The Miraculous Inimitability of the Word of Allah

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The Qur’an is the inimitable, eternal Divine address to mankind.

*This article is the transcription of a talk given in a workshop.

The Qur’anic Miracles (al-Mu’jizatul Qur’aniyya) is one of the most important “risalas” (which means epistle or treatise) in the Risale-i Nur. And the subject is al Mu’jizat al-Qur’aniyya, the Qur’anic miracles, the miraculousness or as you might call it inimitability of the Qur’an.

Iʿjaz (اعجاز) literally means to make someone impotent, to make someone powerless, and to make someone unable to act. What the Qur’an does in its miraculousness is that it forces man on so many different levels – on the physical level, and on the spiritual level – to admit his incapacity and his powerlessness to produce anything which is like it.

Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was faced with the very terrible attacks on Islam taking place by 1900s, maybe the worst period for Islam. He set to work demonstrating to the people of the time that the Qur’an was miraculous. Now, that miraculousness was not just on one level. It was on a great many levels.

The first thing which Imam Nursi does as a preparation or as an introduction to his exposition, his bayān of the miraculousness of the Qur’an, is to define the Qur’an. Now, as a preparation to understanding his definition of the Qur’an, we should understand the way that Ottoman scholars have in general defined the Qur’an.

The Qur’an is Kalāmullah. It is the speech of Allah Subhanahu wa Taʿala. It is the word of Allah (swt). And the actual musḥaf that we have, the actual words in the Qur’an “indicate the beginninglessly eternal meaning of the Divine speech. The speech of Allah is qadīm; it is beginninglessly eternal. Allah (swt) has been speaking from pre-eternity, from azal, from qidam, from beginningless eternity.

And so there seems to be something which needs explanation: how can something which is eternal, which is outside of time – because the speech of Allah, Kalāmullah, is outside of time – how can it come into time and be the Qur’an, the Qur’an that we have in front of us in the musḥaf? We also say this is Kalamullah. Now how is it possible that we say this is Kalamullah, and we know that Kalamullah is qadīm or eternal? It exists before time. Allah (swt) has been speaking for all of eternity; and Allah (swt) is outside of time. What they say is that the naẓm al-hādith, the created, originated arrangement of the Qur’an, directly points to the m’ana al-qadeem, the beginninglessly eternal meaning

So yes, you can say that the Qur’an that we read in the muṣḥaf is the speech of Allah. Allah (swt) gave His speech a particular individuation in the created world, in His inscribing the Qur’an upon the lawḥ al-mahfūz (the Preserved Tablet). And what we have in our musḥaf is a copy of what is in the lawḥ al-maḥfūẓ.

When Imam Nursi starts to define the Qur’an in the Qur’anic Miracles, he says several beautiful things.

The first thing that he says that I find very interesting is “The Qur’an is the language of the unseen world within the observed world.” So the Qur’an is the language, the lisān, of the unseen world within the observed world. So, of the unseen world, ‘ālamul ghayb, within the observed world, ʿalamul shahādah; now, this is one of the aspects of its iʿjāz, one of the aspects of its miraculousness; because it is the speech of Allah (swt). And yet we find it in a book; just like we find words and sentences and expressions in other types of books. Yes, it is in a book just like the other books, but it is the language of the unseen world within the observed world. So, we are experiencing the unseen meanings (maʿāni ghaybiyyah), meanings of the ghayb, in the seen world. We can open a book, that physically appears to be like other books, but instead of listening to human speech and human words, we are listening to Divine words, words of God, words of Allah (swt).

The second thing he says, and which I think is worth mentioning here, is “The Qur’an is a sacred map of the worlds of the hereafter.” And here is another very interesting phrase. Usually when we think of a map, we think of a map which is mapping out this world. But the Qur’an is the speech of Allah, the word of Allah (swt). And so, Allah (swt) with His complete and total, all encompassing, all embracing knowledge can also give us a map of the unseen world. And one of the unseen worlds is the world of the hereafter; because we cannot see it. To us it is unseen. Allah (swt) knows all things at all times. He is beyond time, but He knows all of the things which will from our perspective happen in time. He also knows all of the events of the hereafter. So He can provide us with a sacred map of the world of the hereafter, yet which we can read in this world.

