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QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By Type III

In Anthologies, language and communication, Literature|Religion, Quran, Words of Gold: The Quran on April 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Conventional metaphors have probably always existed. Many new words or sense-meanings have arisen when old words were metaphorically extended to new ideas/situations. Metaphors hidden in the roots (etymologies) of words are usually labelled as dead metaphors. Their metaphoric imagery is not as vivid, as alive as more regular or novel metaphors. However, understanding them might help understand the role they play in fresh metaphors.

 

Etymology of a word

The roots of language are irrational and of a
magical nature.

___ Jorge Luis Borges↓1

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. By an extension, the term “etymology (of a word)” means the origin of a particular word.

__ wikipedia

To trace this history etymologists look into previous texts to glean former meanings and usages. They also examine word roots to trace the origins. Word root is the most basic part of the word necessary for the word’s meaning. Many more words are derived by adding suffixes or prefixes to the root word.

 

Metaphoric applications of Qur’anic roots

In the Arabic language, the root of a word typically consists of three, four, or five letters↓2. There may not only be suffixes or prefixes to make words from the root, there are often ‘infixes’, i.e. letter(s) inserted between the root words. For instance, consider the following two ayahs:

 وَالَّذِينَ هُم مِّنْ عَذَابِ رَبِّهِم مُّشْفِقُونَ

 And those who are fearful of the punishment of their Lord; [Al-Ma’arij 27]

فَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالشَّفَقِ

 So I swear by the twilight glow; [Al-Inshiqaq 16]

The highlighted words both share the same root – Sha-Fa-Qa, but very different meanings. The most literal meaning of the root-letters (the one associated with the basic derivation from root words), according to Lane Lexicon are: “being niggardly of provision” and “being fearful and cautious on account of it”. By metaphoric association, the word, especially in its form in the first ayah, has come to mean: being ‘apprehensively fearful’, ‘tender’, ‘compassionate’, and ‘cautious’.

The form used in the second example above is a noun. It refers to “the redness in the horizon from sunset until the time of nightfall”. While the extension of meaning as in the above example is obvious, the one in this later example is not so obvious. It is understandably probable that the same metaphoric process of meaning-extension worked in this case, as well.

Below, I attempt to gather several Qur’anic examples where comparison of a word’s usage with the basic root meaning reveals the application of a metaphor.

 

Fa-Ra-Qaf

وَإِذْ فَرَقْنَا بِكُمُ الْبَحْرَ

AND we parted the sea for you. [Al-Baqarah 50]

Over here the root-letters appear in their most basic form: past tense (plural subjective). Their meaning is literal: to divide or separate something physical into two (or more) portions.

وَقُرْآنًا فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَىٰ مُكْثٍ

AND [it is] a Qur’an which We have separated [by intervals] that you might recite it to the people over a prolonged period. [in Al-Isra 106]

The ayah above carries the same word with the same meaning but in a less literal sense. The division mentioned here is not in a physical sense but in the sense of time.

فِيهَا يُفْرَقُ كُلُّ أَمْرٍ حَكِيمٍ

ON this night, every absolute command coming from Us becomes distinguishable. [Ad-Dukhan 4]

Above is the present tense (singular subjective) version of the same basic form utilised in even less literal sense. Speaking of the one blessed night in which God determines every matter of the world that is to take place till the next occurence of the night↓3. When each matter has been ordained, it is as if everything has been ‘clearly seperated’ from every other thing. The metaphorical extension of meaning is clear. Examples of other extensions follow:

 وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا

AND hold fast to the Bond of Allah, together, and do not scatter. [in Al-i-Imran 103

The Qur’anic version of “united we stand; divided we fall”. The word used in a prohibitive version of a derived form signifies both physical, mental and psychosocial lack of unison that results when small disagreements in a group/nation carry more weiht than the major unifying principles.

تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ الْفُرْقَانَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ لِيَكُونَ لِلْعَالَمِينَ نَذِيرًا

 BLESSED is He who has sent down the Criterion to His worshiper (Prophet Muhammad), that he is a warner to all mankind; [Al-Furqan 1]

Finally, the most metaphorical application of the root is this noun-form that is used for things carrying a superlative degree of a property. Al-Qur’an is called as The One that divides the wrong from right; that makes everything clear and distinguishable from one another↓4.  

