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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 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

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By form – II

In Anthologies, literature, Literature|Religion, Quran, Words of Gold: The Quran on August 6, 2012 at 11:34 pm

11th Ramadaan, 1433:

Source

مَّوْجٌ كَالظُّلَلِ

…waves like shades [in Surah Luqman, 32]

The above is a typical example of a similie: a figure of speech that directly compares two different things by using words ‘like’ or ‘as’ between its two subjects.

Metaphor and Similie

Metaphor is traditionally contrasted with similie: the commonality between the compared entities is more explicitly stated in a similie by adding the terms ‘is like’ or ‘as’. Reseaerch papers have pondered the question how the two are different in effect and import and which of the two is stronger↓1.

The relationship between simile and metaphor is close, metaphor often being defined as a condensed simile, that is, someone who runs like lightning can be called a lightning runner. Sometimes, simile and metaphor blend so well that the join is hard to find . . .

__Tom MacArthur↓2

Metaphor conveys a relationship between two things by using a word or words figuratively, not literally; that is, in a special sense which is different from the sense it has in the contexts noted by the dictionary.
“By contrast, in simile, words are used literally, or ‘normally.’ This thing A is said to be ‘like’ that thing, B. The description given to A and to B is as accurate as literal words can make it, and the reader is confronted by a kind of fait accompli, where sense-impressions are often the final test of success. Thus ‘my car is like a beetle’ uses the words ‘car’ and ‘beetle’ literally, and the simile depends for its success on the literal–even visual–accuracy of the comparison.

__Terence Hawkes↓3

Let us continue the discussion with the help of anthology examples:

Plain similies

وَمَا أَمْرُنَا إِلَّا وَاحِدَةٌ كَلَمْحٍ بِالْبَصَرِ

AND Our commandment shall be but one, as the twinkling of an eye. [Al-Qamar, 50]

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ الْجَوَارِ فِي الْبَحْرِ كَالْأَعْلَامِ

AND among His Signs are the ships, in the sea, like mountains. [As-Shura, 32]

Source

In the above two ayahs the following comparisons are made:

Commencement of Doomsday ≈ Batting of an eye-lid

Ships in the ocean ≈ Huge signs/ landmarks

Both seem to be rather straightforward similies where A is directly likened to B based on an attribute they share. Batting of an eye-lid is a split-second occurence and so will be God’s final order for this world. The two share the commanility of ultra-quickness. Landmarks on earth usually rise high above ground level and their hugeness can be seen from distance — so do the ships on sea.

Stronger similies

On the other hand, the following example is not only variously stated, it is also broader in scope:

مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ كَمَثَلِ الْعَنكَبُوتِ اتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا ۖ وَإِنَّ أَوْهَنَ الْبُيُوتِ لَبَيْتُ الْعَنكَبُوتِ ۖ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ

THE example of those who take guardians besides Allah is as the example of the spider that makes for itself a house; and most surely the frailest of the houses is the spider’s house did they but know. [Al-Ankabut, 41]

Source

The meaning of the above example can be best summarized as in Tafhimul Quran:

The reality of the toy-house of expectations that you have built on your faith in the powerless servants and imaginary deities, apart from the real Master and Ruler of the universe, is no more than the cobweb of a spider. Just as a cobweb cannot stand the slightest interference by a finger, so will the toy-house of your expectations collapse in its first clash with the scheme of Allah. It is nothing but ignorance that you are involved in the web of superstition. Had you any knowledge of the Reality you would not have built your system of life on baseless props. The fact is that none other than the One Lord of the worlds in this universe is the Owner of power and authority, and His support is the only support which is reliable.

__ Maulana Maududi↓4

This tafseer is in concurrence with Maulana Taqi Uthmani, and Ibne Kathir.

Although it has been stated as a similie (كَمَثَلِ = ‘like/as the example of’), the reason why it seems more of a metaphor is its scope. The subject is not a single feature of an object. A whole system of thought (idol worship / shirk) has been compared with an instance from the natural world based on multiple tapped (and potentially untapped) comparisons. A spider weaves its web with a very fine type of silk which has almost no weight and can be blown away by the slightest of breezes. Thus it is ‘without weight’, ‘is barely suspended in thin air’, ‘falls through at the slightest of disturbances’, hence ‘unreliable as a base or support’ __ all attributes that alternative systems of belief carry.

Hence the structure of the above statement is just like a similie; still, it’s the import that makes it a metaphor. If there are degrees of metaphoricity, than the above similie is clearly more metaphorical than the previous two examples.

Here is another example:

وَلَن تَسْتَطِيعُوا أَن تَعْدِلُوا بَيْنَ النِّسَاءِ وَلَوْ حَرَصْتُمْ ۖ فَلَا تَمِيلُوا كُلَّ الْمَيْلِ فَتَذَرُوهَا كَالْمُعَلَّقَةِ

YOU will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them (by giving her more of your time and provision) so as to leave the other hanging (i.e. neither divorced nor married). [in An-Nisa, 129]

The above example is again broader in scope, hence stronger as a similie: If a husband of two wives leans towards only one of them, than the other wife remains stuck in an uncomfortable position. By law she is a wife, but actually not treated as one. She is not getting her rightful needs met with her husband, nor can she currently expect them to be met by anybody else: like someone literally hanging on a hook: static, unable to move to any position of comfort, not moving anywhere in life. A whole life situation is captured through the use of one apt image.↓5

.

Similies as strong as metaphors

ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُم مِّن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً

ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَارَةِ لَمَا يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنْهُ الْأَنْهَارُ

ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهُ الْمَاءُ

ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَهْبِطُ مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّـهِ

ۗ وَمَا اللَّـهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

THEN your hearts were hardened and became as stones or even worse in hardness.
And indeed, there are stones out of which rivers gush forth;
and indeed, there are of them (stones) which split asunder so that water flows from them;
and indeed, there are of them (stones) which fall down for fear of Allah.
And Allah is not unaware of what you do. [Al-Baqarah, 74]

This is the first, and the most imaginative, of 6 different occasions on which Al-Qur’an depicts a particular state of unbelief as the heardness of heart. According to the Quran, hardness of the heart is a result of repeated digression from major pacts with Allah ta’ala (see Al-Ma’ida 13), usually happens with loss of perseverence and patience following the termination of Allah’s prohpecies through the prophet (see tafseer ibne kathir for Al-Hadeed 16, both in urdu and in english), takes away the ability to learn lessons from Allah’s warnings (in Al-An’am, 43), and the capacity to remember God (Az-Zumar 22), and makes it easier to turn away from God following trials and tribulations (in Al-Hajj 53).

