The Qur’an is the speech of Allah, sent down upon the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household), conveyed to us by mass-transmission, the very recitation of it constitutes worship, and the smallest surah of it constitutes a challenge. (see: Q[9:6, 26:192-5, …])
Preservation of the Qur’an
The Prophet memorized the Qur’an as he received it, as did many of his companions, and it was also written down during his lifetime. The tradition of memorizing the entire Qur’an has continued in every generation, such that the Qur’an has been preserved through dual means: through writing as well as orally. Every year, during the recommended extra night prayers in the Islamic month of Ramadan, it is customary for the Huffaz (those who have memorized the Qur’an) to complete recitation of the entire Qur’an from memory. This massive coordination of human effort over history, which has today continued and extended further into new forms of media, is the illustration of Allah’s having undertaken the Qur’an’s preservation.
“Verily, it is We who have revealed the Reminder (i.e. the Qur’an), and it is We who shall guard it.” [Qur’an, 15:9]
Further evidence of the preservation of the Qur’an is that we find no disagreement over the Arabic text of the Qur’an between Muslims of different countries, schools of thought or sects. Furthermore, a distinction has been maintained, since early times, between the Qur’an and the Hadith (also known as Sunnah) – the latter being a record of the Prophet’s own sayings and deeds (i.e. not necessarily conveyed word-for-word by the Angel, although they still carry religious authority). The style of the two is also markedly different.
The Miracle of the Qur’an
The Qur’an presents itself as a miracle to mankind, a proof of the veracity of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
“There was not any of the prophets except that he was given signs such as mortals believed in him thereby. That which I was given was only inspiration which Allah inspired me with, so I hope that I will have the most followers of them [all] on the Day of Resurrection.” [Bukhari]
The Qur’an was presented to the world by an unlettered man, yet its very style and eloquence have proved unmatchable and inimitable for some 14 centuries now. A challenge was made (numerous times, in the Qur’an itself: [17:88, 11:13, 2:23, 10:38]) to unbelievers to match it if they claimed Muhammad (peace be upon him) had written it himself. This is in spite of the fact that the pagan Arabs were doing their utmost to stop the Prophet’s mission. He was a threat to their pagan habits, authority and way of life; even the Makkan economy depended heavily on the business generated from idolatrous pilgrims from all over Arabia. They persecuted the Prophet and his followers intensely, eventually forcing them to leave Makkah to Madinah. Even then, they did not leave the early Muslims in peace, but launched military attacks on Madinah. The Arabs at the time were conoisseurs of language, and delighted in composing, reciting and memorizing poetry. Fairs were held at which poets would recite their verses, and the winning poems from the great fair of `Ukaz would be written in gold and hanged on the Ka`bah. If all that was needed to foil him was to produce a short piece of writing, they would surely have done it, rather than suffering such inconvenience, and at times even going to war, over a period of some 20 odd years. Yet, they were unable to compose something comparable to the Qur’an, and instead resorted to charging him with being insane or a sorcerer.
The Qur’an’s enthralling style contains rhyme, yet is neither poetry nor normal rhymed prose. Its beauty does not sacrifice clarity, preciseness, appropriateness, richness or depth of meaning. Nor have advances in human knowledge contradicted the Qur’an’s content since its revelation over fourteen centuries ago.
“Falsehood does not approach it from ahead of it nor from behind it. [It is] a [revelation] sent down from One Wise and Praiseworthy.” [Qur’an, 41:42]
It is quite reasonable to find recently discovered scientific and historical information in the Qur’an, even though those facts were unknown to people in seventh-century Arabia when the verses were revealed. The Qur’an claims to be from God, for people of all times to come.
“We shall show them Our signs in the horizons, and in themselves, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is a witness to all things?” Q[41:53]
We find mention, in the Qur’an, of some historical facts that have only recently been confirmed. Still others might come to be proved in the future.
“Pharaoh said, ‘O Haman! Build me a tower, that perchance I may reach the ways – the ways to the heavens – so that I may look upon the God of Moses, though verily I think him a liar.” [Qur’an, 40:36-7]
The Bible does not mention Haman as an intimate of the Pharaoh. Furthermore, by the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), hieroglyphics had been totally forgotten; they could only be read again from the 19th century onward. It is truly amazing, then, to find that the name Haman (found six times in the Qur’an) occurs in hieroglyphic sources, and that his profession was “Chief of the workers in stone-quarries.”
The Qur’an informs us that after the Pharaoh perished by having been flung into the water, his body was preserved as a sign.[Qur’an, 10:92] This indicates both that he died at that time, and also that the body did not become lost and destroyed through drowning. The Pharaoh Merenptah’s mummified body, discovered in 1907 and since identified as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, shows multiple trauma injuries consistent with death having been caused by being violently flung.
The Qur’an often mentions the ancient Arabian `Ad people (Q[11:49,12:3,…]), who lived in the “many-towered city of Iram” (Qur’an, ), and were destroyed for their rejection of the prophet Hud. In 1991, the Ubar expedition in Oman, “uncovered the remains of a fortress ringed by a two-foot-thick wall and topped at various points by the crumbled remains of towers that once may have stood thirty feet tall; a many-towered city” .
