Quranic Eloquence (PDF)
Extracts from the work “Al-Ta’bīr al-Qur’ānī” of Dr. Fādil Sālih Al-Sāmirrā-ī
There is no doubt amongst the linguists regarding the lofty and eloquent nature of the way words are expressed in the Qur’ān, not to mention the invaluable edifications one may derive from such analyses. It is this angle of the Qur’ān in particular, which astonished the desert dwelling Arabs of Arabia.
The Qur’ān challenges human beings to bring forth something equal or even similar to it in many places. The first is a challenge to produce ten sūrah’s like it:
“Or they may say, “He forged it,” Say, “Bring ye then ten sūrahs forged, like unto it, and call (to your aid) whomsoever ye can, other than Allah.- If ye speak the truth! – If then they (your false gods) answer not your (call), know ye that this revelation is sent down (replete) with the knowledge of Allah, and that there is no god but He! will ye even then submit (to Islam)?”
Then when their inability was established, the challenge was changed from ten to one sūrah:
“And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a sūrah like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true – But if ye cannot- and of a surety ye cannot- then fear the Fire whose fuel is men and stones,- which is prepared for those who reject Faith.”
Their inability was then sealed with the verse:
“Say: “If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur’ān, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.”
After sending their best and most eloquent poets to challenge the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, they soon realised their inability to produce anything like it. Even one verse proved impossible for them. Thus, did they turn to the path of war and bloodshed [sabīl al-harb wa al-dimā], postulating it easier than the challenge of the Qur’ān.
One of the notable leaders of Makkah, ‘Utbah bin Rabī’ah, a man of eloquence, a poet of note, and one of the few people who stood before the King of Persia, was tasked to challenge the Prophet, peace be upon him.
When they met, ‘Utbah said, “O nephew, you certainly enjoy among us great eminence and noble lineage, and you have brought about a great issue and divided your people. Listen to me for I am about to make several offers to you, certain as I am that one of them will prove satisfactory to you. If by bringing about the conflict you did, you have sought to achieve some wealth, know that we are prepared to give you of our wealth until you become the richest man among us. If, on the other hand, you desired honour and power, we would make you our chief and endow you with such power that nothing could be done without your consent. Even if you wanted to be a king, we should not hesitate to crown you king over us. Finally, if you are unable to cure yourself of the visions that you have been seeing, we shall be happy to seek for you at our expense all the medical service possible until your health is perfectly restored.” Throughout Utbah’s tirade, the Prophet, peace be upon him, remained silent. Asking if ‘Utbah was done, he, peace be upon him, commenced reciting Sūrah Tāhā:
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Most Merciful – Ha, Mīm – [This is] a revelation from the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful – A Book whose verses have been detailed, an Arabic Qur’ān for a people who know – As a giver of good tidings and a warner; but most of them turn away, so they do not hear.
Útbah returned to the Quraysh spellbound by the eloquence and sublimity of what he had witnessed and heard. When his companions saw him, they swore that he had returned to them with a countenance unlike the one he had before meeting the Prophet, peace be upon him. He immediately communicated to them the details of the talk he gave and the reply he received, and commented saying: “I swear by Allah! I have never heard words similar to his. They carry a sweetness, possess an eloquence, and surpass (all forms of poetry) while other (forms of poetry) do not surpass it.” He also said to them: “His words are neither poetry nor witchcraft, nor are they derived from soothsaying. O people of Quraysh! Heed my advice: Let the man alone and grant him full freedom to pursue his goals….”
His words exasperated the leaders of Quraysh, and Allah apprises us of their state:
“The Unbelievers say: “Listen not to this Qur-ān, but talk at random in the midst of its (reading), that ye may gain the upper hand!“
Perfection and eloquence in the positioning of nouns and verbs
The noble Qur’ān surpasses the limits of resplendence, sublimity and meticulousness in its placement and selection of words. From these words the Qur’ān utilizes the verb [al-fi’l] and the noun [al-ism]. In the field of Arabic rhetoric, both verbs [af’āl] and nouns [asmā] hold unique properties. The verb, for example, denotes an occurrence [hudūth] and renewal [tajaddud]. The noun, on the other hand, indicates continuation and permanence [thubūt].
Examples include words like:
- “He is learning” [yata’allamu] as a verb and “he is learned” [muta’allam] as a noun, where the first refers to a person in the path of knowledge and education, denoting both hudūth and tajaddud, and the second, education and knowledge as an established attribute in the person, indicating thubūt.
“He is preserving” [yahfadhu] as a verb and “he is a preserver” [hāfidh] as a noun, where the first refers to a person in the path of preserving or memorising, denoting both hudūth and tajaddud, and the second, preserving or memorising as an established attribute in the person, denoting thubūt.
Sometimes the Qur’ān mentions events that are yet to occur utilizing the nominal form [al-sīgha al-ismiyyah], indicating that the matter has been firmly established and will occur without doubt. It is as if the matter has already transpired.
Utilizing the verbal structure [sīgha al-fi’liyyah] we could say:
- “Have you seen him who will be unsuccessful [sayafshulu] in his important matters?”
Using the sīgha al-ismiyyah we could say:
- “He is a failure.”
This designates certainty and that he will fail without doubt. Insert space It is as if the matter has transpired and is complete while in reality it has not yet occurred.
وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَـئِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِى الأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً
“And (recall) when your Lord said to the angels: “Verily, I am placing a vicegerent on Earth.”
In this verse, Allah informs the angels of His placing a vicegerent [khalīfah] on the earth. Even though the matter has not yet transpired, the word used for “placing” is a noun “jā’il”. It is as if the matter has occurred and is firmly established. Allah could have chosen to use a verb saying: “I am going to place [sayaj’alu]…” but instead used the noun, which, as previously mentioned, indicates permanence and establishment. Here we witness the power of a noun and perfect word choice of the Almighty, establishing the sheer eloquence of the Qur’ān, which is beyond human intervention.
Another example is seen in the verse:
وَلاَ لَا تُخَـطِبْنِى فِى الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُواْ إِنَّهُمْ مُّغْرَقُونَ
“And address Me not on behalf of those who did wrong; they are surely drowned.”
Allah did not say: “I will drown them [sa-ughriquhum]” or “Indeed they will be of the drowned [sayughraqūn].” Instead Allah uses a noun “drowned” [mughraqūn] indicating that the matter is settled. Thus, it is as if they are already drowned before drowning.
Another example is seen in the verse:
وَلَمَّا جَآءَتْ رُسُلُنَآ إِبْرَهِيمَ بِالْبُشْرَى قَالُواْ إِنَّا مُهْلِكُو أَهْلِ هَـذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ إِنَّ أَهْلَهَا كَانُواْ ظَـلِمِينَ
“And when Our messengers (angels) came to Ibrāhīm with the glad tidings they said: “Verily, we are destroying the people of this town; truly, its people have been wrongdoers.”
They (the angels) did not say: “We will destroy [sanuhliku].” Instead, they used the nominal form [al-sīgha al-ismiyyah] indicating that they (the wrongdoers) are indeed destroyed. Thus, it is as if the matter has been settled.