In this post, I just want to show Quran from a linguistic perspective that people may have never noticed before. As a matter of fact, I too had failed to notice it until further research.
Arabic, in itself, has no future tense verbs. The only way to make a verb future tense is by attaching a particle behind the verb, “sa” or “sawfa”.
Some people consider it an impossibility of the Quran to be translated into any language because Arabic is so, well, weird and ocean-like that it’s difficult for equivalences to be found.
So, they argue, that if something seems irrelevant or out of context in Quran, it is not irrelevant because the concept of unique Quranic polysemy is in action here (one word/verb can have upto 10 different meanings or applications without changing its spelling or structure)
There’s a huge problem in Quran which is going unnoticed by many critics.
The error discussed here will be regarding the verb ‘tara’ or ‘to see’.
Pickthall: And thou (O Muhammad) seest (present tense) the angels thronging round the Throne, hymning the praises of their Lord. And they are judged aright. And it is said: Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds!
So Muhammad is seeing the angels all the time, even after death, and the angels are thronging around the Throne all the time, and hymning the praises of their Lord 24/7.
Now check this out:
Same verse 39:75
Sahih International: And you will see (future tense) the angels surrounding the Throne, exalting [Allah] with praise of their Lord. And it will be judged between them in truth, and it will be said, "[All] praise to Allah , Lord of the worlds.
Sahih International: And [warn of] the Day when We will remove the mountains and you will see (future tense) the earth prominent, and We will gather them and not leave behind from them anyone.
Same verse 18:47
Pickthall: And (bethink you of) the Day when we remove the hills and ye see (present tense) the earth emerging, and We gather them together so as to leave not one of them behind.
Sahih International: And you see (present tense) the mountains, thinking them rigid, while they will pass (future tense) as the passing of clouds. [It is] the work of Allah , who perfected all things. Indeed, He is Acquainted with that which you do.
Palmer: And thou shalt see (future tense) the mountains, which thou dost deem solid, pass (present tense) away like the passing of the clouds;- the work of God who orders all things; verily, He is well aware of what ye do!
Same verse 27:88
Muhammad Sarwar: You think (distortion) the mountains are solid. In fact, they move (present tense) like clouds. It is God’s technique which has established everything perfectly. He is well Aware of what you do.
Khalifa: When you look at the mountains, you think (distortion) that they are standing still. But they are moving (present tense) , like the clouds. Such is the manufacture of GOD, who perfected everything. He is fully Cognizant of everything you do.
So what’s the issue?
There are many verses in Quran that have the same verbs with same structure but with different translations.
What is the actual tense of verbs in the original Arabic?
It is present. But, due to Quranic polysemy, the present can either be interpreted as present or as future tense without the addition of the exclusive future tense particle. The latter condition where a present tense verb is interpreted as future tense verb without any particle of future is an accepted condition by scholars and earlier commentators. They argue that the context of the verses will be distorted if all verbs are taken at face value. Thus, for them, context is important regardless of whether the verb has a future particle or not.
Why is there a present tense translation?
Because the original Arabic contains present tense verbs. By the way, the 27:88 where “mountains are passing” is the word-to-word literal translation due to the present tense verb (yep, it’s present tense, not future tense, I was mistaken). These translators ignore the context and argue that all verbs in Quran must be taken at face value because even if something isn’t understood by now, the findings by science will make the verse perfectly comprehensible in the future.
Why is there a future tense translation?
These translators argue that due to Quranic polysemy, a word/verb can have upto 10 different meanings and applications. It all depends on the context so verbs should not be taken at face value as doing so will distort the meaning of the Quran.
Why does present tense distort the meaning, shouldn’t it show that something is happening right now, a miracle which was explained 1400 years ago?
Muhammad constantly seeing the angels throng around the Throne and praising their Lord
Mountains constantly passing like the passing of clouds
Hills being removed constantly and the Earth emerging, also constantly
This is the problem. Unless the meaning of the verbs is changed, the verse will be distorted. For example, it makes sense for angels to praise their Lord 24/7 but it does not make sense for Muhammad to be seeing them, in present tense, and angels to be thronging around, 24/7
It also does not make sense for the mountains to pass away like the passing of clouds. The clouds are floating in the air and their movement is much faster. So unless ‘passing’ is changed to ‘floating’, the verse is fucked. This is also evident by the fact that in all other verses of Quran, mountains are either mentioned as pegs, firm and strong or how they will be blown away on the Day of Judgement.
Here’s another problem why this verse, despite of its present tense verbs, cannot be in present tense:
Yusuf Ali: If there were a Qur’an (yes this is the word used in Arabic!) with which mountains were moved, or the earth were cloven asunder, or the dead were made to speak, (this would be the one!) But, truly, the command is with Allah in all things! Do not the Believers know, that, had Allah (so) willed, He could have guided all mankind (to the right)? But the Unbelievers,- never will disaster cease to seize them for their (ill) deeds, or to settle close to their homes, until the promise of Allah come to pass, for, verily, Allah will not fail in His promise.
According to this verse and others, mountains are considered immovable by Muhammad. It is only on the Day of Judgement they’ll pass away like clouds.
- The last one is obvious. The translations may cover it by using the word ‘When’ and etc. But, in reality, all verbs in that verse are in present tense, including ‘removing’, ‘emerging’ and ‘seeing’. It’s like the hills are being fucked 24/7 on the Earth by Allah.
So what is correct? Present tense or future tense?
Future tense, due to Quranic polysemy and context. The one thing common between all the mentioned verses is that they’re all in the middle of a thematically-related ruku which is talking about what will happen on the Day of Judgement. So, all events are actually happening on the Day of Judgement and the verb is future tense, without the need for any exclusive future particle attachment.
Present tense cannot be correct with the existing meanings of the verbs. So, the meaning of some verbs will have to be changed in order for the verse to make sense and fit the current science findings. e.g. ‘passing’ to ‘floating’ because mountains float, not pass. The floating of mountains is very limited and negligible in nature and considering some mountains barely move at all. It’s the tectonic plates which move constantly. Also, by using present tense verbs, the existing arrangement of verses in the Quran will, at some places, make no sense. Because mentioning a presently-happening phenomenon in the midst of what will happen on Day of Judgement makes no sense.
Thus, to avoid distortion of Quranic Arabic, to maintain its linguistic uniqueness, the verbs have to be considered in accordance with the context regardless of whether the ‘future tense particle’ is used or not.