Secret Knowledge of the Qur‘an
By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)
of the Qur‘an
1. One Speaker, Many Mouths:
Whose Word is the Qur‘an?
God’s, no doubt.
Even those utterances that have been represented in it as being of others are in a sense God’s own utterances.
However, we are going to ask a different question: Through how many mouths is God Speaking?
Dear reader! This question is very important. The Qur‘an has many mouths – and more interestingly, it is God who is speaking through all those mouths. It is a great mystery. It has never been seen in any of the books in the world.
Let me make it a bit clearer. If you are prepared to have patience for a while, they I assure you that you are going to see something which, if it was left unseen, world be the cause of a lot of regret at the moment of your death. And you do not have to work your brain too much. All you need is just give occasional importance to the selected words/phrases of the verses cited.
1: 1. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1: 2. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds,
1: 3. The Beneficent, the Merciful.
1: 4. Master of the Day of Judgment,
1: 5. You (alone) worship; you (alone) we ask for help.
1: 6. Show us the straight path,
1: 7. The path of those whom You have favored; Not the (path) of those who earn Your anger nor of those who go astray.
These are God’s Words, no doubt, but whose utterances are these? In fact, this is a prayer that God teaches us to utter. Thus the utterance is ours, of anybody who has uttered it. In this way God is teaching us how we should speak to Him. However, He does not tell us to say the words by saying ‘Say’ in the beginning of this prayer session. The absence of such an instruction makes the utterance ours, while they are still the Words of God.
This was the first Surah of the Qur‘an, according to the order of presentation of the Surahs. Now let use see the last one:
114: 1. Say : I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind,
114: 2. The King of mankind,
114: 3. The god of mankind,
114: 4. From the evil of the sneaking whisperer,
114: 5. Who whispers in the hearts of mankind,
114: 6. Of the jinn and of mankind.
In this case also, the utterance belongs to one who is reciting the Surah. However, the very instruction ‘Say’ is God’s utterance. Thus, when we are reciting the surah we are expressing utterances that are both God’s and ours. Everybody of us has the experience of teaching children how to say something. This is a case similar to that. So, in a sense, God is using our mouths to have his Word expressed. The surahs at the end of the Qur‘an –suratul Falaq, suratul Iqhlas, and suratul Kafiroon – begin in the same way.
AL-FALAQ (THE DAYBREAK, DAWN)
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
113: 1. Say : I seek refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak
113: 2. From the evil of that which He created;
113: 3. From the evil of the darkness when it is deep,
113: 4. And from the evil of ill-willed witchcraft,
113: 5. And from the evil of the envier when he envies.
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
112: 1. Say : He is Allah, the One!
112: 2. Allah, the eternal Target-of-Search of all!
112: 3. He does not give birth nor was He given birth.
112: 4. And there is none comparable to Him.
AL-KAFIROON (THE DISBELIEVERS, ATHEISTS)
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
109: 1. Say : O disbelievers!
109: 2. I do not worship that which you worship;
109: 3. Nor do you worship that which I worship.
109: 4. And I shall not worship that which you worship.
109: 5. Nor will you worship that which I worship.
109: 6. To you your religion, and to me my religion.
1.2. There are some instances when God seems to be overlooking us and only speaking to the prophet (PBUH). for example:
108: 1. Lo ! (O Muhammad) We have given you Abundance;
108: 2. So pray to your Lord, and sacrifice.
108: 3. Lo! it is your insulter (and not you) who is without posterity.
1.3. There are some instances when God is addressing none – neither us nor the Prophet (PBUH). And all He is doing in such cases is expressing some wishes through his Word:
111: 1. The power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish.
111: 2. His wealth and gains will not rescue him.
111: 3. He will be plunged in flaming Fire,
111: 4. And his wife, the wood-carrier,
111: 5. Will have upon her neck a halter of palm-fibre.
