Introduction Part 5: Are there metaphors in the Quran?
As for the statement of others, that there is no مجاز in the language nor in the Qur’an, they prove that with the following:
1. All that the Arabs used of meanings for their words were الحقيقة, indistinguishable one from the other. Why do you say that this meaning was put down first so is الحقيقة, then this other meaning is used later, bypassing the الحقيقة real meaning so is the مجاز metaphor?
And why is it not said that all of these meanings were put down in the beginning each the same for use with that term for various purposes? i.e. that the term is مشترك a homonym for all of its meanings in reality.
They say, for example about the word رأس head, that the Arabs used it as was transmitted from them
a. The head that exists on animals and people
b. The head that is the peak of the mountain (رأس الجبل)
c. The head that is the origin of the spring (رأس النبع)
So why do you say the head is for people and animals in reality, and is for the mountain and spring metaphorically?
How do we decide that this meaning was put down originally for people and used metaphorically for the mountain and spring?
So, they say that all these meanings of head […] are real meanings, and that the term رأس is مشترك a homonym.
The meanings are on one level. When we use it or understand it in a text, we present all of these meanings and rely upon the most suitable one for the context.
Because of that, it is not correct to first take it as the human head considering this as الحقيقة, and if this usage is excused, then we take the مجاز. Rather, we present all meanings at once, and whatever suits the context, we take. Here there is no حقيقة and if it was excused مجاز. Rather all are حقيقة real meanings and there is no priority of one meaning over the other, except with an indication in the context.
2. They also say that it has not been transmitted from the early generations of Arabs that they divided speech into حقيقة and مجاز. If there was in langauge حقيقة and مجاز, then it would have been transmitted from them in their narrations or writings.
For these two reasons they say that there is no dividing the language into حقيقة and مجاز, rather all that they used is حقيقة on one level.
We can discuss this statement:
1. It affirms all of the meanings that the Arabs used for their words and that they are applied on the words of the language and the Qur’an alike.
2. The lack of dividing these meanings into حقيقة and مجاز due to the infeasibility of knowing which of these meanings was put down first, and because they are all on one level in terms of usage, so they consider them to be مشتركة homonyms.
3. There is no prioritization of usage in understanding the text, there is no حقيقة real meaning and if it was excused مجاز. Rather all are حقيقة real meanings and there is no priority of one meaning over the other, except with an indication in the context.
Now, we ask is it correct that it is infeasibility to know the meaning that the term was put down for originally (الحقيقة) from the meaning that it was later used for due to an indication preventing the use of the original meaning?
And, are the meanings that Arabs used for the words all on one level? i.e. they equally share [their meanings], so the mind does not turn to one of them before another?! … or does the understanding turn to one not the other upon first hearing the word?
With contemplation on this matter and looking into it deeply, we find the following:
If the term was مشترك a homonym in all of these meanings, some of these meanings would not be understood more quickly than others when the word is uttered, considering that they are equal in their indication; yet the matter is not like that.
For example: The Arabs usage of the word رأس head – as we said – to indicate the head of the body, the head of the mountain and the head of the stream, except that this word رأس head, if it was said without القرينة (an indication), then the mind turns immediately to man’s head and not to anything else, like the head of the mountain or the stream, except with القرينة (an indication).
Also, the Arabs used the word يد hand for the well known limb and also for power
(يد اللأمير تطال كل عابث ) ‘the hand of the ruler reaches every fool’, and for generosity and kindness
(له عندي يد بيضاء) ‘he has a white hand with me’. Except that if we uttered the word يد hand without any القرينة indication, the mind jumps to the well known hand and not to anything else, except with القرينة (an indication).
And there are lots more like that. It shows us that the like of these meanings are not on one level and that some are original, so the mind turns to them without القرينة an indication, while the others need القرينة (an indication). i.e. they are used for other than its original meaning with القرينة an indication, due to the existence of a certain relationship. This is what they called المجاز the metaphor. i.e. it passes the real meaning ( تجاوز الحقيقة) in its usage of the term, to another meaning due to القرينة (the indication) and a relationship with the original meaning.
So because of that, there is حقيقة and مجاز, and the حقيقة meaning is taken first, unless it is not possible, then the مجاز is taken.
As for their saying: If there was in the Arab’s speech حقيقة and مجاز, then it would have been transmitted from them in their by word or writing. This statement cannot be used as a proof. This is because the Arabs in the early ages, whether jahilyyah, the beginning of Islam and so on, used to use in their speech الحقيقة and the المجاز, and they knew that this meaning was الحقيقة and that was المجاز. They knew the difference between the hand which is a limb and that which is power and generosity, and just like that, between the head for humans, the mountain and the stream. They knew that this meaning is حقيقة because it does not require القرينة (an indication), and that this meaning is مجاز because it does require القرينة (an indication)… […] Except that the sciences of Arabic, Qur’an, Hadith, Fiqh and Usul were not given their terminology until later, particularly when some weakness began to enter into the Arabs language, so these sciences were defined to clarify how the Arabs spoke to correct the tongues according to them.
Then the sciences related to the meanings of words were set down, such as the well know terminologies المنطوق والمفهوم direct and implied speech, المجاز و الترادف و المشترك the metaphor, the synonym and the homonym and so on. So, the lack of discussion about حقيقة and مجاز in the early ages is not considered as a proof for the lack of existence of حقيقة and مجاز in the Arabic language.
However, the saying of those who affirm all of the meanings that the Arabs used for their words, and they consider all of them recognized whether in the language or in the Qur’an, we say that this saying of theirs does not differ with the correct statement, except:
1. in classifying these meanings into حقيقة and مجاز, rather considering each of them حقيقة.
