Saturday, May 12, 2012

Allah (God Allmighty)'s Word i.e. The Quran's Linguistic Challenge (Part2)

Allah (God Allmighty)'s Word i.e. The Quran's Linguistic Challenge (Part2)

God's Testimony: The Inimitability & Divine Authorship of the Quran

The inimitability and Divine authorship of the Qur’an 
(for Non-Arabs or non-experts of the Arabic language)
By Hamza Andreas Tzortzis
Most of what we know is based on the say so of others. This holds true for facts that we would never deny. For many of us these truths include the existence of Amazonian Indian tribes, photosynthesis, ultraviolet radiation, and bacteria. Let me elaborate further by using your mother as an example. How would you prove to me – a perfect stranger – that your mother did in fact give birth to you? As bizarre as this question sounds, it will help clarify a very important yet underrated source of knowledge. Some might say “my mother told me so”, “I have a birth certificate”, “my father told me, he was there”, or “I have checked my mother’s hospital records”. These responses are not unfounded, however they are based on the statements of other people. Sceptical minds may not be satisfied. They may try and salvage an empirical basis for their conviction by using the ‘DNA card’ or by referring to video footage. The conviction that your mother is who she says she is, isn’t based on a DNA home test kit. The reality is that most of us have not taken a DNA test. It is also not based on video footage as you still have to rely on the say so of others to claim that the baby is actually you. So how and why are we so sure? This, admittedly quirky example, brings to light an important source of knowledge, testimony.

Many of our beliefs are based on a form of reasoning which begins with a collection of data, facts or assertions, and then seeks the best explanation for them. Let’s welcome your mother back briefly again. She is heavily pregnant with you inside her womb and the due date was last week. Suddenly, her waters break and she starts having contractions so your father and the relevant medical staff safely assume that she’s started labour. Another example, some years on, your mother notices an open packet of biscuits and crumbs around your mouth and on your clothes. She infers that it was you who opened the packet and helped yourself to some biscuits. In both examples, the conclusions are not necessarily true or indisputable, but they are the best explanations considering all of the facts available. This thinking process is known as inference to the best explanation.
So why have I introduced the above scenarios? Because using the concepts and principles from these examples, this essay will put forward the case that the Qur’an is an inimitable expression of the Arabic language, and that its inimitability is best explained by God. What is meant by inimitability is that no one has been able to produce or emulate the Quran’s linguistic and literary features. This can include- but is not limited to- its unique literary form and genre, in the context  of sustained eloquence. Though this assertion seems quite disconnected to what I have elaborated on so far, consider the following outline:
The Qur’an was revealed in Arabia to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the 7th century. This period was known as an era of literary and linguistic perfection. The 7th century Arabs were socialised into being a people who were the best at expressing themselves in their native tongue. They would celebrate when a poet rose amongst them and all they knew was poetry. They would start with poetry and end in poetry. The cultivation of poetic skills and linguistic mastery was everything for them. It was their oxygen and life blood; they could not live or function without the perfection of their linguistic abilities. However, when the Qur’an was recited to them they lost their breath, they were dumbfounded, incapacitated, and stunned by the silence of their greatest experts. They could not produce anything like the Qur’anic discourse. It got worse. The Qur’an challenged these linguists par excellence to imitate its unique literary and linguistic features. They failed. So they resorted to boycott, war, murder, torture and a campaign of misinformation. In fact, throughout the centuries there have been experts who have acquired the tools to challenge the Qur’an and they too have testified that the Qur’an is inimitable, and appreciate why the best linguists have failed.
How can a Non-Arab or non-expert of the Arabic language appreciate the inimitability of the Qur’an? Enter now the role of testimony. The above assertions are based on an established written and oral testimonial transmission of knowledge from past and present scholars of the Arabic language. If this is true, and the best people placed to challenge the Qur’an failed to imitate the Divine discourse, then who was the author? This is where testimony stops, and where the use of inference begins. In order to understand the inference to the best explanation, the possible rationalisations of the Qur’an’s inimitable nature must be analysed. These include that it was authored by an Arab, a Non-Arab, Muhammad ﷺ  or God. Considering all of the facts that will be discussed in this essay, it is implausible that the Qur’an’s inimitability can be explained by attributing it to an Arab, a Non-Arab or Muhammad ﷺ . For that reason, God is the inference to the best explanation.
The main assumptions in the above introduction is that testimony is a valid source of knowledge and inference is a suitable and rational method of thinking to form conclusions about reality. This essay will introduce the epistemology of testimony, and elaborate on the use of testimonial transmission in a way that is rational. It will highlight the effective use of inferring to the best explanation, and apply both concepts to the Qur’an’s inimitability. This essay will conclude that God is the best explanation for the fact that no one has been able to imitate the Divine book. This will be achieved without the reader requiring any knowledge or expertise of the Arabic language.
To postulate God as the best explanation for the inimitability of the Qur’an may assume His existence. This may be the case, however, it is not the scope of this essay to attempt to prove The Divine. There is a wide range of literature available that has already provided good reasons for His existence. Nevertheless, the point can be made that a previous conviction in God is not necessary, this will be discussed at the end of this essay.
The Epistemology of Testimony
What is testimony?
Epistemology comes from the Greek words ἐπιστήμη (epistimi) which means knowledge and understanding, and λόγος (logos) meaning ‘the study of’. Epistemology therefore refers to the study of knowledge and belief. Its concerns are focused on answering the following questions: what are the conditions of knowledge? What are the sources of knowledge? How is knowledge justified? What makes a proposition or set of beliefs true?
Testimony is a branch of epistemology “concerned with how we acquire knowledge and justified belief from the say-so of other people”[1]. Therefore, one of the key questions it tries to answer is how do we gain “knowledge on the basis of what other people tell us.”[2]? Assistant Professor Benjamin McMyler provides a summary of testimonial knowledge,
“Here are a few things that I know. I know that the copperhead is the most common venomous snake in the greater Houston area. I know that Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo. I know that, as I write, the average price for gasoline in the U.S is $4.10 per gallon…All of these things I know on the basis of what epistemologists call testimony, on the basis of being told of them by another person or group of persons.”[3]
McMyler’s summary seems quite intuitive and highlights why we claim knowledge solely based on testimonial transmission. The world being a sphere is a striking example. The belief that the world is a sphere is – for most of us – not based on mathematics or science. It is purely centred on testimony. Your initial reactions may entail the following statements “I have seen pictures”, “I have read it in science books”, “All my teachers told me”, “I can go on the highest mountain peak and observe the curvature of the Earth”, and so on. However, upon intellectual scrutiny, all of our answers fall under testimonial knowledge. Seeing pictures or images is testimonial because you have to accept the say so of the authority or person who said it is an image of the world. Reading and learning this fact from science textbooks is also due to testimonial transmission, as you have to accept what the authors say as true. This also applies when referring to your teachers. Attempting to empirically justify your current conviction by standing on the highest peak, is still based on testimony. Many of us have never done such a thing, and therefore assuming that it will provide us evidence for the roundness of the Earth is based ultimately on the say so of others. Even if you have, it does not in any way prove the roundness of the Earth. Standing on a peak will only indicate that the Earth has some form of curvature – and not a complete sphere. In summary, for the majority of us, the fact that the world is round is not based on anything else apart from testimony.
So far the discussion about testimony undeniably brings to light its indispensable nature. Knowledge is impossible without it. Professor of Epistemology C. A. J. Coady summarises the points made so far, and lists some of the things that are solely accepted on the basis of testimonial transmission, “…many of us have never seen a baby born, nor have most of us examined the circulation of the blood nor the actual geography of the world nor any fair sample of the laws of the land, nor have we made the observations that lie behind our knowledge that the lights in the sky are heavenly bodies immensely distant…”[4]
The significance of testimonial knowledge needs no further discussion. However, there are some very important questions epistemologists are trying to answer in this field. These include, “When and how does testimony yield evidence?”, “Is testimonial knowledge based on other sources of knowledge?” Or “Is testimony fundamental?” Although it is not the scope of this essay to solve or elaborate on all the issues in this area of epistemology, it will summarise some of the discussions to further substantiate the fact that testimony is a valid source of knowledge.
