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Quran



Islam's Holy Book

The Quran (also spelled as Qu'ran or Koran) is the holy book of Islam.

Muslims claim the text of the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, whom they consider to be the last prophet God sent to mankind, by the angel Gabriel. The book was revealed over an approximately 23-year period beginning on December, 22 609 AD. According to tradition, these revelations were recorded and memorized by Muhammad's companions.

This resulted in codices with slight variations. In about the year 650 AD, some twenty years after Muhammad died, a standardized version of the Quran was published.

Muslims believe that previous revelations from God - including the Torah, the Psalms and the Bible - have been changed and corrupted over time, which made it necessary for God to issue a 'final revelation.'

The word quran is derived from the Arabic qaraʼa, which means "he read" or "he recited."

During the month of Ramadan many Muslims recite the entire book, in Arabic, in their prayers.

Islam is also informed by the hadith, Arabic for "tradition." It is a collection of teachings, deeds and sayings of Muhammad -- including his tacit approval or criticism of something said or done in his presence -- as reported by his companions. Essentially, they are sayings or opinions attributed to Muhammad, but not found in the Quran.

Most Muslims consider hadith to be essential supplements to and clarifications of the Quran.

The Quran is used along with the hadith to interpret sharia -- the moral and religious law of Islam.

Quran - The Perfect Quran: The Past Perfect Torah and Gospel

Many prophets have brought messages from God to various peoples which were inscribed into sacred books. Four books well known to Muslims are the Torah revealed to Moses, the Psalms to David, the Gospel (Injil) to Jesus, and the Quran to Muhammad. Jews and Christians are considered "People of the Book" because of the original revelations to Moses and Jesus.

However, Muslims believe the Torah and the Gospel have been changed and corrupted over time. Consequently, the Quran was needed to correct the errors in the corrupted books. It finalizes the truth from God as transmitted from the archangel Gabriel, recited by the prophet Muhammad, and written down into the Arabic language.

Traditional Islam considers the Quran as identical with the "mother of the book" in heaven. The Quran contains the very words of God (Quran 85:21-22; 43:3-4; 13:39). God's revelation came not through a person but through a written record. Islam then is a book religion. It was revealed from Gabriel to Muhammad in the Arabic language. Arabic thus becomes intertwined with the revelation itself. Any translation into another language loses its original authenticity.

Traditional Islam views the Quran as a miracle. Therefore literary or historical criticism of the Quran is unacceptable. To question or defame the Quran is to do the same to God. Orthodox Islam has generally affirmed that the Quran is uncreated. It is God's word and a quality of God's nature. Some scholars teach that Muhammad's speech in delivering the Quran verbally iterates divine speech.

The Quran is composed of 114 chapters or suras, and each chapter has verses or ayas. There are 6,616 verses and 77,934 words. Muslims are challenged to memorize all of it and to recite it in the mosques and in daily prayers. Eighty-six chapters were revealed in Mecca, and twenty-eight in Medina.

The chapters in the Quaran are not in chronological order. It is often suggested that it reads better chronologically from back to front. The Meccan chapters deal with patience and perseverance and idolatry, indicating the problems and challenges Muhammad faced at Mecca. The Medina chapters have information on politics, legislation, and the settlement of disputes which indicate the establishment of the early community in Medina.

From the night the angel Gabriel came to Muhammed and told him to recit until his death (610-632), the Prophet received revelations from God. After Muhammad's death Caliph Abu Bakr collected the revelations into one document from the memorizations of the Prophet's companions. Under Caliph Uthman in 652, the Quran was canonized. It has served as the authorized version.

Inspiration of the Quran has been interpreted variously by Muslim scholars. There was physical and psychological stress upon Muhammed as he encountered the angel Gabriel, who gave him the words to recite. The Quaran indicates that Muhammed even thought he might be possessed by a demon. Some observers have suggested hallucinations, epileptic seizures, and even demon possession.

