The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet of Islam from the beginning of his mission to the end of his life, that is from the 27th Rajab in the 40th year of his life up to the 28th Safar (or 12th Rabi’u ‘l-Awwal) 11 A.H - a total span of 22 years 5 months 1day (or 15 days).
The first revelation was the first five verses of surah Iqra’ which begins with the words “Read”. And the last verse connected with the shari’ah was:
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا
“This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion” (5:3)
revealed in Ghadir Khumm.
The only proper name of the final Book of Allah is al-Qur’an (القرآن) which means ‘the Recital, ‘the Recited’. For example, Allah says:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنْزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ
“The month of Ramadan, that in which was sent down the Qur’an.” (2:185).
There are some other adjectives used in the Qur’an which throw light on some particular excellence or quality of the Book. For example:
(a) Al-Furqan (الفرقان): that which distinguishes truth from falsehood; distinction:
تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ الْفُرْقَانَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ لِيَكُونَ لِلْعَالَمِينَ نَذِيرًا
“Blessed is He who sent down the Distinction upon His servant...” (25:1)
(b) Al-Kitab (الكتاب): the Book:
ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ
“This is the Book, there is no doubt in it.” (2:2)
(c) Adh-Dhikr (الذكر): the Reminder:
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
“Verily We have sent down the Reminder and most certainly We are its protectors.” (15:9)
(d) An-Nur (النور): the Light:
وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكُمْ نُورًا مُبِينًا
“...and We have sent down to you a manifest Light.” (4:174)
But these words are not exclusively reserved for the Qur’an.
It should also be noted that the word “al-Mushaf” is not found in the Qur’an, although the Muslims have been using it for the Book since a long time.
The Qur’an is divided into surahs. Unto the last century, many cities had a wall around them for defense purposes; that wall was called sur. A surah thus is a part of the Qur’an complete in itself. In English, it is usually translated as ‘chapter’.
The surah contains ‘ayat (plural of ‘ayah = sign) usually translated as ‘verses’. It is not a good translation because “verse” is associated with poetry while the Qur’an is not poetry. However, I will use this word because it is now commonly understood. An ‘ayah is not necessarily a complete sentence.
Sometimes one complete surah, sometimes one or more ‘ayat were revealed, according to the need. The occasion or event connected with the revelation of a certain verse has some bearing on the understanding of its meaning and implications, but the verse is not confined to that event in its application.
There are 114 surahs in the Qur’an; the longest of them is al-Baqarah with 286 ‘ayat and covering about 1/12 of the volume; and the shortest is al-Kawthar with four ‘ayat, which may be written in one line.
As for the ‘ayat, there are 6236 ‘ayat, as described in al-Mu’jam al-Ihsa’i by Dr. Mahmud Ruhani.1
The Muslims have divided the Qur’an into 30 equal parts (juz’ in Arabic and para in Urdu), to enable the readers to recite the whole Book once in a month especially during the holy Ramadhan.
They have also divided the surahs into various sections of ‘ayat - these sections are called ruku’, one ruku’ contains 7 to 12 ‘ayat. For example, surah al-Fatihah (the 1st surah) has 7 ‘ayat, all grouped in one ruku’; the 2nd surah has 286 ‘ayat divided into 40 ruku’s.
Surahs and ‘ayat are called Makki or Madani according to the period of revelation; that is, the surahs and ‘ayat revealed before Hijrah are called Makki (revealed at Mecca) and after the Hijrah are called Madani (revealed in Medina).
The following 20 surahs are accepted as Madani; 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 24, 32, 47, 48, 49, 58, 59, 60, 62, 63, 65, 66, 76 and 110. There is a difference about the following 21 surahs as whether they were revealed at Mecca or Medina: 10, 13, 22, 25, 36, 57, 61, 64, 83, 89, 90, 92, 97, 98, 99, 100, 102, 107, 112, 113 and 114. The remaining 73 surahs are Makki.
There is a marked difference between the Makki and Madani surahs. For example:
1. The Makki surahs, mostly, describe the matters of basic faith: refutation of paganistic beliefs, evidence of the oneness of Allah, His Attributes, proof of the resurrection on the Day of Judgment, prophethood of the Holy Prophet and of previous prophets, building good character, removal of the rust of evil from the hearts of people etc.
Madani surahs deal, mostly, with the code of life, rules of shari’ah like prayers, fast, zakat, khums, jihad, hajj, family affairs, social behavior, etc.
2. Makki ‘ayat and surahs are, mostly, short; Madani ‘ayat and surahs are, mostly, long. For example: 28th part (juz’) is mostly Madani and it has 137 ‘ayat, while 29th and 30th parts (mostly Makki) have 431 and 570 ‘ayat respectively.
3. In Makki surahs, whenever the audience has been addressed, mostly the words “O People” (يا أيها الناس) or “O Children of Adam” (يا بني آدم) have been used; whereas in Madani surahs, mostly, the words “O you who believe” (يا أيها الذين آمنوا) have been used.
4. All the surahs in which one is ordered to (or recommended to) do sajdah were revealed at Makka - thus emphasizing the worship of One and Only Allah.
The Qur’an was committed to writing from the very beginning. There are at least 52 verses in which the Qur’an is called “al-Kitab” (the written thing; the book). In the beginning, at the time of revelations, the Holy Prophet used to repeat the wordings recited by Gabriel, lest he forgot something. Allah assured him that there was no need to worry:
لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ
إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ
Move not thy tongue with it [the Quran] to make haste therewith. Surely on us is its collection and its recital. (75:16-17)
Thus, Allah Himself was responsible to collect and promulgate this Book. In another ayah, Allah says:
وَإِنَّهُ لَكِتَابٌ عَزِيزٌ
لَا يَأْتِيهِ الْبَاطِلُ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَلَا مِنْ خَلْفِهِ
“And it is a Book of exalted power. No falsehood can approach it from before or behind it.” (41:41-42)
Some companions were specially entrusted to write down the surahs and ‘ayat revealed to the Holy Prophet. Some of them were ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, Ubayy bin Ka’b, ‘Abdullah bin Rawahah, Khalid bin Sa’id bin al-‘As, and in later period Zayd bin Thabit among others.
As soon as a revelation was received, the Holy Prophet dictated it to one or more of the above-mentioned scribes.
At the time of dictation the Holy Prophet himself used to fix the position of that ‘ayah or ‘ayat in the surahs. The Qur’an even before its revelation, was arranged as a Book in the “Preserved Tablet (لوح محفوظ)”; but the events during the ministry of the Holy Prophet necessitated revelation of ‘ayat in a different order. But the Holy Prophet knew the original arrangement of the “Preserved Tablet” and directed the revealed ‘ayat to be written accordingly. It is for the reason that we find Madani ‘ayat in Makki surahs and vice versa.
The Holy Prophet used to stress the importance and reward of committing the Qur’an to memory .And hundreds of people responded to this prophetic enjoinment. As the eagerness of the people for memorizing the Holy Book increased, the Holy Prophet selected four principal instructors who learnt the Qur’an under his personal guidance and then trained the others, who in their turn, used to teach it to still others. Those four were:
1. Abdullah bin Mas’ud.
2. Salim Mawla Abi Hudhayfah.
3. Ma’adh bin Jabal.
4. Ubayy bin Ka’b.
The number of people who had memorized the whole Qur’an during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet was so great that in the battle of Yamamah, fought just six months after the death of the Holy Prophet, 700 (or 500) Huffaz (those who had committed the Qur’an to memory) were killed in one day only.
All this memorizing presupposes a set arrangement of the ‘ayat, if not of the surahs. Also, the Holy Prophet said that Gabriel used to recite before him the whole Qur’an in the month of Ramadhan. Many companions used to recite the whole Qur’an once in a month and especially in the month of Ramadhan.
The following are among those who had the whole Qur’an in writing with them during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet: ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, Sa’d bin ‘Ubayd bin Nu’man, Ab-Darda, Ma’adh bin Jabal, Ubayd bin Ka’b, Ubayd bin Mu’awiyah bin Zayd, ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud, Zayd bin Thabit and Abu Musa al-Ash’ari.
There are numerous traditions of the Holy Prophet which prove that the Qur’an was already a written Book. For example: “I am leaving behind among you two precious things... the Book of Allah ... and my Descendants who are my family members...”
Also, when the Holy Prophet, a few days before his death, wanted to write something for the continued guidance of the Muslims, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab opposed it and said “(ان الرجل ليهجر حسبنا كتاب الله) the man (i.e. the Holy Prophet) is in delirium; the Book of Allah is enough for us.” These words at least prove that the Book of Allah was readily available at the time of the Holy Prophet.
