Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Grammar Rule and Something More Profound ... Oh So Profound ...

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

[those who are not grammatically-orientated might want to skip the grammatical discussion and go on straight to the main point of the post]

At the beginning of his magnum opus - the Mughnil-Labib - Ibn Hisham al-Ansari discusses the functions of the Hamzah in Arabic, and states two such functions:

(a) that it can be used as a vocative particle (حرف نداء) like the Hamzah at the start of the following verse from Imru'ul-Qays's famous al-Mu-'allaqah (Hanging Ode):

أَفَاطِمَ مَهْلاَ بَعْضَ هَذَا التَّدَلُّلِ * وَإِنْ كُنْتِ قَدْ أَزْمَعْتِ صَرْمِيْ فَأَجْمِلِيْ

"O Fatimah, Do go slowly with some of this coquettishness, for if you do intend to (finally) break with me, then do go about it gently".

(b) that it can be used as an interrogative particle (حرف استفهام) , with the literal meaning of "istifhaam" being 'the request for knowledge or understanding'.

Then Ibn Hisham goes on to say that both these functions can be applied to the Qur'anic variant of the two Harami Readers (from anongst the Seven or Ten Canonical Readers), namely: Nafi' al-Madani (from the Madani Haram) and Ibn Kathir al-Makki (from the Makki Haram), (as well as Hamzah but is not mentioned by Ibn Hisham), of the following Qur'anic verse:

(أَمَنْ هُوَ قَانِتٌ آنَاءَ اللَّيْلِ)

where the Hamzah at the start can be interpreted either as حرف نداء (vocative particle) or as حرف استفهام (interrogative) and that both interpretations have their strengths (promoting factors) and weaknesses (demoting factors).

The Interpretation as Vocative Particle:

(1) Promoting Factors: (a) there is no need for any metaphorical interpretation, and (b) there is no need for elipsis or omission.

(2) Demoting Factors: the Qur'an does not tend to use a vocative particle other than يَا .

The Interpretation as Interrogative Particle:

(1) Promoting Factors: the Hamzah is commonly used as an interrogative particle in the Qur'an.

(2) Demoting Factors: (a) the need to move away from the original literal meaning of istifhaam to the secondary metaphorical meaning, since Allah does not literally request knowledge or understanding of something, and (b) the need to omit not only a khabar (predicate) in the particular Qur'anic verse but also the particle أم and its complement. Let me explain this last point after quoting the full verse (Surah al-Zumar verse 9):

أَمَنْ هُوَ قَانِتٌ آنَاء اللَّيْلِ سَاجِدًا وَقَائِمًا يَحْذَرُ الْآخِرَةَ وَيَرْجُو رَحْمَةَ رَبِّهِ قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُوا الْأَلْبَابِ

[Is the one who worships devoutly during the hours of the night prostrating himself or standing (in adoration), who takes heed of the Hereafter, and who places his hope in the Mercy of his Lord - (better or the one who does not)? Say: "Are equal those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that are mindful.]

Observe that when you read the verse as a question you would expect something like the following to complete the question خَيْرٌ أَمْ مَنْ هُوَ عَلَى غَيْرِ هذَا الْوَصْفِ ؟)ـ) which in the translation is indicated in red between brackets. So, the khabar that has been dropped is assumed as خَيْرٌ and the particle أم together with its complement is assumed as أم من هو على غير هذا الوصف or something similar. This does not mean that the verse cannot be interpreted this way. In fact, not only can it be interpreted this way, but often it leads to a more profound and insightful interpretation in the long run. In fact, Ibn Hisham goes on to explain why the second interpretation might not necessary have any (or some) of the weaknesses mentioned above.

This then is the grammatical point of the verse. Now for something more profound.

But first let us explain some of the words mentioned in the verse above.

Firstly, the word قانت does not merely mean someone who worships devoutly but rather it means someone who does so habitually and regularly. Secondly, in describing the state or condition of the قانت during these hours of the night, Allah mentions four qualities: the first two ساجدا and قائما characterise his outward state, and the second two يحذر الآخرة and يرجوا رحمة ربه his inward state. So, outwardly while he is prostrating and standing in prayer, inwardly he is fearful of Allah's Punishment in the Hereafter and hopeful of His Mercy. All of this is generated by his spending the night in devotion to Allah.

Praying to Allah during the stillness of the night when one sees nothing and he hears nothing, he is able to connect his physical and outer condition of prostrating and standing in prayer with his spiritual and inner condition of fear an hope. During the day one tends to get distracted by what one sees and hears around him, such that there is no synchronisation between what he utters on his tongue and feels inwardly in his heart. It is for this reason that Allah says in Surah al-Muzzammil verse 6:

إِنَّ نَاشِئَةَ اللَّيْلِ هِيَ أَشَدُّ وَطْءًا وَأَقْوَمُ قِيلًا

[Truly the rising by night is most potent for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (framing) the Word (of Prayer and Praise). ]

The word الوطء used here has the meaning of placing one's foot down, and is often used in the context of someone placing his foot on the spot where someone else has placed his such that there ensues agreement. Hence, الوطء gives the meaning of agreement and being congruous. So what is meant is that rising up at night (in prayer) makes for better agreement between tongue and heart, between what one utters outwardly and what one experiences and feels inwardly. In other words, the night is much more conducive for generating hightened states of spirituality in which there is total conformity between the dhikr of the tongue and the dhikr of the heart, with the Qur'an being the Ultimate Dhikr. It is during the quiet and darkness of the night that the heart is able to optimally follow and fully take in what the tongue utters.

Now, coming back to the first verse, let us ask ourselves the following question: What is the connection between the part of the verse that reads: أَمَنْ هُوَ قَانِتٌ آنَاء اللَّيْلِ سَاجِدًا وَقَائِمًا يَحْذَرُ الْآخِرَةَ وَيَرْجُو رَحْمَةَ رَبِّهِ and the part that reads: قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُوا الْأَلْبَابِ ? In other words, how does someone who spends the night in devotion relate to the inequality between those who know and those who do not know? Put differently, what does rising at night (for the purpose of worship and devotion) have to do with knowledge?

A number of answers have been provided, but one that I find particularly intriguing and spiritually very encouraging and motivating is that habitual praying and standing up during the night actually leads to knowledge of an entirely different kind - a knowledge that makes one fearful of the Hereafter and hopeful of Allah's Mercy - a knowledge that obtains when there is syncrony between the outward and the inward, between the tongue and the heart, between the body and the soul. The night is the time that one is able to close himself off from the World and attends himself solely to the Lord of the World. Therefore, it is as if the verse is saying: How can the one who worships devoutly during the hours of the night be like the one who does not, because the one who knows is not equal to the one who knows not? So the one who worships devoutly at night is knowledgeable while he who does worship devoutly during the night is unknowlegeable, because with such worship comes a special knowledge. At the same time the verse is also telling us that the truly knowledgeable are those who are practising and engaged in worship and devotion. Finally, the verse concludes by saying: إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُوا الْأَلْبَابِ (It is those endued with understanding that are mindful (of these things). They are the ones who really understand the difference between the above categories of people. Moreover, a description of the أولو الألباب (People of Understanding) has been given in Surah Al-'Imran verses 190 & 191:

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلاَفِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لآيَاتٍ لِّأُوْلِي الألْبَابِ
الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىَ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذا بَاطِلاً سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ

[Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for Men of Understanding,- Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and contemplate the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! You created this not in vain. Glory be to You! Protect us from the chastisement of the Fire.]

