Category Archives: Arabic
Many cities and towns in the south of Spain bear the unmistakable imprint of their Islamic past. The magnificent great mosque of Cordoba, the breath-takingly beautiful Alhambra Palace in Granada and the splendidly proportioned Giralda minaret in Seville, are supreme examples but almost every town and village you pass will contain some historical remains dating from their Muslim days. The same in fact applies to almost anywhere you travel in the Iberian Peninsula. You will continually come upon reminders of the fact that for many centuries the population of Spain was overwhelmingly Muslim. So it is undoubtedly true that Islam was the past of that particular part of Europe. The same can be said of large areas of Middle Europe where the Ottoman Muslim presence is clearly visible in many towns and cities in the Balkans and where a lot of the population has remained Muslim up to the present time.
This historical Islamic presence can, however, only be seen in a small part of Europe so how can any claim that Islam constitutes the past of Europe as a whole be justified? To understand this it is necessary to view Europe, not so much as a geographical area, but rather as a common cultural inheritance.
After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Europe disintegrated for several centuries into a large number of warring factions. It was the reconstitution of the European part of the Roman Empire, in the name of the Roman Catholic Church, which once more started to give Europe a unified identity. This was in a large part brought about by the pope giving the rulers of different areas of the continent a common, military project, which gathered them all together under the banner of the Church. This project was the crusades.
By means of the age-old trick of positing a common enemy, the pope managed to persuade the European kings to set aside their own quarrels and concentrate as one body against the Muslims. The crusades were used by the Church for more than two centuries as a means of consolidating its power throughout Europe. In this way Islam can be seen to have been an important factor in the creation of a common European identity and to have indirectly played a vital role in Europe’s past. There is, however, a way in which Islam had a far more direct effect on Europe; one which fully justifies the claim that Islam is Europe’s past.
It is with the Renaissance that the phenomenon of modern Europe really got started. The mythology now surrounding this movement has it that the knowledge of classical Greece, which had been hidden for a thousand years, suddenly re-emerged and brought about a rebirth in the intellectual and artistic life of Europe. The truth is, however, that the torch of classical scholarship had been taken up by the Muslims seven centuries earlier. They worked on it, developed it and added to it during the whole of that period. What the Europeans received – what was to form the basis of the astonishing technological advances witnessed by the past four centuries – was passed on to them by the Muslims.
The classical texts themselves, the writings of Plato and Aristotle and other ancient Greeks, which were considered the basis of European culture, had been preserved by the Muslims. Indeed some of them only existed in Arabic translations and had to be re-translated from Arabic into Latin. It is widely recognised that the famous Muslim translation school of Toledo was the source of many of the texts that formed the basis of the European Renaissance. But it was not as transmitters of ancient learning that the Muslims played their most important part in the rebirth of Europe. There is almost no area of learning in which the original scholarship and research of the Muslims did not have a fundamental influence. But it is worth looking at five areas in particular which were all to play a pivotal role in the new European project, namely: philosophy, mathematics, cartography and navigation, optics and medicine.
Every intellectual movement must necessarily be defined and underpinned by a philosophical understanding, which lies behind it and enables it to flourish in the world it inhabits. There is no doubt that the ancient Greeks, in particular Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, provided the philosophical bedrock on which Western civilisation is based. But it is also clear that there has had to be continual development of thought over time to develop their thinking in every age since, which has enabled things to develop in the way that they have. This thinking process, which was all but completely abandoned by Europe in the Dark Ages, was taken forward during that time by many distinguished Muslim thinkers culminating in the work of the great Cordovan philosopher, Ibn Rushd, known in Europe as Averroes. He proved to be the stepping-stone to much of the European philosophy that has followed since.
It is clear that the Renaissance triggered off what has become known as the “scientific age” and that Europe and its North American offshoot owe their present dominance to the scientific advances which took place and the accompanying technological innovations to which they have given birth. Without the mathematical tools inherited from the Muslims none of these things would have been possible. Mathematics is the sine qua non for every scientific endeavour. We owe the very numbers we use to the Muslims. The Muslims developed every area of mathematics and, moreover, invented new disciplines such as algebra (named after its progenitor al-Jabir). This enabled later scientists such as Galileo and Newton to make the kind of calculations they needed in order to formulate their theories, and enabled those who have followed them to find practical applications for those theories.
Another factor leading to European dominance were the journeys of exploration made by European adventurers. These opened the way to the colonial empires of the European powers and the enormous wealth which that enabled them to amass. These voyages were greatly facilitated by the accurate and sophisticated work of Muslim mapmakers. But the greatest assistance to these power-hungry mariners was afforded by navigational aids, such as the astrolabe, which had been developed by the Muslims and which, in European hands, led within a very short time to the engridding of the globe and the world domination which followed in its wake.
The enormous scientific advances made through the use of the telescope and microscope in the fields of astronomy, physics and biology need no further elaboration. Without them these sciences would still be in their infancy. Their development was made possible by Muslim optical research. The same applies to medicine, whose development relied greatly on the vast amount of theoretical and practical work carried out and recorded by hundreds of Muslim physicians, in particular the great Ibn Sina, known to the West as Avicenna.
