Random Thoughts and Notes: Days 93-107

o   Some people might ask me as to why am I sometimes presenting points as if I were wavering in certain matters, or why do I at times present certain points without finally resolving the issue under discussion. All I can say is that these are cumulative random thoughts, and that I do try to write down whatever resolutions may be presented; but again, I am a lay person, and if I do not know of the resolution in the text itself or from a previous reading, then it is obvious that I cannot make up something that simply is not there as per my knowledge at the time of writing. And another thing is that in Islam, most of the issues (when we go down to the finer and more detailed elaborations) are disagreed upon in one way or the other. While this does give Islam latitude and expansiveness to embrace different views, it also means that such issues will remain unresolved by definition.

o   The idea of complete ‘freedom of speech’, to the point of explicitly going out of one’s way in order to deliberately lie against a religious group [such as us Muslims] or to deliberately denigrate the personalities and places held sacred by the religion, is said to be a cornerstone of modern civilization and the very reason why so much progress has been made by the proponents of such a philosophy.

o   To begin with, I doubt that progress in the real sense has been made in say, the past 100 years, especially in terms of economic inequality and other similar important indexes of collective human well-being. But this is not the subject under discussion in here. What I see is that this ‘freedom’ is applied particularly to ‘speech’ only (or perhaps to ‘thought’ as well, but I am taking in here the articulation of private thoughts onto a public arena).

o   We see that one does not have the ‘freedom’ to intentionally or carelessly sell rotten goods in the marketplace, and the government will in one way or the other step in and halt such a situation. One does not have the freedom to deliberately misguide people in business and to steal their money in (admittedly) covert ways. This, while the domain of ‘speech’, of ‘consumable items’, and of ‘business practices’ is always the public sphere.

o   Thus, the past and present architects of ‘modern civilization’ seem to think that humanity’s better sense will prevail and will naturally drown out the voices of useless and senseless speech, for example ‘hate speech’ and the like, before it has any detrimental effects on society. This, while it sees that visible material goods, items, and currency [or whatever is related to currency such as business schemes] that are deemed to be detrimental to the society’s well-being in a marked way should be policed and even forcibly removed from the public sphere by the representative of the people, that is, the government.

o   This would thus seem to suggest that such societies consider ‘speech’ itself to be at a lower rung in terms of its materiality and in terms of its efficacy upon society at large, no matter how untrue, hurtful, or misleading such speech might be, while the analogous detrimental qualities cannot be tolerated at all with more “materially substantial items” such as harmful merchandise, etc.

o   I am of course talking in extremely general terms in here, since many of the “liberal” countries themselves have legislation against hate speech. And also in many cases while a person saying something very distasteful and hurtful to the society may not be materially eliminated from society [that is, he will not be executed or imprisoned by the government], yet there are other forms of punishment that have been developed in this case, such as expulsion from one’s career circle and one’s means of livelihood, and this is in itself a very strong (private) signal against those who wish to go against generally accepted norms and standards in society. But in here I am only talking about the abstract conception of ‘freedom of expression’, and how it is treated differently from other potential types of ‘public disturbances’ (if I can use this term in this context) by the public systems in place.

o   One point from what I can perceive of the matter, the issue of the possibility of seeing Allah in the Hereafter revolves around our (i.e. Sunni) understanding that processes like seeing, hearing, thinking, for human beings may or may not be connected to the senses. What happens is that generally in this world, we get certain gross sensory data and this is used by our sense organs to give rise to ‘seeing’ or ‘hearing’. But our contention is that this is not absolutely necessary in every case of seeing or hearing, which is why we accept the possibility of seeing Allah in the Hereafter.

o   The arrangement of the Qur’an avoids the different extremes one finds many a times in composition: What drives people away due either to its baseness/roughness, due its rarity (i.e. using rare and words unknown by most people), or what is easily detected as artificially put together, and thus loses authenticity.

o   According to the editor, there was a disagreement over whether the genre of Saj’ is included in the Qur’an. Al-Baqilaani (RA) strongly maintained that this was simply not the case, and he said that the examples brought forth from certain quarters for this argument are wrong. He said that Saj’ was something used by the soothsayers, and soothsaying is itself an explicit type of rejection of Prophethood, while such is not automatically the case with poetry – so since we accept the impossibility of poetry in the Qur’an, the impossibility of Saj’ in the Qur’an is even greater. This is addition to a number of Ahaadith from the Prophet ﷺ that have been reported disparaging Saj’. One more thing is that, if the Qur’an included Saj’, then the Arabs would have somehow come together and fabricated a “better type of Saj’”, but we know such was not the case at all.

o   This is in addition to the rule that in Saj’, the meanings follow the order of the composition, while in the Qur’an the order of the composition is subservient to the meaning that is to be conveyed.