The above-mentioned facts prove that at least the surahs had their definite forms, during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet. But what was the arrangement of the surahs in those days?
It appears from various narratives that the various reciters and teachers of the Qur’an had arranged the surahs in their own ways, but the arrangement of the ‘ayat within the surahs was fixed.
Thus, ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud and Ubayd bin Ka’b both are recorded to have arranged the surahs in the ways quite different form the arrangement of Zayd bin Thabit.
Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s) had arranged the Qur'an just after the death of the Holy Prophet, in the order in which it had been revealed. This, in itself, proves that the arrangement of the surahs and ‘ayat at that time was different from the order of revelation and ‘Ali bin Abi Talib wanted to record the sequence of revelation for the benefit of the Muslims.
However, the companions continued to follow their own various arrangements until ‘Uthman bin Affan, the third caliph, forced the Muslims to follow the arrangement commonly in use at Madina and forbade other arrangements.
But difference in arrangement had not meant difference in surahs or ‘ayat. Thus the authenticity of the Holy Qur’an is unparalleled in the history of Divine revelations.
This authenticity is universally accepted and admired even by those who do not follow the religion of the Qur’an.
Basanta Coomar Bose writes: “So there has been no opportunity for any forgery of pious fraud in the Koran, which distinguishes it from all other important religious works of ancient times... it is exceedingly strange that this illiterate person should have composed the best book in the language.”2
Laura Veccia Vaglieri writes: “On the whole we find in it a collection of wisdom which can be adopted by the most intelligent of men, the greatest of philosophers and the most skilful of politicians... but there is another proof of the Divinity of the Qur’an; it is the fact that it has been preserved intact through the ages since the time of its Revelation till the present day... Read and reread by the Muslim world this book does not rouse in the faithful any weariness; it rather, through repetition, is more loved every day. It gives rise to a profound feeling of awe and respect in the one who reads it or listens to it... It was, therefore, neither by means of violence of arms, nor through the pressure of obtrusive missionaries, that caused the great and rapid diffusion of Islam, but, above all, through the fact that this Book presented by the Muslims to the vanquished with the liberty to accept it or reject it, was the Book of God, the Word of Truth, the greatest Miracle Muhammad could show to those in doubt and to those who remained stubborn.”3
Shaykh Abu Ja’far as-Saduq (d. 381 AH) writes in his I’tiqadatu ‘l-Imamiyyah:
“It is our belief that the Qur’an which Allah revealed to His Prophet Muhammad is what is presently in book form. And it is that which is in the hands of people, and is not greater in extent than that.”
Again he says alluding to the false propaganda of the enemies: “And he who asserts that we say that it is greater in extent than this (the present text) is a liar.”4 Then he mentions some proofs to show that Qur’an is the unaltered word of Allah. He says that the following groups of traditions and revelations clearly show that the Qur’an is unaltered:
1. The traditions which describe the reward (thawab) of reciting individual surahs of the Qur’an. (If the surahs were not finalized and given permanency in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet, neither he nor his true successors, i.e., the Imams, could have described the thawab of every surah separately).
2. The traditions which describe the thawab of reciting the whole Qur’an. (If the Qur’an were not final and complete, the Holy Prophet or the Imams could not have described that thawab in those terms).
3. The rule that after surah Fatiha, two surahs may be recited in the supererogatory prayers (nawafil), but not in obligatory prayer. (This rule shows that the surahs of the Qur’an had been authenticated by the Holy Prophet and the Imams).
4. The traditions which forbid the recitation of the whole Qur’an in one night and in less than 3 days. (This phrase ‘the whole Qur’an’ shows that what is in our hands is the whole Qur’an).
Even more important perhaps from present day’s way of thinking, are the manuscripts of the Qur’an dating back to the family members and companions of the Holy Prophet. There is the copy of the Qur’an which was used by the third Khalifa; there are the Qur’ans written by Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, Imam Hasan bin ‘Ali, Imam ‘Ali ar-Rida (in the museum of Mashhad, Iran) and by Imam Zaynu’l-‘Abidin (in the library of Rampur, India). And all of them have the same text, same arrangement of ‘ayat and surahs, as we have today. This proof, apart from all other proofs, is enough to show that the Qur’an has reached us in the same form in which it was left by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w).
Before closing this subject, one thing should be mentioned here. It appears from many traditions that many companions of the Holy Prophet (including Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib and Abdullah bin Mas’ud) had written marginal references in their personal copies of the Qur’an. This would have been of much help to a reader in understanding the Divine text. But those marginal references were not part of the text. Perhaps, it was for this reason that even Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s) did not write those marginal notes in any of the copies made by him which are in our hands.
Sometimes you will come across a tradition that a certain 'ayah was in such a way in the Qur’an of, let us say, Abdullah bin Mas’ud. For example, there is the ‘ayah:
يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ ۖ وَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ
O Messenger, proclaim the (message) which has been sent to thee from thy Lord; and if thou didst not, thou wouldst not have proclaimed His Message...(5:67).
You will find in some traditions that in the Qur’an of Abdullah bin Mas’ud, this ‘ayah was written as follows:
يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ ۖ وَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ
O Messenger, proclaim the (message) which has been sent to thee from thy Lord that Ali is the Leader of the Believers; and if thou didst not...
But you need not be confused by it. Abdullah bin Mas’ud had written that phrase (given above in italics) to make the ‘ayah’s meaning clear by pointing out its object and occasion at Khumm. Those wording were not the part of the ‘ayah.
It should also be recalled that all the revelations sent to the Holy prophet were not part of the Qur’an. Revelations could be either Qur’an or hadith qudsi or hadith. In fact, if all the revelations were to be collected, it would be three times bigger than the Qur’an. But all those revelations were not sent as the Qur’an. Therefore even if we hear that a certain phrase was revealed to the Holy Prophet, it should not be assumed that it was part of the Qur’an.
The extent of care devoted by the Muslims to safeguard the Qur’an from any possible alteration may be seen from the fact that they have not only counted the ‘ayat and ruku’, but every single letter of the alphabet and every single sign of vowel has been meticulously counted and recorded. For example, we know that there are 48872 (الف) and 11428 (ب) and so on. We also know that the Qur'an has 53243 fathah (َ) and 1258 shaddah (ّ).5
It has been described earlier that Allah has sent the Qur’an as a miracle. The Qur’an is a miracle of language and style; it is a miracle of prophecies; it is a miracle of scientific revelations; and it is a miracle of the best code of life. Not only a miracle: it is a miracle-performer: it accomplished the miracle of transforming an extremely ignorant and unlettered people into the guardians of knowledge and learning.
Hartwig Hirschfeld, Ph.D. M.R.AS., writes: “We must not be surprised to find the Qur’an the fountain-head of the science. Every subject connected with heaven or earth, human life, commerce and various trades is occasionally touched upon, and this gave rise to the production of numerous monographs forming commentaries on parts of the Holy Book. In this way the Qur’an was responsible for great discussions, and to it was indirectly due the marvelous development of all branches of science in the Muslim world... This again not only affected the Arabs but also induced Jewish philosophers to treat metaphysical and religious questions after Arabs’ methods. Finally, the way in which Christian scholasticism was fertilized by Arabian theosophy need not be further discussed.
