CHAPTER III:  IBN QUTAYBAH’S TREATISE OF THE PHENOMENA OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2011

IBN QUTAYBAH’S CONTRIBUTION TO QUR’ANIC EXEGESIS, CH. III

CHAPTER III

IBN QUTAYBAH’S TREATISE 

OF 

THE PHENOMENA OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE

BY

DR. MUHAMMAD AMIN ABDUL SAMAD

In this chapter the phenomena of figurative language in the verses of the Qur’ān will be dealt with. They will be divided into six categories based on Ibn Qutaybah’s treatment. They are: metaphor (majāz and isti‘ārah), inversion (maqlūb), ellipsis (h.adhf) and brevity (ikhtis.ār), repetition (takrār) and pleonasm (ziyādah), metonymy (kināyah) and allusion (ta‘rīd.), and the idiomatic expression entitled “the disagreement of the word with its literal meaning” (مُخَـالَفَةُ ظَاهِرِ اللَّفْظِ مَعْنَـاه).

A. Metaphor

Metaphor is the use of words to indicate something different from their basic meanings. For example, if we speak of somebody who is stubborn, merciless or cruel, we can say “he has a heart of stone”. Although Ibn Qutaybah put majāz and isti‘ārah in a separate chapter both are entered here under metaphor, since both are, as we shall see, closely related. He said that many of the majāz fall into the category of isti‘ārah.

1. Majāz

The basic meaning of the term majāz is “a crossing”, “a passage”. It is derived from the verb jāza, yajūzu, meaning “to pass”, “to travel (through)”. In classical terminology it means “the way of expression”. Abū ‘Ubaydah in his Majāz al-Qur’ān used this terminology in this sense rather than its later meaning as figurative speech which is in contrast with h.aqīqah (the real meaning). Ibn Qutaybah still used this term in this sense when he said that the Arabs had majāzāt (pl. of majāz) in their expression, meaning “the ways and sources of expression” (طُرُقُ اْلقَوْلِ وَمَأْخَذُهُ). Among these majāzāt he mentioned isti‘ārah, tamthīl, – simile, known in modern terminology as tashbīh, which he did not treat in a particular chapter – maqlūb, takrār, and others. On the other hand, he also used it in contrast with h.aqīqah, as we shall see later.

According to Ibn Taymīyah, the division of words into h.aqīqah and majāz was not found in the statements of the salaf, but in those of scholars in later generations. Neither the s.ah.ābah nor the tabi‘īn had ever used these technical terms. They were not found in the statements of early Muslim legists, such as Abū H.anīfah, Mālik, al-Shāfi‘ī and al-Awzā‘ī, as well as philologists, such as al-Khalīl, Sībawayh, and Abū ‘Umar ibn al-‘Alā’. They appeared in the third/ninth century, or probably at the end of the second/eighth century, and became well-known in the fourth/tenth century. 

Ibn Qutaybah wanted to prove that majāz as a figure of speech and, in contrast with h.aqīqah, did actually occur in the verses of the Qur’ān. This was to counter the existing view in his time that rejected such a possibility. We know that he was a contemporary of Dā’ūd ibn ‘Alī ibn Khalaf al-As.bah.ānī (d. 270/884), the founder of the Z.āhirī school of law. This school insists on the literal meanings of the Qur’ān, and as such, was said to have rejected the occurrence of majāz in the Qur’ān. This view of rejecting the occurrence of majāz in the Qur’ān was also held later by some scholars from different schools, such as Abū ’l-‘Abbās Ah.mad ibn Ah.mad al-T.abarī, better known as Ibn al-Qas.s. (d. 335/947) of the Shāfi‘ī school, Ibn Khuwayz Mundhādh (d. ca. 400/1010) of the Mālikī school, and Abū Muslim Muh.ammad ibn Bah.r al-As.bahānī (d. 370/981) of the Mu‘tazilī school of theology. Their main argument was that a speaker would only resort to majāz if he were unable to express himself properly by using h.aqīqah, and such a weakness obviously could not be attributed to Allah.

