Islam and Arabic Language

"If you have any doubt regarding what we revealed to our servant, then produce one chapter like these, and call upon your own witnesses against Allah(God), if you are truthful. " (Quran: 2/23)

The revelation of the Qur'an in Arabic set the scene for a unique and lasting relationship between the language and Islam. On the one hand, Arabic provided a very effective medium for communicating the message of the religion.

To understand why Prophet(pbuh)'s strongest argument or miracle was a book, the Holy Qur'an, it is necessary to understand the role language and linguistic composition played in the lives of the pre-Islamic Arabs. It is also important to understand the nature of the Arabic language itself during the pre-Islamic period. This understanding will help to show why the revelation of the Qur'an through Prophet(pbuh) found attentive ears among his contemporaries, who were both articulate users of the language and skilled in the arts of linguistic composition in high esteem.

Pre-Islamic Arabs took great pride in their language and in articulate and accurate speech, the latter being one of the main requisites for social prominence. On this particular point, Professor Hitti writes: "No people in the world manifest such enthusiastic admiration for literary expression and are moved by the word, spoken or written, as the Arabs. Hardly any language seems capable of exercising over the minds of its users such an irresistible influence as Arabic."

The following quotation from Ibn Rashiq further illustrates the importance attached to linguistic skills in pre-Islamic Arabia. He writes: "Whenever a poet emerged in an Arab tribe, other tribes would come to congratulate, feasts would be prepared, the women would join together on lutes as they do at weddings, and old and young men would all rejoice at the good news. The Arabs used to congratulate each other only on the birth of a child and when a poet rose among them."

The significance of poetry in pre-Islamic Arabia was underscored by the annual fairs, the most famous of which was the 'Suq Ukaz', in which poets competed for fame and recognition through recitations of poetry. The recitations constituted the main form of entertainment at the fairs which were cultural as well as trading events.

The Qur'an was revealed in the most eloquent, articulate, and elaborate style the Arabic language has known. The Qur'an has without doubt provided a level of linguistic excellence unparalleled in the history of the Arabic language. Theologians explain this phenomenon as Allah(God)'s wisdom in addressing the articulate Arabs through the medium in which they were most adept and with which they felt most comfortable. The effectiveness of the Qur'an was thus ensured by the fact that it represented a level of eloquence unattainable even by their most eloquent speakers. The Qur'an remains a book of inimitable quality, not only from a linguistic, but also from an intellectual point of view. When Prophet(pbuh) was challenged by his fellow countrymen to present a miracle, in keeping with the tradition of other prophets, he presented the Qur'an to them. The inimitability of the Qur'an is repeatedly emphasized in the Holy Book itself. Thus the Qur'an challenges the disbelievers:

"If you have any doubt regarding what we revealed to our servant, then produce one sura like these, and call upon your own witnesses against Allah(God), if you are truthful. " (Quran: 2/23)

The inimitability of the Qur'an consists in the fact that its language indicates all the requirements of the situation referred to, whether they are stated or understood. This represents the highest degree of speech. In addition, the Qur'an is perfect in the choice of words and excellence of arrangement. AlBaqillam, a prominent scholar said: "The Qur'an is so wonderfully arranged and so marvellously composed, and so exalted is its literary excellence that it is beyond what any mere creature could attain."

The inimitability of the Qur'an is not limited to its content. In fact, the Holy Book of Islam is held by Muslim scholars to be inimitable not only in its content but also in its language. The Qur'an, it has been constantly maintained, embodies linguistic and literary beauty which exceeds anything of human origin. This is borne out by the fact that no-one has ever been able to compose anything remotely resembling it in its linguistic, literary, or conceptual elegance. This point is repeatedly emphasized in the Holy Book itself. Thus the Qur'an says:

" Say, 'If all the humans and all the jinns banded together in order to produce a Quran like this, they could never produce anything like it, no matter how much assistance they lent one another.' " (Quran: 17/88)

( pbuh = peace be upon him )

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