Much much more could be added to this sketchy account of the way in which Muslim learning influenced the development of modern Europe but, hopefully, this has been sufficient to demonstrate that Islam can truly be said to have played a foundational role in Europe’s past. What, however, needs to be categorically stated at this point is that what the Europeans received from the Muslims and what they then proceeded to do with it are two entirely different things.
The science of the Muslims, both in terms of research and practical application, had always been carried out within the parameters defined for them by Divine Revelation as set out in the Qur’an and then implemented under Prophetic guidance. So the technology of the Muslims was always on a human scale and firmly under human control. But once the business passed into European hands something very different began to happen. The knowledge of the Muslims had a direct connection to Divine Revelation. The Europeans removed it from its proper context and used it indiscriminately and without the checks previously imposed on it by Divine legislation. The result has been the false god of monstrous proportions worshipped by so many millions today: scientific materialism.
With the Renaissance a crucial shift in perspective took place which led gradually towards people viewing the world and themselves in a completely different way. Human beings started to measure the universe not, as they had before, by Divinely revealed truth, but by their own perception of it. In other words, man made himself the measure of the universe. The relationship between man and the universe changed from being one of caretaker to being one where man considered himself the lord of creation. By the end of the Renaissance European man viewed himself as the master of existence and the arbiter of his own destiny. The Renaissance, closely followed by its sister phenomenon, the Reformation, truly proved to be a Pandora’s Box. The economic, political, philosophical and technical repercussions resulting from them form the background to the world we live in and, indeed, make up the very atmosphere we breathe.
The decisive step in the economic domain was taken by John Calvin, in Geneva. He took it upon himself to legalise, in the face of all precedents, the lending of money at interest, which had always previously been universally known as the crime of usury. This one thing, probably more than any other, is responsible for the ravaged social and physical landscape of the world we have inherited. It led to the rapid growth of banking first in Italy and Holland, and then England, culminating in the foundation of the Bank of England in 1692 and the first national debt. After this came the proliferation of international banking. That brought with it, in ever increasing quantities, international debt. Now we have reached a point when economic activity has changed from being merely one aspect of human existence into its central focus. Every single person in the world is now born hopelessly in debt and interest rates and market prices have become almost the most significant factors in our lives.
These developments have been inextricably bound up with the changing political landscape. Any remaining influence of the Church, with its traditional prohibition of usury, was first marginalised under the absolutism of Henry VIII and Louis XIV and then totally discarded as these regimes, in their turn, were replaced by the myth of democracy. First came the so-called “glorious” revolution in England, then much less glorious one in America, then a frankly appalling one in France and finally the absolute disaster of the Russian revolution. The only tangible result of each of these was the accelerating economicisation and technicisation of the world and the gradual accession to world power of a new extra-national elite exercising increasingly dictatorial control through financial structures beyond the reach of any national government. The First and Second world wars enabled this elite to consolidate their power under the name of globalisation. The World State is no longer the projection of visionary writers. We are living in it.
Every one of these political developments, which have enabled the present situation to come about, has had its theorists and philosophers. However, rather than being the source and inspiration for what happened, they in most cases merely acted as apologists for it, justifying at each stage the new status quo. We might name among them Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Bentham, Marx, and Sartre. All of these in their time and in their way justified and supported the political, economic and technical developments going on around them together with the ever greater restriction of true human freedom that these things brought with them.
Finally and equally importantly we come to the practical exponents of the new thinking who turned the idea of man‘s control of the world around him into an ever more destructive reality. Building on the speculations of Copernicus and the experimentation of Galileo, Newton, with his magnum opus, Principia Mathematica, in which he formulated the laws of mechanics and gravity, constructed a model of the universe which formed the foundation for the technicisation and structuralisation of the world that has been taking place ever since. Using the laws he discovered, scientists have come up with technical applications of them which have been wielded with increasing effectiveness by those in power to ensure a measure of control and domination never before experienced in the whole of human history. However, as we know, this very technical expertise has created a Frankenstein, which is now out of control and from which there is apparently no escape.
While this has necessarily been a sketchy and generalised overview, the basic perspective it puts forward is in no way revolutionary and can be found demonstrated and clarified in the writings of many well-known and respected historians.
Here we are, then, in 2008 living at the receiving end of all this, in the world that has resulted from it. A world ensnared in a web of unpayable debts of unimaginable magnitude whose reality is no more substantial than impossibly high numbers flickering as electronic signals between one computer screen and another and yet by which whole populations are controlled. A world polluted almost beyond the possibility of clean-up and subject to the vagaries of the untried science of genetic modification whose consequences may well prove catastrophic to the natural world. A world whose natural resources have been plundered to the point of exhaustion by the demands of a rapacious system of consumption which the present power structure, for all its protestations to the contrary, does everything to encourage. A world hypnotised by the myth of democracy where people vote in ever decreasing numbers to elect puppet governments for states that are, in fact, no more than colonies of a financial oligarchy who have no national loyalties and are elected by no-one. A world whose inhabitants are free to do little other than consume as much as possible in whatever way is open to them as drugged and pacified dependants of a World State.