“Spiritual activity once aroused within Islamic bounds was not confined to theological speculations alone. Acquaintance with the philosophical, mathematical, astronomical and medical writings of the Greeks led to the pursuance of these studies. In the descriptive revelations Muhammad repeatedly calls attention to the movement of the heavenly bodies, as parts of the miracles of Allah forced into the service of man and therefore not to be worshipped. How successfully Moslem people of all races pursued the study of astronomy is shown by the fact that for centuries they were its principal supporters. Even now many Arabic names of stars and technical terms are in use. Medieval astronomers in Europe were pupils of the Arabs... In the same manner the Qur’an gave an impetus to medical studies and recommended the contemplation and study of Nature in general.”6
Stanislas Guyard writes: “During the Middle Ages, the history of Mohammedanism is the history of civilization itself. Thanks to the Muslims, Greek science and philosophy were rescued from neglect and came to awaken the West and give rise to the great intellectual movement which terminated in the renovation of Bacon ... In the seventh century of our era, the Old World was in agony. The Arabian conquests infused into it a new blood ... Mohammad gave them (Arabs) the Qur’an which was the starting point of a new culture.”7
Dr. A. Bertherand writes: “To seek knowledge is a duty for every Muslim man and woman. Seek knowledge even though it be in China. The savants are the heirs of the Prophets. These profound words of the great reformer are an indisputable contradiction to those who seek and exert themselves in putting the responsibility of the intellectual degradation of Muslims upon the spirit of the Qur’an. Let them read and meditate upon this great Book and they will find in it, at every passage, a constant attack upon idolatry and materialism; they will read that the Prophet incessantly called the attention and the meditation of his people to the splendid marvels, to the mysterious phenomenon of creation. The incredulous, skeptical and unbelieving may convince themselves that the importance of this Book and its doctrine was not to throw back, eventually, the intellectual and moral faculties of a whole people. On the contrary, those who have followed its counsels have been, as we have described in the course of this study, the creators of a civilization which is astounding unto this day.”8
This contribution is quite apart from the religious subjects which were initiated because of the Qur'an; and the development of literature and the codification of grammar and other allied subjects which were founded because of the Qur’an. In fact, all Islamic subjects, all subjects connected with Arabic literature and all subjects related to philosophy etc. came to the Arabs and the Muslims through the Holy Book of Allah, which is called the Qur’an.
Below we will look at the various aspects of the Qur’anic miracle: language, prophecies, being free from discrepancies, science, and ethics.
The language of Qur’an is of such highest standard that it is a miracle in itself, and nobody could meet its challenge. The difference between all other miracles and the Qur’an is that other miracles of other prophets and even of our Prophet were for those only who had witnessed them. For others they are mere news which may be believed or suspected according to the trend of the minds of the hearers. But the Qur’an is in our hands, a book complete in itself; it claims and brings the proof within itself. And its miracles are being unfolded every day.
Arabs in the time of the Prophet were proud of their language. They were proud of it, since Arabic language is very rich and sophisticated one. Poets and eloquent speakers were almost idols of their tribes. Poems were learned and read on every occasion, and yearly competitions were held for the best pieces of poetry in a place called Suq ‘Ukaz. Thus literature was the best art the Arabs had mastered very well.
The Qur’an came and its miracle, to their surprise, was its language and style. The Qur’an was the challenge; God asked them to produce a similar Qur’an:
قُلْ لَئِنِ اجْتَمَعَتِ الْإِنْسُ وَالْجِنُّ عَلَىٰ أَنْ يَأْتُوا بِمِثْلِ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لَا يَأْتُونَ بِمِثْلِهِ وَلَوْ كَانَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ ظَهِيرًا
Say: If the whole of mankind and Jinns gathered together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other. (17:88).
The whole of mankind to cooperate to produce just one book! But it was extended even to the Jinns!! And backing up each other!!! Still they could not bring its equal!!!
Then the challenge was reduced to ten surahs, to show them their weakness and helplessness:
أَمْ يَقُولُونَ افْتَرَاهُ ۖ قُلْ فَأْتُوا بِعَشْرِ سُوَرٍ مِثْلِهِ مُفْتَرَيَاتٍ وَادْعُوا مَنِ اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ
“Do they say ‘He has forged it?’ ‘Say, ‘Bring you, then, ten surahs like unto it forged, and call (to your aid) whomsoever you can, other than God! If you speak the truth’” (11:13).
They could not meet even that challenge, and it was reduced at last to one surah only:
أَمْ يَقُولُونَ افْتَرَاهُ ۖ قُلْ فَأْتُوا بِسُورَةٍ مِثْلِهِ وَادْعُوا مَنِ اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ
“Do they say ‘He forged it?’ ‘Say, Bring then a surah like unto it and call to your aid anyone you can, besides God, if you speak the truth’” (10:38)
One surah may be only one line. Still the proud eloquent Arabs could not face the challenge. You can see the logical reasoning and rational approach to convince the Arabs of its miraculous quality. A surah may be only one line but the Arabs (and non-Arabs too) could not succeed in their attempts to meet the standing challenge. The beauty of the Qur’an, the strength of its conviction, its logic and simplicity, and its depth and wisdom are far above what the Arabs or non-Arabs know or conceive.
When the Qur’an was read, the idolaters used to close their ears; some used to make noise, whistling and chanting, in order not to hear the Qur’an; lest they be ‘bewitched’. The nonbelievers could not give any reasonable explanation to this irresistible beauty and power of the Qur’an. However, they had to find some excuse to put people off and to justify their enmity. They invented lies and said, “The Qur’an is not but poetry or magic.” That was the excuse they could find for their utter failure and helplessness!
God refuted this allegation in this ‘ayah:
فَذَكِّرْ فَمَا أَنْتَ بِنِعْمَتِ رَبِّكَ بِكَاهِنٍ وَلَا مَجْنُونٍ
“Therefore continue to remind, for by the grace of your Lord you are no soothsayer, nor are you one possessed.” (52:29)
We also know that Arabs waged war upon war to silence the Holy Prophet. But the easiest way would have been to produce a short surah (like al-Kawthar) of equal standard and the claim of the Prophet would have been refuted. No sane person would use sword when a few words could serve his purpose in a more effective way. But the Arabs preferred war and by doing so they practically acknowledged that they could not produce the like of the Qur’an.
Not that they did not try to produce its equal. There is a short surah (al-Qari’ah) describing the Day of Judgment the opening ‘ayat of which are:
الْقَارِعَةُ مَا الْقَارِعَةُ وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْقَارِعَةُ يَوْمَ يَكُونُ النَّاسُ كَالْفَرَاشِ الْمَبْثُوثِ وَتَكُونُ الْجِبَالُ كَالْعِهْنِ الْمَنفُوشِ
“The great calamity! What is the great calamity? And what should make thee know what the great calamity is? The day when mankind will be like moths scattered about; and the mountains will be like carded wool...” (101:1-5)
A pagan Arab tried to reply it and produced these sentences:
الفيل ما الفيل وما أدراك ما الفيل،
له جسم ثقيل وذنب قصير وخرطوم طويل.
“The elephant, and what is the elephant? And what should make thee know what is the elephant? It has a heavy body and short tail and long trunk.”
Needless to say that all he earned in gratitude from his fellows was ridicule.
Likewise, in the days of Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (a.s.), Ibn Abi’l-‘Awja, Abu Shakir ad-Daysani, ‘Abdu’l Malik al-Basri and Ibnu ‘l –Muqaffa’ planned to write the reply of the Qur’an. They decided to write the reply of one-fourth of the Book each. The time and place of their next meeting: during the hajj next year in the precincts of the Ka’bah.
When they gathered together next year, Ibn Abi’l-‘Awja, said: “Since we dispersed (last year), I have been pondering upon the verse,
فَلَمَّا اسْتَيْأَسُوا مِنْهُ خَلَصُوا نَجِيًّا
‘And when they despaired of him, they retired whispering’ (12:80);
and I found myself unable to write something comparable to its eloquence and meaning; I was too engrossed in this verse to look at the others.”
‘Abu’l-Malik said that the same happened to him about the verse,
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ضُرِبَ مَثَلٌ فَاسْتَمِعُوا لَهُ ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ لَنْ يَخْلُقُوا ذُبَابًا وَلَوِ اجْتَمَعُوا لَهُ ۖ وَإِنْ يَسْلُبْهُمُ الذُّبَابُ شَيْئًا لَا يَسْتَنْقِذُوهُ مِنْهُ ۚ ضَعُفَ الطَّالِبُ وَالْمَطْلُوبُ
“O you people! A parable is set forth, so listen you unto it! Verily, those whom you call upon besides Allah can never create (even) a fly, even though they all gather together for it; and should the fly carry away any thing from them, they cannot take it back from it; (how) weak the invoker and the invoked!” (22:73);
and he could not compose anything like it.
Abu Shakir said: “Since I left you (last year), I am pondering on the verse,
لَوْ كَانَ فِيهِمَا آلِهَةٌ إِلَّا اللَّهُ لَفَسَدَتَا
‘Had there been in them [the heavens and the earth] gods except Allah, they both had been in disorder’ (21:22);
and have been unable to write its like.”
Ibnu ‘l-Muqaffa’ said: O people! This Qur’an is not from man’s speech, I too since leaving you had been thinking about the verse,
وَقِيلَ يَا أَرْضُ ابْلَعِي مَاءَكِ وَيَا سَمَاءُ أَقْلِعِي وَغِيضَ الْمَاءُ وَقُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ وَاسْتَوَتْ عَلَى الْجُودِيِّ ۖ وَقِيلَ بُعْدًا لِلْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
“And it was said, ‘O earth! Swallow down thy water, and O sky! Withhold’: and the water was made to subside, and the matter was ended; and it [the Ark] rested on the (mountain) Judi; and the word went forth: ‘Away with those who do wrong’” (11:44).