 

Da-Ra-Kaf

فَلَمَّا تَرَاءَى الْجَمْعَانِ قَالَ أَصْحَابُ مُوسَىٰ إِنَّا لَمُدْرَكُونَ

AND when the two groups saw each other, Moses’ companions said, “We are sure to be overtaken.” [Ash-Shu’ara 61]

This ayah illustrates this root’s most literal meaning: ‘to be physically overtaken’. The word here is in the noun (plural) form of a derivative version of the root↓. The ayah is from the story when Moses’ companions were afraid they will be caught by Pharoah’s troops when they were stopped by the sea while fleeing from Egypt. In fact, the most literal sense of the root’s simplest derivative is, according to Lanes’s Lexicon, “the dropping of rain with close consecutiveness as though one portion thereof overtook another.” Thus it seems, that the basic meaning from above ayah might itself be a metaphorical extension of rain droplets closely following each other. An even lesser literal application is as follows:

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا ادَّارَكُوا فِيهَا جَمِيعًا قَالَتْ أُخْرَاهُمْ لِأُولَاهُمْ رَبَّنَا هَٰؤُلَاءِ أَضَلُّونَا

 WHEN they are all gathered there, the last of them will say of the first, “Our Lord, it was they who led us astray:…” [in Al-A’raf 38]

Speaking of groups of the punished on the Judgment Day entering hell-fire, the application of da-ra-kaf is in the sense that they all followed each other into hell, as if one party overtook another into the hell-fire.

إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ فِي الدَّرْكِ الْأَسْفَلِ مِنَ النَّارِ وَلَنْ تَجِدَ لَهُمْ نَصِيرًا

THE Hypocrites will be in the lowest reach (depth) of the Fire: [An-Nisa 145]

Here it seems that the sense of  ‘overtaking’ is extended into that of ‘reaching over’ and the word used in the sense of ‘bottom’.

بَلِ ادَّارَكَ عِلْمُهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ بَلْ هُمْ فِي شَكٍّ مِنْهَا بَلْ هُم مِّنْهَا عَمُونَ

NAY, but their knowledge fails as to the Hereafter; nay, they are in doubt of it; nay, they are blind to it. [An-Naml 66]

Here ‘overtook’ has been metaphorically extended into ‘failure’. Other meanings according to other standard translations include ‘their knowledge’ being ‘lost’ (Maududi) and ‘arrested’ (Sahih International). A sportsman usually ‘fails’ when they are overtaken by another, hence the metaphor. Or, since the root is also extended into ‘reaching over’, the meaning is in the sense: ‘doth their knowledge reach to the hereafter?’ (Pickthall)↓5.

 

Shim-Jim-Ra

The word shajar is commonly known to Arabic-Urdu-Hindi speaking people as ‘tree’. Indeed that is the common usage in which it is utilised in the Quran as well (See the pertinent Quranic Arabic Corpus page for comparison). However, that is not its literal meaning. The true literal meaning is used in the Qur’an only once, in the following ayah.

فَلَا وَرَبِّكَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىٰ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ

 BUT nay, by thy Lord, they will not believe (in truth) until they make thee judge of what is in dispute between them; [in An-Nisa 65]

The literal meaning of shajara (here appearing in its most basic form: past tense singular subjective), according to Lane’s Lexicon, is “being or becoming intricate, complicated, perplexed, confused, or intricately intermixed.” When it is used with baina-hum (‘between them), as above, it is meant as: “an occasion of contention, or dispute, or of disagreement, or of difference…”. The Lexicon cites “intermixing, or confusion of the branches” as the reason for the word’s application to trees.

 

Ra-Ain-Ya

Consider the following pairs of ayahs:

كُلُوا وَارْعَوْا أَنْعَامَكُمْ

YOU eat and let your cattle graze’ [in Surah Ta-Ha 54]

أَخْرَجَ مِنْهَا مَاءَهَا وَمَرْعَاهَا 

AND then (Allah) brought from it its water and pasture. [An-Nazi’at 31]

and

 فَمَا رَعَوْهَا حَقَّ رِعَايَتِهَا

 … THEN they did not observe it as it ought to have been observed; [in Al-Hadid 27]

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِأَمَانَاتِهِمْ وَعَهْدِهِمْ رَاعُونَ

[Those] WHO are true [keepers] to their trusts and their covenants; [Al-Mu’minum 8]

The first two ayahs represent the literal sense of the root-word: to pasture cattle. The first word is in imperative and the second is the derivative noun. The second pair represents the metaphorical extension: tending to, observing, keeping one’s charges.

These examples illustrate in detail how well-integrated metaphors are into language and it’s history and usage.