On the other hand, Ibn Qutaybah wanted to repudiate what he considered the excessive use of majāz which, in his view, led to misinterpreting the verses of the Qur’ān. Although he did not mention the people who held this view, it is possible he had the Mu‘tazilīs in mind. He said that some people interpreted black magic (sih.r) as being merely a trick, rejected the existence of the interrogation and the punishment by the two angels (Munkar and Nakīr) in the grave, the statement that the shuhadā’ (martyrs) were alive, the sound of demons, and the harm caused by ghouls (desert demons appearing in ever varying shapes). They said that when people were alone in the desert they could easily imagine seeing and hearing something that did not really exist. 

In modern terminology, the definition of majāz is as follows: 

“It is a word not used in its proper meaning (context) due to the [existence of] coherence or indication which prevents it from having the basic meaning as the intended one هُوَ اللَّفْظُ اْلمُسْتَعْمَلُ فِي غَيْرِ مَا وُضِعَ لَهُ لِعَلاقَةٍ وَ قَرِيْنَةٍ مَانِعَةٍ مِنْ إِرَادَةِ اْلمَعْنَي اْلأَصْلِي)).” 

The example from poetry is as follows:
قَامَتْ تُظَلِّلُنِيْ مِنَ الشَّمْسِ – نَفْسٌ أَحَبُّ إِليََّ مِنْ نَفْسِيْ

قاَمَتْ تُظَلِّلُنِيْ وَمِنْ عَجَبٍ – شَمْسٌ تُظَلِّلُنِيْ مِنَ الشَّمْسِ

“A person dearer to me than myself

 stood to protect me from the sun. 

He stood to protect me; amazingly,

 ‘a sun’ was protecting me from the sun.” 

What the poet means by ‘a sun’ is a man of great personality who is very dear to him. 

If there is an affinity between the original and the intended meanings in the majāz, it is called isti‘ārah. Otherwise it is called majāz mursal. An example of isti‘ārah can be seen in the following Qur’ānic verse: 

لِيُخْرِجَكُمْ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ (الحديد : ٥٧)

 “…, to lead you out of the deep darkness into the light..” (Q. 57:9, Asad). The verse is a metaphor for bringing people from ignorance and error into guidance and truth. There is an affinity between darkness and ignorance, and between light and guidance. 

An example of majāz mursal can be seen in the following poem:

 بِلادِيْ وَ إِنْ جَارَتْ عَلَيَّ عَزِيْزَةٌ 

“My country, although it wronged me it is [still] dear to me.” 

What the poet means with his country is its inhabitants. Here, there is no affinity between the country and its inhabitants

After illustrating majāz in modern technical terminology, we come to Ibn Qutaybah’s view and see what he meant by this term. Stating the occurrence of majāz in Arabic expression as well as in the Qur’ān, Ibn Qutaybah gave the example of the word umm (“mother”). When the Arabs say that their land is their mother, it is because, like their mother, it was from it they started their lives, to it they would return, and from it they obtained their food and provision. 

In poetry he cited the poem of Umayyah ibn Abī al-S.alt as follows:

وَ اْلأرْضُ مَعْقِـلُـَنا وَكـَانَتْ أُمَّنـَا – فِيْـهَامَقَابِرُنـَا وَ فيِـْهَا نُـْولَدُ 

“And the land is our refuge and was our mother. In 

it our grave will be, and in it we are born.” 

The example from the Qur’ān given by Ibn Qutaybah is the verse:

 فَأُمُّهُ هَاوِيَةٌ (القارعة: ٩) “his mother will be an abyss” (Q. 101:9).

 As the mother is the sponsor, the sustainer, the shelter, and the nurse to her baby, so is Hell to the unbeliever to which he will be brought.

Another example is that the Prophet’s wives are “the mothers of the believers” (Q. 33:6), meaning that reverence should be due to them as to their own mothers.

Ibn Qutaybah rejects the views of an unspecified group of people who say that Allah’s statements in the Qur’ān are metaphors, and not intended in the real sense. There are those among them who say that Allah’s order to the angels to prostrate to Adam (Q. 2:34) was only an inspiration, like His inspiration to the bees to choose habitations in the hills and trees (Q. 16:68). They refer to Allah’s statement:

 وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَنْ يُكَلِّمَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا وَحْيًا أَوْ مِنْ وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولًا فَيُوحِيَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاءُ إِنَّهُ عَلِيٌّ حَكِيمٌ (الشورى : ٥١) 

“And it is not given to mortal man that God should speak unto him otherwise than through sudden inspiration, or [by voice, as it were,] from behind a veil, or by sending an apostle to reveal, by His leave, whatever He wills [to reveal]: for, verily, He is exalted, wise.” (Q. 42:51, Asad). 