All that has been catpured pictorially by association in the anthology selection from Surah Baqarah. Stones are known for their hardness, but not all stones are hard enough to capture the unmoving stubbornness of those unbelieving hearts. For stones are known to have cloven apart making way for beautiful life-giving flowing water, and stones do not remain high up in the air, defiant in their solidity against gravity; they stumble and crash down before the decree of God. They are not as rigid and as indifferent to the inspiring, softening yet, awe-inducing power of God’s messages as some hearts be..

For a concept illustrated on different occasions in the Quran and using terms other than the one used here (of hardness: Qaf-Sin-Wao), the image of life-carrying and humble yielding stones reaches metaphorical heights, only that the real comparison is by contrast: hard hearts are harder than these stones. In the different examples of the stones, we can read how the deeply sentient and emotional states of belief and realization of the truth are mapped.

In short, although similies may be supposed to be literal, direct and weaker compared with metaphor, they have been used to amazing metaphorical effects in Al-Quran. Regular similies as well as more divergent versions appear numerously in future sections of this anthology.

Till next form, fi Aman-Allah.

Notes

1. Previously referenced The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought contains essays on metaphor understanding and category creation comparing it to similies.

2. Tom McArthur, The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford Univ. Press, 1992; found on About.com.

3. Metaphor. Methuen, 1972; found as above.

4. Online Tafhim ul Quran, English version.

5. For instance see Tafhim ul Quran, and M’ariful Quran, both English versions.

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By form – I

In Anthologies, literature, Literature|Religion, Quran on July 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm

3rd Ramadaan, 1433:

A metaphor can come as a part of a simple sentence, or it can be used in various devices. In this section of the thread we consider examples of the various forms.

The simple metaphor

Consider these examples:

وَيَطُوفُ عَلَيْهِمْ وِلْدَانٌ مُّخَلَّدُونَ إِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ حَسِبْتَهُمْ لُؤْلُؤًا مَّنثُورًا

IMMORTAL youths will go about them; when you see them, you would suppose them to be scattered pearls. [Al-Insan, 19]

أَلَمْ نَجْعَلِ الْأَرْضَ مِهَادًا

وَالْجِبَالَ أَوْتَادًا

HAVE We not made the earth as a cradle;

and the mountains as pegs? [An-Naba 6-7]

وَمَا خَلَقْنَا السَّمَاءَ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا لَاعِبِينَ 

WE created not the heaven and the earth, and whatsoever between them is, as playing; [Al-Abiya, 16]
A simple metaphor is a word/phrase in a statement that grammatically replaces its ‘target’. The first two examples illustrate that in affirmative and interrogative forms (i.e. simpe positive statements and question forms).
The first instance is Sura Insan’s reference to heavenly servant lads of the immortal life. In Heaven everything will be in its most beautiful form and so will be the servants. These servants are the ‘target’ here of the metaphor ‘scattered pearls’ which is, grammar-wise, the object of the verb ‘you will suppose them to be’. We know it is the target because Allah ta’ala directly refers so in the above ayahs. Let us explore the ‘ground’ between the target and the vehicle (i.e metaphorical word/phrase):
       Pearls are fair, sparkling, dazzlingly beautiful, eye-catching and graceful. Scattered pearls create a visual image of numerous pearls all about our area of vision. Scattered pearls may also be moving: rolling about hither to thither. Thus two words create a whole scene of a batch of handsome, beautiful, fair servants in their prime health and grace moving about hither and thither performing their duties from one place to another↓1.  In my humble opinion, this is also an apt example of the memorability of metaphor (see Illuminating Metaphors Part III).

The second instance includes two simple metaphors put inside a question. The vehicles are objects of the word ‘make’, only put down in a query. This type of question is actually rhetorical, as it is meant as a persuasive argument, rather a real query. The metaphors are as follows:

earth ≈ cradle/spread

mountains ≈ pegs

The arabic word for the first metaphor,  مِهَادًا, means something that is spread or made even/smoothed out↓2. Thus the translation of both ‘expanse’ and ‘cradle’ is correct as well as is the more general ‘resting-place’ which highlights the ground between earth and cradle. The upper layer of the earth (called ‘crust’) is spread out well enough for us to be used as a place to lie down by homeless people and tentless travelers. It’s expanse figuratively holds enough room for the world’s populace and by nature allows both humblest and grandest of abodes to be made upon it↓3. It is also supposed to be the literal cradle for our bodies when we die. Geologically, this upper layer consists of huge expanse of plates made up of soil and rock laid around the inner layers of the earth. Thus the metaphor scores from various angles, and seems to be a good example of how a metaphor is a conceptual web holding together related pieces of knowledge, potentially fueling further understanding (see Illuminating Metaphors Part II).

Mountain ranges typically form when crust plates jam into each other causing one to be forced upwards and the other to slide downwards (subduction). Thus mountains can be imagined as a series of pegs going throug both the inner and upper sides of the earth’s expanse, holding the plates together↓4. Al-Qur’an itself states:

وَأَلْقَىٰ فِي الْأَرْضِ رَوَاسِيَ أَن تَمِيدَ بِكُمْ وَأَنْهَارًا

AND He placed mountains as anchors in the earth so that it may not shake along with you, [An-Nahl, 15]

The metaphor thus holds both functional and visual commonality between vehicle and target.

The third instance above illustrates plain metaphor in a unique way: negation. The negative metaphor is لَاعِبِينَ – a noun with many meanings, the apt one here being ‘a plaything’,’game’, or ‘sport’. The only truly intelligent being on earth – humans – have used all sorts of naturally occuring phenomenae and facts inventively for their sport, entertainment and pastime. From national parks to ski resorts to playfields through to the virtual realities in electronic media are pointers that natural potentiality discovries and inventions of the world are all available for recreation. Philosophers have puzzled for centuries over the possibility that whether God has similarly created this universe as mere pastime. The commonality beween target (universe) and vehicle (all means of recreation in the world) is plausible, but here expressly denied by God in order to invite man to ponder more meaningful reasons behind the creation of universe.

Altogether these examples show how even the simple metaphor is used creatively and performs essential functions in the discourse. We move on with other forms of metaphors in the next post, InshaAllah.

Notes

1. See Tafseer Ibne Kathir, specifically Urdu version for the referred ayah.

2. Project Root List: Mim-Ha-Dal

3. For concordance see Tafsir Ibne Kathir

4. For relevant geography, see Mountain Formation on wikipedia.

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors

In Anthologies, language and communication, literature, Quran, The Method on July 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Assalamualaikum

After a gap of many months, I feel ready to present a (still) tentative outline of my anthology of metaphors in the Qur’an.

