Issue 59 / July - September 2007
Speech and Power of Expression
M. Fethullah Gulen
The most precious of values inherited from our ancestors, speech does not consist only of clarity of meaning, the sound of words, or the expression of certain intentions. It also gives voice to our thoughts, expresses the music of our feelings, the excitement of our hearts; it is the translator of an addressee to God and it is the golden winged turtledove released by our hopes to the future.
The Divine Knowledge has designed the scheme of existence, whereas His Speech has drawn its architecture. After emerging as twins in the most intimate sanctuary of the unchanging essence (ayan al-thabitah), creation and Speech have taken on physical forms and come into existence. In creating mankind, the Most Merciful gave us the ability to speak of the human essence, our inner profundities, the entire cosmos, and the truth beyond material existence before sending us to the dimension of external existence. In this respect, one can argue that âspeechâ was the first drop of ink that flowed from the Divine Powerâs pen to give life to nonexistence. The speech revealed and displayed the mysterious relation between the Creator and the created.
Mankind is nothing more than a mixture of dust, mud, and water of this earth; however, thanks to the repository of knowledge and the ability of speech, they have been elevated to the rank of vicegerent on the same earth. In a sense, mankind is in a position to speak not only on his behalf but for the jinn as well. Human beings have become the addressee of God through speech and it is thanks to speech that they can address Him. As humans started to talk, things that seem silent and reticent have also begun to talk, and all beings and events, which are lines and paragraphs coming from the highest rank (mala al-ala) have become the talking tongue, wisdom-laden speech and the eloquent language of the truth that is behind the scenes of everything, like potent orators. During times when, in our belief, speech did not exist, all beings were silent, all events were muted, and everything was stagnant. How does each being talk? How do they express themselves? These issues are not easy to understand. What is known in this respect is that with the capability of speech that has been endowed on human essence, humans have been created with an ability to express and interpret all things and act as they wish. Indeed, speech is our life in this world of relativity. Each of us is a language in its own way, and the raison dâÃÂ©tre of these languages is speech or expression. Speech acknowledges truth as the highest reality and speaks for all beings like a symphony, thereby removing the cloak of objects, enabling them to express themselves. Speech is the key that opens the locks on the doors of the treasury of thought. Speech is the key by which a wide-ranging central move stimulates the periphery. Speech is the throne of humankind that has been elevated to the position of ruling on the earth and improving it as a vicegerent. Speech is the pen and sword of humanity. Speech is the basis of the kingdom of humanity. Wherever the flag of speech waves, the most powerful armies will be defeated and scattered. In the arenas in which speech shouts out, the sounds of cannon balls will become like the buzzing of bees. Behind the battlements on which the banner of speech has been raised, the sound of its drums will be heard. In the precincts where its march reverberates, the kings shake in their boots. Many insurmountable walls, in the face of which Alexander the Great, Napoleon, or many other men were desperate or had to retreat, were smashed to pieces by the words wielded by the Master of Speech, and the pen of Speech which provides training in submission and docility was saluted.
The Holy Qurâan is a sample of Speech; it is such that it brings down the walls and echoes in even the most obstinate and bigoted of hearts. There is such a dazzling magic in the presentation of its themes that it is impossible not to be impressed upon hearing it.
The expressive style of the Qurâan is like no divine or worldly expression. The Qurâan has such an irresistible power penetrating the hearts that even those who do not speak in its language (i.e., Arabic) will be fascinated by the melody of its words.
While providing various solutions to various problems, the Qurâan presents them in such a manner that everybody, except those who are prejudiced against it, will be fascinated or at least influenced by it, and led into profound meditation, eventually the Qurâan will conquer their hearts.
The sentences, paragraphs and full-stops of this monument of Speech have a vast depth of meaning, an exquisite style, and a lively music and rhythm that penetrates the soul. With their musical grace, with words chosen to appeal to all the senses, the concepts and themes will take whoever listens to them to their magical horizon, surprising them at every turn.
If you attempt to replace the materials the Qurâan uses to discuss a subject, the attempt will be futile, the speech will be obscured, and the vivid style will lose its spirit.