This may appear to be an excessively bleak portrayal of the world we live in but if you remove the gift-wrapping and look behind the surface glitter of our consumer paradise you will find it to be the stark truth. There are certainly some aspects of the European project which have run counter to this general nihilistic trend but time constraints do not permit me to elaborate on them on this occasion. What is certain, however, is that both the negative process I have outlined, and the few positive elements contained within it, all lead to one conclusion: that it is time for the re-emergence of Islam after its five hundred year absence to lead the way into a much brighter future.
To understand why this is the case it is first necessary to understand what Islam is and, indeed, what it is not. Most Europeans see Islam as a foreign religion. It is not. Islam is not Arab or Turkish or Pakistani. Islam has nothing to do with ethnic origin or eastern culture. No, Islam is, and always has been, categorically universal, equally valid for any people in any part of the world.
There is, and always has been, only one authentic spiritual tradition which is at once the birthright and raison d’etre of every human being. All the various great world religions constitute manifestations at various times throughout human history of this primordial natural religion. Christianity, for instance, is simply the penultimate version of this great tradition. Islam is it in its final form. We must put out of our minds all geographical and cultural preconceptions. All that is involved is recognition and worship of the One God, whom all of us in our heart of hearts and times of greatest need knows to be there; the Source and Creator of the Universe; Reality itself; that Unique Power on which everything else is totally and continually dependent but which is Itself beyond need of anything.
Early in human history it is clear that awareness of God and living in harmony with the laws which govern existence were almost instinctive to people. However as time went on, human beings became more and more opaque and people began to more and more overstep their natural limits, causing increasing corruption and discord within the human situation. But because the Divine nature is fundamentally merciful and compassionate, Divinely inspired men appeared periodically to remind people of their true nature and to guide them back to the path of belief, balance and justice which they had abandoned.
The final Divine reminder to the human race came in the form of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him. It was specifically and explicitly intended to be a universal message to answer the spiritual and social needs of every human being from that time on. By the time he died, he had fulfilled his task by establishing, under Divine guidance, a flourishing human community with a just political, economic and legal structure. It produced a radiant, compassionate social reality and permitted the flowering of as deep a spirituality as has ever been witnessed on the earth’s surface.
It is this total picture, containing within its compass the correct functioning of every aspect of human existence, which is Islam. It is this complete model of Divine guidance in action in every sphere of life that we need now, that we must have, if we are to survive as a human community. At its core is the relationship between each individual and his Creator but this cannot survive and flourish in isolation. It can only grow if people stay within the moral limits that in fact constitute their natural form. These parameters in their turn need the laws and economic restraints prescribed by Divine Revelation if they are to remain in place. Only Islam still contains all these elements.
It is astonishing how, in each area where this society is sick and troubled, the specific cure is to be found in the teaching of Islam, although in fact it is not so surprising when one remembers that it was revealed as a universal guidance for this last period of human history by the One who knows exactly what His creatures need. Let us take a few examples.
Usury, particularly in its most prevalent form of lending money at interest has already been mentioned. One immediate effect of it is ever-increasing consumer debt which has now reached unprecedented levels. The human cost of this is increasing distress and discord in a great number of families and for many absolute despair at not being able to make ends meet, leading to a growing number of suicides. On the international scene, the situation is even worse. In some countries the gross national product is not enough to pay even the interest on the money that has been borrowed. This means that everyone in those countries is in effect working for foreign banks.
The underlying effects of usury have corroded every aspect of human life. There is no time now to go into this subject in detail but much work has been done on it and is available for anyone who wishes to find out more. Suffice it to say that usury is a poison which pollutes all it touches. Its prohibition in the Qur’an, the use of forms of business contracts which preclude it and the re-introduction of gold and silver coinage which they require mean that Islam truly provides the means to escape this curse which has all but enslaved the whole world.
It is generally recognised that a large proportion of the crime, which has reached such epidemic proportions in our time, is closely related to the consumption of alcohol and drugs. If you add to this the vast percentage of alcohol induced accidents, the growing incidence of alcoholism with its attendant social problems and the unprecedented number of people dependant on drugs of all kinds, the Qur’anic injunction forbidding intoxicating substances clearly provides an urgently needed radical solution to a pressing social problem.
It cannot be denied that the spread of the scourge of AIDS which still threatens so many millions of lives has been almost exclusively due to sexual promiscuity on a scale never before witnessed by the human race and, more particularly, to homosexual practices which were until very recently recognised as unnatural and illegal by every society in the world. Alongside this there are the terrible crimes of rape and incest whose regular and increasing occurrence has made them seen almost commonplace. Again, in this vital area of life Islam holds the key.
Far from being suppressed, sexuality is explicitly encouraged within Islam and ample space is given for its expression. However its limits have been made clear and the penalties for overstepping them extremely severe. At the same time opportunities for sex outside the prescribed limits are kept at a minimum. Because extended families and the giving of hospitality are part and parcel of Islam, Muslim family life is full and open and the dangerous emotional currents, which frequently lead to crime in the nuclear family situation, are far less prevalent in Muslim society.
