Divine Speech

 

Allah (swt) speaks of the Quran and says that it is a balaagh for people, that which reaches someone else i.e. a message to people. When people communicate there are three components that are required. The first is the speaker himself. Before someone speaks, a judgement is often passed on that person based on his gender, his age or his appearance etc. Conclusions pertaining to what the speaker will talk about and how he will talk will be made. For example, if someone’s six year old daughter gave extremely good tax advice to her father; would he accept it and take it seriously? No. That’s not because what she says is incorrect but because it is coming from a source that you do not expect the information to come from. If that same advice is received from an accountant, it will certainly be taken seriously. It will completely change the way that information is perceived.

Take another example. You attend Juma but you are late and so have to pray outside the main hall where you cannot get a sight of the khatib. The khatib happens to be a young guy wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a baseball hat on backwards with no trace of a beard but he gives the most amazing khutba you have ever heard. The people sitting in the front row are looking at the khatib and wondering whether their prayer will be accepted. Whereas the people listening to the khatib outside are in awe and wondering where the khatib may have studied, where he is from and what his name might be etc. Why is this? Because the one who speaks certainly affects how we receive his message. This is a human flaw but true. This also applies to the Quran.

The Quran generated two kinds of responses. Those that were mesmerised by it and fell in love with it and were willing to change their life for it. And on the other hand you had those that were so annoyed with it and had such a deep-rooted hatred for this book that they would do anything to stop it being spread to other people. There was no apathy, no in-between, no one who shrugged his shoulders and said that that sounds interesting and moved on. In the Quran Allah (swt) says ‘Allah struck an example’. The speaker here is Allah. When you are a believer and you are told that Allah struck an example you pay more attention than if someone else struck an example. This is because you are taking the speaker into consideration. However, when the disbeliever hears this he stops listening as he is not interested and the only reason he stops listening is because of the speaker. The same reason that makes the believer pay extra attention is the same reason that will make the disbeliever extra deterred.

In Surah Hajj which is a Makkan surah where the majority of communication is taking place between the messenger (pbuh) and a vast majority of people who do not believe in what he has to say, Allah (swt) says to them ‘O People, an example has been struck’. Who has been omitted here? The speaker. He (swt) does not say Allah struck an example and takes the speaker out of the equation as when the disbeliever hears that the speaker is Allah the rest of the text would become irrelevant to them, as they would stop listening. So Allah (swt) in this verse emphasises not the speaker but something else – the content which is the second component of a message.

So when Allah (swt) says an example is being struck he is emphasising the content and saying don’t judge the speaker but the speech so there is a difference in the communication. The Quran is very conscious of this problem of communication. Ali (ra) said ‘We judge the speech before we judge the speaker’ because it perhaps from the most unlikely sources you find the truth. One of the reasons for rejecting Muhammad (saw) was because he was an orphan, was not a celebrity in the town, was not one of the great leaders that people already looked up to. This is one of the reasons that the Kuffar gave. They asked who was he (saw) to speak and this was recorded in the Quran. Why would this man be picked to give the message and not one of the great leaders?

The third component is how they say it. If someone gives you advice to study harder but they gave it in a nasty way it renders the message ineffective even though the advice was good. So, the way the content is presented has to be effective as the point of giving communication is to influence the audience. For example, you listen to a khutba which is amazing and profound in content with ahadith and Quran however the delivery is extremely monotone to the extent that you find the audience passed out though there is nothing wrong with the content. The problem here is the mode and style of speech.

We believe the Quran is a miracle and is stunning in a three ways. In that the speaker is incredible, as is the speech as is the style. The speaker is Allah (swt). The disbeliever who hears the Quran recited by Muhammad (pbuh) does not believe it is from Allah (swt) but from Muhammad (pbuh). Whereas the believer understands Muhammad (pbuh) is only the medium by which the words are being delivered and the words belong to Allah (swt). Furthermore, Muhammad’s (pbuh) background gives away that he cannot be the speaker. Today, anyone is able to pick up a Bible and read into it. The ancient Christian was not well read in the Bible. Bible studies were limited to scholars. If you had queries you had to go to priests, it was considered classified information. Muhammad (pbuh) started saying things that existed only in their classified documents and only their high level scholars would know them. So they knew that he was not the speaker. They realised this very quickly. Out of the three components of a message, let’s concentrate on the third – the mode of delivery or the style.

When the Quran is translated you may get the content but you may not get how he (swt) said it. This is because it exists in Arabic. Even if you explain it to someone in your own Arabic it’s still not how he (swt) said it. Thus, the majesty of Allah’s words cannot be translated. Something from the meaning can be but the actual impact that the original words have cannot. To appreciate this gap between the translation and Allah’s (swt) own words it was said that if you can appreciate the distance between Allah (swt) and his creation then you have some idea of the distance between the word of Allah (swt) and the word of creation. Translation can never be a substitute for the word of Allah (swt). This is not about what is lost in content when translated, although there is content lost, but what is lost in the beauty and style. The style of the Quran is something that was held dearly to earlier Muslims but which is almost lost in our time.

The miracle of the Quran is frequently presented through scientific phenomenon, statistics, and predictions. Muslims believe the Quran is a miracle from beginning to end. How many verses in the Quran are predictions? Very few. How many are dedicated to scientific phenomenon? Very few. How many of these scientific revelations were known to the people of that time? Almost nothing. So what was it about the Quran that mesmerised the people, that made the people dumbfounded when they heard the revelation from Muhammad (saw)?

