Posted by: Dawud Israel | December 5, 2009

Uloomul Quran: Quranic Literary Techniques

Bismillah, alhamdulillah, wa salat wa salam ala Rasulullah.

For you oh, Lover of the Quran!

1) Ti’baq: A type of antithesis where opposites are used.

And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for men of sound knowledge. -Surah Rum (30:22)

In this verse, Allah shows a relationship between tongues and skin colors, to Heaven and Earth. Tongues come from Heaven because “Allama Adamu asma- Allah taught Adam the names of all things”; Allama means to imprint language, which Chomsky calls the “universal grammar”- everyone has the ability to learn language, its innate. The complexions come from the Earth, because Allah said Adam was created from all the topsoil of the Earth, including all the variances in human complexion; pure white, red soil, yellow soil, brown soil, black soil. Udma means topsoil so Adam means the one created from topsoil. Complexion is related to Earth and language is related to Heaven. Language is meaning, complexion is sensory- so there is a relationship between meaning and sensory; joined in the human being- what is significant and what is palpable. What we understand and what we see, touch and feel.

2) Iltifat: Changing the person in balagha, technique to grab you and draw you in and create multiple perspectives so consciousness is expanded. One must remember this works because Allah is 1st, 2nd and 3rd person and transcends meaning of the words. This is “how the Quran means.”


hikayah: 1st person narrative ex: “I did this. I really had to consider…”
khitab: 2nd person narrative ex: “You’re not the type of person to do this, but here you are. So you sit there and think about it…”
gheba: 3rd person narrative, similar to the omniscient narrator ex: “He pondered for a moment. He then did that.”

Example: Surah al-Fatiha

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim- In the Name of Allah. Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Alhamdulillahi rabbil alameen- All praise be to the Lord of the World
Ar-Rahman ar-Rahim- Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Maliki yawmi din- Master of the Day of Judgement

In the above verses, Allah is referred to in the third person. The recitation is as if Allah isn’t present or somewhere distant. These verses come of as very ceremonial and at a distance from one’s own personal self, as if they are routine.

Iyaka na’budu wa iyaka nasta’in- You alone we worship and you alone we seek for help

Here is the transition to the second person, where now God is being addressed with “You” as if He is coming nearer to the reciter but still from afar.

Ihdinas sirat al-mustaqeem- Guide us to the Straight Path
Sirat aladhina an’amta alayhim- The Path of those whom you have favored
Ghayril maghdubi alayhim wala dhal’een- Not the Path of those who have earned Your anger, nor of those who go astray

And in the last verses, the final transition is made to the first person. Now, you are speaking for yourself to Allah directly, as if it were face to face. The intimacy of this is referred to as “Munaja” where one speaks to God directly. The address of ‘others who came before’ in this verse only heightens this relationship, because it indicates you have an understanding of God’s ‘personality.’

Literally, and figuratively al-Fatiha brings you spiritually closer to God

3) Mumashat ma’al khasm: This refers to the argument technique Ibrahim alayhi salam implemented. In the Quran 6:75-79, one by one, Ibrahim alayhi salam takes the star, moon and the sun as his “god” and rejects each of them, finally submitting to Allah. In a cursory reading, this isn’t very easy to grasp, but take a good week’s worth of time of simply marveling at the sun, moon and stars and you understand how the heavenly bodies were perceived in earlier times. When he makes the star, his god, it means he sees nothing greater than it- he is literally face to face with his lord, likewise with the moon and sun. If we assume Ibrahim is being sincere, in his frame of mind, he is absorbed in the majesty and power of these celestial bodies- as if nothing else compares with or exists except the sun or the moon or the star, because that is how one reach a point of worshiping these objects. If you were to study the sun all the time and become absorbed by it, and then consider it to be God manifest- you are in a very powerful situation being totally consumed by its daily, powerful presence. And in reality, these are great objects which Allah swears by in the Quran. There really isn’t anything more fantastic in our worldly experience than these phenomena.

Now, in putting himself in this position, he shows to the pagans he understands the belief and position of the mushrikeen, how they are consumed by it and yet still, even after all this, he chooses Allah. If there is no real greater manifest phenomena in the world than the sun, and now one realizes it cannot be god, because it sets, than nothing lesser than it can be god either. And the sum total of all these magnificent phenomena do not compare to Allah, who logically is the One who all these heavenly phenomena are contingent upon. In this gradual way, Ibrahim makes the pagans to step back for a minute and he opens their mind to the possibility of Allah, distinct, one, and unlike creation, greater than anything they know and without superior- that there could be something greater than their minds, and more spiritually consuming than these heavenly bodies and therefore truly worthy of worship. And by merely opening their minds to the possibility, he convinces them and shows them he is upon a belief that is better than theirs.