o   The editor mentions that al-Baaqilaani’s stance with regards to the non-existence of Saj’ was relatively weak in its formulation, argumentation, and defense. He says that the narration used in support of this position refers only to the specific situation surrounding the use of Saj’ for the attempt to absolve one’s family from payment of blood-money, but it cannot be taken to encompass the denigration of Saj’ as a genre. The editor says that nay, a number of the traditions from the Prophet ﷺ were of a Saj’ type, even while being distinct and different from the style of the Qur’an. And the same goes for the principle of the meanings following the outer words and vice-versa, it is said that the meanings following the words does not occur in all cases of Saj’ but only in some of them.

o   So the other side of the debate said that there is nothing wrong in saying that there is Saj’ in the Qur’an, as long as we also know that it is far above any type of Saj’ that we find in the speech of humans. (So to me, at least at this initial lay stage, it seems to be a disagreement over the terminology used and how the things are being looked at).

o   Also, from what the editor is saying, this position was taken by al-Baaqilaani (RA) due to his wanting to support the Ash’ari cause at all costs. It is not specifically mentioned why this was so, but it may be due to certain arguments to the contrary having been formulated by the Mu’tazilis, and there may have been a natural aversion to accepting the positive points in such arguments (but again, this is a superficial reading from my side of the matter, it could very well be that I am incorrect).

o   Whatever may be said, we know that the Qur’an is the work upon which the rhetorical features of all other Arabic literature is judged against, since it is the base in this respect.

o   It was mentioned by a number of persons that one could make use from the study of the types of poetry in order to better understand the miracle of the Qur’an. But al-Baaqilani (RA) said that this is in fact not the case, insofar as one can learn the methods of poetry, practice them, and eventually learn how to compose poetry just like what one has studied; while with the Qur’an, one can appreciate the miracle and learn lessons on what the miracle of the Qur’an is, but one cannot successfully imitate it.

o   The literary miracle of the Qur’an is very clear to the one who has reached knowledge of the sciences of the Arabic language, and it is not hidden from such people. But with respect to those who have not reached this stage – which is a very common thing today, even among the Arabic speakers, let alone the non-Arab Muslims and non-Muslims – then they can come to know of this either through studying and reaching this stage themselves, or otherwise they have to trust the words of the experts in this regard, and know that those who reached the highest levels of cognizance in Arabic could not produce something like the Qur’an, so those who are lower than them will be even less likely to come up with something like it. This is a rational consequence of knowing how human beings learn and apply their knowledge, and it is not at all a degradation of those who may not have reached a high level of eloquence, whether they are native Arabs or have come to learn Arabic later on during their lives.

o   It is mentioned in brief in here, but al-Baaqilaani (RA) gave some examples of how even the biggest names in Arabic poetry stumbled in certain places in their poems, and how the meanings they were attempting to convey were either overextended with the words they used, or otherwise the required limit was left unreached. The editor has certain reservations in this case, though, and it might be something to look into later.

o   There was apparently some difference between the Ash’aris and the Mu’tazilis with respect to the minimum extent of what could be considered as inimitable of the Qur’an. The majority of the Ash’aris mentioned that it was equivalent to any Chapter of the Qur’an, even the shortest one; this extended even to the words contained in any given Chapter which did reach up to the extent of the shortest Chapter. But the Mu’tazilis said that each Chapter is to be seen separately, and the challenge is likewise to be considered. (If there is a chance, I need to ask about this point specifically, since a number of questions are to be considered, especially with regards to what is reported to be the Ash’ari stance. If I am not mistaken in my understanding of a response I received in this case from a Sunni teacher, each Chapter was to be considered as a separate unit, a position that would seem to be closer to the Mu’tazili position; so perhaps more needs to be asked. And Allah knows best).

o   An interesting point made is that the challenge of the Qur’an, since it came to those who were well-versed in Arabic, was in fact a way to tell them to be bashful in front of Allah and in front of what He had given the Prophet ﷺ of this wonderful sign pointing to his Prophethood, not that they would start judging the character of the Prophet ﷺ, or that they would actually try to come up with something like the Qur’an.

o   It is a little bit difficult for people like myself to understand this, but if we were to make an analogy with the ‘visual’ miracles, we would see that the potency of such miracles is meant to humble those who ask for a proof of Prophethood, and to be an indubitable sign that Allah has chosen the person for Prophethood. After that, the response from the people should be mere obedience and nothing else. Of course, people are usually quite stubborn upon such issues, which is why they take the challenge inherent in the miracle in another way, but we are talking about how it should be taken, not how it is actually taken.

o   There is one hypothetical question raised treated by al-Baaqilani (RA) which is whether it was hypothetically possible for Allah the Exalted to have revealed the Qur’an in a style even more sublime than what we have with us. The answer is that this is from among the possibilities, but that in any case it is not a stage or a rank that the human beings can reach. Allah knows best, but I myself think that these sorts of questions have only a limited applicability, and are only useful in understanding the topic of the Power of Allah in the abstract sense. But when it comes to a discussion about the Qur’anic revelation itself, we deal with what Allah has revealed to us, not what may have been or could have been, since these matters may also give rise to doubts in the minds of some people.