Again we are told that the People of Understanding are People of Action, People of Dhikr, People of Worship whether standing, sitting or reclining on their sides, People of Tafakkur, People of Tadhakkur (taking heed), People of Supplication, People of Nighttime Devotion, People of Descernment, etc. In other words, People of Understanding are people who are not endued with a mere theoretical knowledge. In fact, their knowledge comes from their action. It is through these actions that they gain a better understanding - nay - the understanding - the understanding of things as they are in reality. O Allah, make us of the People of Understanding - the Ulul-Albaab, Ameen!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Hajj is Arafah: Developing an Insight

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

While Laylah al-Qadr is the greatest night of the year for Muslims , Yawm 'Arafah is the greatest day of the year for Muslims. So great is this day that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) proclaimed "Hajj is Arafah". There is no night in which we supplicate more than the Night of Power and there is no day on which we supplicate more than the Day of 'Arafah. Even those not participating in the Hajj rituals are encouraged to fast on the Day of Arafah and engage in all kinds of good and righteous works.

Now, what are some of the lessons that can be learnt from the Hajj and more specifically the Day of 'Arafah?

For me personally, the significance of the Hajj and especially the Day of 'Arafah is embodied in the following very important Qur'anic verse - a Qur'anic verse that addresses the whole of humanity:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

This verse is mentioned in Surah al-Hujurat. It is significant that in this Surah Allah Almighty - prior to this verse - addresses the Believers five times with يا أيها الذين آمنوا (O you who believe). In the sixth address (which is this address) the message is directed to the whole of humanity because it is a matter that concerns the whole of humanity - humanity in all its diversity. Apart from the universal address there are also some other important points:
(a) All of humanity share in the common denominator of being created by Allah .

(b) We were created from a common origin, a single pair of male and female - a pair whose parts are different yet complementary - a pair that requires both parts to ensure that the human race lives on

(c) Even though we were created from a common origin, we were still made into different nations and tribes with different languages and colours. These differences, though, were never intended to create division but rather (i) as a sign pointing to Allah's Power to create diversity from a unity as He says in Surah Rum (verse: 22) (وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَأَلْوَانِكُمْ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّلْعَالِمِينَ ), and (ii) as a means to learn to know one another by looking beyond these physical and Islamically insignificant differences as stated in this verse in Surah al-Hujurat. Also, Allah Himself says that if He wanted He could have made us into one single nation, but instead He chose otherwise (وَلَوْ شَاء اللَّهُ لَجَعَلَهُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً ) (Surah al-Shura verse: 8), and (وَلَوْ شَاء رَبُّكَ لَجَعَلَ النَّاسَ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً ) (Surah Hud verse: 118).

(d) As stated in the previous point, the reason behind all this diversity is for us to rise above our differences by embracing the one and only commonality which is that we are all creatures of Allah, and created by Him from a single male and female, and then made into different nations and tribes. So what really unites us is the fact that we all share the reality of being created by Allah, and that makes us no better than anyone else. This intended human diversity is not without significance. The significance of this diversity is to afford the best amongst us the opportunity to rise above these differences, and to see only the commonality that unites us which is our utter dependence as creatures of Allah upon Allah (يا أيها الناس أنتم الفقراء إلى الله والله هو الغني الحميد) (O People, You are the ones that are in need of Allah, while Allah is absolutely free of all wants, and the One Always Praised).

(e) The next point in the verse is where a categorical statement is made, namely: (Verily, the most noble and honourable amongst you in Allah's estimation are the most Allah-conscious of you). As if to say, that not only is Taqwa the main and primary criterion for determining the most noble and honourable amongst us, but that Taqwa itself is also the means that enables us to see beyond our differences and to see only what unites us. In fact, it is only relationships that are bulit on Taqwa that are lasting and enduring relationships. The Qur'an tells us that on the Day of Judgment all friends will be enemies of one another except those who have Taqwa: الْأَخِلَّاء يَوْمَئِذٍ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ إِلَّا الْمُتَّقِينَ (Surah al-Zukhruf verse: 67). Moreover, the fact that Taqwa is not tangible so as to be measurable means that no one can really claim the quality for him or herself (except the Messenger of Allah) but that we can only strive to be the best that we can possibly be.

(f) Should we be deluded into thinking that we have more Taqwa than some others, then just remember the hidden and veiled warning in the final part of the verse: (إِنَّ الله عَلِيْمٌ خَبِيْرٌ) , as if to say: Only Alllah knows and is aware of those who have Taqwa, so let us not be deluded and be carried away by false piety. In fact, Allah has made the sole criterion for being the best amongst humanity a quality that cannot really be measured because Allah alone knows how much you have of it if at all. If anything then Taqwa will cause you to know how really insignificant you are and that it will also cause you to think others better than you. You cannot be having Taqwa if you claim that your Taqwa is more than someone else's. In Surah al-Najm verse: 33 Allah reminds us that He knows us from the very beginning, from the time He created our ancestors from the earth and from the time that we were nothing but tiny emryos in our mothers' wombs, and therefore we should not make ourselves out to be good and pure, because He knows best those (among us) who have Taqwa:

(هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِكُمْ إِذْ أَنشَأَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ وَإِذْ أَنتُمْ أَجِنَّةٌ فِى بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ فَلَا تُزَكُّوا أَنفُسَكُمْ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اتَّقَى ) .

Now, if you seek to find a link between Sawm and Hajj, then the link is this very quality of Taqwa. Sawm precedes Hajj by about two or three months, and Allah tells in the famous Sawm verse the whole purpose behind fasting which is to develop and achieve Taqwa (لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُوْنَ) . In a very important Hajj verse Allah tells us to gather our supplies but that the best of supplies is Taqwa (فَتَزَوَّدُوْا فَإِنَّ خَيْرَ الزَّادِ التَّقْوَى) . It is as if Ramadhan prepared us and equipped us with the neccesary supplies (i.e. Taqwa) to enable us to get through the Hajj in the best possible manner.

Thus, it is in the Hajj that we see all the values that are mentioned in the verse mentioned in Surah al-Hujurat realised there and then:

The theme of unity and commonnness of humanity is stressed throughout Hajj:

(1) Unity of Purpose: We all go to Makkah with one and only purpose in mind, namely, to respond to Allah's invitation to come to the Holy House by saying: labbayk (Here we are, in answer to Your call; Here we are, in answer to Your call). In fact, "Hajj" itself means "to intend" because the pilgrim intends the House of Allah وَللهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيْلاَ .

(2) Unity of Dress: We all dress in one type of garment, and it is significant that this is also how we will be dressed when we are finally laid into our graves

(3) Unity of Language: We all recite the same Thikr and Du'a

(4) Unity of Activity: We all engage in the same activities

(5) Unity of Locations: We all move around in the same locations, and congregate on Yawm 'Arafah on the same plain the Plain of Arafat, where everybody engage in Thikr and Du'a

Everything that the pilgrim engages in during Hajj emphasises the unity of humanity rather than its diversity. While they are all different and diverse they are really all the same, because they all go there with the same concerns, and the common hope that Allah will accept their Thikr, Du'a and Righteous Deeds.

