The Order of the Suwar is Intentional (Part 3)
Final part looking at the arguments for why the ordering of the suwar is intentionally set by Allah ﷻ
This is the conclusion of a series on the arguments for why the order of the suwar of the Quran, as they are compiled today, was intentionally set by Allah ﷻ. See Part 2 before continuing.
3. Spiritual Arguments
Shaykh Hamīduddīn Farāhī (died 1930 CE), in his book, Dalāil an-Niẓām (Evidences for Coherence) developed a theory explaining how the absence of reflection over the Quran can lead to a spiritual crisis. He wrote a commentary of the Quran based on his theory of the Quran’s organization, but was only able to write about nine suwar before he passed away.
In it, he praises Allah ﷻ in a way that is related to the subject he is dealing with. He says, “Praise and Gratitude belongs to Allah, the One who crafts creation in the most perfect order and the most beautiful upright form. The One who places things in the most appropriate of all places.”
His spiritual argument is captured in the way he praised Allah ﷻ, saying, “The beginnings of guidance have to do with how advanced human beings are and the special qualities human beings have. Allah ﷻ guides human beings differently than He guides cows, birds, bees, and trees. The most predominant features of how we receive guidance is the ability to clearly communicate: al-bayān (clear speech).”
All of Allah’s guidance comes through communication. The author continues, “The human beings’ ability to receive guidance spiritually, emotionally, as well as intellectually, could never have happened if it wasn’t capable of clear speech.”
الرَّحْمَـٰنُ * عَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ * خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ * عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ
The Most Merciful taught the Quran, created mankind, taught him clarity of speech1
Allah ﷻ created Adam, and then “He taught Adam the names of all things.”2 That was the beginning of our story; the beginning of guidance. And what was the final guidance? Quran itself, which is al-Bayān. What began with Adam reached its climax with the coming of the Quran. It is as though Allah ﷻ gave us the gift of speech so that one day we could be worthy of the Quran.
About language itself, Farāhī says, “Speech can never be understood unless you recognize that its components have been organized. Specifically, how parts of it correspond to other parts of it. It’s impossible to understand somebody if one thing they say is disconnected from the next. If you take only one part of the speech, you cannot get the point; you are going to be missing out.”
If one takes an atomistic view of the Quran, taking a few āyāt without considering the hundreds of other āyāt in the same sūrah will lead to a deficiency in the meaning gleaned. In our own speech, if we take things out of context, we will not be able to understand it as it was intended.
The name “Quran” is argued to be from two origins. We have already mentioned the opinion regarding the root, “qa-ra-a,” which means “to recite.” The other opinion is that is comes from “qa-ra-na,” which means “to connect; to link.” So, the Quran has a connection, and you cannot have a connection by reciting one line in isolation. It necessarily needs to have one line followed by another, after another, etc., to show any sort of linkages.
Shaykh Hamīduddīn Farāhī advised his students to ponder over the Quran and to look at each sūrah holistically. His fellow scholars were teaching fiqh (law), ʿāqīdah (theology), ḥadīth (narrations), amongst other disciplines, and some of them became annoyed with him and his students. They would ask: “Why are you wasting so much time contemplating the order of the āyāt?”
He responded to his critics, saying, “The most harmful thing is that people are just completely oblivious of this knowledge (coherence, structure, and a holistic view of the Quran). It is because it is so difficult and not so obvious, and that there are so many possible ways for you to slip up and figure out what is going on in a sūrah, that they argue that this cannot possibly be one of the fundamental things to study in the religion. They say that looking for the coherence of the speech and analyzing the beauty, eloquence, and rhetoric can only be an extracurricular activity; a waste of time. And they say, ‘Who would dare consider that as a fundamental mental exercise of the religion? And on top of that, encouraging students to be involved in this kind of inquiry? This kind of person is preventing them from doing the mandatory things in Islam. This is a deviation, he is changing the religion, and he is corrupting the education system.’
“And I have heard this kind of criticism even from those who acknowledge the usefulness of finding the Quran’s coherence interconnectedness of the āyāt. They say to me, ‘The Quran came to you, so act on it. It came so that you can get guidance from its light, not to try to find these subtle connections and to look at word choice. Why are you busying yourself with that?’
“They misunderstand. The subtleties of the Quran and the coherence observations are not the goal at all. You won’t achieve success with it alone. Those observations are a by-product of something far more important. The ultimate goal is contemplating the words of Allah ﷻ, which have deliberately been placed in a context. That contemplation, and looking at the Book as a whole, is the only way by which we can properly reflect upon the Quran. Do you really think you don’t need to contemplate Allah’s words? And you don’t have any need for what Allah revealed to you? This entire study is a spiritual exercise. It is ‘tadabbur (contemplation)’ over the Quran.
“Do you think that the books of law have already extracted everything in Allah’s Book, so there is no reason for us to contemplate the Quran anymore? So now it is only used to look for proofs for the ‘fatwā (legal ruling)’? The Quran would then only be read to look for proof for law arguments and to gain reward. If we only focus on permissible and impermissible, then we only read it for reward, nothing more.”
