CHAPTER vi /The Prophet’s Superior Literary Style

The Prophet’s Superior Literary Style

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Had the Qur’anic style been a reflection of Muhammad’s own nature, that reflection should have shown itself, following the above argument, in everything that Muhammad said. A person’s nature cannot be two different natures, nor can a person’s soul be two souls. When we consider the Qur’anic style we find it the same throughout, while the Prophet’s own style is totally different.

It does not run alongside the Qur’an except like high-flying birds which cannot be reached by man but which may ‘run’ alongside him. When we look at human styles we find them all of a type that remains on the surface of the earth. Some of them crawl while others run fast. But when you compare the fastest running among them to the Qur’an you feel that they are no more than moving cars compared to planets speeding through their orbits.

You may read a piece of the Prophet’s own words and you may feel tempted to imitate it, just like a sharp shooter being tempted to drop a flying bird, or a fast runner attempting to keep pace with it.

You may, on the other hand, read a wise saying and wonder whether it is part of the Prophet’s statements, or if it was said by one of his Companions or their successors [i.e. Tābiᶜīn]. Yet you know that the Prophet’s style is distinguished by superior literary excellence, with its vocabulary best fitting the subject matter it tackles, and this is coupled with fine construction.

However, its distinction may not be readily appreciated except by literary experts. Nevertheless, literary sense alone may not be sufficient to appreciate its full excellence immediately. So we may resort to reference books in order to ascertain whether it is directly attributed to the Prophet or its chain of reporting stops at one of the Prophet’s Companions or their successors.

The Qur’anic style, on the other hand, has its own distinctive features which make it unlike any other style. No one ever tries to come near it. People may wonder how they can produce something similar to it, but they will soon give up any such attempt.

Anyone who is in full possession of his senses and is endowed with a literary sense and a critical linguistic taste needs only to listen with one ear to the Qur’anic style and with the other to the style of the Prophet’s statements [i.e. hadith] and to other people’s styles.

He will then readily acknowledge the indisputable fact that the style of the Qur’an is far superior to any other. We think that once he has admitted this fact, he will also admit the next one, which considers that a product with nothing similar to it in any way must be the work of the One to whom no similarities apply. That is God, who hears all and sees all.

Perhaps we should add here an objection that may be raised by someone who says that a person may have two types of speech. The first may occur instinctively and is uttered directly, without any refinement.

The other is produced after deliberation and careful selection. The difference between the two may be wide indeed, to the extent that a listener may judge that the two types emanate from two different people. Such a person may add that this could be applied to Muhammad’s heritage, with the hadith being of the first type and the Qur’an of the second.

In answer we say that classifying the hadith and the Qur’an according to these two types of style does not fit at all with what happened in practice.

Most Qur’anic revelations addressed topics the Prophet had not expected. He had not thought about them earlier. It would come all of a sudden, without him expecting revelation at all.

It may answer a question that had been put to him, or may give a verdict on a particular incident, or may relate something of the history of an earlier community, etc.

It rarely addressed a topic on which the Prophet had been looking for some revelation, when exercising care and meticulous refinement was possible, as in the case of the false accusation against his wife and in the change of the direction in prayer. When we consider the Qur’anic style in both these situations we find it of the same nature, construction and excellence.

The same applies to hadith, which was said in different situations and under widely different circumstances, but its style remains the same.

The Prophet would speak after long reflection and consultation with his Companions, as happened when he had to deal with the false accusations levelled at his wife, and also when he spoke after the consultations regarding war and peace and other matters.

Or he would speak after a short while waiting for revelations to be given to him.

This is clearly seen in the event of a man who came to the Prophet at Al-Jiᶜranah, near Makkah, in year 8 and asked him about the ᶜumrah. He had applied much perfume and was wearing a garment.

The Prophet looked at him intently and kept silent until he received revelations. When that was over, he enquired: “Where is the man who asked about the ᶜumrah?” When the man came over, the Prophet said to him: “As for the perfume, you wash it three times; and as for your garment, take it off and wear for the ᶜumrah what you wear for pilgrimage.”

[Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.]

At times, he spoke directly on matters which were clear, or which had been considered before, whether relating to religion or thought. In all this, his style followed the same pattern.

One cannot distinguish a separate or distinct style for that which he had thought about himself, or for that which he had been given by revelation, or for that which he spoke instinctively in his discussions with his family or with his Companions, or for that which he said in speeches he made before large crowds or on great occasions. This shows the fallacy of trying to distinguish the Qur’an from hadith in this way.

Indeed if for argument’s sake we accept this division, it would not serve as a basis for doubt. Dividing a person’s speech into what is said extempore and what is composed with care and deliberation would not result, among true Arabs, in such a wide difference giving the impression that the two types were said by two different people.

Such a wide difference appeared only when true Arabic speakers had died out. They were replaced by people who had not learnt this language from their mothers. Hence, the language they spoke was different from the one they wrote. This gave each of them two different styles, with one sinking to the level of natural dialect and the other elevated to learnt Arabic standards.

A pure native speaker of Arabic at the Prophet’s time would have only concentrated on his topic and gathered its different aspects as a result of careful thinking and deliberation.

This would not have caused him to change his style, method of expression or his natural language which comes to him without affectation.

This sort of style is the one which specialised people among us attempt after study and consideration. Among the Arabs of that time, there might have been a few who would resort to affectation when they spoke, but that affectation would not have taken them completely out of their natural style.

There would remain in what they produced some characteristics indicating the type of style they employed. Moreover, affectation would not have improved their standard. On the contrary, it decreased its rank in the scale of excellence, although the speaker might have thought otherwise. In fact, the Arabs used to praise literary style that came to the speaker naturally, without affectation.

The Prophet himself never resorted to affectation in any situation. Indeed, affectation was abhorrent to him in all matters. He used to say: “The pedantic have perished!” [Related by Muslim and Abu Dāwūd].

A man from the tribe of Hudhayl spoke to him about having to pay blood money for causing the death of a foetus, saying: “How is it possible that I should pay money in compensation for one who neither ate nor drank, neither spoke nor cried? That is surely one whose blood is of no value!”

The Prophet said disapprovingly: “That is the brother of fortune tellers, using rhyme like theirs.” His reference to fortune tellers is aimed at the rhyming phrases they used in order to give their prophecies an air of mystery. It was of the type where the meaning is made subservient to the words, not the reverse.

What we have said so far about the wide gulf between the style of the Qur’an and the style of hadiths indicates that they could not both have belonged to the same person.

It is as we have said: The Qur’an, which has no similar or parallel in the language, is the product of the One who Himself has nothing bearing any similarity to any of His attributes, the Almighty who hears all and sees all.

Chapter VII

The Secret of the Qur’anic Miracle

Let us now assume that a person who seeks the truth has followed our line of argument and conducted his own research...

GO TO Chapter VII