First Flash: The comprehensiveness of the words of the Qur'an; each phrase contains many meanings.
The First Flash is the comprehensiveness in the words. This comprehensiveness is clearly apparent from the verses mentioned both in all the previous Words, and in this Word. As is indicated by the Hadith “Each verse has an outer meaning, an inner meaning, a limit, and an aim, and each has roots, and boughs, and branches,”1 the words of the Qur’an have been positioned in such a way that all its phrases, words even, and even letters, and sometimes even an omission, has many aspects. It gives to all those it addresses their share from a different door.
Take, for example, the verse,
And the mountains [its] pegs,2
a phrase which says, “I made the mountains as stakes and masts for that earth of yours.” An ordinary person’s share from this phrase would be this: he sees the mountains which appear like stakes driven into the ground, thinks of the benefits and bounties in them, and offers thanks to his Creator.
A poet’s share from this phrase: he imagines the earth as the ground, on which is pitched in a sweeping arc the dome of the heavens like a mighty green tent adorned with electric lamps, and he sees the mountains skirting the base of the heavens to be the pegs of the tent. He worships the All-Glorious Maker in wondering amazement.
A tent-dwelling literary man’s share of this phrase: he imagines the face of the earth to be a barren desert, and the mountain chains as the multifarious tents of nomads, as if the soil layer had been cast over high posts and the pointed tips of the posts had raised up the cloth of the soil, which he sees as the habitation of numerous different creatures looking one to the other. He prostrates in wonder before the Glorious Creator, Who placed and pitched so easily these august and mighty beings like tents on the face of the earth.
The share of a geographer with a literary bent from this phrase: he thinks of the globe of the earth as a ship sailing the oceans of either the air or the ather, and the mountains as masts and posts driven into the ship to balance and stabilize it. He declares: “Glory be unto You! How sublime is Your glory!” before the All-Powerful One of Perfection, Who makes the mighty globe as an orderly ship, places us on it, and makes it voyage through the far reaches of the world.
A sociologist and philosopher of human society’s share of this phrase; his thoughts would go like this: the earth is a house, and the supporting post of the life of that house is animal life, while the supporting post of animal life are water, air, and earth, the conditions of life. And the supporting post of water, air, and earth are the mountains. For the mountains are the reservoirs for water, the combs for the air: they precipitate the noxious gases and purify it; they are the earth’s preserver: they preserve it from being transformed into a swamp, and from the encroachment of the sea. They are also the treasuries for other necessities of human life. In utter reverence he offers praise and thanks to the Maker of Glory and Kindness, Who made these great mountains as posts for the earth -the house of our life- in this way, and appointed them as the keepers of the treasuries of our livelihood.
The share of a scholar of natural science from this phrase would be this: he would think of the earthquakes and tremors which occur as the result of upheavals and fusions in the heart of the earth being calmed with the upthrust of mountains; that the emergence of mountains is the cause of the earth’s stable rotation on its axis and in its orbit and its not deviating in its annual rotation as a result of the convulsions of earthquakes; and that the anger and wrath of the earth is quieted through it breathing through the vents in the mountains. He would come to believe completely, and would exclaim: “All wisdom is Allah’s!”
The heavens and the earth were joined together before We clove them asunder.3
A scholar untainted by the study of philosophy would explain the words joined together like this: while the skies were shining and cloudless, and the earth dry and without life and incapable of giving birth, the skies were opened up with rain and the earth with vegetation, and all living beings were created through a sort of marriage and impregnation. To do this was the work of One so Powerful and Glorious that the face of the earth is merely a small garden of His, while the clouds veiling the face of the skies, sponges for watering it. The scholar understands this and prostrates before the tremendousness of His power.
A searching philosopher would explain the same words in this way: while at the start of creation the heavens and earth were a formless mass, each consisting of matter like wet dough without benefit, offspring, or creatures, the All-Wise Creator both rolled them out and expanded them into a beautiful, beneficial form, and made them the source of adorned and numerous creatures. The philosopher would stand in wonder before the breadth of His wisdom.
A modern philosopher would explain the words thus: at first, our globe and the other planets which form the solar system were fused together in the form of an undifferentiated dough. Then the All-Powerful and Self-Subsistent One rolled out the dough, and placed each of the planets in its position; leaving the sun where it was and bringing the earth here, He spread earth over the globe of the earth and sprinkled it with rain from the skies, scattered light over it from the sun, and inhabited it placing us on it. The philosopher would pull his head out of the swamp of nature, and declare: “I believe in Allah, the One, the Unique!”
And another example:
And the sun runs its course to a place appointed.4
The Lam, translated here as ‘to’, expresses also the meaning of ‘in’. Thus, ordinary believers see it as meaning ‘to’ and understand that the sun, which is a mobile lamp providing light and heat for them, will certainly conclude its journeying and reach its place of rest, then take on a form which will no longer be beneficial. And pondering over the great bounties the All-Glorious Creator has attached to the sun, they declare: “Glory be to Allah! All praise and thanks be to Allah!”
A learned scholar would also show the Lam as meaning ‘to’, but he would think of it not only as a lamp, but also as a shuttle weaving the tapestries of the Sustainer on the loom of spring and summer, as an ink-pot whose ink is light for the letters of the Eternally Besought One written on the pages of night and day. And thinking of the order and regularity of the world, of which the apparent movement of the sun is a sign and to which it points, he would exclaim before His wisdom: “What wonders Allah has willed!”, and declare before the All-Wise Maker’s art: “How great are His blessings!”, and he would bow in prostration.
