Why does one verse of the Qur’an have ليس البرَّ and the other ليس البرُّ?

There is no doubt that the Qur’an is the gold standard of Arabic. Regardless if one is interested in learning Classical or Modern Arabic it is something every Arabic learner and enthusiast needs to be familiar with.

Those who memorize the Qur’an are particularly familiar with the nuances of the language. They know that many verses are repeated that help aid the memorization. On the contrary, they also know that two verses may be similar with only a slight difference such as with a vowel, the absence or addition of one word, or the rearrangement of words. These verse are known as المتشابهات, or the similar verses. There are so many that they end up memorizing this list separately to avoid confusion later on.

In this blog post, my hope was to analyze one set of these متشابهات.

 

In Surah Baqarah there are two verses:

﴾لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ﴿
Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west (2:177)

﴾وَلَيْسَ الْبِرُّ بِأَن تَأْتُوا الْبُيُوتَ مِن ظُهُورِهَا﴿
Righteousness is not to enter houses from the back (2:189)

Right away one notices that the word الْبِرَّ (which means righteousness) has a fatha, and in the second verse الْبِرُّ has a dhamma.

*When reciting or understanding it is important that the appropriate vowel is mentioned, otherwise it changes the grammar. (Although the meaning is not severely affected as opposed to different situation)

Why is that occuring? In order to understand this we need to break a few things down.

  1. لَيْسَ is a special verb. It only comes in the past tense form, yet it is not translated in the past. Rather, it is translated as “not”.
  2. Normal verbs come with a doer. ليس comes with its own subject (اسم ليس) and predicate (خبر ليس)
  3. Normal subjects (مبتدأ) and predicates (خبر) are in the state of رفع, or in other words, they take a dhamma at the end.
    The subject of ليس takes a dhamma but the predicate of ليس takes a fatha.
  4. Thus, we translate it as: “x is not y”, where x (dhamma at the end) is the subject, and y (takes a fatha) is the predicate.

Looking back at the verses:

﴾لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ﴿
That you turn your faces toward the east or the west is not righteousness (2:177)

Here we see that البرَّ takes a fatha. This means it must be the predicate, or in others words the “y” in “x is not y”. This is why the verse ends with “is not righteousness”. The questions remains, where is the subject for ليس? The answer is that it is the rest of the sentence. Many times when you see an أن the rest of the sentence can be taken as one unit. The reason why it has no dhamma is because it is a unit with multiple words.

Summary: x = أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ (That you turn your faces toward the east or the west)
y = لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ (is not righteousness)

﴾وَلَيْسَ الْبِرُّ بِأَن تَأْتُوا الْبُيُوتَ مِن ظُهُورِهَا﴿
Righteousness is not to enter houses from the back (2:189)

Here we see that الْبِرُّ takes a dhamma. This means it must be the subject, or in others words the “x” in “x is not y”. This is why the verse begins with “Righteousness is not…”. The questions remains, where is the predicate for ليس? The answer is that it is the rest of the sentence. The reason why it has no fatha is because it is a unit with multiple words.

Summary: x = وَلَيْسَ الْبِرُّ (Righteousness is not)
y = بِأَن تَأْتُوا الْبُيُوتَ مِن ظُهُورِهَا (to enter houses from the back)

 

As we can see it is very nuanced, and that is where the beauty lies.

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