THE Holy Qur’an abounds with figures of speech that are used for different rhetorical and communicative purposes. In this article, we shall study some of the major purposes:
• To create a sarcastic picture: The Qur’an usually uses some images to criticize those disbelievers who either refused to believe in Allah or fought and oppressed His prophets. The purpose of such images is to stress the importance of true faith, “The likeness of those who were entrusted with the (obligation of the) Taurat (Torah) (i.e. to obey its commandments and to practice its laws), but who subsequently failed in those (obligations), is as the likeness of a donkey which carries huge burdens of books (but understands nothing from them). How bad is the example of people who deny the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, signs revelations) of Allah. And Allah guides not the people who are Zalimun (polytheists, wrong-doers, disbelievers).” (Qur’an, 62:5). The negative tone of the verse helps to instill that picture in the reader’s and listener’s mind.
• To draw a picture of the Hereafter: One of the facts that the Qur’an frequently deals with is death and the Hereafter. The Qur’an focuses on showing how believers’ faith and piety are to be rewarded and how disbelievers become panicky for fear of eternal punishment. Such facts are conjured up through figures of speech, especially similes, which transfer the readers of the Qur’an from this world to the other world, “They will come forth – their eyes humbled – from (their) graves, (torpid) like locusts scattered abroad.” (Qur’an, 54:7)
• Exemplification: One of the functions of the figures of speech employed in the Qur’an is to cite examples that teach a lesson, clarify a ritual, draw a picture etc…. Such examples bridge the gap between the listener or reader of the Qur’an on the one hand and the intended meaning, on the other, “For Him (Allah, Alone) is the Word of Truth (i.e. none has the right to be worshiped but Allah). And those whom they (polytheists and disbelievers) invoke, answer them no more than one who stretches forth his hand (at the edge of a deep well) for water to reach his mouth, but it reaches him not; and the invocation of the disbelievers is nothing but an error (i.e. of no use).” (Qur’an, 13:14)
• To simplify abstractions: An abstract concept is something that cannot be perceived by the senses. Understanding an abstraction requires simplification, explanation and exemplification. Many figures of speech in the Qur’an are used to bridge the gap between the abstract concept in question and the reader or listener, “As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one thinks it to be water, until he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing; but he finds Allah with him, Who will pay him his due (Hell). And Allah is Swift in taking account.” (Qur’an, 24: 39)
• To express a psychological state: The Qur’an, due to being full of characters and stories, draws pictures of prophets, angels, believers, unbelievers … etc. Many verses in the Qur’an express the psychological state of some characters such as of Moses’ mother when she fears for her son lest he should die or be killed when parting from her, “And the heart of the mother of Musa (Moses) became empty [from every thought, except the thought of Musa (Moses)]. She was very near to disclose his (case, i.e. the child is her son), had We not strengthened her heart (with Faith), so that she might remain as one of the believers.” (Qur’an, 28:10)
• To give a picture of God (divine entity): Some images in the Qur’an, called anthropomorphic images, are used in the Qur’an to draw a picture of God’s benevolence, mercy, love etc. Such images bridge the gap between believers and their idea about God, “Verily, those who give Bai’ah (pledge) to you (O Muhammad peace be upon him) they are giving Bai’ah (pledge) to Allah. The Hand of Allah is over their hands. Then whosoever breaks his pledge, breaks it only to his own harm; and whosoever fulfills what he has covenanted with Allah, He will bestow on him a great reward.” (Qur’an, 48:10)
– By Dr. Khaled Tawfik