The fact is I could not fathom its beauty and could not produce equal to it.
They were thus engrossed in this secret talk when Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) passed by them and read the following ‘ayah:
قُل لَّئِنِ اجْتَمَعَتِ الْإِنسُ وَالْجِنُّ عَلَىٰ أَن يَأْتُوا بِمِثْلِ هَـٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لَا يَأْتُونَ بِمِثْلِهِ وَلَوْ كَانَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ ظَهِيرًا
This challenge and the prophecy that they could never bring its equal is the most prominent feature of the miracle of the Qur’an. It is admitted even by non-Muslims.
F. F. Arbuthnot writes: “From the literary point of view, the Koran is regarded as a specimen of the purest Arabic, written in half poetry and half prose. It has been said that in some cases grammarians have adopted their rules to agree with certain phrases and expressions used in it, and that, though several attempts have been made to produce a work equal to it as far as elegant writing is concerned, none has as yet succeeded.”10
J. Christy Wilson, writes: “Much of the Koran is in a sort of rhymed cadence that resembles poetry but may still be termed prose. From the point of view of literature, it is considered supreme in Arabic and has no doubt influenced the language to an even greater extent than the King James Version of the Bible has influenced English. Being thus the absolute model for literary style and diction, as well as the authoritative pronouncement of Allah, it is considered the one great miracle of Mohammed; in fact he repeatedly challenged his adversaries to produce anything like it.”11
H. A. R. Gibb, writes: “Well then, if the Koran were his own composition other men could rival it. Let them produce ten verses like it. If they could not (and it is obvious that they could not) then let them accept the Koran as an outstanding evidential miracle.”12
Harry Gaylord Dorman writes: “It (Qur’an) is a literal revelation of God, dictated to Muhammad by Gabriel, perfect in every letter. It is an ever-present miracle witnessing to itself and to Muhammad, the Prophet of God. Its miraculous quality resides partly in its style, so perfect and lofty that neither men nor Jinn could produce a single chapter to compare with its briefest chapter, and partly in its content of teachings, prophecies about the future, and amazingly accurate information such as the illiterate Muhammad could never have gathered of his own accord.”13
And Paul Casanova wrote: “Whenever Muhammad was asked a miracle, as a proof of the authenticity of his mission, he quoted the composition of the Qur’an and its incomparable excellence as proof of its Divine origin. And, in fact, even for those who are non-Muslims nothing is more marvelous than its language which with such a prehensile plenitude and a grasping sonority with its simple audition ravished with admiration those primitive peoples so fond of eloquence. The ampleness of its syllables with a grandiose cadence and with a remarkable rhythm have been of much moment in the conversion of the most hostile and most skeptic.”14
Another miraculous aspect of the Qur’an is its prophecies. For instance, the destiny of Abu Lahab and his wife was foretold to be the hell; and they both died idolaters. Hence both of them deserved the hell.
سَيَصْلَىٰ نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ
وَامْرَأَتُهُ حَمَّالَةَ الْحَطَبِ
“Soon shall he (Abu Lahab) enter into blazing fire, and his wife, the wood-carrier” (111:3-4)
When the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) was in Mecca, a war broke out between the Romans and the Persians in which the Romans were defeated. The Meccans were overjoyed because the Persians were fire-worshippers, and the idol-worshipping Meccans took their victory over the Christians (nominally Unitarians) as a good omen that too would ultimately vanquish the Muslims.
Then came the revelation telling the Meccans that the Romans would be victorious in the second round:
فِي أَدْنَى الْأَرْضِ وَهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ غَلَبِهِمْ سَيَغْلِبُونَ
فِي بِضْعِ سِنِينَ ۗ لِلَّهِ الْأَمْرُ مِنْ قَبْلُ وَمِنْ بَعْدُ ۚ وَيَوْمَئِذٍ يَفْرَحُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
“The Romans have been defeated, in the near land, and they after their defeat will be victorious within few years; Allah’s is the command before and after that; and on that day the believers will rejoice.” (30:2-4)
In a few years, the Romans defeated the Persians.
While the Holy Prophet was about to migrate to Medina, his heart was full of grief for leaving his hometown. Then came the good news to console him:
إِنَّ الَّذِي فَرَضَ عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْآنَ لَرَادُّكَ إِلَىٰ مَعَادٍ ۚ قُلْ رَبِّي أَعْلَمُ مَنْ جَاءَ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَمَنْ هُوَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ
“Most surely He who has made the teaching of the Qur’an binding on thee, will bring thee back to thy place of return.” (28:85)
Within eight years the Holy Prophet returned to Mecca triumphantly.
The dream (in 6 A.H) that he was entering Mecca was followed by the ‘ayah:
لَقَدْ صَدَقَ اللَّهُ رَسُولَهُ الرُّؤْيَا بِالْحَقِّ ۖ لَتَدْخُلُنَّ الْمَسْجِدَ الْحَرَامَ إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ آمِنِينَ مُحَلِّقِينَ رُءُوسَكُمْ وَمُقَصِّرِينَ لَا تَخَافُونَ
“Surely has Allah in truth fulfilled for His Messenger the Vision; you will certainly enter the Sacred Mosque (i.e. Ka’bah) if Allah wills, in security, some having their head shaven and others having their hair cut short, and you will have no fear.” (48:27).
This prophecy also proved correct.
There are many other prophecies - some have already been fulfilled, and others will surely be fulfilled.
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ ۚ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِنْدِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا
“Do not they ponder on the Quran (with care)? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely find therein much discrepancy.” (4:82)
The Qur’an is a Book which covers may subjects and events. Its topics are not separated as is the case with scholar’s books and theses. It discusses many topics in one page at times, but without losing the purpose and without going away from the main aim. The Qur’an is a book that you enjoy reading; and the more you read it, the further the desire to read it again. Indeed in every reading you see some horizons that you had not seen before.
Considering the range of the topics the Qur’an comments on, the repetition of some stories, the non-classification of the topics, it is hard to find such a book without contradictions and errors. By human standard, practically no book is free from mistakes whether it is on history, physics, chemistry, astronomy or biology.
But here is a book, which was not written at one time. It is a collection of piecemeal revelations, covering a span of about 23 years. Can any scholar believe that any human being, unlettered, will remember every single word, which he had uttered during the previous 23 years? It is impossible and hence the chances of contradictions. But Qur’an has no contradiction; and, according to that test, it is the word of Allah.
There is a tradition in al-Ihtijaj reporting that an atheist had mentioned some ‘ayat to Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) which he thought were contradictory to each other. When ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) explained the meaning and purpose of those ‘ayat, that atheist had to admit that the Qur’an was free from discrepancies.
Leaving that lengthy report aside, I quote here a paragraph from a shorter tradition in which Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) had replied to a question of similar nature put by a Kharijite, ‘Abdullah ibn al-Kawwa’. The Kharijite had claimed that the following three ‘ayat contradicted one another:
فَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِرَبِّ الْمَشَارِقِ وَالْمَغَارِبِ
But nay! I swear by the Lord of the [many] Easts and [many] Wests... (70:40)
رَبُّ الْمَشْرِقَيْنِ وَرَبُّ الْمَغْرِبَيْنِ
The Lord of the two Easts and the two Wests. (55:17)
رَبُّ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ
The Lord of the Easts and the Wests... (73:9)
He thought it contradictory, because in one place it speaks of one East and one West, while another ‘ayah mentions two Easts and two Wests and yet a third describes many Easts and many Wests.
Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) showed that there was no discrepancy at all. The ‘ayah speaking of “the East and the West” refers to the two cardinal points; the one mentioning “two Easts and two Wests” describes the two extreme points of the sunrise and sunset of the winter and the summer, and the one of many Easts and many Wests draws attention to the scientific exactitude because every day the Sun rises and sets in a different place from the previous day.15
Thus we should understand that whatever word or expression is used in the Qur’an it points out to one or the other great truth. Mankind will gain much by pondering upon the words of God, which has come to us in its purest form in the Qur’an.
Now, a non-Arab may rightly wonder about the claim of the literary miracle. He does not know Arabic, so miraculous aspect of the language might not be appealing to him, or even to uneducated or half-educated modern Arabs. The reason for the latter is the deterioration of the colloquial Arabic and its distance from the classical standards.
