University of Cambridge

Pictures of Quranic Imagery in the Mind

INTRODUCTION

The Quran contains an abundance of imagery, Imagery as a general term covers the use of language to represent objects, actions, feelings, thoughts, ideas, states of mind and any sensory or extra-sensory experience. Many Quranic images are conveyed literally. These constitute descriptive imagery whereby they clarify or give a vivid picture of something. Then, there is figurative imagery, which are conveyed by figurative language, such as in metaphors, similes, symbols, etc. The figurative language used in the Quran, its metaphors, similes, symbols, etc., can certainly be looked at in more detail. These images when projected, appeal to one’s senses.

A Quranic image, like other images, may be visual (pertaining to the eye), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), auditory (hearing), or gustatory (taste). The translators of the English translations of the meaning of the Quran strive to produce as close an approximation of the Quran as possible. Literary devices, such as similes, metaphors, symbols, etc. are found in abundance in the Quran and they are also apparent in the translated versions of the Quran in English although it is realized by all translators, scholars and authors that no one has yet been able to convey or translate the exact meaning of the Quran.

A judgement sample of verses was taken from a few different Surah. Two index categorization books were used for this selection: Tafsil Ayat AlQuran AlHakim by Jol Labom (Labom, 1963) and AlMustadrak by Edward Montet (Montet,1963). Both these books were translated by Mohamed Fouad Abdul Baqui and have a systematic listing of Quranic verses according to topics (eg. Heaven, Hell, Justice, etc.). Under Heaven, there are altogether 258 verses mentioned in 58 Surah. Under Hell, there are altogether 144 verses mentioned in 35 Surah.

The verses to be dealt with in this paper are:

XVIII Surah Al-Kahf (The Cave), verses 29,31 from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s English language translation of the meaning of the Quran. This paper first provides a brief explanation and discussion of each verse to familiarize the reader with the basic meaning of the verse. The technique and the exemplary Quranic images (text) will then be presented in this paper:

Technique: Pictures in the Mind

Source: Pictures for Language Learning by Andrew Wright (Wright, 1989)

Text: Verses 29,31 of Surah Al-Kahf

Source: The Holy Quran by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Abdullah,1983)

THE DISCUSSION OF SELECTED QURANIC IMAGES 

 The following verse in Surah Al-Kahf enables the readers to imagine clearly what awaits wrongdoers:

29.              For the wrong-doers we

                   Have prepare a Fire

                   Whose (smoke and flames),

                    Like the walls and roof

                   Of a tent, will hem

                     Them in:……..

Through the inclusion of a simile, lines 3-5 of Verse 29 of Surah Al-Kahf, allows the reader to imagine how the fire will envelop or surround sinners. The readers can feel the heat intensified through the fire which will enclose them.

“Hem/Them in:” gives the reader the feeling of being trapped and not being able to escape from the flames. Just reading the lines could make one feel suffocated and claustrophobic imagining the smell and heat from the smoke and flames.

These six lines from this verse appeal to the visual, tactile and olfactory senses.

A continuation of Verse 29 gives one the picture and feel of the intensified heat of the Fire:

29.              Water like melted brass,

                   That will scald their faces.

                   How dreadful the drink!

                   How uncomfortable a couch

                   To recline on!

The heat is so great that it can melt brass thereby changing it into liquid form. This is described through a simile, “like melted brass”. One knows the degree of heat needed to melt any kind of metal. As Abdullah Yusuf Ali mentions in his footnote, “ordinarily there is water to quench the heat of thirst: here the only drink will be like molten brass, thick, heavy, burning, sizzling” (738).

Then this hot water will scald the faces of the sinners. Besides being able to feel the pain of being scalded, one can also picture the disfigurement the hot water will cause the faces of the sinners.

This hot water will then be drunk by the sinners. One can imagine the feeling of the scorching heat of this drink.

The last two lines of this verse remind the readers that if they do not think of doing good deeds, Hell will be the only place or fiery couch that they can “rest” in. It is a warning to frighten the readers.

The images in this continuation of Verse 29 appeal to the visual and tactile senses. Thus, basically, Verse 29 of Surah Al-Kahf can be said to appeal to the visual, tactile and olfactory senses.