There is also something very atomic and cosmic about the Hajj. During the Tawaf we circumambulate the Ka'bah just as planets do around a star or sun or sub-atomic particles around a nucleus. In other words, from the smallest to the largest of objects in the universe, there is this sense of revolving around a center. It is this center which unites these apparently disparate bodies., without which they will all be scattered. Even on a non-physical level we require this center or purpose in life around which our whole life revolves. There is always a tendency to tie apparently unrelated things together. There is this tendency towards Tawhid, if you may. Even in life we have cycles. There are our own life cycles. And on reflection we see that even these cycles tend to have a center. It is the center that provides the unity to all the diversity that we see. It's only now that I understand the full impication of the words of the poet: وَفِيْ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ لَهُ آيَةٌ * تَدُلُّ عَلَى أَنَّهُ وَاحِدٌ [In everything there is a sign that points to the fact that He (Allah) is One]. Isn't tasbih exactly just that: to celebrate the Absolute Uniqueness of Allah and to have a belief in Allah that is free from likening Allah to any of His creation. In other words, He is Absolutely Unique, He is Absolutely One, and this is what everything in the universe attests to, and this includes the Hajj. Not only do we as Hujjaj (pilgrims) celebrate the unity of humanity but we also celebrate through our states and actions the Absolute Unity of the Lord of Humanity.

It should also be remembered that Arafah is so called because it is said that it is the place where Adam and Hawwa' came together after their exit from Paradise. It is also significant that 'Arafah comes from the same root as لتعارفوا (lita'aarafuu = in order that you may know each other) mentioned in the Hujuraat verse. It is almost as if people are meant to learn to know one another by foregetting their differences (even internal and sectarian differences) and all just to unite as a single human being with a single purpose and a single request that Allah forgive them all, and to save them from the Fire of Jahannam.

The Hajj should be a lesson for all of us in that by joining forces and having a common purpose we should be able to overcome the challenges that face us as an Ummah. Our problem is that we still prefer to foreground our differences rather than our commanilities as an Ummah, which is why we have become the laughing stock of the world. As a Muslim Ummah we have all the ingredients to be the best nation that has evolved for the entire humanity, but we prefer petty and trivial differences to divide, and the outcome is what you see in the world today as regards the condition of the Muslims. The irony of it all is that despite being a weak Ummah at the moment we are still a force to be reckoned with. The point is what a force won't we be if we are instead in a position of strength! The Hajj should remind us every year of our strength as an Ummah: how Muslims can mobilise millions within a short period of time in one place - an Ummah that operates as a single human being. HAJJ IS THE ULTIMATE SHOW OF UNITY IN DIVERSITY ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.

O Allah, help us as an UMMAH, O Allah, help the UMMAH of Your Most Beloved, Ameen!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Kohl (Kajal) and the first 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

What do Kohl (surma - a type of eyeliner), the first 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah and a blog on Arabic have in common? At first it might seem a very unlikely combination - a combination that could very well qualify as suitable material for your typical lateral thinking question.

So as not to keep you in suspense any longer, let me give you the answer. While, after I've given you the answer, it would not be difficult to see how these three elements are combined, the mas'alah, though, that is behind the question might prove a little bit difficult to understand. The main point, then, is to understand how these 3 things are connected, and if you, in addition to that, also understand the mas'alah then that is a bonus.

So, first of all, the underlying mas'alah is a Nahw mas-alah, and that is how it is relevant to my blog. Second of all, the mas'alah involves the word الْكُحْلَ (or kohl) and that is how kohl comes into the picture. In fact, the mas'alah in the Arabic linguistic literature is known as "the mas'alah al-kuhl" (مسألة الكحل) . Third of all, a real example of the mas'alah al-kuhl comes from a hadith ascribed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in which he extols the excellence of the first 10 days of Dhul-Hijjah and the excellence of fasting on these days. And what is actually meant by the first 10 days (in the context of fasting) is the first 9 days, because the 10th day is Yawm al-Nahr or Eid al-ADHaa, and is forbidden to fast on the Eid al-ADHaa. I stated between brackets "in the context of fasting" because there are other wordings or even reports that state in place of the word "fasting" "good works" so as to make it more general.

Now, as for the mas'alah al-kuhl, here it goes (and fasten your seat belts because it's going to be a bumby ride). In Arabic the verb is known to make certain nouns marfu', and certain other nouns mansub, because it is an action and an action must proceed from someone and sometimes it can also proceed onto something else. For example, the verb كَتَبَ (to write) must proceed from someone in the sense that he does or performs the act of writing, and it can also proceed onto something else in the sense that it gets done or applied to a letter for example. So you might say: كَتَبَ الرَّجُلُ الرِّسَالَةَ (the man wrote the letter). Now, there are certain nouns (call them verb-like nouns) that can also do what verbs do, that is, they can also make certain nouns marfu' and others mansub. This is so because they also denote action just like verbs, and actions proceed from people and proceed onto other things (depending on the type of action). One such noun is the اسم الفاعل (or active participle) such as كَاتِبٌ . So you can say for example: أَكَاتِبٌ الرَّجُلُ الرِّسَالَةَ (Is the man writing the letter?), where الرَّجُلُ is the Fa-'il and الرِّسَالَةَ the Maf-'ul bihi of the noun "كاتِبٌ" .

Having said, there are also other types of noun can also perform the verbal function but with many more conditions that make the whole thing a bit complicated. Anyhow, I'm going try to explain it in a way that is IMHO the least difficult, insha Allah. Another type of noun with verbal power or force but under very strict circumstances is the اسم التفضيل (ism al-tafDil or the noun of comparison) such as أَفْضَلُ (better), أَجْمَلُ (more beautiful), etc. Now, the اسم التفضيل is able to make a substantive noun Marfu' as shown in the following example which has become famous as the mas'alah al-kuhl:

مَا رَأَيْتُ رَجُلاً أَحْسَنَ فِيْ عَيْنِهِ الْكُحْلُ مِنْهُ فِيْ عَيْنِ زَيْدٍ

[I have not seen a man in whose eye(s) kohl is more beautiful than in the eye(s) of Zayd]
Now, in order for the اسم التفضيل to perform this verbal function of making a substantive noun Marfu' the following conditions need to be met as per the example just given:

(1) the اسم التفضيل must occur in a sentence containing a negation, which in the example is: مَا رَأَيْتُ

(2) the negation must be followed by a noun denoting a class of objects rather than someone or something specific, which in the example is رَجُلاَ ,

(3) this noun in turn must be described or qualified by the اسم التفضيل , which in the example is أَحْسَنَ ,
(4) this اسم التفضيل in turn must be followed by a noun that bears no grammatical connection to the previous generic noun, which in this case is الكحل which contains no Damir to show that it is connected to the previous generic noun, and
(5) this noun (which is الكحل ) must be preferred over or compared from two perspectives which here is (a) the eye of the man (in general) and (b) the eye of Zayd. The way to explain this last point is to take a hat, for example, and place it on my head and see how it looks, and then to take the same hat and place it on someone else's hat and see how it looks, and then one can conclude that: this hat looks better on that someone else's head than what it (i.e. that same hat) looks on my head.