And then, not to forget that another part of his definition of the Qur’an at the beginning of the Mu’jizatul Qur’aniyya, is his saying “It is the spiritual trainer and mentor of this world of human beings.” And so, the Qur’an is a complete guide to internal purification, tazkiyatul nafs, and a complete guide to our social relations, a complete guide to the proper way and means of perceiving the spiritual meaning underlying outward appearances, to see this world as signs (āyāt), and to understand the sacredness of Allah’s law therein, including the laws that Allah (swt) prescribes in the Qur’an concerning how human beings should treat one another.

The next thing I wanted to say is that one must think who it is that the Qur’an is addressed to. When Allah (swt) with His eternal speech, with His eternal word, talks to His addressees, mukhāṭab, who is the mukhāṭab? He addresses some of His creation. Who is He addressing? As we know, and as Imam Nursi says in the Mu’jizatul Qur’aniyya, He is addressing all of mankind. But let’s not forget an even deeper way of looking at it: as Imam Nursi talks about throughout the Risale-i Nur, he talks about the ḥaqīqatul Muḥammadiyya which is the reality, the spiritual reality of the Prophet Sallallāhu Alayhi Wasallam. Now, the central individual human being, individual creation of Allah (swt), that He, (swt), is addressing in the Qur’an, is the Prophet Sallallāhu Alayhi Wasallam. Of course, He is directly addressing the Prophet Sallallāhu Alayhi Wasallam in many cases. He says, “يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ”, “O Prophet!” in many instances. So one must not forget that, as we learn also in the science of uṣūlul fiqh, there are some cases in which Allah (swt) is only speaking to the Prophet Sallallāhu Alayhi Wasallam. Although it says in the principles of uṣūl al-fiqh, “ خصوص السبب لا يمنع عموم الخطاب” just because there is a particular occasion for Allah (swt) to have said something does not mean that we cannot all benefit from it, and does not mean that He is not also in some sense speaking to all of us, there are nonetheless some cases in which Allah (swt) is specifically speaking to the Prophet Sallallāhu Alayhi Wasallam.

Now, as we learn from many different risales in the Risale-i Nur, the Reality of the Prophet nonetheless was the whole reason for creation. Allah (swt) created the ḥaqīqatul Muhammadiyya before He created the cosmos. And the ḥaqīqatul Muhammadiyya contains in a way the whole of creation. And so if Allah (swt) is addressing the ḥaqīqatul Muhammadiyya, then in a way through the ḥaqīqatul Muhammadiyya He is necessarily addressing all things and all of creation. And I think it is a very profound point that obviously can be read in the relevant sections of the Risale-i Nur.

Let’s move on to the second section that I wanted to talk about.  One of the things that is important to recognize is that there are two main different types of the iʿjāz, the inimitability of the Qur’an. The first one is one which is available to all. Anyone who can understand Arabic, who can speak Arabic, or even, who can understand the Qur’an in translation to some extent can experience that type of iʿjāz. Those are things like the reports of the unseen, reports of things which will happen in the future. Like “الم غُلِبَتِ الرُّومُ” or “إِذَا جَاءَ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ وَالْفَتْحُ   وَرَأَيْتَ النَّاسَ يَدْخُلُونَ فِي دِينِ اللَّهِ أَفْوَاجًا” These are both report of something that will happen in the future. Now, these things are available for all just, fair readers of the Qur’an to recognise as being something miraculous which needs an explanation, which is not a normal event.

There are also parts of the Qur’an, however, which require more detailed knowledge. Imam Said Nursi, as we know, was a great master of balaghah, the science of Arabic rhetoric. All throughout the risale he talks about several concepts like iʿjāz, like naẓm, like gharābah, like jazālah. The Creator of all things, the Creator of language, when He speaks will speak in a way which catches human hearts and speaks to the very deepest dimension of a human being.