Here they say that He did not really say to the heaven and earth

 اِئْتِيَا طَوْعًا أَوْ كَرْهًا 

“come [into being] both of you willingly or unwillingly!”, 

and they did not really answer أَتَيْنَا طَائِعِينَ (فصلت:١١) 

“we do come in obedience” (Q. 41:11). 

According to them this expression merely means “We created them both, and so they exist.” 

In poetry, it is like the poem شَكَا إِليََّ جَمَلِيْ طُوْلَ السُّرَى 

“My camel complained to me against the long journey” in which the camel did not actually complain to the poet, but rather the poet spoke about his frequent journeys and of tiring his camel, and that if it were able to speak it would have complained to him. 

Similarly, Allah did not actually say to Hell 

هَلِ امْتَلَأْتِ “Art thou filled?” and Hell did not actually say هَلْ مِنْ مَزِيدٍ (ق : ٣٠) 

“[Nay,] is there yet more [for me]?” (Q. 50:30), but the statements merely indicate the vastness of Hell. 

In addition, Hell does not actually call the sinful person who turns away (Q. 70:17), but the expression indicates that Hell would be their future abode as if it called them to it. It is like the fly calling its friend in the following poem: 
وَلَقـَدْ هَبَطْتُ اْلوَادِيَـْينِ وَ وَادِيـًا – يَدْعُـو ْالأَنِيْـسَ بِهِ اْلغَضِيْضُ اْلأَبْـكَمُ 

“I have descended the two valleys and another valley where the ‘mute and tender’ creature [i.e., the fly was buzzing as if it were] calling [its] close friend [to the plant and water].” 

Here the fly did not actually call, but buzzed to indicate the existence of plants and water in the valley.

Before refuting the above statements, Ibn Qutaybah makes a clear distinction between “saying” and “speaking” in regard to the occurrence of majāz. He says that majāz can occur on the word “saying” but not on “speaking”.

 We can say, for example, “the wall says, so it leans” (قَـالَ الْحَـائِطُ فَمـَالَ); “say (it) to me with your head” meaning “tilt it” (قـُلْ بِرَأْسِكَ إلَيَّ أَيْ أَمِلْـهُ) and “the camel says… [or complains]” as mentioned earlier in the poem. 

But we cannot say that the wall speaks, since the word denotes the act of speaking. However, Ibn Qutaybah asserts, exception occurs in one case, namely, when the speaker is an animate being giving advice or moral lessons, so that we can say that it informs, it spoke, and it reminded. The example in poetry is the poem of Abū ’l-‘Atāhiyah as follows:
وَعَظَتْك أَجْداثٌ صُمُتْ – ونَعَتْكَ أَلْسِنَةٌ خُفُتْ

وَتَكلَّمَتْ عَنْ أَوْجُـهٍ – تَبْلَى وَعَنْ صُوَرٍ سُبُتْ

وأَرَتْكَ قَبرَكَ فِي اْلقُبـُوْ – رِ وأَنتَ حَىٌّ لمَ ْ تَمُتْ

“Silent tombs advised you, hidden tongues reproached you. They spoke 

about decayed faces and resting images. They showed you your grave

in the graveyard, while you are [still] alive, not dead.” 

The example from the Qur’ān is as follows: أَمْ أَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ سُلْطَانًا فَهُوَ يَتَكَلَّمُ بِمَا كَانُوا بِهِ يُشْرِكُونَ (الروم : ٣٥) 

“Have We ever bestowed upon them from on high a divine writ which would speak [with approval] of their worshipping aught beside Us?” (Q. 30:35, Asad). 

Here the verse means “Or have We revealed to them any evidence from which they will seek guidance that will guide them?”

Ibn Qutaybah gives us two conditions for a word to become majāz: it shall not be accompanied with its mas.dar, and it shall not be emphasised with takrār (repetition). 

For example, we say “the wall will fall down” and we do not say “the wall will fall down with strong willingness”. He does not give us an example for the use of repetition here. 