The Qurâan has such a lofty power of speech that it exhibits different events like living images along with their time periods and backgrounds, and all this causes amazement, admiration, and excitement in the audience. By doing this, it makes no concessions; nothing is detracted from its ravishing beauty, its heart-penetrating profundity, or its phrasal harmony. Rather, it presents everything with clarity, leaving no room for obscurity.
The Qurâan does not address solely the minds, hearts, or souls. It treats human beings in the totality of their emotions, be they physical or spiritual. Its message is brief and concise, but addresses both the inner world and the outer world of the human at the same time. The Qurâan generates a unity of feelings, thoughts, and intelligence related to the entire universe, to all things and to all of humanity.
The Qurâan is more influential than the most magical of speeches, more exquisite than the most delicate of styles, and more elevated than the most exceptional of expressions. Up until now, neither those who opposed it with the desire to surpass it nor those kings of utterance who undertook the task with the enthusiasm of imitation have managed to produce anything that is equal to the Qurâan in speech.
Notable Arab poets, for example Farid al-Din Attar, about whom Shams al-Tabrizi said, âI might write poems that are sweeter than candy, but I can only ever be his pupil in terms of producing choice words,â or Rumi, who said, âI am a bonded servant of the Qurâan,â or Jami, whom Said Nursi described as âintoxicated by the cup of loveâ and their outstanding works, which still strike us as novel today despite many centuries, have never come close to the Qurâan as the Master of Speech.
We will deal with this issue in detail in future; but for now we will content ourselves with small hints at the narrative style of the Qurâan, and turn back to the reflections which have fallen on our limited comprehension of speech inspired from the Qurâan and the verse and prose that develop in the shade of the Qurâan:
We have all had our eyes opened to this world with speech, and have grown up on the lullabies of speech, and we have headed toward where we are with the magic of speech. Henceforth, we will breathe and live again with speech if we are to live, and we will die with a lack of speech and knowledge if we are to die. Speech is the resuscitating breath for living corpses and the water of life for those who want to live forever. Those who are capable of playing it like a flutemaster in the realm of the spiritually dead will promise successive resurrections to those who are living devoid of spirituality for thousands of years, and they will have the effect of Sur1 on those graves that have been inflicted with Godâs wrath.
If there is a most beautiful thing which manages to keep its freshness and colors at all times in this guest house of day-dreams, which withers and grows obsolete in all aspects, a place where those that have arrived eventually leave and those who have settled down ultimately migrate, and âwhose property, estates, and pleasures are transient,â it is speech. On the slopes on which speech echoes, thousands of doves delve in contemplation, living in the day-dreams of new rose gardens. As the plectrum of speech plucks at the strings of knowledge, objects start to whirl, and events moan with the whirling of a divine dance. Not one, but thousands of Majnuns wander in the deserts filled with echoes of speech. Nightingales fall quiet and retire to their nests in streams where the melody of speech is heard. In the wild forests where the cries of speech can be heard, the foxes take their leave of deception, and lions are terrified, seeking shelter in their dens.
Speech is the spirit, content, color, and pattern of the Book of the Universe and the Laws of Nature; it is the seal, sword, and pen of the truth of Islam as the divine path. In the same way that only goldsmiths can appreciate the true value of gold and only jewelers can appreciate the genuine value of jewels, only wordsmiths can know the actual value of speech. Gold objects or pearls are given relative values by the people of this world, and the relative values they have start and end in this world. On the other hand, speech is a king who issues coins at the different strata of the earth and heavens; he is a commander giving orders and a hero of legends. Up until today, nobody has managed to access the dizzying summits that speech has reached, and no combatant has possessed a weapon mightier than speech. Every prophet is a sultan of words, and every person of letters is a shadow of those sultans that falls on our heads. The former are the original models and the latter are their followers; the former are architects while the latter are laborers. All of them have acted in cooperation and are unified in developing prosperous cities from speech, weaving laces from the silk threads of words, and making exquisite necklaces from the jewels of words.