Conversely, for those who do righteous deeds, even for those who do but one righteous deed, Allah has said in Verse 30 of Surah Al-Kahf:

30.              As to those who believe

                  And work righteousness,

                  Verily We shall not suffer

                  To perish the reward

                  Of any who do

                  A (single) righteous deed.

Verse 30 leads the readers into the following Verse 31 where the readers will know what awaits believers:

31.              For them will be Gardens

                    Of Eternity; beneath them

                    Rivers will flow: they will

                    Be adorned therein

                    With bracelets of gold

                    And they will wear

                    Green garments of fine silk

                    And heavy brocade;

                    They will recline therein

                    On raised thrones

                    How good the recompense!

                    How beautiful a couch

                    To recline on!

           

The first three lines of Verse 31 give one the feeling that Heaven is eternal and everlasting; that this wonderful garden is a place to stay forever. The sound of moving water beneath the gardens can give one a feeling of cooling, aesthetic tranquility.

In lines 4-7 of Verse 31, whatever luxuries one knows or desires on this earth are mentioned to help the reader picture the luxuries and riches he/she can possess in Heaven; gold , fine silk, heavy brocade, etc. Green is the colour used in line 7 perhaps because it is most refreshing to the eye, and it fits well with the greenery of the Garden.

The last two lines of this verse encourage the reader to work towards this goal. One should not rest or stop doing good to achieve this “couch”. This is the “seat” that one wants to rest on forever. For comfort, “raised thrones” are provided which the blessed ones recline as their “recompense” or reward. This picture is, no doubt, a contrast to the picture of the “uncomfortable….. couch” in Verse 29.

In Verse 31 of Surah Al-Kahf, the senses that are affected are the visual and tactile.

THE INTRODUCTORY LESSON ON IMAGERY

There is a need for an introductory lesson on imagery since there are certain aspects of imagery that the students need to know and understand before they can fully participate in class discussions or attempt any of the written assignments. A teacher can devise his/her own introductory lesson on imagery according to the level of language competence of his/her group of students.

Thus, for this case study, it must be kept in mind that the group of participants is of the advanced English proficiency level. Careful selection of a suitable technique and level of difficulty of the text must be done. Consequently, activities that help to enhance the four language skills are also thought of.

A suggested written assignment after an introductory lesson on imagery is: Make sentences using the three literary devices and explain how and why the simile, metaphor and symbol are used. State the senses that are affected by each image.

The written assignment will be used as basis for gauging whether or not the students have understood the lesson.

LESSON PLAN ON IMAGERY

Technique: Pictures in the Mind

Text: Verses 29, 31 of Surah Al-Kahf

Level: Advanced (undergraduate)

Duration: One Hour

Objectives: Develop in students the ability to:

1)      Identify and/or locate the images in each verse

2)      Recognize and distinguish between the 2 types of imagery:

i)   Descriptive imagery         

ii)   Figurative imagery and the literary devices used

3)      State which senses are affected

4)      Organize points of class discussion in an essay

5)      Use the four skills:

i) Listening: Done in listening to theteacher reading the verses

ii) Speaking: Done in class discussions

iii) Writing   :Done in written assignment.

iv) Reading   :Done in referring to text when doing written assignment.     

The teacher can start the lesson by recapitulating the (previous) introductory lesson on imagery. Allow 15 minutes for this.         

In the technique, Pictures in the Mind, the students are encouraged to participate verbally to a great extent. Some dis­cussions on serious and deep topics are activated. The students are expected to contribute their own ideas.

The level of suitability for this technique would be ad­vanced level English language class students (undergraduate) at an Islamic institu­tion.

The original text used for this technique was replaced with Quranic images of Heaven and Hell selected from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s English language translation of the meaning of the  Quran: Verses 29 and 31 of Surah Al-Kahf.

After a brief explanation of the previous lesson, the teach­er then leads the students into Quranic imagery. He/she teacher distributes copies of the verse to the students and informs the students that the verses that they are about to study are verses selected from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s English language translation of the meaning of the Quran, starting with Verse 29 of Surah Al- Kahf. He/she teacher tells the students that the verse is about Hell.   

The teacher distributes copies of the verse below and reads the verse twice:           

29.              For the wrong – doers we

                   Have prepared a Fire                       

                    Whose (smoke and flames),             

                     Like the walls and roof                    

                     Of a tent, will hem                

                     Them in : if they implore                 

                     Relief they will be granted               

                     Water like melted brass,                  

                      That will scald their faces.               

