Translated by Saad Ahmad
Written by Abdul Haseeb Umri Madni
(Madrasa Kulliyah Hadith Shareef, Banglore, India)
In the name of Allah the most beneficent, the most merciful
In a WhatsApp group dedicated to providing Ulama with a forum known as Dabsitan e Urdu, I used an expression in Urdu “Jo badah kash the Purane wo Uthte Jate hain” ( The old winebibbers are passing away) in honour of the famous scholar Maulana Yusuf Jameel Jamaee who died recently.
Since the group members are highly educated and well-trained in understanding the Islamic ethos, norms and tradition. My use of the expression was not left unnoticed. As the expression indicates drinking (alcoholic) prohibited in Islam, I was asked to clarify my position. Based on the literal meaning of the expression, the objection was whether a person might use such expression which is prohibited in Islam or not?
I tried to explain my position in the ways mentioned below.
For any language, words play an essential role. Language evolves in culture, not in religion, though, religion may have a role in the culture. A culture is made out of the developed sense of good and bad. Religion helps to recognise the good and bad and teaches how to choose good and abstain from the bad. For Islam, like many aspects of the language and expression of a culture, religion is linked with them too. The aspect of prohibited and allowed liked and disliked are here. In many occasions, Shariah has a position that it does not endorses rejecting a thing abruptly but appreciates if the action of such kind is given up. The same process functions with the words, Islamic Shariah considered a few expressions, words or terminologies as prohibited or disliked.
Readers may think that this play of the word is the product of religious short-sightedness, is a biased interpretation.
Nevertheless, whosoever keeps an eye on scopes given by Islam and its universal teachings and makes him/herself aware with the texture of the Shariah, instructions for the correct usage of the terminologies and words, and remains himself updated with the fact that word is not a word only; it comes from a culture and tradition of that culture. Furthermore, whosoever believes that the scope of worship includes language and expression and ways to colour it with the colour of the God, he/she does not think this subject as insignificant neither considers the Shariah duties a burden.
The Prophet Muhammad (SWT) said: Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:
“I heard the Prophet (ﷺ) saying, “A person utters a word thoughtlessly (i.e., without thinking about its being good or not) and, as a result of this, he will fall into the fire of Hell deeper than the distance between the east and the west.”
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
What is the meaning of saying things thoughtlessly? Does it mean that human being utters without thinking what is going to say? What lacks it? Moreover, What could be the consequence?
Sometimes, dealing with the word could be very sensitive. It may raise more severe issues when such kind of words generates debates about the creed. Several Ahaadith (prophetic sayings) are available about many utterances and use of words in this context. These words (used in Urdu) could be a subject of study. Imam Muslim has written a chapter named “the book concerning the Use of Correct Words”.
Considering the significance about using the words in Shariah, the genius Islamic scholar Bakr Abu Zaid (d.2004) wrote books such as “Mu’jam manaahi allafziyah”, and “Fawaid Fel Alfaaz”. These two books suggest almost fifteen hundred words in use but could be objected from the perspective of Shariah, or some people may find problems with the use of words such as mentioned above. Though, researches lead us that one should not see any problem in using words such as these. Abu Zaid has mentioned many scholarly works by those who wrote them with the same purpose. It may be taken as evidence that this issues is not that intense neither new, on the other hand, opens another window to be updated with the actions and deeds of our predecessors taking us to the spots in the field of knowledge and thought.
Kindly take these names as an example;
• Al-Nijat min alfaaz al Kufr by Arab Shaah Sulaiman ibn Eis albkiri al-Hanfi (596 AH).
• Risalah fe ialfaz al Kufr by ibn Qutlubgha (978)
• Tasheed al-Arkaan fi al-amkaan al-abda’ momma kan Muallif, by Syuti (119 AH)
• manaahi allafziyah by Muhammad Salih al Usaimin (1221 AH)
• Fiqh al -Kalima wa masuooliyatuha fe al-Quran was Sunnah by Muhammad Ibn Abdur Rahman Ewaz
After this, we proceed with the method to know terminologies, words, and subsequent Shariah commands about them?
