Essay – Who Owns the Language of Quran?

Having been long involved in discussions about the language of Quran, it has occurred to me that there are there two ways of looking at the problem –

The first way Allah used the language of the Arabs in order to deliver the message to them. This would make sense because if Allah used a language foreign to them, they would not have understood it. It could not have been a brand new language either for the same people. Allah had t to use a language intelligible to the people. The implication of this way is simple – the Arabs understood the message and their linguistic system (grammar and etymology) will thus be wholly correct in deciphering the message.  

However, this first way is dependent upon one fundamental assumption – that there is only a single Arabic language. In other words, by undertaking the process of understanding, simply by understanding grammar rules and etymologies, we may come to a foregone conclusion. Language is therefore a science.

While this situation is ideal, it is certainly not the reality. I have found that even with the requisite language skills, it is not always possible to come to the ‘right’ answer (indeed the ‘right’ answer in itself is worthy of a discussion). All we have to do is ask the Arabic lingocentrists the following:

1. What do the muqata’at (the discrete letters) represent? The sheer flexibility of thought accorded with the meanings of these letters precludes any kind of linguistic authority.

2. What do the separate awzan (weights denoting forms a root may take) represent? If one were to check the words ‘anzala’, ‘nazzala’ and ‘tanzeel’, one would find vast differences of opinion about what they represent.

3. How are grammatical rules derived? The Quran itself is the most major work in Arabic linguistics yet it is not a grammar work. Rather, meanings already presupposed are used to form grammatical rules and then recycled onto other verse. A good example of this is Quran 17/46 in which grammarians say the ‘alone’ (wahdah) applies to the ‘rabbaka’  (your lord) instead of ‘in the quran’ (fil quraan). The reason is obvious, they would never support the principle of ‘quran alone’ and thus their grammar must reflect that.

4. What are words like those used in Quran 5/103 representing? They are hardly agreed upon among Arab linguists and they are used only once in the text.

So this is the first way. It is untenable to me and unrealistic in the face of all these tests. I feel that there is a second way and this way presupposes the opposite of the aforementioned first way – that Arabic is not a single entity. It is rather an infinity of languages spoken by a group of people. It is into this group that Allah sends an inspired book. Can they all understand it? No. They are, like any non-Arab, attempting to understand it.

In this second scenario, Allah is like any human author who uses language in order to communicate. Of course, if we believe that Allah is the author, His attributes must reflect in the quality of the text. We cannot expect a haphazard use of language from this perfect being.

I feel this scenario is more tenable. All of us are users of the Quranic language and are attempting to understand its meaning. Grammar and semantics may be helpful but they are far from enough in deciphering the text. Rather factors like external observation, attitudes etc will come into play.

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About Farouk A. Peru

I am a human being in the world, blogging my existence. My thought systems may be found in my website: www.farouk.name
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4 Responses to Essay – Who Owns the Language of Quran?

  1. Abdur Rab says:

    When you say that Allah is the author of the Quran, what do you actually mean? Could you please elaborate it further by linking it to the long-running historical dispute between those who think that the Quran is “uncreated,” meaning the eternal, unchanging word of God and those who think that it is actually “created”? Actually, the “uncreated” version is that of the traditionalists and the other one is attributed to Mutazilite and modern ideas. The Quran cannot possibly be the exact verbal reproduction of God, since God does not have a language. Another point that lurks in me is that the revelation after all comes through a human person and through his language and, also importantly, after one becomes qualified enough to receive such inspiration. This is a spiritual experience for a person. The Quran is a result of this spiritual experience. In that case, the Quranic language and actual words reflect the words of the Messenger himself, as seems to evidenced by 69:40-43.

  2. Abdur Rab says:

    The last part of the last sentence above should read as “as seems to be evidence by 69:40-43.”

  3. Abdur Rab says:

    When you say that Allah is the author of the Quran, what do you actually mean? Could you please elaborate it further by linking it to the long-running historical dispute between those who think that the Quran is “uncreated,” meaning the eternal, unchanging word of God and those who think that it is actually “created”? Actually, the “uncreated” version is that of the traditionalists and the other one is attributed to Mutazilite and modern ideas. The Quran cannot possibly be the exact verbal reproduction of God, since God does not have a language. Another point that lurks in me is that the revelation after all comes through a human person and through his language and, also importantly, after one becomes qualified enough to receive such inspiration. This is a spiritual experience for a person. The Quran is a result of this spiritual experience. In that case, the Quranic language and actual words reflect the words of the Messenger himself, as seems to be evidenced by 69:40-43.

  4. Abdur Rab says:

    I wanted to remove two superfluous posts, but could not do so, as there is no editing option provided.

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