The Qur’an also prophesied various events that came to be fulfilled within the Prophet’s lifetime, such as the defeat of the Persians by the Romans after the former’s victory [Qur’an, 30:1-4], and the Muslims’ triumphant return to Makkah [Qur’an, 48:18-19].
The Qur’an is first and foremost a book of guidance, rather than a textbook of science. Therefore, we must be wary of attempting to twist the Qur’anic text to match every scientific theory and fact. Nevertheless, the source of both nature (science) and revelation is God, and therefore it is conceivable to find some such facts in the Qur’an, as a sign to people, as is suggested by the Qur’an [41:53]. Not only is there nothing in the Qur’an that contradicts established scientific fact, but, furthermore, the Qur’an expands in meaning as human knowledge and exploration of the world progress. It can thus address people of different times, places and intellectual abilities, each on their own level.
Among the scientific phenomena which can be found very clearly stated or implied in the Qur’an are:
• The fact that sensors for pain and temperature are in the skin
“Those who disbelieve in Our signs, we shall burn them in a Fire. Whenever their skins become consumed, We shall replace them with other skins, in order that they may taste the punishment. Indeed, God is Mighty, Wise” [Qur’an, 4:]
• The difficulty of breathing at high atmospheric altitudes.
“So whoever Allah wants to guide – He expands his breast to [contain] Islam; and whoever He wants to misguide – He makes his breast tight and constricted as though he were climbing into the sky.” [Qur’an, 6:125]
Scientists and doctors nowadays talk about altitude sickness. Chest tightness is one of its symptoms, and is typically experienced at heights of over 8,000 ft, as the oxygen content of the air becomes lower.
• The uniqueness of human fingerprints
“Does mankind think that We shall not gather his bones [and resurrect him]? Indeed, We are capable of restoring his fingertips!” [Qur’an, 75:4]
• The idea that the gender of a child is determined from the sperm.
“And [it is Allah] Who has created the two sexes – male and female – from a drop, when it is emitted forth.” [Qur’an, ]
The unique effect of the Qur’an on people’s mind and soul also deserves to be counted as part of its miracle. Reciting and listening to the Arabic Qur’an, especially, is often a profound spiritual experience. Marmaduke Pickthall, an Englishman who embraced Islam, and translated the Qur’an into English, describes the sounds of the recitation of the Qur’an as, “that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which drive men to ecstasy and tears.” The Qur’an describes such effects in several verses.
“The skins shiver therefrom of those who fear their Lord, then their skins and their hearts relax at the remembrance of Allah.” [Qur’an, 39:23]
“When the signs of the Most Merciful were recited to them, they fell down in prostration and weeping.” [Qur’an, 19:58]
“If We had sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and breaking down from fear of Allah. And these examples We present to people that perhaps they will give thought.” [Qur’an, 59:21]
People continue to recite and listen to the Qur’an repeatedly, yet they do not tire of it nor get bored. Rather, the enthrallment endures.
The Qur’an is also marked by a great ease of memorization. Thousands of Muslims the world over memorize the entire book, word-for-word, even though many of them do not understand Arabic. While some of these memorizers are undoubtedly intellectually gifted, the same is not true for all of them. Nor is there any other book in the world that is memorized by so many diverse people.
“We have certainly made the Qur’an easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember?” [Qur’an, 54:17]
The Qur’an’s amazing power of guidance is demonstrated by the way in which it transformed the Arabs from barbaric idolaters to a pious society that then led the civilized world for several centuries. Its wise and measured approach gradually, yet effectively, transformed the moral and social fabric of Arabian society. For example, even though wine was an integral part of Arabian culture, the step-by-step, bottom-up approach of the Qur’an eradicated wine in a way that top-down human legislation (such as that of the Prohibition in the USA) could not. In fact, the Qur’an presents consistent and universal doctrines applicable for the guidance of humanity at all times. Q[4:82]
The Controversy over the Createdness of the Qur’an
About two hundred years after the Prophet Muhammad, a controversy arose over whether one should say the Qur’an is created or uncreated. The Mu`tazili sect, who came to power under the `Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun, insisted on saying that the Qur’an is created. Moreover, they persecuted those who would not agree with this. They reasoned that if the Qur’an was not created, it would mean it had always existed, and this would be polytheism, for only Allah has always existed. The Sunnis agree that our voices, ink, paper and the like are created. However, they maintained that it is not permissible to say that God’s word is created, because this might lead to the misunderstanding that one of God’s attributes (His speech) is created. Some Sunnis tried to find common ground between the two positions, and said, “My uttering of the Qur’an is created.” This last group became known as the Lafziyyah, and the famous hadith scholar, al-Bukhari, was among them.
There is no evidence that the Prophet or his companions ever discussed the createdness of the Qur’an, and so it cannot be made into a fundamental point of doctrine. It is sufficient for a Muslim to leave this entire issue aside, simply believing that the Qur’an is Allah’s word, and that no object or person has existed in pre-eternity with Allah, the One, the First.