The last and perhaps most important way in which Islam can heal the sickness of our society is by means of the incalculable effect of the physical act of prayer which punctuates the day of every Muslim. This act puts the worship of God back where it belongs at the centre of the life of every human being and ensures the health of society as a whole. It gives people a correct perspective on existence so that they do not become totally engrossed in the life of this world. It is a continual reminder of the insubstantial nature of this life, that death is inevitable and that what follows it depends on the way we live and goes on forever. The acceptance of accountability implicit in this attitude makes people prone to live within the limits rather than wantonly transgress them. It creates a situation where people see that immediate self-gratification is not necessarily in their best interests and that generosity and patience and good character have real and tangible benefits in them.
For all these reasons and many more which have not been mentioned here Islam has been growing in strength in Europe as a whole and in Britain in particular over many years now. Goethe, Carlyle and Bernard Shaw were among many clear-sighted Europeans in the past who saw that it is precisely this guidance that is needed if Western civilisation is to be turned back from its present self-destructive course. Over the past half-century literally thousands of British people have become Muslims and swelled the ranks of the great number of other Muslims who have come here mostly from ex-British colonies.
This phenomenon was acknowledged recently by what might be considered as a slightly unlikely voice: Norman Tebbit. Lord Tebbit said in an article he wrote considering the demise of the Church of England: “So who is left? Watch out for the challenge from the mosques. An Islam with a modern face will soon begin to present itself as the natural home for those who long for moral certainty and a new sense of discipline within society… And with no other options on the table, they may soon find that they have an awful lot of fellow travellers with whom to bolster their ranks. The task for the imams will be to… replace a Christian church that has lost its sense of history and direction with a mosque that has a strong ingrained sense of both.”
He is right. If what is desired is for each individual to have the maximum possibility of fulfilling their true human potential within the context of a compassionate and just human society then Islam can truly be said to hold the key to the future of Britain in particular and indeed to Europe as a whole.
Shaykh `AbdalHaqq Bewley
The following examination of the ayah of Qur’an which is taken to refer to the expansion of the universe is a single example of what is becoming a burgeoning literature among Muslims claiming that science proves the Qur’an to be true. This literature can be said to date from the book of Maurice Bucaille: The Bible, the Qur’an and Science. As Hajj Idris Mears pointed out, it is implicit in the title of his book that there are three successive stages of revelation: first, the Bible; second, the Qur’an which the author regards as a great deal more scientific (although in the process he manages to undermine and indeed repudiate the hadith literature); and then thirdly and lastly, science, which is clearly in his view the judge and arbiter as to the truth or falsity of the previous two.
This perspective is of course utterly unacceptable to us, since, as Thomas Kuhn showed, the modern scientific outlook is in his terminology ‘a paradigm’ which was preceded by the Aristotelian ‘paradigm’ and may thus clearly be succeeded by yet another. Thus it is impossible that we should tie the meanings of the Qur’an to what is simply a paradigm.
It might help if we look at one example which is widely touted as definitive proof of the scientific authenticity of the Qur’an: the ayah 47 in Surat adh-Dhariyat which many people take as predicting the twentieth-century discovery that the universe is expanding.
In the Bewley translation this meaning is expressed as:
As for heaven – We built it with great power
and gave it its vast expanse.
This is clearly not the meaning that those give the ayah who consider that it might have to do with the expanding universe. Note also that the Bewley translation is the most careful of the translations in following the orthodox tafs?r literature and the meanings of the Arabic language.
It is absolutely impermissible for anyone to interpret the Qur’an simply according to their own opinion or even according to the opinions of others even if those others are legion, native Arab speakers, and doctors in universities. Rather, there is a process for tafsir and there are conditions for doing it, which are best outlined in the introduction which Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi makes to his tafsir at-Tashil li ‘ulum at-tanzil. (Available as a PDF here.)
Without going into the science of tafsir exhaustively, let us note that the least requirement of it is that any explanation be consistent with what is possible in the Arabic language, but here we mean the classical Arabic language, and not as spoken today by Arabs, since it is clear that Arabic has altered considerably in its usages. This is not a new condition to place on the person making tafsir. It has always been one of the requirements of tafsir that it should be consistent with the classical language and thus we have the scholarship of the Arabic-Arabic dictionaries and of the tafsir scholars.
In Surat adh-Dhariyat, the key term musi’un is the masculine plural of the active participle of the fourth form of the verb wasi’a. The modern person thinks of wasi’a as simply ‘to be vast’, and that thus the fourth form of the verb awsa’a would necessarily have the sense of ‘to make [something] vast’. Note here that even in modern Arabic, it does not give the sense ‘to make vaster’ or ‘to expand’, which may be a subconscious confusion with the comparative form awsa’u ‘vaster’.
However, in classical Arabic, the senses of the verb are utterly different from what we would be led to expect by a modern dictionary such as Hans Wehr’s A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, which although an Arabic-German dictionary is well known in English because of its translation by Cowan and there is no doubt about its excellence within its domain. However, it is in no sense reliable for translation of any classical work and does not make any such claim, and it is certainly no proof, or indeed of very much use, in translation of Qur’an.
