Distinct Features of the Qur’anic Language

By Dr. Ali Al-Halawani

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is Islam’s eternal miracle whose inimitability is continually confirmed through scientific research.

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is Islam’s eternal miracle whose inimitability is continually confirmed through scientific research.

Status of the Qur’an

The Qur’an, according to Lane (1980, p. 2504), is said to be originally an inf. n.; qara’, as in qara’t-u al-shaiy’-a (meaning: “I collected the thing together”), or as in qara’t-u al-kitab-a (meaning: “I read or recited, the book or scripture”); and it was then conventionally applied to signify “The Book of God” that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

Denffer (2009) identified it as “The Word of God (Allah), sent down upon the last Prophet, Mohammed, through the Angel Gabriel in its precise meaning and precise wording” (p. 17).

Muslims believe that the Qur’an was then transmitted to us through numerous persons, both verbally and in writing, and that “It is inimitable and unique, protected by Allah from any corruption.” Moreover, the Qur’an was revealed in the most refined and eloquent of all languages, namely, Arabic.

According to IbnFaris, Arabic is believed to be “the most refined of all languages” as it expresses many meanings using very few words. In addition, it is the “most disciplined, organized, eloquent and clear” of all languages. He also stressed that “the language of the Arabs has been divinely-revealed” (IbnFaris, 1997).

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is Islam’s eternal miracle whose inimitability is continually confirmed through scientific research. It is also their belief that it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad to bring all men out of the darkness of disbelief and polytheism into the light of faith and monotheism.

Al-Nawawi (1987) said in relation to the Qur’an that any precise objective survey on the number of  printed works, research papers, and manuscripts related to the Qur’an, be it in the past or the present and which amount to tens of thousands, “will decisively prove that the Qur’an is the only book that ever received so much attention in terms of study, research and in-depth surveys” (p. 5).

Remarkably, Al-Nawawi wrote this nearly 760 years ago. In fact, authoring discourses about the Qur’an have never ceased, and this research at hand attests to this in a way that needs no further evidence.

Distinct Features of the Qur’anic Language

Purity of the Qur’anic text has already been acknowledged by many. Muir (1894) wrote, “There is  probably in the world no other book which has remained 12 centuries with so pure a text.” Similarly, purity of the Qur’an was stressed by Wherry (2006), who stated, “This text of the Quran is the purest of all the works of alike antiquity” (p. 349). Dispelling any doubt as to the genuineness of the Qur’an, Lane et al. (2003, p. 3) stated that, “There is such an immense amount of merit in the Qur’an that there is no doubt at all as to its genuineness.” He further said that we can now read the Qur’anic text “with full confidence that it has remained unchanged through nearly thirteen hundred years.” In addition, many Orientalists, none of whom is well-known for his sympathy with Islam and its Prophet, had to acknowledge the fact that the Qur’an is “the most widely read book in existence” (Potter, 1995, p. 18; Hitti, 1958, p. 426).

The Qur’anic style has a number of unique features that are unshared by any other book ever known to man. Al-Baqillani (1954, pp. 33-47) and Al-Rafi’i (1997, pp. 188-208) cited some of the features that can be summarized as follows:

  1. The Qur’an differs in form from the three modes of expression known to the Arabs at the time of its revelation, namely day-to-day speech, speech of soothsayers, and poetry.
  2. Its entire text is free from any discrepancy, as all of its sections enjoy the same standard of rhetoric excellence. No section thereof is better than another. Apparently, this is beyond human capacity as Al-Rafi’i attributed the differences in the styles used by humans to the psychological changes they constantly endure. Were the Qur’an man-made, its style would inevitably suffer from similar human discrepancies.
  3. Unprecedentedly, it originated the terms which express Islamic and shari’ah-based meanings and concepts. Though “deliberate repetition” was known to the Arabs as a subtle linguistic phenomenon, its occurrence in the Qur’an confirmed their inability to imitate or produce anything similar to it. Even though a particular meaning is expressed in two or three distinct forms therein.

Unlike any terms comprising any other speech, Qur’anic terms are marked by eloquence and splendor. Generally speaking, if a word were to be replaced in a text by another in the same language, the text would lose an aspect of its originality and eloquence, whatever the similarity between both words may be, as deemed by Al-Lawindi (2001, p. 22). This is true of any language in general, so how much more for the language of the Qur’an which is inimitable per se? “In its capacity as the Book of Allah,” according to Ibn Attiyah, “If a word was taken out (from its text) and then an exhaustive search was conducted to find a better one to replace it, none would ever be found” (Al-Suyuti, 2004, p. 308; Musallam, 1999, pp. 134-135). Then, what would be the case if the original word was substituted for another from a different language? Regarding the uniqueness of the Qur’anic text, Hussein (1948, p. 25) stated, “Linguists have failed to classify the style of the Qur’an; should it be considered prose or poetry?” According to him, they were  bewildered in their attempts to understand its structures, and finally, they considered it “a unique style different from prose and poetry.” This is because it is characterized by features uncommon to all other styles. Some of these features are related to the endings of the ayahs (verses) and others to its unique musical rhythm, although it is not poetry, because “it does not fall under the [16] known categories of [Arabic] poetry.”

Ascertaining the uniqueness of the Qur’an and the fact that it is incomparable to any similar speech, Al-Jahiz advocated that different names were given to it and to all its different components to those used in Arabic poetry in a way that proves the dissimilarity between the Qur’an and poetry, even with regard to naming its different components (Al-Suyuti, 2004, p. 178).

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Taken from the author’s research paper: Al-Halawani, Ali (2016). Eight-Point Scheme Proposal for Translating the Qur’anic Text. US-China Education Review A, Vol. 6, No. 2, 91-104. doi: doi:10.17265/2161-623X/2016.02.002

Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation, Kulliyyah of Languages and Management (KLM), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was Assistant Professor and worked for a number of international universities in Malaysia and Egypt such as Al-Madinah International University, Shah Alam, Malaysia (Mediu) and Misr University for Science & Technology (MUST), Egypt; Former Editor-in-Chief of the Electronic Da`wah Committee (EDC), Kuwait; Former Deputy Chief Editor and Managing Editor of the Living Shari`ah Department, www.islamOnline.net; Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS); and member of the World Association of Arab Translators & Linguists (Wata). He is a published writer, translator, and researcher. You can reach him at alihalawani72@hotmail.com.

 

 

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