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Semantics of the Quran

Semantics of the Quran

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Published by DawudIsrael1
semantics qur'an, isfahani, izutsu, attas
semantics qur'an, isfahani, izutsu, attas

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: DawudIsrael1 on May 09, 2013
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Syamsuddin Arif is Assistant Professor, Department of General Studies,International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Email: tagesauge@ yahoo.com.
 Islam
Science
,
 
 Vol. 5 (Winter 2007) No. 2©
2007
by the Center for Islam and Science
ISSN 1703-7603
(Print);
ISSN 1703-7602X
(Online)107
P
RESERVING
 
THE
S
EMANTIC
S
TRUCTURE
 
OF
I
SLAMIC
EY
T
ERMS
 
 AND
C
ONCEPTS
:
I
ZUTSU
, A 
L
-A 
TTAS, AND
 A 
L-
 Ċ 
GHIB
L-
I
Ď
FAH
 Ċ 
N
č
Syamsuddin Arif 
This article compares the elucidation of the seman-tic structure and fixity of a number of key terms andconcepts of the Qur
āĀ
n by two contemporary scholars,Toshihiko Izutsu (1914-1993) and Syed MuhammadNaquib al-Attas (1931—), with that of al-R 
Ā
ghib al-I
Ć
fah
Ā
n
ą
(d.
ca
443/1060), the author of the celebrated
 Kit
 Ā
b al-mufrad
 Ā
t f 
 ą 
ghar
 ą 
b al-Qur
āĀ
 n
. By ‘key terms andconcepts’ are meant those words used by the Qur
āĀ
n which play a decisive role in making up the basicconceptual structure of the Qur
āĀ
nic worldview. Thearticle shows how the Qur
āĀ
n profoundly changedand subsequently fixed the meaning of Arabic terms,particularly those key terms relating to religion andethics, and it highlights the fact that the contem-porary semantic analysis of the Qur
āĀ
nic vocabu-lary has its precedent in the fifth/eleventh century.
Keywords:
Semantic structure of the Qur
āĀ
n; key concepts and keyterms of the Qur
āĀ
n; semantic analysis; ToshihikoIzutsu; Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas; al-R 
Ā
ghibal-I
Ć
fah
Ā
n
ą
.
1. Izutsu’s Legacy
The Qur
āĀ
n through its vocabulary gives expression to a concrete and dy-namic ontology, rather than an abstract and static metaphysical vision of the universe. Izutsu demonstrated this employing a semantic approach ina series of thought-provoking studies, published in the 1960s, in which helaid bare the conceptual scheme of what he justifiably called the Qur
āĀ
nic
 
108
 
 
 Islam
Science
 
 Vol. 5 (Winter 2007) No. 2
 Weltanschauung, and made clear its differences from the pre-Qur
āĀ
nic or
 J 
 Ā
 hiliyyah
worldview.
1
According to Izutsu, the Qur
āĀ
n is “a large semanticfield, a self-sufficient system of words into which all words, whatever theirorigins, have been integrated with an entirely new systematic interpreta-tion.”Izutsu describes his method as “an analytic study of the key wordsof a language with a view to arriving eventually at a conceptual grasp of the Weltanschauung or worldview of the people who use that languageas a tool not only of speaking and thinking, but, more important still, of conceptualizing and interpreting the world that surrounds them.” Theterm “Weltanschauung” gives a clue to Izutsu’s understanding of seman-tics as a kind of 
 sprachliche Weltanschauungslehre
, “a study of the nature andstructure of the worldview of a nation at this or that significant period of its history, conducted by means of a methodological analysis of the majorcultural concepts the nation has produced for itself and crystallized intothe key words of its language.”
2
By analyzing over two dozen such key words as
 All
 Ā
 h
,
 isl
 Ā
 m
,
 ą 
 m
 Ā
 n
,
 kufr
,
 nab
 ą 
,
wa
 Ą
 y
,
 karam
,
taqw
 Ā
, and so on,
3
Izutsu is able not only to contrastpre-Islamic (
 J 
 Ā
 hiliyyah
) and post-Qur
āĀ
nic theology and ethics but also to
1. See Toshihiko Izutsu’s
God and Man in the Koran: Semantics of the KoranicWeltanschauung
(Tokyo: Keio Institute of Cultural and Linguistic Stud-ies, 1964);
The Concept of Belief in Islamic Theology
(Tokyo: Keio Instituteof Cultural and Linguistic Studies, 1965);
 Ethico-Religious Concepts inthe Qur
āĀ
 n
(Montreal: McGill University Press, 1966), which itself wasa revised edition of 
The Structure of Ethical Terms in the Koran
(Tokyo:Keio University, 1959).2. Izutsu,
God and Man
, 11; cf.
 Ethico-Religious Concepts
, 7-9. Izutsu honestlyadmitted that he was indebted to the writings of Johann Leo Weis-gerber, who appeared to be influenced by Wilhelm von Humboldt’s view of languange as a mirror of its speakers’ vision of the world (
Welt- ansicht
) and argued for the significance of languange as an intellec-tual process of world-shaping (
Weltgestaltung
). This type of semanticshas much in common with the “ethnolinguistics” associated with thenames of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. For further reading, see Johann Leo Weisgerber,
Vom Weitbild der deutschen Sprache
(Düsseldorf:Schwann-Verlag, 1950) and also his
Grundformen sprachlicher Weltge- staltung
(Köln und Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1963); Wilhelm von Humboldt,
Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einfluss auf die geistige Entwickelung des Menshengeschlechts
 (Berlin: F. Dümmler, 1836); Benjamin Lee Whorf,
 Language, Thought, and Reality
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956).3. On what is meant by the so-called “key words”, see Izutsu,
God and Man
,25 ff.
 