So our point of departure as English speaking Arabic students for the classical language must be E. W. Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon. But we must understand what this book is before we proceed. Lane’s Lexicon is simply Lane’s extremely careful translation of the entries from the classical dictionaries of Arabic which the Muslims drew up in order to have access to the classical language, in particular to understand the Qur’an, the hadith literature and the classical works of poetry. Lane put little of his own understanding in his book. So it is our point of departure but if we are serious we must have recourse to the Arabic-Arabic dictionaries and the lexicographical understandings of the Qur’anic commentators.
The Bewleys translate the ayat thus: ‘As for heaven – We built it with great power and gave it its vast expanse.’ It is clear from this translation that the meaning they have taken is to give heaven its vastness or great expanse, something that is evident to the human senses and has been from the beginning of time to all people whether educated or not. Thus they have translated it in a sense that is immediately obvious to any people at any time in history and not just to people who have a degree in cosmology.
A part of our problem with giving the meaning to the ayah of expanding the universe is that this is something utterly concealed from our senses and only available to our intellects through a most abstract process, whereas the ‘vast expanse’ of the universe is something evident to anyone who has ever been out of the city and under an open sky at night.
The idea of the expanding universe is a theoretical mathematical idea which can never be seen and theoretically is deduced from Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and practically from Hubble’s observations of the red-shift.
However, what is most striking in our dictionary sources is that most of the meanings of wasi’a and awsa’a have no sense of physical vastness but indeed of encompassing in knowledge, or being endowed with sufficient and ample wealth, etc., as you can see from the numerous examples below.
Please note that almost all of the commentators see the only other usage of this word (in its singular form) in the Qur’an in Surat al-Baqarah 236 ‘from the musi’ [wealthy person] according to his capacity’ as a decisive proof of its meaning in this ayah in adh-Dhariyat.
Sees the ayah as meaning, ‘We encompassed [wasi'na] its extremities or made them vast [wassa'na], and We raised it without any pillars until it became independent [or possibly 'raised itself'] as it is.’
Jalal ad-Din al-Mahalli said, ‘the man awsa’a’ means ‘he became possessor of ample wealth and strength.’
AR-RAGHIB AL-ASBAHANI SAID IN MUFRADAT ALFADH AL-QUR’AN
‘We are musi’un’ Adh-Dhariyat: 47 indicates something similar to His saying, ‘The One who gave everything its creation and then guided.’ (Ta-Ha: 50) ‘So-and-so awsa’a‘ if he has wealth and becomes possessor of ample provision…
Ibn ‘Abbas said it – Musi’un – means ‘able/powerful’.
Some say [that 'We are Musi'un' means], ‘We are possessors of ample wealth, and in its creation [the heaven's] and the creation of other than it, nothing of that which We wish is hard for Us.’
Some say, ‘We give provision abundantly to Our creation.’ Also [narrated] from Ibn ‘Abbas.
Al-Hasan said [that 'We are Musi'un' means], ‘We are capable.’
He also said [it means], ‘We give provision abundantly by the rain.’
Ad-Dahhak said [it means], ‘We enrich you’ his proof being [the ayah] 236 in Surat al-Baqarah ‘from the musi’ [wealthy person] according to his capacity’.
Al-Qutbi said [it means], ‘Abundantly generous to Our creation.’
And the [above previous two] meanings are close.
Some said [it means], ‘We made between the two of them [possibly a mistake, and should read 'between it…'] and the earth ample space/ample provision.’
Al-Jawhari said, ‘The man awsa’a i.e. he became the possessor of ample provision and wealth, an example of which is “As for heaven – We built it with great power and We are Musi’un” (Surat adh-Dhariyat: 47) i.e. [We are] Wealthy and Powerfully capable’ so that his statement comprises all of the statements.
In His saying, ‘We are Musi’un‘, He is saying, ‘Possessor of vast capacity/power/wealth for its creation and the creation of what We wish to create, and powerfully capable to do it,’ and an example of it is His saying in Surat al-Baqarah 236 ‘from the musi’i [wealthy person] according to his capacity’.
Ibn Zayd said about that: Yunus narrated to me saying, ‘Ibn Wahb informed us saying, “Ibn Zayd said concerning His words ‘We are Musi’un‘ [that it means] ‘I make it vast and expansive,’ or ‘I make its means of subsistence ample and abundant’ [see the meaning in Lane's Lexiconwherein awsa'ahu and wassa'ahu mean He (Allah) made his means of subsistence ample and abundant], majestic is His majesty.
IBN JUZAYY AL-KALBI
Concerning ‘We are Musi’un‘ there are three statements:
first that it means Capable/Powerful, which is from wus’ or capacity, and an example of which is ‘from the musi’ [wealthy person] according to his capacity’ (Surat al-Baqarah 236) meaning the person who has the strength to spend;
and the other is ‘We made the heaven vast’ or ‘We made between it and the earth vastness [possibly wealth or abundant provision];
and the third is ‘We expanded provisions by means of the rain from the sky.’