A Note on Eyewitness Testimony
The discussion so far refers to the testimonial transmission of knowledge, and not the recollection of what was witnessed during an event or a crime. The existing material concerning eyewitness testimony is vast, and this essay does not intend to discuss the conclusions and implications of such studies and research. However, given that there is an academic concern over eyewitness testimony with regards to its reliability, it should not be conflated with the testimonial transmission of knowledge. These are distinct and separate areas. Eyewitness testimony may suffer due to our imperfect short-term memories and the psychological influences and constraints on recalling the sequence of a particular event. The testimony of knowledge, ideas or concepts, does not suffer from such issues because the acquisition of knowledge is usually as a result of repetition, a relatively longer duration, internalisation and study.
This point leads to a slight but useful diversion; David Hume’s treatise on miracles. Hume argued that the only evidence we have for miracles is eyewitness testimony. He concluded that we should only believe in miracles if the probability of the eyewitnesses to be mistaken, is greater than the probability of the miracle to occur.[5]
Notwithstanding the concerns over single eyewitness reports, eyewitness testimony can be taken seriously in the context of multiple witnessing (which is related to the concept of mutawatir in Islamic studies). If there exists a large (or large enough) number of independent witnesses, who transmitted the testimony via varying chains of transmission, and many of these witnesses never met each other, then to reject that report would be bordering the absurd. Even Hume himself recognized the power of this type of eye witness report,
“I beg the limitations here made may be remarked, when I say, that a miracle can never be proved, so as to be the foundation of a system of religion. For I own, that otherwise, there may possibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind as to admit of proof from human testimony; though, perhaps, it will be impossible to find any such in all the records of history. Thus, suppose, all authors, in all languages, agree, that, from the first of January 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight days: suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event is still strong and lively among the people: that all travellers, who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same tradition, without the least variation or contradiction: it is evident, that our present philosophers, instead of doubting the fact, ought to receive it as certain…”[6]
On a final note, Hume’s argument against miracles has been dealt with quite extensively by the Professor of History and Philosophy of Science John Earman. Professor Earman’s book Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles dismantles Hume’s scepticism. The following passage from Earman’s work is hoped to encourage reading on the topic,
“In “Of Miracles,” Hume pretends to stand on philosophical high ground, hurling down thunderbolts against miracle stories. The thunderbolts are supposed to issue from general principles about inductive inference and the credibility of eyewitness testimony. But when these principles are made explicit and examined under the lens of Bayesianism, they are found to be either vapid, specious, or at variance with actual scientific practice.”[7]
The focus of this essay is on the testimonial transmission of knowledge and not events or eyewitness reports – the conceptual distinctions between the two are obvious. However, it has been mentioned here to remind the reader that there is a distinction between the two types of testimony.
Is Testimony Fundamental?
The previous examples on testimonial transmission expose our epistemic dependence on the say so of others. This reminds me of a public discussion I had with the outspoken atheist, Professor Lawrence Krauss. I highlighted the fact that observations were not the only source of knowledge and therefore wanted to expose his empirical presupposition. I raised the issue of testimony and asked him if he believed in evolution. He replied that he did, and so I asked him if he had done all the experiments himself. He obviously replied in the negative.[8] This uncovered a serious issue in his – and by extension, many of our – assumptions about why we believe in what we believe. Most of our beliefs are based on the say so of others and it does not make it empirical just because it is couched in scientific language.
Until relatively recently, testimony was neglected as an area of in-depth study. This academic silence came to an end with various studies and publications, most notable was Professor Coady’s Testimony: A Philosophical Discussion. Coady argues for the validity and significance of testimony, and attacks David Hume’s reductionist account of testimonial transmission.  Thereductionist thesis asserts that testimony is justified via other sources of knowledge such as perception, memory and induction. In other words, testimony on its own has no warrant and must be justified a posteriori, meaning knowledge based on experience. Coady’s account for testimony is fundamental; he asserts that testimonial knowledge is justified without appealing to other sources of knowledge like observation. This account of testimony is known as the anti-reductionist thesis. Coady contends the reductionist thesis by attacking Hume’s approach. Hume is seen as the main proponent of the reductionist thesis due to his essay On Miracles which is the tenth chapter of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume’s reductionist approach does not entail that he denies testimonial knowledge, he actually highlights its importance: “We may observe, that there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life, than that which is derived from the testimony of men…”[9] Hume argues that our trust in testimony is based on a conformity between testimonial knowledge and experience. This is where Coady seeks to dismantle the basis of Hume’s approach. His criticism is not limited to the following argument, but elaborating on it here demonstrates the strength of his overall contentions.
Coady argues that Hume’s appeal to collective observation exposes a vicious circle. Hume claims that testimony can only be justified if the knowledge that someone is testifying to, is in agreement with observed facts. However, what Hume implies by observed facts is not personal observation but rather collective experience, and Coady argues that we cannot always rely on personal observed generalisations. This is where the vicious circle is exposed; we can only know what others have observed based upon their say so, in other words, their testimony. Relying on one’s own direct observations would not suffice, as that knowledge would be limited and unqualified to justify anything – or at least very little. Therefore, the reductionist thesis is flawed. Its claim that testimony must be justified via other sources of knowledge, such as observation, actually assumes that which it tries to deny; the fundamental nature of testimony. The key reason that affirms this point, is that in order to know what our collective observations are, you must rely on other people’s testimony as we have not observed them ourselves.
Relying on Experts
The modern scientific progress we all are proud of, could never have happened without trusting an authority’s claim to experimental data. Take Evolution as an example. If Richard Dawkins’s belief in Evolution required that he must perform all of the experiments himself, and to personally observe all of the empirical data, he could never be so bold in claiming its truth. Even if he could repeat some of the observations and experiments himself, he would still have to rely on the say so of other scientists. This area of study is so vast that to verify everything ourselves would be impossible, and to maintain such a claim would make scientific progress unattainable.
The previous example raises an important question, “What if the testimonial transmission of knowledge is based on the say so of an expert of which you had no previous knowledge?” The fact is that we are not all experts and thus must, at times, accept the testimony of others. University lecturer in philosophy Dr. Elizabeth Fricker, elaborates,
“But that there are some occasions on which it is rational deferentially to accept another’s testimony, and irrational to refuse to do so, is entailed by her background knowledge of her own cognitive and physical nature and limitations, together with her appreciation of how other people are both like and in other respects unlike herself, hence on some occasions better epistemically placed regarding some matter than she is herself. I may rationally regret that I cannot fly, or go for a week without sleep without any loss of performance, or find out for myself everything which I would like to know. But given my cognitive and physical limitations as parametric, there is no room for rational regret about my extended but canny trust in the word of others, and enormous epistemic and consequent other riches to be gained from it.”[10]
This is where the concept of trust enters into the discussion on testimonial transmission. To accept the word of others based on their authority on a particular subject requires us to not only trust them, but to be trustworthy in our assessments of their trustworthiness.
Discussions about the nature and validity of testimony have moved on from the reductionist and anti-reductionist paradigms. Professor of Philosophy Keith Lehrer argues that the justification for testimony is neither of the two approaches. Lehrer’s argument rests on trust. He argues that testimony leads to the acquisition of knowledge under “some circumstances but not all circumstances.”[11] He maintains that testimony is in “itself a source of evidence when the informant is trustworthy in the testimony. The testimony in itself does not constitute evidence otherwise.”[12] The person who testifies does not need to be “infallible to be trustworthy”[13] but “the person testifying to the truth of what she says must be trustworthy in what she accepts and what she conveys.”[14] Lehrer admits that trustworthiness is not sufficient for the conversion of the say so of others into knowledge, and that the person’s trustworthiness must be successfully truth-connected and that we must be trustworthy and reliable in our assessment.[15] The truth-connectedness of a testimonial transmission can include background information on a topic, the testimonies of others on a particular field of knowledge, including personal and collective experiences.