This anthology can be presented in many ways. In this introductory part. I lay down my way of grouping the metaphors. I have not strictly followed any typologies from literature and sciences. Rather I have attempted to present all the salient ones as well as culling some examples under other idiosyncratic headings in order to fully cover the diversity of metaphor usage in the Qur’an. In deciphering the meanings I am relying on traditional authentic sources, all referenced in loco. The actual examples will take up many posts, grouping by grouping. These may be considered as bouquets of selected gleanings from the Qur’an rather than as a continual exposition on a uniform topic. Here goes:

1. Metaphors can come clothed in a number of devices (see Illuminating Metaphors Part I of the Qur’an Cycle). Examples will be presented of catachresis, parables, similitude, metonymies, symbols, allegories, irony, personifications, anthropomorphisms, and of course plain metaphor in various rhetorical forms.

2. A series of metaphors often litter a text in various combinations. Examples of how different metaphors in the Qur’an are connected with each other will be presented. There are systems of metaphors, each metaphor corresponding to a place of meaning in the larger conceptual backdrop. Sometimes, a single image or concept of significance is recurently represented through different metaphors (constellations). Some metaphors are contrasted not just meaningfully but also by juxtaposing them in the text.

3. Metaphors serve various specific functions in the text such as achieving comparisons, argumentation, suggestion and persuasion, visualization, etc.; depiction of imagery, emotions, mental states, scientific facts, or conceptual scenarios and of course the metaphysical reality.

4. Finally, assorted types of metphors, described by various authors on the subject are also included, such as conceptual, conventional, literary, mixed types. Metaphors clothed in idiomatic and proverbial expressions and in roots of words are also illustrated under this category.

Source

THE QURAN CYCLE: Illuminating Metaphors – III

In Admiring Literature, cognition, excerpts and quotes, language and communication, literature, perception, philosophy, poetry, psychology, sources of knowledge, The Method on December 8, 2011 at 12:09 am

Linked to Part I and Part II

The irreplacability of a metaphor

The potential meaningfulness of metaphor does not yield to simple paraphrase, its meaning cannot be reduced to a nonmetaphorical, propositional format without loss. This is the reason for the enormous creativity that metaphor displays not only in poetic discourse: In ordinary everyday life it can restructure ingrained patterns of thinking. And in scientific contexts it can have a heuristic* function.

*heuristic= “serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation.” (dictionary.com)

The above ‘creativity hypothesis’ of the cognitive theory of metaphor (as summarized by Jakel↓1) mentions one of the reasons why metaphor is an irrerplacable part of any effective verbal message: it is has no simple substitute for meaning. Its meaning can only be elaborated, explored, interpreted, speculated upon to an extent; but it cannot be specified exactly and absolutely.

We need the metaphor in just the cases when there can be no question as yet of the precision of scientific statement.*

*see the last post for source

As the above quote from the previous post reminds us, we depend upon metaphor to express abstract or obscure phenomenon in terms of familiar, concrete and imaginable terms. As Andrew Ortony (↓2)  puts it, “somethings are by their nature not describable.” (p. 14), and it falls upon the metaphor to express the inexpressible.

My references so far may relegate the ‘irreplacibility’ of a metaphor to the way things are: we simply use the metaphor when we have no way around it, when we lack more straightforward ways of describing something. But that view is certainly wrong. Through a literary example, see how metaphor creates new worlds of meaning to whom no other effective entry might be possible other than through the metaphor itself:

 

Fursat mein sun shaguftgi-e-ghuncha ki sada

ye wo sukhan nahi jo kisi ne keha bhi ho

 

When free, listen to the sound of the roses’ glee.

This is not speech that has been uttered.

The above is a Nasir Kazmi couplet, both in the original and in translation by me, from a previous blogpost. ‘Roses’ glee’ is a metaphor in itself (to be considered later here as an example), but right now i’m concerned with the ‘sound of’ part. The reader is forced to stop and try imagine what the sound of roses’ glee must be like. Upon analysis (which the readers of that pertinent post linked above may recall), the sound of roses’ glee most likely refers to the many messages of metaphysical nature the poet discerns in the sights and sounds of nature. Yet the interpretation is still open beyond the meaning already considered. And in terms of imagination, the metaphor forges new ground by inviting us to imagine an event that has never been experienced before. Philosopher Mark Johnson↓3 explains well what happens in such cases:

… one experiences the insight that two entire systems of implications… belong together in some fundamental way. The cognitive activity at this level… consists of the alteration of certain experiential structures (e.g. categorizations, concepts), such that one discovers a formal unity between previously unassociated things. 

We automatically associate sound with animate beings; that is the way we experience the world. When presented with Nasir’s couplet, however, we have to re-conceptualize sound as ‘a channel of communication’ or more precisely, as ‘a general aura of meaningfulness that emanates from all beings that have a purpose in their existence’ to get to the meaning of the verse. We similarly recast the flower as ‘an object created with a purpose’ from its foremost conception as ‘a part of the natural world’ or as ‘an object of beauty’.

This is not a rare phenomenon in the rarified arena of literature; more everyday examples abound. For instance, ‘my boss is a shark’ creates a new concept of ‘sharkness in humans’ that is different from both the literal shark and from the usual concept of brutality (for an elaboration of this example and the theory behind it follow the reference in Note 4. below).

 

The intensity of a metaphor

There is a sense of shock about a metaphor… which results from the clash of juxtaposed literal sense.

__ Paul Henle↓5

One puzzling aspect of the expressive capaciousness of metaphor takes the form of an image’s potential for focusing both thought and emotion in a particularly intense, economical way.  

__ Robert Rogers↓6

…by circumventing discretization [metaphors] enable the communication of ideas with a richness of detail much less likely to come about in the normal course of events.

and

… the emotive as well as the sensory and cognitive aspects [of the subject of metaphor] are more available [in mind], for they have been left intact in the transferred chunk [of meaning].

__ Andrew Ortony↓7

As Ortony explains so well in his essay, metaphor “lies much closer to perceived experience” in a significant way that makes it a particularly vivid phenomenon. We experience the world in a continuous and holistic fashion. Our stream of consciousness is a flow of sensations of all kind coming in simultaneously, whether at that time we are interacting with the outside world or going through our own ideas, emotions, or memories. We don’t experience things in a discrete, fragmented, one-by-one fashion as when we see concepts graphically displayed in a presentaion, or dissected frog parts laid out on a science lab table. Metaphor does the same by not spelling out the new grounds of meaning: it just poses an image before us and our attempt to apprehend it (holisticall, continuously) does the job. 

