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    • By Qa'im in Imamology
      Allah has placed important symbols in our religion that we must seek to understand.
      The word "hijab" appears seven times in the Quran. In 7:46, the hijab is a "barrier" that divides Paradise from the Fire. In 19:16-17, Mary "secludes" herself from her family to devote herself to God in solitude. In 33:53, a "screen" protects the Prophet's wives from onlookers. In 41:5, a "barrier" prevents the disbelievers from heartfelt belief. In 42:51, a "veil" prevents Allah from being seen by those He reveals to. In 17:45, a "partition" prevents the disbelievers from comprehending the Quran. In 38:32, a "curtain" prevents Solomon from seeking his prescribed prayers.
      The Quran never refers to the Muslim headdress as a hijab. In our traditional literature, the garment is instead referred to as a khimar, a jilbab, or a kisa'. So this begs the question: what is a hijab in Islamic terminology? A hijab primarily is a barrier that prevents or protects one thing from another. It can be both physical (like a curtain) or metaphysical. A physical hijab may be a simple covering that prevents unwanted access to an object or a person - much like the curtain that would prevent strange men from seeing the Prophet's wives. A metaphysical hijab could be an attitude that a person has - like Mary's seclusion from her people, or like the "social hijab" that prevents unnecessary mixing between men and women. But a metaphysical hijab can also be a boundary that Allah has set between two things.
      The precious pearl hides inside the oyster's mysterious shell. In all instances, the hijab protects something of value from those who have not demonstrated a sincerity to it. It prevents both intentional and accidental harm from coming to the object of value. Only those who have demonstrated a sincerity to the gem beyond the barrier can access its excellence. For example, faith, which is a precious light of Paradise ( الايمان في الجنة ), can only be attained by those who seek it and are open to its reception. If one is insincere to faith, a barrier will be put up to protect it from him, preventing him from its understanding and its benefits. Furthermore, inner understandings of the Quran cannot be attained by a cursory reading of it - the esoteric can only be gained by deep reflection and devotion. Through this hijab, God protects the most priceless secrets from the misunderstanding and misuse of those who seek to abuse them.
      Likewise, even the hijab (both physical and social) of a woman from a stranger protects her from complete objectification. The only ones that can access her feminine energy, her motherhood, her personality, and her physical beauty are (1) her direct relatives, or (2) a man who has sought her expressed consent, the permission of her guardian, and has devoted himself to her sustenance. Once that sincerity is established, the barriers are gradually removed, one after the other, and the sincere man becomes overwhelmed at her marvel.
      The hijab is a Sunna of Allah. It is something that He Himself has enacted, both upon Himself and upon others. Allah has been inclined to put veils in His creation and His religion (الله ستار يحب الستر). He has also created veils for Himself - He created seven veils of light between Himself and the creation ( إن الله خلق السماوات سبعاً والأرضين سبعاً والحجب سبعاً ). This light is said to inspire the creation with His greatness, His guidance, and His love ( لما اسري بي إلى السماء بلغ بي جبرئيل مكانا لم يطأه قط جبرئيل فكشف له فأراه الله من نور عظمته ما أحب ). The purpose of these veils is twofold: (1) to prevent His recognition and His presence from the insincere disbelievers, and (2) to manifest His signs to those who recognize Him. Allah's veils are the epitome example for veiling in Islam - they both prevent and inspire. All other hijabs are a symbol of His ultimate and primordial hijab - a hijab is to be beautiful, inspiring guidance and awe, but also purposeful in providing the security of an object or an idea.
      Allah's essence is a mystery. It cannot be compared to anything, and it is contrary to all that comes to mind. The divine mystery of God's nature is called "the secret" (al-sir) in our literature. One of the roles of the Guide is to protect this secret from corruption - meaning, to prevent the people from generating a polytheistic understandings of Allah's nature. The Guide goes through extra trouble to make sure that God's mystery is kept with distance to prevent it from being defiled. Pure monotheism is their priority.
      At the same time, Allah has one more very important luminous hijab: the Prophet Muhammad (s). In al-Kafi, the Prophet is called the hijab of Allah ( محمد حجاب الله تبارك وتعالى ), and the same is said in Tafsir al-`Ayashi ( بمحمد صلى الله عليه وآله تطمئن وهو ذكر الله وحجابه ). This is because the Prophet is the ultimate guardian of Allah's essence, protecting monotheistic theology from any and all corruption. Indeed, the Prophet was raised beyond all of Allah's other veils of light during the mi`raj ( فلمّا اُسرى بالنبيّ ( صلّى الله عليه وآله ) فكان من ربّه كقاب قوسين أو أدنى رفع له حجاب من حجبه فكبّر رسول الل ), and was brought closer to Allah than any other creation. The Prophet also fulfills the other function of God's light hijabs, which is to guide and to inspire the creation to God. Everything about his form and his personality has been made for us to approach Allah and understand His attributes better. He is called "the Reminder" (al-Dhikr) because he is the ultimate proof of Allah and His most luminous light. It is not a coincidence that the Ahl al-Kisa' are the "People of the Cloak" - they are a sacred and primordial union that simultaneously protect the hidden and manifest the wisdom of God.
      Likewise, Lady Fatima put extra veils between her and those who had oppressed her - she wrapped her scarf around her head, covered herself in her cloak, surrounded herself with her family, stepped on the ends of her dress, and placed a curtain before her and the Caliphal elites ( لما أجمع أبوبكر وعمر على منع فاطمة عليها السلام فدكا و بلغها ذلك لاثت خمارها على رأسها و اشتملت بجلبابها وأقبلت في لمةٍ من حفدتها ونساء قومها تطأ ذيولها ما تخرم مشيتها مشية رسول الله ( ص ) حتى دخلت على أبي بكر وهو في حشد من المهاجرين والأنصار وغيرهم فنيطت دونها ملاءة فجلست ).