The example for the use of mas.dar in the Qur’ān is as follows:

 وَكَلَّمَ اللَّهُ مُوسَى تَكْلِيمًا 

literally means “And Allah spoke to Moses with speaking,” translated by Asad as: “…: and as God spoke His word unto Moses” (Q. 4:164). 

Here the verb kallama is accompanied with its mas.dar, namely, taklīm to indicate that the speaking is real and actually happens, not majāz. Moreover, the expression kallama (to speak to) itself, as mentioned earlier, indicates that it is real. 

The example for the use of takrār in the Qur’ān is as follows: إِنَّمَا قَوْلُنَا لِشَيْءٍ إِذَا أَرَدْنَاهُ أَنْ نَقُولَ لَهُ كُنْ فَيَكُونُ (النحل : ٤٠) 

“And Our word unto a thing, when We intend it, is only that We say unto it: Be! and it is.” (Q. 16:40, Pickthall). 

Here the word qawlunā is emphasised with takrār (repetition of qawl with naqūl), and the statement itself is emphasised with the word innamā.

Despite the frequent occurrence of majāz in the Qur’ān, Ibn Qutaybah was extremely cautious with it. He rejects the view that the order of Allah to the angels to prostrate themselves to Adam in Q. 2:34 was an ilhām (inspiration), because, according to him, it involved dialogues of events: Allah’s order to the angels and Iblīs to prostrate, Iblīs’s refusal to comply, his expulsion from the Garden (Jannah), and his plea for the postponement of punishment to Judgement Day. 

Ibn Qutaybah also rejects the interpretation of qawl in the above verse as a subjection (taskhīr) because, he contends, it cannot be applied to something which refuses to comply, and in this case, Iblīs.

With regard to the verse Q. 42:51 Ibn Qutaybah asserts that wah.y includes: things shown by Allah to His prophets in their vision; speaking behind the veil such as His speaking to Prophet Moses; and speaking with a message by sending the Trustful Spirit (al-Rūh. al-Amīn, i.e. Gabriel). What he means here is that Allah actually spoke to Prophet Moses, not majāz.

We have seen that Ibn Qutaybah rejects the occurrence of majāz in many Qur’ānic verses such as Q. 41:11 and 50:30 mentioned above. 

He bases his argument on several Qur’anic verses and h.adīths according to his understanding without applying majāz.

 The Qur’ānic verses state that Allah would make parts of the bodies of wrong-doers testify against them on the Last Day (Q. 24:24, 36:65 and 41:20-1), 

that He makes the mountains, birds and everything praise Him (Q. 17:44, 34:10 and 38:18-9), 

and that Prophet Solomon understood the language of ants (Q. 27:18-9);

that Hell would burst with rage (Q. 67:8) 

and its crackling and roar would be heard by the wrong-doers (Q. 25:11-2). 

In a h.adīth it was reported that when Hell saw those who denied the coming of Doomsday, they heard its crackling and roar, saying “qat, qat” which means “enough, enough (h.asbī, h.asbī).” 

In other h.adīths it was reported that the food informed the Prophet that it had been poisoned, and that a camel complained to him that its master had starved and overworked it. All these, in Ibn Qutaybah’s view, are h.aqīqah and have no room for majāz.

2. Isti‘ārah

The term isti‘ārah literally means “borrowing, loan, or lending”. It is borrowing one meaning of a word other than its basic or primary meaning. According to ‘Abd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 470/1078) isti’ārah is “a word which in the language has a known basic meaning, is temporarily lent, as it were, to something other than the original object. Therefore metaphor in Arabic is called ‘loan’”. It is lending the meaning of one object to another object, the aim being the attribution of the dominant trait in the first object to the second one. 

For example, if we want to say that a person is brave, we lend and associate the meaning of the object lion to that person, so that the lion’s dominant trait, namely, bravery, can be attributed to him. So, we say رَأَيْتُ أَسَدًا (“I saw a lion”), meaning a brave man.

With regard to isti‘ārah in its early development, Ibn Qutaybah gave us his understanding of it. He said that the Arabs used to borrow a word and put it in place of another, if this borrowed word is the cause of, close to, or similar to the word it replaces. 

