This is a translation of a monograph titled Im‘ān fī Aqsām al-Qur’ān by Ḥamīd al-Dīn Farāhī. The author conceived it as one of the introductions to his unfinished commentary on the Holy Qur’ān, later published as Niẓām al-Qur’ān. This book discusses some issues attending the uses of oaths in the Qur’ān.
The Qur’ān employs oaths frequently in order to affirm a claim-statement. In the Qur’ān, the Almighty has sworn by Himself and by many of His creations (for instance the sun, moon, stars, winds, fruits, towns, etc). These occasions in the Qur’ān have engendered questions that have baffled the commentators from the earliest times who, while trying to explain the scriptural text, appear to be grappling with the difficult questions on the nature and significance of these oaths –questions that are rooted either in the Muslim expectation related to the relationship between the oath-taker and the subject of the oaths or in the peculiar semantic conclusions, which almost always accompany an oath in Arabic language. These questions unavoidably force themselves upon the commentators because of a number of reasons:
1. In the ordinary course of language, oaths are taken to emphasize and register the truth of one’s statement, by invoking something holy. Linguistically and religiously, an oath-taker always swears an oath by a higher being that is nobler than and distanced from the oath-taker. The oath draws strength from the grace, sanctity, nobility, taboo or holiness of the being by which it is taken. In other words, an oath-taker implicitly belittles his being in comparison with the being by which he takes an oath. This is apparently done to attach significance and truth-claim to the proposition following the oath by drawing epistemological strength from the unquestioned sanctity or widely accorded reverence for such a being. The ordinary creatures of God are way below the Divine station and it is even blasphemous to compare the Creator with His creations. Therefore, many Qur’ānic oaths, particularly those which are sworn by created beings, do not fit well in the Divine text. Oaths are conventionally sworn by sacred objects. However, in the Qur’ān, on many occasions, the Almighty swears by ordinary, insignificant and so to say ‘profane’ things. How could God draw epistemological strength from petty beings? And why should God Almighty seek reinforcement for Himself in the first instance? In short, if these oaths are understood in the light of the widely held Muslim beliefs and linguistic practices in the Arabic speaking world, oaths do not appear to be in accord with the exalted position of Allah, who is the highest and noblest of all.
2. In the Qur’ān, the Almighty has taken oaths to affirm a number of propositions; many of them constitute the fundamental Islamic beliefs. These beliefs cannot be verified by the mere force of oaths. If these belief-claims could be established independently, as is widely held, through other means (rational, theological, historical or psychological), the oaths would become redundant. If the truth of these articles of faith cannot be established through common epistemological means, it can hardly be expected that these can be proven on the strength of the oaths. For the oaths do not prove or establish these assertions. At least to a non-believer in these beliefs, oaths constitute purposeless insistence only.
3. Islam has taught the believers not to swear by anything other than the Glorious God. A Muslim is not expected to swear an oath by anything other than God. The question then is, if the believers are not allowed to swear by created beings, why does God almighty swear oaths by the names of the cities, the sun, the moon, and the fruits?
Where do these questions come from? Farāhī does not cite the source, nor do the earlier authorities who tried to deal with them first. These questions are faced by every careful reader of the Divine text as they are inspired by human reason. Many exegetes and other scholars have tried to explain them. However, no coherent, well-defined and concrete approach has ever been offered to resolve the difficulty of determining the precise purpose of the Qur’ānic oaths. It was, therefore, not necessary for the purpose of Farāhī to investigate the genesis of these objections, who found in them an opportunity to inquire into the nature of oaths and the purpose they were wont to serve since earliest times. Farāhī’s contribution stands out in the background of the fact that despite a lot of space these questions occupy in medieval Muslim writers, they were apparently not able to formulate a consistent response.
As usual, Farāhī adopts a principled stance and offers a coherent and cogent explanation of the Qur’ānic oaths. He traced the origin of the oaths, surveyed the conventions, and, based on his findings in this quest, established that glorification of the object of oath is not a necessary objective of an oath. In this way the problematic oaths, sworn by insignificant created things, are satisfactorily explained. It is interesting to note that Farāhī not only invokes the testimony of the Qur’ānic text and classical Arabic literature, but also draws from the non-Arabic sources (for instance classical Greek and Biblical Hebrew) to understand that oaths do not essentially involve glorification of the objects sworn by. Rather, these are basically a kind of evoking the object as evidence to the veracity of the claims that are intended.
In the present translation I have tried to explain instances in the original Arabic text which I thought might pose difficulties for a modern reader. I have also tried to provide brief definitions of terms I thought belonged to highly specialized disciplines, which a modern reader is not expected to be familiar with. Farāhī, as is characteristic of his times, seldom gives references for the works he cites. I have tried my best to find out the original references, even though my efforts were not always successful. Footnotes have been added to admit my failures too. I have also tried to use the original Arabic terms where possible or to put them in parenthesis so that the reader may refer to the original term. I must also gratefully acknowledge that in my effort to translate the original Arabic text I have made extensive use of Mawlānā Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī’s Urdu translation of the work, published in 1975 by Anjuman Khuddām al-Qur’ān from Lahore.
I gratefully acknowledge the assistance I got from my teachers, colleagues and friends that went a long way towards the completion of the present work. Mr Talib Mohsin and Mr Sajid Hameed have helped me make out a few complex passages in the original Arabic text. I constantly engaged with Mr Sajid Hameed in understanding pieces of jāhilī poetry quoted by the author. Mr Nadir Aqueel Ansari and Mr Jhangeer Hanif have helped in many ways in researching the cited sources, editing the translation and by extending valuable suggestions. Mr Shehzad Saleem was generous enough to review a few sections of the translation. Mr. Asif Iftikhar has always been there with his words of encouragement. Mr Manzoor ul-Hassan provided the necessary logistic and administrative support for getting this work published as did Mr Azeem Ayub and all the support staff of al-Mawrid, who contributed towards the publication of this work. My gratitude is due to all of them. In fact, I cannot be thankful enough. And I would be deeply indebted to the readers too, if they could suggest improvements in the translation, which, by all means, is not the last word.
Tariq Mahmood Hashmi