However, over one billion Muslims believe it is the unquestioned perfect word of God. It contains guidance for all matters of life and the afterlife. Muslims memorize it, recite it, and even create artistic expressions from it. Many believe they receive double rewards by memorizing and reciting it which gains them a place in heaven.

Syed Hossein Nasr, an Islamic scholar, wrote, "The soul of a Muslim is like a mosaic made up of formulae of the Quaran in which her breathes and lives."1

A Muslim who memorizes the Quran is called a Hafiz. A tradition reports that the Prophet Muhammad said, "Such a person as recites the Quran and masters it by heart will be with the noble righteous scribes in heaven. And such a person as exerts himself to learn the Quran by heart and recites it with great difficulty will have a double reward." [Khan, Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 6:431-432; 60.332.459]
- Source: George W. Braswell, Jr., The Perfect Quran: The Past Perfect Torah and Gospel, in What You Need To Know About Islam & Muslims. Broadman & Holman, Nashville, Tenn. 2000. Page 23-25

Quran – An Overall View

Muhammad started his mission when he was forty years old and continued preaching until his death at the age of sixty-three. The inspirations (revelations) which formed Muhammad's preaching discourse over the twenty-three-year period constitute the Qur'an, which means 'the recital' or the proclamation. Muhammad's additional expositions of some aspects of the Qur'anic discourse for various groups, which were collected separately much later under the title of 'Hadeeth', are not treated here. The Qur'an is essentially made up of units arranged in chapters (surahs). A unit may be composed of several sentences. A sentence may be a simple or a very complex one. Some chapters are very short, composed of a single unit; others are very long, made up of many units strung or interwoven together. There are many chapters of intermediate length.

A unit may be a statement, a proclamation, an injunction, a prayer or a preaching unit. A preaching unit may start first by picturing the coming of the Day of Judgement and then the urging that this Day should be taken into consideration during one's lifetime. Man is urged to be grateful to his Lord by doing good works and to avoid the consequences resulting from ignoring this Day. Good works are characterised by being socially relevant, that is, of benefit to society. A preaching unit may also start with an introduction pointing to a phenomenon or phenomena to be considered and reflected upon, ending with the affirmation that for intelligent, thoughtful people, such phenomena are signs pointing towards God. The signs, phenomena or pointers cover all sorts of topics, physical, biological and psychological, which are not necessarily familiar to every person but are dependent on the audience being addressed. Examples include time (several aspects of it, whether to a particular part of the day or to a very long period of time), the sun, the stars, the moon, animals and their uses, trade, wealth, ships, winds, rain, thunder, lightning, plants and the seasons, creation from dust or from water, the formation of life in the womb, the creation of male and female spouses for love and affection, the creation of the heavens and the earth, old age, death, fear, love, aggression, the pen, even the letters of the alphabet and the rise and fall of civilisations.

Each surah stands alone. Since the Qur'an is mainly a preaching discourse occupied to making the human being conscious of God, there is much repetition of preaching units and formulas in the various surahs and even within the same surah. The preaching revolves around a central theme: warning humans that after they die, they will be raised up again and returned to God who will judge them, according to their conduct in this life, at the Day of Reckoning. Therefore they should be conscious of God during this life and follow the direction of the way of God. The way of God is not defined by dogma but is indicated operationally in two ways. The first is practical and socially oriented. It pertains to carrying out actions characterised only by being beneficial to the welfare of humanity (society). The second involves a mental orientation and empirically following a certain procedure. The empirical procedure stresses that the means of gaining faith in God is through observing His creation, thinking (reasoning) and reflecting upon such observations, not in seeking proof but following the direction suggested by such deliberations. Any person who commits or submits (the verb used in Arabic is aslama) himself to this course, that is, directs his face (sets his direction) towards God, is a muslim (the active participle of aslama). Hence we have the word 'islam' (the verbal noun) describing the religion preached by Muhammad.