The following short poem by Emily Dickinson (found at bartleby) illustrates the point well:

It dropped so low in my regard

I heard it hit the ground,

And go to pieces on the stones

At bottom of my mind;

 

Yet blamed the fate that fractured, less

Than I reviled myself

For entertaining plated wares

Upon my silver shelf.

 

Without spelling out what ‘it’ was and why and how it came to be discarded from its high place in the author’s mind, the intensity of the mental event, the vivacity with which the poet experienced it, the emotions associated with the whole episode, and the strong sentiments with which the poet seems to regard in general the contents of her mental life, are all immensely clear from just one reading of the poem.

There is another reason for the vividness of a metaphor, and that is its compactness (Ortony, see notes for source): By juxtaposing two apparently unrelated objects in the readers’ minds (human emotion and a flower in one of Nasir’s examples) and forcing them to envisage a new kind of relationship between them, metaphors posit endless shades of meaning for the reader’s appreciation. For instance roses’ glee could be a reference to their beauty (smiling happy faces have been often likened to flowers), to the emotion that a beautiful sight such flowers create in us (a thing of beauty is a joy forever), to the purity associated with sights of nature, to the freshness of flowers, to their swaying on their stalks like children swinging gaily, to the pleasant sensation generated through their smell, etc. All these shades of meaning and more have been packed into a single two-word phrase, what Ortony calls the ‘compactness thesis’ of his theory.

 

The memorability of a metaphor

Compactness, vividness, and irreplacibility make for a memorable image: well-suited for educational purposes. In class-room, it were always the skillful lecturers who made the often remote-from-routine-life concepts of __ math, physics, medicine, psychology __ alive in our imagination so that we could picture them easily (and even enjoy the lecture!) that were more successful. Not possible without good metaphors:

The educational power of metaphors is thus twofold. The vivid imagery arising from metaphorical comprehension encourages memorability and generates of necessity a better, more insightful, personal understanding. But also, it is a very effective device for moving from well-known to the less well-known, from vehicle to topic.  

__ Ortony, (p. 17)

Humanliness of the literary metaphor 

Literature’s world is a concrete human world of immediate experience. The poet uses images and objects and sensations much more than he uses abstract ideas … The world of literature is human in shape, … where the primary realities are not atoms or electrons but bodies, and the primary forces are not energy or gravitation but love and death and passion and joy.

__ Northrop Frye↓8

Human beings become human through the acquisition of language, and the acquisition alienates humans from all those things language names. The name is a substitute for the thing, it displaces the thing in the very act of naming it, so that language finally stands even between one human being and another. Much of our poetry has been written to undo this situation, to remove the veil of language that covers everything with a false familiarity… 

__ Robert Scholes↓9

… literary metaphor depicts the themes that occasion it, communicating meaning imagistically by rendering it presentational.

__ Phillip Stambovsky↓10

The success of the  metaphor thus lies in recreating for us the lively vivid life in our reading experience which is so close to us. Thus it most effectively performs its fundamental function in literature: giving it the human shape we need to connect with it; and, as Stambovsky reminds us, performs it in the very manner so essentially familiar to us. This latter feature of the metaphor may be called intimation through a metaphor and is psychologically enticing and influential for the reader…

 

Intimation through metaphor

There is a unique way in which the maker and appreciator of metaphor are drawn closer to one another. Three aspects are involved: (1) the speaker issues a kind of concealed invitation; (2) the hearer expends a special effort to accept the invitation; and (3) this transaction constitutes the acknowledgment of a community.

__ Ted Cohen↓11

Perhaps the reason why so many metaphors have a peculiarly poignant beauty is because each of them kindles in us momentarily a dim memory of the time when we lost the outer world–when we first realized the outer world is outside, and we are unbridgeably apart from it, and alone. Furthermore, the mutual sharing of such metaphorical experience would seem, thus, to be about as intimate a psychological contact as adult human beings can have with one another.

__ Harold Searle↓12

Some authors even believe that the force of a metaphor’s image can lead to an exchange of material from the unconscious to conscious mind in the reader (in Rogers, p. 11). We must now consider what exactly constitutes this force; what is it in a metaphor that leads to such influence. Let us see.

 

The metaphor can be disclosive in the sense of being an eye-opener, helping us to understand hidden relations between the [target and source].

and  

Poetic devices and imaginative literature do not necessarily provide us with new information. What they do best is to give us insight into the (tacit) knowledge we already possess.

__ Snaevarr↓13

Both Snaevarr and Stambovsky associate certain terms with metaphorical comprehension that help us realize how metaphor induces an intimate connection with the author, the subject-matter, and, potentially, the world at large. Snaevarr argues how, when we understand a metaphor, we go through the same process of ‘seeing something as something’ involved in many instances of purely sense-based perception. For instance, when an object (such as a cat) is before us, typically, we merely notice what it is. Here our knowledge/concept of the object helps us quickly recognize it: perception nearly depends here on pre-existing knowledge. But when an ambiguous oil painting is presented before us and, while appreciating it, it suddenly ‘dawns’ on us that it depicts a beautiful cat: that is what Wittgenstein↓14 called ‘seeing as’.

from wikipedia 

An easy-to-relate example would be of the famous Necker cube which can be seen either as a cube projecting away from us on its northeast side or as a cube projecting on its southwest side. This kind of seeing-as is internal and spontaneous: external descriptions do not necessarily lead us to see the two different possible cubes in our mind, it has to come from within. There is also a kind of filtering and ‘foregrounding’ involved. When our mental image switches from one possible cube to the other, the first one seems to disappear and certain features of the new cube seem to ‘lighten up’ in the image. The same happens when the meaning intended by the metaphor dawns on us. The metaphor foregrounds a part and when we appreciate it a new meaning dawns on us, or an old obscure or forgotten meaning lightens up with new significance, or a subtly familiar one is brought into explicit focus.

When applied to less visual material, such a seeing-as is better termed ‘insight’: understanding the inner nature of things. The process of insight is both intuitive (that is, it does not involve conscious reasoning) and spontaneous. It also has the quality of an ‘enlightment’ and is often (specially in problem solving) sudden. It gives a feeling of familiarity with the subject in question by suddenly casting it for us in a new light (in the above stated ‘seeing as’ fashion) that we were not able to appreciate before (see famous cognitive psychologist Herbert Simon‘s paper for good descriptions of both intuition and insight). The kind of effective lectures I mentioned before created this in us: a feeling that now we really knew the topic, we knew how things really worked, how it really feels. Good metaphors achieve the same effect. Perhaps that is why:

Metaphors which provide insight into an unknown, transcendent, or mysterious subject thus can have an extremely powerful effect on those who accept them.

