|What Is The Challenge Of The Qur'an With Respect To Arabic Prose & Poetry?|
|Written by mquran.org|
|Monday, 20 November 2006|
The Qur'an in many places challenges the people to produce a surah like it. It appears that some people who call the challenge irrelevent or an utterly subjective criterion are pretty much unaware of how the Arabic poetry and prose compares with the Qur'an. This article is devoted to deal with one aspect of the Qur'anic challenge of produce a surah like it. What is meant by surah like it with respect to the Arabic prose and poetry?
The verses of the Qur'an dealing with the challenge are given below (Hilali and Muhsin Khan's Translation):
cAbdur Rahim Green mentions that:
To begin with; the Arabic language and Arab speech are divided into two branches. One of them is rhymed poetry. It is a speech with metre and rhyme, which means every line of it ends upon a definite letter, which is called the 'rhyme'. This rhymed poetry is again divided into metres or what is called as al-Bihar, literally meaning 'The Seas'. This is so called because of the way the poetry moves according to the rhythmic patterns. There are sixteen al-Bihar viz; at-Tawil, al-Bassit, al-Wafir, al-Kamil, ar-Rajs, al-Khafif, al-Hazaj, al-Muttakarib, al-Munsarih, al-Muktatab, al-Muktadarak, al-Madid, al-Mujtath, al-Ramel, al-Khabab and as-Saria'. Each one rhymes differently. For metres of Arabic poetry please see please see Lyall's book Translations Of Ancient Arabian Poetry, Chiefly Pre-Islamic. He discusses al-Kamil, al-Wafir, al-Hajaz, at-Tawil, al-Bassit, al-Khafif and al-Madid briefly.
The other branch of Arabic speech is prose, that is non-metrical speech. The prose may be a rhymed prose. Rhymed prose consists of cola ending on the same rhyme throughout, or of sentences rhymed in pairs. This is called "rhymed prose" or sajc. Prose may also be straight prose (mursal). In straight prose, the speech goes on and is not divided in cola, but is continued straight through without any divisions, either of rhyme or of anything else. Prose is employed in sermons and prayers and in speeches intended to encourage or frighten the masses. One of the most famous speeches involving sajc is that of Hajjaj bin Yusuf in his first deputation in Iraq in post-Islamic and Quss bin Sa'idah in pre-Islamic times.
So, the challenge, as cAbdur Rahim Green mentions, is to produce in Arabic , three lines, that do not fall into one of these sixteen al-Bihar, that is not rhyming prose, nor like the speech of soothsayers, and not normal speech, that it should contain at least a comprehensible meaning and rhetoric, i.e. not gobbledygook. Indeed
It is interesting to know that all the pre-Islam and post-Islamic poetry collected by Louis Cheikho falls in the above sixteen metres or al-Bihar. Indeed the pagans of Mecca repeated accuse Prophet Muhammad(P) for being a forger, a soothsayer etc. The Arabs who were at the pinnacle of their poetry and prose during the time of revelation of the Qur'an could not even produce the smallest surah of its like. The Qur'an's form did not fit into any of the above mentioned categories. It was this that made the Qur'an inimitable, and left the pagan Arabs at a loss as to how they might combat it as Alqama bin cAbd al-Manaf confirmed when he addressed their leaders, the Quraysh:
It is a well known fact that the Qur'an was revealed in seven ahruf (or seven forms) to facilitate greater understanding of it among the Arabs who had different dialects. This was also to challenge them on their own grounds to produce a surah like that of the Qur'an. The challenge became more obvious when none of the seven major tribes could imitate it even in their own dialects as no one could claim that it was difficult to imitate due to it not being in their own dialect.
What Do The Orientalists Say About The Inimitability Of The Qur'an?
E H Palmer, as early as 1880, recognized the unique style of the Qur'an. But he seem to have been wavering between two thoughts. He writes in the Introduction to his translation of the Qur'an:
The famous Arabist from University of Oxford, Hamilton Gibb was open upon about the style of the Qur'an. In his words:
And in some other place, talking about the Prophet(P) and the Qur'an, he states:
On the influence of the Qur'an on Arabic literature Gibb says:
As the Qur'an itself says:
Lastly, the beautiful style of the Qur'an is admired even by the Arab Christians:
The above sentences speak of themselves. Summing up: Within the Arabic literature, either poetry or prose, there is nothing comparable to the Qur'an. Muslims throughout the centuries are united upon the its inimitability.
There is also a talk by some people that there are grammatical 'errors' in the Qur'an. In retort, it can be mentioned that the Arab contemporaries of Muhammad(P) were most erudite and proficient in the idiosyncrasies of Arabic speech; and hence, if they had found any grammatical 'errors' in the Qur'an, they would have revealed it when Muhammad(P) challenged them with to do so. Therefore, since they did not take up his challenge on this issue, we can be rest assured that no such grammatical 'errors' exist in the Qur'an.
Indeed the grammatical errors claimed by some people have been already discussed and refuted in a reputed journal. It turns out that lack of knowledge of intricate constructions in classical Arabic by some people gave rise to so-called grammatical 'errors'.
I'jaz al-Qur'an (Or Inimitability Of The Qur'an) & Its Exposition
I'jaz literally means "the rendering incapable, powerless". It is the concept relating to the miraculous nature of the Qur'an. What consitutes this miracle is a subject that has engaged Muslims scholars for centuries. By the early part of the third century AH (ninth century CE), the word i'jaz had come to mean that quality of the Qur'an that rendered people incapable of imitating the book or any part; in content and form. By the latter part of that century, the word had become the technical term, and the numerous definitions applied to it after the tenth century have shown little divergence from the key concepts of the inimitability of the Qur'an and the inability of human beings to match it even challenged (tahiddi).