1.4. In some contexts God is speaking about some person or group, but He is neither addressing them directly nor asking the Prophet (PBUH) to speak to them on behalf of Him. Rather, He is simply expressing His wish indirectly, or sometimes talking to the Prophet (PBUH). For example:
100: 1. (I swear) By the snorting courses,
100: 2. Striking sparks of fire
100: 3. And scouring to the raid at dawn,
100: 4. Then, therewith, with their trail of dust,
100: 5. Cleaving, as one, the centre (of the foe),
100: 6. Lo! man is an ungrateful being to his Lord
100: 7. And lo! he is a witness to that;
100: 8. And lo! in the love of wealth he is violent.
100: 9. Does he not know that, when the contents of the graves are poured forth
100:10. And the secrets of the breasts are made known,
100:11. On that day will their Lord be perfectly informed concerning them.
1.5. In some cases He is directly speaking to us by addressing us – all humans, and is not speaking through the ‘I’ of the Prophet (PBUH):
102: 1. Competition in worldly increase distracts you
102: 2. Until you come to the graves.
102: 3. Nay, but you will come to know!
102: 4. Nay, but you will come to know!
102: 5. Nay, would that you knew (now) with certain knowledge!
102: 6. For you will see hell-fire.
102: 7. Yes, you will see it with unfailing vision.
102: 8. Then, on that day, you will be asked concerning enjoyment.
1.6. Such instances are also available in which God is speaking to the Prophet (PBUH), where both the speaker (“I / We”) and the listener (“You”) are present:
97: 1. Lo! We revealed it (this Qur’an) on the Night of Predestination.
97: 2. Ah, what will convey to you (O Prophet!) what the Night of Power is!
97: 3. The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
97: 4. The angels and the Spirit descend in it, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees.
97: 5. (There is) Peace until the rising of the dawn.
It is interesting to note that in the beginning God is asking the Prophet (PBUH) an exclamatory question, and without waiting for an answer from him, answering it Himself. There is more mystery to it than meats the eye, which will be dealt with in a later section.
1.7. It is even more interesting to note that in some contexts God is speaking to the Prophet (PBUH) addressing him as ‘you’, while referring to Himself as ‘He’. That is because He is using the mouth of the angel Gabriel (May God be pleased with him). Let us see the example:
96: 1. Read (O Muhammad): In the name of your Lord Who creates,
96: 2. Creats man from a clot.
96: 3. Read: And your Lord is the Most Bounteous,
96: 4. Who teaches by the pen,
96: 5. Teaches man that which he did not know.
96: 6. Nay, but certainly man is rebellious
96: 7. That he considers himself independent!
96: 8. Lo! to your Lord is the return.
96: 9. Have you seen him who prevents
96:10. A slave when he prays?
96:11. Have you seen whether he relies on the guidance (of Allah)
96:12. Or enjoins piety?
96:13. Have you seen if he denies (Allah's guidance) and is forward?
96:14. Is he then unaware that Allah sees?
96:15. Nay, but if he does not cease We will seize him by the forelock -
96:16. The lying, sinful forelock -
96:17. Then let him call upon his henchmen!
96:18. We will call the guards of hell.
96:19. Nay, do not obey him. But prostrate yourself, and draw near (unto Allah/Me).
There is something here that deserves attention: the fact that it is none but God Who is speaking through Gabriel is made clear in the last verse where He refers to himself in the first person (‘We/Me’).
We will be able to see through the mystery if we present the verses in a slightly modified version as shown in the right column below. Please compare the right column with the left and discover the mystery of God’s style.
Notice that God refers to Himself as We in verse No. 15 and onwards. Before that, He refers to Himself as He / your Lord. We have made an experiment by changing the pronoun references into the first person. See how egoistic the tone becomes if it is adopted from the very beginning of the surah?
1.8. Sometimes God speaks to us in a manner we call soliloquy. Verbal situations are so arranged that on the explicit, verbal level, God is speaking all alone, while we, the audience, are also listening to Him, a fact which He is aware of, but does not react, so to say, to our presence. Here is an example:
92: 1. (I swear) By the night that covers
92: 2. And the brilliant day
92: 3. And Him Who has created male and female,
92: 4. Lo! your effort is multidirectional (toward diverse ends).