For example, they said مَا زِلْنَا نَطَأُ السَّمِاءَ حَتَّى أَتَيْنَاكُمْ “We kept walking on the pasture [al-samā‘ lit., ‘the sky’] until we came to you.” Here the pasture is called samā’ which is the rain that causes the existence of the pasture, and in turn, the rain itself is called samā’ from which it falls down, and which is the cause of it. The poet Mu‘āwiyah ibn Mālik ibn Ja‘far ibn Kilāb calls the rain “the sky” in his following poem:
إِذَا سَقَـطَ السَّمـَاءُ بِأَرْضِ قَـْومٍ – رَعَيْـنَاهُ وَ إنْ كَانُـْوا غِضـَابًا 

“When the rain [lit., ‘the sky’ that causes it to fall] falls on the land of a tribe [so that it becomes fertile], we care for it [namely, we move to that fertile land and care for the plants which grow because of the rain], although they are angry [about our coming].”

Ibn Qutaybah mentions in his Ta’wīl fifty main examples of isti‘ārah in the verses of the Qur’ān. Some of them will be dealt with here as follows:

(a). وَأَفْئِدَتُهُمْ هَوَاءٌ (إبراهيم : ٤٣) 

“…, and their hearts (as) air.” (Q. 14:43, Pickthall). The air is a metaphor for emptiness, namely, their hearts are empty of good things, because they do not pay attention to anything, like an empty place which contains nothing but air. 

(b). أَوَمَنْ كَانَ مَيْتًا فَأَحْيَيْنَاهُ وَجَعَلْنَا لَهُ نُورًا يَمْشِي بِهِ فِي النَّاسِ كَمَنْ مَثَلُهُ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ لَيْسَ بِخَارِجٍ مِنْهَا (الأنعام : ١٢٢) 

“Is then he who was dead [in spirit] and whom We thereupon gave life, and for whom We set up a light whereby he might see his way among men – [is then he] like one [who is lost] in the darkness deep, out of which he cannot emerge?” (Q. 6:122, Asad). Here death, life and light are respectively metaphors for infidelity, guidance and faith.

(c). وَوَضَعْنَا عَنْكَ وِزْرَكَ الَّذِي أَنْقَضَ ظَهْرَكَ (الشرح :٢-٣) 

“and lifted from thee the burden that had weighed so heavily on thy back?” (Q. 94:2-3, Asad). 

The word wizr originally means “something a person carries on his back”, used here as a metaphor for sin, or specifically, the sin in the Jāhiliyyah (pre-Islamic) period. 

(d). وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ ابْيَضَّتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ فَفِي رَحْمَةِ اللَّهِ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ (آل عمران : ١٠٧) 

“But as for those with faces shining, they shall be within God’s grace, therein to abide.” (Q. 3:107, Asad). 

The grace here is a metaphor for Paradise, as it is through Allah’s grace that one can enter it. This verse, however, is used in our time as an example of majāz mursal where the condition (h.āl), in this case, Allah’s grace, is used as a metaphor for the place (mah.all), namely, Paradise.

The term rah.mah can also be a metaphor for rain and sustenance respectively in the following verses:

 وَهُوَ الَّذِي يُرْسِلُ الرِّيَاحَ بُشْرًا بَيْنَ يَدَيْ رَحْمَتِهِ (الأعراف : ٥٧) 

”And He it is who sends forth the winds as a glad tiding of His coming grace…” (Q. 7:57, Asad), and

 مَا يَفْتَحِ اللَّهُ لِلنَّاسِ مِنْ رَحْمَةٍ فَلَا مُمْسِكَ لَهَا (فاطر: ٢) 

“Whatever grace God opens up to man, none can withhold it…” (Q.35:2, Asad).

Rah.mah which means grace on the needy can be a metaphor for many different things. In this case, it is said that the term has wujūh, homonyms. Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 598/1201), al-H.usayn ibn Muh.ammad al-Dāmaghānī, and Abū al-Fad.l H.ubaysh ibn Ibrāhīm Tiflīsī (d. ca. 600/1203) mentioned respectively sixteen, fourteen, and thirteen wujūh of rah.mah in various verses of the Qur’ān. 

All of them included what have been mentioned by Ibn Qutaybah above, namely: Paradise, rain and sustenance. 

Others, to mention a few, are: 

Islam (Q. 2:105), 

faith (Q. 11:28), 

prophethood (Q. 38:9), 

the Qur’ān (Q. 10:5), 

and well-being (Q. 39:38). 