Syamsuddin Arif 
 
109
expose the conceptual network underlying the semantic worldview of theQur
āĀ
n. He points out, for example, how the known term
 All
 Ā
 h
underwenta radical semantic change and conceptual transformation. In pre-Islamictimes, the word
 All
 Ā
 h
was understood by the Arabs as referring to a cer-tain deity among numerous deities, sometimes also identified as the oneresponsible for the creation and maintenance of heaven and earth. ButHe was, after all, but one of the gods worshipped by the pagan Arabs. With the coming of Islam a profound change of far-reaching consequenc-es was brought to this conception. The Qur
āĀ
n introduces
 All
 Ā
 h
as theabsolutely supreme (
 a
Ă
l
 Ā
) and unique (
 a
 Ą
 ad
), that is, the one and only Godin existence, dismissing thereby all other ‘gods’ as false (
b
 Āć
 il
) and merenames having neither reality nor authority (
 asm
 Āā
sammaytum
 Ĉ
 h
 Ā
antumwa
 Ā
b
 Āā
 ukum m
 Ā
anzala All
 Ā
 h bih
 Ā
min sul
ćĀ
 n
), and nothing but products of human fancy and whims (
 ĉ
 ann wa m
 Ā
tahw
 Āā
l-anfus
).
4
More importantly,as is evident from the earliest verses revealed to Prophet Mu
Ą
ammad, theQur
āĀ
n declares
 All
 Ā
 h
the ultimate source of knowledge and teacher of mankind (
Ă
 allama
ā
l-ins
 Ā
 n m
 Ā
lam ya
Ă
lam
). All this is complemented with theubiquitous mentioning of the ‘exquisite names’ (
 al-asm
 Āā
al-
 Ą
 usn
 Ā
) belong-ing to
 All
 Ā
 h
alone.
5
The same is true of many ethical terms in Arabic. Whereas the word
 kar
 ą 
 m
in pre-Islamic times signified hereditary nobility and virtue mani-fested by extravagant generosity, in the Qur
āĀ
n the meaning-content of this word was drastically changed when it was put in a close relation withthe term
taqw
 Ā
, a common word which originally carried no religiousconnotation at all and which used to mean, in the pre-Qur
āĀ
nic period,simply a kind of fear-driven attitude of self-defense found among ani-mals. However, since the word
taqw
 Ā
in the Qur
āĀ
n had acquired a newmeaning, i.e. God-fearingness and piety, the word
 kar
 ą 
 m
was thenceforthapplied to someone who expends his wealth ‘in the path of 
 All
 Ā
 h
’ (
 f 
 ą 
sab
 ą 
l All
 Ā
 h
) and out of piety, rather than recklessly (
tabdh
 ą 
 ran
) and out of vain-glory (
 ri
āĀā
).
6
In short, Izutsu concludes that, although many of the words used inthe Qur
āĀ
n are the same as those used in the
 J 
 Ā
 hiliyyah
times, they wereneither assigned the same roles nor denote the same concepts. Thus, gen-erosity was reoriented from vainglory toward charity in the path of 
 All
 Ā
 h
,courage was transformed from a blindly selfish and unruly passion intoa conscious self-sacrificing dedication to the “way of Allah.” Patience and
4. Izutsu,
God and Man
, 13-15 and 40-2.5. Ibid., 95-119.6. Ibid., 43-5 and 234-9.

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