This then is the mas'alah al-kuhl. As for the hadith that has been ascribed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), this is its wording in the Sharh of Ibn 'Aqil on the famous al-Alfiyyah of Ibn Malik:

مَا مِنْ أَيَّامٍ أَحَبَّ إِلَى اللهِ فِيْهَا الصَّوْمُ مِنْهُ فِيْ عَشْرِ ذِي الْحِجَّةِ

(There aren't days on which fasting is more loved by Allah than on the ten Days of Dhul-Hijjah)

I'm yet to find this wording of the hadith, though, in a credible hadith collection while I have come across other wordings of the hadith. Another wording mentioned in the Arabic linguistic literature is: ما من أيام أحبَّ إلى الله فيها الصومُ من أيام العشر . In some of the Hadith literature that I have consulted الْعَمَل or الْعَمَل الصًّالِح (good deeds in general) is used in stead of الصَّوم so as to make more general the kinds of good that you can do on those days.

Finally, you might be asking yourself: Is there any particular relevance in having chosen this specific topic for the post rather than another topic? The answer is: Yes, and reason is that the start of Dhul-Hijjah is just a couple of days away, and I'm just reminding myself before I remind anyone else of the excellence of doing good works on the first ten Days of Dhul-Hijjah (including fasting on the first nine Days) which is the least we can do while our brothers and sisters are all performing the holy rites of Hajj, not only out of respect for the greatness of the time that we will be finding ourselves in but also in solidarity with the Hujjaj who are performing this great pillar of Islam. May Allah accept all their good deeds and du'as, and grant them a Hajj Maqbul and Mabrur, and return them safely to their loved ones all spiritually enriched with the Blessings of Hajj and the Barakah of the Greatest Cities on earth (Makkah and Madinah), and may we soon be able to follow in their footsteps as Allah's Chosen and Honoured Guests, Ameen Allahumma Ameen!

PS. I recently came across the following hadith compiled by al-Bukhari in his Collection of Sahih Hadith in the Book of the Two Eids, the Section on Doing Righteous Works during the Days of al-Tashriq:

مَا مِنْ أيَّامٍ الْعَمَلُ الصَّالِحُ أَحَبُّ إِلَى اللهِ فِيْهِنَّ مِنْ هَذِهِ الأَيَّامِ (يَعْنِيْ عَشْرَ ذِي الْحِجَّةِ) قَالُوْا: وَلاَ الْجِهَادُ فِيْ سَبِيْلِ اللهِ؟ قَال: وَلاَ الْجِهَادُ فِيْ سَبِيْلِ اللهِ، إِلاَّ رَجُلاً خَرَجَ بِنَفْسِهِ وَمَالِهِ، ثُمَّ لَمْ يَرْجِعْ بِشَيْءِ

There aren't any days in which righteous work is more loved by Allah than these Days (i.e. the Ten Days of Dhul-Hijjah). They said: Not even Jihad in the Path of Allah? He said: Not even Jihad in the Path of Allah, except a man who goes out (in the Path of Allah) with his life and his wealth, and does not return with anything (therefore).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The System of Derivation in Arabic

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

The following is a translation of Lesson Six in Book Two of the popular al-Kitab al-Asasi series. What prompted me to translate this lesson is that during my stay in Syria many of my friends were taking the Arabic course at the University of Damascus where al-Kitab al-Asasi was the primary text book. Book Two was taught in the third level, and it was particularly challenging as it constituded a big jump from Book One. Consequently, students asked me if I could assist them with the reading and understanding of the fairly long passages and exercises in the lessons that Book Two comprised of. I found al-Kitab al-Asasi quite comprehensive and holistic in a number of respects. All the basic language skills are being catered for and the srudent is exposed to very useful MSA vocabulary. In addition, the student emerges from it with a sound and good working knowledge of all the necessary grammatical elements.

Of all the lessons in Book Two it was Lesson Six that I found particularly useful for the student. Lesson Six provides an excellent and non-technical introduction to the Theory of Derivation which is sort of the Ruh (Spirit) of the Morphological Component of the Arabic language. The Theory of Declension and the Governor , on the other hand, is the Ruh of the Syntactic Component of the Arabic language. The introduction to the System or Theory of Derivation is just that - an introduction - and does not offer to cover the specifics of Derivation. What it does do is to present the System of Derivation in a reader-friendly way and in dialogue form between a Wsetern student (John Adams) and his Arabic professor. It should be borne in mind that this lesson is intended for students who have no idea of the Theory of Derivation in Arabic and who wish to know what it is all about.

Lesson Six

(from al-Kitab al-Asasi Book Two)

The System of Derivation in the Arabic Language

(نِظَام الاشْتِقَاقِ فِي اللُّغَةِ الْعَرَبِيَّةِ)

John Adams is preparing to travel to the Arab countries. His professor at the university is saying to him:

“Don’t forget, John, – while you are there – to read one Arabic newspaper at least every day. Reading Arabic newspapers and magazines will help you to become familiar with Arab society and will help you to improve your Arabic (language) also.”

John: “The problem, Professor, is in the words. I have learnt a reasonable amount of Arabic, but the new words are too many, and the words that I know I hardly find in the newspapers.”

Professor: “The Arabic words appear as if they are new to the non-Arab learner. This is natural, but many of them – in reality – have a relation / bond with the words which he has learnt before. We have studied in the previous lessons that the Executive Power ( السُّلْطَة التَّنْفِيْذِيَّة ) executes ( تُنَفِّذُ ) tasks and the judges ( الْقُضَاة ) in the legislative power ( السُّلْطَة الْقَضَائِيَّة ) deliver judgement / adjudicate ( يَقْضُوْنَ ) on court cases ( الْقَضَايَا ) amongst people.”

John: “Yes… Yes…! Sorry – Professor – for interrupting – (but) you have just reminded me. There is another issue that confuses me. I have in fact observed that a number of words that I have studied constitute groups: each group shares in a number of the letters and at the same time (they are) close to each other (i.e. similar) in meaning.”

Professor: “Like …?”

John: “Like: (1) دَرْسٌ - دَرَسَ - دِرَاسَةٌ - دَارِسٌ - مَدْرَسَةٌ - مُدَرِّسٌ
(lesson – to learn – learning – learner – school – teacher)
and also: (2) فَتْحٌ - فَتَحَ - فَاتِحٌ - مَفْتُوْحٌ – مِفْتَاحٌ
(opening – to open – opener (s.o. or s,th. that opens) – open – key)
and also: (3) لَعِبٌ - لَعِبَ - لاَعِبٌ - مَلْعَبٌ – لُعبَةٌ
(playing – to play – player – playground – toy)

You have just focused my attention on two other / more groups. What is the reality of the matter, Professor?”

Professor: “The reality of the matter – John – is that the words in each group share in a certain number of letters, which in Arabic is called "الْجِذْر" (root) or "الأَصْل" (source, root, origin). Thus, the الْجِذْر in the first group is (د – ر – س ) .”

