Beautiful beginnings: Surah ar-Rahmaan

The Most Merciful
[Surah ar-Rahmaan, ayah 1]

عَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ
Taught the Qur’an,
[Surah ar-Rahmaan, ayah 2]

خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ
Created man,
[Surah ar-Rahmaan, ayah 3]

عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ
[And] taught him eloquence.
[Surah ar-Rahmaan, ayah 4]

An aspect of the Quran’s beauty is seen in the way it introduces a Surah. Various Surahs have different styles and differ in their central themes. Here, we will briefly ponder over the beginning of Surah ar-Rahmaan.

al-Rahmån. ‘allama ’l-Qur’ån [The Merciful, taught the Qur’an] v.1–2

This sura is unique in the Qur’an in that it begins with one of the names of God, al-Rahmån, standing as it is, as one separate verse which, it will be seen, summarises the sura and governs the following material both by its signification and its sound. It has been noted that when the name of God occurs in the Qur’an as a subject followed by a predicate verb as in al-Rahmån such an order signifies restriction in the sense of ‘it is He who did such and such’. In our sura we have a series of predicate verbs following each other without conjunction, in the main all dependent on the word al-Rahmån, the sense being: it is al-Rahmån who taught the Qur’an, who created man and taught him how to communicate, who … who … etc. Since it is through the Qur’an that we are told about God and all the manifestations of His mercy and beneficence, teaching the Qur’an comes as the first predicate of al-Rahmån, stressing also the priority and more lasting effect of spiritual benefit. His beneficence in teaching the Qur’an is so important that it was pointed out in the first verses of the book to be revealed:

Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught … 96:3–4

as well as on other occasions such as:

He taught you what you did not know before: God’s bounty to you is ever great. 4:113

Since the context of our sura relates to His bounty, ‘taught the Qur’an’ is used rather than the normal ‘sent it down’ which is used scores of times elsewhere, so the context here governs the choice of vocabulary.

The effect of al-Rahmån on the meaning of the following material is further emphasised by the effect of its sound, since, standing as a separate verse ending in a long alif and nun, it sets the pattern for the fåsila or rhyme at the ends of the following verses which consist mainly of –ån, and on a few occasions of –åm, which does not alter the pattern much since ‘n’ and ‘m’ are both nasal voiced resonant sounds. This results in a pleasing resonance in Arabic that enhances the effect produced by the enumeration of God’s bounties. The uniform sound in the close succession of rhymes helps transfer the effect of Rahmån to Qur’ån to bayån, bi-˙usbån, yasjudån, etc. Since the Qur’an, bayån etc. are manifestations of the mercy of al-Rahmån, the rhyme helps to build the cumulative effect of rahma and maintains it throughout, with even the challenge to deny the obvious benefits (itself in the same rhyme) not cancelling (if not enhancing) the beneficent order established by al-Rahmån in the first line.

[Understanding the Quran, Muhammad Abdel Haleem]

In the passage above, the author directs our attention to a feature of the Quran which we readily overlook – yet its impact is so significant in delivering the message of the Quran. In this Surah, the rhyme pattern has (further to beautifying the sound of the ayaat in a melodious unison) served to amplify the content of the message, cumulatively bringing various truths and realisations to our attention in light of the rahmah of ar-Rahmaan. SubhaanAllah.

Remember, these were not words conveyed by the tongue of one learned in language and oratory, nor one that had given countless years to the art of poetry and verbal expression. These were words conveyed by a man unlettered, words from the Creator – ar-Rahmaan, He Who taught the Quran, He Who created man, He who taught them speech and expression – which were descended upon the vessel that was known as a man of truthfulness, simplicity, compassion and justice.

As is seen here, the beginning of the Surah, far from being some trivial introduction to an insignificant narrative, is an essential part in establishing the message of a Surah. It compliments the central theme of the Surah, admonishes the soul and provides the necessary food for thought which we so desperately seek.

May Allah ta’ala open up our hearts to the Quran and bless us with sustenance from it for our souls.