The fine style of the Qur'an
20 Aug 2010 01:31 GMT
 
Published: Aug 20, 2010 03:35 Updated: Aug 20, 2010 03:35 In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful Another of His signs is this: you see the earth lying desolate, but when We send down rain water upon it, it stirs and swells [with life]. He who brings it to life will surely give life to the dead. He has power over all things. (Clearly expounded, Fussilat; 41: 39)

THE earth, their mother from which they originate and to which they return, stands humble before God as it receives life from His hand. On the surface of the earth they are no more like ants; and from the earth they derive all their food and drink. This earth, however, presents a different attitude from theirs: “Another of His signs is this: you see the earth lying desolate, but when We send down rain water upon it, it stirs and swells (with life). He who brings it to life will surely give life to the dead. He has power over all things.”

We need to reflect a little on the precision of the expression used here. In the Arabic original, the word khashi(ah), translated here as “lying desolate,” is used. The term connotes a humble and attentive attitude, but it means here that it is motionless before rain falls on it. When rain is sent upon it, it stirs and swells. It is as if this is a movement expressing gratitude for giving it the means to support life. The context in which this verse occurs is one of attentive worship and humble glorification of God. The earth is mentioned here as one of the figures in the scene, expressing a suitable feeling and making a suitable movement.

We should refer here to one aspect of the Qur’anic style, comparing word usage. The image of how the earth looks before rainfall and the appearance of shoots is used twice in the Qur’an. In the first instance, the earth is described as hamidah which means “dry and barren,” while in this instance it is described as khashiah which means “lying desolate.” Some people may think that this is mere variation which writers normally use. It is far more than this. Let us look at the context in which each description is used.

The first description, hamidah, occurs in the following verse: “Mankind! If you are in doubt as to the resurrection, remember that We have created you out of dust, then out of a gamete, then out of a clinging cell mass, then out of an organized and unorganized embryo, so that We might make things clear to you. We cause to rest in the (mothers’) wombs whatever We please for an appointed term, and then We bring you forth as infants, that you may grow up and attain your prime. Some of you die young, and some live on to abject old age when all that they once knew they know no more. You can see the earth dry and barren; and (suddenly,) when We send down water upon it, it stirs and swells and puts forth every kind of radiant bloom.” (22: 5)

Khashiah, has a totally different context: “Among His signs are the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. Do not prostrate yourselves before the sun or the moon; but prostrate yourselves before God, who has created them, if it is Him you really worship. If the unbelievers are too arrogant, those who are with your Lord glorify Him night and day and never grow weary of that. Another of His signs is this: you see the earth lying desolate, but when We send down rain water upon it, it stirs and swells [with life]. (Verses 37-39)

A quick reflection is enough to show how each of these two adjectives fits perfectly in its context. In the first instance, the long verse speaks about creation and resurrection. It is most fitting that the earth should be shown as dry and barren before it stirs and swells, putting forth each blooming and radiant plant. In the second instance, the whole ambiance is one of worship and prostration before God. Hence the description of the earth as desolate, and then when water falls it stirs and swells. We also note that the image of sprouting different plants is not added in the second case because it does not fit in the context of worship. The stirring and swelling in the second case has a different purpose from that in the first case. Here, they merely give an image of the earth’s movement after it has lain desolate. Everything in the scene described here is making the movement involved in worship. Hence, it does not fit that the earth should remain motionless. It stirs and swells, sharing in the movement of other worshippers. Thus, not a single detail in the scene remains fixed while all others are in motion. This sort of harmony is superior to anything we know of literary expression.

The comment at the end of the verse refers to bringing the dead back to life, citing the earth as an example: “He who brings it to life will surely give life to the dead. He has power over all things.” This image is frequently used in the Qur’an as an example of how the dead are resurrected on the Day of Judgment. Indeed, the reviving of the earth points to the facts of resurrection and God’s limitless power. The image of the earth stirring with life is close to our hearts, touching them before it addresses our minds. Moreover, when life springs in what is dead it gives a subtle feeling of the power behind it. The Qur’an addresses human nature in its own language, using the shortest way. ¬



-- Arab News


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