Quran (Koran)

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The Qur'an opened, resting on a stand

The Qur’ān, literally "the recitation" (also sometimes transliterated as Quran, Koran, or Al-Qur'an) is the central religious text or Scripture of Islam. Muslims believe the Qur'an to be the book of divine guidance and direction for humankind and consider the text in its original Arabic to be verbatim the word of Allah, revealed to Muhammad by Gabriel over a period of 23 years between 610 and 632 C.E. They view the Qur'an as God's final revelation and complete message to humanity. Muslims regard the Qur'ān as the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with those revealed to Adam — regarded, in Islam, as the first prophet — and including the Books of Moses, the Psalms of David and the Injil, or Gospel, of Jesus and the Qur'anic assumes familiarity with some of the content of these scriptures. Many events from Jewish and Christian scriptures are retold, sometimes in distinctive ways, while other events are referred to obliquely. The Qur’an rarely offers detailed accounts of historical events; the Qur'an's emphasis is typically on the moral significance of an event, rather than its narrative sequence.

The Qur’an is fundamental to every aspect of Islam. It informs Muslim conduct, law, faith and practice across the whole spectrum of religious and temporal life. Non-Muslims who do not read Arabic often find the Qur’an a difficult book to comprehend, since the eloquence and beauty of the original are rarely preserved in translation, so much so that most Muslims speak of its un-translatability and refer to renderings in other languages as commentaries or interpretations.[1] Qur’anic calligraphy and recitation are major art-forms in Islam.

Revealed to Muhammad

Muhammad underwent his first experience of revelation in the year 610 while meditating in a cave on Mount Hira outside Mecca. This took place during the month of fast, Ramadan and is celebrated on the twenty-seventh night as Laylat al-Qadr, the "night of power." Most scholars identify the first revelation as chapter 96, which begins with the angel Gabriel commanding Muhammad to “recite.” According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad was illiterate and so could not have composed the Qur’an, as his critics have traditionally alleged. Non-Muslims—who often regard the Qur’an as Muhammad’s composition—have questioned his illiteracy, pointing out that as a successful business man he must have had some knowledge of written Arabic. This claim probably does not withstand scrutiny; in the Middle Ages, illiteracy was common among the nobility who also administered huge estates. According to descriptions of Muhammad’s revelatory experience found in the traditions, he received the verses while undergoing some type of trance. The nature of these trances have preoccupied non-Muslim writers, who tend to find in them the explanation for Muhammad's authorship of the Qur'an. He was sometimes warned by hearing the sound of a bell. At other times, he spoke of the words of revelation being burnt onto his heart so that he could not resist the compulsion to speak the words. The Qur’an itself asserts that it was revealed gradually “to strengthen believers’ hearts.”[2] Muslims often say that the very power of its contents, referred to a verse such as 13: 31, precluded revelation all at once, since Muhammad’s heart could not have contained it. Tradition says that Muhammad recited the content to his companions, some of whom were later permitted to record verses. This exercise was often repeated, to ensure accuracy of transmission. However, no single copy existed during his life-time as those verses that were recorded were written on a wide variety of materials. While Gabriel rehearsed the Qur’an’s contents with Muhammad, he did so with some of his closest companions. Some became hafiz (those who can recite the whole 114 chapters). While scholars continue to discuss when and how the order of the chapters was established, Muslim tradition attributes this to Muhammad himself. Western scholars such as Theodor Nöldeke and Richard Bell devoted a great deal of effort to re-constructing the actual order in which the chapters were revealed (or, in their view, composed).

Etymology and meaning

The original usage of the word qur`ān is found in the Qur'an itself, where it occurs about 70 times assuming various meanings. It is a verbal noun of the Arabic verb qara`a (Arabic: قرأ), meaning "he read" or "he recited," and represents the Syriac equivalent qeryānā—which refers to "scripture reading" or "lesson." While most Western scholars consider the word to be derived from the Syriac, the majority of Muslim authorities hold the origin of the word is qara`a itself. In any case, it had become an Arabic term by Muhammad's lifetime.

Among the earliest meanings of the word Qur'an is the "act of reciting," for example in a Qur'anic passage: "Ours is it to put it together and [Ours is] its qur`ān".[3] In other verses it refers to "an individual passage recited [by Muhammad]." In the large majority of contexts, usually with a definite article (al-), the word is referred to as the "revelation" (tanzīl), that which has been "sent down" at intervals.[4] Its liturgical context is seen in a number of passages, for example: "So when al-qur`ān is recited [by Muhammad], listen to it and keep silent".[5] The word may also assume the meaning of a codified scripture when mentioned with other scriptures such as the Torah (Tawrat) and Gospel (Injil).

The term also has closely related synonyms which are employed throughout the Qur'an. Each of the synonyms possess their own distinct meaning, but their use may converge with that of qur`ān in certain contexts. Such terms include |kitāb ("book"); āyah ("sign"); and sūrah ("Scripture"). The latter two terms also denote units of revelation. Other related words are: dhikr, meaning "remembrance," used to refer to the Qur'an in the sense of a reminder and warning; and hikma, meaning "wisdom," sometimes referring to the revelation or part of it.