He claims that in order for us to be trustworthy about the way we evaluate and assess the trustworthiness of others, we need to refer to previous experiences in our assessments and whether we were accurate or mistaken. However, when we learn that the testimony of a person is not trustworthy, it is usually due to relying on the testimony of others about that person.[16]This may expose a vicious circle, because to assess the testimony of others, other testimonies are relied upon. Lehrer asserts this is more of a “virtuous loop”.[17] How is this the case? The Professor provides two answers,
“First, any complete theory of justification or trustworthiness will have to explain why we are justified or trustworthy in accepting the theory itself. So the theory must apply to itself to explain why we are justified or trustworthy in accepting it. Secondly, and equally important, our trustworthiness at any given time must result from what we have accepted in the past, including what we have accepted from the testimony of others. The result is that there is a kind of mutual support between the particular things we have accepted and our general trustworthiness in what we accept, including, of course, the particular things we have accepted. It is the mutual support among the things that we accept that results in the trustworthiness of what we accept.”[18]
The Right of Deferral
Lehrer’s discussion on trustworthiness raises the question of how we can establish trust to rely on the authority or the say so of others. Assistant Professor Benjamin McMyler develops an interesting argument that aids in answering this question. McMyler argues that the epistemological problem of testimony can be “recast as a problem of explaining the epistemic right of deferral.”[19] McMyler argues that if an audience is entitled to defer challenges back to the speaker, it provides a new way in framing the problem of testimony. This requires that both parties acknowledge a responsibility,
“If a speaker does not genuinely assume partial responsibility for an audience’s testimonial belief by making her assertion an instance of testimony, then the audience cannot acquire properly testimonial knowledge. Equally, however, if the audience does not properly accept the speaker’s assumption of responsibility of being disposed to defer relevant challenges to the content of her testimonial belief back to the testimonial speaker, then the audience cannot acquire genuine testimonial knowledge.”[20]
Trustworthiness can be built by exercising this right to defer challenges back to the speaker (or writer). If coherent answers to these challenges are given, this can potentially increase trust.  The following example explains this point. A professor of linguistics claims that the Qur’an is inimitable, and elaborates on its eloquence, unique literary form and genre. The audience takes responsibility and challenges the professor. The challenge is in the form of questions, these include, “Can you gives us more examples from the Qur’an?”, “What have other authorities said about the Qur’an’s genre?”, “How can you explain the views of academics who disagree with you?”, and “Given the historical background information on the Qur’an, in what way does it support your assertion?” The professor provides coherent answers to the questions, and gradually builds trust.
To conclude this section, testimony is a necessary source of knowledge. Without testimonial transmission we could not have had the scientific progress characteristic of our era, many of our established claims to knowledge would be reduced to a sceptic’s musings, and we would not be justified in easily dismissing the flat-earther’s false assertions. For testimony to turn into knowledge we must be trustworthy in our assessments of the trustworthiness of others and take responsibility in deferring challenges back to the one testifying. We must also ensure that there is some truth connected to their claims, which can include other testimonies or background information.
Inference to the Best Explanation
Inference to the best explanation is a common and invaluable way of thinking. It involves trying to coherently and adequately explain a particular set of data and/or background knowledge that we hold. For example, when we are asked by our doctor on how we are feeling, we present her with the following symptoms; nasal stuffiness or drainage, sore or itchy throat, sneezing, hoarseness, coughing, watery eyes, fever, headache, body aches, and fatigue. Based on this information the doctor attempts to best explain why we are unwell. Coupled with her background knowledge accumulated via her medical education, she concludes that the above symptoms are best explained by the common cold. Professor of History and Philosophy Peter Lipton similarly explains the practical and indispensable role of inference,
“The doctor infers that his patient has measles, since this is the best explanation of the evidence before him. The astronomer infers the existence of motion of Neptune, since that is the best explanation of the observed perturbations of Uranus…According to the Inference to the Best Explanation, our inferential practices are governed by explanatory considerations. Given our data and our background beliefs, we infer what would, if true, provide the best of the competing explanations we can generate of those data…”[21]
Like with most things, we can have competing explanations for the data we have at our disposal. What filters these explanations is not only their plausibility, but the availability of other pieces of data that could help us discriminate between them. Lipton explains,
“We begin by considering plausible candidate explanations, and then try to find data that discriminate between them…An inference may be defeated when someone suggests a better alternative explanation, even though the evidence does not change.”[22]
The accessibility to additional data is not the only differentiator to assess which of the competing explanations is the most cogent. The best explanation is one that is the simplest. Simplicity however, is just the beginning, as there must be a careful balance between simplicity and comprehensiveness. Comprehensiveness entails that an explanation must have explanatory power and scope. This involves that the explanation accounts for all of the data, including disparate or unique observations. Another criterion to assess the comprehensiveness of an explanation includes, explaining data or observations that were previously unknown, unexpected or inexplicable. An important principle in assessing the best explanation is that it is most likely to be true, compared to competing explanations, given our background knowledge. The academic philosopher at Princeton University, Gilbert H. Harman asserts that when alternative explanations exist one “must be able to reject all such alternative hypotheses before one is warranted in making the inference. Thus one infers, from the premise that a given hypothesis would provide a “better” explanation for the evidence than would any other hypothesis, to the conclusion that the given hypothesis is true.”[23]
Inference to the best explanation supports non-negotiable axioms or self-evident truths that form the basis of realism. In other words, the belief that our world is real. Therefore, denying the value inference to the best explanation could undermine the basis of science, which assumes that our world is real and “not just a dream or that we are not just brains in vats”[24]. This support for realism explains the power of inference to the best explanation, as the majority of us who believe the world is real “may argue that we are entitled to believe in the external world since hypotheses that presuppose it, provide the best explanation of our experiences.”[25]Hence, to deny this thinking process could make the most basic and necessary assumptions about the real world redundant, or at least open to excessive, unnecessary and impractical questioning.
Formulating an Argument
The discussion thus far has brought to light the essential nature of testimonial transmission and the use of inference to the best explanation. In order to articulate a coherent argument for the Qur’an’s Divine authorship, the testimonial transmission concerning its inimitability must be established with the necessary background information. Since there are competing testimonies concerning the Qur’an’s inimitability, the background information must be presented to rationally justify the testimony in favour of the Qur’an’s uniqueness. This information includes the fact that the Qur’an presents a linguistic and literary challenge, that the 7th century Arabs achieved mastery at expressing themselves in the Arabic language, and their failure to imitate the Qur’an. Once this is established, adopting the testimony in favour of the inimitability of the Qur’an would be the rational choice, as it provides the basis to accept them. The testimonies that disagree with the Qur’an’s uniqueness are reduced to absurdity, as they deny that which has been established (to be explained later). Once the testimonial transmission is adopted, the competing explanations for the Qur’an’s inimitability must be assessed in order to make an inference to the best explanation; the Qur’an was produced either by an Arab, a Non-Arab, Muhammad ﷺ  or God. A summary of the argument is as follows:
1. The Qur’an presents a literary and linguistic challenge to humanity.
2. The 7th century Arabs were best placed to challenge the Qur’an.
3. The 7th century Arabs failed.
4. Scholars have testified to the Qur’an’s inimitability.
5. Counter scholarly testimonies are not plausible as they have to reject the established background information.
6. The possible explanations for the Qur’an’s inimitability are an Arab, a Non-Arab, Muhammad ﷺ  or God.
7. It could not have been produced by an Arab, a Non-Arab or Muhammad ﷺ .
8. Therefore, the best explanation is that it is from God.
The remaining part of this essay will elaborate on the premises above.