                      How dreadful the drink !                

                      How uncomfortable a couch                       

                      To recline on !           

Then the teacher asks the students to focus on the several images that are projected in this verse.

Verse 29, lines 3-6:     Whose (smoke and flames),                      

                                    Like the walls and roof            

                                    Of a tent, will hem                      

                                     Them in

 What type of imagery? Figurative imagery using a literary device: simile.

Because of the word “like”, the phrase is a simile.

Senses: visual, tactile, olfactory.

Through this simile, the smoke and flames of the fire of Hell are visualized as an enclosed tent. One can picture, smell and feel the suffocating heat of the smoke and flames.

Verse 29, line 8: Water like melted brass.

What type of imagery? Figurative imagery using a literary device: simile.

Because of the word “like”, the phrase is a simile. Senses: visual, tactile, gustatory.

One can imagine the intense and the metallic taste of the water which are compared to that of melted brass.

Verse 29, line 9: That will scald their faces

What type of imagery? Descriptive imagery.

The image gives a vivid description of what the “water like melted brass” can do.

Senses: visual, tactile.

Not only can one imagine feeling the pain of being scalded but one can also picture the disfigurement that the scalding will cause to the faces of the sinners.

Verse 29, lines 11-12:  How uncomfortable a couch

                                      To recline on!

What type of imagery? Figurative imagery using a literary device: metaphor.

This is hardly a couch; it is indeed a torture chamber for sin­ners.

Senses: visual.

The image metaphorically compares the scorching premises or ground to an extremely uncomfortable couch; the reader can imagine the sinner lying on this burning seat.

After going through the explanation, the teacher reads the verse again and now the students should understand it better having just gone through  it. The teacher instructs the students to pay close attention to what goes on in their minds while he/she reads the verse. The instructor then leads them into a discussion: How great is the fire in your mind? How would you feel if you were trapped in a house or tent that is on fire? What is the point of letting us have a glimpse of Hell? Allow 10 minutes for this.

The teacher distributes another set of verses to the stu­dents and explains that they are about to study another verse from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s English language translation of the meaning of the Quran, specifically, Verse 31 of Surah Al-Kahf. The teacher tells the students that the verse is about Heaven.         

The teacher then reads the verse twice:         

30.               For them will be Gardens                

                    Of Eternity; beneath them              

                    Rivers will flow: they will                

                     Be adorned therein              

                     With bracelets of gold,                     

                      And they will wear               

                     Green garments of fine silk             

                     And heavy brocade;             

                     They will recline therein                  

                     On raised thrones                 

                     How good the recompense!             

                     How beautiful a couch                     

                     To recline on!            

Then the teacher asks the students to focus on the several images that are projected in this verse.

Verse 31, lines 5-8:     With bracelets of gold,         

                                    And they will wear   

                                   Green garments of fine silk

                                    And heavy brocade

What type of imagery? Descriptive imagery.

The image gives a vivid picture of how ornately rightdoers will be able to dress.

Senses: visual, tactile.

One can picture and imagine the feel of the silk and brocade.

Verse 31, lines 9-10:   They will recline, therein              

                                    On raised thrones

What type of imagery? Descriptive imagery.

The image implies how well rightdoers will be treated.

Senses: visual.

The image suggests a mental picture of luxury, grace, and com­plete comfort.

Verse 31, lines 12-13: How beautiful a couch

                                    To recline on!

What type of imagery? Figurative imagery using a literary device: metaphor.

This “couch” simply means a blissful eternal life.

Senses: visual.

The image suggests a mental picture of the great rewards and comfort awaiting true believers in Heaven.

The instructor can point out, if the students have not done so on their own accord, that the word “couch” in the two verses can, because of context, be used metaphorically to characterize two vastly different afterlife experiences: the tortures of Hell and the bliss of Heaven.

The teacher then reads the verse again and also instructs the students to pay close attention to what goes on in their minds while he/she reads the verse. Then the teacher leads them into a discussion: How do you feel now? What colours can you see in your mind? What is the point of letting us have a glimpse of Heaven? Allow 10 minutes for this.