A geographer and philosopher would explain the La\m as meaning ‘in’, like this: through the Divine command and with a spring-like motion on its own axis, the sun orders and propels the solar system. Exclaiming in wonder and amazement before the All-Glorious Maker Who thus creates and sets in order this mighty clock: “All mightiness is Allah’s, and all power!”, he would cast away philosophy and embrace the wisdom of the Qur’an.
A precise scholar would consider this Lam as both causal and adverbial, and would explain it like this: “Since the All-Wise Maker has made apparent causes a veil to His works, through a Divine law of His called gravity, He has tied the planets to the sun like stones in a sling, and causes them to revolve with different but regular motions within the sphere of His wisdom; and He has made the sun’s spinning on its own axis an apparent cause giving rise to the gravity. That is, the meaning of (to) a place appointed, is ‘it is in motion in its own appointed place for the stability of the solar system.’ For it is a Divine rule, a dominical law like motion apparently giving rise to heat, and heat to force, and force to gravity.” Thus, on understanding this from a single letter of the Qur’an, the philosopher would declare: “All praise and thanks be to Allah! It is in the Qur’an that true wisdom is to be found. I consider philosophy to be worth virtually nothing!”
And the following idea would occur to a thinker of poetic bent from this Lam and the stability mentioned above: “The sun is a luminous tree, and the planets are its mobile fruits. But contrary to trees the sun shakes itself so the fruits do not fall. If it did not shake itself, they would fall and be scattered.” Then he would think to himself: “The sun is an ecstatic leader of a group reciting Allah’s Names. He recites in ecstasy in the centre of the circle and causing others to recite.” In another treatise, I described this meaning as follows:
Yes, the sun is a fruit-bearing tree; it shakes itself, so that the planets fall not, its fruits.
If it rested in silence, the attraction would cease; and they would weep through space, its ecstatics.
A further example:
It is they who shall prosper.5
This verse is general and unspecific, it does not specify in what way they shall be successful, so that each person may find what he wants in it. Its words are few, so that they may be lengthy. For the aim of some of those it is addressing is to be saved from the Fire. Others think only of Paradise. Some desire eternal happiness. Yet others seek only Allah’s pleasure. While others know their aim and desire to be the vision of Allah; and so on. In numerous places, the Qur’an leaves the words open in this way, so that they may be general. It leaves things unsaid, so that it can express many meanings. It makes it brief, so that everyone may find his share. Thus, it says, who shall prosper. It does not determine how they shall prosper. It is as if with this omission it is saying: “O Muslims! Good news! O you who fear Allah! You shall find prosperity through being saved from Hell. O righteous one! You shall find prosperity in Paradise. O you who seeks knowledge of Allah! You will attain Allah’s pleasure. O lover of Allah! You will experience the vision of Allah.” And so on.
Thus, out of thousands we have offered one example of each of the phrases, words, letters, and omissions demonstrating the comprehensiveness of the Qur’an’s words. You may make analogies and compare its verses and stories with these.
Another example, the verse,
Know then that there is no god but Allah, and ask forgiveness for your fault.6
This verse contains so many aspects and degrees that all the levels of saints have found their needs from it in all their spiritual journeyings and in all their degrees, and have found spiritual sustenance and a fresh meaning from it appropriate for their own level. For, since the Name of ‘Allah’ is a comprehensive Name, there are aspects of Divine unity within it to the number of the Most Beautiful Names: “There is no provider but Him! There is no creator but Him! There is no merciful one but Him!” And so on.
And, for example, among the stories of the Qur’an, the story of Moses (Peace be upon him) contains thousands of benefits, just like the Staff of Moses. There are numerous aims and aspects in the story, like consoling and comforting the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him), and threatening the unbelievers, and censuring the dissemblers, and rebuking the Jews. For this reason it is repeated in many Suras. Although it expresses all the aims in every place it is repeated, only one is the main aim and the others are secondary.
If you say: How can we know all the meanings in the examples you have given, which the Qur’an intends and points to?
We would reply: Since the Qur’an is a pre-eternal address, and sitting above and beyond the centuries, which, layer upon layer, are all different, addresses and instructs all of mankind lined up within them, certainly it will include and intend numerous meanings according to those varying understandings, and will make allusions to what it intends. The numerous meanings contained in the Qur’an’s words similar to those mentioned here have been proved in Isharat al-I‘jaz (Signs of Miraculousness) according to the rules of Arabic grammar, and the sciences of rhetoric, semantics, and eloquence and their rules. According to the consensus of those qualified to interpret the Shari‘a and the Qur’anic commentators and scholars of theology and jurisprudence, and according to the testimony of their differences, on condition they are considered correct by the sciences of Arabic and the principles of religion, all the aspects and meanings which are found acceptable by the science of semantics, and appropriate by the science of rhetoric, and desirable by the science of eloquence, may be considered among the meanings of the Qur’an. The Qur’an has placed allusions to each of those meanings according to its degree. They are either literal or significative. If significative, they are allusions to them in either the preceding context or the after context or in other verses. Some of them have been expounded in Qur’anic commentaries of twenty, thirty, forty, sixty, and even eighty volumes, written by exacting scholars, which are clear and decisive proofs of the extraordinary comprehensiveness of the Qur’an’s words. However, if in this Word we were to point out the allusions indicating alll the meanings together with their rules, the discussion would become extremely prolonged. So we cut it short here, and for part of it, refer you to Isharat al-I‘jaz.
1. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, i, 146; al-Manawi, Fayd al-Qadir, iii, 54.
2. Qur’an, 78:7.
3. Qur’an, 21:30.
4. Qur’an, 36:38.
5. Qur’an, 2:5.
6. Qur’an, 47:19.
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