Over What Are Nineteen What?

Back in the late seventies, Rashad Khalifa started speculating on the significance of the letters of alphabets appended to some of the Soorah’s of the Qur-aan. He theorized that they are clues to some sort of code hidden in the text of the Qur-aan. By doing a variety of statistical analysis, at first he tried to show that an 8-base numerical code is built into the text of the Qur-aan and he published a book on that theory. To claim the 8-base code, he had to force correlations where they really did not exist. However, he could not find any evidence in the text of the Qur-aan that will refer to number 8 in any useful manner. To give it a scriptural validity, he referred to the Bible. The only mention of 8 he could find there was in the Gospel of Matthew where, while giving genealogy of Jesus, the number of generations has been divided into three segments of 8. Although to do so the author of the gospel had to fudge the numbers, Mr. Khalifa grasped that straw and claimed, again without any basis, that number 8 had religious significance among the People of the Book.

Then he stumbled upon a little more viable theory. More viable in the sense that he did not have to speculate as much and manipulate the numbers as much to prove his theory. He theorized that the Qur-aan is based on an intricate code of 19. This time he decided to misappropriate a mention of 19 in the Qur-aan to legitimize his theory. Disregarding what the nineteen was about, he was bent on forcing his speculation on the Qur-aan. Unfortunately, many other renowned speakers and writers on Islam jumped on the bandwagon without examining its authenticity or without giving serious thought to its implications. When this author heard about it in 1980 through a booklet by Ahmed Deedat, who was passionately promoting this theory, people were mesmerized about this discovery of a new miracle. This author reviewed Ahmed Deedat’s booklet, identified evident mistakes in it, and requested that the booklet be withdrawn from circulation, but no one would pay heed. The abuse of Qur-aan that was being perpetrated in the name of ‘miracle of the Qur-aan’ was very disconcerting. People were enamoured by this theory and no one was concerned about the twisting of the word of the Qur-aan that was taking place. Hence, this author gave a series of three Khutabh’s (in the Manitoba Islamic Centre while acting as a volunteer Khateeb) to indicate the holes in the theory, the dangers it was leading to and the injustice with the Qur-aan that was happening. The author’s plea was that the Qur-aan is so sublime that its true miracles will always become evident to the truth seeking world through the Qur-aan itself, without anyone having need to force them upon the Qur-aan. The Qur-aan does not need our help to concoct miracles for it. If we start forcing our views on the Qur-aan, we are opening doors to bigger Fitnah’s. The author’s predictions came true when later on Mr. Khalifa, using the same kind of abusive approaches claimed two verse of the Qur-aan to be subsequent additions to the Qur-aan and then he denied any role of Sunnah or Hadeeth altogether. (Alhamdulillaah, Shaikh Deedat finally withdrew the book).

In the following paragraphs, it will be shown how the whole Fitnah could have been avoided if the proper rules of grammar and context would have been respected.

Whether Mr. Khalifa’s claim of 19-based code is valid or whether there are the holes in his theory will not be discussed herein. Here the intent is only to show, as was done in author’s Khutbahs in 1980, that the nineteen used in the Qur-aan has nothing to do with the structure of the words or the text of the Qur-aan. It is about the Fire of Hell as attested by the following verse and its context:

Soon, I will cast him into the Hellfire. And what will explain to you what the Hellfire is? It lets nothing remain and leaves nothing (unburnt), altering (darkening) skin. Over it are nineteen.
And we have not made the keeper of the Fire except angels. And we have not made their number except a trial for those who disbelieve, to convince those who were given the book, to strengthen the faith of those who believe, to keep those who were given the book and the believers from doubting, and to let those have diseased hearts and the disbelievers wonder: What does Allaah intend by this example? That is how Allaah misguides whom He wants and guides whom He wants. And no one knows the armies of Your Lord except Him. And it was not (mentioned) but as a reminder to humanity.
Nay, verily: By the moon and by the night when it departs and by the morning when it brightens, it (Hellfire) is of the greatest (afflictions) -- a warning to the humanity – to whoever wills among you to proceed forward or stay behind
. Al-Mudaththar 74:26-37

As you can see from the context, the topic being discussed is Fire of Hell, both before and after the highlighted verse which is the point of the discussion. It clearly indicates that ‘it’ in the verse refers to Hellfire and ‘nineteen’ refers to angels. The straightforward, clear meaning is that there are nineteen angels who have been designated as the keeper of the Hellfire. The very next verse explains this meaning clearly and it even hints that the nature of their job, duty and function is beyond our imagination and understanding and that we should believe it as being told. Such belief will strengthen our faith, but trying to understand its specifics or doubting its intent will jeopardize our faith because, depending on the attitude, a person may get guidance from such Mutashaabihaat or he can go astray because of them. After this long verse containing the explanation of ‘it’ and ‘nineteen’ and also the warning about doubting its reality, then the dreadful nature of the Fire and its dangers has again been emphasized with the help of oaths, indicating that is not a matter that can be ignored and avoided by joking about it. It is an extremely serious issue.

This is how the first addressees of the Qur-aan had also taken it to mean. It is reported that when ‘over it are nineteen’ was revealed Aboo Jahl jeered at this revelation and facetiously asked Quraish, “Won’t a group of ten from you for each of the nineteen be able to handle them?” One of the wrestlers boasted, “I will handle 17 of them, the rest of you can take care of the remaining two.”

Now let us see that if ‘over the Hellfire are nineteen angels’ is replaced by ‘over the Qur-aan is number nineteen’ among these surrounding verses. Does it make any sense whatsoever in that context? What is the relationship of the long explanatory verse immediately following the verse under discussion? Doesn’t the whole paragraph become a disjointed collection of wandering thoughts? Does that sound like the Qur-aan that was accepted by even its adversaries as superb in its literary excellence?

In addition to the context, an appropriate regard for the rules of grammar also makes the meaning very clear. Grammatically, the Arabic pronoun used for ‘it’ in the word ‘alayhaa’ (over it) is feminine, indicating that the noun which is being represented by this pronoun has to be feminine. The sentences immediately preceding the verse under discussion are talking about Hellfire (Saqar) which is also feminine. Hence, both the rule of proximity of the pronoun to its noun and the gender of the pronoun indicate that ‘it’ refers to Hellfire (Saqar). Even if we disregard the rule of proximity, it should be remembered that every word used in the Qur-aan for fire or for hell, without exception, is feminine.

This pronoun (it) could not have referred to ‘Qowl’ (word, saying) in the verse 25 for two reasons. One is the distance of several sentences in between, but most importantly ‘Qowl’ is masculine, and a qualifier for it would have required a masculine pronoun ‘alayhi instead of ‘alayhaa. Similarly, every word used for the Qur-aan, throughout the Qur-aan, has been masculine, be it Kitaab, Dzikr or Qur-aan. In addition, throughout the Qur-aan only masculine pronouns have been used for the Qur-aan; for example, anzalnaahu (We revealed it). Hence, the feminine ‘it’ in this verse can in no way refer to the Qur-aan, which is always masculine throughout the Qur-aan.

Thus, grammatically, ‘it’ can only refer to Hellfire, but cannot refer to the Qur-aan or any of the words representing the Qur-aan.

Hence, regardless or whether 19-based code is valid or not (for the record, there are some major flaws in that theory), the verse 74:30 can have no relationship to it whatsoever. Quoting this verse for that purpose is twisting the meaning of the Qur-aan and is tantamount to abusing the Qur-aan.


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