That concludes what the classical commentators and Arabic linguists have said. As you can see, the sense given the ayat in the majority of the above cases has nothing even remotely to do with space, and where it does have it is in the sense of making heaven spacious and vast, but not with the sense of expanding it and making it more vast and more expansive. That is absolutely clear from all of the tafsirs and dictionaries which I have consulted and quoted. Therefore, there is certainly no evidence to warrant introducing this commentary for this ayah.
The sense of wasi’a and wasa’a being ‘wide and spacious’ is only a part of the story, since many of the meanings of the Arabic are much more subtle than this and do not have a spatial sense at all, but relate to ample provision or knowledge or capability. The fourth form of the verb –awsa’a – may well be the causative form of the verb, but then in this very restricted case of the physical meaning of first form of the verb – wasi’a – meaning being wide and spacious, the fourth form has the sense of causing the thing [in this case heaven] to be wide and spacious, and not the sense of making it expand. Therefore, I differ with those who automatically extend the meaning to ‘to extend or expand’. This is not correct, in my view.
The ayah does not rule out the expansion of the universe, but it certainly does not say unequivocally that the universe is expanding and nothing that I have seen in the works I have confirm that meaning, and after a very thorough and exhaustive research I cannot see that any of the above tafsirs say this and I have not found a single classical scholar of Islam who even hints at this meaning being a possible meaning of awsa’aor a possible meaning of the tafsir of this ayat.
Yet this very widespread view of this ayah is only the tip of an iceberg: that literature that thinks that somehow ‘science’ proves the Qur’an to be true, ignoring the very serious philosophical dilemmas and contradictions within science. What can one say about people, i.e. scientists, who have still not confronted the near century-old discovery that matter is both particle and wave, that the results of experiment are affected by the observation of the observer and depend on what the experiment is set up to explore?
Please note that in the aforegoing I take no objection intrinsically to the thought that the Qur’an might indicate some scientific truths. My own background is in maths and physics, and I grew up with a particular love for both cosmology and the world of sub-atomic particles. Indeed, there are a number of ayat in the Qur’an which are of some interest to me in this respect, such as:
Do those who are kafir not see
that the heavens and the earth were sewn together
and then We unstitched them
and that We made from water every living thing? (Surat al-Anbiya: 30)
Glory be to Him who created all the pairs:
from what the earth produces
and from themselves
and from things unknown to them. (Surah Yasin: 35)
But that is a topic for another day, insha’Allah.
From: Abdassamad Clarke
فَٱذۡكُرُونِىٓ أَذۡكُرۡكُمۡ وَٱشۡڪُرُواْ لِى وَلَا تَكۡفُرُونِ .١٥٢
Therefore remember Me, I will remember you. Give thanks to Me, and reject not Me. (Surat al-Baqarah: 152)
Please click below to listen or read the khutbah by Imam Hajj Abdassamad Clarke entitled ‘Intellect’
From: Muslims of Norwich
“And We did not send any messenger but (speaking) in the tongue of his people…” Surah Ibrahîm – 14 : Verse 4: Ma’ariful Qur’an – Mufti Shafi Usmani
And We did not send any messenger but (speaking) in the tongue of his people, so that he might clearly speak to them. So, Allah lets go astray whom He wills and lets find guidance whom He wills. And He is the Mighty, the Wise. Surat Ibrahim: 4
Mentioned in the first sentence of this verse is the particular blessing and convenience granted by Allah Ta’ala that whenever He has sent a messenger to a people, He has sent him speaking their language, in order that he would convey Divine injunctions to them in their language and usage whereby understanding these becomes easy on them. If the language of the messenger had been different from that of his addressees, it is evident that his people would have to undergo the burden of having to translate the injunctions before they could understand them and, still, the understanding of injunctions correctly would have remained doubtful. Therefore, when a messenger was sent to the speakers of the Hebrew language, the language of the messenger was also Hebrew. The language of the messenger sent to the Persians was also Persian. The language of the messenger to the Berbers was appointed to be Berberi. It is possible that a person who was assigned to be a messenger would be an individual from among the same people to whom he was sent and his mother tongue would have been the language of those people, and it is also possible that the language into which he was born may have been other than that of the people he was sent to, but as Allah Ta’ala would have it, He had things arranged in a manner that the messenger learnt the language of the people he was to work with – as it was in the case of Sayyidna Lut (A.S). Actually, he was a citizen of ‘Iraq where the language spoken was Persian. But, after his migration to Syria, he married among the people there and the language of the Syrians became his own language. Then, Allah Ta’ala made him the prophet of a region of Syria.
As for our noble Messenger , his mission is, in terms of the area of operation, for the whole world and, in terms of the time duration, it is universally applicable right upto the last day of Qiyamah. No nation or group of people in this world, no matter which country they belong to and what language they speak, could be outside the circle of his mission as a messenger and prophet. And every new nation and every new language which comes into existence upto the day of Qiyamah shall all be counted among the community to which the Da’wah (call) of the Holy Prophet will reach. This is expressly mentioned by the Holy Qur’an: (O people, I am the messenger of Allah [sent] to you all – 7:158). According to a narration of Sayyidna Jabir (A.S) appearing in the Sahih of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Holy Prophet , while pointing out to his five distinctions among the universal community of prophets, has said: Before me, every messenger and prophet was sent to his people and community. Allah Ta’ala sent me to all peoples who are the children of Adam (on this earth).
