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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Miqaddimah (12): Length of Sūrahs

In one of the discussions above, I have mentioned that the shorter sūrahs of the Holy Qur’ān peer the longer ones in their grandeur, wisdom and beautiful structure. This brief point requires elaboration which is offered here.
Some of the earlier scholars of the ummah have maintained that some of the shorter sūrahs equal one third of the Holy Qur’ān. Some others they characterized as “the completing ones”. Sufyān bin ‘Uyaynah, for example, says that Sūrah Fātiḥah complements ṣalāh because it provides complete knowledge. Imām Shāfi‘ī has said that Sūrah ‘Aṣr alone would have sufficed for guidance. Those endowed with understanding do not fail to appreciate this fact regarding at least some of the shorter sūrahs. A full survey and deep appreciation of the entire Qur’ān would reveal that shorter a sūrah in content the more meaningful it is. In their small size they contain great wisdom such that to treat them justly would not be possible for any who sets upon himself such a task.
The Holy Qur’ān puts large wisdom in smaller sūrahs for the following reasons:
1. First and perhaps the most important factor behind this practice is that the overwhelming human need for the religious truths and its importance in human life demands that its fundamental principles are always kept alive and fresh in the minds of the believers. This in turn demands that such principles are put in such comprehensive and cogent expressions that they become part of one’s language like proverbs. They must be easy to express by tongues in direct proportion to their weight and meaningfulness in the mind. Such principles, if expressed in lengthy discussions, are easily lost upon the audience.
2. In the early stages of propagation, any teachings do not appeal and attract people much. At this stage, minds are not usually receptive for the minute details of the directives commanded them. Nor are they interested in elaborated discussions. This entails that at this early stage, they are taught only that which can be briefly expressed in cogent, compact wise sayings. Once these seeds of cogent and comprehensive expressions sprout up, they are watered by the required details for, by that time, hearts and minds of the audience grow tenacious and ready to assimilate more knowledge.
3. The Arabs were very fond of rhymed and rhythmical speech. To them, terseness and brevity were necessary characteristics of a fine discourse. Therefore, in the earlier phase, the Holy Qur’ān attracted them by employing their favorite style of expression.
4. The soothsayers of Arabia usually composed their cadences in terse rhythmical prose. Arabs would give attentive ears to beautiful speech of the soothsayers. They would consider this mastery of expression a supernatural phenomenon. To them such beautiful expressions really gushed forth from some supernatural source. The Qur’ān adopted similar style of expression in the beginning so that they did not find it strange.
As regards the greatness of the shorter sūrahs in terms of their being loaded and pregnant discourse ……………..[1]

[1]. This all important discussion too could not be completed by the author. However, a careful study of Farāhī’s exegesis of the shorter surāhs reveals that even one of the shortest ones, Al-Kawthar, is an ocean of meaning. (Iṣlāḥī)