When the inspiration of those who wield speech is aroused, it pours into hearts and turns them into golden pastures which swell and become effervescent with the falling rains, while arid deserts become meadows with the gentle summer rain. And when speech matures and becomes a river, a waterfall, or an ocean which flows in waves, stretching out to the coasts, it attains such an irresistible power that all unseemly voices will cease in the face of its spiritual melody, and all nonsense that pretends to be real words will fall silent, and all talk without content will seek solitude. A person who is fortunate enough to attain their nourishment from such speech will listen to it; their ego will melt in complete submission to the extent that they open their heart to it, with the intention to intensify it, as if to allow their soul to fall down the waterfall of music.
Good speech influences almost everybody to the extent of their capability and potential. Sometimes, faced with a strong breeze of speech, people find themselves in the atmosphere where kites wander, taken up by balloons, and they will enjoy freedom and the ease of the bird taking wing toward the atmosphere. They will be captivated by the allurement of this attraction and start to revolve continuously around that âcentripetalâ force. If it were possible for them to turn back and listen to their soul, they would observe what stupendous romantic considerations they have been encased with and what alternative revelations of pleasure they enjoy; they would probably be enraptured. These fortunate people are revived each time they drink from the profuse rivers of such sounds and words, discovering themselves anew. As phrases and sentences echo in their ears and pour down upon their soul, they feel that they are evolving into a separate distinction and perceive the transcendence of the colors of life in the dimensions of speech, and are repeatedly startled.
And speech, inspired by the divine, emitting forth with such feelings and thoughts, captivates the audience with its charm, wafting its impact towards their souls and pouring its mark on their hearts. They find themselves in the warm bosom of speech, completely surrendering to it. Then, in this comforting atmosphere they can perceive the delicacies of their own world and lose themselves in the stunning beauty of their own achievement.
In the gentle murmurs of speech, people sometimes hear the melodies of belief and faith, like the rivers of Paradise, and the melodies of permanence and transience; with full comprehension that all things come from and ultimately return to eternity, they watch with pleasure the ever-changing colors of the horizon of hope and faith.
And sometimes we pass through certain exits and set sail to our past, trying to be aware of it in all its magnificence; and sometimes we listen to it, as if it were music, and then dance to it and take wing to it. Acquiring a state that is beyond time emotionally and spiritually, we find ourselves sitting at the convergence point of past realities and future day-dreams and observing three dimensions of time all at once. In this vision, the entire past, which has grown into a dream destroyed, acquires once again all of its previous magnificence through a magical restoration; the future we feel in our beliefs and hopes comes running to us like a joyful child entering our hearts to remember the good days and become ours once again. Thus, with these inner feelings, we release ourselves to the stream of diverse associations. Inside this waterfall, to which we have given an infinite power and a transcendent flow in our dreams, we pass from one state to another, from one thought to another, and just as in our dreams, we give shape to everything that is based on our intentions and our heart, casting them into whatever molds we wish and manipulating them as we desire; we can move as we want, taking wing, and landing on the ground to walk when we wish; we can watch the sunrise in the evening or the sunset in the morning; we can increase in number, taking a particle and making it everything.
Speech is based on the fundamentals of meaning, it nourishes our day-dreams, sings lullabies to them, takes them to the heavens, and even shows them the doors that open on the infinite, taking us to the upper reaches of the sky, causing our feelings to ascend and preparing thrones in the supraspatial realms. Responding to our desire for eternity, speech will enrich our feelings in an indescribable manner and give our souls a profundity that cannot be encased with dimensions of corporeality and it will open our ears to melodies from musical compositions that have no lyrics.
When refined speech with lofty ideals that comprise all of these goals erupts in its own accent, when it is profound like the skies, vivid like the earth, as smooth as silk, and as cozy as a motherâs embrace, the speech will have a magical impact that depicts the awakening of logic, the rampaging of spirits, the charm of words, and the history of talking that stretches to before time. Thus, speech tells us the beauty of our faith and values.
A good speech that originates directly from and voices what is in our hearts will always remind us of the breath of the spirit, the beating of the heart, and the color and manner of the ability to speak. To the extent of the sacredness of its color, wealth and goals, speech will echo in our hearts like celestial voices, providing us with specimens of its origin.
1. The Trumpet which the Archangel Israfil will blow to start the Apocalypse.