Qur'an has many other names. Among those found in the text itself are al-Furqan ("discernment"), Umm al-Kitab (the "mother book," or "archetypal book"), al-huda ("the guide"), Dhikrallah ("the remembrance of God"), al-Hikmah ("wisdom'), and Kalamallah ("the word of God"). Another term found in the Qur'an is al-Kitab ("the book"), though it is also used in both the Qur'an and the Arabic language for other scriptures, such as the Torah and the Gospels. The term mushaf ("written work") is usually used to refer to particular manuscripts of the Qur'an but is also used in the Qur'an to identify earlier revealed books. Some Muslims believe that before the verses of the Qur'an were sent down to Muhammad, they were first transcribed onto a heavenly tablet, the archetypal book.


The first Sura of the Qur'an, Al-Fatiha, consisting of seven ayahs (verses).

The Qur'an consists of 114 chapters of varying lengths, each known as a sura. The title of each sura is derived from a name or quality discussed in the text or from the first letters or words of the sura. Muslims believe that the Prophet himself, on God's command, gave the suras their names. In general, the longer chapters appear earlier in the Qur'an, while the shorter ones appear later. As such, the arrangement is not connected to the sequence of revelation. Each chapter, with the exception of chapter nine, commences with the bismillah Al rahman Al rahimm, translated as ‘In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.” There are, however, still 114 occurrences of the basmala in the Qur'an, due to its presence in verse 27:30 as the opening of Solomon's letter to the Queen of Sheba.

Each Sura is formed from several ayahs or verses which originally means a sign or portent sent by God. The number of the ayahs (verses, or "signs") are not the same in various Suras. An individual ayah may be just few letters or several lines. The ayahs are unlike the highly refined poetry of the pre-Islamic Arabs in their content and distinctive rhymes and rhythms, being more akin to the prophetic utterances marked by inspired discontinuities found in the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. Since the beginning of Islam, the proper number of ayahs has been a controversial issue among Muslim scholars, some recognizing 6,000, some 6,204, some 6,219, and some 6,236, although the words in all cases are the same. The most popular edition of the Qur'an, which is based on the tradition of the school of Kufa, contains 6,236 ayahs. The numbering system found in English renderings is largely a Western convention. The numbering also varies from translation to translation, making sometimes makes it difficult to source references.

There is a crosscutting division into 30 parts, juz's, each containing two units called hizbs, each of which in turn is divided into four parts (rub 'al-ahzabs). These divisions facilitate the reading of the Qur'an over periods of different lengths. The Qur'an is also divided into seven stations, or manazils, for reciting the whole text during one week.

The text of the Qur'an seems outwardly to have no beginning, middle, or end; its nonlinear structure is like that of a web or a net. Some critics have also commented on the arrangement of the Qur'anic text with accusations of lack of continuity, absence of any chronological or thematic order, and presence of repetition.[6]

This is in the main because the Qur’an was originally an oral (spoken) and an aural (heard) text. Muslims refer to passages that relate to particular occasions, or questions rather than sit down to read the whole text, although it is recited as a whole. Tradition believes that there is merit in hearing the Qur’an, regardless as to whether hearers make an effort to follow the meaning of every passage heard.

Literary structure

The Quran's message is conveyed through the use of a variety of literary structures and devices. In its original Arabic idiom, the individual components of the text—surahs and ayat—employ phonetic and thematic structures that assist the audience's efforts to recall the message of the text. There is consensus amongst Arab scholars to use the Quran as a standard by which other Arabic literature should be measured. Muslims point out (in accordance with the Quran itself) that the Quranic content and style is inimitable.

The early passages of the Qur'an carefully maintain the rhymed form, like the oracles. Technically, this is not poetry but rhymed prose. Muhammad disliked the poets, and rejected the accusation that he imitated them, or that he was a poet.[7] Some later portions also preserve this form but also in a style where the movement is calm and the style expository. Michael Sells, citing the work of the critic Norman O. Brown, acknowledges Brown's observation that the seeming "disorganization" of Qur'anic literary expression—its "scattered or fragmented mode of composition," in Sells' phrase—is in fact a literary device capable of delivering "profound effects—as if the intensity of the prophetic message were shattering the vehicle of human language in which it was being communicated."[8] Sells also addresses the much-discussed "repetitiveness" of the Qur'an, seeing this, too, as a literary device.