“And of mankind are some who take others beside Allah as Andaadan (rivals). They love them as they love Allah. But those who believe, love Allah more (than the idolators love for Allah or their idols). If only, those who do wrong could see, when they will see the torment, that all power belongs to Allah and that Allah is severe in punishment.” (al Baqarah 2:165)

The closest understanding in English to mumashat ma’al khasm we have is what is called the ‘thought experiment,’ where a person thinks in a different way to understand a different viewpoint or uncover a hidden wisdom or meaning. This is similar to verstehen, the German style of thinking where one tries to understand the social meaning of things. Mumashat ma’al khasm can be used to successfully counter many arguments against Islam, for example: in the fate/free-will debate one question Muslims ask is, “If the universe wasn’t pre-determined by Allah, and left to go as is, would chaos not ensue and how would justice be ensured?” This is simply one example, but unfortunately the ‘thought experiment’/Ibrahim alayhi salam’s method is very under-used by Muslims.

Is it not a universal message? How does one study messages of the Divine?

4) Considering perspectives: from God’s perspective, your own, the angels, the jinns, the perspective of the pious and the perspective of the Prophets, the wicked, the hypocrites, the sinners, the poor, the oppressed, the tyrants, etc. The pious do not read, understand, interact and experience the Quran in the same way as the spiritually weak. Understanding this difference is key, because the verses are the same, but the experience can be very different. The Quran maintains the claim of being an inclusive revelation for all creation, and not being a revelation specifically to a one group, but to the individual, unique in his/her own right, while simultaneously also to the entire grouping of creation. Keeping this idea in mind, the Quran also serves as a bridge in understanding the different worlds people live in, so, there is no single perspective to the Quran, because its connected on the various experiences of the world in respect to life and God, it takes on multiple viewpoints to the world. And that is why we say the Quran can guide people and misguide others.

Here is an example of a woman’s experience with the Quran in Tafsir ibn Kathir of the closing verses of Surah Ale Imran detailing how women are not excluded from God’s mercy:

Allah said,

[فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ]

(So their Lord accepted of them), answered their invocation. Sa`id bin Mansur recorded that Salamah, a man from the family of Umm Salamah said, “Umm Salamah said, `O Messenger of Allah! Allah does not mention women in connection with Hijrah (Migration).’ Allah sent down the Ayah,

[فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ أَنِّى لاَ أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَامِلٍ مِّنْكُمْ مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَى]

(So their Lord accepted of them (their supplication and answered them), “Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female.)

The Ansar say that Umm Salamah was the first woman to migrate to them.” Al-Hakim collected this Hadith in his Mustadrak, and said, “It is Sahih according to the criteria of Al-Bukhari but they [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] did not collect it”.

Allah’s statement,

[أَنِّى لاَ أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَامِلٍ مِّنْكُمْ مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَى]

(“Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female,) explains the type of answer Allah gave them, stating that no deed of any person is ever lost with Him. Rather, He will completely reward each person for his or her good deeds.

5) Ask yourself: Who is the Author of the Quran? One simply has to look at the author of the Quran, His Divine capabilities and what He choose to write about, not write about, and what its significance could be. It need not be a verse is relegated to one narrow meaning, because many verses are meant to touch the soul of a person. The fact God is its author is in itself a literary technique embedded in the experience of reading the Quran. The piece of artwork below illustrates this idea.

6) “The best tafsir (explanation) of the Quran is time.” This is a saying I came across and its very true. The history of the world, the past, present and future are testimony to the wisdom of the Quran, its message and its comprehensiveness. It details what has happened, what is happening to you now, how its happening, how something could happen to you. The beauty of this is the further one is in time (our time vs. our grandfathers) and the more one understands the world, the more one can ponder the Quran in-depth, but obviously not really to the extent of the Tarjuman al-Quran, Ibn Abbas who is the greatest mufassir (explainer) of the Quran.

7) “Quran yufasiru al-Quran;” the Quran interprets and explains itself! Earlier verses are elucidated or hinted at or abrogated. How merciful is Allah, that He reveals something as weighty as the Quranand also shows us how to extract and learn from it?


-Refinement of the Hearts by Imam ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi explained by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf; CD. 3

-Explanation at local Halaqa by Aalim

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.

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