After these discussions, the teacher gives a written assign­ment to be done in an essay form based on the class discussion: What good is it to have images of Heaven and Hell in our minds? Discuss. The essay should be about 250 words. If the students can complete the assignment within the remainder of the class time, these assignments will be collected at the end of the period. If not, these assignments can be col­lected at the beginning of the next lesson. The written assign­ments will be used as a basis for evaluating or measuring the students’ understanding of the lesson and clarity of thought.

A CASE STUDY

Two lessons were taught to a group of students at the undergraduate level in an Islamic institution. This class is an English language –Advanced level class. The students were taught for one hour of the introductory lesson on imagery and one hour of the above lesson plan using the technique-Pictures in the Mind with Quranic images. Observatory comments were taken and reproduced in this paper. The breakdown of the marking scheme for the two written assignments after each lesson was taught, is dealt with.

EVALUATION OF ASSIGNMENTS

The Introductory Lesson on Imagery

Assignment: Write a simile, metaphor and symbol, stating the senses that are affected.

For simile: Total – 5 marks.

4 marks for correct answers   

(-) 1 mark for spelling error,    (+) 1 mark for creativity,   (-) 1 mark for grammatical error

For metaphor: Total – 5 marks

4 marks for correct answers

(-) 1 mark for spelling error,    (+) 1 mark for creativity,   (-) 1 mark for grammatical error

For symbol: Total – 5 marks

2 marks for each part of the symbol

(-) 1 mark for spelling error,    (+) 1 mark for creativity,   (-) 1 mark for grammatical error

Maximum Possible Score: 15 marks

No. of Participants                       23               1                  1

Scores                                          15             14                 10

Comments

It is evident from the above scores that the lesson was well understood by the participating students. The scores show an excellent performance. The student who scored 14 marks had one mark deducted for a serious grammatical flaw, while the student who scored 10 marks did so due to the fact that the said student did not attempt one part out of the three- part question for the assignment.

The Lesson on Imagery using Quranic images and the technique-Pictures in the Mind.

Assignment: Essay: What good is it to have images of Heaven and Hell in our minds? Discuss. (250 words).

Total marks – 30 marks

Grammar                                             5 marks

Spelling                                               5 marks

Content and Vocabulary                     10 marks

Style and Organization of points        10 marks

Maximum Possible Score: 30 marks

  1. No. of Participants                       4              4             6

Scores                                          29           28           27

Comments

The student participants who scored 27 marks lost marks due to from a)grammatical errors and b) lack of content. This is in comparison to those who scored 28 and 29 marks. The students who scored 29 marks surpassed their classmates in their performance in terms of their style and their organization of points. The technique was found to be suitable for this level (advanced) be­cause the students were generally confident enough in their spoken language to contribute thoughts and ideas during class discussions. All the students participated actively and their scores show that the discussions were well-understood since the essay was based on the class discussion. Nevertheless, a teacher using this technique should be sure to include everyone in the class discussion and not let the outspoken students dominate the discussion.

CONCLUSION

The focus of this technique (Pictures in the Mind) is of course, the teaching of imagery. At the same time, however, the teacher can point out new vocabulary and correct grammatical mistakes. For this advanced group of participants, the classroom activity was discussion-based, contributing ideas as a class.

This technique, Pictures in the Mind, text of Quranic imagery and the suitable activities carried out in the classroom, each plays its own role in a teacher’s successful teaching session. They are an integrative part of the whole teaching session.

Basically, the following are the main objectives of any teacher teaching a lesson on Imagery:

 Objectives: Develop in students the ability to:

1)  Distinguish the 2 types of imagery:

            i)  Descriptive imagery

            ii) Figurative imagery

2)  Distinguish the 3 literary devices usually used in figura­tive imagery:

i)   Simile

ii)  Metaphor  

iii) Symbol

 3) Recognize and use the literary terms for the five senses that can be affected through imagery:  

i)   see–visual

ii)  hear–auditory

iii) touch—tactile

iv)  smell–olfactory

v)  taste–gustatory

 4)  Write their own similes, metaphors and symbols, stating the senses that are affected.

5)  Use the four skills:

i)   Listening

ii)  Speaking

iii) Reading

iv) Writing

With the use of Quranic images, it is possible to generate a discussion on an aspect of Islam. This is an added advantage, especially at Islamic institutions. Both descriptive and figurative imagery, in particular, metaphors, similes, symbols, can be taught through Quranic images.

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