1. The Qur’an presents a literary and linguistic challenge to humanity
“Read in the name of your Lord”.[26] These were the first words of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ  over 1400 years ago. Muhammad ﷺ , who was known to have been in retreat and meditation in a cave outside Mecca, had received revelation of a book that would have a tremendous impact on the world we live in today. Not being known to have composed any piece of poetry and not having any special rhetorical gifts, Muhammad ﷺ  had just received the beginning of a book that would deal with matters of belief, legislation, international law, politics, ritual, spirituality, and economics in an entirely new genre and literary form.[27]
The unique literary and linguistic features of the Qur’an have been used by Muslims to articulate a number of arguments to substantiate their belief that the book is from the Divine. The inability of anyone being able to imitate the Qur’an developed into the Muslim theological doctrine of the Qur’an’s inimitability or al-’ijaz al-Qur’an. The word ‘ijaz is a verbal noun that means “miraculous” and comes from the verb ‘ajaza which means to render incapable, or to make helpless. The linguistic meaning of the term brings to light the theological doctrine that the Arab linguistics par excellence were rendered incapable of producing anything like it. Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti the 15th century, the prolific writer and scholar, summarises this doctrine,
“…when the Prophet brought [the challenge] to them, they were the most eloquent rhetoricians so he challenged them to produce the [entire] likes [of the Qur'an] and many years passed and they were unable to do so as Allah says, Let them then produce a recitation similar to it, if indeed they are truthful. Then, [the Prophet] challenged them to produce 10 chapters like it where Allah says, Say, bring then ten chapters like it and call upon whomever you can besides God, if you are truthful. Then, he challenged them to produce a single where Allah says, Or do they say he [i.e. the Prophet] has forged it? Say, bring a chapter like it and call upon whomever you can besides God, if you are truthful…When the [Arabs] were unable to produce a single chapter like [the Qur'an] despite there being the most eloquent rhetoricians amongst them, [the Prophet] openly announced the failure and inability [to meet the challenge] and declared the inimitability of the Qur’an. Then Allah said, Say, if all of humankind and the jinn gathered together to produce the like of the Qur’an, they could not produce it – even if they helped one another…”[28]
According to classical exegetes, the various verses in the Qur’an that issue a challenge to produce a chapter like it, daringly call for the linguistic experts of any era to imitate the Qur’an’s linguistic and literary features.[29] The tools needed to meet this challenge are the finite grammatical rules, literary and linguistic devices, and the twenty eight letters that make-up the Arabic language; these are independent and objective measures available to all. The fact that it has not been matched since it was first revealed does not surprise most scholars familiar with the Arabic language and that of the Qur’an.
2. The 7th century Arabs were best placed to challenge the Qur’an
The Qur’an posed a challenge to the greatest Arabic linguists, the 7th Century Arab. The fact that these Arabs reached the peak of eloquence is affirmed by western and eastern scholarship. The scholar Taqi Usmani asserts that for the 7th century Arab “eloquence and rhetoric were their life blood.”[30] According to the 9th century biographer of the poets, al-Jumahi “verse was to the Arabs the register of all they knew, and the utmost compass of their wisdom; with it they began their affairs, and with it they ended them.”[31] The 14th century scholar Ibn Khaldun highlights the importance of poetry in Arab life, “It should be known that Arabs thought highly of poetry as a form of speech. Therefore, they made it the archives of their history, the evidence for what they considered right and wrong, and the principal basis of reference for most of their sciences and wisdom.”[32]
There was a socialisation and a highly influential social environment concerning the use of language. The literary critic and historian Ibn Rashiq illustrates this, “Whenever a poet emerged in an Arab tribe, other tribes would come to congratulate, feasts would be prepared, the women would join together on lutes as they do at weddings, and old and young men would all rejoice at the good news. The Arabs used to congratulate each other only on the birth of a child and when a poet rose among them.”[33] The 9th century scholar Ibn Qutayba defined poetry as the Arabs saw it, “the mine of knowledge of the Arabs, the book of their wisdom the truthful witness on the day of dispute, the final proof at the time of argument.”[34]
Navid Kermani, a writer and expert in Islamic studies, explains the extent the Arabs had to study  to master the Arabic language, which indicates that the 7th century Arab lived in a world that almost worshipped poetry, “Old Arabic poetry is a highly complex phenomenon. The vocabulary, grammatical idiosyncrasies and strict norms were passed down from generation to generation, and only the most gifted students fully mastered the language. A person had to study for years, sometimes even decades under a master poet before laying claim to the title of poet. Muhammad ﷺ grew up in a world which almost religiously revered poetic expression.”[35]
The 7th century Arab lived in a socio-cultural environment that had all the right conditions to facilitate the unparalleled expertise in the expression of the Arabic language.
3. The 7th century Arabs failed
In light of the above, the 7th century Arabs were best placed to challenge the Qur’an as they reached the peak of eloquence and the pinnacle of linguistic mastery. Notwithstanding their linguistic abilities they collectively failed to produce an Arabic text that matched the Qur’an’s linguistic and literary features. The linguistics expert Professor Hussein Abdul-Raof asserts, “The Arabs, at the time, had reached their linguistic peak in terms of linguistic competence and sciences, rhetoric, oratory, and poetry. No one, however, has ever been able to provide a single chapter similar to that of the Qur’an.”[36] During an interview with Angelika Neuwrith, the distinguished Professor of Qur’anic studies, she argued that the Qur’an has never been successfully challenged by anyone, past or present,
“…no one has succeeded, this is right…I really think that the Qur’an has even brought Western researchers embarrassment, who weren’t able to clarify how suddenly in an environment where there were not any appreciable written text, appeared the Qur’an with its richness of ideas and its magnificent wordings.”[37]
Labid Ibn Rabi’ah, one of the famous poets of the Seven Odes, embraced Islam due to the inimitability of the Qur’an. Once he embraced Islam he stopped composing poetry. People were surprised for “he was their most distinguished poet”.[38] They asked him why he stopped composing poetry, he replied, “What! Even after the revelation of the Qur’an?” [39]
Professor of Arabic and that of the Qur’an, E.H. Palmer argues that the assertions made by academics like the one above should not surprise us. He writes, “That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur’an itself is not surprising.”[40]
Scholar and Professor of Islamic Studies M. A. Draz, affirms how the 7th century experts were absorbed in the discourse that left them incapacitated, “In the golden age of Arab eloquence, when language reached the apogee of purity and force, and titles of honour were bestowed with solemnity on poets and orators in annual festivals, the Qur’anic word swept away all enthusiasm for poetry or prose, and caused the Seven Golden Poems hung over the doors of the Ka’ba to be taken down. All ears lent themselves to this marvel of Arabic expression.”[41]
The number of testimonial transmissions from the 7th century, that affirm the Arabs inability to produce anything like the Qur’an, excludes any doubt in this context. It would be unreasonable to dismiss the fact that the Arabs were incapacitated. Similar to what was mentioned in the section on eyewitness testimony, the narratives that conclude the Arab’s failure to imitate the Qur’an has reach the status of mutawatir. There exists a large number of experts who have transmitted this knowledge via varying chains of transmission, and many of them never met each other.
