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Answering the Doubt: If the Qurʾān is So Eloquent, Why Is Its Explanation So Detailed?

Imām Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī

A brief answer to the lack of insight of the disbeliever who attacks the length of the Qurʾān without consideration for its completeness and perfection.

Imām Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310 AH) said:

An issue raised by agnostics, criticisers of the Qurʾān:

[Q]: At the start of your book, you described eloquence and alluded to the the highest of levels and the most honourable, reverent of classes on this subject that it is deeper in its ability to convey meaning than the capability of any one individual to express his innermost thoughts, greater at clarifying the meaning of expressed speech in a way that facilitates greater understanding of those who listen to it. You claim: The most deserving of such attributes are the words of Allāh the Exalted in Praise. This is due to the honour and blessings His words hold above all other speech. For it has ascended to the very highest echelons of eloquence. If the matter truly is as you have described, then what is the reason for the prolonged discourse present in the Mother of the Qurʾān with seven verses? While the meaning of the entire chapter is encompassed in two verses:

مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ ‎﴿٤﴾‏ إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ ﴿٥﴾‏

“The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense (i.e. the Day of Resurrection). You (Alone) we worship, and you (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything).”
(Al-Fātiḥah, 1: 4-5)

There can be no doubt that the one who acknowledges Allāh to be ‘the Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense’ must also recognise Him by His perfect Names and exemplary Attributes. Furthermore, the one who is obedient to Allāh will have already followed the path of those upon whom He has bestowed His grace, and turned away from the path of those who have earned His anger and gone astray [as in the final verse of the Sūrah al-Fātiḥah]. Then, does the inclusion of five more verses hold wisdom left un-encompassed by the two verses we have mentioned?

[A]: Indeed, Allāh—the Most High in Remembrance—has gathered words of wisdom and lessons and granted them to our prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and his ummah in the form of what has been revealed unto him in His Book. These lessons were not gathered in any of the books revealed to any prophet before him, nor were such words of wisdom elucidated for any generation from among the generations of the past. For every book revealed by the Most Exalted in Remembrance to every prophet before him encompassed only a portion of these lessons and words of wisdom. While His book revealed unto our Prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) comprises all of these lessons. For example, the Tawrāh contains exhortations with some elaboration. The Zabūr (Psalms) comprises praise, commemoration, and recognition of Allāh’s Majesty. The Injīl (Gospel) also contains religious exhortation and encouragement of remembrance. There is no form of miracle in any of these books that would testify as to the truthfulness of the one upon whom it was revealed. While the book revealed unto our Prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) encompasses all of these subjects while also increasing in its content by alluding to lessons that are absent in the rest of the [revealed] books. Many of which we have mentioned thus far in this book.

From among the most reverent of matters that shows our book to be favoured over the rest is its incredible organisation, its astoundingly intricate sequence and its amazing orchestration. Its structure is above the ability of the most talented orators. Some of its eloquence is unfathomable by the most talented of linguists. Its orchestration is an issue of consternation and confusion for poets. Scholars1 find themselves in a state of dim-witted idiocy before it; unable to create its likeness. Thus, they find no recourse except wholehearted submission; in a state of satisfaction as to it being from the One, the Irresistible. This is all in addition to the lessons it comprises in the form of targhīb and tarhīb [awakening the yearning for reward and the fear of punishment], orders, prohibitions, stories, debates, parables and other lessons that were not contained in any other book revealed from the heavens.

Hence, even if it contains that which is considered [by yourselves as] “prolonged discourse”, then it is only in relation to what we have previously described. For Allāh—the Exalted in Remembrance—wishes to gather this book with incredible structure and astoundingly intricate sequence far above the scales of poetry, or the rhyming verses of the soothsayers, or the speeches of the orators, or the writings of the most eloquent scholars; its intricacy is above the ability of all creation just as its structure is unlike anything that could be produced by any servant [of Allāh]. Allāh wished to gather this book as a means of proof of the prophethood of our Prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) along with what it comprises from Allāh’s praise, commemoration, and recognition of His Majesty. Allāh wished that this book be gathered as a way of bringing the attention of His slaves to His Greatness, Sovereignty, Encompassing Ability, and His Magnificent Ownership. Such that He may be remembered by His favours, praised for His blessings. The ones who do so are then deserving of even more that they have been granted, in addition to an abundant reward. Allāh has included therein the description of the characteristics of those upon whom He has bestowed favour through their knowledge of Him; upon whom he granted the tawfīq to engage in acts of His obedience. Such that His servants may gain awareness that whatever blessings they enjoy—whether this be in their worldly lives or the hereafter—it is all from Him. Thus, should they turn to Him for whatever they desire and in the fulfilment of their needs, rather than that which is worshipped besides Him or made to be equal partners with Him. He also mentions within it the torment that reached those who disobeyed Him; the punishment that has descended upon those who oppose His orders. This is mentioned as a way of instilling fear into His servants of engaging in acts of His disobedience; allowing themselves to be amenable to His annoyance. For fear that He may subjugate them to an exemplary punishment, a retribution similar to the destroyed nations of the past.

Such is the wisdom behind the prolonged elaboration present in the Mother of the Book [i.e., Sūrah al-Fātiḥah]. The same principle elucidated here applies to the rest of the chapters of al-Furqān [i.e., the Qurʾān]. For what has been clarified here is the most perfect of wisdoms; the most complete of proofs and evidences.


[1] Scholars: those being referred to here are the linguists and orators of the time period of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) who were unable to recreate the likeness of even a single verse of the Qurʾān despite reaching the highest echelons of Arabic eloquence from among the Arabs and the People of the Book. Then, it refers to those who came after them who are similarly unable to do so. Allāh said:

قُل لَّئِنِ اجْتَمَعَتِ الْإِنسُ وَالْجِنُّ عَلَىٰ أَن يَأْتُوا بِمِثْلِ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لَا يَأْتُونَ بِمِثْلِهِ وَلَوْ كَانَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ ظَهِيرً

Say: “If mankind and the jinns were to come together to produce the like of this Qurʾān, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they helped one another.”

Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī said: “The Exalted in Praise says: Say O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to those who claim they will bring the likeness of this Qurʾān: If the Jinn and mankind were to come together to bring its likeness, they will never be able to do so. Even if they were to aid and help one another. It has been mentioned that this verse was revealed unto the Messenger of Allāh (صلى الله عليه وسلم) because of a group of Jews who argued with him concerning the Qurʾān. They asked him (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to bring a sign other than the Qurʾān because they possess the ability to bring its likeness.” See Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, 15:75.

Source: Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī 1: 198-200
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: June 15, 2023
Edited: June 15, 2023

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