Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi On Qur’anic Eloquence

Translated by Mawlana Ibrahim Amin al-Kuwaiti 

Since the issue of rhetorical grandeur in the Qur’an has in recent times captivated the intrigue of many a critic, it seems appropriate to elaborate on the actual import of Qur’anic eloquence here. Imam Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) writes on this point in Barahin Qasimiyyah

Balaghah (eloquence) is different from fasahah (articulacy).  The former constitutes excellence in congruity and the latter excellence in itself. To elaborate, words are but garments for the meanings they contain, and garments differ in that sometimes they suit the wearer and sometimes they do not. Some of them are made from fine fabric and others from inferior material. Some garments are lavishly decorated and embroidered while others are lacking in such supplementary embellishments. 

In the above analogy, appropriateness of words with their underlying meanings is what is meant by excellence in congruity, the refined choice of words used in articulacy by excellence in itself and the embroidery and embellishment that is additionally applied on the garment for decorative purposes should be classified as badi’ (innovativeness). 

Based on this, anyone with sound reason can appreciate that fashioning speech and structuring its content are things different to and other than actual balaghah and fasahah, as an eloquent and articulate speech is not merely a name for its theme and structure. Similarly, grammatically correct sentence structures too are not sufficient to qualify as eloquent and articulate. First, consideration needs to be given to the afore-mentioned congruity. If it is found to be excellent, then balaghah (eloquence) is at its peak. Similarly, if the right choice of words has been made with discernment, then only will fasahah (articulacy) be believed to have reached its pinnacle. 

Furthermore, this ‘congruity’ is nothing more than the name for the relationship between words and their meanings. And, as is known, relationships are always more subtle than their objects. Inevitably then, the knowledge of this relationship is more arcane than knowledge of words and meanings. And in cases where meanings themselves are subtle and only very finely distinguishable, this relationship naturally increases in intricacy and complexity. For this reason, the mind sometimes tends to accept two words as meaning the same thing, and hence as synonymous, whereas the reality is on the contrary. 

As an example, let us take the words husn and jamal (both roughly meaning beauty). People generally assume they carry the same meaning, whereas the truth is that jamal is an objective quality found in the person attributed with it. The root of the word, j-m-l, guides us to this conclusion as another component of this root is jumlah (sentence), which is speech amalgamated from various components, and hence, jamal is a quality created by the orderly arrangement of various organs and their features. On the other hand, husn is a subjective quality given to the person associated with it by the beholder, depending upon the capacity in which the viewer is able to perceive it. Hence, husn is dependant upon the appreciation of others. 

It follows from this that they are not synonymous words and, in fact, husn is actually the appreciation of jamal. If the eyes of the beholder are blemished or his nature perverse, it is not unlikely that they will not be able to appreciate the husn despite the presence of jamal or, to the contrary, will see husn where jamal does not exist. 

Even those rhetoricians and experts in literature who have acquired distinction and fame in the subjects of their proficiency and have even earned praise from their critics, use the two words interchangeably without apprehension and treat them as wholly synonymous. 

In summary, the majority of notable poets, rhetoricians and literary experts have failed to reach the apogee and essence of balaghah (eloquence), and if a few of them have managed to distinguish between few words, they can never claim to have complete knowledge of the essential congruity and cannot, therefore, know with certainty the occasions of their proper use. This is so because this science cannot be mastered but by one who possesses the following: 

  1. His knowledge should transcend all reality.
  2. He should have complete command over and the ability to summon up all the words of at least one language.
  3. The reality and essence of all things are as manifest to him as tangible objects are to human eyes.
  4. He is fully aware of the universal and the specific qualifications as well as the general and the detailed.
    By the knowledge of the universal and general is meant that one has a complete and absolute knowledge of, as a principle, the various properties of letters of the alphabet as well as of the various kind of relations and connections that exist in meanings and in the import of words, to convey the essence of which the speaker designates a particular word.
    And by the knowledge of the specific and the detailed qualifications is meant knowing the exact inherent properties and import of each individual letter of the alphabet and to have an understanding of its relationship to meaning.” 

(This last point appears to be alluding to the Science of the Properties of Letters, commonly referred to as ‘Ilm Asrar al-Huruf or ‘Ilm al-Abjad. It is one of the higher disciplines in the esoteric study of language. Classical contributors to this field include Imam al-Ghazali, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Sina, Ibn Hayyan etc. Shah Wali Allah has also succinctly written in this field in al-Khayr al-Kathir, a summary of which has been quoted in the footnote on his exposition of the Huruf Muqatta’at

This science postulates that each letter of the alphabet carries unique intrinsic properties and meanings. Similarly, the combination of letters that creates a semantic value also signifies the amalgamation of the unique properties of its root letters, and hence, carries a deeper esoteric meaning.) (Mawlana Ibrahim Amin)

Source: Barahin Qasimiyyah (Jawab Turki ba Turki), pg. 117-123 – as quoted in footnote on page 237-239 – Al-‘Awn al-Kabir Sharh al-Fawz al-Kabir – Mufti Sa’id Ahmad Palanpuri – Maktabah Hijaz, Deoband – Date unknown.