__ Stallman↓15 

As Snaevarr clarifies, what metaphor really does is to lighten up a piece of tacit knowledge we already possessed. The most comprehensive definition of tacit knowledge that I could find online is that it is:

Unwritten, unspoken, and hidden vast storehouse of knowledge held by practically every normal human being, based on his or her emotions, experiences, insights, intuitions, observations and internalized information. 

Indeed the feeling of intimacy and closeness will not be produced if we did not realize that the metaphor focused us on a thought or feeling we were familiar with but had never been consciously aware of. For instance consider the following verses by Nasir Kazmi, in translation by me along with the original Urdu in Roman script:

 

On the town’s vacant station

A passenger must have alighted

[shehr ke khali station per

koi musafir utra hoga]

_

 Hear it immersed in the depths of heart

No song is indeed a song of glee…

[dil ki gehrayion mein doob ke dekh

koi naghma khushi ka naghma nahin]

_

Shivering, the long nights put to us a haunting question

Their laden sound-like silence hisses answers…

[ye thitri hue lambi raaten kuch poochti hein

ye khamushi-e avaaz numa kuch kehti he]

_

In your lane all day

I pick the pebbles of grief

[teri gali mein sara din

dukh ke kankar chunta hoon]

_

From the nameless reaches of the islands of memory

The waves of your voice still reach

 [yad ke benishan jazeeron se

teri avaaz arehi he abhi]

 

These verses conjure up in us strange unspeakable feelings (and certainly many more shades of the atmosphere related to) respectively, lonely change or movement through life; the sombre sadness associated with awareness of existential realities that give rise to creative expression; introspection on the nature of our existence that typically transpires in the dark and silent moments of night before we fall asleep; the rambling recall of the many pleasures of a friendship after it has terminated; and the persisting subconscious connection with a long lost love… experiences we have all encountered in life, directlyor indirectly. That is why we relate to them and their author, and feel affected by them.

Metaphors are closer to emotional reality for the same reasons that they are closer to perceptual experience. To say of an unexpexted event that it was a miracle is to say far more than that it was inexplicable: it is to express joy, admiration , wonder, awe and a host of other things without mentioning any of them.

__ Andrew Ortony↓16

Remember that tacit knowledge encompasses a great number of sources such as bits and pieces picked up incidentally, subconsciuosly or by implication; by engaging in non-verbal skills; through general observations and readings; and knowledge of internal states personally experienced or understood through empathy. That is why, metaphor is a powerful and often the sole means of expressing our internal states. And “the particular ability of imaginative literature to disclose the unique, not least the uniquely personal” (Snaevarr, p. 361) most probably depends on metaphor.

 

The psychological power of metaphor

If a new metaphor enters the conceptual system that we base our actions on, it will alter the conceptual system and the perceptions and actions that the system gives rise to.

__ Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p. 111

In their book Metaphors We Live By (1980), Lakoff and Johnson make the case of how metaphors do not just represent our perception of common realities, they have the power to create realities themselves. For instance, the prevalence and conventionality of the metaphor “argument is war” not only represents but also reinforces in turn a culture of argumentation where it is viewed as competitive rather than as a cooperative social exercise; whereby it is supposed to be won or lost rather than as taken to be a means of forwarding consensual decisions.

Consider the example of a fresh metaphor: ‘problems are solutions’, where solution is used in the chemical sense of the word. Actually, the authors took the metaphor from a real example of their Iranian student who thought that the expression ‘the solution of my problems’ was metaphorical. The student visualized “a large volume of liquid, bubbling and smoking, containing all of your problems, either dissolved or in the form of precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others”. The metaphor is not actually in use anywhere, but, as Lakoff and Johnson demonstrate how this metaphor creates a new, more profitable view of ‘problems’ than is currently prevalent. In this new view, derived from the new meaning constructed by the metaphorical comparison of real-life problems with a chemical solution, problems are accepted as a more or less recurring part of life. We use certain catalysts which temporarily solve some problems but the same process, or the disturbance in the combinations of catalysts created by a single-instance usage may lead to the precipitation of some other problem. “Rather than direct your energies toward solving your problems once and for all, you would direct your energies toward finding out what catalysts will dissolve your most pressing problems for the longest time without precipitating out worse ones. The reappearance of a problem is viewed as a natural occurence rather than as a failure on your part to find “the right way to solve it”.”

In contrast the more current view of problems as puzzles reinforces the expectation that there is one solution to each problem, that once applied, it will make the problem go forever. Recurrence of the problem implies a failure on the part of our ability to solve it. While the problem lasts, a state of confusion and frantic attempts to solve it and resolve it continue. Etc, etc.

Similarly, James Geary mentions research to the effect that when finance journalists use ‘agent metaphors’ to describe stock market behavior (such as ‘prices climbed higher’, or ‘the market fought back’) “an enduring internal goal or disposition” is inferred with the implication that the trend “is likely to continue tomorrow” (p. 31). In fact, it is in this sense of metaphor’s effects that scholars such as Lakoff and Johnson have highlighted the political, or let’s say, ideological power of metaphor…

 

The ideological power of metaphor

  

The people who get to impose their metaphors on the culture get to define what we consider to be true.

__ Lakoff and Johnson↓17  

What therefore is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms: in short a sum of human relations which became poetically and rhetorically intensified, metamorphosed, adorned, and after long usage seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding;

 __ Friedrich Nietzsche↓18 (in James Geary, p. 116)

Indeed we are familiar with presidential candidates, regimes, or factions in society popularizing and reinforcing ‘pet metaphors’ in their followers’ minds to ingrain their preferred sets of attitudes — their ideology. Similar examples can be given from the domain of religion. The budhist’s wheel of life and the muslim’s Straight Path are presented metaphorically, binding important aspects of their faith, creating their spiritual reality for them, defining the meaning and purpose of life to them, and motivating important attitudes and behaviors in each.

[This is not the place to argue, however, on the absolute relativity (or not) of truth (a topic with which this blog though is very much concerned and is yet to present a full-fledged treatment of the problem; though the topic has been touched upon in various posts).]