John: “Hence, the الْجِذْر in the second group is (ف – ت – ح ) and the الْجِذْر in the third group is (ل – ع – ب )

Professor: “Well done (Bravo!). Also, every جِذْر has a basic meaning wherein the words of the group share …”

John: “… and of course, they differ in certain (other) things?”

Professor: “Yes, this الْجِذْر and the words belonging to it are like a tree: it (the tree) has one root from which the stem, numerous branches, leaves, flowers / blossoms and seeds spring. All of them share in one thing which is the root (i.e. الْجِذْر ), but each one differs from the other in certain things.”

John: “Am I also able to say that they are like a family? They share in a (common) grandfather and grandmother (i.e. the الْجِذْر ) and from them the descendants branch out who comprise the sons, daughters, (paternal) uncles and aunts, (maternal) uncles and aunts and the grandchildren …etc.”

Professor: “Yes, this is a good example / analogy.”

John: “The words in every group – then – share in some things and differ in some (other) things?”

Professor: “Right. The word "مُدَرِّسٌ" – for example – denotes the person teaching ( الشَّخْص الَّذِيْ يُدَرِّسُ ) but the word "مَدْرَسَةٌ" denotes the place in which the teacher teaches ( الْمَكَان الَّذِيْ يُدَرِّسُ فِيْهِ الْمُدَرِّسُ ) and the word "دَارِسٌ" denotes the person studying / learning (الشَّخْص الَّذِيْ يَدْرُسُ ), that is, all of them share in the meaning of "الدِّرَاسَة" (studying, learning) ...”

John: “…and (it is) clear that they differ in the fact that each of these words has a meaning that is specific to it.”

Professor: “Yes. Also these words – as we have observed – share in the letters of the الْجِذْر and they are (د – ر – س ) ...”

John: “…and at the same time they differ in the rest of its letters.”

Professor: “Yes. The words of every جِذْر are called "الْمُشْتَقَّات" (derivatives) (the singular form is "مُشْتَقٌّ" ) and every مُشْتَقٌّ (derivative) (1) has a specific form i.e. a specific structure for it letters, and (2) it has a specific meaning. Thus, the word "لاَعِبٌ" (player, is playing) [(note the form / pattern) which is that of "فَاعِلٌ" ] denotes the person playing (الشَّخْص الَّذِيْ يَلْعَبُ ).”

John: “Hence, the word "كَاتِبٌ" (writer, is writing) denotes the one writing (الَّذِيْ يَكْتُبُ ), and the word "قَارِئٌ" (reader, is reading) denotes the one reading (الَّذِيْ يَقْرَأُ ), and the word "نَائِمٌ" (someone sleeping, is sleeping) denotes the one sleeping (الَّذِيْ يَنَامُ ) ....”

Professor: “Right. Also "مُعَلِّمٌ" (teacher, is teaching) denotes the one teaching ( الَّذِيْ يُعَلِّمُ ), and "مُمَرِّضٌ" (male-nurse) denotes the one performing nursing (الَّذِيْ يَقُوْمُ بَالتَّمْرِيْضِ ), "مُدَرِّبٌ" (trainer, coach) denotes the one training / coaching ( الَّذِيْ يُدَرِّبُ ), and "مُدِيْرٌ" (manager / director) denotes the one managing / directing (a company for example) (الَّذِيْ يُدِيْرُ شَرِكَةً مَثَلاً ), and "مُرْسِلٌ" (sender) denotes the one sending (a letter for example) (الَّذِيْ يُرْسِلُ خِطَاباً مَثَلاً ), and "مُتَكَلِّمٌ" (speaker, is speaking) denotes the one speaking ( الَّذِيْ يَتَكَلَّمُ ) …”

John: “…(it is) clear that these words denote the one doing something ( الَّذِيْ يَفْعَلُ شَيْئًا ).”

Professor: “Yes, and for that reason this type of الْمُشْتَقَّات is called "اسْم الْفَاعِلِ" (active participle or the one doing the action).”

John: “There has to be in the Arabic language a type of الْمُشْتَقَّات denoting the opposite meaning.”

Professor: “Well done! Well done! (Bravo! Bravo!). You have started to enter into the heart and soul of the Arabic language. There is an opposite form / pattern and its name is "اسْم الْمَفْعُوْلِ" (passive participle or that onto which the action is done) and you have studied thereof words such as: "بَابُ مَفْتُوْحٌ" [(a door) that has been opened i.e. an open door] …”

John: “Wait … wait … leave me to think (i.e. let me think) … "عَقْدٌ مَكْتُوْبٌ" [a written (contract)] and "شَقَّةٌ مَفْرُوْشَةٌ" [a furnished (apartment / flat)].”

Professor: “Well done! (Bravo!). There is another form / pattern. The word "مَدْرَسَةٌ" – as you know – denotes the place in which the teacher teaches ( الْمَكَان الَّذِيْ يُدَرِّسُ فِيْهِ الْمُدَرِّسُ ) and it is for that reason that it is called in Arabic Grammar "اسْم الْمَكَانِ" (Noun of Place) …”

John: “Am I also able to say that words like: "مَلْعَب (الْكُرَةِ)" [playground (for playing ball)], "مَكْتَب (الْبَرِيْدِ)" [(post) office], "مَطْبَخٌ" (place of cooking i.e. kitchen) and "مَطْعَمٌ" (place of eating i.e. restaurant) are also اسْم الْمَكَانِ ?”

Professor: “Yes, and "مُسْتَشْفًى" (place for curing people i.e. hospital), "مَحَطَّة (الْحَافِلَةِ)" [(bus) terminal / platform / depot) and "مُتْحَفٌ" (museum) are also اسْم الْمَكَانِ .”

John: “That means, we have up to now: the الْجِذْر , the اسْم الْفَاعِلِ , the اسْم الْمَفْعُوْلِ and the اسْم الْمَكَانِ ...”

Professor: “…and also the الْمَصْدَر (infinitive / verbal noun / gerund) like: الدِّرَاسَة (studying, learning), اللَّعِب (playing), الْكِتَابَة (writing), الْقِرَاءَة (reading, reciting), التَّنْفِيْذ (executing) and السَّفَر (travelling) ...”

John: “…like: "السَّفَر إِلَى الْبِلاَدِ الْعَرَبِيَّةِ" (travelling to Arab countries), "دِرَاسَة هَذَا الدَّرْسِ" (studying this lesson), "قِرَاءَة الصُّحُفِ الْعَرَبِيَّةِ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ" (reading newspapers everyday) (and so on) up to the last of (all) the difficult pieces of advice (that you have given me).”

Professor: “Well done! (Bravo!), John.”

John: “…and the upshot is, Professor?”

Professor: “The upshot, John, is that Arabic words appear – at first glance – so many to the non-Arab learner, but the existence of words in groups / sets around lexical roots makes it easy for the student to understand many of the new words.”

John: “Of course, after he studies … after he studies …I have forgotten, Professor, …(after he) studies what?”

