al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,
There is a rhetorical device in Arabic known as al-istikhbaar الاستخبار, which literally means ‘to seek information’; in practical form, it is to ask a question and seek to know the answer. Yet there is a fine line between the essence istikhbaar and the clothes of the interrogative (al-istifhaam – الاستفهام) that most people see it as wearing: the linguists say that the first time you ask a question seeking to know the answer, it is known as istikhbaar because you are seeking khabar - information. Once the questionee responds, you may not have fully understood the answer, so you ask again (with a slight change in wording or without), and this is known as istifhaam because you are seeking fahm - understanding and clarification.
But as in many languages, not every question is a real question in Arabic, and the form of istikhbaar can be used for many intents. It is especially important to regard these intents when reading the Qur’an, to fully grasp the precise meaning of Allaah’s words. Some examples of this are:
1. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of pain and anguish, as in al-Kahf, verse 49:
مَالِ هَذَا الْكِتَابِ لَا يُغَادِرُ صَغِيرَةً وَلَا كَبِيرَةً إِلَّا أَحْصَاهَا
What sort of Book is this that leaves neither a small thing nor a big thing, but that it has recorded it?!
i.e. We are in pain that everything we have ever done, seen, thought, heard, etc. has all been recorded and presented to us!
2. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of an affirmative statement, as in al-A’raaf, verse 172:
وإذ أخذ ربك من بني آدم من ظهورهم ذريتهم وأشهدهم على أنفسهم ألست بربكم قالوا بلى شهدنا أن تقولوا يوم القيامة إنا كنا عن هذا غافلين
And [mention] when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify as to themselves (saying): “Am I not your Lord?” They said: “Yes! We testify,” lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: “Indeed, we were of this unaware.”
i.e. Testify that you know I am your Lord.
3. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of repudiation and disbelief, as in Yunus, verse 68:
قَالُواْ اتَّخَذَ اللّهُ وَلَداً سُبْحَانَهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَات وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ إِنْ عِندَكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ بِهَـذَا أَتقُولُونَ عَلَى اللّهِ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
They say: “Allah has begotten a son (children).” Glory be to Him! He is Rich (Free of all wants). His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. No warrant you have for this. Do you say against Allah what you know not?
i.e. How dare you speak about Allaah with no knowledge!
4. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of expressing a great number of something, as in al-A’raaf, verse 3:
وَكَم مِّن قَرْيَةٍ أَهْلَكْنَاهَا فَجَاءهَا بَأْسُنَا بَيَاتاً أَوْ هُمْ قَآئِلُونَ
ِAnd how many towns did We destroy (for their crimes)? Our torment came upon them (suddenly) by night or while they were sleeping for their afternoon rest.
i.e. ‘We destroyed a great many towns’.
5. Istikhbaar to express the meaning of wonder and magnification, as in al-Waaqi’ah, verse 27:
وَأَصْحَابُ الْيَمِينِ مَا أَصْحَابُ الْيَمِينِ
And those on the Right Hand, Who will be those on the Right Hand?
i.e. What an amazing position will these people be in!
Also Yunus, verse 50:
قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِنْ أَتَاكُمْ عَذَابُهُ بَيَاتاً أَوْ نَهَاراً مَّاذَا يَسْتَعْجِلُ مِنْهُ الْمُجْرِمُونَ
Say: “Tell me, – if His torment should come to you by night or by day, – for which [aspect] of it would the criminals be impatient?”