What are the principles of rhetoric mentioned in the Quran and the Sunnah?

The Details of the Question

- Will you explain it with examples?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The purpose of religious rhetoric is to teach people the commands and prohibitions of Allah, and make them accept the religion of Islam by explaining it well.

The duty of conveying the message of Islam and guiding is assigned to believers in the Quran and hadiths, and it is stated what needs to be done in this regard. It can be achieved with good rhetoric.

The main sources of the religion are also the source of religious rhetoric. How religious rhetoric should be, what should be told to people and the rules to be followed in this regard are included in the Quran and the Sunnah, our main sources.

The Principles of Rhetoric in the Quran

The best word is the Quran. The principles of the religion of Islam and the rules to be followed are presented in the best way in the Quran. The addressee of the Quran is all people. The one who conveys it in the best way is the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The method adopted by a religious official in conveying the message and guiding people should be the approach of the Quran and the Prophet (pbuh).

There are many principles about rhetoric in the Quran. The most important principles are as follows: addressing people with nice words, speaking timely and appropriately (wisdom), speaking convincingly, being polite when speaking, being temperate and balanced according to the understanding of the addressee, appealing to the mind and conscience, prompting people to think and activating emotions.

Some of the principles of rhetoric that can be deduced from the Quran are as follows:

Speaking in a way to distinguish the truth (good) from the falsehood (evil): Both the truth and the falsehood are shown very clearly in the Quran. The following is stated in a verse: “Behold this is the Word that distinguishes (Good from Evil).” (at-Tariq, 86/13)

A religious official should give his message truly, clearly and in an understandable way.

Effective and nice speech: The following is stated in the Quran: “…Admonish them, and speak to them a word to reach their very souls” (an-Nisa, 4/63) Thus, it is emphasized that giving advice is essential in rhetoric and that speech should be effective. Therefore, the orator should be sincere in his speech and use a fluent and impressive style.

Besides, the Quran addresses people in different places and with different expressions. For example, the phrases “O people!”, “O believers!”, and “O Prophet!” are used to address people in the Quran according to the addressees.

Not being offensive; being respectful: While speaking, the orator should avoid being offensive and accusing people. He should express his own views and thoughts in a nice way, and should be respectful to the views of his interlocutors. The issue is stated as follows in a verse:

“But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (Allah).” (Taha, 20/44)

Speaking based on evidence: It is necessary to speak based on evidence so that what one tells will be convincing and accepted. The following is stated in a verse regarding the issue:

“…Produce your proof if ye are truthful.” (al-Baqara, 2/111)

Besides, we should refrain from expressing opinions on issues we do not know. The following is stated in a verse regarding the issue:

“Ah! Ye are those who fell to disputing (Even) in matters of which ye had some knowledge! but why dispute ye in matters of which ye have no knowledge?” (Aal-i Imran, 3/66)

Being unifying while speaking and avoiding exclusionary expressions: A religious official should be unifying while speaking, and should avoid expressions that will cause divisions in society. The following is stated in the Quran regarding the issue:

“And obey Allah and His Messenger. and fall into no disputes, lest ye lose heart and your power depart; and be patient and persevering: For Allah is with those who patiently persevere.” (al-Anfal, 8/46)

Getting information from reliable sources about the topic to be told: The orator should base his message on reliable sources. The following is stated in the Quran regarding the issue:

“O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done.” (al-Hujurat, 49/6)

Words and actions should be harmonious with each other: The orator’s actions should not contradict his words if he wants his words to be effective. The following is stated in the Quran about it:

“Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget (to practice it) yourselves, and yet ye study the Scripture? Will ye not understand?” (al-Baqara, 2/44)

Prompting people to think: The Quran mentions that issue in many places. People are asked to think and use their minds with phrases like “Do they not think?” and “Do they not know?” in many verses. Thus, the orator should first prompt people to think. The following is stated in a verse: “Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth …” (Aal-i Imran, 3/191)

The Principles of Rhetoric in the Sunnah

The Prophet (pbuh) conveyed people the verses revealed to him, explained the principles of the religion of Islam to them and set an example for people. Believers tried to practice Islam by taking him as an example. The following is stated in the Quran regarding the Prophet’s being a model: “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct)…” (al-Ahzab, 33/21)

Believers consulted the Prophet (pbuh) on every issue and tried to apply exactly what he said. The Prophet addressed people on different occasions and conveyed the message of the religion to them in the right way.