2. that there is no prioritization of usage in understanding the text, there is no حقيقة and if it was excused مجاز. Rather all are حقيقة meanings and there is no priority of one meaning over the other, except with an indication in the context.
All of that, if they applied their words and depended upon them.
We say, if they gathered all of the meanings that the Arabs used, and depended upon them to understand the text, and called all of it حقيقة, then the difference would be very minor indeed.
However, the problem occurs when they do not depend on anything other than the حقيقة to understand the Qur’an. Then they meet with the people of the first statement who say that there are مجاز in the language, but not in the Qur’an, rather they recognize only حقيقة and ignore the other Arabic meanings.
Here the problem is concealed. Ignoring some of the meanings that the Arabs used for their words, i.e. مجاز, and depending upon some of the other meanings, i.e. only حقيقة, in understanding the Qur’an; this problem causes a problem from two perspectives:
The first: their falling into sin due to not understanding the Qur’an with the Arabic language that it was sent down in, because their dependence upon a section of the Arabic language and not the other section of meanings that the Arabs used, means not using the Arabic language to understand the Qur’an. This contradicts the fact that the Qur’an is Arabic in language.
The Second: their falling into contradictions in their understanding of the verses of Allah, because of abandoning part of its meanings.
So if they read His saying, سبحانه
“And the wajh of your lord remains” [ar-Rahman 27]
And they are satisfied with الحقيقة for the word وجهmeaning face, but this will create contradictions in understanding, because they will find that the حقيقة meaning that the Arabs put down for this word is the well known face.
Allah is far above and innocent of this الحقيقة that the Arabs put down for this word, because He سبحانه
“nothing is like unto Him” [ash-Shura 11]
Due to that, they fall into confusion and say of its explanation (وجه و ليس كالوجه) “a face but not like a face”. This is (tafseer) an explanation for these words without the Arabic language:
So, they didn’t explain it with الحقيقة اللغوية (the real linguistic meaning) that the Arabs put down for the word,
nor did they explain it with الحقيقة العرفية (the traditional meaning) that the Arabs became accustomed to,
nor did they explain it with (tafseer) an explanation that was transmitted from Rasul Allah (saw)
i.e. الحقيقة الشرعية (the shariah meaning) for the word, nor did they explain it with المجاز (the metaphorical meaning) or الكناية (the allusion) in the language of the Arabs.
Rather, they said: (وجه و ليس كالوجه) “a face but not like a face” i.e. they recognize that these words were not used in the verses with الحقيقة that the Arabs put down for them, so instead of explaining them with the metaphorical meaning that the Arabs used to use, they put a meaning for them that is not from the language of the Arabs.
الوجه, for example, in the Arab’s language is used to indicate ‘the well known face’ with الحقيقة اللغوية (the real linguistic meaning). The Arabs used it to indicate ذات الشخص ‘a person’s self’ […] as مجاز. But, they did not use الوجه to mean (وجه و ليس كالوجه) “a face but not like a face”.
The Qur’an is Arabic in language, so explaining its verses and words should be in the language of the Arabs. If they did that and contemplated, they would find that the Arabs used:
وجه with a مجاز meaning for a person of rank due to his honour and greatness, so they would say:
(جاء وجه القوم) the face [honourable person] of the people came, so the verse [ar-Rahman 27] i.e. “And the ذات of your lord remains” سبحانه
It is not said that this is تأويل بعبد a far-fetched interpretation of the meaning. This is not said, because this is an Arabic usage with this meaning. The Arabic language necessitates it, because the word has either a حقيقة real meaning or it has a مجاز metaphorical meaning.
And, as every Muslim believes that Allah (jalla jallalahu) is far above and innocent of having a face with its real meaning that the Arabs put down for it.
In other words, الحقيقة is impossible, so المجاز that the Arabs used is taken and explained accordingly, because the Islamic aqeedah is definite that Allah (jalla jallalahu) does not have a face according to الحقيقة, like our faces, as Allah is far above and innocent of any likeness or similarity:
So, with that, either:
1. The verse is explained with the Arabic language, so المجاز meaning is taken, so for example, it is said that the الوجه indicates ذات الله سبحانه
2. or the verse is explained without the Arabic language and we say it means
(وجه و ليس كالوجه) “a face but not like a face”, as if the one saying so is embarrassed to say “I don’t know”.
Like this, those who say that المجاز meaning exists in the language, but not in the Qur’an, and those who say all of the meanings that the Arabs used for a word are حقيقة meanings, but when it comes to the usage in the Qur’an only mention one meaning, and leave the other Arabic meanings; all of them, despite their contradicting the text of the Qur’an:
“this is a clear Arabic tongue ” [an-Nahl 103], they do not depend upon the Arabic language for understanding it. I say, despite all of that, they busied the Muslims with issues that encouraged their sectarianism, and was about to lead to each sect declaring the other kufr, yet they don’t realise.
If they had understood the meanings of the language, then these sects would never have appeared nor would they have quarrelled, and the slaves of Allah would have remained brothers.
I will end with a word from one of the Scholars of language, the extraordinary ibn Jinny, who says: “this language, most of it yields to المجاز, and rarely does a thing come from it with الحقيقة. So, as that is the case and as the people that were addressed were the most knowledgeable of people about the breadth of its ways and the spread of its manners, so, what they were addressed with took the way that they were accustomed and used to. They understood the objectives of the message for them according to their habits and traditions when using it.” [end quote]
So with that, their aqeedah became correct and their actions sincerely for Allah (jalla jallalahu), so they straightened their matters and purified their situation. They were during the time of Rasul Allah (saw) and the time of his companions (raa) on a clear path, its night like its day, none would deviate from it except the doomed, and none would avoid it except the misguided.