The pointers to God are the 'miracles' of God according to Muhammad's inspirations and are the only reliable indicators to Him. From this, one sees they are not miracles in the popular sense of the word. That is, they are not supernatural, but are only manifestations of God's laws as seen in the natural world. Muhammad, during his mission, was pestered and taunted by his opponents to produce a miracle like those reported in the previous Scriptures. His reply to such demands was always that he was only a human being, like everybody else. (It is worth noting here that later Muslims, seeing the extraordinary miracles in the Christian and Jewish Scriptures, invented all sorts of extraordinary happenings and attributed them to Muhammad, all of course outside the Qur'an.)

It is stressed in the Qur'an that all previous messengers and prophets of God were also human. Such statements were directed to Muhammad in order to console and encourage him in the face of the challenges thrown at him to produce something extraordinary. This served as an indirect reply to the question of miracles in the previous Scriptures. There are many verses in the Qur'an directed to Muhammad not only to comfort and console but also to rebuke, for being overzealous or not carrying out his mission properly. This is a reflection of Muhammad's continual interaction with the results and the methods of his preaching and his contemplation upon them, thus resulting in new inspirations.

The Qur'an also contains preachings related to previous prophets. These occur on two levels. One level shows them in the light of Muhammad's mission, as an extension of his message, where the inspirations have been put in the mouths of the ancient prophets or messengers of God. The preaching in this level has several aspects. It encourages Muhammad to pursue his mission by reminding him that the previous prophets faced similar difficulties. It also points to the continuing efforts of humanity to seek the truth and thus to the evolution of the concept of God. The emphasis in this level is on preaching and development of ideas and not history.

The second level deals with the preaching of Muhammad to the Christians and Jews. This preaching involved reminding them of some aspects of their Scriptures or their traditions, the basic deviations from the natural evolutionary course of religion that were introduced, namely the divinity of Jesus and the Judaic exclusiveness (claiming arbitrarily a special position with God exclusively for themselves), and inviting them to the new message which subsumes all what is true in their Scriptures.

Included in the units of the Qur'an are statements and principles that form a plan which establishes the position of man on earth, points to the purpose of life, provides guidance and freedom of choice as well as the necessary tools for the trust or mandate given to mankind. As a consequence of granting freedom of choice to mankind, religious diversity is taken for granted, so the Qur'an contains the principles regulating the dynamic coexistence between the various communities.

The building blocks or units of the Qur'an which have been mentioned or alluded to above cover the major part of the Qur'an, the framework of the Qur'anic discourse. There are other units in the Qur'an which will not be focussed upon in this work. These may be divided into two classes. The first pertains to rituals: fasting, food restrictions and pilgrimage. These rituals, especially those of the pilgrimage (Hajj), were well established and based on ancient rituals which were part and parcel of the annual festivities in Mecca and its surroundings as well as across the whole of the Arabian Peninsula and its periphery. All that Muhammad has done is to de-paganise these rituals to fit the new outlook. The second category pertains to what may be termed application units, which deal with some aspects of social regulations like inheritance, punishment, marriage and divorce, and so on, which needed immediate attention. These instructions are applications of the principles in the light of customs and circumstances of the local people at the time, and are couched in a preaching manner stressing the observance of the consciousness of God when applying them. To fruitfully discuss them would take us beyond our main objective, since that would entail the enquiry into the prevalent social conditions at that time.
- Source: Mohammad Abu-Hamdiyyah, The Qur'An: An Introduction. Routledge, London. 2000. Page 45 - 48

Revelation of the Quran: The Founding of Islam

Mecca sits in a barren hollow between two ranges of steep hills in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia. To its immediate west lies the flat and sweltering Red Sea coast; to the east stretches the great Rub' al-Khali, or Empty Quarter -- the largest continuous body of sand on the planet. The town's setting is uninviting: the earth is dry and dusty, and smolders under a relentless sun; the whole region is scoured by hot, throbbing desert winds. Although sometimes rain does not fall for years, when it does come it can be heavy, creating torrents of water that rush out of the hills and flood the basin in which the city lies. As a backdrop for divine revelation, the area is every bit as fitting as the mountains of Sinai or the wilderness of Judea.

