By Sharif Arshad, New Age Islam
13 February 2018
The search for the meaning of greatest poetic and prose literary masterpieces is a difficult and challenging task. The search for the meaning of words requires a very efficient diving in which the diver dives down the depth of the ocean while withholding his breath and takes the meaning into his hand and comes back on the shore. Sometimes the meaning is hidden under the feet. If the depth of the word is assumed to be hundred degrees, the meaning will be found at the same degree, not a degree above or a degree below.
The meaning is sometimes stuck on the walls of the river but here too the wall may have one hindered or more layers like thin scales of onions. Peel off one scale and one meaning will be found lying there. You peel off another scale and another meaning may be found lying there. Go on peeling off hundred scales and you will find a meaning lying under every scale. Collect the meaning that sticks to the context of your word. The search for the meaning is the search for excellence, accuracy and decency. The meaning of the words has a hundred horizons. Any of the horizons of the meaning, brings the word close to the meaning so that it seems to the reader or listener that the meaning is correctly ascribed to the word. It should also be noted that the meaning is meaning until it is in the mind. Once it is written on the paper against the word, the meaning itself becomes a word.
Sometimes, the meaning is found floating on the surface of the water which can easily be grasped. No need to discover it. But generally these meanings are superficial and commonly the students of MA or BA take out these superficial meanings from the easy dictionary or from their own understanding. These easy dictionaries spoil intelligent students. This is the reason; Mirza Ghalib had termed Ghayasul Lughat as menstrual pad. Sometimes the meaning is found in the middle of the word while man searches it on its sides. Mirza Ghalib has explained this point in this couplet:
Seena-e-Shamsher Se Bahar Hai Dam Shamsheer Ka
(The cutting edge of the sword is outside the chest of the sword)
He means that the meaning of different things lies in different positions. The words of the greatest derived languages of the world like Sanskrit, Arabic, Latin and Greek too have multi dimensional meanings. In Arabic literature, certain words are believed to have about hundred meanings.
Light and thin dictionaries are play things for school students. For intelligent students and intellectuals and professors and researchers, Arabic dictionary Lisanul Arab is a standard one which is found in about twenty volumes. It is believed that lexicographers have discovered 25, 50, 75 and 100 meanings of each word according to their own understanding.
Similarly, concise dictionaries in English are also common but for intellectuals and intelligent people, Oxford Dictionary is available in twenty volumes and costs about Rs 10, 000. Any single word does not completely cover the length and breadth and depth of its meaning. It only touches one of its 25, 50, 75 or hundred horizons. No word touches the entire universe of its meaning. School students are taught one meaning of a word like counting tables. The meaning is a hundred wave circles which emerge after one throws a stone in water. When someone speaks a word, a series of reaction starts in the mind of the listener in the same way as when someone stirs the branch of a tree and hundred birds of meanings fly off it and man stands perplexed as to which one he should catch and which one he should let go.
Meanings are expansive like the blue universe; they are deep like the ocean for the eyes. Therefore, the discovery of the precise and contextual meaning of the word is a difficult process and a research oriented job. It requires the institution of a “Meaning Chair” in the Department of Arts in Universities. Discovery of the meaning is akin to fitting the word in the frame of its context. In other words, the search for the meaning is a creative work. Sometime meanings are spread around the word and the reader collects it. It is like the oil spread on the surface of the water which the reader fills in the bottle of the word again with the help of his intellectual scientific process. The process of the discovery of the meaning is also a scientific and chemical process.
In the light of the theories and philosophies involving word and meaning have evolved before intellectuals and writers, words should be put horizontally, vertically and flattened and then one should have a subjective and objective glance on them. Pure technical and academic pieces and the experiences of life should be honed on the waves of the words that emerge on the conscience of the exegetes. Such study of the Quran will be called scientific but unfortunately our oriental mind has been afraid of the word ‘scientific’ and scholars and exegetes forget the fact that explaining words of the poetry of great poets like Shakespeare, Tulsidas, Mirza Ghalib, Iqbal, Homer, Dante and Tagore has always been a gigantic task.
Then reaching to the contextual and literal meaning of the words of the Quran (divine word) and then faxing it to mind of the average intellectual is a quite a difficult task. We have not been able to grasp the meaning of thousand rare verses of the Quran. If the speech is the personification of the speaker then the words of the Quran can be said to be the personification of the spirit of its speaker (God).
After this long introduction, I would like to say that our readers have not been able to reach to the subtle meanings of certain words and allegorical verses and our traditional exegetes do not have the ability to research on the meaning of the multidimensional meaning words of the Quran and are busy in explaining the rare expressions of the Quran with the help of traditional and superficial meanings although the style and diction of the Quran is a yardstick for the universal literature of the united global community. I have two words of the Quran before me: Maruf and Munkar and I have been busy in discovering the meaning of these two words as a student of the Quran.
Kuntum Khaira Ummatin Ukhrijat Linnase Tamuruna Bil Maruf Wa Tanhawna Anil Munkare Wa Tuminuna Billah. (Al-E-Imran: 110)
(You are the best nation produced for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah)
We have been taught by our traditional exegetes of the Quran or scholars that the meanings of these two words are good and evil respectively. Let’s discover the true meanings of these multi-dimensional words.
