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The Arabic language of the Holy Quran

By: Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)

The Holy Quran asserts its Arabic language through the following verses: "Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran that you might understand," (12:02), "A Book of which the verses are made plain, an Arabic Quran for a people who know," (41:03), "It is a Quran in Arabic, without any crookedness (therein): in order that they may guard against Evil," (39:28), "The Faithful Spirit has descended with it, upon your heart that you may be of the warners, in plain Arabic language." (26:193-195).

The issue of the Arabic language of the Quran is not limited to the linguistic aspect; it expands to an extended treatment of style: the density and types of figurative language, and suggestiveness, both pertaining to the artistic characteristic modes including suggestions, signs, symbols, gesticulations, which provide the word with an underlying meaning. In addition, the origin and the history of the word [the historical usage of the word] infuse it with a new level of signification. This has come to be known as the “conventional (uruf) comprehension” or “conventional taste.”

It is noticed that the rules of the Arabic language eliminates all ambiguities related to significance [connotation], whether metaphorical or literal, which is a primary issue in the process of comprehension and cognition [teaching and learning]. Accordingly, words of the Quran, by delivering laws and jurisdictions, are considered an argument and a proof that those who received the message have been informed. There is no use of neither linguistic, nor meaning complications, in the employment of the numeral types of figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification…). In other words, there should be no dissemblance between a denotation and the speaker's intention. Both must contrive to make a simple coherent sense on the primary level of signification. There should be no need for exerting a great mental effort to be able to associate a word with its implications, since this is the basic task of a language which is to convey the meaning. We inspire this notion from the following verses which shed the light on the Quran’s semiotic character: "Verily We have sent down revelations and explained them. Allah guides whom He will unto a straight path," (24:46), "Thus do We expound the revelations that the way of the unrighteous may be manifest," (06:55), "Allah would explain to you and guide you by the examples of those who were before you." (04:26).  

It is apparent that these verses discuss the unequivocal style imperative to the act of enlightenment, guidance, and eventually, rectitude.

Thus, we can not refer to the Quran as being a book of ambiguous symbols or intricate terms which deviate from the traditional style of the Arabic language. Otherwise, man, incapable of finding the light that would illustrate the meanings and implications of the Quranic verses, knowing that the implied words are open to several interpretations that go beyond the strict limits of words, would stand perplexed and confused. The major objective behind the Quran’s descendant upon people is to enlighten their minds, sharpen their awareness, and strengthen their piety through consciousness and revelation, as mentioned in Allah’s saying: "And makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise, (02:221), "Thus Allah makes the communications clear to you that you may reflect," (02:266), "Thus Allah expounds unto you His revelations so that you may understand," (02:242), "Thus does Allah make clear to you His communications that you may follow the right way," (03:103), "Thus does Allah make clear His communications for men that they may guard (against evil)." (02:187).

Thus, all scholars completely agree on the incontestable proofs provided by the Quran. Moreover, the allegories (Mutashabihat), which are discussed by the Quran and mentioned in it as well, do not indicate “symbols”. Allegories, in the Quran, refer to the words that bear more than just a single interpretation, or to words signifying more than just one suggestion. In other words, some of the Quran’s verses are decisive, others allegorical; those who have perversity in their hearts follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to cause dissensions and misleading people by giving it their own interpretation.  

Accordingly, the erudite scholars, through certain readings, ought to set the guidelines within which interpretations are considered logically accepted through examining the general atmosphere of the verse, and not intrinsically analyzing it. Interpreting the verses in accordance to the strict sense of the word is what makes Quranic interpretation similar to critical literal interpretation and analysis.

We do not want to digress and discuss in details the issue of “allegory” and “interpretation”, but we want to touch upon some of its aspects, in accordance with the general intention of the Arabic language, which is basically to convey the meaning. It was narrated that when the Members of the House were asked if the prayer and Zakat were meant only to be performed by some people, they answered that Allah does not tell His servants things that they do not understand, meaning that the Quranic verses are not intended to be complicated on the linguistic or symbolical sense, so that people would comprehend them easily.