The values presented in the very early Meccan revelations are repeated throughout the hymnic Suras. There is a sense of directness, of intimacy, as if the hearer were being asked repeatedly a simple question: what will be of value at the end of a human life? [9]

Content and Theology

Traditionally, chapters are identified as having been revealed to Muhammad at Mecca (between 610 and 622) and at Madinah (between 622 and 632), although it is generally acknowledged that some chapters contain material from both periods. Generally, Meccan chapters are shorter and are usually towards the end (the back of English renderings). As ordered, with the exception of the opening chapter, they are arranged from larger to smaller in terms of length, although this is not a strict rule. Al-Fatiha, the opening chapter is the most widely read and recited of all (part of ritual prayer) and may have been placed first because it has been described as the "essence" of the Qur'an.[10] The content of the Qur’an ranges from legal prescriptions to condemnation of idolatry, through criticism of immoral and irreligious behavior- peoples’ refusal to follow Muhammad - to devotional and mystical passages of profound beauty. Among the latter, Surah 25: 25:

And Allah is the Light

Of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light Is like a Niche And within this is a lamp Enclosed in Glass. The Glass is like a brilliant star Lit from a blessed tree ……….. [11]

In sharp contrast to how many non-Muslims have characterized the Qur'an, as a jumbled, confused "book of war" that sanctions the oppression of women and inhumane punishments, for Muslims it is a book that is cherished, a book of comfort, consolation and guidance "in which there is no doubt" (Q2: 2). Several passages refer to the Qur'an as a "plain book" that is easy to understand (see Q.44: 48; 54: 17 for example). Although religious scholars as a class have often tried to serve as gatekeepers of the book, controlling interpretation the book has always been have always regarded as God's gift not only to Muslims but to all humanity.

Although the Qur’an is the primary source of Islamic Law, there are relatively few legal verses. According to Saeed, as few as 80 verses have a direct legal bearing, which was why from an early period the caliph and the wider community had to rely on “interpretation and extension of the Qur’anic guidance,” often using Ijma' (consensus) as well as analogy (qiyas). For example, the Qur’an’s prohibition of consuming date-wine was, by analogy, extended to all intoxicants.[12] Muslims debated the meaning of such verses as those that refer to God as hearing, seeing or as sitting on a throne, which appear to ascribe God a human form, as opposed to verses that prohibit comparison. While some took such verses literally, most regarded them as allegorical. Sufi Muslims especially but also some Shi’a speak of the inner meaning of verses, which take believers’ to a deeper spiritual level than do their literal meanings.

Regarding the Qur’an as God’s speech, which must – like all of God’s attributes and qualities - have existed from all eternity, some Muslims argued for the Qur’an’s uncreat-ness. Others, such as the Mutazalites rejected this, arguing that this produced two eternal entities, God and God’s Book, compromising the Oneness of God.


Ninth century Qur'an

The Qur'an did not exist as a single volume between two covers at the time of Muhammad's death in 632. According to Sahih al-Bukhari, at the direction of the first Muslim caliph Abu Bakr this task fell to the scribe Zayd ibn Thabit, who gathered the Quranic materials, which consisted of pieces of parchment, leaf-stalks of date-palms, scapula, and also consulting with all known hafiz. Copies were made, and as Islam expanded beyond the Arabian peninsula into Persia, India, Russia, China, Turkey, and across North Africa, the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, in about 650 ordered a standardized version to be prepared to preserve the sanctity of the text and to establish a definitive spelling for all time. This remains the authoritative text of the Qur'an to this day.[13] Other versions were destroyed by order of the caliph.

Muslims hold that the wording of the Qur'anic text available today corresponds exactly to that revealed to Muhammad himself: as the words of God, said to be delivered to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. The Qur'ān is not only considered by Muslims to be a guide but also as a sign of the prophethood of Muhammad and the truth of the religion. Muslims argue that it is not possible for a human to produce a book like the Qur'an, as the Qur'ān states:

"And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides God, if your (doubts) are true. But if ye cannot- and of a surety ye cannot- then fear the Fire whose fuel is men and stones,- which is prepared for those who reject Faith.[14]

Literary usage

Eleventh century North African Qur'an in the British Museum

In addition to and largely independent of the division into surahs (degrees, or steps), there are various ways of dividing the Qur'ān into parts of approximately equal length for convenience in reading, recitation and memorization. The Qur'ān is divided into 30 ajza' (parts). The 30 parts can be used to work through the entire Qur'an in a week or a month. Some of these parts are known by names and these names are the first few words by which the Juz starts. A juz' is sometimes further divided into two ahzab (groups), and each hizb is in turn subdivided into four quarters. A different structure is provided by the ruku'at (sing. Raka'ah), semantical units resembling paragraphs and comprising roughly ten ayat each. Some also divide the Qur'ān into seven manazil (stations).


The very word Qur'ān means "recitation," though there is little instruction in the Qur'an itself as to how it is to be recited. The main principle it does outline is: rattil il-Qur'ana tartilan ("repeat the recitation in a collected distinct way"). Tajwid is the term for techniques of recitation, and assessed in terms of how accessible the recitation is to those intent on concentrating on the words.

