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”).

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.”

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.?

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.


[1] http://​www​.christoph​-heger​.de/​s​u​r​a​25​_​1​.​h​tml

[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.Endmark







3 responses to “The Furqan & The Warn­er”: Cor­rect­ing Christoph Heger’s Mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Qur’an 25:1

  1. Liaquat Samma Avatar
    Liaquat Samma

    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. Dr. Christoph Heger Avatar

    [Admin : Delet­ed for dou­ble posting.]

  3. Dr. Christoph Heger Avatar

    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/​s​u​r​a​25​_​1​.​h​tml

    Kind regards,
    Christoph Heger

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