In Shariah, words and terminologies could be divided into three categories:
Firstly, words which are used in Shariah. These are commonly mentioned in the traces of the Quran, Sunnah or Companions. There is no problem with such words.
The second kind of words is often considered as prohibited in Shariah. There could be much reason behind the prohibition of using those words. Whatever Shariah has stopped from would be considered in this very category.
As during the lifetime of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Jews tried to play with the word ra’ina راعنا, and Allah, in response, revealed the Ayah “O ye of Faith! Say not (to the Messenger) words of ambiguous import, but words of respect; and hearken (to him): To those without Faith is a grievous punishment.” [2:104]. Pay attention to the context and background, and one should consult interpretations of the Quran for the further update about the difference between Ra’ina and UnZurna (انظرنا).
One of the many prohibited words is the king (when a king ask people him to call him king)
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger saying.
“The vilest name in Allah’s sight is Malik al-Amidh (King of Kings). The narration transmitted on the authority of Shaiba (contains these words): There is no king but Allah, the Exalted and Glorious. Sufyan said: Similarly, the word Shahinshah (is also the vilest appellation). Ahmad b. Hanbal said: I asked Abu’ Amr about the meaning of Akhna. He said: The vilest”.
Another example is taken from Arab society. They used to call grapes as krm, which suggest their cultural practices in which wine had a significant role. Arabs believed that wine causes them to be generous. This context led them to recognise wine as krm, which means generosity. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: “Do not call grapes generosity but call it grapes. Because generosity is the heart of believer” (Bukhari 68123 and Muslim 2247). This prophetic instruction explains that generosity belongs to the heart; hence, one should not call grapes as generosity. There are already several other words and expressions which are seen by Shariah critically. So, I recommend looking at the mentioned works of Bakar Abu Zaid.
The third kind of words is not available in either source. This category is further divided into three parts:
(A) words not found in Shairah but hardly contradict the teachings mentioned through Shariah, these words are correct, and Shariah does not see any problem using such terms, words, or expressions. The top portion of a language relies on such words. As the sum of eating and drinking is hillat (allowed), for Shairah, the actual drive comes from Halal (allowed), and a very few things are prohibited by the legislator (Prophet Muhammad). Likewise, there are very few words which are prohibited from using. As Prophet Muhammad (SAW) never tended to change the Arabic language from any angle, and The Noble Quran was revealed in the language Arabs were capable of understanding, Our believe Prophet cautioned about a few words that were against the purpose of Shariah. In the same manner, the essence of every language, adhered interpretation, metaphor remains valid in the eyes of Shariah.
(B), Those expressions or terms which could not be recorded in Shariah but some maximum use of it may keep it in contraction to the very assumptions even by Shariah norms, and whatever such expressions or words contain the meanings Shariah warns fro musing such terms or words. For example, these expressions, dukhtar nek Akhtar or fulaan ke sitare garish mein hain or fulaan ka sitara e Iqbal bland ho” these three sayings are results of the belief in star worship which relates the destiny of a person with the star, an act of superstition in the eyes of Shariah. Hence, the instruction says to avoid such words and expressions.
One more example is about the “lost spirits” say, for example, bhakti Aatma, fulan shaks mein fulaan ki rooh hulool kar gyi”, or ruhon ki haazri wagairah”. I nIslamic beleif, any one dies naturally or accidentally, his/her soul goes to Illiyin (Superior court) and Sijeen (imprisoned). Things about lost spirit or entering into one’s body are baseless. Hence, words, terms or expressions leading to such belief is prohibited in Shariah.
(C) The third kind is about the probabilities regarding the use of such terms, words or expressions; It means that in such cases in which words may refer two different things at the same time, one contradicting Shariah and another in peace wit shariah. Words mostly have their original meaning, but while suing in everyday language, they manifest through new meanings, leaving a reader confused that which one is the most accurate meaning of the word. In such a situation, these words neither could be rejected nor adopted freely. Now to understand the meaning of the word in poetry or prose should follow the rule that it should not contradict Shariah’s norms. As evidence, Sufyan ibn Uwainah added a similar word, say for, shahenshaah, for malik al-amlaak. Now, please have a look at below for understanding how to reach the intended meaning of a word? What could be the primary sources for deciding the meaning of a word? Kindly see the below:
1. towards and terminologies in a sentence could be understood through the adhered context
2. Most of the time, the intended meaning is grabbed just by knowing the position of the writer
3. One should look at the custom in which the word is in use which could help to understand the appropriate meaning of the word
Words such as these may help to identify the intended meaning and may lead to identifying which word be used or not?