After having explored the concept of metaphor, establishing its power and significance from the point of view of both the sender and receiver of a communication, we are now set to see how the topic relates to the Quranic corpus. It’s easy to find all kinds of metaphors in Qur’an; important systems of extended conceptual metaphors that present, educate, and penetrate to the heart and mind of it’s readers; beautiful, visualizable, and novel, original metaphors that capture the sentient nature of its target audience and leave lasting and powerful impressions; metaphors so original and absolute as they must be for depicting realities beyond the periphery of ordinary human perception.

I feel excited at this point of my journey in the realm of the Metaphor. For these past few months, having thought about familiar metaphors from the Quran against all my developing understanding of metaphors in general now makes me feel as if I am approaching the great universe of the Qur’an with fresh eyes.

Till then, fi aman-i Allah

Notes

1. Olaf Jakel (2002). Hypotheses revisited: The cognitive theory of metaphor applied to religious texts, metaphoric.de, vol. 2, pp. 20-42. Found at http://www.metaphorik.de/02/jaekel.pdf

2. Ortony, A. (1975). Why metaphors are necessary and not just nice. Reprinted in Cultural Metaphors: Readings, research translations, and commentary, Ed. M. J. Gannon, 2001, Sage Publications. Found at http://books.google.co.in/books?id=Ih0BUezsl6kC&printsec=frontcover

3. Johnson (1980), taken from Bob Stallman (1999), Divine hospitality in the Pentateuch: A metaphorical perspective on God as host. PhD Dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, pp. 40-41. Found at http://eagle.northwestu.edu/faculty/bob-stallman/files/2011/03/2.pdf

4. Sam Gluckseburg (2008). How metaphors create categories — quickly. In Metaphor and Thought, 2nd ed., Ed. Raymond W. Gibbs. Cambridge University Press. Found at ftp://ftp.turingbirds.com/ai/The%20Cambridge%20Handbook%20of%20Metaphor%20and%20Thought.pdf

5. Paul Henle, (1958), Metaphor. Reprinted in Philosphical Perspectives on Metaphor, Ed. Mark Johnson, 1980, University of Minnesota Press, p. 102

6. Rogers, R. (1978). Metaphor: A psychoanalytical perspective. University of California Press, p. 7. Found at http://books.google.com/books?id=zxH3W27COqgC&printsec=frontcover

7. (1975), from Cultural metaphors, pp. 16-17

8. N. Frye (1964) found in Phillip Stambovsky’s (1988), The depictive image: Metaphor and literary experience, University of Massachusetts Press, p. 50.

9. Scholes (1985) in Stambovsky, 1988, p. 89.

10. Stambovsky, 1988, p. 3

11. T. Cohen (1978) from Stallman (1999), p. 44

12. Harold Searle, Collected Papers on Schizophrenia. Quoted in Rogers, 1978, p. xi

13. Stefan Snaevarr (2010). Metaphors, narratives, emotions: Their interplay and impact, Rodopi, Amsterdam, p. 83 and p. 360 respectively.

14. Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is credited with this conceptamong many others he theorized upon in his now classic Philosophical investigations. For a simple explanation of his concept read point 1 of this lecture presentation: http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/teaching_staff/ahmed/WittgensteinPhilosophicalInvestigationsLecture15.pdf

15. Stallman (1999), p. 41

16. in Cultural metaphors, p. 17

17. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980). Metaphors we live by. Originally published by University of Chicago Press. Found online at: http://www.pineforge.com/upm-data/6031_Chapter_10_O’Brien_I_Proof_5.pdf

18. in James Geary, (2011), I is an Other: The secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world, Harper Collins, p. 116.

 

 

RUMI REVELATIONS: Wisdom, not reason

In consciousness, excerpts and quotes, literature, Rumi Revelations, sources of knowledge, spirituality on September 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm

In today’s edition of Rumi revelations, the commentary I have interspersed my selections with relates these more directly with the discussion of the last post.

 

In:

A COMMUNITY OF THE SPIRIT↓1

 

There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight

of walking in the noisy street,

and being the noise.

.

Drink all your passion,

and be a disgrace.

.

Close both eyes

to see with the other eye.

.

Open your hands,

if you want to be held.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel

the shepherd’s love filling you.

Be empty of worrying.

Think of who created thought!

.

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?

__________________

A QUATRAIN↓2

How long will we fill our pockets

Like children with dirt and stones?

Let the world go. Holding it

We never know ourselves, never are air-born.

_______________________

The essence of our nature is “experiential”. We experience things at first hand in such a way that the emotional, sensorial, social, intellectual, and linguistic sides are enmeshed with each other↓3. The ‘pragmatic’ world however teaches us to think purely in intellectual terms: concepts, logic, and language. Thus we come to dissociate subject matters of study from the daily reality of our lives and from the intricacies of our personality,  and from the way we are actually designed to experience the world. Subject matters which are all connected to the reality of ourself and our world, which lead us to significant questions of the meaningfulness of our lives, they are experienced as ‘dry’, ‘boring’ or ‘pedantic’ by many a student for these reasons.

Even those supposedly at the highest levels of intellectual development come to emphasize rationalism and intellectualism at the expense of the social, emotional, and intuitive sides of our nature possibly because of the natural association of language with the former approaches to life. And perhaps also becuase of the illsuion of certainty which logic creates. The social-emotional side of experience does not deal with ‘arguments’ and ‘logic’, rationalism does. Also the apparent comfort of the unemotionality of dry reason may be a source of refuge for these scholars who having lost touch with their affective intuitions must now feel all the more perturbed recasting ‘the big questions of the world’ in purely intuitive and experiential terms rather than (‘safely’ and ‘distantly’) dissecting and pruning them according to their own scholarly specializations.

And thus the majority of us remain confined in the ‘jail’ of this rationality, never having the strength to step out and experience the huge possibilities of meaningfulness and deeper ecstasies of life once the shackles of pure reason are thrown away.

______________________

QUIETNESS↓4

 

Inside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.

Escape.

Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.

Do it now.

You’re covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side. Die,

and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign

that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

.

The speechless full moon

comes out now.

__________________

In:

THE THREE BROTHERS AND THE CHINESE PRINCESS↓5

                              The fire under the kettle is the appearance.

The boiling water is the reality.

                                                                The beloved is in your veins

though he or she may seem to have a form outside you.

________________________________

In:

AN AWKWARD COMPARISON↓6

Language does not touch the one

who lives in each of us.

