BALĀḠAT (Arabic balāḡa), one of the most general terms to denote eloquence in speech and writing. Its etymology is usually based on the meaning “to reach” of the verb balaḡa. Therefore baloḡa “to be eloquent” is taken to mean: to be able “to convey” the intended meaning effectively, and in an attractive manner, to the mind of a listener or a reader. A person of whom this can be said is called balīḡ (plur. bolaḡāʾ). This predicate is more properly used to qualify speech (kalām) but, according to the classical theory, only at the level of syntactic units. To single words the cognate concept of faṣāḥat (purity of language) should be applied. The delimitation of balāḡat and faṣāḥat was often discussed in Arabic literary theory. Sometimes they were regarded as synonyms or at least as largely overlapping concepts. The prevailing opinion was, however, that the latter referred to the wording (lafẓ) and the former to the semantics (maʿnā) of speech. Nevertheless the two remained closely related to each other: an utterance could never be said to be balīḡ if it was not at the same time faṣīḥ, i.e., free from any faults of pronunciation, grammar, or lexicon.

In pre-Islamic Arab society, eloquence was important to the orator (ḵaṭīb) as well as to the oral Bedouin poet. Early adab works reflect this emphasis on the good style of the spoken word. One of the points discussed was whether the orator might use gesticulations to add force to his words or not. At the same time eloquence was recognized as an ideal familiar to other nations as well. Foreign traditions—of the Persians, the ancient Greeks, the Byzantines, and the Indians—provided some of the many definitions which became current in Muslim literature. Jāḥeẓ even quotes prescriptions concerning eloquence from a ṣaḥīfa which was brought to Baghdad by Indian scholars during the vizierate of the Barmakid Yaḥyā b. Ḵāled (Bayān I, pp. 92-93).

In the Arabic works on literary theory, eloquence was mainly discussed with regard to written works, both in prose and in poetry. A justification for the study of balāḡat was found in the doctrine of the eʿjāz (inimitability) of the Koran. The text of the Koran was considered to possess the characteristics of eʿjāz in the most perfect form. To be familiar with their rules was therefore a prerequisite to the understanding of the meaning of the Revelation in the Koran. The eminent place of the study of good style in Muslim education, as well as its close link with the study of the Arabic language, were also based on this doctrine.

Various definitions of balāḡat were attempted but none of them can be said to have reached the status of a standard formulation. It remained a rather vague notion which lent itself to many applications. One finds, for instance, under the heading of ʿAbd-al-Qāher Jorjānī’s Asrār al-balāḡa (The secrets of eloquence) a treatise on imagery and the figurative use of language, but in the Persian textbook Tarjomān al-balāḡa of Rādūyānī it encompasses all figures of speech and is used as an equivalent of badīʿ. Abu’l-Ḥasan Rommānī (d. 384/994), an early writer on eʿjāz, drew up an inventory of ten parts (aqsām) of balāḡat which comprises besides the use of various types of figurative speech a number of general stylistic criteria (“Nokat,” p. 70). The notion of concision (ījāz), under the condition of clarity of expression, is often mentioned as a basic rule of balāḡat. It has a counterpart in the ability to expand without tediousness. Other aspects of eloquence are conformity to the circumstances (entehāz al-forṣa) and attention to the proper arguments (al-baṣar fi’l-ḥojja).

Eventually the branches of literary criticism which developed within Muslim civilization became known collectively as the science (ʿelm) or art (ṣenāʿa) of balāḡat. In this usage it comprises primarily two disciplines: the ʿelm al-maʿānī, studying the role of syntax in literary style, and the ʿelm al-bayān (qq.v.) which deals with the theory of similes, metaphors, and tropes. Their rules provide the foundation for the use of rhetorical embellishment, which is the subject of a third discipline, the ʿelm al-badīʿ (q.v.). This classification of literary theory became prevalent in the eastern part of the Muslim world from the 8th/14th century onwards as far as Arabic literature was concerned.

Although Iranians (especially ʿAbd-al-Qāher Jorjānī and Abū Bakr Yūsof Sakkākī Ḵᵛārazmī) made important contributions to the scholastic study of Arabic eloquence, most Persian textbooks are no more than practical guides to the use of figures of speech in the ancient tradition of badīʿ. Šams-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Qays however enters briefly upon the general principles of eloquence. He stresses the preference of concision over expansion and relates the following definition: “the critics have said: balāḡat is good words with the right meanings, and faṣāḥat means that the words are free from difficulty. Balāḡat appears in three kinds of expression: concision (ījāz), balance (mosāwāt), and expansion (basṭ).” (Moʿjam, p. 370).



From the many works dealing with aspects of balāḡat only a few can be mentioned here: Abū ʿOṯmān ʿAmr b. Baḥr Jāḥez, Ketāb al-bayān wa’l-tabyīn, Cairo, 1367/1948, I, pp. 88-97.

Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā Rommānī, “Nokat fī eʿjāz al-Qorʾān,” in Ṯalāṯ rasāʾel fī eʿjāz al-Qorʾān, Cairo, 1955, pp. 69-104.

Abū Helāl ʿAskarī, Ketāb al-ṣenāʿatayn, Cairo, 1371/1952, pp. 6-54.

Ebn Rašīq, al-ʿOmda fī maḥāsen al-šeʿr wa ādābeh wa naqdeh, Cairo, 1374/1955, I, pp. 241-50.

M. Fešārakī, “Īstāʾī o taqlīd o enteḥāl dar taʾlīf-e kotob-e balāḡī,” Āyanda 12/9-10, 1365 Š./1986-87, pp. 570-78.

Ḵaṭīb Demašq Qazvīnī, Talḵīṣ al-Meftāḥ (with commentaries by Taftāzānī and others), Būlāq 1317/1899, I, pp. 70ff.

Moḥammad b. ʿOmar Rādūyānī, Tarjomān al-balāḡa, Istanbul, 1949.

Šams-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Qays Rāzī, al-Moʿjam fī maʿāyīr ašʿār al-ʿajam, ed. M. Qazvīnī, rev. M.-T. Modarres Rażawī, Tehran, 1334 Š./1955.

Jalāl-al-Dīn Homāʾī, Fonūn-e balāḡat wa ṣenāʿat-e adabī, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 9-26.

G. J. van Gelder, “Brevity: The Long and the Short of It in Classical Arabic Literary Theory,” in Proceedings of the Ninth Congress of the U.E.A.I., Leiden, 1981, pp. 78-88.

EI2, s.vv. “Balāgha,” “Faṣāḥa,” “Iʿdjāz,” and “al-Maʿānī wa’l-bayān.”

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(J. T. P. de Bruijn)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: December 15, 1988