Obviously in this era we are in need of a miracle in science, telling us what is in the heavens and within ourselves. The Qur’an, although not a scientific text, reveals many secrets and wonders of the heavens and of ourselves as part of its call to believe in the Creator of Universe.
Now any person who wants to be a biologist, physicist or astronomer needs to study for at least twenty years aided by sophisticated machines, tools and libraries and under proper supervision. Then he might be able to break through, and discover some of the hidden facts of the nature. The Qur’an not only reveals many secrets of the Universe but also is not confined to a special field of the science.
أَلَمْ تَرَوْا كَيْفَ خَلَقَ اللَّهُ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ طِبَاقًا
وَجَعَلَ الْقَمَرَ فِيهِنَّ نُورًا وَجَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ سِرَاجًا
“See you not how Allah created seven heavens one above the other? And made the moon a light therein, and the sun a lamp?” (71:15-16)
The moon is a solid object which reflects light, hence it is a “light.” But the sun is a source of energy and light, so it is a “lamp.”
الشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ بِحُسْبَانٍ
“The sun and the moon follow (their courses) according to a reckoning.” (55:5)
The sun is not static but moving in a path exactly computed. Remember the middle-ages’ belief that the sun is the center of the universe and the earth is a plane. Remember that for contrary belief scientists were burned alive or imprisoned. And see that the Qur’an declared these facts 1400 years ago.
وَالشَّمْسُ تَجْرِي لِمُسْتَقَرٍّ لَهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكَ تَقْدِيرُ الْعَزِيزِ الْعَلِيمِ
وَالْقَمَرَ قَدَّرْنَاهُ مَنَازِلَ حَتَّىٰ عَادَ كَالْعُرْجُونِ الْقَدِيمِ
لَا الشَّمْسُ يَنْبَغِي لَهَا أَنْ تُدْرِكَ الْقَمَرَ وَلَا اللَّيْلُ سَابِقُ النَّهَارِ ۚ وَكُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ
“And the sun is moving on the course determined for it. That is the decree of the Almighty, the All-Knowing; and the moon, we have measured for it stages (to traverse) till it becomes like the old date-stalk; it is not permitted to the sun to catch up the moon, nor can the night outstrip the day; and each swims along in (its own) orbit.” (36:38-40)
ثُمَّ اسْتَوَىٰ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ وَهِيَ دُخَانٌ فَقَالَ لَهَا وَلِلْأَرْضِ ائْتِيَا طَوْعًا أَوْ كَرْهًا قَالَتَا أَتَيْنَا طَائِعِينَ
“Then turned He to the heaven which was yet a smoke, and said He unto it and unto the earth ‘Come both of you, willingly or reluctantly.’ They said: ‘We come willingly.’” (41: 11)
The heaven was smoke - which means dark and containing gas and steam. It is the exact description of the so-called cloud in heaven as most reliable recent discoveries reveal.
اللَّهُ الَّذِي رَفَعَ السَّمَاوَاتِ بِغَيْرِ عَمَدٍ تَرَوْنَهَا ۖ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَىٰ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ ۖ كُلٌّ يَجْرِي لِأَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى ۚ يُدَبِّرُ الْأَمْرَ يُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لَعَلَّكُمْ بِلِقَاءِ رَبِّكُمْ تُوقِنُونَ
“Allah it is who raised up the heavens without visible supports, and He is firm in power, and made the sun and the moon subservient, each runs unto an appointed term; He regulates the affair; He makes clear the signs that you may be certain of the meeting your Lord.” (13:2)
The invisible support, naturally, means the force of gravitation that exists in the universe which holds the planets apart and within a predetermined limit.
يَا مَعْشَرَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنْسِ إِنِ اسْتَطَعْتُمْ أَنْ تَنْفُذُوا مِنْ أَقْطَارِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ فَانْفُذُوا ۚ لَا تَنْفُذُونَ إِلَّا بِسُلْطَانٍ
“O Company of Jinn and men, if you can penetrate the regions of the heavens and the earth, then do penetrate (them): you will not penetrate except with a power.” (55:33)
This verse comes with undoubted encouragement to people to explore and travel through the outer space. Here one should pause and think of the society that the Holy Prophet was living in. The means of transport were camels, horses and donkeys. The people lived in tents and worshipped idols. They had not even dreamt of a car or an aeroplane or even an engine of any kind. How the Qur’an puts such a high idea to encourage people not only to fly but to travel to other planets and heavens? In materialistic thinking this should be impossible, because they claim that human thinking is a reflection of his material environment!
Then the only solution in this case is to believe that Qur’an was not a product of human mind, but a revelation from Allah. No human being could definitely put forth such an idea even if he were the greatest astronomer or scientist.
There are many verses of scientific nature and there are many volumes dealing with them, but the Muslims have shut their eyes from them.
People in our time are proud of their knowledge, and the Qur’an baffles them even now. There are so many examples that a certain ‘ayah remained a puzzle for commentators, until the discoveries of recent times made its meaning clear. To quote two examples:
In the surah, ‘the Believer’ there is a verse:
وَقَالَ فِرْعَوْنُ يَا هَامَانُ ابْنِ لِي صَرْحًا لَعَلِّي أَبْلُغُ الْأَسْبَابَ
أَسْبَابَ السَّمَاوَاتِ فَأَطَّلِعَ إِلَىٰ إِلَٰهِ مُوسَىٰ وَإِنِّي لَأَظُنُّهُ كَاذِبًا
“And Pharaoh said, ‘O Haman, build for me a tower that I may reach the avenues, the avenues of the heavens, and may mount to the God of Moses, for I verily deem him a liar.” (40:36-37)
Rev. J. M. Rodwell writes in its foot-note: “Haman, the favorite Ahasuers and enemy of the Jews, is thus made the vizier of Pharaoh. The Rabbis make this vizier to have been Korah, Jethro or Balaam.”
The objection of Rev. J. M. Rodwell may be excused, because neither he nor any Rabbi knew before this century that “Amon” was the name of the great Egyptian deity who was often given the title “King of the gods.” He was patron of the most powerful pharaohs, and was pre-eminently the national god. Its high priest also was given the name “Amon” and he was responsible for all temples and religious buildings. All these things have been discovered by excavations during the last 100 years. Now that we know something about Amon and the high priest and the priest’s functions, does it seem strange that pharaoh should have asked Amon’s priest (also called Amon) to build a tower to look at the God of Moses?
But these things were unknown 1400 years ago. Still the Qur’an used the correct title of the priest and assigned to him the correct function. Does anybody want more scientific miracles? This single verse is sufficient to make one believe that this book is from God, not from any human being.
The second example is also connected with Pharaoh. Speaking about the drowning of Pharaoh, Allah says in the Qur’an:
وَجَاوَزْنَا بِبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْبَحْرَ فَأَتْبَعَهُمْ فِرْعَوْنُ وَجُنُودُهُ بَغْيًا وَعَدْوًا ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا أَدْرَكَهُ الْغَرَقُ قَالَ آمَنْتُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ وَأَنَا مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
آلْآنَ وَقَدْ عَصَيْتَ قَبْلُ وَكُنْتَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ
فَالْيَوْمَ نُنَجِّيكَ بِبَدَنِكَ لِتَكُونَ لِمَنْ خَلْفَكَ آيَةً
“And We brought the children of Israel across the sea; the Pharaoh and his hosts pursued them in rebellion and hostility; till, when drowning overtook him, he said, ‘I believe that there is no God but He in Whom the children of Israel believe, and I am of those who submit to him.’ ‘What! Now! While thou didst disobey before and waste of those who create mischief. So this day We will save thee in thy body, that thou may be a sign to those who come (after thee).’” (10:90-92).
These ‘ayat clearly say that Pharaoh’s body was recovered and it became a sign of warning to later generations. But this thing is not mentioned in the Bible. Still the Qur’an claimed that the body of Pharaoh was recovered. And 1300 years after that revelation, excavations have brought into light that body which was mummified and preserved for future generations, and even after these long centuries his face and body clearly show the effect of drowning.
If the Qur’an was the work of a man, how did he know of this fact which was not known even to the Jews and the Egyptians of that time?
An extremely amazing quality of the Qur’an is that many of its ‘ayat are capable of multi-layered interpretations. Our Imams have described this distinction in these terms: “The Qur’an has an inner meaning and that too has another inner meaning and it has an apparent meaning.”16 And it is worth noting that all strata of connotations are valid and correct.