4. Scholars have testified to the Qur’an’s inimitability
There have been a multitude of scholars from western, eastern, religious and non-religious backgrounds who have testified to the Qur’an’s inimitability. Below is a non-exhaustive list of the scholarship that forms the testimony that the Qur’an cannot be emulated,
~ Professor of Oriental Studies, Martin Zammit: “Notwithstanding the literary excellence of some of the long pre-Islamic poems…the Qur’an is definitely on a level of its own as the most eminent written manifestation of the Arabic language.”[42]
~ The scholar Shah Waliyyullah: “Its highest degree of eloquence, which is beyond the capacity of a human being. However, since we come after the first Arabs we are unable to reach its essence. But the measure which we know is that the employment of lucid words and sweet constructions gracefully and without affectation that we find in the Tremendous Qur’an is to be found nowhere else in any of the poetry of the earlier or later peoples.”[43]
~ Orientalist and litterateur A.J. Arberry: “In making the present attempt to improve on the performance of predecessors, and to produce something which might be accepted as echoing however faintly the sublime rhetoric of the Arabic Koran, I have been at pain to study the intricate and richly varied rhythms which – apart from the message itself – constitutes the Koran’s undeniable claim to rank amongst the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind.”
~ Scholar Taqi Usmani: “None of them was able to compose even a few sentences to match the Qurānic verses. Just think that they were a people who according to ‘Allāmah Jurjāni, could never resist ridiculing the idea in their poetry if they heard that there was someone at the other end of the globe who prided himself on his eloquence and rhetorical speech. It is unthinkable that they could keep quiet even after such repeated challenges and dare not come forward…They had left no stone unturned for persecuting the Prophet ﷺ. They tortured him, called him insane, sorcerer, poet and sooth-sayer, but failed utterly in composing even a few sentences like the Qurānic verses.”[44]
~ Al-Isfahani: “Know that the inimitability of the Qur’an… is concerned either with its eloquence, its rhetorical devices, or its sense.”[45]
~ Imam Fakhr al-Din: “It is inimitable because of its eloquence, its unique style, and because it is free of error.”[46]
~ al-Zamlakani: “Its word structures for instance, are in perfect harmony with their corresponding scales, and the meaning of its phraseology is unsurpassed, such that every linguistic category is unsurpassed in the case of every single word and phrase.”[47]
Professor Bruce Lawrence: “As tangible signs, Qur’anic verse are expressive of an inexhaustible truth, they signify meaning layered with meaning, light upon light, miracle after miracle.”[48]
~ The highly acclaimed Professor and Arabist Hamilton Gibb: “Like all Arabs they were connoisseurs of language and rhetoric. Well, then if the Koran were his own composition other men could rival it. Let them produce ten verses like it. If they could not (and it is obvious that they could not), then let them accept the Koran as an outstanding evidential miracle.”[49]
The above confirmations of the inimitability of the Qur’an are a small sample from the innumerable testimonies available to us.
Testifying to the Qur’an’s inimitability does not imply accepting its Divinity
A valid contention concerning academic testimonies on the Qur’an’s inimitability, is the fact that if these scholars agree that the Qur’an cannot be imitated, then why have they not concluded it is a Divine text? The problem with this contention is that it conflates testifying to the Qur’an’s inimitability with inference to the best explanation. The argument I am presenting in this essay does not conclude the Divinity of the Qur’an from the statements of scholars. Rather, it is the best explanation to elucidate the inimitability of the Qur’an came from God. Whether these scholars accept the inference, or the Divinity of the Qur’an, is irrelevant. The statements of the scholars are used as evidence for the Qur’an’s inimitability and not that it is best explained by God. The argument infers from the text’s inimitability, and not from conclusions the scholars may have drawn from the fact that it cannot be imitated. It must be pointed out that these scholars may have not been presented with an argument that presents an inference to the best explanation, or, they have not reflected on the philosophical implications of the Qur’an’s inimitability. These academics may even hold non-negotiable naturalistic presuppositions that deters them from concluding anything metaphysical or outside of the physical world.
5. Counter scholarly testimonies are not plausible as they have to reject the established background information
In light of the above, the testimonial transmission concerning the inimitability of the Qur’an would be the most rational to adopt. This does not mean there is a complete consensus on the issue, or that all scholarship asserts that the Qur’an is unchallenged. There are some, although in the minority, scholarly opinions that contend with the Qur’an’s inimitability. If valid testimony doesn’t require a unanimity, why would someone accept one testimonial transmission over another?
The testimony concerning the Qur’an’s inimitability is more reasonable, due to the fact that it rests on strong background knowledge. This background knowledge is what has been discussed in premises 1, 2 and 3. These premises highlight the fact that the Qur’an presents a literary and linguistic challenge to humanity. The 7th century Arabs were best placed to challenge the Qur’an, yet these linguistic masters failed to meet this challenge.
Adopting the counter testimonies commits the fallacy of reductio ad absurdum.  The reason that these testimonies lead to absurdity, is because an explanation is required to answer why those who were best placed to challenge the Qur’an failed to do so. Possible explanations would include rejecting the validity of this established history, or claiming a greater understanding and appreciation of classical Arabic than the 7th century linguist masters. These explanations render the counter testimonies without a rational basis. Rejecting the established history would require a remaking of the history of Arabic literature. Assuming superior linguistic abilities than the 7thcentury specialists is debased by the fact that these experts had a relatively homogenous linguistic environment. These environments are areas where the purity of the language is maintained, and there is a limited amount of linguistic borrowing and degeneration. Contemporary Arab linguistic environments suffer from excessive linguistic borrowing and degeneration. Therefore, to claim superiority over a people coming from a culture that had the fertile ground for linguistic perfection, is untenable.
Notwithstanding the weakness of these contentions, when an analysis of the work of the scholars who testify against the Qur’an’s inimitability is performed, the results conclude the linguistic meagreness of this type of scholarship. An example of its inadequacy can be found in the work of the highly acclaimed German orientalist and scholar Thedor Nӧldeke. Nӧldeke was an academic critic of the linguistic and literary features of the Qur’an, and therefore obviously rejected the doctrine of the Qur’an’s inimitability. However, his criticism actually brings to light the unsubstantiated nature of such claims. For instance, Nӧldeke remarks that, “the grammatical persons change from time to time in the Qur’an in an unusual and not beautiful way(nicht schoner Weise).”[50]
The Qur’anic linguistic feature that Nӧldeke refers to is actually the effective rhetorical device known as iltifāt or grammatical shifts. This literary device enhances the texts literary expression and it is an accepted, well researched part of Arabic rhetoric.[51] One can find references in the books of Arabic rhetoric by al-Athir, Suyuti and Zarkashi.[52]
These grammatical shifts include: changes in person, change in number, change in addressee, change in tense, change in case marker, using a noun in place of a pronoun and many other changes.[53] The main functions of these shifts include the changing of emphasis, to alert the reader to a particular matter, and to enhance the style of the text.[54] Its effects include creating variation and difference in a text, to generate rhythm and flow, and to maintain the listener’s attention in a dramatic way.[55]
Chapter al-Kawthar provides another good example of the use of grammatical shifts,
“Verily, We have granted you The Abundance. Therefore turn in prayer to your Lord and sacrifice. For he who hates you, he will be cut off.”[56]
In this chapter, there is a change from the first person plural “We” to the second person “…your Lord”. This change is not an abrupt shift; it is calculated and highlights the intimate relationship between God and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. The use of “We” is used to emphasize the Majesty, Power and Ability of God. This choice of personal pronoun calls attention to, and stresses the fact, that God has the Power and Ability to grant Muhammad ﷺ “…The Abundance”. Whereas “Your Lord” has been used to indicate and emphasise intimacy, closeness and love. The word “Your Lord” has a range of meanings that imply  master, provider, and the One that cares. This is an apt use of language, as the surrounding concepts are about prayer, sacrifice and worship; “Therefore turn in prayer to your Lord and sacrifice“. Furthermore, the purpose of this chapter is also to console Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, as using such intimate language enhances the psycholinguistic effect.
