Monday, October 1, 2007

An Interesting Perspective

Assalamu ‘alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

Surah al-Ma-idah verse 6 is referred to as the آية الوضوء (Ablution Verse) the first part of which reads as follows:

يا أيها الذين آمنوا إذا قمتم إلى الصلاة فاغسلوا وجوهكم وأيديكم إلى المرافق وامسحوا برؤوسكم وأرجلكم إلى الكعبين

Now, students of Arabic and Islamic Law who are familiar with this verse know the issue of how the lam of أرجلكم is vowelled. The standard Hafs reading vowels the lam with a fathah thus becoming أرجلَكم (arjulakum), and in which case it is معطوف (conjoined to) on وجوهَكم which is the مفعول به (direct object) of اغسلوا . Hence, according to this reading أرجلكم is governed by اغسلوا (wash) and not by امسحوا (wipe). However, there is another authentic and sound reading that vowels the lam of أرجلكم with a kasrah becoming أرجلِكم (arjulikum), such that it is apparently معطوف on رؤوسكم which is governed by the الباء (preposition) which in turn is governed by the verb امسحوا . How are we to explain the أرجلِكم with the kasrah-case-ending as being governed by the verb امسحوا (wipe), since we wipe our heads but not our feet? One explanation that I know of is that the “wiping of the feet” here refers to wiping them when you are wearing your khufs (leather socks).

Another explanation is that the Kasrah-vowelling of أرجلِكم is a case of المجاوَرة (al-mujawarah) which is where a word-ending is vowelled with a particular case-sign (for example, a fathah), and then this case-sign changes to another case-sign (for example, a kasrah) due to coming under the influence of the case-sign of a neighbouring word. Therefore, according to this explanation أرجلكم is in reality marked with the fathah as its case-sign because of being معطوف on وجوهَكم , however, due to أرجلكم neighbouring رؤوسِكم (whose case-ending is marked with a kasrah), the Lam of أرجلكم is marked with a kasrah. So, had it not been for المجاورة it would still have been marked with the fathah.

Ibn Hishmam al-Ansari in his commentary on the Shudhur al-Dhahab, however, finds this explanation implausible and proposes another one instead. His main problem with this al-mujawarah-explanation is that al-mujawarah (neighbouring) in this verse is negated by the mediation and intercession of the waw before أرجلكم . In other words, the presence of this waw renders al-mujawarah implausible as an explanation, since it only obtains when one word follows another without an intermediary.

As an alternative explanation, Ibn Hisham proposes that the kasrah-reading of أرجلِكم does not have to be explained away. It is perfectly valid for أرجلكم to be معطوف on رؤوسكم and thus be governed by امسحوا (wipe) for the simple reason that the Qur’an intends by wiping the feet economic use of the water or light washing, since the feet are normally the part of the body where most water is wasted during wudhu’, and the Qur’an is trying to tell us not to waste water when washing the feet by putting it in the category of the head which only requires wiping. How, then, does Ibn Hisham explain the fathah-reading of أرجلَكم ? Here Ibn Hisham says that there is no problem to regard أرجلَكم with the fathah on the lam as still being معطوف on برؤوسِكم in terms of the place it occupies after امسحوا which is a verb. This place is regarded as that of Nasb, and would have been so had it not been for the harf al-jarr interfering in the process. In other words, رؤوسِكم is regarded as an “under-cover” or “disguised” مفعول به (direct object) of امسحوا . The cover and disguise being the kasrah and the harf al-jarr. Remove the cover and disguise, and رؤوسِكم with a kasrah becomes رؤوسَكم with a fathah.

I can only say that it is a really interesting perspective that speaks volumes of the genius of Ibn Hisham al-Ansari.

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