Answered by Ustadh Tariq Abdul-Rasheed
Question: I have a question about 26:16 in the Qur’an. I have heard the argument that this verse contains a grammatical error as the word “rasul” (messenger) should be in the dual form and not in the singular as both Moses and Harun are being addressed. Could you explain this verse in terms of grammar and language.
Answer: In the name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful
As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
May Allah (swt) bless you and assist you for your concern and care to understand and learn His book, as the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, “The best of you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it”[al-Bukhari].
Grammatical Errors in the Quran
It is not possible that a grammatical error occur in the Qur’an. Allah (swt) says, “and this Qur’an is [in] a clear Arabic language” [Nahl: 103]. In reality it is the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah that has preserved the Arabic language not the opposite. However, it is possible that the reader of the Qur’an misunderstand or fall into error. In this regard it is an obligation for every Muslim to ask trustworthy scholars regarding the religious sciences in general and the Qur’an specifically because it is the foundation and primary source of our religion and the basis for guidance otherwise they are sinful.
Allah (swt) says, “So go, both of you, to Pharaoh and say, ‘We [both] are messenger[s] of the Lord of all the worlds” [Mufti Muhammad Taqi Uthmani Translation]. This ayat is firmly established in Qur’an and has been transmitted by way of mutawatir and in referring to the works of tafsir there is no mention of a variant canonical recitation in relation to it. Therefore it is an obligation to believe in it as being the from Qur’an and likewise to act upon it. [Refer to Baydawi, Abu Hayyan, Ibn Atiyah, Ibn Ashur, al-Alusi and others]
The Usage of the Singular Form of ‘Rasul’
As for the usage of the singular from of ‘rasul’ in the ayat as opposed to the dual form. This is acceptable in the Arabic language and the scholars of tafsir mention linguistic proofs for this type of usage in the works of the tafsir. Upon explaining the soundness of the usage of the singular, as in this case, they mention that the word ‘rasul’ in its linguistic usage is a verbal noun (masdar) which has a shared meaning indicating both the meaning ‘risalah’ (a message/mission) as well as ‘mursal’ (messenger/something sent).
This being the case (as they demonstrate with various others words in Arabic) then its usage in the singular, dual or plural forms is acceptable. [Refer to Baydawi, Abu Hayyan, Ibn Atiyah, Ibn Ashur and others]
So the question arises, why is the singular form used and not the dual form? What is the significance of usage of the singular form in this ayat?
Consider the context in which this verse comes as Allah (swt) mentions in the preceding verses:
He (Mūsā) said, “My Lord, I fear that they will reject me. My heart gets straitened, and my tongue is not fluent; so send for Hārūn. Moreover, they have (leveled) a charge of offense against me, and I fear they will kill me;”He (Allah) said, “Never! (They will not be able to kill you.) So go, both of you, with Our signs. We are with you, listening (to the conversation you will have with him. [26:12-15]
We see that Prophet Musa (as) was reticent in going to Pharaoh and asked Allah (swt) to send Harun (as) with him. So it was a time of worry, concern, and anxiety as the weight of delivering the message was heavy for Musa. So the eloquence of the Qur’an displays to us that in that state of trial and test Allah (swt) guaranteed to Musa (as) that He was close to make firm the heart of Musa (as) and give him reassurance.
Allah (swt) then commands him in this ayat (26:16) “So go, both of you, to Pharaoh and say, ‘Indeed We are a messenger of the Lord of all the worlds”. The usage of ‘rasul’ in the singular indicates strength in this context more so than the dual. Allah (swt) also honors Musa and Harun (as) in using the genitive construction (mudaf wa mudaf ilayhi).
Imam al-Baydawi as well as other scholars of tafsir mention a number of benefits of this usage:
1. The singular usage emphasizes the strength of the brotherhood bond of Musa and Harun (as).
2. It signifies the unity and strength between the messenger and the message (ie risalah and mursal)
3. It emphasizes that both Musa and Harun are messengers sent to Pharaoh. Both having God-given authority.
4. The erudite scholar Ibn Ashur mentions, “[singularizing ‘rasul’] points to both Musa and Harun being commanded with delivering the message even if individually” [Tahrir wa Tanweer]. Here the focus being the certainty of the message reaching.
5. The great scholar of tafsir al-Baqa`i says, “[The usage of the singular] points to their unity and oneness in opposition and agreement as if they were one person [nafsa wahida].”
A General Principle
The late scholar Ibn Ashur (ra) mentions a general principle of Quranic exegesis that is worthy of pointing out here. Namely, “The multitude of meanings that are implied in sentences of the Qur’an are sought after”. The Qur’an, because of its unique nature, is constantly giving birth to new meanings.
If these meanings fall within the acceptable methods of Qur’anic exegesis then the multitude of meanings are sought after. Since, in this case, the various meanings of ‘rasul’ mentioned by the scholars of tafsir do not conflict and fall within the realm of the acceptable methods of Qur’anic exegesis then all of these meaning are intended and sought after. Each of these meanings provides us different perspective by which to reflect and ponder the words of the Qur’an.
1. Grammatical mistakes do not occur in the Qur’an.
2. The usage of ‘rasul’ in the singular form in describing a dual in this context is permissible according to the scholars of Arabic language and scholars of tafsir.
3. The eloquence of the Qur’an in using ‘rasul’ in the singular form is appropriate for the context and gives birth to various meanings as mentioned above.
and Allah (swt) knows best
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Ali Hani