      It is important that we do not just relegate this beautiful concept of hijab to a headdress. A headdress without the intention and practice of hijab is just another piece of cloth. But a modest dress can be a small part of a larger, more meaningful dynamic. We are to carry out the hijab in all of our practices: we cover our good deeds, we protect our family members from insincere people, we protect the secrets of Ahl al-Bayt from their enemies, we recognize that the hidden intentions are more important than the apparent actions, we seek the esoteric understandings of our religion, and we recognize the limits in both theology and in society.
      May Allah plant the needed humility in the garden of our hearts, so that the veil of occultation is lifted between us and our Imam for a nourishing relationship with him.
    • By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim Blogger
      Miraculousness of the Qurān – Doctrine of al-Ṣarfah – A Historical Overview (Part 6)
      Original source: http://www.iqraonline.net/miraculousness-of-the-quran-doctrine-of-al-ṣarfah-a-historical-overview-part-6/
      In our previous post, we went over a brief description of the doctrine of al-Ṣarfah. In this post, we want to see what critiques were established against this doctrine by Muslim scholars. I will summarize some of the major arguments against the doctrine and leave out some of the rebuttals which I felt were repetitive and were essentially saying the same thing as another argument. As you will come to realize, some of these rebuttals are impressive and proponents of al-Ṣarfah would need to respond to them accordingly, but some other rebuttals have blatant flaws in them or are based on presumptions that not all proponents of al-Ṣarfah even accepted. Though, I will not be discussing the strength or weakness of any of these rebuttals and will leave it up to the reader to further investigate and contemplate over this very crucial discussion.
      Scholars have listed out a wide range of critiques on the doctrine, some list up to 12 rebuttals, others 7, and some only 1 or 2. The nature of these rebuttals also depends on who they are being addressed to. As mentioned in the previous post, there are multiple definitions and interpretations of the doctrine itself, so even though some rebuttals may be applicable to all interpretations, many others may only be targetting a specific definition or even a specific proponent of the doctrine. In this post I have sufficed with 8 critiques, combining some of the rebuttals I felt were essentially saying the same thing.
      1. If the miracle of the Qurān was something external to it, rather than internal, then God would not have challenged the Arabs to bring something like it. Instead, God would have informed them that He has forcibly prevented them from bringing anything like it.
      2. al-Khaṭṭābī[1] (d. 388 AH / 998 CE) and some others argue that even though theoretically speaking the view of al-Ṣarfah sounds valid, its greatest problem is that it goes against the apparent meaning of some of the verses of the Qurān. One of the main verses cited is:
      قُل لَّئِنِ اجْتَمَعَتِ الْإِنسُ وَالْجِنُّ عَلَىٰ أَن يَأْتُوا بِمِثْلِ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لَا يَأْتُونَ بِمِثْلِهِ وَلَوْ كَانَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ ظَهِيرًا
      [17:88] Say, “If mankind and the jinn gathered in order to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they were to each other assistants.”
      These scholars argue that this verse cannot be understood correctly if one were to believe in al-Ṣarfah – which is an external barrier. The challenge in this verse is related to an act that has been described as being exhaustive and a task that requires a lot of effort. Such is the extent of this effort that all of mankind and the jinn would need to gather together to even begin fulfilling it. Despite that, they will fail at it. This implies that the miracle of the Qurān is something internal to it because the notion of al-Ṣarfah – at least one understanding of it – implies that humans have been externally prevented from bringing anything like the Qurān and there is no real motivation or effort required to attempt to bring anything like it.
      There are other verses in the Qurān that are also cited by different scholars to argue that the miracle of it is innate to it. For example:
      وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَا تَسْمَعُوا لِهَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ وَالْغَوْا فِيهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَغْلِبُونَ
      [41:26] And those who disbelieve say, “Do not listen to this Qur’an and speak noisily during [the recitation of] it that perhaps you will overcome.”
      This verse implies that the disbelievers knew the words of the Qurān itself had something miraculous about it, or else they would not have asked others to not listen to it or interrupt its recitation. This is as far as its impact on the disbelievers is concerned. However, in another verse we see that the verses of the Qurān also impacted the believers:
      اللَّهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ تَقْشَعِرُّ مِنْهُ جُلُودُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ ثُمَّ تَلِينُ جُلُودُهُمْ وَقُلُوبُهُمْ إِلَىٰ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُدَى اللَّهِ يَهْدِي بِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُضْلِلِ اللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُ مِنْ هَادٍ
      [39:23] Allah has sent down the best statement: a consistent Book wherein is reiteration. The skins shiver therefrom of those who fear their Lord; then their skins and their hearts relax at the remembrance of Allah. That is the guidance of Allah by which He guides whom He wills. And one whom Allah leaves astray – for him there is no guide.
      3. ‘Abdul Qāhir al-Jurjānī[2] (d. 471 AH), Zarkashī (d. 794 AH) in his al-Burhān and Suyūtī[3] (d. 911 AH) all argue that if the doctrine of al-Ṣarfah was true, then as time passes by, people would learn the ability to bring something like the Qurān. As such, it would no longer remain a miracle. This is all the while there is a theological consensus by Muslims that the Qurān is an eternal miracle.
      Note that one of the presumptions of this rebuttal is that the challenge to bring something like the Qurān has been understood to be limited to the time of the Prophet (p) himself.
      4. Those who say that al-Ṣarfah is the notion of God preventing the Arabs from acquiring knowledge required to bring something like the Qurān, then a question remains as to why we do not find any historical reports of Arabs complaining about their lack of knowledge regarding these matters, or why did none of the eloquent ones at the time of the Prophet (p) even attempt to bring anything like it – albeit failed attempts?
      5. ‘Abdul Qāhir al-Jurjānī claims that if the doctrine of al-Ṣarfah was correct, then why do we find the Arabs themselves astonished and confused by the eloquence and clarity of the Qurān.[4] This matter is unanimously agreed upon by the historians and numerous historical reports exist describing the shocking state of some of the disbelievers, such as Walīd b. Mughīrah and ‘Utbah b. Rabī’ah, when they heard some of the verses being recited. If the verses were not miraculous, even if they were highly eloquent, this should not have been a reason for them to be shocked and astonished to such a degree, since the Arabs were already well accustomed to highly eloquent speech before the revelation of the Qurān.