 

Notes

1. Prologue to “El otro, el mismo”. Taken from Introduction and Abbreviation, Online Etymological Dictionary, Retrieved Online at http://www.etymonline.com/abbr.php?allowed_in_frame=0

 2. Several resources on the internet give a good introduction to Qur’anic language or the Arabic language in general. Examples include the Project Root List, and the http://arabic.tripod.com/

3. Popularly known as the Lailat-ul-Qadar; reference: Surah Al-Qadar.

4. According to Ma’ariful Qur’an (English pdf, Vol. 1, p. 213, under 2:53): “In the language of the Holy Qur’an, al-Furqan is a term signifying something that separates truth from falsehood or distinguishes the one from the other.” Retrieved from: http://www.maarifulquran.net/data/maarifulquran-english-pdf/pdf/Maarifulquran%20English%20PDF%20-%20Vol%201%20-%20Page%20185-234%20by%20Mufti%20Shafi%20Usmani%20Rah.pdf

5. For all translations refer to the Tanzil site linked above.

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By Type II

In Anthologies, language and communication, Literature|Religion on April 17, 2013 at 11:40 am

The last post essentially revisited the ubiquity and essentiality of metaphor↓1. Metaphors are not only prevalent, they are a part of the way we think, understand and describe things in this world.

Some metaphors are such an integral part of our conceptual system that we do not easily notice them, or understand them plainly. Some others are different in the sense that they are less frequent, unique, unfamiliar, or present new connections between ideas. The former were termed as conventional, while the latter was termed as novel by George Lakoff↓2. He and subsequent research identified several neural and cognitive differences between the two. On the other hand, both are basically a part of the same system (i.e. conceptul system) and arise from the same process (metaphorical thinking).

In this post we focus only on conventional metaphors since they are more frequent and we will move on to special cases of conventional metaphor.

Examples of conventional metaphors

Nearly all the Qur’anic examples of conceptual metaphors in the last post were conventional. Here we consider more examples, highlighting their familiarity and salience. This way, there will be appropriate contrast to novel metaphors when they are presented later in the anthology.

إِنَّكُمْ وَمَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ حَصَبُ جَهَنَّمَ

Verily you and the gods you worshipped beside Allah are the fuel of Hell. [in Al-Anbiya 98]

 Since hell is supposed to burn those put into it as punishment, calling those fuel is an obvious metaphor.

وَلَا تَعْزِمُوا عُقْدَةَ النِّكَاحِ حَتَّىٰ يَبْلُغَ الْكِتَابُ أَجَلَهُ

 And  do not resolve on the knot of marriage until the waiting term expires; [in Al-Baqarah 235]

This ayah on guidance for another wedlock after the previous one has ended terms it as a ‘knot’. This metaphor calls to mind its English correspondent: the bond (in addition to ‘knot’ which itself is a metaphor’. Since a knot ties two things together and so does marriage in the psychosocial sense, the metaphor is obvious.

وَزَيَّنَّا السَّمَاءَ الدُّنْيَا بِمَصَابِيحَ وَحِفْظًا

And We adorned the nearest heaven with lamps and as protection. [in Sura Fussilat 12]

Stars, while performing their astronomical functions (one of which is hinted in this ayah), also look beautiful from earth because of their twinkling. Hence the metaphorical rendering ‘adorned’ or ‘decorated’ is understandable.

قَالَ سَنَشُدُّ عَضُدَكَ بِأَخِيكَ

[Allah] said, “We will strengthen your arm through your brother…” [in Al-Qasas 35]

A man performs most of his actions with his arm. Sometimes the task is so big, he needs another’s help. A helping hand is, thus, a common universal metaphor. Here God speaks of strengthening Prophet Moses’ (alaihi-s-salaam) arm by bestwoing his brother Haroon (alaihi-s-salaam) with prophethood as well.

 فَأَذَاقَهُمُ اللَّـهُ الْخِزْيَ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا

So Allah made them taste disgrace in worldly life. [in Az-Zumar 26]

Expressing different experiences in life as ‘food’ is a common conceptual metaphor across cultures. Tasting the flavor of success, failure; acquiring the fruit of labor, patience; and so forth. 

هُنَالِكَ ابْتُلِيَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَزُلْزِلُوا زِلْزَالًا شَدِيدًا

 There the believers were tested and shaken with a severe shaking. [Al-Ahzab 11]

 The metaphor here is an expression of the conceptual metaphor: “emotion is physical force”.  Allah speaks here of the time when Non-believing tribes have gathered around Madina from all over Arab and Muslims had to defend themselves by constructing a big trench on Madina’s front (ghazwa-e-ahzab). At that time some inside groups of hypocrites, and of Jews who were living in Madina had also started brewing trouble, causing Muslims a jolt of worry. Hence the metaphoric image applied is that of an earthquake’s shake to paint the picture of the extreme emotional turbulence the Muslims found themselves in.