Jazālah in English is purity of style. It means that there is no foreign influence; there is an incredible coherence and an incredible expressiveness of words of the Qur’an. Every word has a limitless number of different meanings and different interrelated meanings.

Then we have gharābah which means unearthliness; which means when we hear the Qur’an the effect of it on us is very extraordinary. We feel like it is coming from the ghayb, and it is not really the kalām of a human being; it is the kalām of some being, some power that we have never experienced before. There is a gharābah to it in the sense that it makes us almost perceive the unseen world when we hear it.

The next term that he uses is naẓm which means artistry or artistic word order; which means that when we look at the word ordering of the Qur’an we see that there is an extraordinary balance; and that if we analyse it carefully we come to realize that there is no possible way that this could have been put together by a human being. Especially a human being, who, we know from the historical record, received all of these divine inspirations. He did not sit in a room with a library of books working out how to order words, but rather they came through revelation. And yet when we look at them, we find that they are in the most extraordinary order.

And the last one is concision which is ījaz (ایجاز (. The Qur’an is immensely concise. There is no way possibly that the sentences in the Qur’an could be made any more concise. They are actually scientifically the most concise, the most precise that they can possibly be.

Now he gives an example of this inimitability from surat al-Anbiyāʾ verse 46. He says quoting the Qur’an:

“وَلَئِنْ مَسَّتْهُمْ نَفْحَةٌ مِنْ عَذَابِ رَبِّكَ”

in English “If but a breath from the punishment of your Lord should touch them.” Now, let me read from the translation of the risale. Imam Nursi says “In order to express the extreme severity of the punishment in this verse, He reveals its nature by showing the severe impact of even the smallest amount of it. That is, each aspect of the phrase that conveys the diminution orients itself towards the diminution in the meaning of the verse and strengthens the meaning.” Now what do we mean by diminution? We mean taqlīl. That is the word that Imam Nursi uses. So we find that in every element of this verse of the Qur’an “وَلَئِنْ, مَسَّتْهُمْ,” “نَفْحَةٌ,” “مِنْ,” “عَذَابِ,”رَبِّكَ.” In English: وَلَئِنْ, if; مَسَّتْهُمْ, should touch them, to touch; نَفْحَة, a breath; مِنْ عَذَابِ, from the punishment; رَبِّكَ, of your Lord.

And the verse continues to say “لَيَقُولُنَّ يَا وَيْلَنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا ظَالِمِينَ”

The Imam continues, he says “The utterance if, لَئِنْ, conveys uncertainty, and uncertainty is an attribute of diminution. The utterance مَسَّ means to hit lightly, thus also conveying diminution. The utterance breath, نَفْحَة, means a light odour and thereby conveys diminution. And words following the morphological form marra – the word نَفْحَة follows the form marra – convey a single instance. So again it is a type of diminution. As I say, diminution means to use a word which represents the smallest possible amount of something.

And of course the whole point of the verse is, “وَلَئِنْ مَسَّتْهُمْ نَفْحَةٌ مِنْ عَذَابِ رَبِّكَ” if even the smallest amount of the punishment of your Lord were to touch you it would be so terrible, it would be so horrible, so bad, so overwhelming that they would say “Surely we were wrongdoers” “إِنَّا كُنَّا ظَالِمِينَ” They would admit that they were wrongdoers. And so the point is the meaning of the verse is all about the fact that even if the slightest amount of the punishment of Allah (swt) were to touch us we would say that. And then every single word “لَئِنْ, مَسَّتْهُمْ, نَفْحَةٌ, مِنْ, عَذَابْ, رَبْ,” all are words which point to making something as small as possible or the smallest possible amount of something.

