CHAPTER vi /Aspirations Shattered

Aspirations Shattered

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It may be such a person’s doubts arise from the fact that he has tried his hand at poetry or literary writing, and has found that he has good ability in both. Perhaps his conceit as also his ignorance of the true literary value of the Qur’an has deluded him into thinking that he can produce something of similar excellence.

If so, we have a surprise for him. Such thoughts are never entertained by anyone of accomplished and proven literary talent. It occurs only to young upstarts who are yet to prove their merit. We have one piece of advice to give to such a person. Make a formal study, in depth, of all Arabic literary styles. In this way, he will equip himself with sound critical ability, and realise what is needed to judge literary works, and their excellence or otherwise.

When he has done this, let him take a fresh look at the Qur’an. We assure him that every step he takes in this pursuit will increase his appreciation of his own ability and remove more of his doubts about the Qur’an.

What he will realise is that the more he knows of literary refinements, and the more adept he is at producing fine speech and excellent style, the readier he is to admit his own weakness and to submit to the superb excellence of the Qur’an. This may sound odd. How is it possible that an increase in knowledge and a fine polishing of acknowledged talent leads to an increased conviction of personal weakness and incompetence?

There is, however, nothing peculiar about this. It applies to everything of God’s making. The more you know about what God has created, and the deeper you go in understanding their superb nature, the more ready you are to acknowledge their incomparability and the inability of man to produce anything similar.

Different indeed is everything human beings do. A good knowledge of what we humans can achieve will enable you to produce something similar to them and put you on the way to improving them. When we bear this in mind we understand why the magicians in Pharaoh’s court were the first to declare their belief in God, the Lord worshipped by Moses and Aaron. They realised that what they were facing was nothing of man’s doing but rather the superior power of God Almighty. This they could not challenge.

A person given to arrogance may stubbornly refuse to acknowledge his inability to produce anything similar to the Qur’an.

We challenge such a person to have a try and produce for us the best that he can compose so that he may prove his talent and then allow us to judge his claims. But here we have another word of advice for him. He will do well not to show his work until he has considered it very carefully, and reviewed it thoroughly. He must be absolutely certain that he has produced his best. For this will give him a better chance of recognising his mistake and covering up his error. Otherwise, he will only injure himself.

There are several examples in history telling us about those people who made similar attempts. What they produced resembled neither the Qur’an nor their own style.

In fact, they were so manifestly flawed and inferior as to rebound on their authors. Some of them soon recognised that it would be much wiser if they ceased their efforts. They folded their parchments and broke their pens.

Those who were more cunning realised that people were too wise to accept their false inventions and hence they hid them for a time. A third type did not hesitate to publish their work, earning people’s ridicule. Whoever may think of trying his hand at this should look at these examples and choose the best practice to follow. But a person who has no sense of shame will continue to do what he likes.

Among the first type, the names of Ibn Al-Muqaffaᶜ, Al-Mutanabbi and Al-Maᶜarri should be mentioned here. These were men of letters and each, undoubtedly, possessed great talent.

Hence, we believe that these exercised sufficiently wise judgements and fine literary tastes to preclude the possibility that any of them would make such an attempt, unless such an attempt aimed at satisfying themselves that the Qur’an is inimitable.

Among the second type we may cite the books produced by the founders of the Qadiani and Bahaii creeds. These are meant to provide a religious constitution for their followers to implement.

In essence, however, they are no more than a fabricated mess in which they employ some Qur’anic verses coupled with a plethora of slang. In them, they distort some of the fundamentals of Islam as also some of its details. They also claim prophethood or even divinity for themselves.

Nevertheless, their followers could not publish their falsehoods at a time when standards of literary education were high. Therefore, they concealed them in the hope that a time would come when ignorance was far more commonplace. They realised that only at such a time could they market their merchandise. Well, they may have to wait to the end of human life on earth before their ambitions are realised.

The best example of the third type was Musaylamah, an impostor who claimed that he was a messenger of God. He was a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad, and he alleged that he received revelations similar to the Qur’an.

But all he did was to extrapolate verses from the Qur’an, retaining most of their wordings whilst changing others. He also retained the rhythm of the Qur’an, but used a number of slang words to express a host of stupid meanings. An Arab living at a time of high literary standards as he was, he could not maintain his own style.

He went so low as to produce something similar to what children do when they change the words of songs and poems to give them different meanings. Needless to say, this is no more than distorting the work of others.

A person who seriously wishes to take up the challenge to produce something similar to the Qur’an should take a particular idea expressed in the Qur’an, then express it in a different style of equal or greater merit to that of the Qur’anic text. Anyone who wishes to try this with the ideas of the Qur’an will only try what is impossible.

Experience provides irrefutable proof. In fact, anyone who tries to express other ideas in a style similar to that of the Qur’an, without confining himself to what is true and wise, will see that his efforts are fruitless.

Hence why the Qur’anic challenge to the Arabs required them to produce ten surahs similar to the Qur’an, but ‘invented by yourselves’.

(11: 13.)

We endorse what al-Rāfiᶜi, a contemporary authority on literature, believes regarding that which Musaylamah produced. He says that Musaylamah did not wish to produce anything of similar literary merit.

It was clear to him that that was impossible. Moreover, the result would be only too clear to the Arabs. He simply wanted to win favour with his own people, playing on their weaknesses.

He realised that in pre-Islamic days the Arabs held monks in high esteem. Since monks produced rhyming phrases that they attributed to the jinn, he resorted to the same style in imitating the Qur’an.

He hoped to delude his people into believing that, like Muhammad, he also received revelations, thus equating being a prophet with being a monk.

Even in this he was unsuccessful. Many of his followers were aware that he was a liar devoid of wisdom.

They acknowledged that as a monk, he fared very poorly, and as a prophet he was a downright liar.

Yet they followed him because to them, ‘The liar from the Rabīᶜah tribe is dearer than the truthful man from the Muḍar tribe.’

page ii

A Work of Inimitable Merit

A person’s doubt may be based on his recognition that there are others who possess exceptional literary merit. He may well think, ‘If I, personally...

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