Our Music Our Selves


Commentaries, 3 Rabee`ul-Aakhar (January 23, 2015) — al-`Aadiyaat: Rhyme, Rhythm, and Structure in the 100th Soorah of the Qur’an

Posted in Miscellaneous Essays by Lester Knibbs on the January 23rd, 2015

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

As-Salaam alaikum! Peace!

I bear witness that there is nothing and no one
worthy of our devotion and service except Allah,

and I bear witness that Muhammad
is the servant and the messenger of Allah.

Our Music Our Selves is an exploration of the symphonic structure and message of the Qur’an and an exploration of the symphonic structure and message of our serious music, and of the role of both in shaping our human history and identity.

What is the message of the Qur’an? According to Canadian journalist Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980):

The medium is the message

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Symphonic Qur’an:

100 al-`Aadiyaat

Rhyme, Rhythm and Structure
in the 100th Soorah (Chapter) of the Qur’an

(bis-mil-Laah-ir-Ramaan-ir-Raeem)

(1)                        wal-`aadiyaati ḍabḥaa

(2)                        fal-mooriyaati qadḥaa

(3)                        fal-mugheeraati ṣubḥaa

(4)                        fa-atharna bi-hee naq`aa

(5)                        fa-wasaṭna bi-hee jam`aa

(6)                        innal-insaana li-rabbi-hee la-kanood

(7)                        wa-innahoo `alaa dhaalika la-shaheed

(8)                        wa-innahoo li-ḥubbil-khairi la-shadeed

(9)                        a-fa-laa ya`lamu idhaa bu`thira maa fil-quboor

(10)                        wa-huṣṣila maa fiṣ-ṣudoor

(11)                        inna rabba-hum bi-him yauma’idhin la-khabeer

_________________________

(1)            . . .   dabhaan              1-a

(2)            . . .   qadhaan              1-a

(3)            . . .   subhaan              1-a
__________

(4)            . . .   naq`aan              2-a

(5)            . . .   jam`aan              2-a
__________
__________

(6)            . . .   kanood               b-3

(7)            . . .   shaheed             c-3

(8)            . . .   shadeed             c-3
__________

(9)            . . .   quboor               b-4

(10)            . . .   sudoor               b-4

(11)            . . .   khabeer             c-4
__________
__________

The Rhyme Scheme

The above list presents the last word of each ayat of Soorat-al-`Aadiyaat. The superscript “n” represents the tanween which is normally not pronounced at the end of an ayat. The spacings indicate the grouping of the ayats into four smaller groups and into two larger groups, based primarily on rhyme scheme, secondarily on rhythmic pattern, and thirdly on content.

The rhyme scheme is indicated by the column of letters and numbers to the right of the list. The letters “a”, “b”, and “c” indicate the long vowel sounds “aa”, “oo”, and “ee”, respectively (represented in the Qur’an text by the letters alif, waaw, and yaa’). The numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 indicate the consonant sounds of haa’, `ain, daal, and raa’, respectively.

Looking at the above list, we see that the first three ayats end in rhyme 1‑a, which is “haan”. The next two ayats end in rhyme 2‑a, which is “`aan” (substituting `ain for haa’ as the initial consonant).

The next three ayats (6 through 8) end in rhymes b‑3, c‑3, and again c‑3. All three end with the letter daal – in b‑3 preceded by the letter waaw (the sound “oo”), and in the two c‑3’s preceded by the letter yaa’ (the sound “ee”).

The last three ayats (9 through 11) end in rhymes b‑4, again b‑4, and c‑4. All three end with the letter raa’ – in the two b‑4’s preceded by the letter waaw (the sound “oo”), and in the final c‑4 preceded by the letter yaa’ (the sound “ee”).

The symmetrical pattern in the last six ayats is: one “oo”, followed by two “ee’s”, followed by two “oo’s”, followed by one “ee”.

Two symmetrical patterns connect the first three ayats and the last three ayats:

(1)            In the first three ayats, the haa’ of the rhyme is preceded by baa’, daal, baa’ (first ayat, second ayat, third ayat). In the last three ayats, the “oo” or “ee” of the rhyme is preceded by baa’, daal, baa’ (ninth ayat, tenth ayat, eleventh ayat).

(2)            In the first three ayats, the vowel in the first syllable of the word is fathah, fathah, and dammah. In the last three ayats, the vowel in the first syllable of the word is dammah, dammah, and fathah. The sounds “a”, “a”, “u” in ayats one, two, three; the sounds “u”, “u”, “a” in ayats nine, ten, eleven. The sounds of all three fathahs are affected (pronounced as “aw” in “saw”) by a preceding emphatic or guttural consonant (daad, qaaf, or khaa’).