To perform salat (prayer), a mandatory obligation in Islam, a Muslim is required to learn at least some suras of the Qur'ān (typically starting with the first sura, al-Fatiha, known as the "seven oft-repeated verses," and then moving on to the shorter ones at the end). Until one has learned al-Fatiha, a Muslim can only say phrases like "praise be to God" during the salat. ayahg A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur'ān is called a qari' (قَارٍئ) or hafiz (or in the case of a female Hafaz) (which translate as "reciter" or "protector," respectively). Muhammad is regarded as the first qari' since he was the first to recite it. Recitation (tilawa تلاوة) of the Qur'ān is a fine art in the Muslim world. It is especially auspicious to recite the whole of the Qur'an during Ramadan.

Schools of recitation

Page of a thirteenth century Qur'an, showing Sura 33: 73

There are several schools of Qur'anic recitation, all of which are possible pronunciations of the Uthmanic rasm: Seven reliable, three permissible and (at least) four uncanonical - in eight sub-traditions each - making for 80 recitation variants altogether.[15] For a recitation to be canonical it must conform to three conditions:

  1. It must match the rasm, letter for letter.
  2. It must conform with the syntactic rules of the Arabic language.
  3. It must have a continuous isnad to Muhammad through tawatur, meaning that it has to be related by a large group of people to another down the isnad chain.

These recitations differ in the vocalization (tashkil تشكيل) of a few words, which in turn gives a complementary meaning to the word in question according to the rules of Arabic grammar. For example, the vocalization of a verb can change its active and passive voice. It can also change its stem formation, implying intensity for example. Vowels may be elongated or shortened, and glottal stops (hamzas) may be added or dropped, according to the respective rules of the particular recitation. For example, the name of archangel Gabriel is pronounced differently in different recitations: Jibrīl, Jabrīl, Jibra'īl, and Jibra'il. The name "Qur'ān" is pronounced without the glottal stop (as "Qurān") in one recitation, and prophet Abraham's name is pronounced Ibrāhām in another.

The more widely used narrations are those of Hafs (حفص عن عاصم), Warsh (ورش عن نافع), Qaloon (قالون عن نافع) and Al-Duri according to Abu `Amr (الدوري عن أبي عمرو). Muslims firmly believe that all canonical recitations were recited by the Muhammad himself, citing the respective isnad chain of narration, and accept them as valid for worshipping and as a reference for rules of Sharia. The uncanonical recitations are called "explanatory" for their role in giving a different perspective for a given verse or ayah. Today several dozen persons hold the title "Memorizer of the Ten Recitations." This is considered to be a great accomplishment among the followers of Islam.

The presence of these different recitations is attributed to many hadith. Malik Ibn Anas has reported:[16]

Abd al-Rahman Ibn Abd al-Qari narrated: "Umar Ibn Khattab said before me: I heard Hisham Ibn Hakim Ibn Hizam reading Surah Furqan in a different way from the one I used to read it, and the Prophet (sws) himself had read out this surah to me. Consequently, as soon as I heard him, I wanted to get hold of him. However, I gave him respite until he had finished the prayer. Then I got hold of his cloak and dragged him to the Prophet (sws). I said to him: "I have heard this person [Hisham Ibn Hakim Ibn Hizam] reading Surah Furqan in a different way from the one you had read it out to me." The Prophet (sws) said: "Leave him alone [O 'Umar]." Then he said to Hisham: "Read [it]." [Umar said:] "He read it out in the same way as he had done before me." [At this,] the Prophet (sws) said: "It was revealed thus." Then the Prophet (sws) asked me to read it out. So I read it out. [At this], he said: "It was revealed thus; this Qur'ān has been revealed in Seven Ahruf. You can read it in any of them you find easy from among them.

Suyuti, a famous fifteenth century Islamic theologian, writes after interpreting above hadith in 40 different ways:[17]

And to me the best opinion in this regard is that of the people who say that this Hadith is from among matters of mutashabihat, the meaning of which cannot be understood.

The issue of variant readings is controversial and not all Muslims accept their existence.

Writing and printing

Page from a Qur'ān ('Umar-i Aqta'). Iran, present-day Afghanistan, Timurid dynasty, circa 1400. Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper Muqaqqaq script. 170 x 109cm (66 15/16 x 42 15/16in.) Historical Region: Uzbekistan.

Most Muslims today use printed editions of the Qur'ān. There are many editions, large and small, elaborate or plain, expensive or inexpensive. Bilingual forms with the Arabic on one side and a gloss into a more familiar language on the other are very popular.

Qur'āns are produced in many different sizes, from extremely large Qur'āns for display purposes, to extremely small Qur'āns.

Qur'āns were first printed from carved wooden blocks, one block per page. There are existing specimen of pages and blocks dating from the tenth century. Mass-produced less expensive versions of the Qur'an were later produced by lithography, a technique for printing illustrations. Qur'ans so printed could reproduce the fine calligraphy of hand-made versions.

The oldest surviving Qur'ān for which movable type was used was printed in Venice in 1537/1538. It seems to have been prepared for sale in the Ottoman Empire. Catherine the Great of Russia sponsored a printing of the Qur'ān in 1787. This was followed by editions from Kazan (1828), Persia (1833) and Istanbul (1877).