Tufayl ibn Amr Al-Dawsi a leader of a tribe and a poet decided to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Quraysh realised that he was coming and feared he may become enchanted by the Quran and did not want the tribe leader to become Muslim as his tribe will follow. They met him outside Mecca and advised him that there is a problem in the city, a man who with his words separated families and creates disunity. They advised him to go back but he said he will pay his respects and then go back. They gave him some ear plugs and said if you see him put these on and then run. He enters Mecca and pays his respect to the house and then hears the Quran being recited by the messenger so he plugs his ears and then runs. He then stops himself and asks himself how he a leader of his tribe and great poet can be overcome by some words. He goes back, listens to the words and takes his shahada.

Abu Sufyan, Abu Jahl and Akhnas Ibn Shurayt who were the think tank of the Quraysh, the elders who hated the message would sneak at the middle of the night to the messenger’s apartment and listen to the Quran being recited. They would then go back before morning. The first night they ran into each other and swore that they would not come back. The next night they all came back and bumped into each other and again swore they would not come back. The third night they all came again and swear again that they will not come back. However, Akhnas is curious, he goes to Abu Sufyan and asks him ‘We have been listening for 3 days, do you think this is the truth?’ Abu Sufyan said of course this is the truth. So, the two of them go to Abu Jahl and ask him what he thinks. He says of course it’s the truth but explained to them that the messenger is from Banu Hashim and he is from Banu Amir. Therefore, Abu Jahl has taken into consideration the speaker and not the speech. As flawless, as powerful and as mesmerising the speech and it’s style was, they rejected it. When Banu Hashim give charity, fight, show bravery their tribe matched them but now one of them has come up with these words they would never be able to match them. And so they could not let that happen. Thus, even those who hated the Quran were mesmerised by it.

Utbah ibn Rabiah was a skilled debater, very insulting to those who opposed him in debate and a chief negotiator between tribes. The Quraysh decided to hire his services to debate with the Messenger. Debating was a sport with the Quraysh. The Quraysh watch from a distance as Utbah approaches insultingly. Utbah asks the messenger (saw) what his demands are. By saying this he is not judging the messengers (saw) content as he never made any demands of anything. Utbah is judging his intentions and attempting a character assassination and attacking his motives. The messenger (saw) listens patiently and when Utbah finishes he (pbuh) recites from Surah Fusillat. ‘It is a revelation that has been sent down from the exceedingly merciful, the constantly merciful’. Utbah’s attack was on the basis that these were Muhammad’s (saw) words and he was just trying to derive some benefit from them. The first thing the Quran says is that you’re debating with me and not the messenger; you’re fighting Allah’s (swt) words. Allah (swt) says the verses are absolutely clear in it’s demands. Why is the Quran talking about demands? Because Utbah was asking what the demands are and these demands are in Arabic. Then Allah (swt) reveals that the Quran has come with good news and a threat but most people ignore it and do not listen.

As the verses are being revealed the Quraysh cannot hear what is going on but they see Utbah’s face change and then notice that he is crying – their expert negotiator and insulter of the messenger (saw). He cries so much as the verses continue and get stronger in its wording that he tried to stop the mouth of the messenger (saw) but he continues until he reaches the part of the surah where you make sajdah. Utbah walks back from the debate and says whatever this man has to say will become an enormous event; I suggest you take it seriously. The last verse the messenger (saw) recited states that if they continue to ignore then you tell them. By the words Utbah realises that Allah (swt) is not dignifying Utbah by answering him but tells the messenger (saw) to tell Utbah. Allah (swt) could have said I am warning you but instead says you tell them that I am warning them of a powerful explosion just like the explosion that occurred with Aad and Thamud. Utbah realises that he has just been given a direct threat from Allah (swt).

The disbelievers and the believers at the time of the Messenger (saw) shared one thing. They were both overpowered by the Quran, however, the believers today do not appreciate the power of the Quran, are not stunned or mesmerised even to the extent that the disbelievers were back then. This effect has been lost to the extent that Muslims questions things in the Quran. If you were living at the time of Musa (as) and witnessed him splitting the red sea – would you doubt him thereafter? Allah (swt) gave Muhammad (saw) the most powerful miracle yet Muslims today do not appreciate it as a miracle to the extent that we are mesmerised by its words. If we did we would have an entirely different sensation and experience of iman. When the companions heard the Quran they heard two things: advice, reminder and guidance but also they experienced a miracle from Allah (swt). Today we only hear the reminder but not the miracle.

It was harder for the sahaba to take shahada than it is for people today as today Muslims number in there millions. It was hard to convince people when you are in the minority and so Allah gave his messengers miracles in order to convince the people and make their claims more believable. The reason for not believing then would be because they are too arrogant. A miracle is something you can experience and so the miracles the messengers brought for their people were miracles but for people today as we have not witnessed them they have become stories that we accept through faith. The intellectual problem of belief is addressed by giving the people something that can only be from Allah and not the product of the human mind. Allah gave this nation the ultimate miracle, he gave it the Quran. The other miracles were for the eye to see but the Quran was not for the eyes but for the ears.

May Allah (swt) open up our hearts to the Quran. Ameen

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