Posts Tagged ‘Al-Anfal 17’

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

In Anthologies, Literature|Religion, Words of Gold: The Quran on September 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm

In this post we consider two more related devices, namely, personification and catachresis.


In an example from a previous post, stones were mentioned by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala as falling down due to fear of Allah. When things are described as having animate properties__ trees whistling, daffodils dancing __ it is said to be personification.

Example #1:

إِذَا زُلْزِلَتِ الْأَرْضُ زِلْزَالَهَا

وَأَخْرَجَتِ الْأَرْضُ أَثْقَالَهَا

وَقَالَ الْإِنسَانُ مَا لَهَا

 يَوْمَئِذٍ تُحَدِّثُ أَخْبَارَهَا

When the earth will be shaken with a mighty shaking,

and the earth will throw up all her burdens,

and man will cry out: “What is the matter with her?”

On that Day it will relate all her news, [Az-Zalazala 1-4]


In the above, two ayahs clearly demonstrate personificati0n (the rest have been quoted for context).  Here’s the break down of the metaphors:

 human act of throwing up ≡ inner contents of earth bursting out

inner contents of earth bursting out ≡ human act of revealing one’s secrets

Note that the first personifying phrase in turns carries a simple metaphor as follows:

inner content of the earth ≡ burdens

The linked and nested nature of these metaphors is clear and makes for a riveting read. The inner contents have been likened to secrets probably because they remain hidden until explicitly revealed. The word ‘burden’ in a way presages the later metaphor: whatever thoughts and feelings we keep held inside are our personal burden: They carry the weight of emotion, and of loneliness. Thus the ‘burden’ metaphor itself turns out to be a personification.

The exact nature of these burdens is specified by the following hadeeth mentioned in the pertinent section of Tafhimul Quran:

According to Hadrat Abu Hurairah, the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) recited this verse and asked: “Do you know what annals it will relate ?” The people said: “Allah and His Messenger have the best knowledge.” Thereupon the Holy Prophet said: “The annals are that the earth will testify to the deeds which every tnan and woman has done on its back.” She will say: “He or she had done such and such a thing on such and such a day. These will be the annals the earth will narrate.” (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Jarir, ‘Abd bin Humaid, Ibn al-Mundhir, Hakim, Ibn Marduyah, Baihaqi in Ash-Sbu’ab).

As Maulana Maududi explains:

It might have been difficult for a man of ancient times to understand how the earth will speak and narrate the annals and events happening on it on the Resurrection Day, but in the present age of scientific discoveries and the inventions of cinema, loudspeaker, radio, television, tape-recorder, electronic equipment, etc., it is no longer difficult to understand how the earth will narrate its annals. The impression of whatever man speaks is preserved in the air, in the radio waves, on the particles of the walls and floors and ceilings of the houses, and on the environments of the road, plain or field if he spoke outside the house. If AIlah so wills He can make these things repeat all these voices precisely in the way these were uttered in the first instance by tnan.

Example #2:

إِنَّا عَرَضْنَا الْأَمَانَةَ عَلَى السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَالْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَن يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَحَمَلَهَا الْإِنسَانُ

Verily, We did offer the trust [of reason and volition] to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up – [In Al-Ahzab 72]

Of the many metaphors in the above ayah, two are personifications:

inability of celestial creations to carry God’s load ≈ their deliberate refusal to same

((same as above )) ≈ their being afraid of the load

The interpretations popular among the exegesis-writers for the term ‘trust’ are intelligence/reason or volition (M. Asad), muslim obigations (Taqi Uthmani and Ibne Kathir); khalifat (i.e. carrying out God’s instructions for the life on earth; Maududi). As remarked by Maulana Taqi, all are essentially the same: Muslim obligations to obey Allah’s commands on earth arises from the fact that they can choose (volition) to obey for His love and reward or to disobey despite warnings of banishment to Hell. The obligations also propel Muslims to establish the rule of Allah in the human society (khalifah).

As for presenting heavens’ and earth’s inability for these responsibilities as their deliberate refusal and lack of courage, Maududi reasons:

We can neither know nor can comprehend Allah’s relationship with His creations. The eanh and the sun and the moon and the mountains are dumb, deaf and lifeless for us but they may not be so also for Allah. Allah can speak to each of His creations and it can respond to Him, though its nature is incomprehensible for us. Therefore, it is just possible that Allah, in fact, might have presented this heavy trust before them, and they might have shuddered to see it, and they might have made this submission before their Master and Creator. “Lord, we find our good and our convenience only in remaining as Your powerless servants: we do not find courage to ask for the freedom to disobey and do justice to it, and then suffer Your punishment in case we cannot do justice to it.”