It is extremely difficult to render the full Qur'ān, with all the points, in computer code, such as Unicode. The Internet Sacred Text Archive makes computer files of the Qur'ān freely available both as images[18] and in a temporary Unicode version.[19] Various designers and software firms have attempted to develop computer fonts that can adequately render the Qur'ān.

Before printing was widely adopted, the Qur'ān was transmitted by copyists and calligraphers. Since Muslim tradition felt that directly portraying sacred figures and events might lead to idolatry, it was considered wrong to decorate the Qur'ān with pictures (as was often done for Christian texts, for example). Muslims instead lavished love and care upon the sacred text itself. Arabic is written in many scripts, some of which are both complex and beautiful. Arabic calligraphy is a highly honored art, much like Chinese calligraphy. Muslims also decorated their Qur'āns with abstract figures (arabesques), colored inks, and gold leaf. Pages from some of these antique Qur'āns are displayed throughout this article.

Some Muslims believe that it is not only acceptable, but commendable to decorate everyday objects with Qur'anic verses, as daily reminders. Other Muslims feel that this is a misuse of Qur'anic verses, because those who handle these objects will not have cleansed themselves properly and may use them without respect.


Translation of the Quran has always been a problematic and difficult issue. Since Muslims revere the Qur'an as miraculous and inimitable (i'jaz al-Qur'an), they argue that the Qur'anic text can not be reproduced in another language or form. Furthermore, an Arabic word may have a range of meanings depending on the context, making an accurate translation even more difficult.

Nevertheless, the Qur'ān has been translated into most African, Asian and European languages. The first translator of the Qur'ān was Salman the Persian, who translated Fatihah in Persian during the seventh century.[20] Islamic tradition holds that translations were made for Emperor Negus of Abyssinia and Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, as both received letters by Muhammad containing verses from the Qur'an.[21] In the early centuries the permissibility of translations were not an issue, but whether one could use translations in prayer.

In 1936, translations in 102 languages were known.[21]

Robert of Ketton was the first person to translate the Qur'ān into a Western language, Latin, in 1143. Alexander Ross offered the first English version in 1649. In 1734, George Sale produced the first scholarly translation of the Qur'ān into English; another was produced by Richard Bell in 1937, and yet another by Arthur John Arberry in 1955. All these translators were non-Muslims. There have been numerous translations by Muslims; the most popular of these are the translations by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al Hilali, Maulana Muhammad Ali, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, M. H. Shakir, Muhammad Asad, and Marmaduke PickthallAhmed Raza Khan.

The English translators have sometimes favored archaic English words and constructions over their more modern or conventional equivalents; thus, for example, two widely-read translators, A. Yusuf Ali and M. Marmaduke Pickthall, use the plural and singular "ye" and "thou" instead of the more common "you." Another common stylistic decision has been to refrain from translating "Allah"—in Arabic, literally, "The God"—into the common English word "God." These choices may differ in more recent translations.


The Qur'ān has sparked a huge body of commentary and explication, known as Tafsir.

Tafsir is one of the earliest academic activities of Muslims. According to the Qur'an, Muhammad was the first person who described the meanings of verses for early Muslims. Other early exegetes included a few Companions of Muhammad, like Ali ibn Abi Talib, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abdullah ibn Umar and Ubayy ibn Kab. Exegesis in those days was confined to the explanation of literary aspects of the verse, the background of its revelation and, occasionally, interpretation of one verse with the help of the other. If the verse was about a historical event, then sometimes a few traditions (hadith) of Muhammad were narrated to make its meaning clear. Tafsir followed a traditional format and generally referred to the opinions of earlier scholars, although such men as Ibn Taymiyyah, Sayyed Qutb and Osama bin Laden by-pass conventional forms and put more stress on “intra-qur’anic interpretation and that which can be grounded in the statements of the Prophet and his closest companions.”[22]

Because Qur'ān is spoken in the classical form of Arabic, many of the later converts to Islam, who happened to be mostly non-Arabs, did not always understand the Qur'ānic Arabic, they did not catch allusions that were clear to early Muslims fluent in Arabic and they were concerned with reconciling apparent conflict of themes in the Qur'an. Commentators erudite in Arabic explained the allusions, and perhaps most importantly, explained which Qur'anic verses had been revealed early in Muhammad's prophetic career, as being appropriate to the very earliest Muslim community, and which had been revealed later, canceling out or "abrogating" (nāsikh) the earlier text. Memories of the occasions of revelation (asbāb al-nuzūl), the circumstances under which Muhammad spoke as he did, were also collected, as they were believed to explain some apparent obscurities. On the other hand, too much attention to the context of revelation risks suggesting that context caused the content, as Esack comments, “The reasons for this range from a fear of compromising the ontological otherness of the qur’an to an acknowledgement of the corruption of much of the Hadith literature.” [23] Although the concept of abrogation does exist in the Qur'ān (see Q2: 106), Muslims differ in their interpretations of the word "Abrogation." Some believe that there are abrogations in the text of the Qur'ān and some insist that there are no contradictions or unclear passages to explain. Muslim scholars do discuss the grammar of the Qur’an but there has been some reluctance to apply linguistic analysis, on the basis that no one can enter God’s mind, “The Qur’an and its language came to be viewed as equally timeless and independent of any ‘non-divine’ elements,” existing in a sense outside of human history, says Esack.[24] It can not properly, in this view, be compared with other texts, since all other texts have human authors apart from earlier scriptures, whose reliability many Muslims questions. Some Muslims are reluctant to use the word “text” of the Qur’an.