Thus, the Islamic doctrine of i'jaz al-Qur'an consists in the belief that the Qur'an is a miracle (mu'jizah) bestowed on Muhammad(P). Both terms, i'jaz and mu'jizah come from the same verbal root. While mu'jizah is the active principle of a'jaza, i'jaz is its verbal noun.
The early theological discussions on i'jaz introduced the hypothesis of sarfah ("turning away") and argued that the miracle consisted of God's turning the competent away from taking up the challenge of imitating the Qur'an. The implication of sarfah is that the Qur'an otherwise could be imitated. However, cAbd al-Jabbar (d. 1025 CE), the Mu'tazilite theologian rejected sarfah because of its obvious weaknesses.
cAbd al-Jabbar insisted on the unmatchable quality of the Qur'an's extra-ordinary eloquence and unique stylist perfection. In his work al-Mughni (The Sufficient Book), he argued that eloquence (fasahah) resulted from the excellence of both meaning and wording, and he explained that there were degrees of excellence depending on the manner in which words were chosen and arranged in any literary text, the Qur'an being the highest type.
al-Baqillani (d. 1013 CE), in his systematic and comprehensive study entitled I'jaz al-Qur'an upheld the rhetorically unsurpassable style of the Qur'an, but he did not consider this to be a necessary argument in the favour of the Qur'an's uniqueness and emphasized instead the content of revelation.
The choice and arrangement of words, referred to as nazm was the focus of discussion by al-Jahiz, al-Sijistani (d. 928 CE), al-Bakhi (d. 933 CE) and Ibn al-Ikhshid (d. 937 CE). al-Rummani and his contemporary al-Khattabi (d. 998 CE) discussed the psychological effect of nazm of the Qur'an in their al-Nukat fi I'jaz al-Qur'an and Bayan I'jaz al-Qur'an, respectively.
The author who best elaborated and systematized the theory of nazm in his analysis of the i'jaz is cAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani (d. 1078 CE) in his Dala'il al-I'jaz. His material was further organized by Fakhr ad-Din al-Razi (d. 1209) in his Nihayat al-I'jaz fi Dirayat al-I'jaz and put to practical purposes by al-Zamakhshari (d. 1144 CE) in his exegesis of the Qur'an entitled al-Kashasaf, rich in rhetorical analysis of the Qur'anic style.
Hardly anything new has been added by later authors.
Is The Bible Inimitable?
Anyone who has read the history of the Bible as a text as well as the constantly changing canon at the whims of the leaders of the Church and some 300,000+ variant readings in the New Testament itself would suggest that no book in history enjoyed such as reputation. The process of serious editing through which the Christian Bible went through is unparalleled in its almost 2000 year history. This would itself make the Bible an inimitable book.
As far as the language of the Bible and its stylistic perfection is concerned, the Bible does not make any such claim. Therefore, it not does challenge the mankind of produce a few verses or a chapter like it. Further, it is a Christian claim that the Bible contains scribal and linguistic errors. The language in which the Greek New Testament was written is demotic Greek which itself has little or no regard for grammatical rules of classical Greek. Comparing the stylistic perfection of the Qur'an versus stylistic imperfection of the Bible, von Grunebaum states:
Futher, he elaborates the position of Western theologians on the canonization process and composition of the Bible:
That pretty much sums up the Bible, its stylistic perfection (or the lack of it!) and the position of Western theologians.
And Allah knows best!
 C J Lyall, Translations Of Ancient Arabian Poetry, Chiefly Pre-Islamic, Williams & Norgate Ltd., London, 1930.
 Ibid., pp. xlv-lii.
 Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, Franz Rosenthal (Translator), Volume III, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1958, p. 368.
 A F L Beeston, T M Johnstone, R B Serjeant and G R Smith (Editors), Arabic Literature To The End Of The Ummayad Period, 1983, Cambridge University Press, p. 34.
 Louis Cheikho, Shucara' 'al-Nasraniyah, 1890-1891, Beirut.
 Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, Tafseer Soorah al-Hujuraat, 1988, Tawheed Publications, Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), p. 28.
 E H Palmer (Tr.), The Qur'an, 1900, Part I, Oxford at Clarendon Press, p. lv.
 H A R Gibb, Islam - A Historical Survey, 1980, Oxford University Press, p. 28.
 Ibid., p. 25.
 H A R Gibb, Arabic Literature - An Introduction, 1963, Oxford at Clarendon Press, p. 36.
 Ibid., p. 37.
 Alfred Guillaume, Islam, 1990 (Reprinted), Penguin Books, pp. 73-74.
 M A S Abdel Haleem, Grammatical Shift For The Rhetorical Purposes: Iltifat & Related Features In The Qur'an, Bulletin of School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume LV, Part 3, 1992. (Now online)
 Mircea Eliade (Editor in Chief), The Encyclopedia Of Religion, Volume 7, Macmillam Publishing Company, New York, p. 87, Under I'jaz by Issa J Boullata.
 Yusuf Rahman, The Miraculous Nature Of Muslim Scripture: A Study Of 'Abd al-Jabbar's I'jaz al-Qur'an, Islamic Studies, Volume 35, Number 4, 1996, p. 409.
 Ibid., pp. 415-416.
 The Encyclopedia Of Religion, Op.Cit, p. 88.
 B Lewis, V L Menage, Ch. Pellat & J Schacht (Editors), Encyclopedia Of Islam (New Edition), 1971, Volume III, E J Brill (Leiden) & Luzac & Co. (London), p. 1020 (Under I'djaz).
M S M Saifullah, cAbd ar-Rahman Robert Squires & Muhammad Ghoniem
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