Professor: “… the System of Derivation, and now, to the exercises, John, in order that you do not forget this important topic.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

قتل الإنسان ما أكفره - Developing an Insight

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

Introduction to the post:

The following is an insight I got as I was writing on the humble beginnings of man. In fact, the post was initially entitled "the humble beginnings of man". But as I was writing this piece I realised for the first time the connection between the gratitude we ought to show to Allah and the gratitude we ought to show to our parents as mentioned in Surah Luqman. It suddenly dawned upon me that those who are rebellious and ungrateful to Allah are not very different from those who are rebellious and ungrateful to their parents. Whilst parents are the nurturers of their children Allah is the Lord and Nurturer of the Worlds. I then thought of exploring this insight further through a connection with the Qur'anic verse I had originally in mind for the post, namely: قُتِلَ الإِنْسَانُ مَا أَكْفَرَهُ .

The following, then, is no more than an attempt to develop my initial thought for the post and a subsequent thought as I was originally writing the post, into a coherent and structured piece of writing, insha Allah. In hindsight, I have also realised that there are different ways in which I could have gone about this task - ways that I might consider in the future. Once such way (some elements of which are included here) is to explore all the implications in being grateful or ungrateful to Allah, and why Allah in one verse orders us to thank him but at the same time also to thank our parents. Shukr is an act of acknowledging that someone has been good to you, and Kufr is a rejection not only of the benevolence of that someone but often also of the very existence of that someone. Shukr presupposes also that we are aware of the good that has been done to us, and that we often contemplate these gestures of goodness, kindness and generosity, lest we not take them for granted or just assume and accept that that is how things ought to be and just are in the world. For example, it just so happens that we have parents who care for us, and that there is nothing special about this, such that it warrants gratitude. This is a perspective that will have to change even if we do not hold it consciously. It is by acknowledging our parents and what they have done for us, esp. our mothers, that we will also properly understand what it means to make Shukr to Allah, Who is the One Who gave us parents in the first place.

There are other insights that can be teased out from an extended reflection on the concept of Shukr, but we will defer that for now so as not to delay some of the insights that we have already gained from such a reflection, and to Allah belongs all Praise.

Exploring the Qur'anic verse: قُتِل الإنْسَانُ مَا أَكْفَرَهُ :

[Assessing Three Translations Based on a Linguistic Analysis of the Verse]:

YUSUF ALI: Woe to man! What hath made him reject Allah;
PICKTHAL: Man is (self-)destroyed: how ungrateful!
SHAKIR: Cursed be man! how ungrateful is he!

Both Pickthal and Shakir concur that the Kufr mentioned in مَا أَكْفَرَهُ is the Kufr that relates to being ungrateful to the Bounties and Favours of Allah whereas Yusuf Ali maintains that it refers to the Kufr that relates to the Rejection of Allah and the Denial of His Existence. On consulting the tafsir literature the tendency seems towards interpreting Kufr as Rejection and Denial but at the same time many of them also combine the Kufr of Rejection and Denial with the Kufr of Ungratefulness implying that both interpretations are valid, and that a Rejection of Allah's Bounties is also a Rejection of Allah Himself.

Secondly, while Yusuf Ali analyses "ما" as being interrogative (استفهامية) such that the sentence becomes a question, both Pickthal and Shakir analyse it as the "maa" of displaying wonder (تعجبية) such that the sentence becomes one of displaying wonder and surprise at the fact of man's rejection of Allah and His Favours. Both these analyses are supported in the tafsir and lughah literature.

Thirdly, قُتِلَ is interpreted as a type supplication against man. Many exegetes give the meaning of "قُتِلَ" as "لُعِنَ" (i.e. to be cursed). This seems to concur with the interpretation of Shakir and possibly Yusuf Ali, whereas Pickthal gives a more literal interpretation of self-desctruction coming to man.

Fourthly, الإنسان is taken mostly in the generic sense, and is often interpreted as الْكَافِر because of "ما أكفره" ., such that it is not الإنسان in the absolute sense but rather الإنسان as a كافر (rejector of Allah and His Bounties). Also, if interpreted as referring to someone in particular, then it can also be extended to others by way of qiyas (analogy), that is, people displaying similar qualities.

What is the cause for the CHARGE OF INGRATITUDE being laid against man?

The Qur'an continuously and constantly reminds us of our humble beginnings:

(1) there was a time that we were not a thing worth mentioning

(2) we originated from a despicable substance that came from an equally dispicable place

(3) as babies and little kids we could not care for ourselves; in fact we could not feed ourselves nor could we clean ourselves after we rid ourselves of the substances that came from the food that we could not feed ourselves

(4) we are also utterly and totally dependent on everything and everyone around us just to survive let alone live in luxury: the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the food that we eat, the houses that we find shelter in, the clothes that we wear, etc.

We are like little children, because we just happened to have had parents that looked after us and cared for us, and we took for granted that that is how things must be. How ungrateful we often are to our parents. It is this fact, that the Qur'an in Surah Luqman endeavours to bring home and engrave in our consciousness. It tells us to be good and grateful to our parents, and then tell us at length of a period in our development that we often take for granted and that we have no recollection of. This is the period when our mothers carried us pain upon pain, weakness upon weakness, and then risk dying during child-birth just to give birth to us. Then we turn around when we are older and treat our parents with such ingratitude and disdain that it is almost hard to believe that as weak and helpless babies we would turn out to be such monsters to our parents.

Now, this situation is not much different from our relation to Allah. No wonder Allah orders us in the same verse to be grateful to both Him and our parents. Yet Allah has done infinitely more for us than our parents. In fact, He gave us parents in the first place to look after us. Whatever care and compassion they showed us when we were helpless babies and children is as a result of the mercy and compassion He has placed in the hearts of our parents especially our mothers.

At the end of the day, all Praise belongs to Allah. Yet, many of us, despite partaking of all the bounties and favours that Allah has betstowed upon us turn around and show nothing but ingratitude and arrogance.

Some of us turn around and put forth a parable to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Allah says of him in Surah Yasin:وضرب لنا مثلا ونسي خلقه، قال من يحيي العظام وهي رميم؟ . Such utter arrongance and ungratefulness! After everything He has given us, some of us have the audacity to question His Existence, His Revelation, our Resurrection on the Day of Judgment! The Qur'an time and again tells us, nay, reminds us of how hopeless and helpless we once were, and how hopeless and helpless we will once again become, but very few of us take heed and take the Reminder seriously. In fact, the verses (17 - 23 of Surah 'Abasa) that follow the verse under discussion (namely, قتل الإنسان ما أكفره ), remind us of our humble beginnings:

مِنْ أَيِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ
مِن نُّطْفَةٍ خَلَقَهُ فَقَدَّرَهُ
ثُمَّ السَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُ
ثُمَّ أَمَاتَهُ فَأَقْبَرَهُ
ثُمَّ إِذَا شَاء أَنشَرَهُ
كَلَّا لَمَّا يَقْضِ مَا أَمَرَهُ

[From what stuff hath He created him?
From a sperm-drop: He hath created him, and then mouldeth him in due proportions;
Then doth He make His path smooth for him;
Then He causeth him to die, and putteth him in his grave;
Then, when it is His Will, He will raise him up (again).
By no means hath he fulfilled what Allah hath commanded him. ]

Yes, from what stuff was man created?
Yes, and what was he before he was created?

