Construction conventions in the Qur’an

Qur’anic constructions based on usage

This article from The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation identifies the Qur’anic sense for particular construction conventions which use particles and particle collocations. I have applied the same iterative, pan-textual methodology to extract clear meanings and then applied them consistently.

In most cases, besides the consistent application, the values are the same or very similar to those which the Traditionalist assumes.

In most cases, any difference is a matter of emphasis or nuance. One or two instances differ somewhat from what is standard either in typical translations or in Modern Arabic.

To those who might argue that since such conventions in construction are used today in Modern Arabic we should simply accept those values, my answer is that my instinct has been to default to those values. However, where I have found that such values make the text laboured or confuse arguments, I have not been afraid to investigate them on the basis of the Qur’anic usage over the entire corpus and form conclusions on that basis.

law lā (as a single statement)

2:118, 4:77, 5:63, 6:8, 6:37, 6:43, 7:203, 8:68, 10:20, 10:98, 11:12, 11:116, 13:7, 13:27, 18:15, 18:39, 20:133, 20:134, 24:12, 24:13, 24:16, 25:7, 25:21, 25:32, 27:46, 28:47, 28:48, 29:50, 41:44, 43:31, 43:53, 46:28, 47:20, 56:57, 56:62, 56:70, 56:83, 56:86-87, 58:8, 68:28.

The difference between how the Traditionalist renders law lā as a single statement and how it is rendered here is a matter of emphasis only. For the Traditionalist, it denotes a simple question:

[…]“Why does Allāh not speak to us or there come to us a sign?” (2:118)
[Saheeh International]

After comparing all instances of law lā in the text I came to the conclusion that where law lā occurs as a single statement (as above) it indicates a wish couched in doubt. In the mouths of waverers, rejecters of God, dishonest scribes and the like, it allows for a range of moods: that of excuse, a challenge with little chance of being met, a nit-picking wistfulness and the insinuation of blame levelled at another. In the mouth of God it expresses a light challenge or rebuke, a prod. In the mouth of a good man it expresses a godly regret or rebuke.

[…]Oh that God would but speak to us or a sign but come to us!

All instances in the text are footnoted.

law lā (part of double statement)

2:64, 2:251, 4:83, 4:113, 7:43, 8:68, 9:122, 10:19, 11:91, 11:110, 12:24, 12:94, 17:74, 20:129, 22:40, 24:10, 24:14, 24:20, 24:21, 25:42, 25:77, 28:10, 28:82, 29:53, 34:31, 37:57, 37:143, 41:45, 42:14, 42:21, 43:33, 48:25, 59:3, 63:10, 68:49.

Where law lā occurs in one part of a two-statement phrase I render in a way which is indistinguishable from the Traditionalist (although typically with more consistency) as were / had (it, he, they) not. For example:

Then were it not for the grace of God upon you and his mercy, you would have been among the losers.

All instances in the text are footnoted.

dhālika bianna – because

2:61, 2:176, 2:275, 3:24, 3:75, 3:112, 5:58, 5:82, 7:146, 8:13-14, 8:53, 9:6, 9:80, 9:120, 16:107, 22:6-7, 22:61, 22:62, 31:30, 40:22, 47:3, 47:9, 47:11, 47:26, 47:28, 59:4, 59:13, 59:14, 63:3, 64:6.

This phrase is typically translated as that is because. This is clunkier than is necessary. Compare: I went to the shop because my father told me to and I went to the shop; that is because my father told me to. Both sentences make sense, but the former reads better. Since because is the sense, this is how I have rendered all instances.

All instances in the text are footnoted.

dhālika bimā

2:61, 3:112, 3:182, 5:78, 8:51, 22:10.

Typically translated as: that is because.

As with dhālika bianna above, there is a direct causative relationship which is hindered by the use of that is in English. The more elegant rendering is simply because.

The Traditionalist sometimes fails to see that the causative because of dhālika bimā extends to any following wa anna. Where such occurs it is rendered: because (of)… and because.

All instances in the text are footnoted.

alaysa

6:30, 6:53, 11:78, 11:81, 29:68, 39:32, 39:36, 39:37, 39:60, 43:51, 46:34, 75:40, 95:8.

The translators generally get this right, but frequently seem to miss a part of its function. They render it as a bare negative interrogative: Is this not the truth? (Either a or b could have been the truth. It happens to be a and we all agree.)

However, the contexts show that its role in the argument is more subtle. There is an element of correction of a misplaced assumption or misconception: Is then this not the truth? (You had thought a was the truth, but actually it was b, and b is hereby demonstrated, in fact, to be the truth.)

Of course, depending on context the first reading performs the same function as the second. However, with the added then the emphasis remains constant, and there is perceptible tipping of an argument in favour of the point being made by means of a requisite rhetorical flourish.

All instances in the text are footnoted.

afalā

2:44, 2:76, 3:65, 4:82, 5:74, 6:32, 6:50, 6:80, 7:65, 7:169, 10:3, 10:16, 10:31, 11:24, 11:30, 11:51, 12:109, 16:17, 20:89, 21:10, 21:30, 21:44, 21:67, 23:23, 23:32, 23:80, 23:85, 23:87, 28:60, 28:71, 28:72, 32:4, 32:26, 32:27, 36:35, 36:68, 36:73, 37:138, 37:155, 43:51, 45:23, 47:24, 51:21, 88:17, 100:9.

Generally rendered as a simple negative question functioning as an exhortation: Do you not think? Will they not consider?

However, having reviewed all instances, I have come to the view that the Qur’anic usage is more nuanced. While not losing its interrogative sense, it has a quality of exasperation, of (perhaps, negative) wonder, or goading or ribbing, and functions as a rhetorical flourish within an argument to a greater extent than the plain negative question suggests.

Do you then not see! Will they then not consider!

I render thus in all cases and use exclamation marks. I use do or will depending on whether the verb denotes an involuntary or voluntary action (one requiring commission).

All instances in the text are footnoted.

About the Author Sam Gerrans

Sam Gerrans is an English writer and speaker with professional backgrounds in media, strategic communications, and technologies. He is driven by commitment to ultimate meaning, and focused on authentic approaches to revelation and Realpolitik. He is founder of Quranite.com and author of The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation where his consistent, Qur'an-centric hermeneutical methodology is applied to the text of the Qur’an in its entirety. Read more...

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