For example, look at this verse:
تُولِجُ اللَّيْلَ فِي النَّهَارِ وَتُولِجُ النَّهَارَ فِي اللَّيْلِ
“Thou makes the night to enter into the day and Thou makes the day to enter into the night...” (3:27).
The Muslim scholars have been explaining these sentences in terms of the continuously changing lengths of days and nights, throughout the year. In the northern hemisphere, from mid-winter to mid summer, days become longer and longer and nights shorter and shorter - it is the entering of the day into the night. And from mid-summer to mid-winter, nights become longer and longer and days shorter and shorter and shorter - it is the entering of the night into the day. The position in the southern hemisphere is just opposite. When the nights are longer in one hemisphere, they are shorter in the other; the same happens with the days. In this way, Allah is always making the day to enter into the night, and the night to enter into the day.
This explanation is doubtlessly correct; but now we have witnessed another phenomenon, which seems even more appropriate to these sentences. Maurice Bucaille has written: “[The astronauts have seen] how the Sun permanently lights up (except in the case of an eclipse) the half of the Earth’s surface that is facing it, while the other half of the globe is in darkness. The Earth turns on its own axis and the lighting remains the same, so that an area in the form of a half-sphere makes one revolution around the Earth in twenty-four hours while the other half-sphere, that has remained in darkness, makes the same revolution in the same time. This perpetual rotation of the night and day is quite clearly described in the Qur’an. It is easy for the human understanding to grasp this notion nowadays because we have the idea of the Sun’s (relative) immobility and the Earth’s rotation. This process of perpetual coiling, including the interpenetration of one sector by another is expressed in the Qur’an...’17
Now you see how the Qur’an has an apparent meaning and then another stratum of even more clear meaning. The same may happen in the cases of inner meanings.
But mind it! We do not judge the Qur’an by contemporary theories and discoveries. Theories may change overnight; discoveries may be surpassed by further discoveries. These are passing phases. But the word of Allah is the eternal truth. Therefore, in our eyes Qur’an is not to be tested by ever-changing theories. These theories should be tested by Qur’an. If they are in total agreement with the Qur’an we know that they are right and correct. If not, then we shall wait till one day somebody discovers something which will tally with the Qur’an and then we shall know that it was right.
Islam is not just a relation between the Creator and man as is understood in the West. Islam is a complete and perfect system of life, arranging human relationship with Allah as well as among the people themselves. The Qur’an has not left or neglected any aspect of human life without providing a code for it.
Economy is adjusted to achieve fair and just transaction and to preserve the dignity of every individual. Politics is given special attention since the course and stability of the society depends mainly on the leader and administration. Social life is built and bonded strongly in order to achieve maximum co-operation and cohesion.
Humanity has been striving to live under a system of justice, security and happiness. But these fruits were never tasted under any man-made system. Only the Islamic system, based on Divine revelation, has proved to be the best and the most perfect code of life. Dealing with each task. Hence confining ourselves to some brief examples is best suited here.
For the economic system, the Qur’an dictates two sets of fundamental laws: The first set deals with immuring the society against unfair or harmful transactions such as monopoly, usury, gambling, cheating etc.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّمَا الْخَمْرُ وَالْمَيْسِرُ وَالْأَنْصَابُ وَالْأَزْلَامُ رِجْسٌ مِنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَنْ يُوقِعَ بَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاءَ فِي الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ وَيَصُدَّكُمْ عَنْ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَعَنِ الصَّلَاةِ ۖ فَهَلْ أَنْتُمْ مُنْتَهُونَ
“O you who believe! Intoxicants, gambling, dedication of stones, and divination by arrows are an abomination of Satan’s handicraft. Satan’s plan is but to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. Will not you then abstain?” (5:90-91).
The second set aims at reducing and lessening the accumulation of wealth in a few hands. The Qur’an has imposed taxes on rich people and the money is spent on the needy people and social welfare. The Qur'an says:
وَلَٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا
“... Righteousness is rather one who...gives his wealth, out of love for Him, to the kindred and the orphans and the poor and the wayfarer and to those who ask and for those in bondage: and establish prayer and pay the zakah: and who fulfill their promise when they make a promise ...” (2:177).
It should be noted that some of these laws are compulsory such as zakah while others are voluntary.
The Qur'an does not deny the self-interest of people and satisfies it fully by promising full reward in the life hereafter for those who donate and sacrifice. But this is not the only reward and satisfaction; they are promised a prosperous life in this world too. This fact reveals itself by looking at the stable co-operative society that Islam is aiming at.
Naturally one of the very important realities of a prosperous society is stability, i.e. freedom from crimes, friction, envy, and hatred between different classes.
Social life is built on family units.
وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا
“And your Lord has commanded that you shall not worship any but Him and do goodness to parents ...” (17:23).
Islam has given the family the greatest attention, realizing the importance and weight that it bears on the whole society. First of all, marriage is emphasized and it secures for both partners equality of rights and restores their dignity. Then the Qur'an came with the most excellent bond which will keep the society coherent and healthy. Wayfarers are enabled to reach their homes; the old people are respected and looked after and the children are treated tenderly and brought up in good conditions.
John William Draper writes: “The Koran abounds in excellent moral suggestions and precepts; its composition is so fragmentary that we cannot turn to a single page without finding maxims of which all men must approve. This fragmentary construction yields texts, and mottos, and rules complete in themselves, suitable for common men in any of the incidents of life.”18
Rev. J. M. Rodwell writes: “It must be acknowledged, too, that the Koran deserves the highest praise for its conceptions of the Divine nature, in reference to the attributes of power, knowledge, and universal Providence and Unity - that its belief and trust in the One God of Heaven and Earth is deep and fervent - and that... it embodies much of a noble and deep moral earnestness, and sententious oracular wisdom, and has proved that there are elements in it on which mighty nations and conquering... empires can be built up.”19
I have been asked, “Must we always take the literal meaning of the Qur’an or metaphorical?”
The answer is already given in the third chapter of the Qur’an:
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ ۖ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ
“He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book, of it there are decisive verses: they are the bases of the Book; and others (which are) ambiguous. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue, forsooth, that which is ambiguous, seeking to cause mischief and seeking to explain it (as they like).” (3:7)
Every literary work has some plain sentences and some metaphorical, and the Qur’an is no exception. Unfortunately, some sects like the wahhabiyah do not see the point and try to explain the metaphorical passages too in literal way. This trend has caused many absurdities.
As a matter of fact, the portions dealing with legal matters (the shari’ah) are decisive and clear; they are not allegorical. Other passages are sometimes clear and sometimes allegorical. Allegorical passages should be explained with the help of relevant clear verses and as taught by the Prophet and the Imams. That, and that alone, will be the true interpretation.
To interpret the Qur’an by twisting its meanings, or to try to find an interpretation which suits one’s fancy, is a capital sin. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) has said: “He who interprets the Qur’an according to his own views should prepare his seat in the Fire (of Hell).”20
On the other hand, many ‘ayat of the Qur’an invite mankind to ponder upon its meaning. How can these two directives be reconciled? It is very easy:
First, learn all those subjects which are necessary to understand the Qur’an.
Secondly, mould your thinking according to the teachings of the Holy Prophet and his rightful successors.
Thirdly, remove all personal prejudice and preferences from your mind.
Lastly, ponder upon the ‘ayat of the Qur’an and follow them wherever they may lead you. Do not try to lead the ‘ayat to your goal. When you will ponder upon the Qur’an in this way, with full knowledge and mature mind, without trying to mould the Qur’an according to your preconceived ideas, and with a desire to mould your thinking in the light of the Qur’an, you will find the right answer.
Anas relates that: “the Holy Prophet was playing with children when Gabriel descended, and putting him down on the ground, Gabriel opened the breast of the Prophet. He took out some thick blood from his heart, and said that so much was the part of the Satan in him. Then he washed his heart with water of the zamzam, in a gold basin, and having washed it properly, put it back into his chest and put stitches over it. When the children saw this, they ran to Halimah, his nurse, and told her that Muhammad was killed. When the people came, they saw that the color of his face had faded away.”21
This absurdity needs no comment. Alfred Guillaume says, “Really, what is the basis of this story is difficult to say, except that people have tried to put literal meaning to the literary aspect of the verse,
أَلَمْ نَشْرَحْ لَكَ صَدْرَكَ
This idea gets strengthened further by the fact that this fiction is related to have taken place at different times from early childhood till the time of the Ascension. The author of Rawdatu ‘s-Safa’ has compounded the absurdity by concluding that this incident must have happened more than once; as if, God forbid, the Holy Prophet’s condition was such that every time Gabriel cleansed away the satanic portion from his heart, the Satan got the upper hand! No doubt, this is the result of commenting on the verses of Qur’an, without the guidance of the Prophet or his Holy Family.
