What is the Quran?
The Quran is the sacred book of the Muslims which is held in extraordinary esteem by the followers of Muhammad. It is written in Arabic which is, for many people difficult to understand. Among the many titles which it is given are: Quran al-Majad (The Glorious Quran); Al-Quran ash-Sharif (The Noble Quran); Furqan (Distinquisher).
The Quran itself boasts that there is nothing compared to it.
- “This Quran is not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and a fuller explanation of the Book wherein there is no doubt from the Lord of the worlds” (Yunus 10:37)
- “Say: “If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Quran, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.” (Al-Isra 17:88)
It is written in poetic style. Every chapter other than the ninth, which some say forms part of the eighth, commences with the words “In the Name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate.”
What does the word Quran mean?
According to some authorities the Quran means ‘the collected things’ however, many others say that the word Quran is derived from the Arabic word Qara which means “to read” or “to recite.” The first chapter of the Quran said to be revealed was Sura Al-Alaq 95 and this commences with the Arabic word Qara.
- “Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created. Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood:Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,He Who taught (the use of) the pen, Taught man that which he knew not (v 1-5).
To whom was the Quran revealed?
The Quran was revealed to Muhammad:
- “But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to Muhammad – for it is the Truth from their Lord” (Muhammad 47:2)
By whom was the Quran revealed?
It was revealed to Muhammad by Gabriel whom he claimed was the Holy Spirit:
- “And lo! it is a revelation of the Lord of the worlds, Which the true spirit hath brought down Upon thy heart, that thou mayst be (one) of the warners” (Ash-Shuara 26:192)
The ‘true spirit’ or ‘faithful spirit’ is believed to be the Angel Gabriel.
Allah is remote, so He reveals himself not at a personal level but through a prophet (rasul). Allah communicates behind a veil only through his messengers.
- “It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by the sending of a messenger to reveal, with Allah’s permission, what Allah wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise” (Ash-Shura 42:51)
In which language was the Quran revealed?
The Quran was originally revealed in Arabic, the alleged language of heaven:
- “We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran, in order that ye may learn wisdom” (Yusuf 12.2).
- “Had We sent this as a Quran other than Arabic, they would have said: “Why are not its verses explained in detail? What! (a book) not in Arabic and a messenger an Arab?” Say: “It is a guide and a healing to those who believe; and for those who believe not, there is a deafness in their ears, and it is blindness in their (eyes): They are (as it were) being called from a place far distant!” (Ash-Shuara 26:44)
Many Muslims believe that the Old and New Testaments were revelations delivered to men in the form of ideas which inspired prophets gave forth after clothing them in human language. Not so the Quran. Orthodox Muslims believe that every word of the Quran is in the category of “Allah has said” and consequently they rate the Christian Scriptures much lower because they are not cast in this same mould of inspiration.
What is the basic message of the Quran?
The basic teaching of monotheism overshadows everything else in the Quran. Allah alone is God. He has no partners. He created man to do his will, and called him to turn away from idolatry. Man is able to perform Allah’s will and is called to submit to Him. (‘Islam’ by definition means submission). The Unity of Allah is expressed most clearly in Sura Al-Ikhlas 112:
- “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him”
Muslims believe there is great value and reward attached to reading this sura, Repeating this portion of the Quran is reckoned to be equal to reciting a third of the Quran. According to the Traditions (Mishkat u’l-Masabih Book 8), the person who repeats, two hundred times every day, the declaration of God’s Unity (Sura 112) will have his faults of fifty years blotted out, unless he is in debt.
What is the origin of the Quran?
Most Muslims believe the Quran is eternal and uncreated. The very words which are now found between the two covers of the Quran were said to be inscribed on the ‘Preserved Table’ (Lauh Mahfuz) which was kept in the highest heaven.
- “This is a Glorious Quran, (inscribed) in a Tablet Preserved!” (Al Buruj 85:21,22)
The whole collection of these writings were said to be brought down from its place near God’s throne in the month of Ramadan. Muslims refer to this event as Lailat al-Qadir, literally the night of majesty, grandeur or power. This night is said to be better than a thousand months. It was then revealed “piecemeal” as occasion required to Muhammad.
- “(It is) a Qur’an which We have divided (into parts from time to time), in order that thou mightest recite it to men at intervals: We have revealed it by stages” (Al-Isra 17:106).
How does the Quran differ in length from the Bible?
Why do some chapters refer to Mecca or Medina at the beginning?
Muhammad claimed that he received his revelations in Mecca and Medina. It is said that 86 suras were revealed to Muhammad while he was in Mecca and the remaining 28 were revealed to him while he was in Medina. The rules and regulations that were revealed during these times are absolutes for all ages and all people.
What is significant about the Meccan suras?