هَلْ أَتَى عَلَى الْإِنسَانِ حِينٌ مِّنَ الدَّهْرِ لَمْ يَكُن شَيْئًا مَّذْكُورًا

[Has there come over man a period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning?] (Surah al-Insan, verse: 1).

Such then are man's origins: nothingness, then a sperm-drop - a dispicable substance emitted from an equally dispicable place, and so also when he is eventually born. It is clear that the beginnings of man's creation involve nothing but lowliness and inferiority. Why then all this arrogance, audaciousness and impudence?

So also will be his end in this world. From nothingness he comes and to nothingness will he be reduced. From turab (dust) he comes and to turab will he return. ثم أماته فأقبره (then He caused him to die, and then put him in the grave). Why then all this arrogance, audaciousness and impudence?

I mean if it is not enough that we should be humbled by our humble beginnings then let us at least be humbled by our humble end in this world. 'Umar ibn al-Khattab used to say: Every day you hear people announcing: مَات فُلاَنٌ (So-and-so has died), and there will come a day when people will announce: مَاتَ عُمَرُ ('Umar has died), and that did come and people did announce: مَات عُمَرُ ('Umar has died).

And here I, the author of this blog, say as 'Umar has said: Everyday you hear people announcing: مَات فُلاَنٌ (So-and-so has died), and there will come a day when people will announce: مَاتَ أَمِيْنُ اللهِ (Amienoellah has died).

Are we ready for that day? If not, then let us not waste time.

The Greatest of Mortal Sins:

I remember in a hadith that the Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) asked his companions concerning the greatest of Mortal Sins, to which he then replied: الإشراك بالله وعقوق الوالدين و and then he sat up and said: ألا وقول الزور and repeated it until the narrator wished he would stop (because of how much it scared them), in this order. What is striking of this hadith is the mentioning of the sin of disobeying one's parents immediately after the sin of associating partners with Allah. If one ponders over a possible connection between these two sins then you cannot but conclude that at the basis of both these mortal sins is the issue of ungratefulness. How can one associate partners with Allah after He created him and then bestow bounties upon him? How can one disobey his parents after all they that they have done for him and have gone through whether before or after he was born? Worse then is to disobey one's parents and on top of it to associate partners with Allah. In fact, the Qur'an talks about such a case.

You might ask concerning the parents who strive to cause you to deviate from the Straight Path. Here again we find the Qur'anic directives instructive. We are told not to obey them in that respect but still to accompany them in goodness in this world. This is the gratitude we show to them even if they are non-Muslim, because as non-Muslims they went through the same difficulties and gave us the same care when and after we were brought into this world.

Worse is the fact that some of us use the very bounties that Allah has bestowed to deny Allah and show ingratitude:

Allah says in Surah Ibrahim (verses: 28 - 29):

29 -أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ بَدَّلُواْ نِعْمَةَ اللّهِ كُفْرًا وَأَحَلُّواْ قَوْمَهُمْ دَارَ الْبَوَارِ، جَهَنَّمَ يَصْلَوْنَهَا وَبِئْسَ الْقَرَارُ - سورة إبراهيم 28

[Have you not seen those who change the Grace of Allah into rejection and ungratefulness and led their people down to the Abode of Destruction, into Hell? They will burn therein, - an evil place to stay in!]

The Mufassirun say that the people referred to in the verse are the Disbelievers of Makkah on whom Allah had bestowed all kinds of bounties and favours, and then honoured them with His greatest Bounty which was to raise the The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) - the Mercy unto the Worlds - from their midst. Yet they turned around and rejected him, and instead of welcoming him they ridiculed him and subjected him to all types of persecution, such that he and his followers had to eventually flee Makkah.

In this day and age we find that the favours that Allah has bestowed on humanity such as technology, science and medical advancement, have been used by some to deny Allah's Existence. The very tools of learning and research (such as their senses and intellectual faculties) that Allah has endowed them with, they have used to turn against Him. Instead of using these tools to point them in the direction of Allah they use them to to point them in the direction of atheism and a godless secularism.

In fact, we find some have even made it their livelihood - a livelihood that (in reality) comes to them from Allah - to reject and deny Allah and His bounties. It is to this effect that Allah says in Surah al-Waqi'ah (verses: 81 - 82):

أَفَبِهَذَا الْحَدِيثِ أَنتُم مُّدْهِنُونَ ، وَتَجْعَلُونَ رِزْقَكُمْ أَنَّكُمْ تُكَذِّبُونَ

[Is this the Message that you scorn? And have you transformed the livelihood and sustenance that come to you into denial and false declaration?] In other words, is this how you show your gratitude and thankfulness to Us and repay Our Favours upon you by not only being ungateful and thankless but by outrightly rejecting Us and denying this Message of Ours?]

... But it is Allah's Way not to act hastily but to let them rejoice in their misguidance for a while. This is the meaning of Allah's Name al-Sabur (الصبور) - which refers to Allah's attribute of not acting hastily and executing matters before their appointed times - times that He Himself has appointed for them.

We can only but marvel at the patience and constance with which they are marching to and getting ready for the Fire (if Allah does not will for them to be guided). To echo the words in Surah al-Baqarah (verse: 175):

فَمَا أَصْبَرَهُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ

[How constant and patient are they in their striving to reach the Fire!]

... But then again it is only out of ignorance that they behave in this way, for had they really known, their behaviour would have been totally different.

Finally, Allah Almighty is not in need of our gratitude, nor does our ingratitude affect Him in the least, because He is free of all needs and wants, while we are the ones who are in need of Him (يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ هُوَ الغَنِيُّ الحَمِيدُ) (O Mankind, You are the ones who are need of Allah, while Allah is free of all needs and wants, and worthy of all praise) (Surah Fatir: verse 15). Moreover, we are the ones who stand to benefit from showing how grateful and thankful we are for all the bounties and favours Allah has bestowed and continues to bestow upon us. Thus, Allah reminds us in Surah Luqman verse: 12:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا لُقْمَانَ الْحِكْمَةَ أَنِ اشْكُرْ لِلَّهِ وَمَن يَشْكُرْ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَنِيٌّ حَمِيدٌ

[Indeed, We bestowed (in the past) Wisdom on Luqman: "Show gratitude to Allah." Any who shows gratitude (to Allah) does so only to profit his own soul: but if any is ungrateful, verily Allah is free of all wants, Worthy of all praise.]

May Allah make us the custodians of His Din, and make us utilise everything in our power and possess from what He has granted us in the way of promoting and advancing the course of the Religion of Truth.

Friday, October 26, 2007

To Be or Not To Be? That is the Question

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

My life often fluctuates between moments of extreme objectivity and moments of extreme subjectivity, and both have often been very beneficial for me, and sometimes detrimental. Objectivity promotes the scientific rational side and subjectivity the artistic, emotional and spiritual side. Objectivity is about reasoning and subjectivity is about feeling and experiencing. At the risk of being too general, I would say that the seat of reasononing is the mind and intellect and the seat of feeling and experiencing is the heart and the soul. The Qur'an, we find, addresses both the intellect and the heart, and while 'aql (reasononing) is associated with the mind and intellect, fiqh (deep understanding) as well as shu'ur (feeling) is associated with the heart. Coupled to these instruments are the 5 senses which play a very pivotal role in supplying the heart and mind with the raw materials in order for them to engage in their respective activities.