Theodor Nӧldeke’s criticism of the Qur’an was not only a personal value judgement, but exposed his crude understanding of the classical Arabic language. It also confirmed his inability to reach the level of expertise that was attained by 7th century Arabs. These grammatical shifts contribute to the dynamic style of the Qur’an and are obvious stylistic features and an accepted rhetorical practice. The Qur’an uses this feature in such a way that conforms to the theme of the text while enhancing the impact of the message it conveys. It is not surprising that Professor Neal Robinson in his book Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text concludes that the grammatical shifts used in the Qur’an, “…are a very effective rhetorical device.”[57]
To conclude, counter testimonies testifying against the Qur’an’s inimitability do not hold water due to the need to explain why the best placed Arabs failed to challenge the Qur’an. Rejecting established historical narratives and assuming a superior appreciation of the classical Arabic language, renders the counter testimonials as indefensible.
6. The possible explanations for the Qur’an’s inimitability are an Arab, a Non-Arab, Muhammad ﷺ or God
To articulate the Divine origins of the Qur’an without referring to specifics about the Arabic language, the use of testimony and inference are required. What has been discussed so far is that there is a valid testimonial transmission that the Qur’an is inimitable, and that the possible explanation for its inimitability can be explained by attributing its authorship to an Arab, a Non-Arab, Muhammad ﷺ or God. However, it can be argued that there are other possible competing explanations, but we do not know what they are. This assertion commits a type of fallacy that some have called “the fallacy of the phantom option”. If there are genuine competing explanations then they must be presented on the intellectual table for discussion. Otherwise, this kind of reasoning is no different to claiming that the leaves do not fall from trees because of gravity, but due to another explanation that we do not know about.
7. It could not have been produced by an Arab, a Non-Arab or Muhammad 
An Arab?
There are a few key reasons why the Qur’an could not have come from an Arab. Firstly, they achieved unparalleled linguistic and literary mastery yet they failed to challenge the Qur’an and the leading experts of the time testified to the inimitable features of the Qur’an. One of the best linguist of the time, Walid Ibn al-Mughira, exclaimed,
“And what can I say? For I swear by Allah, there is none amongst you who knows poetry as well as I do, nor can any compete with me in composition or rhetoric – not even in the poetry of jinns! And yet, I swear by Allah, Muhammad’s speech [meaning the Qur’an] does not bear any similarity to anything I know, and I swear by Allah, the speech that he says is very sweet, and is adorned with beauty and charm.”[58]
Secondly, the Arab polytheists in the 7th century initially accused the Prophet ﷺ of being a poet. However, none of the poets came out to expose Muhammad ﷺ as being one of his teachers. This was an easier thing to do than going to war and fighting the Muslims. The very fact that Muhammad ﷺ  was successful in his message shows that he succeeded in showing the poets and linguists of the time that the Qur’an is indeed a supernatural genre. If the Qur’an was not inimitable, any poet or linguist could have come out and produced something better or similar to the Qur’anic discourse. The expert in Islamic studies Navid Kermani makes this point clear, “Obviously, the prophet succeeded in this conflict with the poets, otherwise Islam would not have spread like wildfire.”[59]
What about today’s Arab? To assert that a contemporary Arabic speaking person can emulate the Qur’an is unfounded. A few reasons substantiate this point. Firstly, the Arabs in the 7th century were better placed to challenge the Qur’an, and since they failed to do so, it would be unreasonable to assert that a linguistic impoverished modern Arab surpass the abilities of their predecessors. Secondly, modern Arabic has suffered from greater linguistic borrowing and degeneration than the classical Arabic tradition. So how can an Arab who is a product of a linguistically degenerated culture be on par with an Arab who was immersed in an environment of relative linguistic purity? Thirdly, even if a contemporary Arab learns classical Arabic, his linguistic abilities could not match someone who was immersed in a culture that mastered the language.
A Non-Arab?
The Qur’an could not have come from a Non-Arab as the language in the Qur’an is Arabic, and the knowledge of the Arabic language is a pre-requisite to successfully challenge the Qur’an. This has been addressed in the Qur’an itself,
“And indeed We know that they (polytheists and pagans) say: ‘It is only a human being who teaches him (Muhammad).’ The tongue of the man they refer to is foreign, while this is a speech Arabeeyun mubeen.”[60]
The classical exegete Ibn Kathir explains this verse to mean, “how could it be that this Qur’an with its eloquent style and perfect meanings, which is more perfect than any Book revealed to any previously sent Prophet, have been learnt from a foreigner who hardly speaks the language? No one with the slightest amount of common sense would say such a thing.”[61]
What if a Non-Arab learns the language? This would make that person an Arabic speaker and I would refer to the first possible explanation above. However, there are differences between native and non-native speakers of languages as various academic studies in applied linguistics and similar fields have concluded. For instance, in the English the language, there are differences between native and non-native speakers in reliably discriminating between literal and idiomatic speech.[62] Differences exist between English speakers with one non-native parent and those with native parents. The speakers with one non-native parent would exhibit worse linguistic performance on certain tasks then those with native parents.[63] Even in cases of non-native speakers having indistinguishable linguistic competence with native speakers, there are still subtle linguistic differences. Research conducted by Kenneth Hyltenstam and Niclas Abrahamsson Who can become native-like in a second language? All, some, or none? concluded that competent non-native speakers exhibit features that are unperceivable except under detailed and systematic linguistic analysis.[64] Therefore, to conclude that the Qur’an, with its inimitable features and it being a linguistic masterpiece, is a product of a Non-Arab, or non-native speakers, is untenable.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ ?
The Qur’an could not have been produced by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ  as he was an Arab, and all the Arabs failed to challenge the Qur’an. Also, it is pertinent to note that the Arab linguists at the time of revelation stopped accusing the Prophet ﷺ  of being the author of the Qur’an, after their initial false assertion that he became a poet.  Professor Mohar Ali writes, “It must be pointed out that the Qur’an is not considered a book of poetry by any knowledgeable person. Nor did the Prophet ever indulge in versifying. It was indeed an allegation of the unbelieving Quraysh as the initial stage of their opposition to the revelation that [ﷺ] had turned a poet; but soon enough they found their allegation beside the mark and changed their lines of criticism in view of the undeniable fact of the Prophet’s being unlettered and completely unaccustomed to the art of poetry-making, saying that he had been tutored by others, that he had got the “old-worst stories” written for him by others and read out to him in the morning and evening.”[65]
Significantly, the Prophet ﷺ  was not considered a master of the language and did not engage in the craft of poetry or rhymed prose. Therefore, to claim that he somehow managed to conjure up a literary and linguistic masterpiece is beyond the pale of rational thought. Kermani writes, “He had not studied the difficult craft of poetry, when he started reciting verses publicly…Yet Muhammad’s recitations differed from poetry and from the rhyming prose of the soothsayers, the other conventional form of inspired, metrical speech at the time.”[66]
The scholar Taqi Usmani similarly argues, “Such a proclamation was no ordinary thing. It came from a person who had never learned anything from the renowned poets and scholars of the time, had never recited even a single piece of poetry in their poetic congregations, had never attended the company of soothsayers. And far from composing any poetry himself, he did not even remember the verses of other poets.”[67]
Further to this, the established Prophetic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ  (also known as ahadith, plural; and hadith, singular) are in a distinct style to that of the Qur’an. Dr. Draz argues the difference between the Qur’anic style and the Prophet’s ﷺ ,
“When we consider the Qur’ānic style we find it the same throughout, while the Prophet’s own style is totally different. It does not run alongside the Qur’ān except like high flying birds which cannot be reached by man but which may ‘run’ alongside him. When we look at human styles we find them all of a type that remains on the surface of the earth. Some of them crawl while others run fast. But when you compare the fastest running among them to the Qur’ān you feel that they are no more than moving cars compared to planets speeding through their orbits.”[68]
The difference between styles may not have much rational force in light of poets and spoken word artists. Poets and spoken word artists maintain key stylistic differences between their normal speech and their work over a long period of time. Thus, to use this as an argument to disprove that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ authored the Qur’an is weak. Nevertheless, Draz’s conclusions are not entirely subjective. If we take his meaning for the world “style” to include use of vocabulary, word length and other features, then it can bring to light interesting academic research that affirms Draz’s conclusions. Research entitled Author discrimination between the Holy Quran and Prophet’s statements by Halim Sayoud, used a range of linguistic experiments to investigate differences between the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions found in Sahih al-Bukhari. Sayoud performed multiple studies known as global and segmental analyses, and concluded that, from a linguistic perspective, the two books he was analysing must have had different authors,
“Results of all experiments have led to two main conclusions:
(1) First, the two investigated books should have different authors;
(2) Second, all the segments that are extracted from a unique book appear to have a certain stylistic similarity.