Allah Ta’ala willed that humankind on this earth should originate from Sayyidna Adam (A.S) whom He made the first prophet of human beings. Then, in proportion to the increase in human population in terms of its social and economic status, arrangements to convey the right guidance to them through messengers and prophets kept being made by Allah Ta’ala. Injunctions, laws and religious codes relevant to every period of time and to the needs of every people continued coming. Finally, when the development of the human scene reached the stage of maturity, Allah Ta’ala sent the foremost among the line of prophets, Sayyidna Muhammad al-Mustafa, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, as the Rasul of the whole world, and the Kitab and Shari’ah He gave to him was given in its most complete and workable form which was valid for the whole world and for all times right upto the Last Day of Qiyamah. It was said in the Qur’an: (That is, ‘Today, I have perfected your religion and made My favour complete for you – 5:3).
The religious codes of past prophets, may peace be on all of them, were also perfect and complete in terms of their time and region. They too cannot be called imperfect or wanting. But, the perfection of the Shari’ah brought by the Holy Prophet is not restricted to any specified time and region. It is absolutely perfect (that is, without restrictions or exceptions in any respect, or circumstances) and seen from this angle, the perfection of religion is exclusive to this Shari’ah, and this is the reason why the chain of prophethood was discontinued after the appearance of the Holy Prophet who is the Last among the blessed prophets, may peace be upon all of them.
Why Was the Qur’an Revealed in the Arabic Language?
When messengers who spoke the language of past communities were sent among them, they did not have to work hard on translating the message brought by prophets. Now, a question arises here as to why the Holy Prophet was sent to Arabia alone with the Arabic language? And why was it that his Book too was revealed in the Arabic language specifically? But, a little deliberation would make the answer very clear. Everyone can understand when the mission and call of the Holy Prophet became common for all peoples of the world speaking hundreds of different languages, then, there existed only two alternatives for the guidance of all of them. The first alternative was that the Qur’an be revealed separately into the language of every group of people, and the teachings and instructions of the Holy Prophet also be made available separately in the language of every community of people. In view of the most perfect power of Allah Ta’ala, managing something like that was not difficult at all. But, the great objective of sending one Rasul, one Kitab and one Shari’ah for all peoples of the world, an objective which sought to forge a religious, moral and social unity and mutually shared orientation, despite the existence of thousands of differences among all these peoples, would have remained unrealized in the event that such an alternative was taken to.
Then, there was the other alternative of letting the Qur’an and Hadith for every people and every country be available in their separate languages. If this was ever done in that manner, it would have thrown the gates of interpolation in the Qur’an wide open through which countless inroads in it could have been made. Thus, the miraculous quality of the Glorious Qur’an, that its original words still remain perfectly protected, a quality which cannot be denied even by non-conformists and deniers of the Qur’an, would have not survived intact. What would have happened that despite there being one religion and one book, its adherents would have been dispersed on so many different tracks that there would have remained no single rallying pivot of unity. We can have some idea of this problem if we recall the amount of differences that arose in the interpretation and exegesis of the Holy Qur’an despite that it was revealed in the single Arabic language – though, these differences did remain within permissible limits. As for differences engineered through false and impermissible means, they just have no limits. But, notwithstanding all this, there is a viable unity and a sense of distinct identity still present among all those people who observe and practice what the Qur’an teaches, no matter in whatever degree it may be.
In short, the assumption that the Qur’an could have come for every human group separately making the mission and teaching of the Holy Prophet universal is something even a person of ordinary intelligence would not find correct. Therefore, it becomes necessary that the Qur’an be sent in one single language and the language spoken by the prophet should also be the same language of the Qur’an, and then its translations into other languages be made and circulated. After the Holy Prophet , his deputies, the ‘Ulama of the community, should spread out the teachings and rules of guidance left behind by him among their peoples and in their language. Therefore, Allah Ta’ala chose the Arabic language over all languages of the world for a number of reasons.
The Distinctions of Arabic
First of all, the Arabic language is the official language of the heavens. The language of angels is Arabic. The Preserved Tablet (al-Lawh al-Mahfuz ) is in the Arabic language as the Qur’an tells us: (Rather, it is a glorious Qur’an in the Preserved Tablet – 85:21,22). Then, there is Jannah, the Paradise which is the real home of human beings and to where they have to return – and its language is also Arabic. In the Mu’jim of al-Tabarani, Mustadrak of al-Hakim and in Shu’ab al-’Iman of Al-Baihaqi, there is a narration from Sayyidna’Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas which reports that the Holy Prophet said: (That is, ‘Love Arabs for three reasons: (1) That I am an Arab; (2) and the Qur’an is in Arabic; (3) and the language of the people of Paradise is Arabic’ [In Mustadrak, Hakim calls this narration 'Sahih.' The same rating appears in al-Jami' al-Saghir. However, some Hadith experts have called it weak and not authentic]. According to Ibn Taymiyyah, the subject of this Hadith is proven and cannot be rated any lesser than ‘Hasan’ or good (Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami’ al-Saghir, p. 179, v. 1).
