Many of us have heard the beautiful gems Nouman Ali Khan gives in his tafsīr sessions. Whenever I’d take notes of the tafsīr sessions at LinguisticMiracle.com, I used to wish I could do just what he did the next time I read the Qurʾān.
Then I heard people who had a lot of experience with the Qurʾān praising his tafsīr sessions too. They said the tafāsīr were extremely powerful and in some ways unmatched (because he merged the different sciences of tafsīr into one combined study).
So I prayed to Allāh to grant me the ability to understand Qurʾānic Arabic, and within a small period of time, I was able to grasp the meaning of the Qurʾān’s text and its linguistic beauty. Whenever I’d open a copy of the Qurʾān, I could feel the subtle yet powerful meanings Allāh was conveying to us.
I will share a brief yet detailed step-by-step method on how to extract gems from the Qurʾān and increase the pleasure you derive from your readings. Bi idhnillāh.
I’ve laid this structure out similar to how Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan and Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda give their tafasir. They take the entire sūrah, and break it down into āyāt, and then they break down each āyah word for word. This is the focus of the outline, and I have divided it into 5 steps. Each step works its way up from a smaller scale to a larger scale.
After understanding the Arabic language, we can find gems through studying the basic layout of the language. This is how you extract gems from the Qurʾān.
Step 1 – Definitions of words through their pure roots, and identification of the types of words used i.e. their (verb or noun) pattern style, etc.
Step 2 – Placement of words in an ayah or sentence structure (Balaghah).
Step 3 – Placement of āyaat in a passage or ‘paragraph’ [Rukoo’] of discussion.
Step 4 – How all the different passages work together to form a theme.
Step 5 – To produce a conclusion by deriving the common theme and main message in the sūrah. (Through steps 1-4)
Step 1 – Focus on the Words and their Power
1. Look at definitions of words through their pure roots, and the types of words used i.e. their pattern style (verb patterns, rhymes, palindromes, etc.), the images the words portray, the sounds they make, etc. How can you do this? By discovering Literary Devices
Verb Patterns: look at the verb patterns. What state are they in? If they are in Faa’il (Doer) form – imagine the object is a living object ‘doing‘ that action.
In Sūrah Taha 20:15, Allāh says:
Indeed, the Hour is coming – I almost conceal it – so that every soul may be recompensed according to that for which it strives.
The Final Hour is ‘atiyah (coming) [the Faa’il (doer) form is used and depicts a picture of the Hour actively coming (as if it is walking and approaching us)].
When Allāh tells us in Sūrat’l-Ḥāqqah 69:23 about the fruits of Jannah (Paradise):
Its [fruit] to be picked hanging near.
He says that they are “daaniyah” [meaning: “close”] (But the verb form used is in Faa’il (doer) form, so some scholars even say that the use of the Faa’il form shows that the tree itself ‘comes close’ to the Jannati to feed him its fruit.
1. Look at the word used, its root meaning, and its usage in:
- Different contexts in classical texts (i.e. pre-Islamic Arabic poetry/speeches)
- Different contexts in Qurʾān
- Different explanations in ahadith
- Different meanings and usages in dictionaries and lexicons
Allāh tells us about Shaytan in Sūrat’l-Ḥijr 15:39-40 and Allāh tells us the promise he made:
[Iblees] said, “My Lord, because You have put me in error, I will surely make [disobedience] attractive to them on earth, and I will mislead them all
Except, among them, Your chosen servants.”
I will misguide them all, except the mukhliseen ( مخلصين ) (see definition of root: Kh-lam-Sad ( خلص )
If you look at the precise word used and its root implication, you see that He will misguide all of us except the:
- sincere (Ikhlaas) slaves
- (Allāh’s ) pure (Khaalis) slaves [those who are pure from shirk and sins)
- freed and liberated slaves:
a. Those who Allāh has chosen to be saved by His Eternal Knowledge.
b. Who Allāh will free and liberate from the Hellfire on Judgment Day by His Mercy.
- Study the harf* word used, and try to look at it from a literal, picturesque perspective.
*Harf (Huroof) words are those small words which ‘connect’ a sentence together.
A word like “fee” (meaning “in”), or ‘Alaa (meaning ‘upon’), Ilaa (meaning ‘to’). Words like these can be looked at from a literal perspective to give more impact to the meanings of a sentence.
- In Sūrat’l-Mulk 67:20:
Or who is it that could be an army for you to aid you other than the Most Merciful? The disbelievers are not but in delusion.
Allāh tells us that the disbelievers are fi (in) ghuroor (deception) If we look at the word fi [meaning ‘in’] literally, it implies that the disbelievers are literally engulfed in a graphic object called deception. So wherever they will look -they will always be surrounded by that deception.
- If we look at the word ‘ila‘ (meaning ‘to‘) in Sūrat’l-Baqarah 2:257:
Allah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light. And those who disbelieve – their allies are Taghut. They take them out of the light into darknesses. Those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein.
We see that the devils are pulling the people out of the light (of the fitrah, the natural state humans are born in- believing in one Creator), and dragging them ‘to’ the darkness of disbelief and oppression.
- If we look at the word ‘ala (meaning ‘upon’) we can imagine someone being on top of what is being described, as if someone is sitting on top of a train.
So imagine there is a train called ‘manners’. Allāh describes His Messenger as being ‘Alaa (upon) constantly excellent and unmatched character and high morals. You can see an example of this in Sūrat’l-Qalam 68:4:
And indeed, you are of a great moral character.
