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Form, Content, and the Inimitability of the Qurʾān in ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī’s Works

Author(s): Harb, Lara

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Abstract: Classical Arabic literary theory is commonly thought to have given precedence to ‘form’ (lafẓ) over ‘content’ (maʿnā). By looking at the works of ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 471/1078 or 474/1081), this article seeks to uncover a more complex understanding of how lafẓ and maʿnā relate to eloquence. I argue that poetic beauty can result from form and/or content, even though the inimitability of the Quran is only attributed to form. I show that ‘form’ is constituted by sentence construction (naẓm) and only certain kinds of literary figures, ones that involve processes of indirect signification. These encompass figurative speech (majāz), metaphor (istiʿāra), and implied meaning (kināya). Simile (tashbīh), on the other hand, is distinguished from these literary figures as a declarative kind of statement, which renders it part of content. This opens up the possibility of eloquence resulting from content as well as form and shows that the criteria for iʿjāz and poetic excellence are not necessarily one and the same.
Publication Date: 2015
Citation: Harb, Lara. (2015). "Form, Content, and the Inimitability of the Qurʾān in ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī’s Works." Middle Eastern Literatures, 18 (301 - 321). 10.1080/1475262X.2016.1199096
DOI: 10.1080/1475262X.2016.1199096
ISSN: 1475-262X
Pages: 301 - 321
Language: English
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Middle Eastern Literatures
Version: Final published version. This is an open access article.

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