Not all questions require an answer.


al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

There is a rhetorical device in Arabic known as al-istikhbaar الاستخبار, which literally means 'to seek information'; in practical form, it is to ask a question and seek to know the answer. Yet there is a fine line between the essence istikhbaar and the clothes of the interrogative (al-istifhaam – الاستفهام) that most people see it as wearing: the linguists say that the first time you ask a question seeking to know the answer, it is known as istikhbaar because you are seeking khabar – information. Once the questionee responds, you may not have fully understood the answer, so you ask again (with a slight change in wording or without), and this is known as istifhaam because you are seeking fahm – understanding and clarification.

But as in many languages, not every question is a real question in Arabic, and the form of istikhbaar can be used for many intents. It is especially important to regard these intents when reading the Qur'an, to fully grasp the precise meaning of Allaah's words. Some examples of this are:

1. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of pain and anguish, as in al-Kahf, verse 49:

مَالِ هَذَا الْكِتَابِ لَا يُغَادِرُ صَغِيرَةً وَلَا كَبِيرَةً إِلَّا أَحْصَاهَا

What sort of Book is this that leaves neither a small thing nor a big thing, but that it has recorded it?!

i.e. We are in pain that everything we have ever done, seen, thought, heard, etc. has all been recorded and presented to us!

2. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of an affirmative statement, as in al-A'raaf, verse 172:

وإذ أخذ ربك من بني آدم من ظهورهم ذريتهم وأشهدهم على أنفسهم ألست بربكم قالوا بلى شهدنا أن تقولوا يوم القيامة إنا كنا عن هذا غافلين

And [mention] when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify as to themselves (saying): "Am I not your Lord?" They said: "Yes! We testify," lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: "Indeed, we were of this unaware."

i.e. Testify that you know I am your Lord.

3. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of repudiation and disbelief, as in Yunus, verse 68:

قَالُواْ اتَّخَذَ اللّهُ وَلَداً سُبْحَانَهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَات وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ إِنْ عِندَكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ بِهَـذَا أَتقُولُونَ عَلَى اللّهِ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ

They say: "Allah has begotten a son (children)." Glory be to Him! He is Rich (Free of all wants). His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. No warrant you have for this. Do you say against Allah what you know not?

i.e. How dare you speak about Allaah with no knowledge!

4. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of expressing a great number of something, as in al-A'raaf, verse 3:

وَكَم مِّن قَرْيَةٍ أَهْلَكْنَاهَا فَجَاءهَا بَأْسُنَا بَيَاتاً أَوْ هُمْ قَآئِلُونَ
ِAnd how many towns did We destroy (for their crimes)? Our torment came upon them (suddenly) by night or while they were sleeping for their afternoon rest.

i.e. 'We destroyed a great many towns'.

5. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of wonder and magnification, as in al-Waaqi'ah, verse 27:

وَأَصْحَابُ الْيَمِينِ مَا أَصْحَابُ الْيَمِينِ

And those on the Right Hand, Who will be those on the Right Hand?

i.e. What an amazing position will these people be in!

Also Yunus, verse 50:

قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِنْ أَتَاكُمْ عَذَابُهُ بَيَاتاً أَوْ نَهَاراً مَّاذَا يَسْتَعْجِلُ مِنْهُ الْمُجْرِمُونَ

Say: "Tell me, – if His torment should come to you by night or by day, – for which [aspect] of it would the criminals be impatient?"


14 responses to “Not all questions require an answer.

  1. Jazakumullahu khairen once again…

    Are these the only categories of Istikhbaar? Which category would the following verse from surah Yasin fall under: وما لي لا اعبد الذي فطرني و اليه ترجعون.

    May Allah continue to bless you with ‘ilm and ‘aml, ameen.

  2. Assalaamu 3alaikum,

    To ArabicGems:
    Jazaakum Allahu khairan again for this wonderful post. You are doing a great job at presenting this material. Maybe I don’t have to read these books, as I can just get an equally informative summary from here 😛
    (I hope you all realize that I am just kidding. If not, here’s another :P)

    To AbdulHadi:
    Allahu knows best, I think that verse you mentioned is under the 3rd category. This verse is speaking of the stance/position that a man is talking towards his people (of the village) who denied the truth and disbelieved in the message brought to them by three prophet sent to them by Allah. The man who is speaking in this verse came striving from the far end of town and renounced that fact that his people don’t want to worship Allah after being warned by the three prophets by addressing his people saying: “How can I not worship He who created me and to Whom you will return?!”.