In the June 93 issue of monthly magazine Al Risala, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan Writes under “Hindu Muslim Dialogue” that we should search for the solution of our communal issues in the spirit of “Hudaibiya Accord” for the future benefits. He further said that it was time we should prefer “human issues” to our “communal issues’ otherwise we would not be called Khaira Ummam or best religious community. If from the point of view of Khaira Ummam, we take the superficial meaning of the words Maruf and Munkar that is, good and evil and that the whole world should accept Namaz, fasting, hajj, Zakat and Islamic theology, we would not be able to discover the broader meaning of these hundred dimensional meaning words. Some basic words of the Quran and their meanings have many layers. If one meaning of the words is religious, the other meaning is human. In the capacity of Khaira Umam – the best community, we rightly had to strive for the strengthening of our religious position for a certain period but now for the broader meaning of human issue, the use of the Quranic words is necessary. Therefore, I am presenting some meanings of the two words for the lexicographers and exegetes.
(a) Possible meanings of the word Maruf:
i) The highest human values
ii) The highest human thoughts
iii) The highest human moral acts
iv) The highest political philosophy
v) The highest political character
vi) Decency of way of doing
ix) Political perspective
x) Islamic perspective
xi) Religious perspective
xii) Divine will
xiii) Islamic culture
xiv) Decency of thought
xv) Standard contemporary mores
xvi) Divine constitution
xvii) Religious principles
xviii) United tradition of divine revelation
xix) Final divine Scripture
xx) Tradition of prophets
xxiii) Democratic thought
xxiv) Decency of behaviour
(a) It would suffice under the meaning of Munkar that the opposite of the meanings of Maruf are the meanings of Munkar. But this attitude of explaining the meaning of words would be a negative attitude. Iqbal had written the positive attributes of Khudi (ego) in his “Asrar-e-Khudi” and so there was no need to write “Ramuz-e-Bekhudi”. But Iqbal was well aware of the contradictions of the age. So to explain the subtle difference between Khudi and Bekhudi, he wrote Ramuz-e-Bekhudi so that the professors could have a better understanding of Khudi and Bekhudi. In his book “Sarmayadari aur Ishtrakiyat” (Capitalism and Communism), Maulana Maududi gives positive definitions of Capitalism and Communism separately and then writes that Islam is a balanced and parallel system. To explain Islam in the background of these two systems, first a positive lecture should be given on Capitalism and Communism before the students of the modern times. After this lecture, the understanding of Islam can be possible. This definition is also an example of negative attitude. This is the reason, the traditional research fellows, professors and students could not reach a positive definition of Islam till the 19th century. Therefore, the meanings of the word Munkar are given below. Writing the meaning is also akin to defining the word.
(b) Possible Meanings Of The Word Munkar
i) The worst human values
ii) The worst human thoughts
iii) The worst display of human behaviour
iv) The worst political philosophy
v) The worst political character
vi) The worst ways of doing things
vii) Bad outlook
viii) Negative strategy
ix) The worst political perspective
x) Attitude against the Islamic perspective
xi) Attitude against practical perspective
xii) Opposite of Divine will
xiii) Un-Islamic culture
xiv) Indecency of thought
xv) Attitude against the contemporary cultural mores and values
xvi) Attitude against the Divine Constitution
xvii) Attitude against religious principles
xviii) Attitude against the united tradition of divine revelation
xix) Attitude against the final divine scripture
xx) Attitude against the practices of the prophets
xxi) Against the assembly
xxii) Against consensus
xxiii) Against democratic thought
xxiv) Against decency of behaviour
In this way 25 meanings of Maruf and Munkar each were discovered. With the help of these meanings, the reader will be able to reach to the meanings of the Quranic verses. Actually, I want to present before the students, lexicographers, teachers, intellectuals and Islamic seminaries the method of discovering the meaning of multidimensional words of the Quran. The traditional way of writing the dictionaries will not be of any use in the 21st century. The meanings of the words of global literature are not confined to small shells. Here meanings are spread in all the six directions. Each word has hundred horizons.
Again, sometimes the meanings of words are taken opposite to the established meanings due to poetic compulsions. The poet of Shahnama-e-Iran, Allama Firdausi wrote the meaning of the word ‘Bakhter’ as ‘East’ though the true meaning of the word is ‘West’.
I had originally written this article to write the meanings (mullti-dimensional meanings) of the two words – Maruf and Munkar but we can discover the meanings of some other words.
(a) In Surah Fatiha, we stumble upon the phrase “Malik-e-Yaumuddin”. The Ulema have taught us that the meaning of Deen is the fundamental system of life which God revealed to prophets from Adam pbuh and Prophet Nuh pbuh to Prophet Muhammad pbuh. But this meaning does not adjust here. Obviously the context is of the Day of Judgment.
(b) Above, we discovered the meaning of Maruf. Let’s discover the meaning of Maruf on another occasion. “Attalaqo Marratan Faimsak Bemaruf” Here Maruf means religious strategy. Without bringing a change in our attitude of discovering meaning, the efforts to get to the heart of the words of important literature of the world and of the Quran, Bible, the Torah and the ancient Scriptures (including the Vedas) will not be possible. The access to the meaning of the words of the Quran will not be possible until we adopt a liberal, research oriented and context-based attitude of discovering the meaning of words. Cunning communities of the modern world attribute wrong meanings to the literature, culture and civilization of other communities for their own compulsions and the common readers do not have the academic capability to challenge their academic status.
Late Sharif Arshad was a scholar of Urdu, Arabic and Persian. He had studied Islam at Darul Uloom Deoband and Nadwat ul Ulema and was a student of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi and Maulana Asad Madani. He had also graduated from Aligarh Muslim University. He was also known as a poet and critic of Urdu literature.
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