      If the miracle of the Qurān was that their knowledge had been taken away from them, then their astonishment should have been concerning the fact that previously they the ability to produce speech similar to the Qurān, but after its revelation, they were unable to do so.
      6. In the previous post, we mentioned that one of Sayyid al-Murtaḍa’s justification for al-Ṣarfah was that the verses of the Qurān are merely a combination of letters and words, something every human is inherently capable of doing. If someone is not able to bring something like the Qurān, it only means that people do not have enough knowledge do so, not that the order of the words itself is miraculous.
      ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabāī summarizes this argument in his Tafsīr al-Mīzān[5] and then begins a lengthy response to it. I will quote just two excerpts from his response and the readers can refer to the complete rebuttal in the English translation of al-Mīzān available online. He writes:
      It is a fallacious argument that as the language is a product of human ingenuity, it can never reach a level which would be beyond the grasp or ability of human beings; language, being a product, cannot be more powerful than its producer. The fallacy lies in the fact that what has been invented by man is simple words for particular meanings. But this congruity of the words with their meanings does not teach the man how to arrange those words, how to plan, draft and deliver a talk in the best possible way — in a way that the talk reflects the beauty of the meaning as it is in the mind, and the meaning in its turn becomes a mirror of the reality, remains in complete agreement with the fact. It requires a dexterity in the art of eloquence, an adroitness in elocution; also it depends on sharp intelligence and comprehensive knowledge so that the speaker may be fully cognizant of all aspects of the subject matter. It is this skill and knowledge that differs from man to man, and creates difference between talk and talk in their respective perfection and beauty.

      To come back to the main objection: Accepted that language has been made by men. But it does not mean that there cannot be found a piece of literature that is beyond the reach of the very men who made the language. Otherwise, we would have to say that a sword-maker must be the bravest of all the swordsmen, the inventor of chess or lute must be the most accomplished chess-master or lutanist!
      Āyatullah Jawādī Āmulī in volume 1 of his thematical exegesis[6] offers a similar critique to Sayyid al-Murtaḍa. To summarize his argument, he says that eloquence and clarity of speech is based on three pillars, namely, one’s relative knowledge with respect to what exists, the ability to produce words and use them to signify their specific meanings, and thirdly to be able to use those words collectively in an appropriate fashion to convey a meaning to someone. Humans have complete control over the second pillar, but their command over the first and third pillar is limited. This is because the realities are too many to enumerate and most humans possess only some knowledge regarding them, while others – like the infallibles – may possess all knowledge about them. As for what words should be used and how they should be used, then this goes back to human experience and one’s taste of the language. It does not exist for everyone because it is linked to the domain of the practical intellect and humans are highly different from one another in this regard. This is similar to the skill of writing poetry, which some are excellent in, while others have no ability to write anything poetic.
      So even if humans coined words for different meanings, these are to be considered tools by which eloquent speech can be produced. It by no means necessitates that they themselves can also produce the highest level of eloquence or that eloquence cannot reach a level of miraculousness.
      7.  The doctrine of al-Ṣarfah suggests that the Qurān challenged the people to bring something like it, but if they ever intended to do so, an external barrier would prevent them from it. However, this implies that if a person does not intend to go head-to-head with the Qurān and is not intending on taking on the Qurānic challenge, then there is nothing stopping them from bringing something like the Qurān. This is because the external barrier is for those who intend on challenging the Qurānic miracle.
      Of course, this rebuttal will only work for those proponents of al-Ṣarfah who believe that the external barrier is limited to those who consciously intend on taking on the Qurānic challenge.
      8. From a Shī’ī perspective, one argument against al-Ṣarfah is seeing what the infallible Imāms (a) after the Prophet (p) have said about the Qurān. Some traditions very clearly signify that the miracle of the Qurān was internal to it and not an external barrier. The Imāms never seem to have alluded to the book’s miraculous aspect being that which the proponents of al-Ṣarfah claim. Rather if there is any mention of the Qurānic miracle and its accompanying challenge, their words always seem to imply that it was something innate to it. One such tradition is in volume 1 of Uṣūl al-Kāfī, ḥadīth #20:
      Al-Ḥusayn b. Muḥammad narrated from Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Sayyārī from Abū Ya’qūb al-Baghdādī who said:
      Ibn Sikkīt asked Abū al-Ḥasan (al-Kāẓim), ‘Why did Allah send Mūsa b. ‘Imrān (a) with a miracle that appeared through his staff, his hand and through tools of magic, and He sent ‘Īsa with the miracle that appeared through tools of medicine, and He sent Muḥammad (p) with means of speech and sermons?’
      Abū al-Ḥasan (a) replied: ‘When Allah sent forth Mūsa (a), magic was popular amongst the people. So he brought something against them from Allah which they did not have the capacity to counter. He was given that by which he invalidated their magic and established the truth against them.
      Allah sent ‘Īsa (a) at a time when serious illnesses existed amongst the people and they needed medical treatment. So he brought something for them from Allah which the people did not have. He was given the ability to bring the dead back to life, cure the sick and the lepers by the permission of Allah and thus, establish the truth against them.
      Allah sent Muḥammad (p) at a time when oratory and speech were popular amongst the people – and I think he said poetry as well.[7] From the good advice and wisdom that he brought to them from Allah, he invalidated their words and established the truth against them.’
      Ibn al-Sikkīt said, ‘I swear by Allah I have never seen anyone like you. What is the proof amongst people today to establish the truth?’ The Imam replied, ‘It is the intellect. Through it, one recognizes those who speak the truth regarding Allah, and thus affirms them, and through it, one recognizes those who lie regarding Allah, and thus negates them.” Ibn al-Sikkīt then said, “This by Allah is the answer.”