He then continues, “Isn’t it true that the outward good we do (Hajj, charity, eating clean, etc.) is directly tied to beliefs and intentions? To something inwardly? The inward and outward good are directly tied to our mannerism; to our character. Isn’t it true that when a person becomes reformed, that is the only way for society to be reformed? Don’t you realize that a person can never be reformed until they go to the very essence of wisdom? Nobody can become a better person by simply learning what is permissible or impermissible. Nobody can deeply be connected to Allah ﷻ by knowing which group was deviant in which way. How are you connected to the inner wisdom of our faith?
“The inner change can only come from the words of Allah ﷻ, from the Quran. If things were the way things they were supposed to be, and we were naturally spiritually good people, then we wouldn't need to go back to the original source. But when corruption and mischief has dominated society, and beliefs are all over the place, and the hearts are sleeping, and the harmony and order of religion has been depleted, and the law has lost its uprightness, and the cultural, economic and political authorities are making up new things about the religion while we are following them, then our need for divine wisdom becomes more and more intense. We have to find a way out of the trial and tribulation of the religion being torn apart.
“Who’s holding onto the Quran? Who is bringing people together when the roads become confusing, and everyone who has their own opinion is really impressed by it, and ignorance has already caused great famine in society, and yet, seeking guidance from the Quran is still being refused.
“This is the same Quran that Allah ﷻ Himself describes as light and healing. Do you not feel in need of Allah’s wisdom? Do you think it can come without reflection? If it wasn’t the case that we had to stop, reflect, and dive into the Book, how could Allah ﷻ commanded us to do tadabbur of the Quran and think deeply about His āyāt? And if there weren’t things to discover, if everything was just on the surface, why do we have to contemplate?”
Tadabbur comes from the word dubr: which means, “the back.” In other words, tadabbur is to ask, “How do you find what is behind these words?” There is the surface-level understanding of the word, but behind them there is a wisdom, a meaning, a guidance that applies to people and opens up minds and softens hearts.
The verb form of the word used for taddabur3 implies the meaning of making huge efforts. So, tadabbur indicates that you are striving to understand what is behind these words, and exhausting all efforts to extract what lessons you can.
Shaykh Hamīduddīn Farāhī continues his spiritual argument, “Why don’t you take a good look at everything above you, around you, under you, and at all of the things that Allah has created? Forget pondering Quran. Ponder everything else! You will find two things: that they are organized and that they are compiled one on top of the other so that you can benefit from them and enjoy the beauty in them.
“Look at a single leaf and find the symmetrical veins on it, zoom in and look at a single ice crystal, look at the pattern inside a flower, look at what honey bees do. Just look at all of creation. Observe the beauty of the design of the heart, or the way in which a baby is formed. You will find a remarkable symmetry in every system. In short, everything is in order. Order has everything to do with the way it produces benefit and the way it makes it beautiful.”
The Quran has two things that soften the heart: its benefit and its beauty. When you see something beautiful, your heart softens. These two elements are the keys to tadabbur.
He continues, “You can even see that order and sequence is the essence of the existence of all things around us. Consider the arrangement that Allah ﷻ puts inside of our bodies: finger, eyes, etc. Get rid of the order and it becomes like it’s nothing now. That is why craftiness, artistry, beauty, and its perfection can never exist without the existence of order. A maker, designer, and manufacturer will only be praised in accordance to the perfection that they bought to sequence; how they ordered things. Or it could be they are criticized for the weakness of order and harmony in their work. Everything you do is either a success or failure depending on how organized it was.
“This is a deep truth that anyone who possesses a thinking mind can never deny. If all of this makes sense to you, why don’t you turn your intentions to the subject of order and harmony when it comes to speech itself. Speech is essentially composed of one part put on top of another, put on top of another... in a certain order. It cannot have a possible meaning without an order. If you mess up the order, it doesn’t have a meaning anymore.”
The gift of language depends on its order. Organization is necessary for communication. The more organized a speech is, the more you understand it. If a speech is all over the place, you cannot understand the intended message. The more unorganized a person’s thoughts are, the more unintelligent he is assumed to be. Part of the beauty and power of speech is how a point is made; how it is organized. Order is everything. Words put together in a certain order make a sentence, and if you change the order of words, the meaning would be different: Saying, “Bob punched Joe”, versus “Joe punched Bob,” leads to two very different disciplinary actions.
Do we think that the One who put order to all things will not put order in His Book while He went as far as to put order at the tip our fingers? How can we deny a heavenly ordering of the Quran? It’s Allah’s word! Everything He does is in balance and harmony.
Shaykh Hamīduddīn Farāhī concludes, “If order is so important in human communication, then how dare you say that the speech of Allah is not ordered?” Allah’s speech is the best of all speech, so we should expect that it is also the best of all organization.
And Allah ﷻ knows best.
And this concludes the arguments for the divine ordering of the Quran! The following weeks will give case studies of structures spanning two or more suwar to showcase more examples of intentional ordering.
Verb form V, tafaʿʿul