Primary Usage of Words in Quran


The following is something I wrote in response to a claim that we must accept the literal meanings of words first, even though it can have other meanings:

I would like to also comment on the statement regarding looking for inner meanings and extensions to the understanding of words in the Quran, while ignoring the literal meanings. The statement is fine as long as we don’t make false assumptions in terms of which understanding commands the primary usage within the Quranic text and which understanding constitutes an extension of such primary usage. Let’s demonstrate this with an example.

It is commonly thought that the primary understanding of SJD and its derivatives in the Quran is physical prostration and that the understanding of acceptance of whatever is in context is an extension of that meaning.

Let’s examine the occurrences and see whether or not this is true. The following is a listing of SJD and its derivatives from Quran. They are divided into four categories.

1. Occurrences where prostration cannot be understood in the context:

2:34, 7:11, 15:30, 17:61, 18:50, 20:116, 38:73, 7:12, 13:15, 15:33, 16:49, 17:61, 22:18, 38:75, 41:37, 55:6, 2:34, 7:11, 17:61, 18:50, 20:116, 41:37, 2:58, 4:154, 7:11, 7:161, 12:4, 15:29, 15:31, 15:32, 16:48, 38:72.

2. Occurrences where prostration is a weak inference in the context:

3:43, 68:42, 68:43, 7:120, 12:100, 20:70, 26:46

3. Occurrences where prostration is a possible understanding in the context:

4:102, 3:113, 7:206, 25:60, 27:24, 27:25, 84:21, 22:77, 25:60, 53:62, 76:26, 96:19, 48:29, 50:40, 2:125, 9:112, 15:98, 17:107, 19:58, 22:26, 25:64, 26:219, 32:15, 39:9, 48:29

4. Occurrences of the root as masjid:

2:114, 2:144, 2:149, 2:150, 2:187, 2:191, 2:196, 2:217, 5:2, 7:29, 7:31, 8:34, 9:7, 9:17, 9:18, 9:19, 9:28, 9:107, 9:108, 17:1, 17:1, 17:7, 18:21, 22:25, 22:40, 48:25, 48:27, 72:18

The analysis was conservative on the side of the “physical prostration” understanding and many of the occurrences that appear in the third group are debatable as to which of the two understandings to take.

There are 64 occurrences of the root excluding its use as masjid, which is excluded because whatever one takes the root to mean, in the case of masjid, it will be the place, time or state of the performance of the root verb. The 28 occurrences of masjid can therefore be seen in both contexts.

Half of the remaining occurrences (32/64) are clearly not referring to a physical prostration.

When one considers the occurrences where it is unlikely that it refers to a physical prostration, we find that a further 7 occurrences (39/64) will not support physical prostration.

25 occurrences can have a possibility of meaning prostration.

It must also be noted that when one reverses the analysis, understanding SJD and its derivatives as an acceptance of whatever appears in the various contexts; such an understanding fits all occurrences.

Since both meanings finds credence in the lexicons, we must consider both. However, in such a situation, considering the physical prostration as the primary meaning does not hold water as it is clear that within the Quranic context, the understanding of acceptance fits everywhere, whereas the understanding of physical prostration is limited to half the occurrences at best. Therefore the assumption that the primary meaning of SJD in the Quran is physical prostration is fallacious.

So like I stated in the beginning, there is no problem as long as our initial assumption of what constitutes primary usage in Quran is accurate.

It would be great to get some input on what you all think of this.

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2 Responses to Primary Usage of Words in Quran

  1. I was reading that yesterday. Had it saved on my laptop. 🙂

  2. To me, the primary meaning is the occurences which yields an irrefutable meaning. For SJD, its 17/107-109 which shows the overwhelming effects of God’s signs.

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