𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐩𝐭 𝐨𝐟 “𝐖𝐞” 𝐚𝐬 𝐮𝐬𝐞𝐝 𝐢𝐧 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐐𝐮𝐫’𝐚𝐧 𝐛𝐲 𝐀𝐥𝐥𝐚𝐡
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
In Refutation of the Misconception that Allah is not One but Many
Everyone who knows the Arabic language and its styles will know that the pronoun أنا Ana (I) and the first person is used in the singular when speaking of oneself. The first person plural نحن Nahnu (we) is used to refer to two or more.
But it may be used by an individual of high standing as a sign of his greatness, and the context and circumstances help the reader or listener to understand what is meant.
Whoever disagrees with that is either ignorant and does not know what he is talking about, or he is stubborn and wants to twist the meaning of the words, following his whims and desires. But Allah will establish and make apparent the truth by His Words, however much the sinners hate that [cf. Younus 10:82].
The Qur’an was revealed in a plain Arabic tongue; one aspect of the literary style of the Arabs is that the speaker may refer to himself sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third person, sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural. This variation is part of eloquence and good style.
No one can understand this except those who know Arabic and have a sufficient grasp of its different ways of expression.
It is a feature of literary style in Arabic that a person may refer to himself by the pronoun nahnu (we) for respect or glorification. He may also use the word ana (I), indicating one person, or the third person huwa (he).
All three styles are used in the Qur’an, where Allah addresses the Arabs in their own tongue.
(Fatāwá al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah, 4/143).
“Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, sometimes refers to Himself in the singular, by name or by use of a pronoun, and sometimes by use of the plural, as in the phrase: ‘Verily, we have given you a manifest victory” [al-Fath 48:1], and other similar phrases.
But Allah never refers to Himself by use of the dual, because the plural refers to the respect that He deserves, and may refer to His names and attributes, whereas the dual refers to a specific number (and nothing else), and He is far above that.”
(Al-‘Aqeedah al-Tadmuriyyah by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah, p. 75).
These words, innaa (“Verily We”) and nahnu (“We”), and other forms of the plural, may be used by one person speaking on behalf of a group, or they may be used by one person for purposes of respect or glorification, as is done by some monarchs when they issue statements or decrees in which they say “We have decided…” etc.
[This is known in English as “The Royal We”]. In such cases, only one person is speaking but the plural is used for respect.
The One Who is more deserving of respect than any other is Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, so when He says in the Qur’an innaa (“Verily We”) and nahnu (“We”), it is for respect and glorification, not to indicate plurality of numbers.
If an aayah=verse of this type is causing confusion, it is essential to refer to the clear, unambiguous aayaat=verses for clarification, and if a Christian, for example, insists on taking ayaat=verses such as “Verily, We: it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e., the Qur’an)” [al-Hijr 15:9 – as proof of divine plurality, we may refute this claim by quoting such clear and unambiguous aayaat=verses as:
“And your god is One God, there is none who has the right to be worshipped but He, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful” [al-Baqarah 2:163] and “Say: He is Allah, the One” [al-Ikhlaas 112:1] – and other aayaat which can only be interpreted in one way. Thus, confusion will be dispelled for the one who is seeking the truth.
Every time Allah uses the plural to refer to Himself, it is based on the respect and honour that He deserves, and on the great number of His names and attributes, and on the great number of His troops and angels.”
(Reference: Al-‘Aqeedah al-Tadmuriyyah by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah, p. 109).
The Qur’an was not revealed in only one style; rather it uses a variety of different styles; this is part of its miraculous nature and eloquence.
Dr ‘Abd al-Muhsin al-Mutayri says in his book Da‘aawa al-Taa‘ineena fi’l-Qur’an al-Kareem (p. 304): One of the literary styles of the Arabs is for the speaker to refer to himself in the first person and in the third person. For example, a speaker may say, “I did such and such; I went.
I instruct you, O So and so, to do such and such.” And sometimes he may also say of himself that “So and so – meaning himself – instructs you to do such and such and forbids you to do such and such; or he likes you to do such and such.”
This is like when an ameer (ruler) or king says to his people: “The Ameer asks you to do such and such.” What he is trying to emphasise is that his instructions are based on the fact that he is a ruler or king; this is more eloquent than saying to them, “I am the king, and I am telling you to do such and such.” Saying “The king instructs you…” is more eloquent than saying “I am the king, and I am instructing you…”
This kind of style also appears in the Qur’an. The one who does not know Arabic may think that Allah cannot speak of Himself in the third person, and that He must say “I have sent down to you, O Muhammad, the Book with truth, confirming what came before it” and the like. But this reflects ignorance of the literary style in Arabic and how it is part of Arabic eloquence.
Undoubtedly for Allah to speak of Himself in the third person is more eloquent than saying “Alif-Laam-Meem, I am Allah, there is no god but I, the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists. I sent down to you the Book with truth, confirming what came before it…” (cf. Aal ‘Imran 3:1-3).
It is known from Arab literary custom that they do not persist in one style in their speech; rather they move from one style to another, even in a single passage, let alone when there are two different passages (on two different occasions).
This is part of the Arabic literary style that serves to keep the listener’s or reader’s attention.
Az-Zarkashi (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Moving from one style to another serves to make speech flow more smoothly, helps the listener to focus, renews his interest and avoids the boredom that may result from always adhering to one style.
Haazim said in Minhaaj al-Bulagha’: They become bored when the style persists in using the first person or the second person, so they move from the second person to the third person. By the same token, a speaker may change the pronoun and play with the words, sometimes using the first person to speak of himself, and sometimes using the second person or third person.
Hence speech that persists in using a particular pronoun, whether it is the first or second person, is not regarded as good; rather it is more appropriate to move from one to the other.
Then az-Zarkashi (may Allah have mercy on him) gives different examples of such usage and their effectiveness in conveying the message.
See: al-Burhaan fi ‘Uloom al-Qur’an by Badr ad-Deen az-Zarkashi, 3/314-330
𝐈𝐧 𝐜𝐚𝐬𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐂𝐡𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐬 𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐚𝐦 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 “𝐑𝐨𝐲𝐚𝐥 𝐖𝐞” (𝐖𝐞, 𝐔𝐬, 𝐎𝐮𝐫) 𝐢𝐧 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐆𝐥𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐨𝐮𝐬 𝐇𝐨𝐥𝐲 𝐐𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐧. 𝐑𝐨𝐲𝐚𝐥 𝐖𝐞 (𝐌𝐚𝐣𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐜 𝐏𝐥𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐥) 𝐚𝐥𝐬𝐨 𝐞𝐱𝐢𝐬𝐭 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐁𝐢𝐛𝐥𝐞.
Yaquba Nuri Amin
Allah knows Best.