 

Conclusion 

This study makes us realize that metaphors are salient and easily understandable when the metaphoric image (the vehicle) shares an obvious connection with the meaning (target/source). Both the aspects of the metaphor (vehicle and target) are familiar to us through our day-to-day observations and experiences. It is these that are termed as ‘conventional’ and many more examples exist in the Qur’an.

 

Notes

1. The topic was covered with detail in the previous series on metaphors.

 2. Such as in Lakoff, G. 1993. The contemporary theory of metaphor. in Metaphor and Thought, 2nd ed. Ed. by Andrew Ortony. New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved Online: http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~coulson/203/lakoff_ps.pdf

 

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By Type I

In Anthologies, literature, Literature|Religion, Quran, The Method, Uncategorized, Words of Gold: The Quran on April 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm

The Context

Qur’an is an inexhaustible resource whether analysed from literary, philosophical or mathematical points of view or more. There are many aspects of the Qur’an that a current reader might immerse in and glean countless gems for close study. In the current thread of posts, I have been focusing on Qur’anic metaphors, following on from a previous series of posts in which theory and literature on the topic were explored.

In this thread of posts, so far, I have been discussing examples of metaphors in Qur’an as they appear in various forms (such as similie and allegory). Closely related forms which are not exactly metaphors were also considered (such as metonymy).

In the current section I will consider examples from another angle: I came across various ‘types’ of metaphors during my literature search for the previous series of posts. There is no theme uniting these various ‘types’ into a common group. Rather they could not be categorized under any other typology we will be going through in this anthology. We will go through the various types in alphabetical order.

Abstract metaphors↓1

Metaphors typically rely on a concrete sensation to draw it’s vehicle. Such as ‘the rose’ of love, in which the visual beauty, tactile softness, and the ethereal perfume are drawn for their likeness to the beautiful sensations of love. Sometimes, however, the vehicle itself is an abstract noun, such as ‘the force’ of love in which force _ a hypothetical construct in physics__ is equated with the emotional pull of love.

Examples from the Qur’an follow:

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّـهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّـهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ  

O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. [in An-Nisa 171]

In this ayah, Hazrat Isa (alaihi-s-salaam) has been identified as a Word of God. This ayah is meant to persuade Christians and Jews about the truth of Hazrat Isa’s birth. His birth was extraordinary in an earthly son since he was born without a father. “Word of God’ is, of course, an abstract concept. It means the will, the command, and the decree of Allah. The birth of Prophet Isa occured the way it died because Allah had ordained it to be so. Moreover, its being no different from any human birth is referenced in ayah 59 of Surah Al-i-Imran↓2.

وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ 

And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another.

 A classic Qur’anic idiom regarding ‘personal responsibility’, the phrase appears in several places throughout the Qur’an, such as Al-An’am 164, Al-Isra 15, and Surah Fatir 18. It is about the Day of Judgment when every person will be judged on their acts alone. Burden, again, is an abstract noun. The quote below from English Tafhim-yul-Qur’an succintly provides its interpretation.

… everyone is responsible and accountable for his own deeds and this responsibility can, on no account, be shifted from one to another.

This same (or similar) metaphor has been employed with other words too, examplified in the following quotations:

 وَسَاءَ لَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ حِمْلًا

and evil it is for them on the Day of Resurrection as a load [in Sura Ta’Ha 101]

 وَلَيَحْمِلُنَّ أَثْقَالَهُمْ وَأَثْقَالًا مَّعَ أَثْقَالِهِمْ ۖ وَلَيُسْأَلُنَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ عَمَّا كَانُوا يَفْتَرُونَ

 But they will surely carry their [own] burdens and [other] burdens along with their burdens, [in Al-Ankabut 13]

 وَقَدِمْنَا إِلَىٰ مَا عَمِلُوا مِنْ عَمَلٍ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ هَبَاءً مَّنثُورًا 

And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed. [Al-Furqan 23]

 The first two of these, himla and athwqal (plural for thaqal) are plain synonyms for wizr. The meaning of the second of those ayah references ayah 85 of An-Nisa↓3: Additional burdens are those incurred by one’s influences on other people’s character and behavior. The third might be viewed as a different metaphoric image (‘dust dispersed); but, has been drawn from the same abstract category: weight.