The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) said:

None among you is a [perfect] believer until I become more beloved to him than his father, his children, and all people. (Bukhari, Muslim)

After quoting the above-mentioned hadith, Hadhrat Mawlana Marghub Ahmad Lajpuri writes:

Hadhrat Mawlana [‘Abd al-‘Ali Meerathi]* also had such love for the Noble Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) that he would weep upon his blessed mention. At times, he would weep uncontrollably and teardrops would appear on his blessed beard. The author of Maqamat-e-Khayr (Mawlana Abu ‘l-Hasan Zayd Dehlawi) writes:

“He was a true lover of the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him)”. (Page 461)

At another place, Mawlana Abu ‘l-Hasan Zayd Dehlawi writes:

“After teaching Bukhari, Muslim and Ibn Majah, he said to this incapable one, ‘Son, begin something else.’ He then said, ‘Recite the Qasidah Burdah.’ Accordingly, lessons on the Qasidah Burdah were conducted for twenty to twenty-five days, and some of his love for the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) could be gauged when this incapable one would recite the blessed couplets and tears would flow from his eyes. He would cry so much that he would be unable to speak. Tears would be dripping from his blessed beard.”

Hadhrat Mawlana Marghub Ahmad Lajpuri continues:

I saw on many occasions that merely on the blessed mention of the Noble Prophet (peace and blessings upon him), the eyes of my teacher—the Grand Mufti of Pakistan, Mawlana Mufti Wali Hasan sahib (ra), senior khalifah of Hadhrat Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya (ra), [and] Shaykh al-Hadith of Madrasah ‘Arabiyyah Binnori Town—would immediately flow with tears. In Shawwal 1408AH / 1988CE, on a Sunday, Hadhrat Mufti sahib presided over the [Madrasah] Binnori Town entry-examination of our class. Just as someone recited the following text from the long hadith of the farewell hajj,

ثم اذن في الناس با الحج في العاشرة ان رسول الله صلي الله عليه وسلم حاج

Mawlana began weeping helplessly. I was deeply affected by this. I saw such scenes thereafter on numerous occasions. Once when a student recited the text in Kitab al-Tafsir relating to the occasion of ‘Ifk, Mawlana wept to such an extent that he was unable to conduct the lesson. The following day he taught with difficulty and in a broken voice.

Tadhkirah ‘Abd al-‘Ali, Published by Molwi Rashid Ahmad Ibn Isma’il Lajpuri, Pages 21-22

*He was among the famous students of Hadhrat Maulana Qasim Nanautwi and a distinguished graduate of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband. His students include Hakim al-Ummat Hadhrat Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi, the Grand Mufti of India Hadhrat Maulana Mufti Kifayatullah, Imam al-‘Asr ‘Allamah Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Hadhrat Shaykh al-Islam Maulana Husayn Ahmad Madani and Hadhrat Maulana ‘Abd al-Qadir Raipuri (may Allah shower his mercy on them all). A brief biography of this blessed personality will appear on the blog in the future, if Allah wills.

After having read and then translated the above paragraphs, I emailed a friend of mine who had studied at Darul ‘Uloom Bury (UK). I had heard something about the condition of some of the senior lecturers there, that when the hadiths relating to the passing away of our Master, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings upon him), are read out during the course of the study of the Sihah Sittah (the six most authentic books of hadith), the teachers would become very emotional and would weep and find it difficult to speak. He answered thus:

Yes, it’s an emotional time. It is renowned. Lower class students keenly ascertain when these hadiths are to be read and also participate in the lesson. The entire class is in tears. The lecturers are in tears. Throughout the entire year they have been reading hadiths and sending salutations upon the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) and when these hadiths come, emotions are very high. People are seen weeping and find it difficult to withhold the tears. Students and lecturers leave class red-eyed.

Hadhrat Shaykh Dhu ‘l-Fiqar Ahmad Naqshbandi, may Allah protect him, writes: 

”Upon leaving Madinah Munawwarah, [Hadhrat Maulana Qasim Nanautwi] gazed at the Green Dome (of al-Masjid al-Nabawi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) one final time and recited the following couplets,  

ہزاروں بار تجھ  پر اے مدینہ ميں فدا ہوتا

جو بس چلتا تو مر کر بھی نہ میں تجھ سے جدا ہوتا

Trans: Thousands of times. O Madinah, would I be sacrificed for you

If it was possible, then I would not part from you through death


‘Ishq-e-Rasul sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, Maktabah al-Faqir, Page 145