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Determining the Addressees and the Addressors
Imam Hamiduddin Farahi
(Tr. by:Tariq Haashmi)


Muslims unanimously hold that the Holy Qur’ān is the word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (sws). This, however, does not mean that all that has been discussed in the Book is the address of God alone. For example, the verse: “You alone we worship; You alone we ask for help,” (1:4) issues from a believer. Some of the scholars hold that the Almighty Allah has taught us this sūrah as though He said: “say these words”. But we do not find the words “say etc”. How can then we establish the view held by these scholars? This explanation, therefore, does not seem tenable to me.

The same question applies to the addressees of the Holy Qur’ān. One has to determine whom a particular statement addresses. Every discourse has an addressor and an addressee. Sometimes both the addressors and the addressees are mentioned in a general way whereas the actual address is directed at some specific individuals. Similarly, the addressors and the addressees may sometimes come in a specifically identified manner but the message is general in nature. With the change in addressors and the addressees as well as taking the address as general or specific greatly affects the intended meanings. Therefore, we have to form some principles which can help us determine these things. Erroneous identification of the addressors and addressees, in the Holy Qur’ān, sometimes leads us to believe in things which border with polytheism. Imām Rūmī has been led to say that when God commanded the Holy Prophet to call people by saying: يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا1 He rendered the people worshippers of the Prophet (sws). I do not think that by saying this Imām Rūmī intended committing to polytheistic beliefs but the view he has presented is identical to what a polytheist may believe. May Allah forgive him! Coming to the explanation of the verse, we see that the statement: “My servants, you that have sinned against your souls” is the command of God. It follows the understood word qul (say, tell, declare). God commands the Holy Prophet (sws) to communicate this divine statement to them verbatim.

The study of address in a discourse forms part of the knowledge that enables us to interpret a discourse after discovering the specifically targeted members of the addressees from its general application. Whoever does not succeed in discerning who the addressees are and who is the addressor is will not be able to get to the true interpretation of the text. This knowledge, therefore, is a key to getting to the true interpretation of the text and understanding its coherence. Lack of this knowledge is one of the major causes of confused interpretations. People ignoring this principle may end up reaching quite the opposite of the true application of the words. One will identify A where B is meant and confuse D for E. Nothing can owe more to erroneous interceptions. We will devote a separate chapter in these preliminary discussions to the study of the general principles of interpretation. By the present discussion, I only intend to create a familiarity with the discussion before we take it up. Correctly understanding the issue of address leads us to the right course and brings us to the right conclusion regarding places where our exegetes have committed mistakes. This, therefore, necessitates that we elaborate upon it.

One needs to appreciate the point that when a statement is liable to be ascribed to or addressed at more than a single specific entity, just like a homonym, we have to identify the single intended entity and leave out the rest of the options. The rules devised for ascertaining the true implication of a general word begin with identification of all of its significations. Then we turn to see the context and the intended purpose of the statement, and thus identify the intended meaning. Similarly, in the case of address, we have to identify first of all the addressor and the addressee from various possible options.

Any address, in the Holy Qur’ān, as in any discourse, involves an addressor and an addressee.


· It will either be issuing from God, Gabriel, the Prophet (sws) of God or the people.

· Similarly, it will be either addressed to God or the Prophet (sws) or the people.

·  People in the above include, Muslims, the Hypocrites, the People of the Book, the Ishmaelites or two or three or all of these entities.

·  People of the Book include the Jews or the Christians or both.


All these things do not take much of research. They are quite obvious. However, there still remains the possibility that in a particular place any of the addressees are taken for another. This issue needs further detail which follows.