      This tradition implies that the Qurānic miracle was similar to the miracles brought by the previous Prophets (p) as far as it was related to what was popular at the time. Given that eloquent oratory and poetry was a praised skill during the time of the Prophet (p), the Qurān – being the Prophet’s (p) miracle – was related to that and demonstrated its miracle through the very language the Arabs would pride themselves in.
      From next post onwards, we will start going through significant and influential scholarly figures and expound on their views regarding the miraculousness of the Qurān. We will begin from 4th-century hijrī and proceed from there.
      [1] Bayān I’jāz al-Qurān, published under the work Thalāth Rasāil fī I’jāz al-Qurān
      [2] Dalāil al-I’jāz, pg. 156
      [3] Al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qurān, vol. 4, pg. 8
      [4] Dalāil al-I’jāz, pg. 390-391
      [5] For the English translation, see vol. 1, pgs. 127-133
      [6] Tafsīr Mawḍū’ī, vol. 1, pg. 165 – available online here: http://www.portal.esra.ir
      [7] The narrator adds this phrase
    • By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim Blogger
      Miraculousness of the Qurān – Doctrine of al-Ṣarfah – A Historical Overview (Part 5)
      Original source: http://www.iqraonline.net/miraculousness-of-the-quran-doctrine-of-al-ṣarfah-a-historical-overview-part-5/
      From the beginning of revelation up until the end of the 2nd century, the issue of i’jāz (miraculousness) of the Qurān was not a widely discussed topic amongst Muslim scholars. The Muslims before that were in general amazed by the Qurān and the concepts it discussed and expounded on, to such an extent that there never seemed to be a need to get into formal discussions regarding what made it a miracle. Two possible reasons exist for this lack of attention towards this aspect of the Qurān:
      1) The Muslims had known that the Qurān is from God without a doubt, thus they did not develop the need to get into questions regarding the precise nature of its text, its sentence structure, its prose and so on.
      2) The Muslims considered the Qurān a sacred book, and so they did not put forth any personal opinions regarding it. This is similar to why companions and the tābi’ūn (the followers and contemporaries of the companions) did not engage in extensive exegesis of the Qurān.
      Formal discussions on the miraculousness of the Qurān began between the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century hijrī. The earliest group engaging in discussions of i’jāz were the Mu’tazalīs, and thus the earliest formal opinion regarding its miracle also happened to be the doctrine of al-Ṣarfah – proposed by Abū Isḥāq Ibrahīm al-Naẓẓām (d. 231 AH / 845 CE). This was around the same time when dispute over the created nature of Qurān was also taking place between different scholars. Three groups sprung into existence during this period:
      1) Those who believed that the Qurān was not miraculous at all. Some proponents of this view were Ibn Rāwandī the philosopher and the Mu’tazalī scholar ‘Īsa b. Ṣabīḥ al-Muzdār
      2) Most Mu’tazalīs became proponents of the doctrine of al-Ṣarfah
      3) Theologians who believed the miracle to be in the text and very nature of the Qurān – not outside of it
      In this post, we will go over the second opinion, although due to the extensive nature of the discussion, we can only explain it briefly.
      Al-Ṣarfah linguistically means to prevent, discourage, or divert. It has been used in Sūrah al-A’rāf as follows:
      سَأَصْرِفُ عَنْ آيَاتِيَ الَّذِينَ يَتَكَبَّرُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ
      [7:146] I will turn away from My signs those who are arrogant upon the earth
      However, in our technical discussion in the context of the miraculousness of the Qurān, it refers to the concept of God diverting the Arabs away from being able to produce anything like the Qurān. In other words, the Arabs could have brought something like the Qurān, but an external barrier prevented them from doing so.[1] Arabic was the language of the people of the time, they were well familiar with the way it was used and employed. The Qurān was revealed in Arabic making use of the same grammatical foundations popular amongst the Arabs, so then what was it that prevented them from bringing something like it? The doctrine formulated to respond to this question was al-Ṣarfah, but how exactly it worked had remained a matter of dispute.
      Al-Amīr Yaḥya b. Ḥamzah al-‘Alawī al-Zaydī (d. 749 AH) in his work al-Ṭarāz says there are three possibilities[2] regarding what the proponents of al-Ṣarfah believed in:
      1) God had removed all motivation from them to bring anything similar to the Qurān and to challenge it, despite the fact that reasons for why they should have been motivated to do so were present. These reasons range from the Qurān essentially making a mockery of them, exposing their inability to bring something like it, or even discussing their defeat and downfall in the face of Islam. They had every reason to feel motivated to bring something like the Qurān to combat it, but they did not seem to be interested in doing so.
      2) They were motivated to bring something like the Qurān, but God had diverted their attention away from the knowledge by which they could have produced something like it. There are two further explanations al-Amīr Yaḥya expounds on as far as this opinion is concerned, but we will suffice with what we have summarized here.
      3) They had the motivation and as well as the necessary knowledge to bring something like the Qurān, but God forcefully prevented them from being able to do so.
      Āyatullah Hādī Ma’rifat says that it seems it was the second opinion many proponents of al-Ṣarfah believed in and that this is particularly true for the Shī’ī scholar Sayyid al-Murtaḍa – who was a staunch proponent of this doctrine.[3] Āyatullah Hādī Ma’rifat backs this up by citing a number of scholars, including Ibn Maytham al-Baḥrānī[4] (d. 679 AH) and Sa’d al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī[5] (d. 793 AH).
      A number of heavy-weights held the opinion of al-Ṣarfah, such as al-Naẓẓām, Abū Isḥāq al-Nuṣaybī, ‘Abbād b. Sulaymān, Hisham al-Qurṭūbī, Ibn Ḥazm al-Andalusī (d. 456 AH) – a Ẓāhirī scholar, Abū ‘Uthmān al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 255 AH) and others. However, for sake of conciseness, we will go over just three scholars.
