The Qur'an; A Literary Marvel

There is enough academic work on the literary beauty of the Qur'an from grammatical, rhetorical, linguistic & other perspectives to take up several lifetimes to even skim through. I am no literary but I do have a deeply rooted conviction that at least a taste of the Qur'an's majestic precision and subtlety should be appreciated by as many as possible. I think it adds a new dimension of appreciation and awe of the divine word, not just as something to be observed for its religious doctrine (though its guidance is its primary purpose of revelation), but also as a word that mesmerizes its reader or listener. Not only am I not a literary, I am also not a prolific writer as you may have guessed by now. My attempt in this series of mini-articles will be to share some gems of beauty I've come to appreciate from various notable sources. Of the many areas of concentration within linguistic analysis of the Qur'an, the ones that have captured my attention the most are

a. The incredibly precise use of near synonyms

b. The use of verbal and nominal idioms and expressions that require special attention in translation & analysis

c. Subtle intricacies in grammatical analysis and responses to grammatical criticisms

d. Beautiful lessons that can only be learned through comparative analysis of similar ayaat.

e. The study of micro and macro transitions (iltifaat) in the Qur'an.

All of the above require proper definition which will, insha Allah be forthcoming. It is my hope that this brief inquiry into the beauty of the Qur'an will benefit myself and the readership, at least in enhancing our appreciation of Allah's final message to humanity wAllahulmusta'aan. I will attempt to keep the writing simple and easy to understand and avoid technical jargon and loaded vocabulary as much as humanly possible. I ask all of you to pray that I am able to communicate a clear, authentic and beneficial message.

NEAR SYNONYMS

Read a typical translation of the Qur'an rendered into English and you will find the same word in English used to translate a whole score of words in Arabic. خَشْيَة, وَجل,حَذَر, خَوف, وجس, تقوى, رهب would all more or less end up being translated as fear for instance. imam Raghib's Mufradaat ul Qur'an sheds light on the subject sparingly. This isn't exactly a major area of concentration nowadays, nor will you find a dedicated section in a typical tafseer book dealing with the matter. Even if a notable work addresses the issue, it isn't thorough or systematic enough to be considered a definitive guide or comprehensive resource on near synonyms. I am offering you a simple translation of what imam Raghib himself said in the muqaddimah of his famous work. I think it says everything that I would end up saying in a much less eloquent fashion:

“If Allah wills this life to continue, I intend to produce another comprehensive book after this one (meaning mufradaatul Qur'an) in which the mutaraadifaat (near synonyms) will be researched along with the differences between them with great clarity. By means of this study, we will be in a better position to understand the wisdom in the usage of different words or statements dealing with the same subject. For instance consider the use of the word قلب as opposed to فؤاد as opposed to صدر. Similarly we will explore why in dealing with the same narrative Allah will end by saying إن في ذلك لآيات لقوم يؤمنون
(16:79) while in another place in the Qur'an He will use لقوم يتفكرون

(30:21) and also لقوم يفقهون

(30:24) . What is the subtle beauty buried in these words? Similarly,
لأولي الأبصار
vs. لذي حجر
vs. لأولي النهى etc that have been used across the Qur'an and many have interpreted them to mean essentially the same thing. A lack of this attention to detail justifies the interpretation

of الحمد لله as الشكر لله

& لا ريب as لا شك

to be adequate tafsir that has done justice to these Qur'anic expressions.”

According to Abdul Rahman al Kilaani (author of Mutaraadifaatul Qur'an in Urdu), he couldn't find any work attributed to imam Raghib that has been alluded to in his earlier work. There are some other works in this area such as 'Fiqh AlLughah' and 'AlFurooq AlLughawiyyah' by Abu Mansoor Abdul Malik Bin Muhammad AlTha'bani and Abu Hilal AlAskari respectively. Though beneficial these books are either not concentrated in Qur'anic vocabulary exclusively or deal with at most 3 near synonyms at a time which can lead to confusion when you run into additional members of the pack. In this context I think the most extensive, exhaustive and incredibly beneficial book would have to be Abdul Rahman Kilaani's book Mutaraadifaatul Qur'an in Urdu and the articles beautifully written by Dr. Fadel Saleh Alsamerai entitled Lamasaat Bayaaniyyah. I am going to be taking bits and pieces from both, hopefully presenting at least 10 unique cases of the powerful study of near synonyms and their subtle use in the Qur'an. The first of these posts will deal with the phrase alhamdulillah and will probably be the longest.

Related Post: Quranic Incoherence: 2 Miracles Respond

22 Responses

  1. Omar Mumtaz

    JazakAllahu khayran brother Nouman!
    Looking forward to further reading, and insha’Allah another visit to Sacramento? :)

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  2. Abu Bakr

    Ma Sha Allah…

    I hope you don’t mind my asking… but this subject is very interesting to me. I often times find myself going through a dozen tafsirs as well as books such as al-Furuq al-Lughawiyyah looking for the subtle connotations of words in the Qur’an. I have come across this work, Mutaradifat al-Qur’an, but as my Urdu reading is very poor, it is not of much use to me. It’s a shame that no similar work has been written in Arabic so that it can benefit the larger community of Muslim scholars and students of knowledge.

    Which brings me to the following 2 questions:

    Have you considered making an English version of Mutaradifat al-Qur’an?

    Where can I get a copy of the Urdu Mutaradifat al-Qur’an as I was have not been able to do so.

    May Allah bless your efforts and I look forward to more of your writing!

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  3. Faiez

    JazakAllahu khair, this amazing! I seriously cannot wait for the follow up posts.

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  4. Nouman Ali Khan

    In response to Abu Bakr.
    Akhi Fillah I see the need for this work to be duplicated in English and Arabic. This series is the initial phase of a larger project that includes translating Mutaradifaat. I bought my copy at the Muslim Center Book Store in NY. You can reach them at 7184606300. They had to order one for me and you have to stay on their case because they have a tendency to forget :)

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  5. Abu Bakr

    Assalamu Alaykum

    Jazakallahu Khayran

    Al-Hamdulillah, that is great news. This work definitely needs to be duplicated.

    In sha Allah, I will give that bookstore a call.

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  6. Hafsa

    Br. Nouman, I’ve been trying to get in touch with some folks @ Bayyinah regarding the color coded grammer mushaf project.

    I’m really excited to work on the project, and would greatly appreciate if someone can contact me.

    Jazak Allahu Khairan

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  7. Ansar

    Even a superlative word like ‘AWESOME’ does not come close to the beauty and power in these divine letters and words. Thanks for the post.

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  8. Azra

    Salams
    I have never come across a study of the literary elements in the Quran in text. However, after taking the Bayyinah class I was more than awe-inspired and even with the few examples Brother Nouman had presented it really instilled a deep interest in me to further pursue learning about this topic. I have benefitted immensely and would definitely love to read more articles!

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  9. Abla Hanaan

    cool. i was looking for such an article. gezakallahu khayran wa baarekallahu feek.

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