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Muhammad Amin A. Samad

Prof. I.J. Boullata December 2, 1977

The Qur’ān and Arabic Stylistics (397-778A)


Very good 42/50


INTRODUCTION This is an attempt to formulate the view of Ibn H.azm on the icjāz al-Qur’ān (the inimitability of the Qur’ān. Ibn H.azm (d.456/1064) who lived in Muslim Andalusia was a prolific writer on many different subjects, an exponent and a devoted advocate on the vanished Z.āhirī school. The Z.āhirī school was founded by Abū Sulaymān Dāwūd b. Khalaf (d. 2760/884). This school was known for its literal adherence to the nas.s. (divine text) of the Qur’ān and the Sunnah and its ostensible meanings, and its rejection of qiyās (analogy) and ra’y (personal opinion). The aspects of the icjāz of the Qur’ān is one of many subjects of debate among Muslim scholars. The Z.āhirī point of view on this matter as expressed by Ibn H.azm will hopefully be interesting and rewarding.


IBN H.AZM’S VIEWS ON THE I‘JĀZ (INIMITABILITY) OF THE QURĀN There has never been any dispute among Muslim scholars that the Qur’ān is a mucjizah (a miracle, an inimitable thing). Yet, they differ in their interpretation of the icjāz (inimitability) of the Qur’ān. Ibn H.azm offers us five issues concerning icjāz al-Qur’ān in his book fī al-milal wa ’l-ahwā’ wa ’ These issues are objects of controversy among ahl al-kalām (Muslim theologians). These issues are as follows: a. The view that the thing which Allah challenges people to produce the like of has not been heard by people. b. The continuity or discontinuity of the icjāz of the Qur’ān. c. The inimitability being in the stylistic structure (naz.m) of the Qur’ān, or in its verses which contain warning about the invisible things. d. The inimitability consisting in its being the highest level of eloquence, or in Allah’s preventing people from imitating it. e. The measure (miqdār) of inimitability in the Qur’ān. With regard to the first issue, Ibn H.azm says that there is a view reported from the Ash’arī school stating that the wonder which challenges people to bring something similar to it is with Allah and has not been revealed to the Prophet.2 This view is rejected by Ibn H.azm. He contends that it is impossible to challenge someone with something he has never known and has never heard.3 The second issue is whether the inimitability of the Qur’ān has been accomplished by the inability of the Arabs in general and the Arab poets in particular to imitate the Qur’ān, or that the inimitability continues for ever. The first view makes an analogy between the miracle of Moses turning his staff into a real serpent—where none of his opponents among the magicians was able to do the same—and the challenge of the Qur’ān to people during the time of the Prophet—and none of the Arabs was able to produce verses similar to the Qur’ān.


With this accomplishment, had any Arab poet challenged the Qur’ān after that period, his challenge would be disregarded. The second view is that the icjāz of the Qur’ān remains until the Last Day, and the Qur’ān is still challenging people to produce verses similar to it. Here Ibn H.azm does not make any distinction between icjāz and tah.addī (challenge). Ibn H.azm upholds the second view.4 His argument is based on his literal interpretation of the following verse of the Qur’ān:

“Say: Verily, though mankind and Jinn should assemble to produce the like of this Qur’ān, they could not produce the like thereof though they were helpers on of another” (Q. 17:88). Ibn H.azm contends that the word lā ya’tūna indicates the future, and therefore, it cannot be interpreted as past, unless there is any other clear nas.s. (divine text), or convincing ijmāc (consensus), which indicates that, the word in question (i.e., lā ya’tūna) means other than its ostensible meaning, or unless there is any necessity (d.arūrah). Ibn H.azm denies the existence of any of these things which would change the meaning from the future into the past. He contends further that the work al-jinn wa al-ins in the verse above is general for every man and jinn, and cannot be interpreted to mean people or jinn of a particular time in the past.5 The third issue is the feature of inimitability in the Qur’ān. Some theologians, including al-Naz.z.ām (d. 331/943)6 among the Muctazilīs (whom Ibn H.azm does not mention by name), say that it is not the Qur’ān’s stylistic structure which makes it inimitable, but its warning about invisible things.7 Other theologians like al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1013) say that both the naz.m and the warning about invisible things are inimitable.8 This is also the view of Ibn H.azm, who bases his argument on the same Qur’ānic verse mentioned above. He contends that since Allah states that men cannot produce a sūrah (chapter) similar to that of the Qur’ān and the fact that most of the sūrahs in the Qur’ān do not contain news of invisible things, the falsehood of those who uphold the view that the inimitability of the Qur’an is exclusively in news about invisible things, is evident.9