      As mentioned earlier, al-Naẓẓām appears to be the earliest proponent of the view of al-Ṣarfah, though some have also made the claim that it was Wāṣil b. ‘Āṭā (d. 131 AH / 748 CE). In any case, as far as what al-Naẓẓam’s view regarding al-Ṣarfah was, we are not too sure because none of his works are extant today by which we can judge for ourselves, and so all we are left with are quotations from him or what later scholars understood from his words. Due to this, we find that some scholars have said he took on the first opinion regarding al-Ṣarfah, meaning God had simply removed any motivation from them to bring something similar to the Qurān[6], while others such as Ibn al-Zamlakānī (d. 651 AH) suggest[7] it was the second opinion, where God had removed their access to the knowledge by which they could have brought something similar to the Qurān. Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ash’arī (d. 320 AH) in his Maqālāt al-Islāmiyīn[8] explicitly states that it was, in fact, the third opinion al-Naẓẓām was a proponent of.
      In other words, all three opinions have been attributed to him. Some later scholars argue it was, in fact, the first opinion al-Naẓẓām ascribed to, especially when we see his student al-Jāḥiẓ alluding to it as well. Furthermore, some scholars have explained the difference between al-Naẓẓām’s version of al-Ṣarfah with that of Sayyid al-Murtaḍa’s, which once again leads us to believe that al-Naẓẓām ascribed to the first opinion, because it is widely accepted that al-Murtaḍa ascribed to the second view.
      Ibn Sinān al-Khafājī
      Amīr Abū Muḥammad ‘Abdullah b. Muḥammad b. Sinān al-Khafājī (d. 466 AH / 1074 CE) was an Imām Shī’ī scholar of the 5th century hijrī, who was eventually poisoned on the orders of the Amīr Maḥmūd b. Naṣr. In his Sirr al-Fiṣāḥa[9] he comes out as a strong proponent of al-Ṣarfah and even attempts to refute Abū al-Ḥasan al-Rummānī (d. 384 AH / 994 CE) who believed the miracle of the Qurān to be in its assonance and eloquence.
      In his attack on al-Rummānī, Ibn Sinān says that if one contemplates even a little over the Qurān and the eloquent speech of the Arabs, they will realize that there is not much difference between the two. In fact, someone who is familiar with the grammatical and literary foundations by which it could be claimed that a certain speech was eloquent, they will find phrases and speech amongst the Arabs that highly resembled the Qurānic verses. He says that the miraculous aspect of the Qurān is in the fact that God prevented the Arabs from being able to bring something like it simply by restricting their access to the specific knowledge that would be required to do so.
      Sayyid al-Murtaḍa
      Given that Sayyid al-Murtaḍa (d. 436 AH) is one of the greatest Shī’ī Imāmi scholars to ever live, and due to his vast expertise in the various Islamic sciences as well as his unique views in matters of theology, jurisprudence, Qurānic exegesis, grammar and so on, it only makes sense to understand his view on this doctrine.
      There is no dispute that Sayyid al-Murtaḍa was a proponent of al-Ṣarfah. From amongst al-Murtaḍa’s students, it appears Shaykh al-Ṭūṣi was a proponent of al-Ṣarfah initially, as it is apparent from his commentary on Sayyid al-Murtaḍa’s work Jumal al-‘Ilm wa al-‘Amal, but later retracts his view in his work al-Iqtiṣād bi-Taḥqīq Mabānī al-I’tiqād. His other student Abū al-Ṣalāḥ al-Ḥalabī (d. 447 AH) though, remained on the view of al-Ṣarfah and considered it one of the best explanations for what makes the Qurān miraculous.[10]
      Most scholars believe Sayyid al-Murtaḍa was a proponent of the second version of al-Ṣarfah – meaning God had divinely prevented access to the knowledge required to bring something like the Qurān. Al-Qutub al-Rāwandī[11] – who was also a proponent of al-Ṣarfah – explains that Sayyid al-Murtaḍa believed that the miraculousness of the Qurān is in the fact that God has prohibited the Arabs from producing anything like it, by preventing them from acquiring the required knowledge to produce something like it. One of the main arguments put forth by him and as well as some other proponents for al-Ṣarfah is as follows:
      If the eloquence of the Qurān was miraculous, then it would be necessary for it to have a significant difference from what was considered to be the most eloquent speech by an Arab – to such an extent that if these statements were to be placed together, one would not be confused as to which one is the Qurān and which one is the speech of an Arab. This is all the while we find numerous places where the speech of the Arabs resembles the Qurān very much. In fact, we find that there is hardly any difference between some of the shorter chapters of the Qurān and that which is considered the best of Arab poetry and speech. If this was not the case, there would be no need for us to refer to the strong Arab poets and eloquent speakers in order to understand the usage of some of the literary and grammatical devices employed in the Qurān itself.
      If someone were to respond and say that the view of al-Ṣarfah is against the consensus of the Muslims, and in fact accepting this view leads us to say that the Qurān is not the miracle, rather the act of prevention is the miracle, then it should be known – the proponents will say – that this is not a topic in which you can cite consensus as evidence. Furthermore, the claim that there is a consensus on this matter is itself invalid, because the matter is a disputed one.
      Secondly, the word miracle has a linguistic meaning and a colloquial meaning. Colloquially – which is what is relevant here and what people use to describe the Qurān – a miracle is something which implies that the person who has come forth with it is truthful in their claim, and the Qurān is a miracle in this sense even if we accept the view of al-Ṣarfah. If someone says the Qurān is not a miracle, what the laymen understand from that is that it is not evidence for the Prophethood of Muḥammad (p) and that people are able to produce something similar to it and then make the claim of Prophethood for themselves. No proponent of al-Ṣarfah says or implies such a thing through their doctrine.