If that is true, is the Qur’anic statement literal or metaphorical? The answer is, it could be both:

Inasmuch as there was a communication of the above sort between God and creation, the Qur’an’s verse becomes literally true. On the other hand, inasmuch as the exact form of that communication differs from a similar communication between God and a human creature (for instance, recall Prophet Moses alaihi-s-salam and his initial hesitancy to go to Pharoah due to his speech difficulty; reference), the verse remains metaphorical.

The next anthology example illustrates this point beautifully. 

Example #3:

تُسَبِّحُ لَهُ السَّمَاوَاتُ السَّبْعُ وَالْأَرْضُ وَمَن فِيهِنَّ ۚ وَإِن مِّن شَيْءٍ إِلَّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِهِ وَلَـٰكِن لَّا تَفْقَهُونَ تَسْبِيحَهُمْ

The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. [In Al-Isra 44]

This ayah carries a personification since it credits the universe and everything in it with the same act of chanting God Almighty’s praises that we are familiar with as Muslims. This ayah can also be taken literally as it puts the point we have just discussed with the previous example:

All the inhuman and inanimate creatures of this universe experience the different aspects of their relationship with their Creator just like we, the humans, do. Only, as the above ayah itself clarifies: the apparent form of the experience might be different so that we, the humans, cannot perceive or comprehend it. Additionally,

Everything is not only singing hymns of the glory of its Creator but isaffording the proof that He is perfect in every respect and worthy of all praise. Everything is an embodiment of the proof that its Creator and Administrator is the one in whom there is perfection of every quality.

Maulana Maududi

Thus the metaphor works at another level as well: it represents Allah’s powers as the Creator and sole Lord of this universe.

Personification by the Almighty

In Qur’an a different, interesting case of personification occurs. Consider the following examples:

بِيَدِكَ الْخَيْرُ

In Your Hand is all good [In Al-i-Imran 26]

وَمَا رَمَيْتَ إِذْ رَمَيْتَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ رَمَىٰ

and it was not you [o prophet Muhammed] when you threw [sand at them], but it was Allah Who threw it, [In Al-Anfal 17]

In both these examples, personification occurs by crediting a human feature or action with the God Almighty. Of course Allah Sub’hana’hu wa Ta’ala is above any literal comparisons to any creature of His own. However, for ease of communication and translability to His human subjects, He makes ample use of personification in the Qur’an and applies it to His own case.

The first instance here is a common proverbial expression in this case applied to God. In the second instance, there is a very deliberate personification by attributing an act by the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) to His ownself. This technique achieves particular effects in meaning. For one it suggests that all rightful action by His subjects, in particular, by His prophets, represent the authority and decree of His Lordship. For another, it shows that great courageous acts performed under devotion to one’s God are appreciated and endearing so that God Himself attaches His name and agency to those deeds; thus, declaring the high status of such actions in God’s reckoning. Note that these effects are not particular to the Last Prophet as might be suggested by the wording of the above ayah. In the opening section of this ayah (right before the quoted one), Allah Ta’ala attributes the general actions of the Muslim army against the enemy to Himself in the same manner.

Conclusions about personification in the Qur’an

The above study leads to two clear conclusions about the way personification is employed in the Qur’an:

1. Applied to earth and the heavens, personification brings to our grasp great metaphysical facts of God’s created universe. As such, personification clothes and translates literal truths about the universe while also helping bridge the gap inthe ‘form’ of human vs inanimate spirituality.

2. Allaha ta’ala applies personification to His own case by using human action/body parts idioms to His own doings. This certainly broadens the usage of personification and its definition: Personification is a metaphor wherein an event caused by any non-human entity is described using words that literally show human agency.


بَلْ نَقْذِفُ بِالْحَقِّ عَلَى الْبَاطِلِ فَيَدْمَغُهُ فَإِذَا هُوَ زَاهِقٌ

But in fact We hurl the truth upon falsehood, so it scatters its brains – thereupon it vanishes; [In Al-Anbiya 18]

Catachresis is a deliberate or accidental mispplication of a word giving rise to a mixing up of meanings/senses that reads absurd at the literal level. The metaphor it creates is called as mixed (relevant wikipedia sections will be helpful). In the above example, Truth and Falsehood are abstract nouns given to concepts, on the other hand, ‘hammering away one’s brains’, ‘striking something with something else’ are clearly physical and concrete events.