 

Conceptual metaphors

While abstract metaphors are typically cited in literary resources, conceptual metaphors is a popular cognitive theory of metaphorical thinking. In the simplest terms:

 conceptual metaphor, or cognitive metaphor, refers to the understanding of one idea, or conceptual domain, in terms of another

__ wikipedia

[Note that this definition essentially posits metaphor as a case of isomorphism.] This general theory basically encompasses all metaphors, but here some illustrative examples from the Qur’an are provided. Note that Lakoff and Johnson identified three types of conceptual metaphor. The definitions with proper citing has been covered in one of the previous sets of posts on metaphor. 

نَرْفَعُ دَرَجَاتٍ مَّن نَّشَاءُ  

We raise by degrees whom We will. [in Al-An’am 83]

A typical example of a conceptual metaphor, the imagery of the metaphor is not immediately obvious. The use of word ‘raise’ in the sense of qualifying /promoting something to its better or higher value is so common, we don’t realize that the literal meaning of word raise is only in the sense of physically lifting something up. Lakoff and Johnson called this is as an orientational metaphor: in which different gradations of non-physical phenomenon are presented as lined up on a linear up-down (higher/lower) continuum. Another metaphor from the lower end of the continuum is as follows, whereby God refers to the highest and lowest possible states of man in the Surah:

ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ 

Then We return him to the lowest of the low; [At-Tein 5]

Now consider the following examples:

وَكُلُّ أَمْرٍ مُّسْتَقِرٌّ 

But for every matter is a [time of] place. [in Al-Qamar 3]

وَإِنَّ لَهُ عِندَنَا لَزُلْفَىٰ

And indeed, We have for him a nearness [in Surah Saad 25]

وَلَـٰكِن يَنَالُهُ التَّقْوَىٰ مِنكُمْ  

…but what reaches Him is piety from you. [in Al-Hajj 37]

All these examples treat an abstract noun (respectively, ‘matter/issue’, ‘nearness’, and ‘piety’ as if it’s concrete. Literally, a matter cannot have a physical place, a nearness is not a possession to be had, and piety is not a parcel. Regarding them as such shows the inherent metaphor. A metaphor in which non-matter is treated as a substance is called ontological metaphor. Two more examples in the same category occur in the following classic proclamation from the Qur’an:

وَقُلْ جَاءَ الْحَقُّ وَزَهَقَ الْبَاطِلُ ۚ إِنَّ الْبَاطِلَ كَانَ زَهُوقًا

And say thou: the truth is come, and falsehood hath vanished; verily falsehood is ever vanishing. [Al-Isra 81]

 The third category involves expressing one kind of experience/activity in terms of another. These are called structural metaphors and involve the kind of structural mapping we have already illustrated in this series such as in the very previous post. In fact, the majority of metaphors incuding those considered literary, are based on such a structural map. Other examples that may be outlined through maps have been covered in previous posts on the simple metaphor, personification, and metaphoric symbols.

 

Notes

1. As in Shelestiuk, H. V. (2006). Approaches to metaphor: Structure, classifications, cognate phenomenon. Semiotica, 161 (1/4), 333-343.

2. The ayah was quoted as an example of isomorphism in a post of the previous section of this anthology.

 3. Translation of the referenced ayah from the source linked above: “Whoever intercedes for a good cause will have a reward therefrom; and whoever intercedes for an evil cause will have a burden therefrom. And ever is Allah, over all things, a Keeper.”

 

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By Form VII

In Anthologies, literature, Literature|Religion, Quran, Words of Gold: The Quran on April 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm

In this last section, we discuss two literary devices that may be interpreted as extended metaphors: allegory and parable. They are often confused with each other, hence we must be clear of the difference between them.

Of Allegories and Parables…

Kulikovsky (1997)↓1 cites authentic sources in defining parables. The descriptions also clarify each of their relationship to metaphor:

Parables are short stories that are told in order to get a point across… The word “parable” (Gk. parabole) was generally used in reference to any short narrative that had symbolic meaning (Louw & Nida 1989, p. 391)… A true parable … may be regarded as an extended simile (Blomberg 1990, p. 32). It is a story that resembles real-life natural situations and does not contain any mythical or supernatural elements (Kuske 1995, p. 97)… C. H. Dodd (1961, p.16) defines a parable as: “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”

Allegory, as will be clear, is essentially an extended metaphor.