Relationship with other literature

The Torah and the Bible

Did you know?
Many of the stories in Jewish and Christian scriptures (Tanakh, Bible) are retold in the Qur'ān

The Qur'ān retells stories of many of the people and events recounted in Jewish and Christian sacred books (Tanakh, Bible) and devotional literature (Apocrypha, Midrash), although it differs in many details. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Heber, Shelah, Abraham, Lot, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Jethro, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Aaron, Moses, Ezra, Zechariah, Jesus, and John the Baptist are mentioned in the Qur'an as prophets of God. Muslims believe the common elements or resemblances between the Bible and other Jewish and Christian writings and Islamic dispensations is due to the common divine source, and that the Christian or Jewish texts were authentic divine revelations given to prophets. According to the Qur'ān:

It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong).

Muslims believe that those texts were neglected, corrupted (tahrif) or altered in time by the Jews and Christians and have been replaced by God's final and perfect revelation, which is the Qur'ān.[25] However, many Jews and Christians believe that the historical biblical archaeological record refutes this assertion, because the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Tanakh and other Jewish writings which predate the origin of the Qur'an) have been fully translated,[26] validating the authenticity of the Greek Septuagint.

Influence of Christian apocrypha‎

The Diatessaron, Protoevangelium of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Arabic Infancy Gospel are all alleged to have been sources that the author/authors drew on when creating the Qur'ān by those who reject the Muslim view of divine authorship. Jesus’ creating a bird from clay (Q2: 49) is attributed to a similar story in the Arabic Infancy Gospel, for example. These parallels were explored extensively by such critical scholars as William St-Clair Tisadall.[27] Early Christian critics attributed the Qur’an to Arian and Nestorian monks with whom Muhammad had contact, a criticism alluded to in the Qur’an itself, “We know indeed they say it is a man that teaches him” but that man is “notably foreign, while this Quran is Arabic, pure and clear” (Q16: 103). Islam was characterized as a concoction of previous materials created by Muhammad to further his own agenda. However this is strongly refuted by Muslim scholars, who maintain that Quran is the divine word of God without any interpolation, and similarities exist only due to their sharing the same divine source.

Arab writing

After the Qur'an, and the general rise of Islam, the Arabic alphabet developed rapidly into a beautiful and complex form of art.

Wadad Kadi, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at University of Chicago and Mustansir Mir, Professor of Islamic studies at Youngstown State University state that:

Although Arabic, as a language and a literary tradition, was quite well developed by the time of Muhammad's prophetic activity, it was only after the emergence of Islam, with its founding scripture in Arabic, that the language reached its utmost capacity of expression, and the literature its highest point of complexity and sophistication. Indeed, it probably is no exaggeration to say that the Qur'an was one of the most conspicuous forces in the making of classical and post-classical Arabic literature.

The main areas in which the Qur'an exerted noticeable influence on Arabic literature are diction and themes; other areas are related to the literary aspects of the Qur'an particularly oaths (q.v.), metaphors, motifs, and symbols. As far as diction is concerned, one could say that Qur'anic words, idioms, and expressions, especially "loaded" and formulaic phrases, appear in practically all genres of literature and in such abundance that it is simply impossible to compile a full record of them. For not only did the Qur'an create an entirely new linguistic corpus to express its message, it also endowed old, pre-Islamic words with new meanings and it is these meanings that took root in the language and subsequently in the literature….[28]

Quranic Initials

Fourteen different Arabic letters, form 14 different sets of “Quranic Initials” (the "Muqatta'at," such as A.L.M. of 2:1), and prefix 29 suras in the Qur'an. The meaning and interpretation of these initials is considered unknown to most Muslims. In 1974, an Egyptian biochemist named Rashad Khalifa claimed to have discovered a mathematical code based on the number 19,[29] which is mentioned in Sura 74:30 of the Qur'an.

In culture

Most Muslims treat paper copies of the Qur'an with veneration, ritually washing before reading the Qur'an. Worn out, torn, or errant (for example, pages out of order) Qur'ans are not discarded as wastepaper, but rather are left free to flow in a river, kept somewhere safe, burnt, or buried in a remote location. Many Muslims memorize at least some portion of the Qur'an in the original Arabic, usually at least the verses needed to perform the prayers.