_______________________

 We become so conditioned by the ways of this world, we never realize that the access to the mysteries of the more actual reality is on the side of experience we abandoned many many years ago: the inside. There are several commonalities between death and our inside. One of them is silence. The silence of death is obvious. Our inside is indeed silent in terms of it’s nature being pre-verbal. Intuition, emotion, and the phenomenon of simple ‘immersion’ in some experience (in contrast to consciously thinking and analyzing it) are ‘holistic’ in nature: they can’t be broken down into components and laws (in contrast with, say, language which has parts of speech and rules of grammar). They are also intransferable. One’s inner experience simply cannot be translated ‘as is’ for other’s perfect understanding, or transmitted somehow into their minds. Thus our inner experience is as uniquely ours and only ours to go through as death will be.

On the other hand, the ‘worldly’ knowledges possess both these characteristics and hence often succeed too perfectly in capturing our conscious lives int their hold. Just like death will finally remove this curtain of wordly ‘outside’ experience and we will realize what we could not see before, reconnecting with our silent inner experiecne can achieve the same before the time of death arrives. May be it’s this potential of this inner side of things and the superficial comfort and time-passing quality of the outer wordly side of life that many of us literally run away from any moments of silence. Movies, games, gossip, shopping, feasting, drugs, fashion, or illicit meetings with the other sex, anything will do so as time alone (= time with oneself, when inner voices become less avoidable) will not have to be confronted.

__________________

When once, however, the inner mirror has come clear of the breath of the outer world, recognizing the truth is not that difficult:

 

MYSTICS KNOW↓7

 

Since wisdom is the true believer’s stray camel*, he knows it with certainty

               from whomsoever, he may have heard of it,

And when he finds himself face to face with it, how should there be doubt?

               How can he mistake?

If you tell a thirsty man — ‘Here is a cup of water: drink!’–

Will he reply? — ‘This is mere assertion: let me alone, O liar, go away.’

Or suppose a mother cries to her babe, ‘Come, I am mother: hark my child!’ —

Will it say? — ‘Prove this to me, so that I may take comfort in thy milk.’

When in the heart of a people there is spiritual perception, the face and voice

               of the prophet are as an evidentiary miracle.

When the prophet utters a cry from without, the soul of the people falls to

               worship within,

Because never in the world will the soul’s ear have heard a cry of the same

               kind as his.

That wondrous voice is heard by the soul in exile — the voice of God calling, ‘Lo, I am nigh.’

*A reference to a saying attributed to Hazrat Ali (razi-Allahu unh): “The faithful seek the knowledge of God which they possessed in past eternity and recognize it immediately when found.”  

_______________________

 

Notes:

1. Translated by Coleman Barks, in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: RUMI, p. 32-33

2. Translated by Andrew Harvey, in above, p. 60.

3. Even neuroscientists have now studied the brain to the extent of realizing that the brain indeed works in such a ‘holistic’ fashion. There may be separate brain areas specializing in certaint types of experience (for instance vision, sound, language, emotions, etc) but they are all interconnected and are working together whenever we are learning something somewhere. [Readings on topics such as ‘neural circuits’ and ‘plasticity of the brain’ will lead any reader to authentic primary sources.]Psychologists have studied a small part of this phenomenon called as learning by conditioning: When the emotional or social sides are vivid, we come to associate them forever with the new conept we have learned. For instance, reading a certain poem may always give happy feelings not just because it talks about a peaceful moment in life but beause we used to read it in our childhood in some pleasant family circumstance. Similarly some topics are forever emotionally aversive to us because of the negative attitudes of the teacher.

4. Translated by Coleman Barks, in same as 1 & 2, p. 69.

5. Translated by above, in above, pp. 111-8.

6. Same as above, p. 139.

7. Translated by Reynold Nicholson, in same as 1, 2, 4, 5, & 6, pp. 132-3.

 

RUMI REVELATIONS: True knowledge, and actual ignorance

In excerpts and quotes, God, literature, philosophy, poetry, Quran, Rumi Revelations, sources of knowledge, The Method on September 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm

The insights revealed by literature are sometimes more powerful and incisive than the best of sciences…

I have found many extracts from Rumi’s spiritual outpourings that expand and illuminate on the current topic of this blog.

My interspersed commentary is an attempt to both link the extracts and make them more accessible to readers. Note that any underlining in the excerpted poetry is mine.

 

Rumi on the true versus the weak sources of real knowledge↓:

1. A QUATRAIN

Ignorent men  are the soul’s enemy

Shatter the jar of smug words

Cling for life to those who know

Prop a mirror in water, it rusts

———-

We are coming straight from a discussion with the upshot that how science, despite all the progress it has incurred, must still fall short on revealing the true nature of this world and the truest guidelines for human living. It’s the divine which makes up for this lack in our lives, not the human. The wordy lectures and papers of the self-claimed ‘learned’ men while ‘informative’, actually tell us nothing about what we really need to know.

____________________________________________

2. A QUATRAIN

Reason, leave now! You’ll not find wisdom here!

Were you thin as a hair, there’d still be no room.

The Sun is risen! In its vast dazzle

Every lamp is drowned.

—————-

From:

3. STORY WATER

Water, stories, the body,

all the things we do, are mediums

that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,

and enjoy this being washed

with a secret we sometimes know

and then not.

————

4. From

GOD IN NATURE

Ascend from materiality into the world of spirits, hearken to the loud voice of the universe;

Then thou wilt know that God is glorified by all inanimate things: the doubts raised by false interpreters will not beguile thee.

———————–

5. From

IMMEDIATE KNOWLEDGE

Come, recognize that your sensation and imagination and understanding are like the reed-cane on which children ride.

The spiritual man’s knowledge bears him aloft; the sensual man’s knowledge is a burden.

God hath said, Like an ass laden with books: heavy is the knowledge that is not inspired by Him;

But if you carry it for no selfish ends, the load will be lifted and you will feel delight.

____________________________________________________________________

God with His Brilliance and Actuality certainly pales any other source of enlightenment and illumination possible. Not only that, Our Creator’s mysterious workings and intricate powers seem to have enmeshed themselves with the fabric of the ‘apparent’ world created for our temporary existence. Such that the closest possible examination of any corner or pattern on the tapestry of this world either blinds us (given the Dazzle of the Source of things). Burdened by the contradictory and mutative conclusions from our observations and the enigma of explaining what we can see and can’t see in the terms of our limited understanding, we remain ignorant and indifferent to the Light. Or, we experience a touch of the dazzle ourselves in form of awe, wonderment, a sense of being in the presence of the Sacred, and a sweet and submissive urge to bow down our heads before this Source.

______________________

6. A QUATRAIN

Body of earth, don’t talk of earth

Tell the story of pure mirrors

The Creator has given you this splendour —

Why talk of anything else?