As regards the question of the source, mostly Allah, Gabriel, or the Prophet (sws) are confused with one another. A careless reader of the Holy Qur’ān may not be able to discern who the addressor is. The Prophet (sws) and Gabriel are two Messengers of God who sometimes speak as though they are communicating someone else’s message and sometimes simply speak out the words of God without indication. Another problem in this case arises when we see that Gabriel is also a Messenger of God to the Prophet (sws) and in this capacity he sometimes addresses the Prophet (sws), but, since he is also the teacher of the Prophet (sws), he sometimes addresses him directly. God has made it clear in the Qur’ān that Gabriel is the teacher of the Prophet (sws) where he says: عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَى ذُو مِرَّةٍ فَاسْتَوَى .2 This problem is intensified when we see that all these positions of Gabriel frequently manifest themselves without any indication. Nothing but the context leads us to the proper identification of the addressor and in which capacity he is addressing.

This difficulty is not peculiar to the Holy Qur’ān. The kind of discourse that is conveyed as a message by the Messengers of God is pregnant with such possibilities in its very nature. See Psalms 46:7-11, for example:

 The Lord of hosts is with us.[…] Let be then: learn I am God. […] The Lord of hosts is with us.

The guiding principle in this regard is that when the speaker is God, the discourse will be characterized by grandeur and power and will inspire fear. But this kind of discourse is only brought to serve specific points of wisdom. The following examples will help understand what we want to make clear:

The early verses of Sūrah ‘Alaq (96) have been addressed by Gabriel till the discourse reached a point at which the displeasure of God reflected where the address is obviously by God:

كَلَّا لَئِن لَّمْ يَنتَهِ لَنَسْفَعًا بِالنَّاصِيَةِ (١٤:٩٦)

Nay, if he does not desist we will surely drag him by the forelock. (96:14)

 As for the question of addressees, the most common victims of confusion are the Messenger and the Muslims. At occasions, apparently the addressee is the Messenger but actually it is the Muslims who are being addressed. Since the Messenger is the representative of the ummah, he becomes their tongue and their ears. Apparently, he is always addressed when they have to be addressed. The Torah is replete with such examples where the Messenger, Moses (sws), in second person singular, is addressed but the actual intended recipients of the message are the believers. In the Holy Qur’ān, the context helps us discern the actual addressees when the address is apparently directed at the Prophet Muhammad (sws). In Sūrah Tawbah it has been said:

 إِن تُصِبْكَ حَسَنَةٌ تَسُؤْهُمْ وَإِن تُصِبْكَ مُصِيبَةٌ يَقُولُواْ قَدْ أَخَذْنَا أَمْرَنَا مِن قَبْلُ (٥٠:٩)

If you meet with some good, it grieves them; but if a disaster befalls you, they say: “lucky us! we have taken our precautions.” (9:50)

 It seems that the second person singular is the Prophet (sws) whereas it is in fact the believers as is clear from the response of the Almighty in the following verse.

 قُل لَّن يُصِيبَنَا إِلاَّ مَا كَتَبَ اللّهُ لَنَا هُوَ مَوْلاَنَا وَعَلَى اللّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ (٥١:٩)

Say: “Nothing will befall us except what God has ordained. He is our guardian. In God let the faithful put trust.” (9:51) 

Similarly, the Prophet (sws) seems to have been addressed in the following verse:

 إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلاَهُمَا فَلاَ تَقُل لَّهُمَآ أُفٍّ وَلاَ تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلاً كَرِيمًا (٢٣:١٧)

If either or both of them reach old age in your presence, do not say fie to them, nor rebuke them; but speak to them respectfully. (17:23)

 Here the verse actually addresses the believers. Examples of general address couched in the form of second person singular, apparently the Prophet (sws), abound in the Holy Qur’ān. For example the following verse has been addressed to all possible addressees:

 أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللّهَ لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَمَا لَكُم مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلاَ نَصِيرٍ (١٠٧:٢)

Do you not know that God alone has dominion over the heavens and the earth and besides God you have neither any friend nor any protector? (2:107)

 I think that the following verse too should be interpreted in the light of the above principle…….. 3


(Translated from Farāhī’s Majmū‘ah Tafāsīr by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)







1. [Communicate to them my following words:] “My servants, you who have sinned against your souls.” (9:53)

2. He is taught by one who is formidable in power and of strong intellect and virtue. (53:5-6)

3. Unfortunately this all-important discussion too has been left unfinished. (Islāhī)

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