The Furqan & "The Warner": Correcting Christoph Heger's Misinterpretation Of Qur'an 25:1

Asif Iqbal

The first verse of the Qur’anic Sura 25 may be transliterated as:

“tabaraka lladh?azzala l-FURQ?A ‘al?abdihi li-yak?i-l-‘?m? NADH?AN?

In an article which first appeared on his web-page[1], and was subsequently incorporated in Ibn Warraq’s collection of articles on the Qur’an[2], Christoph Heger attempted to construe this verse as follows:

Blessed be He, who sent down the redemption on His servant that he might be (or: become) a sacrifice for the worlds.

And further commented on his above translation that it makes the verse 25:1 to:

display the central Christian teachings on Jesus Christ: “sent down” (John 1), “as votive sacrifice” (Eph. 5,1; Hebr. 10,10.14) “for the redemption” (Eph. 1,7 and often) “of the world” (John 3,17f.).

Whether or not is such a rendering indeed possible from the textual and contextual point of view will form the subject of the following brief criticism.

The first key term requiring our concentration is al-furq? which occurs seven times in the Qur’an (i.e., 2:53, 185; 3:4; 8:29, 41; 21:48; 25:1) and is also one of the names given to the sura 25. There seem to be three basic elements influencing the Qur’anic usage of this term: (i) a Salvific or Soteriological sense possibly deriving from an Aramaic word purk? (ii) the notion of Separation and Discernment that is characteristic of the Arabic root F-R-Q, and (iii) Scripture and revelation.

It is indeed true that the semantic field of the Qur’ac furqan in consequence of the slightly imbricating effects of these three connotations, may have become somewhat complex, yet by virtue of the context and usage of this word in a particular verse, we can easily and confidently determine its meaning. The aspect of salvation is perhaps clearest in 8:29:

?O you who believe, if you fear God, He will “yaj`al lakum” [“give you” (Pickthal); “grant you” (Yusuf Ali); “assign you” (Arberry)] a “furqan” He will acquit you of your evildoings and forgive you. God is possessed of great bounty.?

The great Qur’anic commentator at-Tabari (d. 922 CE) notes[3] that in this context authorities have interpreted the word furq?variously as makhraj (“escape”), naj?(“salvation”) or fasl (“separation, discernment”).

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at-Tabar?however, rightly points out that:

All these interpretations of the meaning of furq?– in spite of the difference in their wordings — are reconcilable when it comes to their meanings. That is to say if a ‘way out’ [makhraj] is provided for someone from the situation he is in, that `way out’ is his ‘salvation’ [naj?n]. Similarly, if he is saved from it, that means there has been a victory over the one who wrongly opposed him and so a ‘decision’ has been made between him and his evil opponent.[4]

Indeed, the (above-cited) elements (i) and (iii) are totally coherent as proven by the Qur’anic usage of furq? The sending of the Prophetic revelations (or scriptures or guidance or criterion) is acknowledged by the Qur’?to be a sign of the salvific act of God. The element (ii) is also synchronically linked to both of them. In 5:25 Moses, referring to his people’s hesitation, prays to God:

?O my Lord, “I control no one but myself and my brother: make a Separation [fa-‘fruk] between us and the reprobate people.”?

After surveying and summarizing various expositions of the term, Frederick Denny comments that furq?

is one of those rich, distinctly Quranic (regardless of other possible Semitic antecedents and parallels), poly-interpretable terms (like han? ummah, ?n, isl? hudan) which lead into the very heart of the Message, and radiate meaning and power in all directions.[5]

In S?5:1, the usage clearly shows that the word furq?refers to the Qur’an in the sense of a Criterion or Standard between good and evil. M. Pickthall renders this verse as:

?Blessed is He Who hath nazzala l-furq? ‘al?abdihi [i.e., “revealed unto His slave the Criterion (of right and wrong)”], that he may be a warner to the peoples.?

Hazrat `Al?. Ab?ib is reported[6] to have said:

?faj? bi-FURQ? min l-All?munzalin mubayyinatin ?tuhu li-dhu l-`aqli?

i.e., ?He brought the CRITERION [the Qur’an] sent down from God,
Its signs are plain to men of sense.?

Furthermore, the most convincing contextual evidence for translating in 25:1 furq?as “the Qur’an” or the “criterion between truth and falsehood,” is the use of the verb anzala (“to send down”) to describe it. It’s true that it may be argued indirectly that the sending of the Prophetic revelations (or scriptures or guidance or criterion) is acknowledged by the Qur’an to be a sign of the salvific act of God. But the direct meaning of that which is “sent down” can only be “the Qur’an” or “the revelation,” which is the “criterion between truth and falsehood.”

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This shows that the correct rendering of the first part of 25:1, which is how both at-Tabar?nd az-Zamakhshar?ave understood this verse, is:

?Blessed is He Who hath revealed unto His slave the Criterion (of right and wrong)…?

The idea of “dedication” in the sense of promises made under cultic or religious sanction was an old concept in Semitic and South Arabian cultures. This idea was called in Arabic as Nadhr and Hebrew as Nedr. Nedarim is the name of a treatise in the Mishna and the Talmud that is devoted chiefly to a discussion of the regulations contained in Numbers 30:2-17.

