The Modern semantic philosophies and Quranic Studies - II
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The Modern semantic philosophies and Quranic Studies - II

The Qur'an being the guide book for whole of mankind as a perfect way of life has employed certain representative words to convey its message

Post by on Friday, June 24, 2022

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Closely related to Semantic philosophy is Semiotics, which actually is one branch of semantics. It is the theory about the metaphors and symbols, part of which is related to the rules of Grammar and second part with pragmatics, which is the study of purport of meaning-full sentences and their influences? According to H.G. Grice, when we analyze the meaning of a sentence, we must also consider the impression or the influence it exerts on the listeners. This process can be understood in the communication between human beings and animals. With this brief account of semantic philosophy and its allied subjects, no systematic, well-knit definition can be entertained. It rather leads us to a very confused state of mind of the proponents of this theory who were baffled by the tantalizing progress of science and technology in the late eighties and early nineties when this school of thought finally emerged in 1924.

 

Moreover, there has had been strong opposition from various writers and philosophers to this theory of meaning based on the linguistic philosophy and rooted in the principle of empiricism. For example, Quine in his book Two  dogmas of Empiricism declares that according to the tenets of Empiricism no difference between synthetic and analytic sentences can be maintained nor the theory of harmonious meaning of the statements can be entertained, which was a special view point of Carnap, as he regards that the singular sentences have no separate meaningfulness. In Quine we discern a revolt against the theory of meaning, propositions and necessity.

 

Prof. Toshihko Izutsu, a well known Islamologist of Japan says, perhaps for the same reason:  “Unfortunately, what is called semantics today is now bewilderingly complicated. It is extremely difficult if not absolutely impossible, for an outsider even he cannot get a general idea what it is like. In other words, we have as yet no neatly organized uniform science of semantics; all we have in our hands is number of different theories of meaning”

 

“Then what is a working definition of semantics?” Prof. Izutsu asks: “…semantics as I understand it is an analytic study  of key-terms of a language with a view to arriving eventually at a conceptual grasp of the Weltanschauung or world view of the people who use that language as a tool not only of speaking and thinking, but more important still, of conceptualizing and interpreting the world that surrounds them, semantics, thus understood, is a kind of ‘Weltan-Schaunng-Slehre’, a study of the nature and structure of the world view of a nation at this or that significant period of its history, conducted by means of a “methodological analysis” of the major cultural concepts the nation has produced for itself and crystallized into the key-words of its language.”

 

 

The non-Arabic words which are used in the Qur'an, and which in the past were the cause of divergent points of view among the scholars, are in fact non-Arabic according to their origin.  In pre-Islamic era they were adopted and assimilated into Arabic and were Arabicized.  In other words, Arabic had absorbed a large number of Persian, Egyptian, and Sanskrit words before Islam.  It had assimilated those elements and Arabicized them before Islam.  These words were in usage.  Qur'an also used them.”

 

Now when we apply this semantic philosophy to the Quranic sciences, it becomes necessary to understand the Quranic Weltanschauung or the picture of the universe which is portrayed. Semantics of the Qur’an should be understood only in the sense of the Quranic Weltanschauung or Quranic worldview, i.e. the Quranic vision of the universe. It would deal mainly with the problem of how, in the view of this scripture, the world of the being is structured, what are the major constituents of the world, and how are they related to each other. It would in this sense, be a kind of ontology a concrete; living and dynamic ontology, and not the kind of static systematic ontology constituted by a philosopher at an abstract level of metaphysical thinking. It would be a form of ontology ‘at the concrete level of being and existence as reflected in the verses of the Qur’an’.