According to grammar.com:

The rhetorical strategy of extending a metaphor through an entire narrative so that objects, persons, and actions in the text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text.

 According to wikipedia and TheFreeDictionary, respectively:

Allegory is a device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts.

and

The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.

 

Examples of Allegory and Parable from the Qur’an 

Consider the following two ayahs:

وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّ أَرِنِي كَيْفَ تُحْيِي الْمَوْتَىٰ ۖ

قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِن ۖ قَالَ بَلَىٰ وَلَـٰكِن لِّيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِي ۖ

قَالَ فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةً مِّنَ الطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ ثُمَّ اجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنْهُنَّ جُزْءًا

ثُمَّ ادْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْيًا ۚ وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّـهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

AND when Abraham said, “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” Allah said, “Have you not believed?” He said, “Yes, but [I ask] only that my heart may be satisfied.” Allah said, “Take four birds and commit them to yourself. Then [after slaughtering them] put on each hill a portion of them; then call them – they will come [flying] to you in haste. And know that Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” [Al-Baqara 260]

and:

مَثَلُهُمْ كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي اسْتَوْقَدَ نَارًا فَلَمَّا أَضَاءَتْ مَا حَوْلَهُ ذَهَبَ اللَّـهُ بِنُورِهِمْ وَتَرَكَهُمْ فِي ظُلُمَاتٍ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ

Their example is that of one who kindled a fire, but when it illuminated what was around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness [so] they could not see. [Al-Baqara 17]

 According to the definitions, the first example is a parable as it recounts an incident involving Hazrat Ibrahim (alaihi-salaam) to moralize about the prowess of Allah in creation. According to the ayah, Prophet Ibrahim requested Allah ta’ala to illustrate re-creation (or life after death) to him. Allah ta’ala instructed him to tame a bird and then to kill and place its different parts on foud different locations. Then, upon injuction from God, when the prophet called the bird’s name it came flying back to him, alive and whole.

This is a parable since it recounts an actual incidence, based on its similarity to the target problem in question: resurrection. The metaphoricity of the parable thus lies in the semblance of the story-events to the subject matter intended to be illustrated by it.

The second ayah is an allegory since a) it does not recount an actual incidence, b) each specific detail of the story can be mapped on to a concept/item of the specific subject that it illustrates. This ayah occurs in the very beginning of Surah Baqarah when after describing the Faithful people, God proceeds to describe the Hypocrites through several allegories. Above is the first of those. Below, the sturctural map is presented:

Ayah (allegory)                                  :                              Tafseer (target/meaning)

The man who kindled fire                :             Prophet Mohummad (salla-Allahu-alaihi-wasallam)

Fire                                            :                            God’s guidance in the form of Qur’anic verses

Illuminating the surroundings           :             Throwing light on the ignorant lifestyles OR lightening up the straight lifestyle

God snatching away their light            :              God interrupted their ability to perceive the message as it is

Their being left in darkness            :             Their inability to accept Islam

This is the common exegesis of the ayah then, embodied in this English translation of Tafhim-ul-Qur’an:

This means that two opposite effects emerged when a true servant of God radiated the light which made it possible to distinguish true from false and right from wrong, and made the straight way distinct from the ways of error. To those endowed with true perception, all truths became evident. But those who were almost blinded by the worship of their animal desires perceived nothing. 
      The expression, ‘Allah took away the light of their perception’ should not create the impression that these people were not responsible for their stumbling into darkness. Only those who do not seek the Truth, who prefer error to guidance and who are adamantly disinclined to pursue the Truth despite its luminosity, are deprived, by God, of the light of their perception. God simply enables such people to do what they wish.

 

Typically, allegories are the most vivid, beautiful, visual and literary of the Qur’anic metaphors, hence many more will be presented in a future section. Parables with prominent metaphorical content might also be discussed in various sections.

 In the next post, we move onto another typology of Qur’anic metaphors, InshaAllah.

Notes

1. Kulikovsky, A. S. (1997). The interpretation of parables, allegories and types. Accessed online at:

http://www.kulikovskyonline.net/hermeneutics/parab.htm

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By Form VI

In Anthologies, philosophy, Quran, universe, Words of Gold: The Quran on April 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

Metaphors are utilised in the Qur’an in the even broader sense of ‘isomorphism’. As readers of this blog might recall↓, isomorphism is the mirroring of one set of information onto another. This might be examplified by the usage of symbols and literary metaphors or in the way brain processes information coming in from the world, or in the way on-screen pixels take the shape of live-action images in real world.