So if we go on, “The utterance “of” “مِنْ” conveys a part of a whole and therefore conveys diminution. The utterance punishment, عَذَابْ, refers to a light form punishment when compared to stronger ones like torture, nakāl, and reprisal, ʿiqāb, thus does it indicate diminution. And the utterance rabbik, your Lord, imparts a sense of the Divine pity.” Allah (swt) uses the word “رَبْ,” He did not use the word, as Imam Nursi says, Qahhār (Subduer), or Jabbār (Compeller), or Muntaqim (Avenger). He uses the word of “رَبْ.” And so again it is this extraordinary way in which physical structure of the verse corresponds exactly to its meaning. Every single word in the sentence is used for diminution. Now this is quite an incredible thing – this is one aspect of the miraculousness, or inimitability, or iʿjāz of the Qur’an which Imam Nursi talks about.

The next point I think we should talk about here is the fact in the Qur’an even though this was addressed towards people in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Jazīra al-ʿArabiyya, in the 7th century when the Prophet Sallallāhu Alayhi Wasallam came with the Qur’an, the people who were being addressed were desert Arabs, and also the Arabs of the cities. They did not have philosophical education. They did not know about Aristotle, or Plato, or any of the Greek philosophers. And yet what we find in the Qur’an is that there are verses which are more powerful than the strongest philosophical arguments.

So we have verses like those in surat al-Qaf, verses 6 to 11. Allah (swt) says,

“أَفَلَمْ يَنْظُرُوا إِلَى السَّمَاءِ فَوْقَهُمْ كَيْفَ بَنَيْنَاهَا وَزَيَّنَّاهَا وَمَا لَهَا مِنْ فُرُوجٍ

وَالْأَرْضَ مَدَدْنَاهَا وَأَلْقَيْنَا فِيهَا رَوَاسِيَ وَأَنْبَتْنَا فِيهَا مِنْ كُلِّ زَوْجٍ بَهِيجٍ

تَبْصِرَةً وَذِكْرَىٰ لِكُلِّ عَبْدٍ مُنِيبٍ

وَنَزَّلْنَا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً مُبَارَكًا فَأَنْبَتْنَا بِهِ جَنَّاتٍ وَحَبَّ الْحَصِيدِ

وَالنَّخْلَ بَاسِقَاتٍ لَهَا طَلْعٌ نَضِيدٌ

رِزْقًا لِلْعِبَادِ ۖ وَأَحْيَيْنَا بِهِ بَلْدَةً مَيْتًا ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ الْخُرُوجُ”

In English this verse is translated “What? Have they not beheld the sky above them how We built it and adorned it with no rifts in it? And the Earth – we spread it out and cast on it firm mountains, and We caused to grow therein every joyous plant as an insight and reminder for every servant who turns to Allah (swt). And we sent down out of the sky water blessed and caused to grow thereby gardens and harvest grain, and tall palm trees laden with clusters of dates as a provision for the servants. And thereby we revive the land that was dead. This is how the dead will emerge.”

Now as you know Imam Said Nursi in many places elucidated the sublime Qur’anic proofs for the Resurrection, for yawn al-qiyamah. And as you can see Allah (swt) here says, look around you, look at the sky that Allah (swt) has built and adorned, the earth that He spread out, and cast on it firm mountains, and the plants that He caused to grow therein, and most of all, the fact that Allah (swt) causes the land, causes al-arḍ, after it has died, as well as every single spring, the whole of nature, to come back to life. And as Imam Nursi says on many different occasions both in Ayatul Kubrā and in Hashr Risalesi, in many different risales, he talks about the fact that Allah (swt) every single spring brings to life hundreds of thousands of species that have died. Now why on earth would it be farfetched, mustabʿad? Why would people think it was difficult to believe, as many modern people do, that there could be a hereafter when every single spring all around us we see these thousands and thousands of examples of Allah (swt) bringing to life that which was dead previously? Now, that is an intellectual argument; that is a logical argument. And yet in a book which was revealed to a people who have no logical or philosophical education, we have arguments that the great philosophers would find very difficult to come up with themselves.