 

With this back drop it  can be appreciated that in the Qur’an there are terms of words like “Bayan”, “Mubeen”, ”Ta’aseer”, ’Bayanah”, ”Burhan” etc. which indicate that the  Quranic teachings are very clear and evident and not fraught with any complicacy or ambiguity, which may need man-made and interpolated interpretative analytical intervention for elucidation. Secondly, the Qur’an has also encouraged pondering over its teaching and contents, which is called Tadabbur in the Qur’anic parlance, which indicates that deeper consideration and meditation on the teachings of the Quran is necessary and the possible practical implications and consequences ensuing there from are to be gauged seriously. This is one of the prerequisites for understanding the Qur’anic Weltanschauung. But this exercise is not aimed at ‘hair splitting’ and ‘question begging’, but for the practical purpose of emulating the Quran in its letter and spirit for spiritual and moral enlightenment rather than reducing everything to the dry and dead linguistic residues not amenable to any further linguistic analysis. Here the purpose of Tadabbur is not to declare metaphysical, and by implication, religious tenets and moral propositions both illuminating and misleading as John Wisdom may propose but lead a reader to the feeling of Presence hence rendering him more Allah fearing and full of Taqwa.

 

Thus technically speaking, Ilm Ma’ani or the semantics of the Quran is the discipline of understanding the Qur'anic message through its diction. The aim of 'ilm Ma’ani' of the Qur'an is to help the reader in his endeavors to comprehend the divine revelation and its purpose. According to Izutsu, the Qur’an has used the words and terms like Islam, Nabih, Iman, Kafir, and Allah etc. at their proper places. These words and terms are interconnected and inter-dependent for their meanings. These words and terms can’t be taken out of their context. The Quranic terminology has its peculiarity in more than one senses .In the first place it is a pure Divine writ .Secondly it has presented a perfect picture of the world being the creation of Allah. Therefore it has employed words and terms which are uniquely representative of the Divine Revealation.Therefore we cannot treat human speech or for that matter any best piece of Arabic prose or book of poetry even at par with the Quran. Therefore it is incumbent on us that in the matters related the usage of the Quran diction, we need to understand difference between words and terms the Quran has used which are characteristic to this Last Divine Book which claims to be the guard of all the previous divine revelations (Muhaiman). Because there are certain words in the Qur'an which cannot be treated as terms because of the fact that their dictionary meanings are retained.  At the same time these words cannot be regarded as ordinary words even. It is therefore, necessary to maintain the difference between the general words and representative words of the Qur'an.  These words play an important role to represent Islam and its teachings. As we are aware for every ideology or a movement representative words are important because it is through the medium of these that the fundamental principles of the message are conveyed and introduced.  The Qur'an being the guide book for whole of mankind as a perfect way of life has employed certain representative words to convey its message.

 

As it is well known that when a word is used in a special sense different from the dictionary meaning it is called a term.  When a science is developed and when new ideas are introduced the prevalent words of a language are not sufficient to fully express the specialized concepts.  As such either new words are coined or special meanings are assigned to the ordinary words.  Thus a new status is given to some chosen words of the language.  These words with the new status are called terms.  Term is a unit of thought and conveys the entire idea. “The Qur'an being representative Book of a dynamic movement and a book of Wisdom (al Hikmah) has its own terms.  Each Qur’anic term encompasses a whole concept.  It is imperative to understand the underlined meaning of these terms to grasp the spirit of the Qur’an. The Qur'an has used not less than 37 terms to convey its message.

 

"In order to understand the Qur'an, a clear comprehension of the full connotation of these terms is a sine qua non.  (These terms are fully explained by the Qur'an, itself.  The Prophet of Islam (SAW) also explained these terms to his followers but in later centuries mostly due to the influences of alien civilizations and sometimes under the impact of internal factors like the emergence of Sufism, their meaning mostly has become oblivious for the Muslims  and changes have crept in, as Ghazzali has complained, for example, that the term Tafaquh was once reservedly used for  the matters related to life-hereafter ,but  now it is used in the sense of a knowledge about worldly affairs .  Thus most of the terms were expanded in their connotations and became vulnerable for accommodating outside trends of thought having any relation to that term.

 

         (TO BE CONCLUDED…)

 

(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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