The Qur'an is replete with verses that urge us to exercise and utilise all these instruments in the service of knowing and worshiping Allah. There are numerous verses that invite us to reflect, to look, observe, listen, journey into the land, etc. etc. All of these activities serve a very important purpose which is to know Allah and His Attributes and Most Beautiful Names that are manifested and reflected not only in the universe but also in ourselves.

Often we use our minds and hearts to deal with matters of day-to-day living, and we often make vital decisions based on them. Our decisions are not always right or within our so called "realm of control" (if we are ever in control) which is why we resort to al-Istikharah or we say as the Qur'an teaches us: وأفوض أمري إلى الله إن الله بصير بالعباد , [And I refer my matter to Allah. Truly, Allah is sees (everything) concerning His servants]. The latter is more when you find yourself in a really difficult situation and you have no way out from it, then you appeal to Allah.

While my situation is not as grave, I'm nevertheless at a cross-roads, and hence the question: To be or not to be? I've decided that blogging is not the best forum or medium for what I wish to get across, and for I what I have in mind vis-a-vis Arabic. Also, my engagement in blogging has been very intense and all-consuming over the past couple of weeks, and it's not as if I don't have other work to do. It's just that this is something I like doing, and I can't seem to do it in moderation. So it's an all or nothing situation. Add to that the fact that since mine is still a young blog and not as established as other blogs I thought it won't be great loss (if at all). Moreover, blogging is new to me and holds too many unknowns, so I think it's better for me to err on the side of caution, and call it a day in the world of blogging.

As to my 2 or 3 readers (who have coomented from time to time), I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. You have my email, and so as not to disappoint you, we can work something else out if you wish - something less intense and less consuming, insha Allah. Finally, I ask Allah to remove the dunya from our hearts, crown our efforts with ikhlas and grant us all a حسن الخاتمة (good ending):

اللهم افتح لنا بالخير واختم لنا بالخير واجعل عواقب أمورنا بالخير بيدك الخير إنك على كل شيء قدير

Rules for Achieving the Optimum in Qur'anic Reflection

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

The following is a list of about 40 rules for enhancing the activity of al-Tadabbur taken from Sh.Abdurrahman Hasan Habannakah al-Midani’s Qawa-‘id al-Tadabbur al-Amthal (Rules for Optimal Reflection).

Rule 1: concerning the relation of the Qur’anic sentence (under reflection) to the general theme or topic of the Surah, and its thematic relation to other relevant verses dispersed throughout the Qur’an

Rule 2: concerning the unity of the Surah’s subject matter

Rule 3: concerning the multiple objectives that the text aims at achieving

Rule 4: concerning the human, temporal, local, psychological, ideological (conceptual), individual and collective aspects of the context and environment in which the text was revealed

Rule 5: concerning specific and narrow interpretations on the one hand and a more general and all-encompassing interpretation on the other

Rule 6: concerning the complementary nature of the Qur’anic texts with respect to the various themes and topics that it covers, and to avoid as much as possible the explanation that a particular instance of repetition is merely the result of emphasis and corroboration

Rule 7: concerning following narrative exegesis (tafsir) in determining the meaning of a text

Rule 8: concerning the mutual equivalence of Qur’anic texts and the necessity of harmonizing them within a complete and coherent conceptual system or framework without having to resort to abrogation except if it has been categorically established on the basis of sound, clear and explicit proof

Rule 9: concerning tracing the stages and phases of revelation

Rule 10: concerning the significance and wisdom behind placing (in some cases) Medinan verses in Meccan surahs and Meccan verses in Medinan surahs

Rule 11: concerning investigating the occasions of descension or causes of revelation

Rule 12: concerning the necessity of understanding a verse according to its order or sequence amongst other verses in the Surah

Rule 13: concerning the fact that there are no contradictions and inconsistencies in the Qur’an, nor is there any disagreement between the Qur’an and the scientific facts established through human means

Rule 14: concerning implied meanings and conceptual links in the text, ellipted elements that have been ellipted for the purpose of brevity and lexical incorporations that expressions are made to incorporate

Rule 15: concerning repetition and the aims it is meant to realize

Rule 16: concerning the necessity of doing proper scientific and linguistic research into the meanings of Qur’anic words

Rule 17: concerning linking between verses and their endings

Rule 18: concerning looking into words that are close or synonymous in meaning

Rule 19: concerning the vacillation of text between two or more meanings

Rule 20: concerning the oath in the Qur’an

Rule 21: concerning agreement between the literary style used and the objective to be realized

Rule 22: concerning searching for stylistic and rhetorical devices used in the text and the purpose behind their use

Rule 23: concerning the adequacy of using different expressions that are spread over similar meaning concepts for the purpose of indicating stylistic complementarity and how their usages can be extended to the rest of group of similar meaning concepts in complementary fashion

Rule 24: concerning the diverse use of devices in stylistic expression

Rule 25: concerning investigating the aims in the use of different expressions in various but similar meaning passages (i.e. various passages with a single theme running through them)

Rule 26: concerning the necessity of observing the rules of Arabic grammar, the meanings of the morphological patterns and the importance of searching for the significance of apparent discrepancies in declension and how they are explained away

Rule 27: concerning the care that the Qur’an takes with regard to verse endings because of the importance placed on the overall balance and uniformity of the text’s outward form and structure

Rule 28: concerning the use of an expression to signify more than one meaning simultaneously

Rule 29: concerning explaining the reason for action by means of the infinitival أن together with that which follows it, and the necessity of assuming an elipted element before it in certain Qur’anic verses

Rule 30: concerning the use of the perfect verb in the case of (a) that which has perpetual and eternal existence, (b) that which has actually happened, (c) that which has been decreed in the future and exists in Allah’s Infinite & Eternal Knowledge, and will definitely happen in the future, and the time in which it will happen is being awaited

Rule 31: concerning looking into those to whom the Divine text is addressed

Rule 32: concerning the word (لعَلَّ) that occurs in the Qur’an in expressions such as (لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُوْنَ)

Rule 33: concerning the word (بَلَى) in the Qur’an

Rule 34: concerning the structure (وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا ...؟) in the Qur’an

Rule 35: concerning the transitivity of the verb (أَرَادَ – يُرِيْدُ) in the Qur’an

Rule 36: concerning the expressions (مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ ، وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ) and likewise (أَمَامَ and وَرَاءَ )

Rule 37: concerning predicating the verb or that which shares its meaning of its agent or its bearer / possessor, its effect, the one motivating its execution, the one ascribing it to someone, the one finding someone to possess it, the one who desires it, etc.

Rule 38: concerning what is called الاستِثْنَاء الْمُنْقَطِع (disjunctive exception or exclusion)

Rule 39: concerning the word كَذَلِكَ in the Qur’an

Rule 40: concerning the 10 Qur’anic variant readings

Having just listed all these rules, I know that to many readers they would not mean much unless they are accompanied by some examples that not only illustrate their meaning but also their correct application. So, insha Allah, I will try in the future, if time permits, to provide an example or two for each rule in order to maximise the benefit of knowing, understanding and being able to apply these rules.