Another very famous verse is the verse in surah al-Yasin which is

أَوَلَمْ يَرَ الْإِنْسَانُ أَنَّا خَلَقْنَاهُ مِنْ نُطْفَةٍ فَإِذَا هُوَ خَصِيمٌ مُبِينٌ

وَضَرَبَ لَنَا مَثَلًا وَنَسِيَ خَلْقَهُ ۖ قَالَ مَنْ يُحْيِي الْعِظَامَ وَهِيَ رَمِيمٌ

قُلْ يُحْيِيهَا الَّذِي أَنْشَأَهَا أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ ۖ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ خَلْقٍ عَلِيمٌ”

So Allah (swt) says, “They say, (the disbelievers, the unbelievers, the kuffar say) who will bring back to life decaying bones?” When bones, you know our bones when we have died have decayed and are disintegrating, becoming like dust. Who will bring them to life again? That is, you know the kuffar says, that is ridiculous, that is impossible. And Allah (swt) says, “قُلْ يُحْيِيهَا الَّذِي أَنْشَأَهَا أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ” “Say to them, (say to the disbelievers, the kuffar) He Who brought them into existence in the first place will bring them to life again.”

What is the problem, what is the difficulty, if Allah (swt) Who has created all things in the first place wants to again create them? He created bones and human beings, and trees and the oceans, and buildings and plants and animals in the first place. Why cannot He bring them back and create them again? That is what the verse in the Qur’an is saying: of course He can.

And as Al-Ālūsī said in his tafsīr Rūḥ al-Maʿānī, this is actually a logical form; he relates a riwāyah, a story, from Abul Nasir al-Farabi, one of the famous philosophers in the Muslim world, who said “I wish Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, could have seen the syllogism, the logical reasoning, or the qiyas, which is in this verse.” Because it actually takes a logical form, there is actually a syllogism, there is explicit, clear, philosophical reasoning in the Qur’an even though the Qur’an was revealed in the 7th century, and it was revealed to people who have no philosophical education.

The next page that I would like to look at in the Mu’jizatul Qur’aniyya, and also the final one we will be looking at, is the one in surat al-Rum. So this is about the aspect of the Qur’an which is its miraculous reports, the fact that it talks about things which will happen in future correctly. So we have the verse,

“الم غُلِبَتِ الرُّومُ”

This verse continues to say that the Romans have just been defeated – the Muslims knew that the Romans have just been defeated, “غُلِبَتِ الرُّومُ” the Romans have been defeated, “وَهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ غَلَبِهِمْ سَيَغْلِبُونَ” but after that defeat they will again be victorious “فِي بِضْعِ سِنِينَ” within a few years. So imagine the bravery and courage of him suddenly saying, “This will happen in the future; the Romans will defeat the Persians.” And on that day, the Muslims will be delighted by Allah’s having come to their rescue, and when the news came, and this is proven in the historical report, when the news came that the Persians had been defeated, as the Qur’an had said they would be, that was the day the Muslims were victorious and won in the Battle of Badr.

And so the prediction of the Qur’an came true one hundred percent. Imam Nursi says here “Muhyiddin ibn Arabi found a great number of unseen reports in the surah al-Rum “Alif, Lām, Mīm. Rome has been defeated.” And within the disconnected letters, al-huruf al-muqatta, like Alif, Lām, Mīm; Ḥā, Mīm, ʿAyn, Sīn, Qāf etc, that begin certain surahs, Imam Rabbani was able to see a great number symbolic indications in the reports of unseen affairs.”

So this is talking about the science of jifr. Imam Said Nursi was also a great master of the science of jifr. Now, the science of jifr is understanding the secret meanings, the secret properties of letters. This science is said to be derived from Imam ʿAli Karram Allāhu Wajhah. And then later scholars like Shaykh Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī, Imam Rabbani and Imam Said Nursi also knew the secrets of letters.

And so, because of the miraculousness of the Qur’an, because it is the divine speech of Allah (swt), and it is eternal and comes directly from the Divine presence, every single of its letters contains all of these secrets. And this is why Ibn Arabi was able to come to know about many future events just through looking at verses like “Alif, Lām, Mīm. Ghulibaturrūm,” using the science of jifr.

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