Based on tradition and a literal interpretation of sura 56:77-79: "That this is indeed a Qur'ān Most Honourable, In a Book well-guarded, Which none shall touch but those who are clean.", many scholars opine that a Muslim perform wudu (ablution or a ritual cleansing with water) before touching a copy of the Qur'ān, or mushaf. This view has been contended by other scholars on the fact that, according to Arabic linguistic rules, this verse alludes to a fact and does not comprise an order. The literal translation thus reads as "That (this) is indeed a noble Qur'ān, In a Book kept hidden, Which none toucheth save the purified," (translated by Mohamed Marmaduke Pickthall). It is suggested based on this translation that performing ablution is not required.

Qur'an desecration means insulting the Qur'ān by defiling or dismembering it. Muslims must always treat the book with reverence, and are forbidden, for instance, to pulp, recycle, or simply discard worn-out copies of the text. Respect for the written text of the Qur'ān is an important element of religious faith by many Muslims. They believe that intentionally insulting the Qur'ān is a form of blasphemy.


The Qur'an's teachings on matters of war and peace have become topics of heated discussion in recent years. Some critics allege that some verses of the Qur'an in their historical and literary context sanction military action against unbelievers as a whole both during the lifetime of Muhammad and after.[30] In response to this criticism, some Muslims argue that such verses of the Qur'an are taken out of context, and argue that when the verses are read in context it clearly appears that the Qur'an prohibits aggression.[31] Khaleel Muhammad, professor of religious studies at San Diego State University, stated, regarding his discussion with the critic Robert Spencer, that "when I am told … that Jihad only means war or that I have to accept interpretations of the Qur'an that non-Muslims (with no good intentions or knowledge of Islam) seek to force upon me, I see a certain agendum developing: one that is based on hate, and I refuse to be part of such an intellectual crime."[32]

Some critics reject the Muslim belief regarding the divine origin of the Qur'an. Here the work of Patricia Crone, Michael Cook and John Wansbrough, who regard the Qur’an as a later composition and who reject the traditional chronology of Muhammad’s life and account of the Uthmanic recension, has broken what has been called the scholarly consensus on the origins of Islam, “the earlier consensus of scholarly opinion on the origins of Islam has, since the publication of John Wansbrough’s Quranic Studies and Patricia Crone and Michel Cook’s Hagarism, been shattered,” says Neuwirth.[33] Most Muslims reject this scholarship but a few have engaged in serious discussion, even though they reject most of the arguments. For example, referring to the above scholars, writes of the need for “any person trying to understand the Qur’an and approaches to it, to also be introduced to the array of opinions surrounding it in a non-polemical manner.”[34] Esack does question whether the compilation of the official canon was as neat and clinical a process as described in the classical accounts, and whether there was such a clear distinction between the different types of material associated with Muhammad, that is, revealed material and his own sayings. These are generally considered to be distinct from "revelation" (although sometimes described as unrehearsed revelation), the product of inspiration and of the Prophetic office.[35]

Christian scholars of Islam such as Kenneth Cragg and W. M. Watt have expressed the opinion that the Qur'an is a revelation from God, although they think that it must also be understood as in some sense also Muhammad's word. Esack speaks approvingly of their engagement with the Qur'an and says that their "irenic approach to the study of the Qur'an seemingly seeks to compensate for past 'scholarly injuries' inflicted upon Muslims."[36]