There is a narration reported in Tafsir al-Qurtubi that the language of Sayyidna Adam in Jannah was Arabic. When he was sent to the earth, and after his repentance was accepted, so (A.S) me changes in the Arabic language itself gave birth to the Syriac language.
This appears to support narrations which have been reported from Sayyidna ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas and others. They say that the original language of all books Allah Ta’ala has revealed was Arabic. It was archangel, Sayyidna Jibra’il al-Amin who relayed it to the prophets by translating it to them while they conveyed it to their communities in their language. These narrations have been reported by ‘Allamah Al-Suyuti in Al-Itqan and by most commentators of the Qur’an under their comments on this verse. The gist of these reports is that the original language of all Scriptures is Arabic. But, with the exception of the Holy Qur’an, other books have been given as translated into the language of a country or people. Therefore, their meanings are all from Allah Ta’ala, but there is a change in words. It happens to be the unique feature of the Qur’an alone that, like its meanings, the words too are but from Allah Ta’ala. And perhaps, this is the reason why the Qur’an extended a challenge that even the combined force of the Jinns and humankind of the whole world could not produce the likeness of a small Surah, rather of one Ayah of the Qur’an – because, in terms of its high status in word and meaning, it is the Word of Allah and a Divine attribute which cannot be imitated by anyone. Given their spiritual status, other Scriptures too are the Word of Allah, but none of the other Scriptures made such a claim, perhaps because they were not in their original form in Arabic but were its translation. Otherwise, in terms of being the Divine Word like the Qur’an, the uniqueness and inimitability of every such book was certain.
One major reason for the choice of the Arabic language is the inherent treasure of capabilities of the language itself for it has countless forms and methods through which a sense could be expressed.
And there is another reason too that Allah Ta’ala has naturally gifted Muslims with a certain affinity and congruity with the Arabic language because of which everyone goes on to learn the language easily as needed. This is the reason why, in every country the Sahabah reached, it took very little time when, without any compulsion, the Arabic language came to be the language of the whole country. Take Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Arabic was not their language. Today, they are known as Arab countries.
There is yet another reason for this phenomena. The Arabs were, though involved in serious evil practices, yet their capabilities, qualities and feelings can be called unmatched even under such circumstances. That is why Allah Ta’ala raised His greatest and the last messenger from among them, and chose his language to be the language of the Qur’an, and gave instructions to His prophet that they are the ones who should be the first to be guided and educated: (and warn your close relatives – 26:214) – and the very first step taken was that He assembled around His messenger the kind of individuals from among these very people, individuals who sacrificed their life, wealth and children, almost everything for the sake of the Holy Prophet taking his teachings to be dearer than what they had, even their lives. And it was the result of this pattern of behaviour that their personalities became so deeply coloured by his company and teaching that an ideal society rose in the world the like of which was never witnessed by humanity on this earth and under these skies. The Holy Prophet charged this unique group with the mission of spreading the teachings of the Qur’an and said: that is, ‘Convey everything you hear from me to my people, even though it is a short verse.’ His Sahabah, alert and sacrificing as ever, took this order of their master so seriously that they fanned out far and wide around the world and made people become familiar with the Qur’an and its teachings. Not even twenty five years had passed after the departure of the Holy Prophet from this mortal world that the message of the Qur’an started reverberating throughout the East and West.
On the other hand it was a wisdom of Allah’s creation and a wise arrangement of His destination that He inculcated in the entire Ummah of da’wah (i.e. all those addressed by the call of the Holy Prophet including the mushriks and the Jews and the Christians), a special aptitude and zeal towards learning, teaching, writing and publishing books and promoting their respective ideas, a parallel of which is not found in the past history of the world. It was for this reason that the non-Arab nations not only acquired the disciplines of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah with a great enthusiasm, but the advances made by non-Arabs in the acquirement of the Arabic language and its promotion and wider dissemination did not lag behind the Arabs.
It is certainly an astonishing fact that, in our time, the number of books on Arabic language, usage and grammar present in the world happen to have been written by non-Arabs. And their contribution to the services rendered for the collection and documentation of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and in its exegesis and explication, has not been any lesser than Arabs.
So, it was in this manner that the language of the Holy Prophet and the Book he was given, despite being Arabic, overtook the whole world. At least, for all practical purposes of Da’wah (Call) and Tabligh (Spreading of the Message), the difference of Arab and non-Arab was eliminated. In every country and community, and among peoples speaking non-Arab languages, rose such ‘Ulama’ who communicated to their own people the teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah through their indigenous languages, easily and effectively. Thus, the wisdom of sending a messenger speaking the language of the addressed people stood realized and proved.
Toward the end of the verse it was said that it is for the convenience of people that Allah Ta’ala has sent His messengers speaking their language, so that they can explain His injunctions to them clearly and satisfactorily. But, it is still beyond human control to bring someone onto the right path. The truth is that it lies in the power of Allah Ta’ala alone. Whom He wills He lets go astray and whom He wills He would give guidance. He is Mighty, and Wise.