CHAPTER X / The Wrong Way to Look for Harmony

The Wrong Way to Look for Harmony

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Before we embark on our study of the longest surah of the Qur’an as an example of the perfect unity of each surah, we need to say a word to anyone who wishes to study the construction of the Qur’an.

When one contemplates the harmony between different parts of the surah...

it is vitally important to realise that the relevance of one part to another is not confined to their having some similar or identical aspects, or there being some other physical similarities between them.

Some of those who have based their work on such a premise were forced to make some arbitrary claims to prove such links.

Others went in the opposite direction and, whenever they found no such similarities, claimed an abrupt break in the flow of the text.

Such breaks are not uncommon in old Arabic styles.

Indeed, some of them have claimed that the Qur’an uses the method of abrupt breaks as an essential feature of its style.

This method of limiting the study of relevance to the adjacent parts only, and going further to insist on semantic relevance, puts the whole exercise into a straight jacket.

Hence, it has led either to arbitrary claims that one seeks to impose without justification, or to a denial of relevance.

Hence, it is a highly hazardous method of investigation to apply to the Qur’an.

It betrays a total lack of appreciation of the superior quality of the Qur’anic style and its exceptional merits.

If we were to try to erase the naturally distinctive features of the different meanings and purposes the Qur’an expresses in a single surah, we deprive the Qur’an of one of its most essential qualities.

This is the fact that the Qur’an never labours an issue at such a length as to make it boring. Indeed, the Qur’an is never boring when we give it our full attention.

On the other hand, if, for the sake of preserving the integrity of such meanings and purposes,

we try to put them apart and remove their semantic and structural relevance to each other, we will deprive the Qur’an of another essential quality.

That is, it never changes subject abruptly, without preparing the listener for the forthcoming conclusion of one subject and the beginning of another.

Indeed the Qur’an has a most solid and interlinked structure.

What is important to realise is that when the Qur’an groups together divergent types, it moulds them in such a way that they appear to make a coherent picture.

In fact it makes their apparent difference the basis of their grouping.

This sort of moulding of widely different elements in a single whole is the crux of excellence in every artistic endeavour.

It is the standard which measures degrees of creativity and taste in fine art.

Maintaining harmony and coherence between several divergent elements and unrelated colours is a much harder pursuit than trying to achieve that between various shades or aspects of the same colour or element.

Following this rule, the Qur’an sometimes places opposites next to each other in order to most clearly highlight their contrasting characteristics.

At other times, it groups together matters that are different, though not opposite, so that they give each other mutual emphasis, perhaps through contrast, sub-division, citing examples, deduction, complement or exception, etc.

It may make use of a feature of an event or a place, which is common to two purposes, in order to support grouping them together in the structure of the surah.

A person who is oblivious to these aspects may view the linking of the two purposes to be unnatural.

It, however, is not. It responds to the needs of the listener who feels the link between the two purposes.

If the two meanings or purposes have no natural link between them...

the Qur’an would then move from one to the other very gently, either easing its way through, or using the sort of syntax that allows compatibility between unfamiliar elements.

We may come across some subtle elements that we admire, but we would not be able to describe these if we were to be asked to pinpoint what gives them their excellence.

Indeed, we may find it difficult to determine where exactly the seamless joint occurs.

Should we, however, forget about rules and jargon, allow ourselves a free, unrestrained approach,

and either read or listen to these passages, we will not feel any abrupt move that may not agree with fine taste or sound odd to the listener.

Indeed, we will always feel that there is such beauty of coherence and harmony, even before we are able to determine its cause or how it is achieved.

A discerning reader who is well versed in distinguishing fine style and speech may be able to make such a judgement,

on the basis of personal appeal if not on logical deduction, particularly if he still retains a natural sense for Arabic.

Should any of us fail to appreciate this overall beauty in any part of the Qur’an, we should only blame ourselves for such failure.

We should always remember that the more we appreciate of the excellence of the Qur’an, the better literary sense we have and the more versed we are in language and style.

The reverse is also true. When we fail to appreciate the literary merit of a passage of the Qur’an, then our literary sense is suspect.

It is sufficient to remember here that the best qualified people to recognise the excellence of the Qur’anic style,

Muhammad’s own Arab contemporaries, were the ones who acknowledged its superior nature.

By way of comparison, we may say that biological scientists may find themselves unable to understand the physiological secrets of some parts of the body.

None of them, a believer or a non-believer, could ever say that they serve no beneficial purpose.

Indeed, as they thoroughly admire the fine tuning of the whole body and perfect function of its parts,

they admit that there remain some secrets as yet unknown to man, but which they hope to uncover one day.

The elements the Qur’an uses in joining diverse passages are all fine tools which provide coherence between one meaning or purpose and another.

But the beauty of the Qur’anic structure is not always founded on selecting which particular purpose should follow the preceding one.

It may complete tackling one group of meanings before turning to a contrasting group.

Placing each group in its assigned place may provide an implicit signal to contrast the first or the last elements in both,

or it may be to contrast the first element of one group with the last of the other.

What is most important, then, is to look at the whole structure of the surah, as we have already emphasised.

We will now give an example from one surah which will serve as a model for studying all surahs if one wishes to do so.

Chapter XI

The Semantic Design of the Longest Surah

Very long as Surah 2, al-Baqarah or The Cow, is, it forms a complete whole consisting of an introduction...

GO TO Chapter XI