Guillaume says, “On the basis of this false story, the Arabic Scholars of the last generation propounded the hypothesis that Muhammad suffered from Epilepsy.... To propound such a theory on the basis of a fiction which has apparently no historical truth is a sin against historical criticism and research.”23
In fact the verse, “Have We not expanded for thee thy breast?” signifies exactly what the expanding of breast signifies elsewhere. For example, see the following two verses:
فَمَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَنْ يَهْدِيَهُ يَشْرَحْ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ
“So (for) whomsoever Allah intends that He should guide him aright, He expands his breast for Islam ...” (6:125)
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي
“(Moses) said, ‘O my Lord, expand my breast for me.’” (20:25).
The expansion of breast signifies in fact, as a commentator puts it “its illumination with wisdom and its vastness for the reception of what was to be revealed to him.”
Even more damaging to Islam has been the latest example of unauthorized interpretation of the Qur’an by one American named Rashad Khalifa, and his fraudulent claim in the beginning that he could prove with his self-invented “code of 19” that the Qur’an was safe from alteration. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the Muslims swallowed his bait gladly.
They forgot the admonition of the Leader of the faithful, Imam ‘Ali (a.s), that when a person listens to someone’s words, he in fact worships him; if the words are from Allah, then he worships Allah, but if not then he worships Satan. Unfortunately the common people are - to use again the words of ‘Ali (a.s) - followers of every croaking crow (atba’u kulli na’iq). They blindly accept whatever claim is made by any charlatan - especially if it comes from Europe and America, and is presented in an attractive packing. Previously that packing was the word, “science,” nowadays it is “computer!!”
So Rashad Khalifa used the word “computer” to make the Muslims believe what he claimed. And he planned his moves very carefully.
First, he took the verse 30 of the 74th chapter (al mukkaththir) out of its context to “prove” that it pointed to the “code of 19.” The verse says, “over it are nineteen.” In fact, it clearly speaks about the number of the wardens of hell. It occurs in a well-connected speech which begins from verse 11 and ends at verse 31. The verses 26 to 31 are presented here to give a clear picture:
وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا سَقَرُ
لَا تُبْقِي وَلَا تَذَرُ
عَلَيْهَا تِسْعَةَ عَشَرَ
وَمَا جَعَلْنَا أَصْحَابَ النَّارِ إِلَّا مَلَائِكَةً ۙ وَمَا جَعَلْنَا عِدَّتَهُمْ إِلَّا فِتْنَةً لِلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا
I will cast him into hell. And what will make you realize what hell is. It leaves naught nor does it spare aught. It scorches the mortal. Over it are nineteen. And we have not made the wardens of the fire other than angels, and We have not made their number but as a trial for those who disbelieve...
Although Rashad Khalifa was of Arab origin, it is surprising that he was unaware of such elementary grammatical facts that all names of hell were of feminine gender, whereas the word “al-Qur'an” (as well the adjectives used for it, like, Dhikr, Furqan, Nur and Kitab) were of masculine gender; and that the pronoun in this verse is feminine. This unawareness led him to think that the verse meant: “Over the Qur’an are nineteen.” He did not realize that the Arabic pronoun ha (translated here as “it”) is of feminine gender and refers to hell; had it referred to the Qur’an, it would have been of masculine gender, hi.
We do not wish to labor on his erudition and knowledge of Arabic or Islam. One more example will be of interest to the readers. He writes in his monthly bulletin, Muslim Perspective (April 1985), that ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab was the Prophet’s son-in law.
Bismi ‘l-lahi ‘r-Rahmani ‘r-Rahim is a part of every chapter of the Qur’an except the 9th. This is the belief of the Shi’ahs, the Shafi’is, the Ahlu ‘1-hadith and many other groups. Rashad Khalifa himself says in his book, Quran: Visual Presentation of the Miracle (p.74), that this “statement” has come 113 times in the beginnings of the Surahs, and once within the text of the Surah 27 (verse 30); thus restoring its frequency to 114 (19x6). He also counts various letters from Bismi ‘l-lahi ‘r-Rahmani ‘r-Rahim at the beginning of various Surahs, when it suits his purpose. Yet he counts its words only at the beginning of the first chapter (Al Fatihah); and does not include the remaining 112 ism, Allah, Rahman and Rahim when counting these words in the Qur’an.
It should be mentioned here that every word of the Qur’an is counted and enumerated in detail by many authors, the most popular being Al-Mu’jamu ‘l-Mufahras of Muhammad Fu’ad ‘Abdu ‘1-Baqi, of Egypt, which is used in the Muslim word since last many decades. Yet there are a few omissions in it. A later work, Al-Mu’jamu ‘l-Ihsa’i, by Dr. Mahmud Ruhani is more complete and trustworthy.
Rashad Khalifa twice revised his “computerized” total. According to his count, ism has come in the Qur’an only 19 times. But what about 112 ism in “Bismi ‘l-lahi ‘r Rahmani ‘r-Rahim”? He first said, Allah has come 2698 times (19xl42). Then he said it was 2699 times.
Apparently his first count was based not on ‘computer’ but on the above-mentioned, Al-Mu’jamu ‘l-Mufahras in which Allah of the Bismillah of the first Surah is left out by mistake (although the other 3 words have been counted). Be as it may. But his revised number, 2699, shatters his theory. Actually it is neither 2698 nor 2699; it has come 2811 times (2699+ 112) which also is not divisible by 19.
On the one hand, he says ar-Rahman has come 57 times only. But, on the other hand, while counting the letters alif, lam, ra, ha, mim and nun of this word, he even counts the ones found in Bismi ‘l-lahi ‘r-Rahmani ‘r-Rahim of many Surahs. Then how can he leave out the complete word ar-Rahman in those 112 verses. The total number 169 (57+112) is not divisible by 19.
Likewise ar-rahim is not used 114 times as he claims, but 115 times. If we add to it 112, the total is 227. Both 115 and 227 are not divisible by 19.
Khalifa was so arrogant that he did not hesitate in committing alteration (tahrif) in the Qur’an. For example, in the Surah 68 al-Qalam, the letter nun (ن) even including the one found in ar-Rahman of Bismillah comes to 132. But he needed 133 letters to make it divisible by 19. So he wrote the Nun in the beginning of the surah phonetically as (نون) claiming that it was written like this in the original Qur’an! His audacity is truly amazing. Where did he find the original Qur’an? The oldest extant copy of the Qur’an is the one belonging to the third caliph, 'Uthman; and there too it is written (Arabic) (and not نون). He did not have the honesty to admit that his theory was wrong; he was ready to play with the Qur’an and commit tahrif to prove that there was no tahrif!
There are many examples of such deception - compounded by his ignorance of Arabic. He has claimed in his above-mentioned book that the first revelation, i.e. the first five verses of the surah 96, contain 19 words.24 Now, words may be nouns, verbs, pronouns, conjunctions or prepositions. Therefore, if we thoroughly count the words in these five verses, the total comes to 24, not 19. But Rashad Khalifa’s ignorance made him count the following 9 words as 4:
بسم = ب and اسم = 2 words.
ربك = رب and ك = 2 words.
وربك = و, رب and ك = 3 words.
بالقلم = ب and القلم = 2 words.
Unfortunately, Muslims swallowed his baits line, hook and sinker in the name of “mathematical proof” of the truth of the Qur’an. They remained blind to the tahrif being done by Rashad Khalifa himself. A sincere Muslim like Ahmad Deedat in his uncritical admiration of Rashad Khalifa’s theory popularized this myth through his lectures, booklets and videos beyond the wildest dreams of Rashad Khalifa.
Then after all that hullabaloo about the previously “definite” computerized proof and test, Rashad Khalifa wrote in his news-bulletin, Muslim Perspective, that further checkings had shown that his theory of 19 could only be correct if the last two verses of the 9th chapter (at-Tawbah) were removed.
Even then, instead of admitting that his theory was wrong, he boldly and shamelessly declared that, God forbid, these two verses were “interpolation,” added by someone in the Qur’an!25 What a champion of the Qur’an who claims that there was tahrif in the Qur’an in order to prove that there was no tahrif!
