The importance of the Arabic language

This article explains in detail the importance of the Arabic language. It is based on the tafsir of Surah Al-Baqarah ‘tayseer ila usul it-tafsir’ by Shaykh Ata bin Khalil Abu Rishta.

In answering the question of why the Arabic language is important it is necessary to mention two key issues.

Firstly, some people say that there is no need for giving this much importance to the Arabic language to understand the Qur’an, as the Qur’an explains itself, or by the narrations of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم (hadith). In other words, a verse is explained by another verse or hadith. Hence, depending on the Arabic language to this extent is unnecessary.

 

As a consequence of this, there appeared some books like تفسير القرآن بالقرآن ‘Explaining the Qur’an with the Qur’an’, while they thought this was correct.

Secondly, some other people said that there are no metaphors مجاز in the language or in the Qur’an. They also thought this was correct.

As for the first statement, that the Qur’an explains itself, or by the narrations of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم (hadith) the one who contemplates on it will find it is incorrect for the following reasons:

1. Not all verses are explained by another verse or a hadith. Rather very few are explained by other verses or ahadith, such as His سبحانه وتعالى saying:

إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ خُلِقَ هَلُوعًا
إِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ جَزُوعًا
وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الْخَيْرُ مَنُوعًا

“Verily, man was created very impatient; anxious when evil touches him; And stingy when good touches him” [al-Ma’arij, 70:19-21]

Here the verse explained the meaning of His سبحانه وتعالى saying هَلُوعًا that it is the one who is:

إِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ جَزُوعًا
وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الْخَيْرُ مَنُوعًا

“anxious when evil touches him; And stingy when good touches him”

Or His سبحانه وتعالى saying:

وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ

“establish salah” [al-Baqarah, 2:43]

which was explained by RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم in the hadeeth on the meaning of as-Salah (prayer).

2. Those verses that are explained with other verses and hadith are few. The explanation coming in the other verse or hadith cannot be understood except with the Arabic language in which the verse was sent down, or in which the hadith was spoken.

These two matters, that not all verses are explained by other verses and hadith, and that the verse or hadith that is doing the explaining, is itself in need of the Arabic language to realize the correct understanding.

These two matters show incorrectness of the arguments of those who say that the Qur’an is explained by itself or by a hadith, and that there is no need for giving this much importance to the Arabic language to understand the Qur’an correctly.

It is worth mentioning that the one who wants to understand the Qur’an without the language in which it was sent down has suspended understanding the Qur’an and acting upon it. So, with that he has perpetrated a great sin, as the Qur’an was sent down in the Arabic language and without Arabic it is not possible to understanding the Qur’an correctly.

Because of this the jurists (الفقهاء) were very keen for the Arabic language and its knowledge, not to mention the scholars (المجتهدين) who became firmly established in understanding the Qur’an and extracting the shariah rules from it.

Much of the misguidance had its origins in the weakness in Arabic and the lack of restricting the verses of Allah سبحانه وتعالى to their meanings according to the implications of this language that Allah سبحانه وتعالى specifically limited His book to. RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم said when a man erred in his speech: “ارشدوا أخاكم فقد ضل” “guide your brother, for he has been misguided”, so RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم called the linguistic errors misguidance in consideration of what it will lead to. i.e. he صلى الله عليه وسلم mentioned the effect (misguidance) instead of the cause (linguistic errors).

Umar (ra) came across people doing archery poorly, so he rebuked them. They said: إنا قوم متعلمين [when it should be إنا قوم متعلمون] so he turned away from them saying: “By Allah, your tongue’s mistakes are more severe than your mistakes at archery! I heard RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم say:

رحم الله امرأ أصلح من لسانه

“Allah was merciful with a man whom He perfected his tongue”

The Qur’an is in the Arabic language, so cannot be understood except with this language. Whoever wants to straighten their aqeedah and understand the shariah rules with knowledge, should perfect his language and perfect his deen, as RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم taught his companions, and as they (raa) went according to his sunnah. They worshipped Allah with knowledge and were of the successful ones.

Whoever does not have suitable knowledge of the Arabic language should not plunge into the verses of Allah سبحانه وتعالى trying to explain them without the Arabic language that it was sent down in. He must ask those who have knowledge, learning from them the meaning of the verses of Allah. Truly, statements about Allah’s verses without knowledge is a grave matter with Allah, bringing Allah’s anger to the one who does it. We seek refuge in Him the glorified from His anger and from the fire, and we ask Him the glorified for His pleasure and al-Jannah.

As for the second statement that there are no metaphors (مجاز) in the language or in the Qur’an. The ones who say it are fall in to two groups:

1. A group that views that there is real meaning (حقيقة) and metaphor (مجاز) in the language, but there is only real meaning (حقيقة) in the Qur’an

2. A group that views that there is no metaphor (مجاز) in the language or in the Qur’an. Rather all that came was the Arabs usage of terms and meanings, and all of the real meaning (حقيقة) in the language and in the Qur’an are the same.

As for the first group, their statement cannot be used as a proof, because the one who establishes that the metaphorical meaning (المجاز) exists in the language, must also affirm that it is in the Qur’an, due to Allah سبحانه وتعالى saying of the book:

إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا

“We sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an” [Yousuf, 12:2] and

وَهَٰذَا لِسَانٌ عَرَبِيٌّ مُبِينٌ

“This is a clear Arabic tongue” [an-Nahl, 16:103],

Therefore it is Arabic in its language. As long as the Arabic language contains the metaphorical meaning (المجاز) and it is used in the language of the Arabs, in their styles and speech, then the Qur’an which was sent down in the language of the Arabs, must also contain contains the metaphorical meaning (المجاز). This is from one perspective.

From another perspective, the Qur’an actually does contain metaphorical speech, and no one denies this except someone who is arrogant or stubborn.

His سبحانه وتعالى saying:

يَجْعَلُونَ أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ

“They put their fingers in their ears” [al-Baqarah, 2:19]

is using fingers (الأصابع) for other than what it was originally meant for, i.e. a part of the fingers, the tips, as this is what is put into the ears.

And His سبحانه وتعالى saying:

وَاسْأَلِ الْقَرْيَةَ

“and ask the village” [Yousuf, 12:82]

is a metaphor (مجاز), because the walls and buildings of the village are not the one who is asked, rather its people are asked, i.e. “ask the people of the village”.

And His سبحانه وتعالى saying:

فَسَالَتْ أَوْدِيَةٌ بِقَدَرِهَا

“and the valleys flow according to their measure” [ar-Ra’d, 13:17]

is a metaphor (مجاز), because that which flows in reality is not the valleys i.e. not the hollowed out piece of the earth, rather it is the water that is in the valley. i.e. “and the water that flows in the valleys”.

And His سبحانه وتعالى saying:

فَتَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ مُؤْمِنَةٍ

“freeing the believing neck” [an-Nisaa’, 4:92]

is a metaphor (مجاز), because freeing is for the believing slave, not only for his neck, so what is intended is not the neck.

And His سبحانه وتعالى saying:

إِنِّي أَرَانِي أَعْصِرُ خَمْرًا

“I saw myself pressing wine” [Yousuf, 12:36]

is a metaphor (مجاز), because that which is pressed are the grapes. Wine (خمر) was mentioned but grapes were wanted, i.e. what was wanted from the term is not the real meaning (الحقيقة).

And there are many more examples, that the one who has awareness and contemplation does not deny.

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