The fourth issue is the aspect of the inimitability of the Qur’ān. Some theologians, including al-Khat.t.ābī (d. 388/998), say that the inimitability of the Qur’ān lies exclusively in its highest level of eloquence (kawnuhu fī aclā marātib al-balāghah). One example of this eloquence is the Qur’ānic verse: “And there is life for you in retaliation O men of understanding, that ye may ward off (evil)” (Q. 2:179). They contend that if the eloquence were not inimitable, such a verse would not have reached such a high level of eloquence. Other theologians, like al-Naz.z.ām, maintain that the inimitability of the Qur’ān lies in the fact that Allah prevents people from having the ability of imitating the Qur’ān, i.e., the idea of s.arfah (Allah turning people away from imitating the Qur’ān) .10 Ibn H.azm rejects the first view. In his refutation he gives the following reasons: a) If the inimitability of the Qur’ān is its high level of eloquence, this is not an evidence (h.ujjah), because, Ibn H.azm contends, the case is the same (i.e., the inimitability) with anything that reaches the highest level of perfection, whereas miracles (signs) of prophets (āyāt al-anbiyā’) are beyond the level in question. b) In stating that the inimitability of the Qur’ān is at the highest level of eloquence many questions would come to our mind: why did Allah make this kind of eloquence exclusively inimitable, why did He send such-and-such a prophet instead of another man, why did He turn the staff of Moses into a serpent instead of a lion. Such questions, in Ibn H.azm’s view, are unreasonable and prohibited, because Allah is not subject to questioning.11 c) By allowing such questions as above to come to our mind, then one might ask: “Why did the inimitability exist in the language of the Qur’ān alone, and not in every language, so that everybody, an Arab or a non-Arab, would have the same ability of knowing this inimitability?” This question, in Ibn H.azm’s view, is also unreasonable.12


With regard to the verse cited above as an example of the highest eloquence, Ibn H.azm does not accept it as a h.ujjah. His argument is as follows: He gives his opponents two alternatives: a) either they consider that the icjāz of the Qur’ān lies exclusively in the verse “And there is life for you in retaliation,” as mentioned above,13 and verses which have similar eloquence, or b) the icjāz also comprises the rest of the verses of the Qur’ān. If his opponents affirm the first, then Ibn H.azm will accuse them of being infidels. On the other hand, if his opponents affirm the second alternative, Ibn H.azm will wonder, why they specify these verses not other ones, for this act would make people imagine the existence of non-miraculous verses.14 Ibn H.azm argues further by citing a Qur’ānic verse and asking his opponents whether it is mucjiz. The verse is as follows:

“… as We inspired Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, as We imparted unto David the Psalms.”(Q. 4:163). If this verse is not mucjiz according to Ibn H.azm’s opponents, they will be considered infidels by Ibn H.azm. If the opponents affirm that it is mucjiz Ibn H.azm will agree with them, but he wonders if this verse has fulfilled the requirement of being in the highest level of eloquence. If they affirm that to be so, Ibn H.azm will not agree and say that it is an exaggeration, because the verse mentioned above contains names only.15 According to Ibn H.azm, the eloquence of the Qur’ān has reached the level desired by Allah, but this level is outside the realm of human eloquence, neither above, nor below, nor even the same level of eloquence, because the Qur’ān is not the words of human beings. His argument is that if a man puts letters similar to those found in the Qur’ān16 in his speech or his message, this act will not be out of the said eloquence. Therefore, Ibn H.azm contends, the eloquence of the Qur’ān is outside of that of human speech, and that Allah prevents His


creatures—men and jinn—from imitating it, i.e., the idea of s.arfah. A proof of this, Ibn H.azm argues, is that Allah cites in the Qur’ān some speech of infidels, for example, when they were asked the reason for their entering Hell, they answered:

“They will answer: we were not of those who prayed. Nor did we feed the wretched. We used to wade (in vain dispute) with (all) waders, and we used to deny the Day of Judgement, Till the inevitable came unto us.” (Q. 74:43-7). Another example is that the infidels said about the Qur’ān: “ِAnd said: This is naught else than magic from of old; This is naught else than speech of mortal man.” (Q. 74:24-5).17 All these words, Ibn H.azm contends, when they were spoken by human beings, were not mucjiz; there has never been any dispute among Muslims about it. But when Allah cites them and makes them His words, then they become mucjiz. 18 The fifth issue dealt by Ibn H.azm in his is the amount (miqdār) of the icjāz in the Qur’ān. Ibn H.azm mentions two views: a) those of the Ashcarīs who maintain that the minimum of the icjāz is one short sūrah (chapter), namely, sīrat al-Kawthar (chapter 108), whereas less than that is not mucjiz; b) others maintain that the whole Qur’ān is mucjiz, in a small as well as a great amount of it; this is also the view of Ibn H.azm. The argument of the Ashcarīs as mentioned by Ibn H.azm is based on the following Qur’ānic verse:

“and if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto Our slave (Muhammad), then produce a surah of the like thereof, and call your witnesses beside Allah if ye are truthful.” (Q. 2:23)


This verse, according to the Ashcarīs, does not limit the amount of icjāz to less than one sūrah. Ibn H.azm counters this argument by maintaining that the verse in question does not state that what is less than one sūrah is not mucjiz.19 Instead, in another verse the Qur’ān states “to produce the like of this Qur’ān.”20 This gives an indication, in Ibn H.azm’s view that everything in the Qur’ān is mucjiz, and there has never been any disagreement about it.21 In refuting the view of his opponents who limit the amount of i jāz to one short sūrah, Ibn H.azm gives four possible implications of their view, as follows: 1) one short sūrah not less; 2) the number of verses in sūrat al-Kawthar, i.e., three verses; 3) the number of words in that sūrah, i.e., ten words; 4) the number of letters in that surah i.e., forty-two letters. If the icjāz is not available in less than one sūrah, Ibn H.azm contends, that the whole sūrat al-Baqarah, which is a very long one, or any other sūrah minus one verse or one word at its beginning or end is not mucjiz. This, in Ibn H.azm’s view, will lead to infidelity. Moreover, the three verses of the Qur’ān c

“By the Dawn. And ten nights, And the Even and Odd” (Q. 89:1-3) will have the same value in its being mucjiz with āyat al-kursī 22 plus two other verses, if the icjāz is estimated with the minimum of three verses. If it were so, this also would mean an exaggeration. Ibn H.azm also gives the example of the three words: “By the morning Hours” (Q. 93:1), “By the Dawn (Q. 89:1), “By the Declining day” (Q. 103:1),23 which also consists of three verses. If the opponents disagree because these three verses are not joined together, Ibn H.azm will contend that if this were so (i.e., not mucjiz), the same will be the case with the rest of the Qur’ānic verses. These verses will become imitable if they were separated from each other, and this again would be an exaggeration and infidelity. If the minimum number of words or letters equal to that of sūrat al-Kawthar is the amount of icjāz, then Ibn H.azm offers two possibilities: a) it contradicts and nullifies the opponents’ own argument by referring to the Qur’ānic verse which challenges people to produce one sūrah. It is because they have made words or letters as mucjiz instead of sūrah; b) Ibn H.azm refers to the