Consequently, we can conclude, according to this investigation, that the Qur’an was not written by the Prophet Muhammad and that it belongs to a unique author too.”[69]
Some of the results that forms the basis of this conclusion include,
~ Words composed of a single letter are much more frequently used in the Qur’an than in thehadith found in Sahih Al-Bukhari.
~ The hadith found in Sahih al-Bukhari uses much shorter words than the Qur’an. The number of short words in the hadith is 62.31%, whereas, in the Qur’an, it is only 53.76%.
~  The number of long words in the Qur’an is 34.42%, whereas, in the hadith found in Sahih al-Bukhari, it is only 29.51%.
~ The Qur’an contains approximately a double number of words with nine and ten letters than the hadith. This fact shows that the Qur’an vocabulary contains more “very-long” words (very-long stands for more than eight letters) than the hadith.
~ Most importantly, 62% of the hadith words are untraceable in the Qur’an and 83% of the Qur’an words are untraceable in the hadith. This conclusion of differing vocabulary is also reinforced by the above mentioned results.
~ The above results are statistically valid.[70]
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ  experienced many trials and tribulations during the course of his Prophetic mission. For example, his children died, his beloved wife Khadija passed away, he was boycotted, his close companions were tortured and killed, he was stoned by children for hours in Taif, he engaged in military campaigns, though the Qur’an’s literary nature remains that of the Divine voice and character.[71] Nothing in the Qur’an expresses the turmoil and emotions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. It is almost a psychological and physiological impossibility to go through what the Prophet ﷺ  went through, and yet none of the emotions are expressed in the literary character of the Qur’an.
Is the Qur’an the result of Muhammad’s ﷺ  genius?
There have been some commentators and scholars who have claimed that the best explanation for the inimitability of the Qur’an is Muhammad’s ﷺ genius. Therefore, some argue that God is not the best explanation, when presented with this possibility. They maintain that Qur’an being the result of Muhammad’s ﷺ genius is a simpler and more probable explanation, than a supernatural being. Thus, according to the rules of inference, the conclusion the Qur’an was authored by Muhammad ﷺ is the best explanation.
This contention is groundless. From a literary perspective, the Qur’an is known as a work of unsurpassed excellence. However, its verses were at many times revealed for specific circumstances and events that occurred during the period of revelation. Each verse was revealed without revision or deletion, yet were compiled together to create a literary masterpiece. In this light, the explanation that the Qur’an is a result of the Muhammad’s ﷺ literary intelligence is obviously unfounded. All literary masterpieces written by geniuses have undergone revision and deletion to ensure literary perfection, yet the Qur’an was revealed instantaneously and remained unchanged.[72] An example to highlight this point is the work of the highly exclaimed poet Abu at-Tayyib Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi al-Kindi. Al-Mutanabbi was considered as the greatest of all Arab poets and an unparalleled genius. Therefore, some have made the conclusion that since his work was unparalleled, and that he was a genius, it follows the Qur’an is from a genius because it is unparalleled too. This reasoning doesn’t logically follow because Al-Mutannabi would correct his work and produce various editions until he was satisfied with his poetry.[73] This was obviously not the case with Muhammad ﷺ as he did not edit, amend, or change the Qur’an once it was revealed. This can only mean that the Qur’an was not a result of a genius, because literary genius require editions to their work.
A central argument that dismisses the assertion that the Qur’an was a consequence of the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ genius, concerns the existence of blueprints for human expressions, and the tools required to replicate them. All types of human expression – whether the result of a genius of not – can be imitated if the blueprint of that expression exists, given that the tools are available for us to use. This has been shown to be true for various human expressions, such as art, literature and even complex technology. For example, artwork can be imitated even though some art is thought to be extraordinary or amazingly unique.[74] But in the case of the Qur’an we have its blueprint – the Qur’an itself – and the tools at our disposal – the finite words and grammatical rules of the classical Arabic language. Yet no one has been able to imitate its eloquence, unique literary form and genre. To elaborate on this further consider the general consensus that Shakespeare is a literary genius. The English playwright may have been a genius but his work is available as a blueprint for others to try and emulate. Shakespeare’s sonnets are written predominantly in a frequently used meter called the iambic pentameter, a rhyme scheme in which each sonnet line consists of ten syllables. The syllables are divided into five pairs called iambs or iambic feet.[75] Since the blueprint of his work is available it is not surprising that the English Dramatist Christopher Marlowe has a similar style, and that Shakespeare has been compared to Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher and other playwrights of his time.[76]
Referring back to Al-Mutannabi, some have argued that although other poets have used the same panegyric genre and poetic metre as the great poet, they have not been able to match his level of eloquence and stylistic variance. Therefore, they conclude that Al-Mutannabi is inimitable because we have the blueprint of his work and the linguistic tools at our disposal, but cannot emulate anything like his poetic expression. This is simply not true. There have been imitations of Al-Mutanabbi’s work by the Jewish poets Moses Ibn Ezra and Solomon ibn Gabriol. Interestingly, the Andalusian poet Ibn Hani’ al-Andalusi was known as the Al-Mutanabbi of the West.[77]
A significant point to raise is that medieval Arabic poetry did not create new literary genres. This was due to the fact that it depended on previous poetic work. The academic Denis E. McAuley writes that medieval poetry largely hinged “more on literary precedent than on direct experience.”[78]
In classical Arabic poetry, it was not unusual for  a poet to attempt to match a predecessor’s poem by writing a new one in the same poetic metre, rhyme, and theme. This was considered normal practice.[79] It is not surprising that Professor of Religion Emil Homerin explored the literary expression of Ibn al-Farid, and described his work as “very original improvisations on al-Mutanabbi”.[80]
To highlight further the fact that al-Mutanabbi can be emulated, he disclosed that he borrowed work from another poet, Abu Nuwas.[81] Many medieval Arab literary critics such as Al-Sahib Ibn ‘Abbad and Abu Ali Muhammad Ibn al-Hasan al-Hatimi wrote criticisms of Al-Mutanabbi. Ibn ‘Abbad wrote al-kashf ‘an masawi’ shi’r al-Mutanabbi and Al-Hatimi wrote a biographical account of his encounter with al-Mutanabbi in is al-Risala al-Mudiha fi dhikr sariqat Abi al-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi.[82] The conclusions of these literary criticisms imply that although his work is the product of genius, they can be emulated. Al-Hatimi presents a stronger polemic against Al-Mutanabbi and argues the case that his poetry does not have a unique style, and contains errors. Professor Seeger A. Bonebakker who studied Al-Hatimi’s literary criticism of Al-Mutanabbi concludes the his “judgement is often well-founded and one almost ends up feeling that Mutanabbi was, after all, a mediocre poet who was not only lacking in originality, but also had insufficient competence in grammar, lexicography, and rhetoric, and sometimes gave evidence of incredibly bad taste.”[83]
To conclude, attributing the authorship of the Qur’an to genius, specifically Muhammad’s ﷺ genius, is unfounded. A literary genius edits, amends and improves their work. This was not the case with the Qur’an. All human expressions can be imitated if we have the blueprint and the tools at our disposal. This has been shown for literary genius such as Shakespeare and Al-Mutanabbi. Therefore, if the Qur’an was a result of Muhammad’s ﷺ genius, the Qur’an should have been imitated.