The two middle groups of ayats (4 and 5; and 6, 7, and 8) are connected by a common fathah in the first syllable of each word. In none of these five ayats is this fathah preceded by an emphatic or guttural consonant, retaining the sound of “a” as in “at”.

The Rhythmic Pattern

The rhythmic pattern groups these ayats in the same grouping as the rhyme scheme (not always the case in the Qur’an). Ayats 1 through 3 have the same rhythmic pattern; ayats 4 and 5 have a similar pattern. Ayats 6 through 8 switch to a different pattern; and ayats 9 through 11 switch to yet another pattern.

The rhythmic pattern in the first three ayats marks out a metrical pattern which medieval European musical theorists called “hemiola” – a rhythmic pattern of two against three common in African music and which spread to Europe during the period of Muslim government in Spain (711-1492). This pattern had resurgent interest in the 17th century (the music of J.S. Bach, for instance) and again in the 19th century (the music of Brahms, for instance). This pattern also occurs in African-American music, especially in the old country blues and in honky-tonk music.

Overall Structure of the Soorah

Both the rhyme scheme and the changes in the rhythmic patterns serve to emphasize a division of this soorah into two parts – ayats 1 through 5, and ayats 6 through 11 (although, as mentioned above, there is a secondary pattern in the rhyme scheme – a repeated fathah – which connects ayats 3 through 8). The first part (ayats 1 through 5) shares with the opening ayats of the 37th, 51st, 77th, and 79th soorahs (as‑Saaffaat, adhDhaariyaat, al‑Mursalaat, and an‑Naazi`aat) the same regular rhythmic pattern and allegorical language. The second part (ayats 6 through 11) switches to categorical language and a less regular rhythmic pattern.

Summary Comments

Warith Deen Muhammad said, “Words make people”. And he clarified that with, “A word is anything which brings a message to your mind”. (I understand this to mean, “anything which brings a message to your nature”.) W.D. Muhammad also pointed out that every aspect of the Qur’an is a part of its message.

As we know, the Qur’an is the word of Allah, the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing. Every aspect of it is determined by the will of Allah. The smallest details and the largest overall structure go together into making the Qur’an be what it is and do what it does. “The medium is the message.”

When we recite the Qur’an or listen to the Qur’an being recited, all of those aspects of form and expression, whether we understand them or not, whether we are conscious of them or not, go into making us what Allah in his generous mercy wants us to be.

This particular soorah is not unusual in the complexity of its structure.

It is important that we expose ourselves on a daily basis to the Arabic Qur’an. There is no English Qur’an, no Spanish Qur’an, nor any Qur’an in any language but the clear Arabic language in which Allah revealed His message. Even if we do not understand Arabic, it is essential to the message of the Qur’an that we experience the arrangement of vowels and consonants, short syllables and long syllables, the placement of accents, the rhyme schemes, the rhythmic patterns, refrains and repetitions and recapitulations, divisions of a soorah into sections, the unity of each soorah as a whole, groupings of soorahs based (most commonly) on similarities in rhyme and rhythm or outright repetition of the opening ayat, and the structural unity of the Qur’an as a whole.

Examples of the groupings of soorahs are those soorahs which begin with the muqatta`aat – the mysterious letters: “Alif laam meem” (soorahs 29 through 32); “Taa seen” or “Taa seen meem” (soorahs 26 through 28); “Haa meem” (soorahs 40 through 46); and others.

Another example of a grouping of soorahs is the group of eight soorahs from al-Hadeed (soorah 57) to at-Taghaabun (soorah 64). soorahs 57, 59 and 61 begin with the words “Sabbaha lil-Laahi maa fis-samaawaati …” and soorahs 62 and 64 begin with the words “Yusabbihu lil-Laashi maa fis-samaawaati … .” The other soorahs – 56, 58, 60, and 63 – have different beginnings, with no pattern. We have a grouping of five, alternating between three regular beginnings and two “irregular” beginnings, and group of three, alternating between two regular beginnings and an “irregular” beginning. An “off-center” symmetry of a five-soorah group balanced by a three-soorah group.

When we recite the Qur’an, or listen to the Qur’an being recited, all of these aspects of form and expression, whether we understand them or not, whether we are conscious of them or not, go into making us what Allah in his generous mercy wants us to be.

 

 

 

 

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