Thus, whereas in case of metaphors similarity lies in between one piece to another piece of information (source and target), isomorphism is more broad-scale with likenings (or, structural mappings, using Lakoff’s terms) between two series of information.

Evidence of isomorphism in the Qur’an

 

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّنَ الْبَعْثِ

فَإِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ مِن مُّضْغَةٍ مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ لِّنُبَيِّنَ لَكُمْ ۚ

وَنُقِرُّ فِي الْأَرْحَامِ مَا نَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ثُمَّ نُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ ۖ

وَمِنكُم مَّن يُتَوَفَّىٰ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ أَرْذَلِ الْعُمُرِ لِكَيْلَا يَعْلَمَ مِن بَعْدِ عِلْمٍ شَيْئًا ۚ

وَتَرَى الْأَرْضَ هَامِدَةً فَإِذَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهَا الْمَاءَ اهْتَزَّتْ وَرَبَتْ وَأَنبَتَتْ مِن كُلِّ زَوْجٍ بَهِيجٍ 

O PEOPLE, if you should be in doubt about the Resurrection, then [consider that] indeed,
We created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot,
and then from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed – that We may show you.
And We settle in the wombs whom We will for a specified term,
then We bring you out as a child, and then [We develop you] that you may reach your [time of] maturity.
And among you is he who is taken in [early] death,
and among you is he who is returned to the most decrepit [old] age so that he knows, after [once having] knowledge, nothing.
And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain,
it quivers and swells and grows [something] of every beautiful kind. [Al-Hajj 5]
 
 In the above ayah, three different types of growths have been likened to each other:
  1.  development of the embryo inside the mother’s womb,
  2. progression of the born human from birth till senile age, and,
  3. the blossoming of foliage from barren earth into beautiful grass.

The common thread between all three types of growths is the fruition from a non-existent or immature stage to the fully developed stage. The wilting of luscious grass into brown hay is not mentioned here but has been mentioned in similar vein otherwise. Each living thing’s cycle of growth infact shows similar progression with basically the same two end-points: a) beginning of life and b) reversal of prime followed by death. The ayah thus succintly points out that no matter which stage or whose growth one might look at they all mirror the same pattern. This isomorphism in turn strongly suggests the sameness of the penultimate source of this cycle, in contrast to ‘random mistakes’ as suggested by the evolutionists.

 

 وَلَقَدْ جِئْتُمُونَا فُرَادَىٰ كَمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ وَتَرَكْتُم مَّا خَوَّلْنَاكُمْ وَرَاءَ ظُهُورِكُمْ 

“AND you have certainly come to Us alone as We created you the first time, and you have left whatever We bestowed upon you behind you.” [in Al-An’am 94]

As per the above ayah, the two end-points of the cycle of growth themselves mirror each other: a progression from nothing to nothing. We are born empty-handed. Whaterver we acquire during our lifetimes (money, property, skills) is a part of the process of growing up in the world. In the end we leave empty-handed again. This mirroring was also catptured in the second example of the above ayah: God reminded there that after our birth we progress until old age where we become ignorant and unaware just as we were when we were born. The special aspect of the particular ayah now referred is that the sameness of the two unobserved phases of human existence has been implied: the phase before our birth and the phase after our deaths. We came from nothing (nothing here means only in the ‘physical sense’) and we return to nothing: matter and material are a midway stage observed only in this finite world.

 

إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّـهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was. [Al-i-Imran 59]

On a theological subject, the Quran here points out the inherent sameness in the birth of Hazrats Adam and of Isa (alaihima-s-salaam). The Christian tendency is to regard Isa as (na-‘uzubi-Allah) Son of God on account of his fatherless birth to Bibi Maryam. Allah (subhanahu ta’ala) here gently points out how Hazrat Adam was created from scratch without a father or a mother. Birth to all sorts of creation in this world, of indeed the whole universe, and of the universe of heaven and hell that is invisible to us, is by virtue of God’s powers. It is after having descended Hazrat Adam onto earth with wife Hawwa that the familiar system of human reproduction was put in place. However, it goes without saying, that the Creator can re-create another sample of any being in whatever manner He wishes as a miraculous reminder of His Great Powers. Thus the birth of all human beings, indeed all living beings in this world are isomorphic to each other. This agains points to the unity of the Source of all this creation.

