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Muqaddimah – Tafsir Nizam-ul-Quran – Structure of the Qur’ān

July 10, 2010

Division of the Qur’ān in rukū‘ as well as in 30 distinct parts is a post-Prophetic innovation. A little deliberation shows that the basic purpose of the rukū‘ division is to mark a thematic shift. Those who marked the rukū‘s have indeed intended to highlight the thematic shifts in the text and have tried to mark such thematic shifts by putting the sign ع. These people intended to guide the reader that, while reciting the Qur’ān, they should not pause at a place where the text should be read jointly. They were indeed right in trying to determine such shifts. However, the need to highlight the knowledge of the arrangement is still demanding because the above mentioned division only helps the reader to ascertain a thematic shift. But we know that such shifts are not permanent in a single discourse: there has to be something that unifies the parts divided by the rukū‘. In some cases the rukū‘ division brings entire parts of the sūrah to a parallel status in terms of discourse. Whereas we know that sometimes a unit, apparently standing apart from the preceding one, is indeed dependent on it and builds upon it. This is the reason people divide their books in parts, then in chapters, then in sections and then in paragraphs. These subcategories are never supposed to be disjointed, independent, pieces of writing. Therefore, the role of rukū‘ is limited to highlighting the break and the division of rukū‘ has, by highlighting these thematic breaks, created the need to discover the interconnection between the divided parts. Hence, this interconnection has to be made visible before one marks the shifts. This I stress because before being divided in rukū‘, the text looked interconnected. In that shape it was easy to discover the coherence in the parts of the sūrahs for those who ponder over the text analytically. Contrarily, once the rukū‘ division has been marked, the divisions and breaks have been highlighted in the minds of the readers. This necessitates that such a division is carried out afresh, dividing the parts in one respect and highlighting their interconnection in another.

The division in 30 parts, on the other hand, has been done purely on quantitative basis. Sometimes it breaks off the discussion completely. I, therefore, prefer disregarding it. I believe that, for the purposes of quantitative division, the concept of manāzil (singular manzil, literally: station) is sufficient. Plus, it does not rend asunder the sūrahs as well.

When I say that those who divided the sūrahs in rukū‘s were right in determining the thematic shifts I do not mean that they have always got it right. Many of their judgments are obviously wrong. See, for example, their work on Sūrah Qamar (54). They have divided the sūrah into three rukū‘s without considering the style of expression or the quantity of discourse. They should have divided it in six parts:

  1. The Hour has approached…..(1-7)
  2. Before them, people of Noah rejected….(8-17)
  3. ‘Ād rejected (their Messenger). Then how (strict) has been our recompense and warnings…. (18:22)
  4. Thamūd rejected the warnings…. (23-32)
  5. People of Lot rejected the warnings….ِ (33-40)
  6. And warnings did come to the People of the Pharoah…. (41-55)

The Qur’ānic text itself is the most reliable guide in this regard. It contains both explicit and implicit indications towards this coherent ordering. Examples of explicit textual indicators are the expressions adopted in the beginnings of sūrahs like yā ayyuha ladhīna (O those who), yā ayyuha an-nāsu (O people), ’alam tara (have you not seen), ’ara’ayta (have you seen) and qul (declare, say) etc. The scholars who have introduced the rukū‘ division have also made use of these kind of indicators.

Other examples of explicit textual indicators include change in rhyme, length of the verses, similarity in style of expression, and kinship of meanings in different pieces of the text….*


*This discussion too could not be completed by the author.
This is a rendering of English translation of Muqaddimah – Tafsir Nizam ul Quran by the permission of the translator, Tariq Mahmood Hashmi. Original version available here.

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