The only real source of historical information about pre-Islamic Mecca and the circumstances of the Koran's revelation is the classical Islamic story about the religion's founding, a distillation of which follows.

In the centuries leading up to the arrival of Islam, Mecca was a local pagan sanctuary of considerable antiquity. Religious rituals revolved around the Ka'ba -- a shrine, still central in Islam today, that Muslims believe was originally built by Ibrahim (known to Christians and Jews as Abraham) and his son Isma'il (Ishmael). As Mecca became increasingly prosperous in the sixth century A.D., pagan idols of varying sizes and shapes proliferated. The traditional story has it that by the early seventh century a pantheon of some 360 statues and icons surrounded the Ka'ba (inside which were found renderings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, among other idols).

Such was the background against which the first installments of the Koran are said to have been revealed, in 610, to an affluent but disaffected merchant named Muhammad bin Abdullah. Muhammad had developed the habit of periodically withdrawing from Mecca's pagan squalor to a nearby mountain cave, where he would reflect in solitude. During one of these retreats he was visited by the Angel Gabriel -- the very same angel who had announced the coming of Jesus to the Virgin Mary in Nazareth some 600 years earlier. Opening with the command "Recite!," Gabriel made it known to Muhammad that he was to serve as the Messenger of God. Subsequently, until his death, the supposedly illiterate Muhammad received through Gabriel divine revelations in Arabic that were known as qur'an ("recitation") and that announced, initially in a highly poetic and rhetorical style, a new and uncompromising brand of monotheism known as Islam, or "submission" (to God's will). Muhammad reported these revelations verbatim to sympathetic family members and friends, who either memorized them or wrote them down.

Powerful Meccans soon began to persecute Muhammad and his small band of devoted followers, whose new faith rejected the pagan core of Meccan cultural and economic life, and as a result in 622 the group migrated some 200 miles north, to the town of Yathrib, which subsequently became known as Medina (short for Medinat al-Nabi, or City of the Prophet). (This migration, known in Islam as the hijra, is considered to mark the birth of an independent Islamic community, and 622 is thus the first year of the Islamic calendar.)

In Medina, Muhammad continued to receive divine revelations, of an increasingly pragmatic and prosaic nature, and by 630 he had developed enough support in the Medinan community to attack and conquer Mecca. He spent the last two years of his life proselytizing, consolidating political power, and continuing to receive revelations.

The Islamic tradition has it that when Muhammad died, in 632, the Koranic revelations had not been gathered into a single book; they were recorded only "on palm leaves and flat stones and in the hearts of men." (This is not surprising: the oral tradition was strong and well established, and the Arabic script, which was written without the vowel markings and consonantal dots used today, served mainly as an aid to memorization.) Nor was the establishment of such a text of primary concern: the Medinan Arabs -- an unlikely coalition of ex-merchants, desert nomads, and agriculturalists united in a potent new faith and inspired by the life and sayings of Prophet Muhammad -- were at the time pursuing a fantastically successful series of international conquests in the name of Islam. By the 640s the Arabs possessed most of Syria, Iraq, Persia, and Egypt, and thirty years later they were busy taking over parts of Europe, North Africa, and Central Asia.

In the early decades of the Arab conquests many members of Muhammad's coterie were killed, and with them died valuable knowledge of the Koranic revelations. Muslims at the edges of the empire began arguing over what was Koranic scripture and what was not. An army general returning from Azerbaijan expressed his fears about sectarian controversy to the Caliph 'Uthman (644-656) -- the third Islamic ruler to succeed Muhammad -- and is said to have entreated him to "overtake this people before they differ over the Koran the way the Jews and Christians differ over their Scripture." 'Uthman convened an editorial committee of sorts that carefully gathered the various pieces of scripture that had been memorized or written down by Muhammad's companions. The result was a standard written version of the Koran. 'Uthman ordered all incomplete and "imperfect" collections of the Koranic scripture destroyed, and the new version was quickly distributed to the major centers of the rapidly burgeoning empire.