The example of this are the following words:
1. Creator (Takhleeq kaar): This word is common in Urdu. The work of a poet is considered as the creation of the poet himself. There is confusion in understanding a word used for eating and drinking. The question is about whether it is right to call a person a creator? Secondly, unlike the creedal understanding of Sunni Islam, Mu’tazilites think that a person is the creator of his actions. Further, the problem rises as that how far calling a poet a creator is good?
In expelling this, we should mention that prohibition about the processional understanding fo the creator is recorded in the Quran and Sunnah in detail.
• What is the difference in attributing the act of creation with God and non-God?
• Who may be considered as the creator of the action committed by a human being?
It will also lead us to reify the accepted meaning among native speakers and writers and whether poetry is accepted as the creation of poet, if yes, then it may be allowed, but this kind of expression should be avoided. The act of attribution serves the purpose of common sense; hence, there is no problem in its ways of using such words. If the intended meaning is attributed to Mutazilah, it must be considered as prohibited.
2. Nabi e Pak (Holy Prophet):
In our everyday language, the word nabi e Pak is used to describe the Prophet as infallible, which is preferred and allowed. On the contrary, if somebody believes that he is infallible in terms of need essential to human beings, it may contradict with the belief that only the God is Quddoos (holy). Sufis have maintained the tradition in which the Prophet Muhammad remains above the human being in terms of having human traits and attributes. Their literature is full of the expression such as “Nabi e Pak”. The word pak (holy) explains the meaning suitable only for Allah. In this sense, the use of the word Nabi e Pak is allowed in one way but prohibited in other ways.
There are many examples similar to these, as mentioned above. For example, words like rabb for the employer (in modern sense) owner of the slave (earliest and medieval period) and Sayyid for the Prophet Muhammad if were prohibited in one case are also allowed in other cases. So, a reasonable opinion is that one should not be worried about using terms of such kinds as mentioned above. Alternatively, if somebody is interested in being more cautious, then he/she must adopt a moderate path.
Now we come to the subject of this essay, using terms like badah kash (بادہ کش) and jam wo paimana (جام و پیمانہ). Anyone aware of Urdu literature and its aesthetics will appreciate using such words known for their metaphorical meaning sometimes more than their first (literal) meaning. Words like paimana, jaam, and masti Sharaab (literally means to express a glass of wine ) are often used to verbally illustrate emotions, meanings and most important state of mind. Scholars of Islam have used terms like Jaame Shahadat nosh Karna (for martyrs) and badah tawhid (for the staunch believer). The famous poet Ghalib also used such expression in his poetry.
In this context, tashbeeb (love poetry) could be another example in which a poet starts by praising her imagined lover and reaches a stage where he could deliver the emotion he wanted to reveal. If one cannot learn the difference between tashbeeb ( poetry) and scurrility, even though Prophet Muhammad said about Hassan ibn Thabit, “Gabriel will continue in helping you till the moment you defend the God and his messenger”. The poet Hassan ibn Thabit could be subjected to criticise for everything he said.
Now it has been clear that in a literary context, using such terms as badah kash (بادہ کش) and jam wa paimana (جام و پیمانہ) are allowed. Such expressions serve the purpose of metaphor and irony. As I was provoked to respond for, the other side of the meaning should not be taken so seriously. The context of the expression cherishes Urdu culture with which every literate person of that culture is expected to be aware. Among educated and learned scholars, poetic expressions and literary methods are appreciated and enjoyed. Labelling to such literary expression with something of dire nature could produce other issues unpredicted in history. Live with dangerous words and use them for positive purposes. Allah knows the best.
I am thankful to Shamsur Rabb, a research scholar and assistant professor at the University of Mumbai whose insights led me to prepare this essay.