Verse 1 – Sūrat al-Ṣaff | Grammatical Analysis

Originally written and posted by the author of the Light of the Furqan blog.

Introduction

I and a couple of other students, including the author of Iqra Online, have been holding weekly Qurānic grammar discussions and have decided to share our notes from our weekly discussions. The discussions, however, are quite technical, largely because the initial grammatical analysis of the verses is straightforward and we focus on parts of verses where there is room for advanced grammatical discussions.

In order to share these notes, we have decided to start each post off with a basic grammatical analysis taken from the Quranic Arabic Corpus. After that, we have documented our more advanced discussions. As such, these posts may be difficult to read for anyone not familiar with Arabic grammar although we have tried to explain or roughly translate the names of some concepts to help readers.

We started our weekly discussions from the first verse of sūrat al-Ṣaff. These posts will only document verses where we had a significant amount of discussion. Any verse that was grammatically straightforward to understand will not be mentioned. The first part of the first verse of sūrat al-Ṣaff is as follows.

Verse 1 – Part 1

 

Translation (Qarāī): Whatever there is in the heavens glorifies Allah and whatever there is in the earth, and He is the All-mighty, the All-wise

Notes

Most discussions by grammarians on this verse focus on the role of the preposition (ḥarf) li on lafẓ al-jalālah (the ism/“noun” Allah). Lafẓ al-jalālah is taken to be the direct object (maf’ūl) of the verb سبّح, however Arabic dictionaries have documented that the verb is used along with its direct object without any preposition whatsoever. The following is an entry in Miṣbāḥ al-Munīr that establishes this.

التَّسْبِيحُ: التقديس و التنزيه، يقال سبّحت اللّه أي نزّهته عمّا يقول الجاحدون، و يكون بمعنى الذكر و الصلاة، يقال: فلان يُسَبِّحُ اللّه أي يذكره بأسمائه

In the above entry, the verb سبّح is used without any preposition. Since the verb does not seem to need any preposition in order to have a direct object, grammarians and exegetes naturally attempt to determine the purpose of the preposition in this verse.

There are generally two explanations offered for the preposition here. One is that it is zāid (extra – generally without any meaning). In explaining this, some scholars argue that the lām strengthens the bond between the verb and the direct object. This explanation is relatively unclear, but regardless in accordance with this view the lām would not bring any meaning to the verse apart from, perhaps, some “emphasis”.

The other understanding is that the lām here is lām al-ta’līl, that is, it indicates the cause of the glorification. This lām would roughly be translated as “because of” in this context. Therefore, the verse would be translated as “Whatever there is in the heavens and earth glorifies because of Allah”. The preposition here signifies the cause of the occurrence of the glorification.

According to this view, the direct object of the verb سبّح has not been mentioned. As seen in the above translation, it is not clear what is being glorified. Some scholars have presumed that another instance of the word “Allah” is hidden (in taqdīr) and is the direct object of the verb. In accordance with this view, the translation of the verse would be as follows, “Whatever there is in the heavens and earth glorifies [Allah] because of Allah”.

Below is a passage from al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ by Abū Ḥayyān with a summary of this discussion.

و اللام في‏ لِلَّهِ‏، إما أن تكون بمنزلة اللام في: نصحت لزيد، يقال: سبح اللّه، كما يقال؛ نصحت زيدا، فجي‏ء باللام لتقوية وصول الفعل إلى المفعول؛ و إما أن تكون لام التعليل، أي أحدث التسبيح لأجل اللّه، أي لوجهه خالصا

As a side note, most discussions on the role of this lām do not actually take place under the exegesis of this particular verse because the exact same verse already occurred in the Qurān (Al-Ḥashr 59:1) and a very similar verse occurred even before that (Al-Ḥadīd 57:1). As such, most discussions take place under the first verse of sūrat al-Ḥadīd.

Verse 1 Part 2

There is another smaller discussion pertaining to the wāw at the end of the discussion. The QAC takes the wāw here to be wāw isti’nāfīyah. That is, the wāw acts almost like a period in English, it signifies another statement. However, it is completely plausible to understand the wāw as ḥālīyah. Many exegetes have also adopted this view. In this case, the translation would be rendered “While he is the All-mighty, the All-wise”. That is, Allah is praised by all things while he is simultaneously as such.