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

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طالبـــة ابـــن منظـــور
طالبـــة ابـــن منظـــور
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 , 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!


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