—————-

From:

7. IF YOU DON”T HAVE

you’ve carved a wooden horse

riding and calling it real

fooling yourself in life

though only a wooden horse

ride it again my friend

and gallop to the next post

you’ve never really listened

to what God has always

tried to tell you

—————–

In the physical world, every level of existence (such as the cultural, the individual, the biological, the chemical, and the subatomical) requires it’s own set of explanatory processes and phenomena. How can we claim to deduce understandings of how this world was created by restricting ourselves to the level of this earth? This will never be possible, unless we stop taking the things of this earth as the end of the road, as the literal reality itself. We must take them instead as signs, pointers or mirrors to the deeper nature of things at a level far far beyond the earthly. Instead of restricting ourselves to the details of this earth, we should move ahead to what this detail signifies: the magnificence, the splendour, the sublimity of how it all came to be.

_____________________

8. A QUATRAIN

I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door. It opens.

I’ve been knocking from the inside!

—————–

And so external observations are not the end of the road for the one earnest seeker of the Truth. After you’ve completed your observations, then, like Ibrahim, you must close the door of externality and turn on the fountain of contemplation from within.

___________________________

From:

9. THE TRUTH WITHIN US

‘Twas a fair orchard, full of trees and fruit

And vines and greenery. A Sufi there

Sat with eyes closed, his head upon his knee,

Sunk deep in meditation mystical.

‘Why,’ asked another, ‘dost thou not behold

These Signs of God the Merciful displayed

Around thee, which He bids us contemplate?’

‘The signs,’ he answered, I behold within;

Without is naught but symbols of the Signs.’

—————–

God has already planted the germs for recognizing the truth within us. When we trun inwards, rather than remaining blinded by the tangled mechanisms of the outer world, we come to access and reinstill these germs.

_________

From

10. THE TREASURE-SEEKER

That which is real is nearer than the neck-artery, and you have shot the arrow of thought far afield.

The philosopher kills himself with thinking. Let him run on: his back is turned to the treasure.

Most of those destined for Paradise are simpletons, so that they escape from the mischief of philosophy.

While the clever ones are pleased with the device, the simple ones rest, like babes, in the bosom of the Deviser.

————————

The huge enterprise of science is not even needed to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Those who know the art of looking within (rather than remaining stuck on the without) for answers, even if they lack the material sophistication of the externalists, have more easily acquired that personal and intimate connection with our God that we either are magnetically attracted to or crazily run away from.

____________________________________________________________________________________

I finish with an ayah and a quatrain…

إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّـهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ 

OF ALL His servants, only such as are endowed with [innate] knowledge stand [truly] in awe of God. (in Sura Fatir, 28)

 

11. A QUATRAIN

I know nothing any more, except

That knowing you, I know the source

Of Knowing ; this fire-spring you pull me in

Sometimes, where ‘you’ and ‘I’ burn.

 

Notes

All translations have been taken from the Rumi edition of the Everyman’s Library of Pocket Poets. In order of appearance of quoted poems, here are the translaters with page number references.

  1. Andrew Harvey, p. 60
  2. Andrew Harvey, p. 62
  3. Coleman Barks, p. 86
  4. Nicholson, p. 128
  5. Nicholson, p.130
  6. same as 2
  7. Nader Khalili, pp. 76-7
  8. Coleman Barks, p.84
  9. Nicholson, p. 93
  10. Nicholson, p. 96-7
  11. Andrew Harvey, p. 163

 

 

RUMI REVELATIONS: Understanding Ramadaan through Rumi

In excerpts and quotes, literature, poetry, psychology of religion, Ramadaan, Rumi Revelations on August 23, 2011 at 1:07 am

RAMADAN SILENCE*

 

When the Ramadan banner flies, soul restrains nature,

so it can taste its own foodl

 

The strength of horses and the intensity of fire,

these are the powers of sacrifice.

Fasting, we honor the guest.

 

Clouds of courage give rain,

because it was in this month that the Qur’an rained down,

light through an opening.

 

Grab the rope.

Be lifted out of the body’s pit.

 

Announce to Egypt, Joseph of Canaan has come.

Jesus dismounts the donkey,

and the sacramental table descends.

 

Wash your hands. Wash your face.

Do not eat or speak as you normally do.

Other food and other words will come in the silence.

_________________________________

 

The concept of silence here symbolizes the fast. The silent person side-steps from the usual impulse to talk and to speak up his mind. This willing evacuation of the mind of petty distraction of conversation makes room for wisdom and insight. 

Rumis says this more eloquently in the following ghazal couplets**:

 

If you want your every atom to be eloquent and a poet,

don’t place your faith in poetry and prose, be silent.

 

If you start to talk, you will stray from your thought.

Don’t stray from your heart’s intent. Stay away from talk.

___________________________________________

 

Fast performs similar functions for us on a much broader scale. Why does performing acts God loves, with great frequency, length and recurrence become much easier in Ramadaan, than at other times? It’s not just because of the extra incentive we have in form of hope for extra reward; it’s not just due to being reinforced and encouraged by seeing nearly everyone around doing more. The fast frees us from the constant chain of distractions that our bodily ties of food and drink provide us through the day. Ordinarily, we remain mentally bound by one concern followed by another. Since hunger and thirst are of the body, naturally, other bodily and personal interests take forte as well and keep us occupied. Even when we think of doing something ‘extra’, we get lazy, feel busy, or simply forget amid the ‘stimulus overload’.

Fast provides a calm for the whole day. It also changes the schedule of daily life, thus helping to reinforce the change. The calm and peace resulting from a control on bodily hungers also weakens the force of other personal desires and lusts. Although, we feel the nutrient deprivation, we don’t even feel as much hungry as we would if we could not eat on time on a regular day. All this ‘stimulus underload’ paves the way for the better and nobler instincts of our psyche to come forward and to take lead.

If a mosque was full of chatter and banter, how could it inspire noble meditations, pious intentions and love-filled inclinations? It is the vast seclusion of the typical mosque from everything earthy and wordly that encourages those honorable attitudes.

And then….

 

A QUATRAIN^

 

This fasting sifts the soul like a sieve,

Discovering the hidden flecks of gold.

Once the soul outshines the brilliant moon,

It will tear up the veil and light up the seventh heaven.

 

 

Notes

* Translated by Coleman Barks in Rumi: The Big Red Book, 2010, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, p. 273

** Translated by Iraj Anvar and Anne Twitty in Say Nothing: Poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi in Persian and English, 2008, Sandpoint: Morning Light Press, p. 17.

^ Translated by the same as above, p. 19.