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The Meaning of “Makra-Allah” in the Qur’an

Question:

What do the scholars and experts of Shariah say about the phrase ‘makra-Allah’. “Remember when the disbelievers plotted to imprison, kill or expel you. They plotted, and Allah planned something else, and Allah is the best of planners.”  (Al-Anfal:30

Answer:

All praise is for Allah ﷻ, Lord of all the worlds. Peace and salutations upon our Master Muhammad ﷺ, upon his blessed family and his noble companions.

Polysemy is the coexistence of many possible meanings for one word or phrase. Polysemy is characterised as the phenomenon whereby a single word form is associated with two or several related senses. It is distinguished from monosemy, where one-word form is associated with a single meaning. Linguists accept the fact that Polysemy proliferates in language: virtually every word is polysemous to some extent. Still, the phenomenon has been largely ignored in the mainstream linguistics literature, and in related disciplines such as philosophy of language.

For example, the word rahma occurs 79 times in the Quran and is the root word for Rahman and Rahim two common names of God. Recently I examined its various meanings in 20 places it had a different meaning each time: kindness, paradise, rain, pleasure etc. The scholars of Arabic rhetoric call it mushākalah  (i.e. a word is repeated but with a different meaning for qualifying reasons, such as to befit the person in discussion). This technique is often used by the Qur’an:

“They have forgotten Allah, so Allah has left them.” (Al-Tawba:67)

And “Taste the punishment, you had ignored the coming of this Day. We shall now ignore you. Taste this everlasting torment for what you did.” (Al-Sajda:14)

Again “They are continually plotting, and I have a plan too.” (Al-Tariq: 15-16)

There is no doubt that Allah ﷻ is free from the characteristics of ‘forgetting’ and ‘plotting.’ So, makra when used for humans means to plot but when applied to the Divine it means to plan and strategize. Similarly Nasa with regards to humans means to forget but when used for Allah it will mean He has left them, ignored the. This way of translating avoids anthropomorphism, assigning human weaknesses/characteristics to Allah.

And Allah knows best.

Dr Musharraf Hussain Al-Azhari
Director of British Fatwa Council