We can then imagine someone upon excellent manners as being upon a train of excellent manners, so that wherever the train of perfect manners goes, that person will always be upon it and following it in goodness.
2. Look at the word used and look for harf* words similar to it, and then wonder why this one was used instead of the others.
In Sūrat’l-A‘rāf 7:19, Allāh told Adam:
And “O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat from wherever you will but do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.”
And do not approach ( هَٰذِهِ ) haadhi al-shajarah – this tree.
By Allāh telling Adam not to approach ‘this’ tree, it implied that this tree was near to where Adam lived. Why didn’t Allāh use the word that?
If Allāh said to Adam – do not approach; ’tilka’ ( تلك ) meaning ‘that‘ [feminine form of dhalika ( ذلك ) ] tree (shajarah), it would imply the tree was far from where Adam lived in the Gardens of Eden.
This one word ‘this’ (haadhihi ) shows that Allāh tested Adam by placing the forbidden tree close to where he lived in the Gardens, just like when we have desires close to us and we are tested by them.
3. Look at the word used, and look for close synonyms to it, and then reflect on why this one was used instead of the others. i.e. إِنَّ اللَّهَ نِعِمَّا يَعِظُكُم بِهِ
Indeed, Allah commands you to render trusts to whom they are due and when you judge between people to judge with justice. Excellent is that which Allah instructs you. Indeed, Allah is ever Hearing and Seeing.
Surely Allāh is Ni’im (favorable) with what He advises you with…
Allāh could have used many words to describe that He has been favorable to us by advising us to do good things, Sūrah Āle-‘Imrān:
Certainly did Allah confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.
Other words for ‘Favor‘ include:
Fadl (فضل ): for something to be more in quantity than what is fair or expected. (i.e. I ask you for $1 and you give me $20 as a Fadl from you.) (see Sūrat’l-Baqarah 2:253)
Those messengers – some of them We caused to exceed others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree. And We gave Jesus, the Son of Mary, clear proofs, and We supported him with the Pure Spirit. If Allah had willed, those [generations] succeeding them would not have fought each other after the clear proofs had come to them. But they differed, and some of them believed and some of them disbelieved. And if Allah had willed, they would not have fought each other, but Allah does what He intends.
Mann ( من): favor or goodness. To remind another of one’s favor and to use it to impose oneself on another. It is also used for a heavy weight.
Ahsana ( أحسن): any commendable deed whether it has to do with the self or another. (see Sūrah Yusuf 12:100)
And he raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him in prostration. And he said, “O my father, this is the explanation of my vision of before. My Lord has made it reality. And He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from bedouin life after Satan had induced [estrangement] between me and my brothers. Indeed, my Lord is Subtle in what He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise.
However, Allāh chose to use another word instead; Ni’im (نعم), which means everything that fulfills a need and becomes a source of happiness.
Ni’m also comes from a similar word meaning Nu’oomah (نعومه): ‘softness’
So Allāh specifically chose this word to tell us that He is:
Favorable (most common translation of Ni’m is ‘favor’) with what He advises us.
Fulfilling a need for us (by advising us) so we gain happiness.
Being ‘soft‘ with us in what He advises us with. He could have made the rules harder than needed, like the nations before us, but He was Merciful in His Law to us.
3. Next look at the word used and consider the antonym (opposite) to appreciate the power of the negativity in comparison to its positive meaning.
In Sūrat’l-Layl 92:4 ( إِنَّ سَعْيَكُمْ لَشَتَّىٰ ) Inna sa’yukum la shatta – Surely your travelling is no doubt diverse.
Indeed, your efforts are diverse.
Shatta ( شَتَّىٰ ) (means shatter or divide). But there are a lot of words that mean ‘divide’ in Arabic.
So what is this word’s opposite? It is allafa [ ألف ] (put together something divided as one united whole).
So we see that this āyah doesn’t just mean that mankind’s sa’ee (walking fast, traveling [to the next life]) is divided. Rather, it means our traveling was one and united once allafa [when all people followed the Guidance given to Adam], and now over time it has shattered, like glass breaks or shatters and now we are dispersing like breaking glass into different directions [shatta]. (Some traveling and doing deeds of the people of Hell, and others travelling and doing deeds of the people of Paradise).
Look for common and repeated patterns in the Sūrah.
In Sūrat’l-Ḥāqqah (69: 1-32) all of the words end in the letter ‘ha’ [ه] which implies
- Rhyme builds consistency and suspense up to the āyah when the rhyme stops
- Severity when recited (in accordance with the severe and violent sound produced from inside your body when pronouncing the letter ‘ha’ [ح], and that sound producing the violent punishments being portrayed in the theme of Sūrah al Haqqah).
This repeated pattern is sustained from āyāt 1-12 in Sūrat’l-Ḥāqqah and when the rhyme pattern changes, it’s because the topic of discussion has changed.
- Near Synonyms – Booklet created by Nouman Ali Khan – Available for free
- A good Arabic reference is: Mutaraadifaat ul-Qurʾān – by Imam Raghib al Isfahani. It is translated in Urdu also by Abdul Rahman al Kilani, author of Mutaraadifaatul Qurʾān in Urdu. Read a discussion about it by Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan.
- A really good resource for meanings is ejtaal.net – the Arabic Almanac dictionary. You simply type in the root letters in phonetic English, and the results for the three main dictionaries (Hans Wehr, Lanes Lexicon and Hava) come up in two seconds, it works on smart phones too, is downloadable, and free alhamdulillah.
In the next post we will discuss Step 2- dissecting the sentences structure and other concepts of balaghah. Please do post any gems you have reflected on in the comments?