    It’s kind of like when you and a friend play chess against someone who is terrible at chess. Your friend loses to that person, but you win easy. You could blame/scold him by saying “How can you lose to him?”, but instead you say it like this: “How can I not win against him?!” or “How could anyone not win against him?!”.

    Although I sense a bit of amazement and awe in this verse,it could very well be the 5th categrory, or maybe a mixture of both 3rd and 5th. Allah knows best.

    Please keep me in your du’a.

    Assalamu 3alaikum,.

  3. al-Salaamu ‘alaykum,

    Wa iyyaakumaa.

    AbdulHadi, those were not the only categories of istikhbaar; there are also meanings of rebuke, seeking guidance, bringing something out into the open, specification, trying to make someone understand something, negation, and presenting information.

    In terms of that verse, I would agree with what Billo said, jazaahu Allaahu khayran. When the mesenger came and said, “How can I not worship Him…?” his actual message was, “How can YOU not worship Him…?” just as Billo suggested. The reason he said it in this way is because since it was about him, people would understand that it was a rhetorical question and that there was no reason for him not to, whereas if he had directed it to them, they may have sought to reply to the question and trying to justify their positions. Proof that it was actually directed at them is in the end of the verse,واليه ترجعون, in the plural ‘and to Whom you shall be returned.’ Otherwise, he could have said, ‘and to Whom I shall be returned.’

  4. Waalaikum Assalaam wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatoh

    “Proof that it was actually directed at them is in the end of the verse,واليه ترجعون, in the plural ‘and to Whom you shall be returned.’ Otherwise, he could have said, ‘and to Whom I shall be returned.’” …sub7aanallaah.

    Jazaakumaallaahu khairan yaa Billo and ArabicGems!

    Wassalaamu Alaikum

  5. wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam,

    Wa iyyaakum.

  6. as salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullaah

    you know, i stumbled onto this site twice:
    the first was yesterday when i was looking for info on arabic grammar and i found some good downloads, but didnt really check out the site (my loss!) and the second was today when i was hoping to find info specifically on tasreef al-af’aal (verb conjugation, right?), by generically searching AGAIN for arabic grammar. and all i have to say now is:

    mashaa’Allaah! wa jazaakumullaahu khairan!!!

    i certainly will be a frequent visitor from this day forth, as i have recently made up my everchanging mind about taking the learning of arabic seriously. and you all have helped (in only two post that ive read today) in TREMENDOUS WAY to help solidify my commitment in learning arabic.

    i will be recommending this site to some of our brothers and sisters who are not aware, and i hope that i as well as them, will have a great benefit out of it and that you wil have a great benefit out of our benefit, in accordance with these hadiths of the prophet salla Allaahu alaihi wa sallam:

    مَنْ دَعَا إِلَى هُدًى كَانَ لَهُ مِنْ الأَجْرِ مِثْلُ أُجُورِ مَنْ تَبِعَهُ ، لا يَنْقُصُ ذَلِكَ مِنْ أُجُورِهِمْ شَيْئًا

    مَنْ دَلَّ عَلَى خَيْرٍ فَلَهُ مِثْلُ أَجْرِ فَاعِلِهِ

    إِنَّ الدَّالَّ عَلَى الْخَيْرِ كَفَاعِلِهِ

    “Whoever calls others to guidance will have a reward like that of those who follow him, without it detracting from their reward in the slightest.” Narrated by Muslim (2674).

    “Whoever tells another about something good is like the one who does it.” Narrated by Muslim (1893).

    and According to al-Tirmidhi (2670)“The one who tells another about something good is like the one who does it.”

    keep up the good work! and may Allaah reward you tremendously in this life as well as the next!!!

    akhooka fil islaam

    abu saalih abdurRahmaan watson

    was salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuhu

  7. wa ‘alaykum al-salaam wa rahmat Allaahi wa barakaatuhu,

    Jazaakum Allaahu khayran for your support and feedback. It’s good to know people are beginning to take up Arabic language study, and that the site is fulfilling some of its aims in that way, al-hamdu lillaah.

    Ameen to the du’aas, and may Allaah grant you the same reward for telling others about it.

  8. Pingback: Bullet Proof Read » Blog Archive » Repeat after me.

  9. Jazak Allah… Arabic’s just amazing!!

    I like your style.. the examples were very helpful in getting the point across.

  10. Ameen… Ameen, superb blog…

  11. Hafsa, wa iyyaaki.

    سيدى thank you for your support.

  12. AOA;

    May Allah continue to bless you with ‘ilm and ‘aml, ameen. Great Work

  13. Excellent work…

    May allah reward you for this

  14. who is the writer of this post?

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