Swallow more than your Pride

taken from [jazahAllahu khayr]: http://arabicgems.wordpress.com/category/importance-of-arabic/

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

It has been narrated that a major scholar of the past [1] used to try and fault the Qur’an by searching for flaws in its language. His attempts and studies lasted months, during which time a group of men would frequent his house and ask him whether he had found anything yet. Eventually, he smashed his ink pot and broke his pen, and replied, “None can dispute that this is the Speech of Allah!” He then left the house and passed by a mosque, from which he heard the voice of a young boy reciting the verse,

وَقِيلَ يَا أَرْضُ ابْلَعِي مَاءكِ وَيَا سَمَاء أَقْلِعِي وَغِيضَ الْمَاء وَقُضِيَ الأَمْرُ وَاسْتَوَتْ عَلَى الْجُودِيِّ وَقِيلَ بُعْداً لِّلْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
And it was said, “O earth, swallow your water, and O sky, withhold [your rain].” And the water subsided, and the matter was accomplished, and the ship came to rest on the [mountain of] Judiyy. And it was said, “Away with the wrongdoing people.” (Hood, verse 44)

to which the man remarked, “It is not possible that a human could produce such words.”

The verse in question is one of the most beautiful, eloquent, rhetorical verses of the Qur’an, as the scholars of Arabic balaaghah (rhetoric) identified within it more than twenty-five different rhetorical devices (fann balaaghee) within just 17 words! [2]


When the Prophet (peace be upon him)  would pray in the Ka’bah in Makkah, the Qurayshis would laugh at him, curse him, throw rocks at him, and ridicule him. Allaah then revealed some verses about this to ease his (peace be upon him) heart with the situation around him,

أَرَأَيْتَ الَّذِي يَنْهَى * عَبْداً إِذَا صَلَّى * أَرَأَيْتَ إِن كَانَ عَلَى الْهُدَى * أَوْ أَمَرَ بِالتَّقْوَى * أَرَأَيْتَ إِن كَذَّبَ وَتَوَلَّى * أَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ بِأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَرَى * كَلَّا لَئِن لَّمْ يَنتَهِ لَنَسْفَعاً بِالنَّاصِيَةِ * نَاصِيَةٍ كَاذِبَةٍ خَاطِئَةٍ * فَلْيَدْعُ نَادِيَه * سَنَدْعُ الزَّبَانِيَةَ

Have you seen the one who forbids * A servant when he prays? * Have you seen if he is upon guidance * Or enjoins righteousness? * Have you seen if he denies and turns away -*   Does he not know that Allah sees? *  No! If he does not desist, We will surely drag him by the forelock -* A lying, sinning forelock. * Then let him call his associates; * We will call the angels of Hell.

Upon the revelation of these verses, the Prophet (peace be upon him) proceeded to the Ka’bah and recited the verses openly to the Qurayshi enemies of Islam.  They listened intently until he (peace be upon him) went on to recite the last verse of this chapter,

كَلَّا لَا تُطِعْهُ وَاسْجُدْ وَاقْتَرِبْ

No! Do not obey him. But prostrate and draw near [to Allah ].

By the time this last verse was recited, they all fell involuntarily into prostration as commanded in the verse, mesmerised by the beauty and truth of what they had just heard.


And the conversion story of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab is a well-known one. He was one of the staunchest enemies of Islam, one of the strongest men in Makkah, who was sworn to kill the man who called himself the Prophet of God. Sword in hand, he set about to accomplish the task he had set himself and on the way was asked by a man he passed on the street as to the nature of his mission. When ‘Umar told the man of his intentions, the man told him to worry about his own sister first. In a fit of rage, he went to his sister’s house to kill her first if the news was true. He asked her whether she had accepted Islam, and when she replied in the affirmative he slapped her so hard that blood fell from her face. He noticed some paper in her hand, so he asked her what she was carrying. When she told him she could not give him the papers as he was not pure, he tore them from her hands and began to read the words written on them (listen),

طه * مَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْآنَ لِتَشْقَى * إِلَّا تَذْكِرَةً لِّمَن يَخْشَى * تَنزِيلاً مِّمَّنْ خَلَقَ الْأَرْضَ وَالسَّمَاوَاتِ الْعُلَى * الرَّحْمَنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَى * لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا وَمَا تَحْتَ الثَّرَى  * وَإِن تَجْهَرْ بِالْقَوْلِ فَإِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ السِّرَّ وَأَخْفَى* اللَّهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ لَهُ الْأَسْمَاء الْحُسْنَى

Ta, Ha. * We have not sent down to you the Qur’an that you be distressed * But only as a reminder for those who fear [ Allah ] * A revelation from He who created the earth and highest heavens, * The Most Merciful [who is] above the Throne established*  To Him belongs what is in the heavens and what is on the earth and what is between them and what is under the soil. * And if you speak aloud – then indeed, He knows the secret and what is [even] more hidden * Allah – there is no deity except Him. To Him belong the best names.

Upon reading the words on the paper, ‘Umar’s eyes filled with tears. He demanded from his sister that she tell him where this man Muhammad (peace be upon him) was, and after making him promise not to harm the Prophet (peace be upon him) he set out to find him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) could tell who was at the door from the strength of his knock, so opened the door and greeted his visitor with the words, “Isn’t it about time you became Muslim, O ‘Umar?” to which he received the reply, “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship other than Allaah, and I bear witness that you are the Messenger of Allaah.”

The question that remains to be asked is: What did these men have in common?

The answer (among other things)? They all had a deep, solid, understanding and appreciation of the Arabic language, its syntax, semantics, rhetorical and literary devices, poetry, prose, and all else a mastery of any language entails. An understanding that allowed them to immediately discern that the difference between the speech of God and the speech of His creation is the difference between God and His creation itself. An understanding of the language that allowed them to recognise the truth and submit to it without giving another moment’s consideration to the issue at hand. An understanding that enabled them to recognise the miraculous nature of the Qur’anic text, and use this recognition as a base on which to build their faith.

Perhaps we will never be able to acheive the same appreciation and understanding of the language of the Qur’an as they did, but who can dispute that we owe it to our souls, to our faith, to at least try.

[1] It has been said that he was the well-known Ibn al-Muqaffa’. But the narration appeared without naming the man in  al-Jadwal fee I’raab al-Qur’aan wa Sarfuhu wa Bayaanuhu by Mahmood Safi (6/278).

[2] This is not a suitable place to discuss these rhetorical devices, as a background of balaaghah is first required. But if anyone is versed in Arabic and would like to read more, I recommend them to refer to the book Kifaayat al-Alma’ee Fee Ayat Yaa Ard Ibla’ee by Muhammad ibn al-Jazaree (published by Dar al-Afaq al-Jadidah in Bayrut, 2003), or to refer to Tafseer al-Bahr al-Muheet by Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi.

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