      Shaykh al-Ṭūṣi summarizes the refutations of Sayyid al-Murtaḍa and the proponents of al-Ṣarfah to some of the explanations given for what makes the Qurān a miracle. For example, those who believe the miracle of the Qurān is in its order and prose and that it is impossible for one to reproduce such order, prose and eloquence in their speech, then al-Murtaḍa’s rebuttal to them would be that the verses of the Qurān are merely a combination of letters and words, which every human is inherently capable of doing. If someone hasn’t been able to bring something like it so far, does not necessarily mean that the order itself is miraculous, but rather it implies that people do not have enough knowledge to do so. This is similar to a person listening to a poet, yet they are not able to produce what a poet produces, not because the poetry in it and of itself is impossible to produce, but because the listener has not acquired the preliminaries required to produce poetry like it.
      For those who say that the miracle of the Qurān is in its reports regarding the unseen, then even though that is a miracle, but that is not what the Arabs were being challenged on. In fact, much of the Qurān is empty of any reports about the unseen.
      As for those who say that the miracle of the Qurān is in the absence of any contradictions in it, then once again this is not inherently miraculous, but rather one of the merits of the Qurān. This is because many humans, especially those who have strong memories and are attentive, can produce speech that is not contradictory – and no one says such a case is a miracle.
      While these are the arguments put forth by the proponents of this doctrine, it should be reiterated that none of them were suggesting that the Qurān is not highly eloquent and literary profound. Rather, their simple point was that it isn’t this aspect of the Qurān which makes it a miracle – it was something external to it.
      One Additional Argument
      One additional argument that proponents of al-Ṣarfah will bring are the Qurānic codices of Ibn Mas’ūd and Ubay b. Ka’b.  What is famously agreed upon by the majority of Muslim scholars is that ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ūd did not have Sūrah al-Falaq and al-Nās in his Qurānic codex and in fact, he did not consider them part of the Qurān at all. On the contrary, it is also accepted that Ubay b. Ka’b had two extra chapters in his codex, namely Sūrah al-Ḥafd and al-Khala’. We will not be expanding on the historical discussion concerning these two codices of two of the most prominent companions of the Prophet (p) and scholars of the Qurān – those interested can look into it further, as much discussion exists regarding them. However, we can briefly explain how the proponents of al-Ṣarfah cited these two codices to defend their claim.
      If the miracle of the Qurān was in its very nature, in its text, in the way its verses are organized and in its eloquence, then how was it possible for someone like ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ūd to not be able to acknowledge this for Sūrah al-Falaq and al-Nās, to the extent that he did not even consider them to be part of the Qurān. If the eloquence and prose of the Qurān were enough to establish its miraculous nature then we would not have seen Ibn Mas’ūd omit these chapters from his codex. On the contrary, if the eloquence and prose of the Qurān was enough to establish its miraculous nature, then Ubay b. Ka’b should have been able to ascertain that regarding al-Ḥafd and al-Khala’ and should have known that these two are not chapters of the Qurān.
      If anyone is interested in reading a little more on the discussion concerning the codex of ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud, please refer to the transcripts from lesson two and three of Shaykh Ḥaider Ḥobollah’s classes on Sūrah al-Falaq.
      God willing, in the next post, we will summarize some of the critiques presented by scholars on the doctrine of al-Ṣarfah and why it has not remained a popular position.
      [1] Al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qurān, by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Ṣuyūṭī, vol. 4, pg. 7
      [2] Al-Ṭarāz, by Al-Amīr Yaḥya b. Ḥamzah al-‘Alawī, vol. 3, pg. 391-392
      [3] Al-Tamhīd, by Āyatullah Hādī Ma’rifat, vol. 4, pg. 140
      [4] Qawā’id al-Marām, pg. 132
      [5] Sharḥ al-Maqāṣid, vol. 2, pg. 184
      [6] This is what Sayyid Shari al-Jurjāni (d. 816 AH) says in his Sharh al-Mawāqif, vol. 3, pg. 112
      [7] Al-Burhān al-Kāshif ‘an I’jāz al-Qurān, pg. 53
      [8] Maqālāt al-Islāmiyīn, vol. 1, pg. 296
      [9] Sirr al-Fiṣāḥah, pg. 89-90
      [10] In his work Taqrīb al-Ma’ārif, pg. 105-108
      [11] In his al-Kharāij wa al-Jarā’ih, vol. 3, pg. 981-984
    • By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim Blogger
      Miraculousness of the Qurān – A Historical Overview (Part 4)
      Original source: http://www.iqraonline.net/miraculousness-of-the-quran-a-historical-overview-part-4/
      In this approach, the criterion used to establish the miraculousness of the Qurān is intellectualization and reason. One of the things that pushed scholars to take this approach was the significant amount of differences of opinions in the earlier approaches, such as the taste and feel approach, or even the semantic approach, where the standard at times comes across as very subjective. This pushed some scholars to argue for something more general, something that was accessible by a much larger range of people and they found that to be the intellect.
      Some of the scholars take issue with limiting the miracle of the Qurān in grammar and semantics and say that which is miraculous is that the Qurān contains material that can satisfy one’s intellect whether they are equipped with the grammatical background or not. In fact, this approach argues that the continuity of the Qurān’s miracle can only be explained by it being intellectually approachable and satisfactory. This also resolves the issue of not having to blindly imitate (taqlīd) someone else’s claim to the Qurān’s miraculous nature as one can readily contemplate over the verses themselves and reach this conclusion.
      These verses include those that take about the realities of this world and one’s life, information about things that the intellect could not have perceived on its own, such as information about past or future events, and more importantly, arguments made for certain theological beliefs, such as God’s Oneness.[1]
      Elucidation-Presentational (Bayān)
      The most famous opinion on what constitutes the miraculousness of the Qurān is the approach of elucidation and presentation (al-bayān). The proponents of this view maintain the challenge the Qurān puts forth is wholly related to the way it elucidates different meanings through its verses.
      Before explaining this approach any further, it is important to know about a division that has existed within the study of Arabic grammar for centuries. The science of ma’ānī, bayān and badī’ are three distinct subjects studied under the overarching science of balāgha. The science of ma’ānī discusses the rules of what makes an expression clear and unambiguous, the science of bayān deals with how any given meaning can be expressed in different ways and as such deals with the use of metaphors and figures of speech, while the science of badī’ deals with the rules of beautifying any given expression.
