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Quranic Studies and Modern Semantic Philosophies - I
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Quranic Studies and Modern Semantic Philosophies - I

One has to soar on the wings of imagination to lift the veil and witness reality, embedded in the ‘mystery’ in all its nakedness and pristine glory

Post by on Friday, June 17, 2022

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According to Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973), a French philosopher, questions relating to the nature of God, destiny of the human soul and life hereafter are not ‘Problems’, they are ‘mysteries’ in capable of being solved through the techniques of inductive or deductive reasoning. Mysteries defy scientific or rational explanation and can be explained by an individual only through the strength of his imagination backward into remote past and forward into the unfathomable future. One has to soar on the wings of imagination to lift the veil and witness reality, embedded in the ‘mystery’ in all its nakedness and pristine glory. Moreover, religious language is non-cognitive and that the meaning of religious language can be determined by ways other than cognition.

 In this paper we will first of all discuss the problem of Language in the general and Qur’anic context. Semantic philosophy with its various branches will engage our attention and we will attempt to show how semantic philosophy is just a set of theories of meaning rather than full-fledged philosophy. Then we will discuss the Qur’anic Semantics with special reference to the views of a great Japanese Semantic Philosopher Toshihiko Izutsu. Toshihiko Izutsu relates semantics of the Qur’an with the Qur’anic Weltanschauung or world view and shows that the main constituents of this “world view” are the key words like Islam Allah Nabi and Iman etc.

 We will also attempt to explain the process of the adaptation of pre- Islamic Arab linguistic categories by Islam with several changes here and there , for example ,categories like Allah (in the metaphysical context) and  Taqwa(in the ethical context) were adjusted in the scheme of new Islam world-view, by uprooting these terms  from their pagan origins. A comparative study of the Qur’anic Science has been made with various semantic theories after this general survey of the subject. In this respect two key-terms Allah and Taqwa have been analyzed in their historical context and it has been proved that these two terms were very much prevalent among the Arabs. Islam adopted these concepts and terms with necessary modifications and alterations and accommodated these in its own scheme of world- view.

 After this detailed discussion, an attempt has been made to meet the challenge of the logical positivism and Emotivism and the problem is probed in context of religious and the Qur’anic studies and it has been shown that Islam provides its own criterion of justifying its claims. A brief account of Ta’wil and mystic interpretation has been also given in this particular subject. The views of  Izutsu, Marcel, Hossein Nasr, C.A. Quadir and Osman Bakr have been presented to elaborate our position to show that religious language is containing “Wisdom” not merely ideas, which has different paradigm than merely the linguistic one for justifying its teachings.

 After this discussion a brief account of the sciences has been presented which have been traditionally adopted by the scholars to promote and popularize Qur’anic Studies. The linguistic tools, methods, and paradigms have been discussed to show the importance of linguistic analysis in the context of Islamic studies in general and Qur’anic studies in particular. Before concluding the whole discussion a special reference has been made to two famous Indian philologists i.e. Shah Wali-ullah Dehalavi and Nawwab Siddiq Hassan Khan.

 To start with the term Language has been derived from Latin lingua and in the Middle English, from Old French Language, from langue, tongue. Language is defined as the communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols .It is a system including its rules for combining its components, such as words. It is also such a system as used by a nation, people, or other distinct community; often contrasted with dialect.  It is also a system of signs, symbols, gestures, or rules used in communicating: the language of algebra.

 Language is a means of communication and based on common signs which are adopted for conveying different senses to each other by human beings .It is a system of verbal signs recognized by common sense as the means of communication among all individuals belonging to one community. It is in this sense social fact, fait social as defined by Durkheim in his Sociology. It is a symbolic system to a community, to which every member of the community must resort to in talking with others if he wishes at all to make himself understood.

 There can be no linguistic communication unless the two persons involved in speech (Kalam) resort to the same system of signs. The Qur’an shows the clearest consciousness of this fact, and it possesses most evidently the concept of language understood in the sense of this modern technical term ‘language’. The Qur’an mentions that the Revelation and prophetic mission used to be always coupled with the language of the addressee. Thus in the Surah Ibrahim we read: “We never send an apostle except with the language of his people, so that he might make the message Intelligible”. As  the peoples of the world differ in colour, according to the Qur’an, so they differ in languages and for that reason the Qur’an counts the ‘colour and language’ of the people among the signs’ (Ayat) of Allah .

 According to the Qur’an language assumed a very profound importance. The other important dimension which was brought to fore by this semantic and linguistic philosophy  was the Doctrine of elimination of Metaphysical propositions and the use of common sense vocabulary and scientific precision was given the highest priority. In this respect the writings of G.E. Moore, (1873-1958; Eng. philosopher)  especially his theory of ‘Indefinibilty’ of Good and logical positivism can be presented as representative trends of this school of thought. According to G.E. Moore the concepts must be clarified before claiming any specific meaning for them.

  According to logical positivism (What is involved in knowing a language and what seems to go on when we are learning first language, it appears that if we are to understand how language is based on experience, we must people our lowest level –where meaning is based on direct confrontation with experience –with sentence –sized units, not word –sized units.

The logical positivism was the empiricist philosophy of extreme nature which had developed a stringent principle known as the Verifiability Theory of Meaning” indicating that the only meaningful sentences are the factual, positive, verifiable and testable sentences of the empirical sciences. This view was initially put forwards by members of the “Vienna Circle”, a group of philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists that gathered around Moritz Schlick in Vienna in 1920’s .

 These men were concerned with the logic of mathematics and science and with giving philosophy a scientific orientation. They felt that philosophy in the past had been largely given over to useless controversy over metaphysical and normative problems that were, in principle, insoluble. Like Hume, they felt that such controversies were fruitless because the participants were not making sense. It was in order to nail down this conclusion that they first introduced the principle that in order for one to be talking sense, he must be able to specify the way in which what he says can be empirically verified; in other words, it must be possible to specify what observations would count for or against its truth.

 All other sentences are emotive and therefore non-significant and meaningless. Among the latter are included the sentences of Metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics and religion-in fact all value sciences. The school originated in the Vienna Circle, founded by M. Schlick in 1924, whose members included Bergmann, Carnap, Feigl, Allahel, Hahn, Newrath and Weissman, A.J. Ayer’s   book language, Truth and logic (1921),is a force full exposition of logical positivism,10/ but Wittgenstein’s’ Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) may be considered: the Bible of this school of thought.

 In the same way Wittgenstein, regards the topics and subjects of traditional philosophy like morality devoid of scientific meaning and confined philosophy only to the critique of language and reached close to solipsism. Emotivism holds that ethical utterances are non- significant. They express the attitude of a speaker and are therefore moving. To support an ethical sentence by a ‘reason’ is to mention a fact that will influence the corresponding attitude. Emotivism leads to and is also the result of relativism. .Its chief representatives are David Hume, A.J. Ayer, C.L. Steven Son, and Bertrand Russell.

 Later on Gilbert Ryle in his two books i.e. The concept of Mind and Taking sides in philosophy elaborated the linguistic philosophy to a great extent and enriched it’s theories as an editor of the renowned philosophical journal Mind.



(The Author is Director International Center for Spiritual Studies, Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora Pulwama. Former Director, Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir Srinagar. He can be reached on hamidnaseem@gmail.com)

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