Everybody who is responsible for religious services should attach importance to the principles determined based on the ways the Prophet (pbuh) followed in conveying the message, teaching and addressing people. A religious speech made in the light of the principles of the Sunnah will be the most effective way to explain religious issues. The speech of the Prophet was in line with the principles of the Quran. The Quran advises the Prophet how to talk to people as follows:

“Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious...” (an-Nahl, 16/125)

The Prophet (pbuh) communicated with the people around him in line with those principles and conveyed religious principles to them.

Some of the rhetorical principles that can be deduced from the Sunnah of the Prophet are as follows:

- The Prophet (pbuh) always spoke in an honest and mature manner; he chose his words carefully and considered the interests and needs of his interlocutors. He had a literary style of speaking. He would take into account the mood of the community in his speech and adjust his voice and stance accordingly. He would pronounce the words one by one and speak clearly in a way to enable the listeners to memorize his words.

- The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would speak according to the mentality and understanding level of his addressee. He expressed it as follows in a hadith: “Go down to the level of people.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 20) He would use a style that people could understand.

- The most important characteristic of the speech of the Prophet was being concise, that is, expressing many things with few words. He expressed important facts with two or three words in many of his hadiths. The sermons of the Prophet were short enough to prevent people from getting bored. He preferred short, concise and sincere speeches to long speeches. He states the following regarding the issue: “I was sent with jawami’ul-kalim (expressing many ideas with few words.” (Bukhari, Ta’bir, 22)

- The Prophet (pbuh) would give various examples so that the issue would be understood better and would address people with a narrative style. Thus, he would make the topics that were difficult to explain and understand easier to comprehend. It is seen that the Prophet used that method in many hadiths.

For example, he made the following analogy while describing the points to be considered in choosing a friend:

“The example of a good pious companion and an evil one is that of a person carrying musk and another blowing a pair of bellows. The one who is carrying musk will either give you some perfume as a present, or you will buy some from him, or you will get a good smell from him. However, as for the one who is blowing a pair of bellows, he will either burn your clothes or you will get a bad smell from him.” (Bukhari, Dhabaih 31)

- The Prophet (pbuh) would use different methods to attract people’s attention when he talked. He would sometimes use the question-and-answer method, making people think and attracting their attention. Once, he said to one of the Companions, “O Yazid b. Asad! Do you want to enter Paradise?” He said, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah!” The Prophet said to him, “Ask for your brothers what you want for yourself.” (Ahmed b. Hanbal, Musnad, 4/70)

While talking about something, he would use gestures and facial expressions to enable the issue to be understood better and to attract attention. Sometimes he would add vividness to the expression with the shape of his face and sometimes with his hands. He once said, “Believers are like an interlocked building.” (Kanzul-Ummal, 1/147) He interlocked his fingers and showed with his hands what he meant. Sometimes he would try to explain an issue by drawing shapes.

For example, he explained the issue of qadar (predestination) by drawing shapes on the ground.

- The Prophet (pbuh) would pay attention to timing in his speech. He would always speak when the listeners were attentive and eager. Abdullah b. Masud talks about the issue as follows: “The Prophet would preach and advise us occasionally, not every day, thinking that we would get bored.” (Bukhari, Ilm, 11-12) He would not tell people’s mistakes and he would not humiliate them; he would address them in a positive and constructive style. In a hadith he stated the following:

“Make things easy; do not make things difficult; give good news; do not make people hate.” (Bukhari, Ilm, 11)

He always preferred making things easy and giving good news in his speech. He would not blame anyone; he would not accuse people due to their mistakes. For example, the Prophet Muhammad would not warn a person who made a mistake by saying, “What have you done?” He would warn that person by making a general speech in a community when that person was present. (Muslim, Fadail, 35)

- In his answers to questions, the Prophet (pbuh) would take into consideration the mood of the individuals as well as the conditions of time and place. For example, when someone asked “What is the best deed?”, he said to him, “It is the prayer performed on time.” (Bukhari, Mawaqit, 5) However, when somebody else asked the same question, he said to him, “Doing good to parents.” (Bukhari, Adab, 2) He would give different answers according to the state of the person who asked the question.

He explained that the most valuable deed in times of peace was the prayer performed on time, and emphasized that jihad in the way of Allah was the most valuable deed in war.


- İmam-hatip liseleri Hitabet ve Mesleki Uygulama, Heyet, MEB, 2012.
- Ömer Demir, İmam Hatip Liselerinde Hitabet ve Mesleki Uygulama Dersi Öğretimi, Yüksek Lisans Tezi, Ankara Üniversite Sosyal Bilimler, 1997.

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