 

Usage of isomorphism in the Qur’an

The three examples we have considered are sufficient to illustrate how isomorphism differs from metaphors in their more narrowed, literary sense. Isomorphisms point out the correspondence and basic sameness of apparently different phenomenae. They seem to be more factual, used to point out big cosmic realities. On the other hand, literary metaphors might be used more often as examples and illustration.

 

Notes

All exposition regarding the ayahs relies on basic exegises as found in Maulana Maududi’s Tafheem-ul-Qur’an and Mir Taqi Uthmani’s Ma’ariful Qur’an.

 

 

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By form V

In Anthologies, literature, Quran, Words of Gold: The Quran on April 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm

In this post InshAllah, we see how symbols relate to metaphor.

A symbol is something that represents an idea, a process, or a physical entity. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for “STOP”. On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for numbers. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose symbolizes love and compassion. [wikipedia]

Symbols are more general and widely renown and referred-to than metaphors. They might be concrete images or objects, or they might be scribblings created purposely to denote something (numerals and alphabets are obvious examples). Symbols when used as means of expression, however, are derived as metaphors, whereas others may be derived as metonymies.

Symbols that work as metaphors

أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّـهَ أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَسَلَكَهُ يَنَابِيعَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ثُمَّ يُخْرِجُ بِهِ زَرْعًا مُّخْتَلِفًا أَلْوَانُهُ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَاهُ مُصْفَرًّا ثُمَّ يَجْعَلُهُ حُطَامًا ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَذِكْرَىٰ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ

Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky and makes it flow as springs [and rivers] in the earth; then He produces thereby crops of varying colors; then they dry and you see them turned yellow; then He makes them [scattered] debris. Indeed in that is a reminder for those of understanding. [Az-Zumar 21]
 
In this ayah the natural process of the growth of foliage (and its later dispersion) is cited as a metaphorical representation of the ebb and flow of worldy comfort, and to the cycle of animate / human life on earth. The ultimate intent is to draw attention to the creation of the world/universe itself and its ultimate demise. Note that the targets are many and wider-ranging. Botanical growth on earth thus becomes a symbol of life in general.
 
Because the symbol works as a metaphor, richer implications may be derived by referring to all the details of the extended metaphor:
 
1. Despite all the hue and cry of what came before (e.g. the rolling of thunder, the fall of the rains, the gurgling of the springs and the laborious and beautiful shifting stages of growth, it all boils down to …. nothing.
 
2. It’s almost as if the sounds and the colors of the drama serve to disguise the nothingness of the end-result.
 
3. All the beauty of this world is transient; its toils lead to quickly-dispensed rewards.
 
4. While the begetting of earthly comforts or even life may be laborious, the termination is mostly quicker.
 
 

إِذْ قَالَ يُوسُفُ لِأَبِيهِ يَا أَبَتِ إِنِّي رَأَيْتُ أَحَدَ عَشَرَ كَوْكَبًا وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ رَأَيْتُهُمْ لِي سَاجِدِينَ

[Of these stories mention] when Joseph said to his father, “O my father, indeed I have seen [in a dream] eleven stars and the sun and the moon; I saw them prostrating to me.” [Yusuf 4]
The symbols in Hazrat Yusuf’s (alaihi-ssalaam) dream have a clear metaphorical relationship to the targets: his father, mother, and his siblings, in terms of the sizes, luminosity and visibility (as seen from earth, i.e.).
 
Symbols that work as metonymies
 
 

إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا ۖ وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ 

I HAVE turned my face to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, as a man of pure faith; I am not of the idolaters.’ (Al-An’am, 79)
 
 

 In the above ayah, Hazrat Ibrahim realizes and loudly proclaims the Oneness of Allah after having considered and logically rejected cultural idols. Here the word ‘wajh‘ __ ‘face’ __ a common symbol throughout Quran↓ and other literature obviously has a metonymic relation to it’s subject. Face is a stand-in, a representative, of the human presence, not its metaphorical ‘likening’.

 

In the future we will re-encounter examples of Qur’anic symbols, InshaAllah.

 

Notes

For an interesting discourse on the use of ‘wajh’ in the Qur’an, see: Ayoub, M. M., (2000), Literary exegesis of the Qur’an: The case of Al-Sharif Al-Radi, in Litereary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qur’an, Ed. by Issa Boullata; Richmond, Surrey, UK: Curzon Press. Retrieved online at: http://books.google.ca/books?id=SdgaD-7C6TkC&pg=PA298&dq=wajh+metaphor&hl=en&sa=X&ei=W05jUdi6N-O0yAG5yoGQDQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=wajh%20metaphor&f=false