Muqaddimah – Tafsir Nizam-ul-Quran – Length of the Surahs
In one of the discussions above, I have mentioned that the shorter Sūrahs of the Holy Qur’ān compete with their longer counterparts in their grandeur, wisdom, and beautiful structure. This brief point requires some elaboration which is offered here.
Some of the earlier scholars of the ummah have maintained that some of the shorter Sūrahs equal one third of the Holy Qur’ān and some others they have characterized as “the completing ones”. Sufyān bin ‘Uyaynah, for example, says that Sūrah Fātiḥah complements ṣalāh because this Sūrah contains complete knowledge. Imām Shāfi‘ī has said that Sūrah ‘Aṣr alone would have sufficed for guidance. Those endowed with understanding do not fail to appreciate this fact regarding at least some of the shorter Sūrahs. A full survey and deep appreciation of the entire Qur’ān would reveal that shorter a Sūrah in content the more meaningful it is. In their small size they contain great wisdom, which if revealed in its totality, would consume pages upon pages of scholarship.
The reason for conveying deep wisdom using such concise and eloquent style, as is the characteristic of smaller Sūrahs, within the Holy Qur’ān can be attributed to the following factors:
- First and perhaps the most important factor behind this practice is that the overwhelming human need for religious truth and its importance in human life demands that its fundamental principles are always kept alive and fresh in the minds of the believers. This, in turn, demands that such principles are put in such comprehensive and cogent expressions that they become part of one’s everyday language like proverbs. They must be easy to express by tongues in direct proportion to their weight and meaningfulness in the mind. Such principles, if expressed in lengthy discussions, are easily lost upon the audience
- In the early stages of propagation of a message, the teachings being delivered do not appeal and attract people much. At this stage, minds are not usually receptive for the minute details of the directives commanded towards them, nor are people interested in elaborate discussions. This entails that at this early stage, the message which is taught is the one that can be briefly expressed in cogent, compact, and wise sayings. Once these seeds of cogent and comprehensive expressions sprout up, they are watered by the required details for, by that time, hearts and minds of the audience grow tenacious and ready to assimilate more knowledge
- The Arabs were very fond of rhymed and rhythmical speech. To them, terseness and brevity were necessary characteristics of a fine discourse. Therefore, in the earlier phase, the Holy Qur’ān attracted them by employing their favourite style of expression
- The soothsayers of Arabia usually composed their cadences in terse rhythmical prose. Arabs would give attentive ears to beautiful speech of the soothsayers. They would consider this mastery of expression a supernatural phenomenon. To them such beautiful expressions really gushed forth from some supernatural source. The Qur’ān adopted similar style of expression in the beginning so that the Arabs did not find it strange and foreign
As regards the greatness of the shorter Sūrahs in terms of their being loaded and pregnant discourse…*