(e). وَإِنَّهُ لَذِكْرٌ لَكَ وَلِقَوْمِكَ (الزخرف : ٤٤) 

“And, verily, this [revelation] shall indeed become [a source of] eminence for thee and thy people…” (Q. 43:44, Asad). 

The word dhikr (remembrance) is a metaphor for sharaf (eminence) which is something to be remembered. Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Dāmaghānī, and Tiflīsī mentioned respectively twenty, eighteen and seventeen wujūh of dhikr, including the term sharaf and its three examples from the Qur’ān as mentioned above. 

Among them are: 

remembering (Q. 3:135), 

mentioning (Q. 2:200), 

tawh.īd (monotheism) (Q. 20:124), 

the Qur’ān (Q. 21:2, 50), 

the Torah (Q. 16:43 and 21:7) 

the Friday prayer (Q. 62:9), 

and the Preserved Tablet (Q. 21:105).

(f). فَمَا بَكَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ السَّمَاءُ وَالْأَرْضُ وَمَا كَانُوا مُنْظَرِينَ (الدخان : ٢٩) 

“And neither the heaven nor the earth wept for them, nor were they reprieved.” (Q. 44:29).

 Ibn Qutaybah’s commentary on this metaphorical verse is as follows: If the Arabs want to emphasise the awful condition, especially the failing health of a great and noble king they say: 

“The sun was becoming darkened, the moon was becoming eclipsed, and the wind, the lightning, the sky and the earth [all] were weeping for him.” 

The listener will understand this hyperbole, that the disaster was so severe and extensive that the elements of nature almost shared the grief of the people. On the contrary, with regard to Pharaoh and his followers, neither the sun nor the earth wept for them. In poetry, such hyperbole was also employed, as in the following poem:
الشَّمْسُ طَالِعَةٌ لَيْسَتْ بِكَاسِفَـةٍ – تَبْكِيْ عَلَيْكَ نُجُوْمُ اللَّيْلِ وَ اْلقَمَـرَا

“The sun, weeping for you, is rising without veiling                                  the brightness of the stars and the moon.”

As the sun is rising without light, the day appears to be like the night, and the light of the moon and the stars is not diminished by the lightless sun.

Ibn Qutaybah gives us three interpretations of the above verse as follows: 

(a) •When Allah destroyed Pharaoh and his people by drowning them and destroying their houses and gardens, no one was left to weep for them, mourn or miss them; 

(b) •The expression “the heaven and the earth” in the verse means “the inhabitants of the heaven and the earth”, so that the verse means “nobody among the inhabitants of the heaven and the earth wept for them”. The argument of the upholders of this view is that it occurs in other Qur’ānic verses where the word “inhabitants” or “people” is not mentioned, such as the verse

 وَاسْأَلِ الْقَرْيَةَ (يوسف : ٨٢) 

“…and ask the township” (Q. 12:82, Pickthall), which means “its inhabitants”, 

and حَتَّى تَضَعَ الْحَرْبُ أَوْزَارَهَا (محمد :٤) 

“… till the war lay down its burdens” (Q. 47:4, Pickthall) 

which means “till the people at war lay down their arms”. This view, as we have seen earlier, belongs to the category of majāz mursal, according to the modern terminology; 

(c)• The interpretation of Ibn ‘Abbās, that every believer has a door in heaven through which his deeds ascend and his sustenance (rizq) descends; when he dies, this door, his traces and places of prayer weep for him. As for the unbeliever, no deed will ascend to heaven for him, no door in heaven will open for him and no trace of his on the earth will weep for him. 

(g). وَإِنْ يَكَادُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَيُزْلِقُونَكَ بِأَبْصَارِهِمْ لَمَّا سَمِعُوا الذِّكْرَ وَيَقُولُونَ إِنَّهُ لَمَجْنُونٌ (القلم : ٥١)

“Hence, [be patient,] even though they who are bent on denying the truth would all but kill thee with their eyes whenever they hear this reminder, and [though] they say, ‘[As for Muhammad,] behold, most surely he is a madman!.’” (Q. 68:51, Asad). 

Pickthall and Ali translate yakādu layuzliqūnaka respectively as “would fain disconcert thee” and “would almost trip thee up”. 

