Arab Rhetoric

Be it a conversation (even poetic) or a sound literary piece of work, Arabs are very indirect in their expression. As for the style – hyperbolism, ellipsis, simile, metaphors, tautology, their balagah is full of them. An Arab has a reputation. It has a certain character (I will show it just not now) which gives a peculiar shape to its balagah. That character, psychological in nature, is inherited after a long time of conditioning. A Semite character, as Frithjof Schuon calls it.

But wait!

What is balagah?

If you know this word, please forgive me for the redundancy. Balagah, precisely, is just a synonym of term rhetoric. Apart from their rhetoric, the later doctrinal works of Arab Sufis and scholars were evidently focused on Islamic spirituality. And despite this fact, the psychological imprints of conditioning on this nation did produce intelligible and vivid effect on their rhetorical and scientific and theological works, as well.

What is that psychological character I just mentioned that has shaped its rhetoric, giving birth to indirect use of speech? If you recall, Allah didn’t blame the believers (Arabs in that case) for their inconsiderate oaths. F. Schuon says that the Arab has inherited such a volatile temperament that “it would draw a sword for ‘just a yea or nay’!” So are his expressions, volatile and spontaneous. But the Arab tongue is subtle too. It doesn’t follow its immediate nature; rather it resorts to the Semite’s way of expression.

How does it say the truth? Say it nakedly? No. He cannot afford to. Rather, he would follow the injunction of Gospel which advises “not to cast pearls before Swine nor to give what is sacred to dogs”. Just like the Arab covers women, abstains from wine, to save themselves from befuddling and intoxicating, he covers his language too. He must not say what can drive people mad with the ‘naked truth’. Arab’s tongue is thus filled with ellipsis and hyperbolism, as well with metaphors and tautology. This character of his native expression resembles to Semite’s way of expression, notes Schuon. And, also, this is what makes its rhetoric so much so rich of ‘indirect expressions’. And without baffling today's already baffled.

In a lonely desert, with my Arab friend, I would drink to the fountain of words and expressions from his mouth. Especially when I am not a Sumari warrior and I have to tell a serious truth to him and expect at least one from him. Would you not?

* This manuscript is a handwritten manuscript of Arab rhetoric, available for sale at ebay here.

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