      A very simple definition for an expression that can be considered eloquent (balīgh) is one that follows both the rules studied in the science of ma’ānī and bayān, while the rules of badī’ are not a necessary condition. With this brief explanation, what we mean by a presentational approach is that the proponents believed the miracle of the Qurān is rooted in what is studied in the science of bayān.
      Before the revelation of the Qurān, poetry played an important role in conveying messages. It was during this period that the seven famous Hanged Poems were composed and rhymed prose (saj’) by the Arab fortunetellers (kāhin) were powerful examples of literary expertise. It was then that the Arabs were bewildered when they began hearing the verses of the Qurān, verses that were both meaningful and their presentation beyond what they had ever produced themselves. This was one of the reasons that led the polytheists to accuse the Prophet (p) of being a magician.
      These attacks were not limited to the Prophet (p) himself, but rather they also attacked the Qurān directly:
      [25:4] Those who disbelieve say: “This (the Quran) is nothing but a lie that he (Muhammad SAW) has invented, and others have helped him at it, so that they have produced an unjust wrong (thing) and a lie.”
      [16:103] And We certainly know that they say, “It is only a human being who teaches the Prophet.” The tongue of the one they refer to is foreign, and this Qur’an is [in] a clear Arabic language.
      As mentioned earlier, scholars formally began looking at the Qurān as a literary masterpiece from 2nd-century Hijri onwards, and from the very beginning, the approach focusing on elucidation was prevalent. Interestingly, a lot of early works found expounding on this view happened to be works written by Mu’tazalī scholars. Abū ‘Abdillah Muḥammad b. Zayd al-Wāsiṭī (d. 309 AH / 919 CE), Abū ‘Ali Muḥammad al-Jubbā’ī (d. 303 AH / 915 CE) and his son Abū Hāshim al-Jubbāyī (d. 321 AH / 933 CE) were from among those who focused on establishing the miracle of the Qurān through its bayān.
      Abū Muslim al-Isfahānī (d. 322 AH / 934 CE) was one of the earliest scholars – a Mu’tazalī as well – who tried to reconcile the views of al-sarfah and the miracle rooted in the Qurān’s presentation. One of the most popular exegetical works, Tafsīr al-Kashshāf of al-Zamakhsarī (d. 538 AH / 1143 CE), is based on this approach as the author accepted the notion of an ordered-system in the Qurān which was evident through its presentation.
      Literary Criticism
      This is not really a separate approach to establishing the miracle of the Qurān but serves as an annex to the method discussed above. The intent here is to explain the historical context in which the Qurān was revealed in to be able to better understand how it has remained a miracle. Many of the Arabs were known to be strong poets and would engage in competing with one another through poetry. Naturally, this also meant that they were critics of one another and would try to expose the weaknesses of their opponents’ poetry whenever possible.
      It was in this setting the Qurān comes and challenges them to produce something similar – as duels and challenges were a norm amongst the Arab poets – yet they were unable to match the style of the Qurān in this specific challenge.
      Over the next few centuries, the Qurān essentially became the main criterion by which the sciences of literary criticism were developed, and the quality of expressions and poetry were judged. Scholars would be forced to investigate poetry from the era of ignorance to show the validity of some of the grammatical principles employed in the Qurān, that while were valid, were not commonly used. The Qurānic text also pushed scholars to venture into discussions they had never had before, such as the nature of the Qurān itself, whether its meanings and words were created or pre-eternal, the notion of metaphors, ordered-system, philology and so on.
      After the revelation of the Qurān, the standards of literary criticism, tropes, phenomenology etc. that were somewhat common amongst the Arab elites, all went through a significant change and their standards were raised. Despite centuries of effort put in to extract grammatical rules and principles of eloquence, it is the fact that no one has been able to produce anything like the Qurān which attests to its miraculous nature.
      God willing, from the next post onwards, we will begin looking at the view of al-sarfah in more detail and the critiques that have been laid against it.
      [1] Al-Tamhīd fī ‘Ulūm al-Qurān, by Āyatullah Hādī Ma’rifat, vol. 4, pg. 91
    • By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim Blogger
      Miraculousness of the Qurān – A Historical Overview (Part 3)
      Original source: http://www.iqraonline.net/miraculousness-of-the-quran-a-historical-overview-part-3/
      Semantic – Philological
      Most Muslim scholars agree that the Qurān was not revealed in the Arabic language without any wisdom.[1]
      [26:193-195] This is indeed [a Book] sent down by the Lord of all the worlds, brought down by the Trustworthy Spirit upon your heart (so that you may be one of the warners), in a clear Arabic language.
      [16:103] We certainly know that they say, ‘It is only a human that instructs him.’ The language of him to whom they refer is non-Arabic, while this is a clear Arabic language.
      These verses seem to show that the Qurān was revealed in Arabic for the mere fact that it is a clear language whose vocabulary is able to convey very precise meanings. From 2nd century hijrī Muslim scholars began exerting all their efforts in trying to understand the language of the Qurān, the words employed in it, the grammatical principles and foundations upon which the chapters were formed and so on. A semantic and philological approach to the Qurān thus looks at the style of the Qurān from the perspective of its vocabulary and the way these words are organized and used in their compound form, in order to attest to its miraculous nature.