During the next few centuries, while Islam solidified as a religious and political entity, a vast body of exegetical and historical literature evolved to explain the Koran and the rise of Islam, the most important elements of which are hadith, or the collected sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad; sunna, or the body of Islamic social and legal custom; sira, or biographies of the Prophet; and tafsir, or Koranic commentary and explication. It is from these traditional sources -- compiled in written form mostly from the mid eighth to the mid tenth century -- that all accounts of the revelation of the Koran and the early years of Islam are ultimately derived.
- Source: Toby Lester, What is the Koran? The Atlantic Monthly; January 1999; Volume 283, No. 1; pages 43-56.

Similarities between the God of the Quran and the God of the Bible

  • Both are One
  • Both are transcendent Creators of the universe
  • Both are sovereign
  • Both are omnipotent
  • Both have spoken to humanity through messengers or prophets, through angels, and through the written word
  • Both know in intimate detail the thoughts and deeds of men
  • Both will judge the wicked

Differences between the God of the Quran and the God of the Bible

  • The God of the Quran is a singular unity; but the God of the Bible is a compound unity who is one in essence and three in persons (Matthew 28:19; John 10:30; Acts 5:3-4)
  • The God of the Quran is not a father, and he has begotten no sons (Surahs 19:88-92; 112:3); but the God of the Bible is a tri-unity who has eternally existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:21-22; John 5:18).
  • Through the Quran, God broke into history through a word that is written; but, through Jesus Christ, God broke into history through the Word who is a Person (John 1:1, 14; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:2-3; 1 John 1:1-3; 4:9-10)
  • The God of the Quran "loves not the prodigals"(Surahs 6:142'7:31, Ali; 'Ali has "wasters"); but Jesus tells the story of a father, a metaphor for God the Father, who longs for the return of his prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24)
  • "Allah loves not those who do wrong" (Surah 3:140, Ali), and neither does He love "him who is treacherous, sinful" (Surah 4:107, Ali); but "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
  • "Allah desires to afflict them for their sins" (Surah 5:49, Ali; also see Surahs 4:168-169; 7:179; 9:2; 40:10); but the God of the Bible does not "take any pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 18:23) and is "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9)
  • The standard for judgment for the God of the Quran is that our good deeds must outweigh our bad deeds (Surah 7:8-9; 21:47); but the standard of the God of the Bible is nothing less than perfection as measured by the holy character of God (Matthew 5:48; Romans 3:23)
  • The God of the Quran provided a messenger, Muhammad, who warned of Allah's impending judgment (Surahs 2:119; 5:19; 7:184, 188; 15:89-90) and who declared that "No bearer of a burden can bear the burden of another" (Surahs 17:15; 35:18, Ali); but the God of the Bible provided a sinless Savior, Jesus, who took our sins upon himself and bore God's wrath in our stead (Matthew 20:28; 26:28; Luke 22:37; John 3:16; 10:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)

- Source: Dean C. Halverson, The Compact Guide to World Religions. Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1996, pages 110-111

Video: The Quran -- a Critical Documentary

A groundbreaking, critical documentary by filmmaker Antony Thomas, broadcast by Channel 4 (UK) in 2008. What does Islam's holiest book actually say about issues such as equality, punishment, peace, other faiths and suicide bombing?

Research resources on the Quran (Koran)

Articles

Blogs

Books


Books - Online

Non-Christian The Koran "The Holy Qur'an, translated by M.H. Shakir and published by Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, Inc., in 1983." Fully searchable.

Multimedia

See Also

Apologetics Index research resource Islam

Web Sites

Non-Christian Quran (Pro) Collection of resources on the Quran. Islamic perspective. (Link points to archived version).
Christian The Quran: An Evaluation of Muslim Claims Collection of resources at the Answering Islam site.

Notes:

  1. Seyed Hossein Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam (London: George, Allen & Unwin LTD, 1966), 61

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This post was last updated: Oct. 9, 2014