Why pick particularly on these two verses? First let us look at their wording and theme:
قَدْ جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ مِنْ أَنْفُسِكُمْ عَزِيزٌ عَلَيْهِ مَا عَنِتُّمْ حَرِيصٌ عَلَيْكُمْ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَءُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ
فَإِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَقُلْ حَسْبِيَ اللَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۖ عَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ ۖ وَهُوَ رَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْعَظِيمِ
“Certainly a Messenger has come to you from among yourselves; grievous to him is your falling into distress, excessively solicitous respecting you; to the believers (he is) compassionate, merciful (rahim). But it they turn back, say; “Allah is sufficient for me, there is no god but He; on Him do I rely, and He is the Lord of mighty power.”
1. The Wording: there is one rahim and one Allah in these verses. If they could be discarded, the total number of Allah would come to 2698, and of rahim to 114. [In fact, even these two numbers are not correct, as I have described earlier].
2. The Theme: The verses show the love and mercy, which the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) had for his ummah; and on reciting them, the Muslims, in their turn, felt intense love for their Prophet. This love and respect has been and is the major obstacle in the way of those who want to claim prophethood after the Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.).
3. And by claiming that these verses were interpolated, Rashad Khalifa discredited the Qur’an and paved the way for his own claim of “messengership.”
He says in his translation of the Qur’an that these verses were added by the companions who had “idolized” Muhammad. According to him, it was to eradicate that “idolizing of Muhammad” that 'Ali had to fight against Mu’awiyah, and it was for this reason that Husayn offered his life in Karbala! Have you ever heard of such fantastic research in Islamic history, theology, ‘ilmu ‘r-rijal and tafsir?
However, after this audacity, he has felt bold enough to claim that he was a messenger sent by Allah.26 He said that although the Holy Prophet of Islam was the final Prophet (nabi), he was not the last messenger (rasul).
This man did not know even the elementary things about Islam. He was not aware that prophethood (nubuwwah) is the basic root, from which messengership (risalah) branches out. Every messenger has to be a prophet, but not vice versa. The Qur’an, by using the words, “khatamu ‘n nabiyyin - the last of the Prophets” or as Rashad Khalifa says, the final prophet, for Muhammad (s.a.w.) has shut the door of the prophethood as well as the messengership.
As every charlatan is sure to get a few followers, he too got a handful of believers in his (messengership). According to them, the declaration, ‘I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; said in kalimah, adhan, iqamah and elsewhere is shirk (polytheism). They have drastically changed the method of salat and many other rules and regulations of the shari’ah - all in the name of (Quran) [Rashad Khalifa always wrote ‘Quran’ while the correct transliteration is Qur’an].
There is a lesson in this unsavory episode for those who were glorifying Rashad Khalifa and translating his books and writings in Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati and other languages. Perhaps now the Muslims would realize that such blind acceptance of the words of every Tom, Dick and Harry, however religious he might appear, may easily take them to the brink of hell.
The following few quotations from the writing of some non-Muslims show what impact the Holy Book of Allah has had on them.
Rev. J. M. Rodwell quotes Rev. G. Margoliouth in the Introduction of his translation of The Koran: “The Koran admittedly occupies an important position among the great religious books of the world. Though the youngest of the epoch-making works belonging to this class of literature, yields to hardly any in the wonderful effect, which it has produced on large masses of men. It has created an all but new phase of human thought and a fresh type of character.”27
A. J. Arberry advises the Western readers on the study of Qur’an: “Bad translation is not the whole story by any means. In fact the Koran has not been unlucky in its English translators: Sale and Palmer were talented writers. No, the fault lies not so much in the manner of translation as in the manner of reading the translations. The root of the trouble is that the ordinary reader, and for that matter the extraordinary reader as well, has not been sufficiently advised how to read the Koran.
“In the first place, the Western reader must get rid of the assumptions that the Koran is more or less like the Old Testament. The misapprehension is natural enough when the first casual glance picks out the names of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jonah, Joseph, Job; the Biblical style of the popular translations does not furnish exactly a corrective. Misled by these early expressions, the reader makes the fatal mistake of trying to take it too much at once; he opens at a likely place, the beginning of a surah, and is lulled into suspicion by the familiar layout of chapter and verse; he finishes his first surah and goes on to several more; he is bewildered by the rapid and seemingly illogical changes of subjects and he quickly wearies of the frequent repetitions of themes and formulas, he misses the homely straightforwardness of Kings or Samuel, the sustained eloquence of the Psalm or Isaiah. Having no clue to the Koran’s own Excellencies he compares it unfavorably with what he has known since childhood, and is now ready to concur with Carlyle.”
“The Koran, like the poetry which it resembles in so many ways, is best sampled a little at a time; and that little deserves and needs meditation .. He (the reader) will become gradually familiar with the Koran’s claim to be a confirmation of earlier scriptures. He will observe how the Koran assumes a knowledge of the contents of those scriptures, and only latter expands the individual narratives into something like connected stories. He now follows step by step the gradual unfolding of the full prophetic powers; and when he comes to the polemic and the legislation he is readier to receive and understand them.”
“He, the uninitiated enquirer, however strenuous and sincere his purpose, will always be denied participation in the believer’s joy because he is screened from it by the double veil of a printed page and a foreign idiom. Yes, a foreign idiom, for the Koran is God’s revelation in Arabic, and the emotive and evocative qualities of the original disappear almost totally in the skilfullest translation.
“When appreciation rests upon these foundations, the charges of wearisome repetition and jumbled confusion become meaningless. Truth cannot be dimmed by being frequently stated, but only gains in clarity and convincingness at every repetition; and where all is true, inconsequence and incomprehensibility are not felt to arise.”28
- 1. Al-Mu’jam al-Ihsa ‘i (Mashhad, 1990) p. 168.
- 2. Bose, B.C., Mahomedanism (Calcutta, 1931).
- 3. Vaglieri, L.C. Apologie de L’Islamisme, pp. 57-59
- 4. As-Saduq, Kitabu ‘l-I’tiqadat (Tehran: 1370 AH) p. 43. See also its translation, The Shi’ite Creed tr. A.A.A. Fy. (Calcutta: 1942) p. 85.
- 5. For further information, see my book. The Qur’an: Its Protection from Alteration, published in 1994 by Ahlul Bayt Assembly of North America, Toronto, Canada.
- 6. Hirschfeld, H., New Researches into the Composition and Exegesis of the Qur’an (London, 1902) p. 9.
- 7. Guyard. S., Encyclopedie des Sciences Religieuses, vol. IX (Paris, 1880) p. 501.
- 8. Bertherand, A., Contribution des Arabes au Progres des Sciences Medicales (Paris, 1883) p.6.
- 9. At-Tabrasi, al-Ihtijaj, vol. 2 (Najaf, 1386/1966) pp. 142-143.
- 10. Arbuthnot, The Construction of the Bible and the Koran (London, 1885) p.5.
- 11. Wilson, J.C., Introducing Islam (New York, 1950) p. 30.
- 12. Gibb, Mohammadanism (London, 1953) p.33 .
- 13. Dorman, H.G., Towards Understanding Islam (New York , 1948) p.3.
- 14. Casanova, ”L’Enseignement de I' Arabe au College de France” in Lecan d ‘overture (26/4/1909)
- 15. Al-Ihtijaj, vol. 1, p. 386.
- 16. Al-Kashani, Tafsir as-Safi, fourth muqaddamah, vol l (Tehran, 1374) pp. 17-18.
- 17. The Bible, the Quran and Science (Indianapolis: North American Publications, 1979) p. 164.
- 18. J. W. Draper. An History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, vol. 1 (London, 1875) pp. 343-344.
- 19. Rodwell, Rev. J.M., The Koran (London, 1918) p. 15.
- 20. Al-Kashani, as-Safi, vol. l (Tehran: Islamiyya, 1374) p. 21
- 21. Al-Khatib at-Tabrizi, Mishkatul Masabih, chap. “alamati ‘n nubuwwah'.”
- 22. Alfred Guillaume, Islam. p.25
- 23. Ibid, pp. 25-26.
- 24. Quran: Visual Presentation of the Miracle, p. 11.
- 25. Muslim Perspective, March 1988.
- 26. Muslim Perspective, May 1988.
- 27. The Koran (London, 1918) Introduction.
- 28. Arberry, A.J., The Holy Qur’an (London: Allen & Unwin 1953).