Monday, September 5, 2011

The Qur'an as "literature" - Rhyme

This post forms the second part of my critical examination of the Qur'an as literature. We will look at the style of the Islamic holy book and in particular how the dictates of rhyme distort much of the content in a way incompatible with a work of literature created by a perfect being.
Firstly we must note that the Qur'an was written with lyrical recitation in mind. It followed very clearly the tradition established by Arab poets of the time. It is clearly a work of its time and not timeless. There are, however, some important and revealing differences between the poetry of the Qur'an and that which went before.
 Until the Qur'an, there seems to have been a clear distinction between rhymed or measured poetry, and and what we may term prose poetry.The Qur'an, uniquely, did not use any of the 15 or 16 established metres (or seas) of the rhymed poetry tradition but did, nonetheless, rely heavily upon rhyme. It is this of course that makes the Qur'an so easy to memorise.
 In abandoning the very strict rules of metre (using a certain number of taf'ila, or measuring unit, in each verse) the author of the Qur'an thus seemingly freed himself from one of the most difficult strictures of pre-Islamic poetry - how to ensure each verse had the correct number of syllables or beats. How this makes the Qur'an a more impressive work of literature than what preceded it is unclear. Perhaps my Muslim readers can explain.
Although there is no regular metre, the rhymes are very regular and the dictates this imposes upon the content, and choice of words in the Qur'an, are clear to see....
Spellings of the same word, for example, differ to allow the rhyme to work in many places. In 95:2, for example, the author calls Mount Sinai ,Mount Sinin, whereas in 23:20 it becomes Mount Sin'a - for no obvious reason other than to maintain the rhyme. Likewise, in 37:130 Elijah is called Ilyasin but in 6:85 and 37:123 he is referred to as Ilyas. 
It's not just spellings of words, however, which appear to be dictated by the rhyme, but also some peculiar positions of words can be explained only by the necessities of the rhyming scheme: 69:31 for example and 74:3.
In addition, neologisms and rare words are also brought into service for apparently the same reason: 19:8, 9, 11 and 16 contain the most striking examples.
And even the tense of certain passages seems to be dictated by the need to rhyme rather than logic.
Next time: order and sense

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