o   Of note: There are certain narrations mentioning that Ibn Mas’ud (RAA) had doubts about the Muawidhatayn being part of the Qur’an, or that ‘Ubay Ibn Ka’b (RAA) thought certain Duas were actually part of the Qur’an, and a few other things of similar signification. We say these are solitary narrations, and such types of narrations cannot be used as proof in the field of determining what the Qur’an is or is not. This confuses many people among the lay Muslims, but if they understand what is the criteria for Qur’anic studies and what establishes a proof in this field, then there is no reason for such doubts to be held by any reasonable person.

o   And the reason for this is that we have the Qur’an transmitted from a Companion like Ibn Mas’ud or ‘Ubay ibn Ka’b (RAA): If in their formal teaching to their students (and also, those that came in a mass transmitted manner), the Muawidhatayn are not part of what he taught, or the Qunnot Duas were added, then this is considered as evidence. Otherwise, it cannot be taken as evidence since a solitary narration cannot overcome what has been mass transmitted, and this has to do with the level of certitude that one gains based on the number of chains for any information. (So this is also a specific application of a general rule that is not restricted to religion alone). And besides, we do accept the existence of different readings, some of the mass transmitted, some of them only famous, some of them rare, and each level has their own level of certitude.

o   Some things are mentioned among the possibilities in this regard, such that it may be that ‘Ubay (RAA) simply wrote this Dua on the marginalia of his Mushaf so that it would not be forgotten by him; in the case of Ibn Mas’ud (RAA), there may be many reasons that he may not have explicitly written these Chapters in his Mushaf, or it may be that the narrator who narrated this matter became confused. Besides, the Masaahif of many of the Companions had their own peculiar traits, arrangement, additions, etc.

o   This is why with respect to all the texts of Islam, we take the book along with what the teacher says as proper evidence, and we do not take what is written in the book ‘standalone’ as necessarily being a proof. When this is the case with respect to a book that any Shaykh or Allaamah may have written, what then about the Qur’an itself, which is the most important book for Muslims by far? Of course, someone who is totally unfamiliar with the weight of the Qur’an among Muslims may just use whatever means of ‘Biblical-based’ criticism he knows of, but this is totally unacceptable when it comes to the Qur’an.

o   If we were to suppose that the Qur’an was composed by the Prophet ﷺ, there would definitely have been serious attempts to meet its challenge. And one of the big reasons is that the various speeches and writings of only one person do not differ a lot; and we know that, while the Prophet ﷺ was given eloquence as is manifest in the Ahaadeeth, this was not something that was outside of the order and types of speech known to the Arabs at that time. So had the Qur’an been a mere fabrication, its linguistic rank and its linguistic status would not have been that much different from that of the Ahaadeeth.

o   One more thing is that fabricating Ahaadeeth has unfortunately been around within Islamic history, and had the Qur’an been fabricated, even these fabricated Ahaadeeth would have had rhetorical qualities similar to that of the Qur’an, while the truth of the matter is not so.

o   Apparently, if I understand the matter correctly, there has been some criticism about this book of al-Baaqilaani (RA), in that it did not really bring about what we might call ‘amazingly new points’ into the discussion of the miraculousness of the Qur’an; rather, they were points that were somehow discussed by others before him or those contemporaneous with him, even if he tried to hide the explicit identities of the ultimate sources of his points due to certain reasons.

o   But what is mentioned and what I would also say, is that if someone comes along and merely organizes well what has been previously said and parses the very strong points from those that have lesser weight, he cannot be totally ignored in the field; and this is because he carried out a job that was in some or the other way lacking in the field. This is of course, supposing that there really is nothing new in the work of Al-Baaqilani (RA).

o   The work begins in and of itself: The first relevant point is that the Qur’an is a standalone decisive proof, in the sense that not only does it combine the message and the proof of the Messenger who brought it ﷺ, but it also needs no further miracle or sign to ‘prove’ its decisiveness. In this sense, it is like the visible miracles: If one’s senses were in normal working condition and he was able to witness the miracles at the hands of the earlier Prophets (AS), this would be a necessary and sufficient reason for them to accept the truth of that Prophet or Messenger. And the same is the case with those who have reached the level of proficiency in Arabic, such as those at the dawn of the Qur’anic revelation.

o   Yes, today we live in a very different time, when being skeptical about every single thing, even the decisiveness of what one may see right in front of one is considered as a pillar of certain ‘schools of philosophy’, but when we consider the way in which the Message was and has always been presented by Allah the Exalted, it is always given so that the lowest rung of society (both economically but more importantly, intellectually) can understand the force of the proof. Going into the fine details of the philosophy behind sensory data versus rational data has its place in Islam, but it cannot deny the fact that even the common appreciation of miraculous sensory signs cannot be endlessly talked about with its presentation, refutation, counter-refutations, and so on and so forth.

Well, it hypothetically can be talked about endlessly, but Allah will not consider the one who rejected the solid proof as standing on solid ground on the Day of Judgment, since there is a limit for dialectical discussions, beyond which it is not really a serious discussion anymore, but more like a discussion for the sake of continuing a discussion, without a firm goal and end-game.