Ibn Qutaybah’s commentary on this verse is that the disbelievers looked at the Prophet with hostility so stern that they almost made him slip and fall down. This kind of hyperbole had been used in classical poetry. Some unidentified grammarians were said to have criticised it as an excess and an exaggeration, but Ibn Qutaybah defended it, saying that it was quite possible and a good way of expressing one’s view. He cited many examples from the classical poetry, one of which is as follows:
يَتَقَارَضُـوْنَ إِذَا اْلتَقَـْوا فِيْ مَوْطِـنٍ – نَظَـرًا يُزِيْـلُ مَوَاطِىءَ اْلأَقْـدَامِ 

“When they met in a place their looking at                                                  each other [almost] removed the ground”,

meaning that their looking at each other was extremely hostile and malicious so that it almost brought them to the ground.

Ibn Qutaybah states that there are many Qur’ānic verses indicating hyperbole (mubālaghah fī ’l-was.f) which he includes in the category of the figure of speech called isti‘ārah, by using the word kāda (almost), either explicitly or by implication. 

For example, in order to show the graveness of the Christians’ statement that Allah has a son, He said: 

لَقَدْ جِئْتُمْ شَيْئًا إِدًّا. تَكَادُ السَّمَوَاتُ يَتَفَطَّرْنَ مِنْهُ وَتَنْشَقُّ الْأَرْضُ وَتَخِرُّ الْجِبَالُ هَدًّا. أَنْ دَعَوْا لِلرَّحْمَنِ وَلَدًا. وَمَا يَنْبَغِي لِلرَّحْمَنِ أَنْ يَتَّخِذَ وَلَدًا. (مريم : ٨٩-٩٢) 

“Assuredly ye utter a disastrous thing, whereby almost [takādu] the heavens are torn, and the earth is split asunder and the mountains fall in ruins, that ye ascribe unto the Beneficent a son, when it is not meet for (the Majesty of) the Beneficent that He should choose a son.” (Q. 19:89-92, Pickthall). 

Here the word takādu (the present tense of kāda) is mentioned. The example in which the word kāda exists by implication, is as follows: إِذْ جَاءُوكُمْ مِنْ فَوْقِكُمْ وَمِنْ أَسْفَلَ مِنْكُمْ وَإِذْ زَاغَتِ الْأَبْصَارُ وَبَلَغَتِ الْقُلُوبُ الْحَنَاجِرَ (الأحزاب : ١٠)

“[Remember what you felt] when they came upon you from above you and from below you, and when [your] eyes became dim and [your] hearts came up to [your] throats, …” (Q. 33:10, Asad).

 The verse portrays the seriousness of the situation in the battle of the Trench, that “[their] hearts almost reached to [their] throats.” When the word kāda exists only by implication in such a case as above, Ibn Qutaybah asserts it can be replaced with ka’anna (as if), so that the verse means “as if the beats of violently agitated hearts reached the throat”. In fact, among the fifty examples of the isti‘ārah from the Qur’ān, this hyperbole is the longest treatment given by Ibn Qutaybah to demonstrate its significance. He gives more than twenty examples from classical poetry, such as the poems of Imru’ al-Qays, al-Nābighah, ‘Antarah, Dhū al-Rummah, and others. His objective is clear: to show that hyperbole is not a lie, but a figure of speech indicating the greatness, severity or seriousness of a statement or an event.

(h). مَا مِنْ دَابَّةٍ إِلَّا هُوَ آَخِذٌ بِنَاصِيَتِهَا (هود : ٥٦) 

“… for there is no living creature which He does not hold by its forelock….” (Q. 11:56, Asad). 

It means that He subjugates and controls it. The origin of this meaning is that if you grasp its forelock you subjugate and control it. From this idea it can be said in the du‘ā’ (supplication) نَاصِيَتِيْ بِيَدِكَ (“my forelock is in your hand”), meaning “you are my sovereign and conqueror”. Here the forelock is representing the whole body when we say هَذِهِ نَاصِيَةٌ مُبَارَكَة “This is a graceful forelock.” This example, then, belongs to the category of majāz mursal in modern terminology.

To sum up, Ibn Qutaybah’s understanding of majāz and isti‘ārah is rudimentary. For example, he puts majāz mursal, homonyms, and hyperbole in the category of isti‘ārah, since they do not represent their basic meanings. This instance is comprehensible, as Ibn Qutaybah was giving the transitional meanings of the terms from classical to modern terminology.

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