori- cal, that is those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except God and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the book; the whole of it is from our Lord;" and none will grasp the message except men of understanding' (3: 7). Here muhkamat and mutashabihat are described as follows: - Something of which knowledge was desired. - Something with only one dimension. - Something sufflcient in meaning, requiring no further explanation. mutashabihat: - Something known to Allah only. - Something with more than one dimension. - Something requiring further explanation. Hence in the Qur'an those ayat dealing with halal and haram, punishments, inheritance, promise and threat, etc. belong to the mu,hkamat, while those concerning the attri- butes of Allah, the true nature of the resurrection, judgement and life after death etc. belong to the mutashabEhdt. General and Specific Some verses of the Qur'an are of a very wide, general application (al-'am), e.g. including all human beings, or all Muslims etc. Other ayat are restricted in their application to certain special circumstances only (al-khas). Example: 'Every soul shall have a taste of death' (3: 185) 'Let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness nor wrangling in the Hajj' (2:187). 'God (thus) directs you as regards your children (inherit- ance)' (4: 11). Furthermore one also distinguishes between 'general verses' which remain general, and others which intend a specific meaning. Example: 'Pilgrimage thereto is a duty man owes to God- those who can afford the journey' (3: 97). Of the 'special meanings' there are several varieties. Usually some kind of condition or limitation is specified. Example: 'Your step-daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom you have gone in' (4: 23). 'It is prescribed when death approaches any one of you, if you leave any goods that he make a bequest to parents and next of kin' (2: 180). 'So keep away from the women in their courses, and do not approach them until they are clean' (2: 222). 'Free' and 'Bound' Verses Some of the ahkam verses are valid, 'free' (mutlaq) from any conditions or circumstances, while others are 'bound' (muqayyad) to special conditions or situations, and apply only therein. Examples: 'If it is beyond your means, fast for three days, that is expiation for the wrath ye have sworn' (5: 92). It is free, i.e. left to one's discretion whether to fast three days consecutively or with interruptions. 'And if ye find no water then take yourselves clean sand or earth and rub therewith your faces and hands' (5: 6). (10) 'Literal' and 'Understood' Meanings The meaning of certain ayat is derived from the literal wording (mantdq) while that of others is derived from what is understood (mafhum) by them: Of the literal understanding there are several kinds. The first concerns a clear text, i.e. a text clear and without ambig- uity. Example: 'But if he cannot afford it, he should fast three days during the Hajj and seven days on his return, making ten days in all' (2: 196). In other cases the text may be somewhat ambiguous in its expression but obvious as far as the meaning is concerned. Example: 'And do not approach them until they are clean' (2: 222). The Arabic word tatahharna may refer to the end of the 10. Some say this aya is 'bound', as the same aya mentioning wudu' instructs washing of the hands 'to the elbows'; others say it is 'free'. woman's menstrual period, or the completion of the bath after the period; the second being more obvious." Still other verses imply a meaning through the context, although the wording itself is not clear. Example: 'And out of kindness reward to them the wing of humility' (17: 24). This applies to parents, and not to all human beings in general, as the context of this verse suggests. Al Muqatta'at The so-called 'abbreviated letters' are an important section of the mutashabihat' (12) insofar as their meanings are not known. The word is derived from the root 'qata'a' - to cut, and means 'what is cut', and also 'what is abbreviated'. In technical language the word is used for certain letters found at the beginning of several suras of the Qur'an, called 'the abbreviated letters'. Their Occurrence There are fourteen such letters occurring in various combi- nations at the beginning of 29 suras. The following is a list of their occurrence and distribution in the Qur'an: Alif Lam Ra: 10, 11, 12, 14, 15. Alif Lam Mim: 2, 3, 29, 30, 31, 32. Alif Lam Mim Ra': 13. Alif Lam Mim Sad: 7 11. Qattan, M.: mabahith It 'ulum al-qur'an, Riyadh. 1971. 12. Itqan, II, p.8f. A summary of the orientalists' efforts on this topic is in Jeffery. Arthur: The Mystic Letters of the Quran, MW, 14 (1924), pp. 247-60. Some of the orientalists suggested that the letters are abbreviations of the names of the various Companions who used to write the Qur'an for Muhammad. Still others say that the letters are simply symbols employed to distinguish the Sura from others before the now common names were introduced. Sura Ta Ha would be a case in point. This is also based on some Muslim scholars' views (Itqan, 11, p.10). Watt, the Edinburgh priest-orientalist, writes 'We end where we began; the letters are mysterious, and have so far baMed interpretation' (Watt, M.: Bell's Introduction to the Qur'an, Edinburgh, 1977, p.64). Ha Mim: 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46. Sad: 38. Ta Sin: 27. Ta Sin Mim: 26, 28. TaHa:20. Qaf: 50. Kaf Ha Ya 'Ain Sad: 19. Nun: 68. Ya Sin: 36. Vanety of Explanations The meaning and purpose of these letters is uncertain. There have been a variety of explanations offered by Muslim scholars throughout the ages. Among them are: (13) - These letters might be abbreviations for certain sentences and words, such as e.g. Alif Lam Mim meaning Ana llahu A'lam; or Nun meaning Nur (light), etc. - These letters are not abbreviations but symbols and names of Allah, or something else. (14) - These letters have some numerical significance, as the semitic letters also have numerical value. - These letters were used to attract the attention of the Prophet (and later his audience) for the revelation to follow. There are also many other explanations which cannot be referred to here. The 'abbreviated letters' are part of the Qur'anic message, revealed to the Prophet Muh. ammad and therefore included in the text of the Qur'an. They are to be recited and read as part of the suras where they occur. They are a good example for one kind of mutashabihdt which is referred to in the Qur'an itself, (3: 7), the meaning of which is known to Allah. The Qur'an says of them: '... these are the symbols of the perspicuous book' (12: 1). 13 See itqan, 11, pp.9-11. 14 e .g. the letter nun standing for 'fish' . which occurs in every sura that has nun as 'abbreviated letter' in front, or ta standing for snake, as every sura with [a as abbreviated letterw in front contains the story of Musa and the snake.