  1. Classically, Abu Hanifa (d. 767) founder of the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence allowed non-Arabic speakers to recite the Qur'an in any language, arguing that what is essential is the "meaning," not the language.
  2. see Q17: 106 and 25: 32.
  3. Qur'an 75:17.
  4. Qur'an 20:2; 25:32.
  5. Qur'an 7:204.
  6. Typical among critical comments, al-Kindy, who wrote ca. 830 C.E., can be cited, “histories are jumbled together and intermingled; an evidence that many different hands have been at work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they liked or disliked.” Sir William Muir, The Apology of Al-Kindy (London: SPCK, 1882), 18-19. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  7. See Q26: 224-227, and 36: 69.
  8. Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an: Early Revelations (Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 2001, ISBN 9781883991692), 15; and Norman O. Brown, "The Apocalypse of Islam." Social Text 3:8 (1983-1984).
  9. Sells, 16.
  10. 'Abdullah Yusug Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publication, 2002, ISBN 0915957329), 14.
  11. translated from the Arabic by Clinton Bennett.
  12. Abdullah Saeed, Interpreting the Qur’an: Towards a contemporary approach (London: Routledge, 2006, ISBN 0415365384), 65.
  13. Michael Cook, A Very Short Introduction to the Qur'an (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 9780192853448), 117-124.
  14. Q 2: 23.
  15. Navid Kermani, Das ästhetische Erleben des Koran (Munich: Beck, 1999, ISBN 978-3406467387).
  16. Malik Ibn Anas, Muwatta, vol. 1. (Egypt: Dar Ahya al-Turath, n.d.), 201, (no. 473).
  17. Suyuti, Tanwir al-Hawalik 2nd ed. (Beirut: Dar al-Jayl, 1993), 199.
  18. A. Yusuf Ali, (translator), The Holy Qur'an Sacred Texts. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  19. Unicode Qur'an Sacred Texts. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  20. An-Nawawi, Al-Majmu', (Cairo, Matbacat at-'Tadamun, n.d.), 380.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Afnan Fatani, "Translation and the Qur’an" in Oliver Leaman, The Qur’an: an Encyclopedia (London: Routledge, 2006), 657–669.
  22. Jane Damen McAuliffe, “The tasks and traditions of interpretation,” 181-210, in Jane Damen McAuliffe, Quranic Christians: An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, ISBN 0521364701), 200.
  23. Farid Esack, The Qur’an: A User’s Guide (Oxford: Oneworld, 2005, ISBN 1851683542), 125.
  24. Esack, 68.
  25. Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984, ISBN 0691008078), 69.
  26. Martin G. Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich (trans.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002, ISBN 0060600640).
  27. William St Clair Tisdall, The Original Sources of the Quran (London: SPCK, 1905).
  28. Wadad Kadi and Mustansir Mir, "Literature and the Qur'an," in Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, edited by Jane D. McAuliffe, (Leiden: E. J Brill, 2001-2006, ISBN 9789004114654, vol. 3), 213, 216.
  29. Rashad Khalifa, Quran: Visual Presentation of the Miracle (Islamic Productions International, 1982, ISBN 0934894302).
  30. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2005, ISBN 0895260131). Spencer argues that over 100 verses in the Qur’an extort Muslims to make war on non-Muslims.
  31. Akbar S. Ahmed, Islam Under Siege (Cambridge: Polity, 2003, ISBN 0745622097), 10.
  32. Khaleel Mohammed, Important Note Religious Studies Department, San Diego State University. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  33. Angelika Neuwirth, “Structural, linguistic and literary features,” 97-114, in Jane D. McAuliffe, The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 052153934X), 100.
  34. Esack, 10.
  35. Esack, 88-89, 115, "How did the prophet," he asks, "always distinguish between rehearsed Qur'anic revelation and non-rehearsed revelations which were to become manifest in his behavior or in his own sayings," given that the "heart" which was penetrated by the Qur'an was "located on his unique person, which, in turn, was located in sixth century Arabia."
  36. Esack, 7. Esack says that he has found Cragg's work "inspiring." See for example Kenneth Cragg, Readings in the Qurʻan (Sussex Academic Press, 1999, ISBN 978-1902210315).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Abegg, Martin G., Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich (trans.). The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. ISBN 0060600640
  • Ahmed, Akbar S. Islam Under Siege. Cambridge: Polity, 2003. ISBN 0745622097
  • al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Jarir. Jami' al-bayān `an ta'wil al-Qur'ān. Cairo: 1955-1969, transl. J. Cooper. The Commentary on the Qur'an. Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0199201420
  • Ali, 'Abdullah Yusug. The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an. Beltsville, MD: Amana Publication, 2002. ISBN 0915957329
  • Cook, Michael. A Very Short Introduction to the Qur'an. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 9780192853448
  • Cook, Patricia, and Michael Cook. Hagarism The Making of the Islamic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. ISBN 9780521211338
  • Cragg, Kenneth. Readings in the Qurʻan. Sussex Academic Press, 1999. ISBN 978-1902210315
  • Esack, Farid. The Qur’an: A User’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld, 2005. ISBN 1851683542
  • Kermani, Navid. Das ästhetische Erleben des Koran. Munich: Beck, 1999. ISBN 978-3406467387 (in German) (tr: God Is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of the Koran)
  • Khalifa, Rashad. Quran: Visual Presentation of the Miracle. Islamic Productions International, 1982. ISBN 0934894302
  • Leaman, Oliver. The Qur’an: an Encyclopedia. London: Routledge, 2006. ISBN 978-0415775298
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. ISBN 0691008078
  • Luxenberg, Christoph. The Syro-Aramaic Reading Of The Koran: a contribution to the decoding of the language of the Qur'an. Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler, 2007. ISBN 3899300882
  • McAuliffe, Jane Damen. Quranic Christians: An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN 0521364701
  • Robinson, Neal. Discovering the Qur'an. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2002. ISBN 1589010248
  • Saeed, Abdullah. Interpreting the Qur’an: Towards a contemporary approach. London: Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0415365384
  • Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qur’an: Early Revelations. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 2001. ISBN 9781883991692
  • Spencer, Robert. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0895260131
  • Stowasser, Barbara Freyer. Women in the Qur'an, Traditions, and Interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition, 1996. ISBN 0195111486
  • Tisdall, William St Clair. The Original Sources of the Quran. London: SPCK, 1905
  • Wansbrough, John. Quranic Studies. (original 1977) republished Amherst, NY: Prometheous (edited by Andrew Rippin), 2005. ISBN 1591022010
  • Watt, W. M., and R. Bell. Introduction to the Qur'an. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001. ISBN 0748605975

External links

All links retrieved January 24, 2023.


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