Qur’ānic verse chapter 4 verse 16324 which consists of twelve words, which is equal to seventy-two letters. If we exclude the names in the verse, there are ten words which equals 62 letters. This number of words or letters surpasses that in the sūrat al-Kawthar—which consists of 10 words or 42 letters—and therefore the verse in question should also be mucjiz, if the number of words or letters are taken into consideration. If his opponents reject this view, then Ibn H.azm would accuse them of abandoning their view of basing the measure of icjāz through words or letters. But if his opponents affirm the view mentioned above, the Ibn H.azm would accuse them of abandoning their view of basing the icjāz through the highest level of eloquence, because the verse in question consists of names only. 25 Ibn H.azm further contends that those who limit the icjāz of the Qur’ān to not less than three verses in number are contradicting their view that the icjāz is in the eloquence of the Qur’ān, because one verse instead of three can be eloquent. However, the Qur’ān challenges people to produce the like of the Qur’ān, and this challenge is applicable to one verse. Ibn H.azm maintains that every word of the Qur’ān is mucjizah, because Allah prevents people from imitating the Qur’ān.26 This view of Ibn H.azm about the icjāz al-Qur’ān is the reflection of his adherence to his Z.āhirī school in which he interprets the Qur’ānic verses dealing with the icjāz by their ostensible meanings, as we have seen in this study.


CONCLUSION In this paper I have ried to present the view of Ibn H.azm on the i jāz al-Qur’ān. As we understand it, Ibn H.azm does not make any distinction between icjāz and tah.addī of the Qur’ān. Yet, though his scrutiny and literal interpretation of the Qur’ān he insists that the Qur’ān is inimitable and will remain so, and that the Qur’ān is still challenging mankind as well as the jinn to produce the like of it. Ibn H.azm maintains that both the structure (naz.m) and the contents of the Qur’ān are mucjiz. The naz.m is mucjiz not only because of its eloquence, but also due to Allah’s preventing human beings from imitating the Qur’ān. The eloquence of the Qur’ān is mucjiz, because it is beyond the level of human standards of eloquence. Ibn H.azm does not limit the icjāz of the Qur’ān to the minimum of one short sūrah or three verses and over, but he insists that whatever is said by Allah in the Qur’ān is mucjiz. c



Ibn H.azm, fī al-Milal wa al-Ahwā’ wa, 4 vols (Baghdād: at al-Muthannā; Cairo: Mu’assasat al-Khānjī, n.d.), vol. 3, pp. 15-22. (Hereafter referred to as 2 Ibn H.azm does not give us any detail about those Ashcarīs who uphold this view, and what is mean by their saying: “something which has never been revealed by Allah.” Perhaps they mean the Qur’ān, which is preserved on the Lawh. Mah.fūz. (Preserved Tablet), basing their interpretation on the Qur’ānic verse ) “Nay, but it is a glorious c

Qur’ān. On a guarded tablet.” (Qur’ān, 85:21-2). (See also ibid., 56:77-78. the translation is rendered by M.M. Pickthall. Reference to Qur’ānic verses and translation relating to them in other places in this paper are also his). These Ashcarīs whom Ibn H.azm does not name, might also mean the word of Allah which is itself one of His attributes (al-kalām al-qadīm al-ladhī huwa s.ifat aldhāt), see Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūt.ī, al-Itqān fī cUlūm al-Qur’ān, 1st ed., 2 vols. (Cairo: al-Mat.bacah al-Azhariyyah al-Mis.riyyah. 1318 AH), vol. 2, p. 118. (Hereafter referred to as Itqān). 3 Ibn H.azm,, vol. 3, p. 15. 4 This is also the view of the Mu’tazilī jurist, al-Qād.ī ‘Abd al-Jabbār (d. 415/1025). See Sharh. al-Us.ūl al-Khamsah, 1st ed. (Cairo: Mat.bacat al-Istiqlāl alKubrā, 1384/1965), p. 587. 5 Ibn H.azm,, vol. 3, p. 16. According al-Suyūt.ī, some culamā’ (scholars) whom he does not mention by name, believe that the tah.addī is exclusively for men, not for jinn, because the Arabic language is not the language of the jinn. They maintain that the purpose of mentioning the jinn in the verse above is only for the glorification of the Icjāz of the Qur’ān. Other culamā’ maintain that the tah.addī applies also the jinn. Itqān, vol. 2, p. 124. 6

