Arabic / الفتاوى العطائية (al-Fatawa al-'Ata'iyya)

“On figurative Language (majaz)…”

Shaykh `Ata’ Ibn Khalil:

“On Figurative Language…”


وجواب سؤالك الثاني:

لا يعمد للمجاز إلا إذا تعذرت الحقيقة، فمثلاً: ((يَجْعَلُونَ أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ مِنَ الصَّوَاعِقِ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ)) فإن “أصابعهم” مجاز في أطراف الأصابع لأن الأصابع على الحقيقة، أي كاملة، يتعذر جعلها في الآذان، بل فقط أطراف الأصابع التي تُجعل في الآذان. ومثل هذا ((وَدَخَلَ مَعَهُ السِّجْنَ فَتَيَانِ قَالَ أَحَدُهُمَا إِنِّي أَرَانِي أَعْصِرُ خَمْرًا)) فهنا الخمر مجاز في العنب، لأن الخمر لا يعصر على الحقيقة، بل الذي يعصر العنب الذي يصنع منه الخمرأما إذا لم تتعذر الحقيقة فلا يعمد إلى المجاز فقوله سبحانه: ((وَضَرَبَ لَنَا مَثَلًا وَنَسِيَ خَلْقَهُ قَالَ مَنْ يُحْيِ الْعِظَامَ وَهِيَ رَمِيمٌ)) لا تتعذر حقيقة إحياء العظام بالنسبة لله سبحانه، ولذلك قلنا “يحي…” على الحقيقة وليست على المجاز، وفهمنا منها أن عظام الميتة هي ميتة كذلك.

أخوكم عطاء بن خليل أبو الرشتة


“The answer to your second Question:

Majaz[1] cannot be relied on except if the literal meaning (al-haqiqah) is impossible to accept. As an example: {they put their fingers in their ears}.[2] Here, ‘their fingers’ (asabi`) is figurative (majaz) referring to their fingertips because in reality the fingers, all of it, cannot be inserted into the ears; rather it is the fingertips that are put into the ears. Another similar example is: {And there entered the prison with him two young men. One of them said: ‘Indeed, I have seen myself [in a dream] pressing wine’…}.[3] Here, ‘wine’ (khamr) figuratively represents ‘grapes’ because wine in reality cannot be squeezed; rather it is grapes that are squeezed from which wine is then produced…as for whenever it is possible to take the literal meaning, then a non-literal reading cannot be relied on as in His saying (Glorified is He!): {And he strikes for Us a similitude and forgets his [own] creation. He asks: ‘Who will give life to bones while they are disintegrated?}.[4] The reality of bringing bones back to life is not impossible for Allah (Glorified is He!); hence we say that the verb “he will give life (yuhyi)/يحي” is taken on its literal meaning and not its figurative meaning. We further understand from the verse that the bones of the dead are also dead.”[5]

Your brother `Ata’ b. Khalil Abu ’l-Rashtah.


[1] On this term as well as its examples and types, see my Introducing Arabic Rhetoric, pp.78-93. See also R. Gleave, Islam and Literalism, pp.1-125 and M. Schwarz, A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism, part 1, pp.3-76.

[2] Q. 2:19. al-Shawkani in Fath al-Qadir, 1:35 writes: “where the whole finger is mentioned but with reference to part of the fingers is a well-known figurative expression, a relation of the part to the whole, because what is put into the ears are the fingertips not the whole finger”:

وقوله يَجْعَلُونَ أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ مِنَ الصَّوَاعِقِ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ جملة مستأنفة لا محل لها كأن قائلا قال: فكيف حالهم عند ذلك الرعد؟ فقيل: يجعلون أصابعهم في آذانهم وإطلاق الأصبع على بعضها مجاز مشهور، والعلاقة الجزئية والكلية لأن الذي يجعل في الأذن إنما هو رأس الأصبع كلها 

[3] Q. 12:36.

[4] Q. 36:78.

[5] “Q & A: On the Literal and the Figurative”.


One thought on ““On figurative Language (majaz)…”

  1. Pingback: “Sealed Hearts…A Tafsir of Baqara Verse 7″ | دار نيـقـوسـيــا

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