The Qur’?records this word to be used in the following sense:

?yufuna bi-n-Nadhri wa yakhafuna yawman kana sharruh?tat?.? (76:7).

i.e., “They perform (their) vows, and they fear a Day whose evil flies far and wide.” (Yusuf Ali).

The same usage is attested by the Ahad? as well:

?la Nadhru f?`asiya wa kafaratuhu kafaratu yam?? (Sunan Ab??arrative number 3290).

i.e., “There is no vow in an act of disobedience (of God), and its atonement is the same as that of a pledge.”

But the fact is that this group of words has nothing to do with the forms of “Nadhara”, meaning: “to warn,” which are so commonly used in the Qur’?

In fact the “Nadh?quot; of 25:1 is from the form IV (i.e., Andhara) of N-DH-R. It is of the pattern fa`?in the sense of the pattern muf`il, which is a recognized pattern in the classical Arabic. Other words in the classical Arabic of this pattern are:

As-Sam? (hearing, listening) = al-Musmi`i,

Al-Bad? (wonderful, marvelous) = al-Mubdi`i.[7]

In S?7:17, it has been used as a verbal noun:

?…fa-sa-ta`lam?aifa nadh?.?

i.e., “… so that ye shall know how was My warning?”

The Jahili poet `Antarah says[8]

?Wa kam min NADH?IN qad `atana muhaddiran
Fa-kana Ras?f?-Sur?ubasshiru?

i.e., ?How many times has a WARNER who has come to bid us be on our guard against something bad,
Turned out ultimately to be a messenger of delightful things bringing a good news.?

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The word an-Nadh?(“The Warner”) is one of the famous epithets of the Prophet Muhammad(P) used at many places in the Qur’an, while the Ahad? (such as Bukh?, Kit?ar-Riq? B?26, etc.) describe him as an-Nadh?al-`ury?lt;/em>.

In his article, Christoph Heger notes that the usage of a feminine word Nadh? has been used in the lexicons in the sense of a “votive gift,” for instance a child appointed by the parents by a vow to serve God.

Christoph Heger adds to this observation:

This is quite peculiar: that the masculine noun nadh?for those lexicographers should have a totally different meaning than the feminine noun of the same grammatical structure.

This observation is merely based upon Christoph Heger’s unawareness of the fact that lexicons indeed record the usage of the feminine noun Nadhir as “One who gives information or advice of a thing”; “One who warns”; “A spy who informs, gives notice of an enemy”, etc.[9]

Therefore, there can hardly be any doubt of the fact that the way Christoph Heger wants to interpret this verse is based on a linguistic confusion which is so obvious from the viewpoint of the Classical Arabic that it hardly needs any further elaboration.

Notes

[1] http://www.christoph-heger.de/sura25_1.html

[2] What the Koran Really Says, New York, 2002, pp. 387-390

[3] Jami` al-Bayan Fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al- `Ilmiyya, 1992, vol. i, p. 69

[4] Ibid.

[5] In In Quest of an Islamic Humanism: Arabic and Islamic Studies in Memory of Mohamed al-Nowaihi, ed., A. H. Green, Cairo: American Univ., Press, 1984, p. 203

[6] Recorded in: Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah in the discussion of Badr.

[7] See Lisan al-`Arab (by Ibn Manthur under the root N-DH-R; Tadj al-`Ar?ol., iii, p. 561, line 12 from bottom.

[8] D?n, p. 85, verse 5

[9] See Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, London: Williams and Norgate, 1893, book 1, part 8, p. 2782, col. b and c.

3 Comments

  1. dear Sir

    I’d like to comment by saying that the Quran needsto be understood in the context of the verses according to linguistic principles of understanding a discourse or text. We must baseallourunderstanding on the actual text under study with an open unbiased mind. The second requirement is understanding the meanings of words as they were originally meant and understood.The equivalent words in the translations must fit in the context with a good relationship of words used and a good organization of thought exxpressed in the words.

    Dr Heger is completely wrong in his interpretation,probably because he may not have enough knowledge of the Quranic Arabic and itsgrammar.

    I think 25:1 means:

    ” Blessed be god Who revealed the distinction ( furqaan) ( the quran or God’s speech that distinguishes between truth and falsehood about God’s statements of facts and guidance beleivedby men) to His servant( Prophet Mohammad) so that he may preach and warn the people.”

    This means that the Quran advises and preaches that the people should accept the truth about God given in it and reject the statements by the people given in the Bible and the Torah in the name of God. In this way the Quran distinguishes between truth and falsehood.

    Liaquat Samma

  2. [Admin: Deleted for double posting.]

  3. Dear Sir/Madam,

    I wonder why the above article adds to its various flaws this special one: When it was written by admin on October 14th, 2005, the URL as given in footnote 1 already had expired for years. Had the admin checked the URL he would have realized it. A little search by any search engine would easily have let him know the correct URL: http://www.christoph-heger.de/sura25_1.html

    Kind regards,
    Christoph Heger

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