The general meaning of the Quranic statement (also corroborated by other tafseers) is well captured by Maulana Maududi as follows:

“The object for which this world has been created is to stage a conflict between the Truth and falsehood. And you yourselves know that in this conflict falsehood has always been defeated and destroyed: You should, therefore, consider this reality seriously, for, if you build the system of your life on the false presumption that it is mere fun, you will meet with the same consequences as the former people did, who presumed that the world was a mere show and pastime. Therefore you should reconsider your whole attitude towards the Message which has come to you. Instead of making fun of it and scoffing at the Messenger, you should take a warning from the fate of the former peoples.”

The catachresis employed towards this ends certainly adds intensity and forcefulness to the Quranic claim. Falsehood would be destroyed as definitiely and as powerfully as a large stone taking out brains when thrown on a head. Truth being ‘thrown’ at the falsehood not only implies the ‘high/righteous’ vs. ‘low/wrongful’ designation of truth vs falsehood,  it also implies a clear out-in-the-open type of strategy of coming up against the former.

Thus the catachresis not only makes the claim more memorable and striking, it actually contributes a dimension of meaning to the interpretation.


QURAN IN RAMADAAN: How God relates to His subjects…

In God, Islam, Quran, Ramadaan, spirituality on August 18, 2011 at 12:05 am

16th Ramadaan, 1432:

فَلَمْ تَقْتُلُوهُمْ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ قَتَلَهُمْ

وَمَا رَمَيْتَ إِذْ رَمَيْتَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ رَمَىٰ

IT WAS not you who killed them but Allah who killed them;

 and it was not you (o Prophet) who threw (sand at them) rather Allah who threw (in Sura Al-Anfal, 17)


Background and Preamble

In Sura Anfal, describing the events of Ghazwah Badr (the first battle of Prophet Mohammad, salla-Allahu alaihi wa-sallam, and his followers with Mecca’s polytheists) Allah Ta’ala attributes the actions of all muslims (includig the prophet) to Himself. Given it’s context and background, the ayah has many specific and significant interpretations; however, I was struck by the ‘relating’ sense of the meaning of this ayah.

By relating, here I don’t mean the nature of our relationship with God, that of being His creation, His subjects, His dependents and worshipers. To relate also means to connect, to associate with, to concern with, to ally. God is the Sole Creator, Emperor and Controller of the whole universe and we are a tiny part of the vast universe. We are powerless before Him, in essence nothing. And yet, when the same of our kind attempted to follow His path and act out it’s demands, see how that same Omniscient, Omnipotent, All-encompassing God identifies Himself with them and endearingly attributes their actions to His Self. 


The backdrop for a relating God 

 There is abundant evidence in the Qur’an, as well as in hadith, that Allah Ta’ala extends His Love towards all His creation. In Arabic the most common word for love is hubb ( حب ). Other related words also used in the Qur’an are: rahmah ( رحمة ) meaning kindness and benevolence, rabubiyah ( ربوبية ) meaning to care for, ra’fah ( رأفة ) meaning tenderness and gentleness, wuddah ( وده  ) meaning to be fond of some one, and wilayah ( ولاية  ) means being a friend.

Of these various words, rahma, rabubiyah, and ra’fah have been used to express the more general and all-encompassing love of God for His creatures. Kindness is a virtue that springs from love: you cannot be kind with someone if you have an incapacity to feel love for them. The natural consequence of love and kindness is caring. Caring, as in rabubiyah, involves specific actions such as helping one grow and develop, and providing for one’s sustenance. Of course, God has provided us for our growth in various ways and reminds us of that numerously in the Qur’an. As for His rahmah, He announces:

 ۖ وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ

  MY mercy (or benevolence) embraces all things. (in Al-A’raf, 156)


كَتَبَ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ 

… WHO has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy. (in Al-An’am, 12)


And how can the One who produced everyone and everything and is responsible for their care, not have a basic attitude of tenderness and gentleness upon those whome He created?

إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ

 INDEED, Allah is Gentle with people (in Al-Baqara, 143)


These defining attributes of God are amazing enough. Can we think of anybody else, no matter how loving in our eyes, who loves us so thoroughly who is ready to come to us ten steps if we only take one toward him? Who is ready to forgive all our mischief, disobedience, indifference, forgetfulness, or outright stubbornness in exchange for one truthful moment of acknowledgement (of His Sole Godness and of our having done wrong)? Who tenderly arranges for all the elements for our survival in this world, in the physial, psychological, and spiritual paths so that we may arrive soundly at the gate of the Real World to be? Who is not in the example of a self-satisfied pampering mother who spoils her children in the name of her ‘love’, rather who even cares for our being as optimally human as possible, thus even tests us with ordeals and shakes us with hardships so that we do not get lost in the maze of superficial luxuries and comforts?

And yet He remains Supreme, far far above us, the Incomparable, the One and the Sole. His Status is undeniably High and Mighty. So how can we expect the King of the whole universe to relate to us in the fashion of a one-to-one relationship?


God’s special love for His special subjects

The special more relational love of God is a reward of those of His subjects who acknowledge and depend upon His general Loves of Kindness and Tender Care. From the above list of love-related words, those that directly reflect the sense of love and affiliation are hubb, wuddah, and wilayah. Throughout the Qur’an, Allah Ta’ala has used these words as either affirmed fact or promised reward for those who obey Him truly.

And so Allah Ta’ala announces, because we believe in Him, He is our Friend. And not just a friend, rather, a true friend who works as a guide and benefactor (for that is covered in the meaning of the word wali):

اللَّـهُ وَلِيُّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا

ALLAH is the friend of those who believe (in Al-Baqra, 257)

And, as we follow the teacher (Prophet Mohammad s.a.w) He appointed out of His Kindness and Care, He promises us His Love:

إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّـهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّـهُ

Say: ‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you (in Al-i-Imran, 31)

And when we place our trust in Him, as any proclaimed friend merits, again He loves us:

فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

… WHEN you decide upon something, rely upon Allah; indeed Allah loves those who trust (Him). (in Al-i-Imran, 159)

And when we, after believing in Him, try to practice all the various meritable attitudes and behaviors that He inspires us to, He promises His most special fond, friendly and affectionate love to us:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ سَيَجْعَلُ لَهُمُ الرَّحْمَـٰنُ وُدًّا

SURELY, Ar-Rahman will show love for those who believe and do the right. (Sura Maryam, 96)


The relational attributes of God

We all know that any real-life one-to-one relationship based on love, friendliness and affection is operational. By that I mean, it is not just in the form of proclamations, rather it expresses itself in specific actions, prerequisites of being a loving friend. God who is already acting as a Kind, Gentle Caregiver for the entirety of His creatures, believing or unbelieving, is indeed acting as a real Friend to us, those who believe and trust and rely on His Friendship, all the time:

And so He is there, close by us, whenever we need to talk to Him:

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ ۖ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ

AND if My subjects ask you, O Prophet. concerning Me, tell them that I am quite near to them. I hear and answer the prayer of the suppliant, when he calls to Me. So let them respond to My call and believe in Me. Convey this to them, O Prophet; perhaps they may be guided aright. (Sura Baqra, 186

And just as we remember Him, He does the same:

 فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ

 SO remember me, and I shall remember you. (in Al-Baqara, 152)

And in times of difficulty when we are threatened, like a true friend, He defends us:

 إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُدَافِعُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا

SURELY Allah defends those who believe. (in Al-Hajj, 38

 And just like we greet each other in our friendliness, so He will greet us (InshaAllah, in Heaven) when finally the time for the meeting arrives:

 سَلَامٌ قَوْلًا مِّن رَّبٍّ رَّحِيمٍ

SALAAM! shall be the greeting from the Merciful Lord. (Sura Ya-Sin, 58)

And not only that, He will express His appreciation for whatever little we could do for Him in our earthly lives: 

إِنَّ هَـٰذَا كَانَ لَكُمْ جَزَاءً وَكَانَ سَعْيُكُم مَّشْكُورًا

 “SEE this is your recompense and your striving has been thanked.” (Sura Al-Insan, 22)

And like a true reciprocating friend, He doesn’t just care for Himself being pleased with our friendship, He cares for our being pleased with His friendship, too…

 رَّضِيَ اللَّـهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ 

 ALLAH is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him. (in Al-Mujadila, 22 and in Al-Bayyina, 8)


 …. only if we were sensible enough to long to and strive to merit it….


Is there anything left to say?