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Why Does God Speak in the Third Person?

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A viewer asks, “Why does Allah speak in the third person in the Quran? Why doesn't he just say I am Allah and the Quran is my word?”


There are some mysteries about the Quran. We don't know the full story behind certain aspects of the Quran. For example, some of our classical scholars have said that the Quran is the word of the angel Gabriel that is given to the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.


It's coming as a revelation from God, but it's coming through the angel Gabriel and the angel Gabriel may have put the message from God in his own words. That could be a reason why the Quran is in the third person and God knows best about this. Yet, we can see some of the benefits of that. When we look at the Quran now, does it give us any benefit or does it only make us confused?


Professor Neil Robinson, in his book entitled "Discovering The Quran", tackled this question directly. He quoted a certain scholar, Roman Jacobson, who wrote about poetics and discourse.


Jacobson, speaking more generally and not about the Quran in particular, says that there are three levels of discourse.

One is expressive, which is when a person is talking in the first person and expressing his or her thoughts. The second one is cognitive, which is speaking from the point of view of the listener. For instance, using “you” and telling the listener something. The third level is cognitive, in which case we are talking about the statement of a universal fact or something that doesn't depend on the speaker and listener. These three are there in the Quran and they go back and forth according to professor Robinson. We all know that the Quran would switch back and forth.


There are instances when God is speaking in the first person. God says, “I am God” or “enter my garden”. God is speaking to us in the first person, sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural. Sometimes, God is addressing the listener saying, “I am your God”. The word “your” is mentioned, for instance, “Your God is most merciful”. It's addressing the issue from the point of view of the listener. Thus, the listener can put oneself in the discourse and say, “yes, that's my God!”.


According to Professor Robinson, speaking of God in the third person gives us statements that we could quote of a universal type of nature. It doesn't involve us as the listener, it's just stating a universal fact.

For instance, when we say, “he is God”, there is no God but Him. Thus, we are stating universal teaching here that does not depend on us. It's not saying that there's no “I” in that discourse. This is one of the benefits of the triple-level of discourse: that we have statements that we can quote right off the bat without any introduction. These are the words of the Quran that express the statements universally. Each one has its benefits. Once when God addresses us, it draws us into the discourse. When God speaks in the first person, we can see the world from God's perspective.


When we have the universal statements in which God is expressed in the third person or spoken of in the third person, that also has its benefits that we can quote without any introduction.


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