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Ayaat – The Semiotics of Meaning

by Zohair Abdul-Rahman MSc and M. Nazir Khan MD   Introduction The terms ayah (sign) and ayaat (signs) are mentioned over 400 times in the Quran collectively[1]. Rather than sentence or verse, the word used to the describe the smalls unit of complete meaning in the Quran is ‘sign’. Signs are entities that indicate meaning. Intuitively, we know that if something is called a sign, it has something to tell us. The Quran references articulated signs in the book itself (Ayaat Masmoo’ah [heard signs] or Ayaat Qur’aaniyya [Qur’an based signs]) and unarticulated experiential signs in nature (Ayaat Mashhoodah [witnessed signs] or Ayaat Kawniyya [existential signs])[2]. These semiospheres are the two ways that Allah communicates with humanity. In more than 750 places in the Quran, we are directed to study both sets of signs.[3] For instance, the Quran urges the reader to contemplate the signs in the book itself, “Have they not pondered upon the Quran”[4], “A blessed book sent down so that they may ponder upon its signs”[5], “We have sent down an Arabic Quran except so that you can comprehend”[6]. The Quran also guides the reader to study the unarticulated signs found around them, “And how many signs in the heavens and the earth do they pass by while they are turning away from it”[7] “Say: Observe everything in the universes and the earth”[8], “Say: Travel the earth and see how was the end of those who came before”[9]. This article will explore both categories of signs in the context of semiotics (the academic study of signs) and the Islamic concept of light (nur). We will discuss the...