92: 5. As for him who gives and is dutiful (toward Allah)
92: 6. And believes in what is good;
92: 7. Surely We will ease his way to the state of ease.
92: 8. But as for him who hoards and considers himself independent,
92: 9. And disbelieves in what is good;
92:10. Surely We will ease his way to adversity.
92:11. His riches will not save him when he perishes.
92:12. Lo! It is only Our duty (to give) the guidance
92:13. And lo! to Us belong the latter portion and the former.
92:14. Therefore I have warned you of the flaming Fire
92:15. Which only the most wretched will suffer,
92:16. He who denies (the goodness) and turns away.
92:17. The righteous will be far removed from it.
92:18. Who gives his wealth that he may grow (in goodness).
92:19. And none has with him any favor for reward,
92:20. Except as seeking (to fulfill) the purpose of his Lord Most High.
92:21. He surely will be content.
Another interesting thing about this style is that the audience is frequently referred to as ‘he/she/they’, not as ‘you’ except once.
God refers to Himself in the first person up to the verse No. 20, but then He takes a turn. God refers to Himself as We, whereas it is the Prophet that utters the ‘I’ in the verse No. 14. It could also be God’s own self-reference. But all these types of references have been intermingled so as to confuse the audience into the infinite Unity of God’s Entity.
1.9. In ways shown above, God has sometimes spoken to the believers as a group, to the unbelievers as another group, to the entire mankind as a whole, or even to a particular ethnic group, such as the Jews. In such cases, He is sometimes addressing the target group directly and sometimes he is speaking to them via the utterances of the Prophet (PBUH). In most such cases, each surah is initiated by God Himself, and then sometimes the utterances are continued through the mouths of others.
However, I have found one surah which is started by the Prophet (PBUH), while the utterance itself clearly declares that it is the Word of God. It is a terribly mysterious style of presentation:
11: 1. Alif. Lam. Ra. A Scripture the revelations about which are perfected and then explained. From One (Who is) Wise, Informed,
11: 2. Do not serve anybody except Allah. Look! I am to you from Him a Warner and a bringer of good tidings.
11: 3. And ask pardon of your Lord and turn to Him repentant. He will cause you to enjoy a fair estate until a time appointed. He gives His bounty to every bountiful one. But if you turn away, Look! I fear for you the retribution of an awful Day.
11: 4. To Allah is your return, and He is Able to do all things.
11: 5. Look! Now they fold up their breasts that they may hide (their thoughts) from Him. At the very moment when they cover themselves with their clothing, Allah knows that which they keep hidden and that which they proclaim. Look! He is Aware of what is in the breasts (of men).
Be very careful in identifying the fact that it is the Prophet (PBUH) who is starting the surah. It still does not mean that the utterance is the Prophet’s (PBUH) own. Rather, it is from God the One. In this case the opening utterance is the Prophet’s, while every word belongs to God.
And now, be careful! Who is it that is speaking the verso No. 5? God. To Whom? To the Prophet (PBUH). Why? Because the very starting point of the surah may lead some toward the conclusion that the Prophet (PBUH) is the author of the surah, which is in fact far from the truth.
1.10. Now consider the following utterances. Here God maintains the continuity of His speech through different mouths, and by referring to Himself in dazzling variety of ways:
17:23. your Lord has decreed, that you worship none except Him , and (that you show) kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with you, say not "Fie" to them nor repulse them, but speak to them a gracious word.
17:24. And lower to them the wing of submission through mercy, and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little.
17:25. Your Lord is Best Aware of what is in your minds. If you are righteous, then Look! He was ever Forgiving to those who turn (unto Him).
17:26. Give the kinsman his due, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and squander not (thy wealth) in wantonness.
17:27. Look! the squanderers were ever brothers of the devils, and the devil was ever an ingrate to his Lord .
17:28. But if you turn away from them, seeking mercy from your Lord , for which you hopest, then speak to them a reasonable word.
17:29. And let not your hand be chained to your neck nor open it with a complete opening, lest you sit down rebuked, denuded.
17:30. Look! your Lord enlarges the provision for whom He will, and straitens (it for whom He will). Lo, He was ever Knower, Seer of His slaves.
