Bassam Saeh’s The Miraculous Language of the Qur’an addresses a frequent problem that Muslims encounter when reading the Quran. For those who don’t understand Arabic, there are few resources that do more than merely translate the Quran and mention relevant hadiths. But even readers who understand Arabic experience a difficulty. The text of the Quran becomes familiar to them—they get used to the words and phrases. Instead of contemplating the fascinating linguistic patterns of the Quran, these readers remain stuck in a loop of superficial meanings they are familiar with. This book addresses both of these problems.
This slim volume (only 90 pages long) is a translation by Nancy Roberts of Bassam Saeh’s Arabic book al-Mu’jizah, Volume I. The discussion is carefully organized and the language is intelligent without being the kind of reading you expect to be assigned in a college class. The first part of the book is a general discussion of the linguistic miraculousness of the Quran and a concept that Saeh calls “newness.” The second part applies these ideas to Surah al-Muddaththir. The text is broken up into small sections that keep the detailed conversation about Arabic grammar from becoming overwhelming. The organization, language, and size of this book make it accessible for a wide audience, and I highly recommend it.
Saeh describes the Quran as a “linguistic revolution,” in which Allah (swt) uses new words, new uses of particles, new linguistic units (i.e., an ayah ≠ a sentence), new uses of conjunctions, and new images to create a unique flavor of Arabic, the beauty and complexity of which can only be described as divine. This newness is ironic considering the frequent Quran reader’s problem—that they are used to the text. Saeh breathes new life into this subject, making familiar parts of the Quran new sources of contemplation for Arabic and non-Arabic speakers alike.
In the second part of the book, Saeh uses Surah al-Muddaththir to provide a practical application of his ideas. He lists 84 “new” words in the surah, including the following two examples, taken from page 54.
“Sa’udan: a metaphorical image in which torment is likened to ascending a steep grade.
Kafaru: That is, they rejected the call to Islam. The original meaning of the verb kafara is to cover up or conceal; hence, the meaning is that they concealed the truth by closing their minds and hearts to it.”
An example of the images that he extracts from the surah and explains is “yahdi man ya sha’u,” “[he] guides aright him that wills.” This phrase has become so familiar to us that we don’t consider the meaning of the language itself; the words strung together simply take on the familiar meaning. But the meaning of the language is that the act of enabling belief is like guiding someone on a path. (My immediate thought was of my GPS, telling me how much longer to continue on my path and when to take a turn.) How much more could we benefit from our reading of the Quran if we awakened our minds to its language?
I highly recommend this book to:
- Arabic nerds
- English majors
- Fans of Divine Speech (the book or the class)
- Fans of Bayyinah classes and podcasts
- anyone who wants to delve a little deeper into what makes the Quran miraculous
You can buy a copy here.