      An exhaustive list of scholars who took on this approach would be too long for this post, but we will go through the opinions of a few proponents anyways. One of the earliest works written expounding on this approach is Majāz al-Qurān by Abū ‘Ubaydah Ma’mar b. al-Muthanna (d. 210 AH / 825 CE). One of his motives for writing the book was because someone questioned him regarding the verse:
      [37:65] Its spathes are as if they were devils’ heads
      The questioner insisted that the figurative use in this verse was not something the Arabs were familiar with. In response, Abū ‘Ubaydah cites a line of poetry from Imru’ al-Qays to show that the Qurānic style was in fact in line with what was considered correct and known in the Arabic language. In his work he cites numerous examples of metaphors used in the Qurān and in the general Arabic language – poetry or otherwise – to show that there is little difference between their usage. The book served almost like a textbook for both Arabs and non-Arabs to facilitate their understanding of the Qurān.[2]
      Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276 AH / 889 CE) was a 3rd century hijrī scholar who in his work Tawīl Mushkil al-Qurān goes on to explain the usage of various words and metaphors in the Qurān. As a philologist, what made the Qurān stand out for him was its composition. In his work, he dedicates a decent portion to discussing the difficult verses of the Qurān, something Abū ‘Ubaydah often referred to as metaphors. Ibn Qutaybah defines these metaphors and figurative verses to be the ways and methods of speech and the modes of handling it. He compares the language of the Qurān with a speech given by an Arab preacher, who delivers a talk in a variety of ways, depending on the place, occasion and audience. The metaphors in the Qurān, however, are superior to those of any human speaker, since the Quran not only has more methods of speech, but it also often uses them all simultaneously.[3]These methods range from metaphors, inversions, ellipsis, abbreviations, repetitions, pleonasms, metonyms, allusions, idioms and so on.[4] This would essentially render the Quranic text untranslatable according to Ibn Qutaybah, because the non-Arabs lack the variety of methods that the Arabic language has at its disposal.
      He doesn’t just stop there, but even discusses cases where the Qurān addresses a single person with a plural pronoun, or multiple people with singular pronouns, uses a constrained and restricted word to mean something general or uses a general word to mean something constrained and restricted. He argues all of these usages exist in the Arabic language and the Arabs were known to speak in this manner.[5]
      Abū Sulaymān Ḥamd b. Ibrahīm al-Khaṭṭābī al-Bustī[6] (d. 388 AH / 998 CE) in his Bayān I’jāz al-Qurān is another scholar who was of the view that the key to understanding the miracle of the Qurān was to recognize its coherence, as well as its linguistic & phonetic order system.[7] He argues that the Qurān is a miracle because it uses clear words in the most beautiful of manners, in order to convey the most precise meanings. If a word in a verse were to be replaced with another word that would generally be considered a synonym by laymen, the coherence of the whole verse would be ruined or at the very least its eloquence will be diminished.
      Artistic Imagery
      The root cause of this approach can be found in criticism against taking a strictly philological approach to explaining what the Qurānic miracle is. Furthermore, relatively recent discussions in literary criticism raised in the West also pushed some Muslim scholars to look at the Qurān through perspectives that were often not considered in the past. As discussions in linguistics and the general arts developed, a lot of the explanations given by those who were proponents of the philological approach were not convincing enough for all linguists. One of the criticisms laid against the previous approach was its high dependency on the apparent form of the Qurān, while not addressing its immense use of artistic imagery and its psychological effects on the listener.
      Amongst classical scholars, very few scholars approached the Qurān through this perspective, and even those who did allude to it in some parts of their works were not necessarily trying to establish the miraculous nature of the Qurān to it. For example al-Rummānī (d. 384 AH / 994 CE) in his al-Nukat fi I’jāz al-Qurān, Abū Hilāl al-‘Askarī (d. 395 AH / 1005 CE) in his al-Ṣanā’atayn, and Ibn Abī al-Aṣba’ (d. 654 AH / 1256 CE) in his Badī’ al-Qurān and Taḥrīr al-Taḥbīr were some scholars who alluded to this aspect of the Qurān in certain areas of their works.
      One of the prominent scholars who brought this approach to light was Sayyid Quṭb al-Dīn (d. 1966 CE), in two of his works, namely al-Taṣwīr al-Fann fi al-Qurān and Mashāhid al-Qiyāmah fi al-Qurān. In these works, Quṭb tried to bring out the aesthetics, imagination, and as well as the elegance of the Qurān’s storytelling, with its deep psychological dimensions.[8] Dr. Ṣubḥi al-Ṣāliḥ (d. 1986 CE) in his Mabāḥith fī ‘Ulūm al-Qurān also expounds on this dimension and considers it an independent factor in determining the miraculousness of the book.
      The famous professor ‘Āisha ‘Abd al-Raḥmān (d. 1998) – who wrote under the pen name Bint al-Shāṭi – in her al-I’jāz al-Bayānī lil-Qurān, Bakrī Shaykh Amīn in his al-Ta’bīr al-Fannī fi al-Qurān, Ḥanafī Muḥammad Sharaf in his I’jāz al-Qurān al-Bayānī bayn al-Naẓariyyah wa al-Taṭbīq, ‘Umar al-Salāmī in his al-I’jāz al-Fannī, Muḥammad ‘Abdullah Darrāz in his al-Naba al-‘Aẓīm and Fāḍil al-Sāmarāī in his al-Ta’bīr al-Qurānī all write regarding this dimension of the Qurān that expand on its imagery and symbolism.
      All aforementioned proponents of this approach believe that the miracle of the Qurān is in its artistic imagery and that is what astonished the Arabs of the time and left them speechless. Some of these individuals and their works will be dealt with in more detail in future posts. In the next post, we will look into the rational-intellectual approach and an approach that considers the miracle of the Qurān to be in its elucidation.
      [1] A small number of contemporary Muslim scholars, who also often happen to be reformists, will argue that the Qurān is in Arabic simply because it was revealed in Arabia. Otherwise, there is nothing special about the language itself – they claim – and as a matter of fact if the verses were to be revealed in, let’s say Greece in the Greek language, it may even have been more precise.
      [2] Abu Ubaidah’s “Majaz Al-Qur’an” as the Beginning of a New Trend in the Practice of Tafsir, by Mamedova K.
      [3] Literary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qu’ran, by Issa J Boullata, pg. 278
      [4] Ibid
      [5] Tawīl Mushkil al-Qurān, by Ibn Qutaybah, pg. 20-21
      [6] The present-day name for al-Bust is Lashkargah – a city in Southern Afghanistan
      [7] This is a reference to a principle known as al-naẓm – it will be explained further in future posts
      [8] Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual, by James Toth, pg. 45
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