These chapters were written during Muhammad’s early days when he had a controversy with the people who lived in Mecca because they worshipped idols as well as Allah. He denounced their idolatry and threatened them with the tortures of hell if they refused to believe.
In some of these suras Allah reassures and encourages those who have believed but are being oppressed for their faith. There are graphic accounts of the Paradise that awaits them in suras 78 An-Naba’ and 56 Al-Waqiah. Some suras deal with Muhammad’s rebuttals against those who charge him of fabricating his revelations, and doubting the divine inspiration of the Quran (suras 77 Al-Mursalat and 25 Al-Furqan :5-6). In these Meccan suras Muhammad identifies himself with the former prophets, particularly to show how they also were treated with scorn and accused of imposture (Surah 26 Ash-Shua’ra’).
What is significant about the Medinan suras?
They are much longer than the Meccan suras and therefore cover more than one third of the Quran. There were also mixed suras where Medinan suras were incorporated into the earlier Meccan suras.
The Medina suras are different in character and may not inaptly be termed the legal section of the Quran. Muhammad was obliged to deal with questions of social life, domestic details and matters of peace and war. Therefore, stress is laid on the laws which are to guide the daily lives of Muslims. The commands of Muhammad, the practical administrator of the affairs of the new Muslim state, now replace the burning eloquence of the preacher.
Muhammad’s conflict with the Jews is also marked in this section of the Quran. In Mecca his controversy was with the Meccans and his tone towards the Jews had been friendly but now things were different. Strained relations continued with the Meccans and led to the sanction of fighting.
In Mecca, Muhammad had stressed that he was a plain “warner” but in Medina he demands that, special deference be shown to him as Allah’s Apostle.
How is the Quran divided up?
The verses of the Quran are built into 114 chapters which are called suras. The suras can be compared to being like a row or series, such as a line of bricks arranged in a wall.
Tell me more about these suras (chapters)?
The Quran is very badly edited and is not arranged chronologically but generally by length, the longest chapters coming first. The biggest exception is the first sura which is called The Fatiha.
Why do some of the sura (chapter) headings have such strange titles?
The suras are named after a word that is found in the text of the chapter.
a) Some suras in the Quran are called after animals or insects. For example:
Sura 2 is called in Arabic Al Baqarrah which means ‘The Cow’/ Sura 6 is called Al-An’am which means ‘The Cattle’/ Sura 16, An-Nahl means ‘The Bee.’
Sura Al-Naml means The ‘Ant’/ Sura 29 Al-Ankabut refers to ‘The Spider’ and Sura 105 Al-Fil concerns ‘The Elephant.’
b) Some chapters are called after objects of Nature.
Sura 13 ‘Al-R’ad’ which means ‘ The Thunder’/ Sura 53 Al-Najm is ‘The Star’/ Sura 54, Al-Qamar is ‘The Moon’
Sura 85, Al-Buruj is ‘The Mansion of the Stars’and Sura 91, Al-Shams is ‘The Sun’
c) Some chapters refer to times of the day.
Sura 89, Al-Fajr is ‘The Dawn’/ Sura 92, Al-Layl is ‘The Night’/ Sura 93, Al Duha is ‘The Morning Hours’
Sura 103, Al-Asr is ‘The Declining Day’ and Sura 13, Al Falaq is ‘The Day Break.’
d) Some just refer to various objects which are found in the chapter
Sura 18 Al-Kahf is ‘The Cave’/ Sura 44, Al-Dukhan is ‘The Smoke’/ Sura 52 Al- Tur is ‘The Mount’/ Sura 57,Al-Hadid is ‘The Iron’/ Sura 68 Al-Qalam is ‘The Pen’
Sura 95 Al-Tin is ‘The Fig’ and Sura 96 Al-’Alaq is ‘The Clot;’
Lastly, some of the suras are catchwords which occur at the beginning of the suras. This type of naming of chapters is frequent in suras 73 to 110. For example sura 75 is called Al- Qiyama (The Resurrection), and reference to this is found in verse 1 ‘ I do call to witness the Resurrection Day’ and sura 90 is called Al-Balad (The City) with the first verse stating ‘I do call to witness this City.’
Why do some chapter titles have words that seem to make no sense?
There are some chapters with very unusually headings these are: Sura 20 which is called ‘Taha’/ Sura 36 – ‘ Yasin’/ Sura 38 – ‘Sad’/ Sura 50 – ‘Qaf and Sura 68 – ‘Nun.’
These are known as mystic letters, some Muslims claim they know the meaning, others say there is no meaning, but that they are merely chapters indicating a letter. Others like Yusuf Ali states that “These letters are one of the miracles of the Quran, and none but Allah knows their meaning.”
Why does the first verse of some suras begin with certain letter names from the Arabic alphabet?