17:31. Slay not your children, fearing a fall to poverty, We shall provide for them and for you. Look! the slaying of them is great sin.
17:32. And come not near to adultery. Look! it is an abomination and an evil way.
17:33. And slay not the life which Allah has forbidden save with right. Whoso is slain wrongfully, We have given power to his heir, but let him not commit excess in slaying. Look! he will be helped.
17:34. Come not near the wealth of the orphan save with that which is better till he come to strength; and keep the covenant. Look! of the covenant it will be asked.
17:35. Fill the measure when you measure, and weigh with a right balance; that is meet, and better in the end.
17:36. (O man), follow not that about which you have no knowledge. Look! the hearing and the sight and the heart - of each of these it will be asked.
17:37. And walk not in the earth exultant. Look! you can not rend the earth, nor can you stretch to the height of the hills.
17:38. The evil of all that is hateful in the sight of your Lord .
17:39. This is (part) of that wisdom wherewith your Lord has inspired you (O Muhammad). And set not up with Allah any other god, lest you be cast into hell, reproved, abandoned.
17:40. Has your Lord then distinguished you (O men of Makka) by giving you sons, and has chosen for Himself females from among the angels? Look! Certainly you speak an awful word!
1.11. Now another surprising example. Here God is sharing the same message and purpose with Luqman (May God shower blessings upon him). More specifically, when Hazrat Luqman is advising his son, God is also ‘butting in’ so that they all can share the same heavenly Word.
31:12. And verily We gave Luqman wisdom, saying: Give thanks to Allah; and whosoever gives thanks, he gives thanks for (the good of) his soul. And whosoever refuses - Lo! Allah is Absolute, Owner of Praise.
31:13. And (remember) when Luqman said to his son, when he was exhorting him: O my dear son! Ascribe no partners to Allah. Lo! to ascribe partners (unto Him) is a tremendous wrong -
31:14. And We have enjoined upon man concerning his partners - His mother bears him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years - Give thanks to Me and to your parents. to Me is the journeying.
31:15. But if they strive with you to make you ascribe to Me as partner that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not. Consort with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who repents to Me. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do -
31:16. O my dear son! Lo! though it be but the weight of a grain of mustard-seed, and though it be in a rock, or in the heavens, or in the earth, Allah will bring it forth. Lo! Allah is Subtile, Aware.
31:17. O my dear son! Establish worship and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity, and persevere whatever may befall you. Lo! that is of the steadfast heart of things.
The utterances of the verse Nos. 14 and 15 are God’s not Luqman’s but all that is said here is advice to Luqman’s son. Surprising!
What if the entire stretch of verses were the utterances of Luqman? Or what if it were the Word of God only, and were not a mixed utterance? Let us see how those possibilities might look.
Let us see the discourse from another point of view. This time let us assume that God were the only speaker to Luqman’s son on behalf of Luqman. Now read the verses again and you will see something interesting.
Has any author of any book in the world presented himself or herself in so many ways? No. Those who believe that they will have to explain their activities and accept the reward for such activities today or tomorrow or in the hereafter, see infinite beauty in these styles of God’s utterances. On the contrary, those who do not like to be held responsible for their deeds, dislike such styles and avoid the Word of God because of their inability to discover the hidden unity behind all such verbal representations. God Himself has even said that this Qur‘an will increase the hatred of those who do not like the truth.
Hazrat ‘Ali: (May God shower blessings upon him) instructed one of his sobondinates not to argue with believers with the Qur‘an, because it may be wrongly interpreted as being biased because of its different mouths:
Do not argue with the Qur’an because the Qur’an has many mouths. Rather, argue with your own judgment and of course with the way of the Prophet (PBUH), because they will not be allowed to escape their responsibility to obey it.
(Nahz-al-Balagha, Ordinance No.77)
For the same reason, the Prophet (PBUH) has said:
I do not like any of you to be such that they will sit on their cot leaning with ease and say that they do not care for my instructions and are only following the instructions in the Qur’an.
(Mishkat Sharif, Hadith No. 155)