Dr. Muh.ammad Zaghlūl Sallām, Athar al-Qur’ān fī Tat.awwur al-Naqd al-Adabī, ed. Muh.ammad Khalaf Allāh Ah. mad, 2nd ed. (Cairo: Dār al-Macārif, 1961), p. 70. (Hereafter referred to as Athar al-Qur’ān). 7 On the contrary, the Mutazilī al-Jāh.iz. (d. 255 AH) maintains that the icjāz of the Qur’ān is in its structure alone ( bi al-naz.m qah.dahu). Dr. M.Z. Sallām, Athar al-Qur’ān, p. 77. 8 Al-Qād.ī Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī, the Ashcarī jurist, mentions three aspects of icjāz, i.e., the naz.m, the story of the past, and the reports of the unseen, see Icjāz al-Qur’ān, at the margin of al-Suyūt.ī, Itqān, vol. 1, pp. 51-55; 77-80. 9 Ibn H.azm,, vol. 3, pp. 16-17

12 10

Suyūt.ī, Itqān, vol. 2, p. 118; for the argument of al-Suyut.ī in refuting alNaz.z.ām’s view of s.arfah, see ibid. 11 Ibn H.azm is referring to the following Qur’ānic verse: “He will not be questioned as to that which He doeth, but they will be questioned.” (Qur’ān 21:23). This verse also serves Ibn H.azm as an argument for refuting the presence of cillah (cause) as well as for Allah’s prohibition of using cillah in Islamic law; see al-Ih.kām fī Us.ūl al-Ah.kām, ed. Ah. mad Shākir, 8 vols (Cairo: Mat.bacat al-cĀs.imah, n.d.), vol. 8, pp. 1130 and 1138 respectively. 12 Ibn H.azm,, vol. 3, pp. 17-18. 13 See above p. 5. 14 Ibn H.azm,, vol. 3, p. 18. 15 Ibid. 16 There are many separated letters found at the beginning of many sūrahs in the Qur’ān; for example, see Qur’ān, 21:1, 26:1, 42:1-2 and 50:1. 17 For another verse mentioned by Ibn H.azm, see Q. 17:90-93. 18 Ibn H.azm,, vol. 3, p. 19. 19 Ibid. 20 This is an example of Ibn H.azm’s adherence to the literal meaning of the Qur’ān. 21 Ibn H.azm,, vol. 3, pp. 19-20. 22 Āyat al-kursī is a very long verse. For its location see Qur’ān, 2:255. 23 These three verses are Allah’s oaths. 24 See above, p. 6. 25 Ibn H.azm,, vol. 3, pp. 20-21. 26 Ibid., p. 21.



Abd al-Jabbār. Sharh. al-Us.ūl al-Khamsah, 1st ed. Cairo: Mat.bacat alIstiqlāl al-Kubrā, 1384/1965.

Bāqillānī, al-Qād.ī Abū Bakr al-. Icjāz al-Qur’ān, in the margin of alSuyūt.ī, Itqān. 2 vols. Cairo: al-Mat.bacah al-Azhariyyah alMis.riyyah. 1318 AH. Ibn H.azm, Abū Muh.ammad cAlī. Al-Ih.kām fī Us.ūl al-Ah.kām, ed. Ah.mad Shākir, 8 vols. Cairo: Mat.bacat al-cĀs.imah, n.d. -------- fī al-Milal wa al-Ahwā’ wa, 4 vols. Baghdād: Mat.bacat al-Muthannā; Cairo: Mu’assasat al-Khānjī, n.d. Pickthall, Mohammed Marmaduke. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. New York and Scarborough: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, n.d. Dr. Muh.ammad Zaghlūl Sallām. Athar al-Qur’ān fī Tat.awwur al-Naqd al-Adabī, ed. Muh.ammad Khalaf Allāh Ah.mad, 2nd ed. Cairo: Dār al-Macārif, 1961. Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūt.ī. Al-Itqān fī cUlūm al-Qur’ān, 1st ed., 2 vols. Cairo: al-Mat.bacah al-Azhariyyah al-Mis.riyyah. 1318 AH