We find that the first verse of six suras commences with the Arabic letters Alif Lam Mim these are found in Suras 2 Al-Baqarah; 3 Al-Imran; 29 Al-’Ankabut; 30 Ar-Rum; 31 Luqman and 32 As-Sajdah. Muhammad never explained the reason for this, therefore their meanings are disputed.
Why is there no chronological sequence in the arrangement of the Quran?
One of the reasons why Westerners find reading the Quran so difficult is because there is no chronology. The reader expects to find in it a beginning which naturally leads to a suitable conclusion. Such a person who has this expectation, if only from a literary point of view, will soon put the Quran down in disappointment. Some may feel that the adage of the Scottish scholar Thomas Carlyle is still appropriate, ‘It is a toilsome reading as I ever undertook, a wearisome, confused jumble – nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European through the Quran.’
No chronological record of the sequence of passages was kept by Muhammad himself or his companions. When they first began to collect the actual suras into one volume no thought was given as to theme, order of deliverance or chronological sequence. As time went on Muhammad used to say: “Put this passage in the sura in which so-and-so is mentioned”, or “Put it in such-and-such a place”. So passages were added to other passages previously collected together until each of these became a distinct sura.
When was the Quran written down?
Memorisation of the text was the foremost method of recording the Quran. However, as the Quran developed Muhammad’s immediate companions took portions of it down in writing as well as committing passages to memory. There is evidence that even during Muhammad’s early days in Mecca portions of the Quran had been written down because a famous Muslim, Umar was converted when he saw and heard his sister reading a portion of the Quran. Nevertheless, it appears that right up to the end of Muhammad’s life the practice of memorisation predominated over the reduction of the Quran to writing and was regarded as more important. There are no records as to exactly how much of the Quran was reduced to writing during the lifetime of Muhammad. There is certainly no evidence to suggest that anyone had actually compiled the whole text of the Quran into a single manuscript, whether directly under Muhammad’s express authority or otherwise.
How was the Quran collected?
When Muhammad died his revelations were widely scattered in the memories of men and in writing on various different materials. All these different parts of the Quran now needed to be collected into one single volume. The person given this responsibility was Zaid Ibn Thabit who realised that to collect the Quran into a single unit was going to be a difficult undertaking. He did not rely on his own memory but made an extensive search for the text from all the various sources.
How was the Quran written down?
The earliest traditions of Islam make it quite clear that the search was widespread and Zaid found portions of the Quran written on such materials as the shoulder-blades of animals, parchments, and pieces of leather. Portions of the Quran scattered among a number of companions may have been lost and we also know that portions of the Quran were irretrievably lost in the Battle of Yamama when many of the companions of Muhammad who had memorised the text had perished. These portions had not been written down and were lost forever. The Quran therefore was not divinely preserved, to the last dot and letter, without loss or variation.
What style is the Quran written in?
Muhammad in order to distinguish himself from the poets of the day, and the contemporary soothsayers adapted a form of speech known as saj, or rhymed prose. That is, there were rhymed endings to prose clauses and sentences which were regarded as a beautiful literary style. The early Quranic Suras have a distinct rhythmical cadence.
How is the Quran recited?
The Quran is a recitation or a work to be recited. By reciting the alleged very words of Allah Muslims are being instructed in the divine revelation and are also expressing worship due to Allah. The Quran is recited in sonorous, long-drawn-out tones by a practised reader whose whole being is thrown into the effort of reproducing the words of Allah. These recitations are undoubtedly impressive even to outsiders, and on the faithful the effect is electrifying.
Is there any skill needed to be learnt in order to recite the Quran?
The recitation of the Quran is governed by the science of tajwid (lit -‘the adornment of recitation’ a striving for excellence; this full and balanced pronunciation gives respect to the Quran. The art of reciting the Quran gives each consonant its full articulation value in respect of movement of the tongue, pauses and punctuation, emphasis, intonation, softness, speed. Its object is that no mistake should be made in the recitation of the divine words. The science also includes the responses, and prayers to be said at the close of the appointed passages.
At what age do children begin to recite the Quran?
Muslim children at the of age 4-5 learn to read and write the whole Quran. Those who achieve this feat of committing to memory the whole book are called hafiz. It is the highest ambition of countless Muslim children and an accomplishment which brings much merit.
Does the original Quran exist today?
Muslims often claim that the original codex of Uthman, or one of the copies prepared under his personal supervision still exists. They say one codex, the Samarkand Codex, is preserved in the Soviet State Library at Tashkent in Uzbekistan while the other, the Topkapi Codex, can be foundin a museum in Istanbul. For various technical reasons neither of these codices can seriously be regarded as original and yet Muslim sentiment is so strong that both of them are said to be not only Uthmanic originals, but even the actual codex which Uthman was reading when he was murdered! Each one has verifiable bloodstains of the Caliph at the time he was asassinated!