8. Therefore, the best explanation is that it is from God
Since the Qur’an could not have been produced by an Arab, a Non-Arab and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, then it follows that the best explanation is that it came from God. God provides the best explanation for the Qur’an’s inimitability because the other explanations are untenable in light of the available knowledge. A possible disagreement with this conclusion is that God is assumed to exist in order for the above inference to work, therefore it begs the question concerning the existence of the Divine. Although it will make the argument easier to appreciate, it can work without any previous conviction in the existence of the Divine, but this argument is best articulated to fellow theists.
Conversely, the point can be made that a previous conviction in God’s existence is not necessary, and that the inimitability of the Qur’an is a signpost to the existence of the Divine. If a human being (an Arab, a Non-Arab and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ) could not have produced the Qur’an – and all possible explanations have been exhausted – then who else could be the author? It must be something that has greater linguistic capacity then any known text producer. The intuitive conclusion is that the concept that describes a being that has a greater linguistic capacity than any human is the concept of God. God is indeed greater. Therefore the inimitability of the Qur’an provides a rational basis for God’s existence, or at least a signpost to the transcendent.
Similar reasoning is adopted by scientists. Take the recent discovery of the Higgs-Boson. The Higgs-Boson particle is the building block of the Higgs field. This field was switched on during the early universe to give particles mass. Before the discovery of this particle it was still accepted as the best explanation for the fact that during the early universe particles changed state, from having no mass to mass (with the exception of photons). So the Higgs-Boson particle was the best explanation for the available data even before it was empirically verified. Applying this reasoning back to the inimitability of the Qur’an, the fact that the book has unique literary and linguistic features is best explained by God. All other competing explanation fail, and God is the best explanation for the information and knowledge available to us.
Alternative Inferences
Alternative inferences could include the fact that the inimitability of the Qur’an is best explained by a higher being or that that it could have come from the devil. These alternative inferences are unlikely hence they have not been incorporated into the central argument presented in this essay. Nevertheless, addressing them here will demonstrate why they have not been included in the main discussion.
Postulating the Qur’an is from a higher being seems to be a semantic replacement for God. What is meant by “a higher being”? Is not the best explanation of a higher being, God himself? If by “a higher being” implies a greater linguistic power, capacity and ability than a human, then who can best fit that criteria than God Himself? Claiming that the Qur’an is from a higher being but a lesser one than God, does not devalue that at least one of the best explanations is God. For the sake of intellectual pedantry, even if “a higher being” and “God” are both best explanations, it still follows that one of the best explanations is that the Qur’an is from the Divine. Nonetheless, I still maintain that God is a better explanation than a higher being because of other supporting intellectual arguments. These include positive arguments for God’s existence, the absurdity of attributing to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ the characteristics of a liar, other Qur’anic arguments for its Divine authorship, and the fact that the Qur’an claims it is from the Divine.
Theistic responses to this discussion usually entertain the possibility of the devil being the author of the Qur’an. This explanation is unsustainable. The Qur’an could not have come from the devil, or some type of spirit, because the basis of their existence is the Qur’an and revelation itself. Their existence is based upon revelation and not empirical evidence. Therefore if someone claims that the source of the Qur’an is the devil, they would have to prove his existence and ultimately having to prove revelation. In the case of using the Qur’an as the revelation to establish the devil’s existence then that would already establish it as a Divine text, because to believe in the devil’s existence would presuppose the Qur’an to be Divine, and therefore this contention is self-defeating.  If however, the revelation that is referred to is the Bible, the Bible must be shown to be a valid basis to justify the belief in the devil. In light of contemporary studies into the textual integrity and historicity of the Bible this is unfeasible.[84]Further to this, a content analysis of the Qur’an would strongly indicate that the book is not the teachings of the devil, as the Qur’an rebukes him and promotes morals and ethics not in line with an evil worldview.
This essay has presented an argument for the Divine nature of the Qur’anic discourse using testimony and inference to the best explanation. The crucial and fundamental role of testimony has been highlighted, and inference to the best explanation has been shown to be a rational and valid method of thinking to form conclusions about reality. The Qu’ran’s inimitability can be established using testimony. Arabic linguists and the literary experts confirm the inimitability of the Qur’an, and their testimonial knowledge on the topic is warranted based on established background knowledge. This knowledge includes the fact that the Qur’an poses an intellectual linguistic and literary challenge to the world, that the Arab’s in the 7th century were best placed to challenge the Qur’an, and the fact that they failed to produce or imitate something like the Qur’an’s unique genre and literary form. Given that it is reasonable to accept the testimony in favour of the Qur’an’s inimitability – based on established background information – inference is then used to best explain the book’s unique linguistic an literary features. The possible explanations  include an Arab, a Non-Arab, Muhammad ﷺ or God. Since attributing this unique discourse to an Arab, a Non-Arab or Muhammad ﷺ is untenable in light of the information available to us, the best explanation is that it came from God.
To reject the conclusions made in this essay, I would argue is epistemically equivalent in rejecting the roundness of the Earth and the conclusions of qualified medical staff. The roundness of the Earth, for most of us, is ultimately based on testimonial transmission, and the conclusions of trained medical experts are based on inferences to the best explanation. A retort to this assertion may include the fact that trust in the roundness of the Earth and the medical diagnosis of experts is justified based on other knowledge we have acquired, and it does not lead to extraordinary claims such as postulating the supernatural. This contention is common. However, it presupposes a naturalistic ontology. This means that a hidden assumption behind such concerns is that all phenomena can be explained via natural and physical processes, and that the universe is a closed system. Nothing exists outside of the universe, and if something does, it does not interact with it in any way. Such daring and presumptuous worldview is unjustified and incoherent in light of modern studies on the philosophy of the mind, the development and acquisition of language, objective moral truths and cosmology.[85]
To end, if someone with an open mind and heart, without the intellectual constraints of non-negotiable assumptions about the world, has access to the argument presented in this essay, the conclusion that the Qur’an is from the Divine would be a rational conclusion to make. Nevertheless, whatever is said or written about the Qur’an will always fall short in describing and exploring its words and their meanings,
“Say, ‘If the sea were ink for [writing] the words of my Lord, the sea would be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like of it as a supplement.’”[86]


[1] Benjamin McMyler. Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p. 3.
[2] The Epistemology of Testimony. Edited by Jennifer Lackey and Ernest Sosa. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 2006, p. 2.
[3] Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p 10.
[4] C. A. J. Coady. Testimony: A Philosophical Study. Oxford University Press. 1992, p. 82.
[5]  David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Ibid, s. 91. An on-line version can be found here
[6] Ibid, s. 99.
[7] John Earman. Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles. Oxford University Press. 2000, p. 70.
[9] An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, s. 88..
[10] Elizabeth Fricker. Testimony and Epistemic Autonomy in The Epistemology of Testimony. Edited by Jennifer Lackey and Ernest Sosa. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 2006, p. 244.
[11] Keith Lehrer. Testimony and Trustworthiness in The Epistemology of Testimony. Edited by Jennifer Lackey and Ernest Sosa. Oxford University Press. 2006, p.145.
[12] Ibid, p.149.
[13] Ibid, p.150.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid, p.151.
[17] Ibid, p.156.
[18] Ibid, pp. 156-157.
[19] Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p 66.
[20] Ibid, p 69.
[21] Peter Lipton. Inference to the Best Explanation. Second Edition. Routledge. 2004, p.56.
[22] Ibid, pp. 64-65.
[23] The Philosophical Review, Vol. 74, No. 1 (Jan., 1965), pp. 88-95. can be found on-line here
[24] Peter Lipton. Inference to the Best Explanation. Second Edition. Routledge. 2004, p. 69.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Qur’an 96:1
[27] See The Magnificent Qur’an: A Unique History of Preservation. Exhibition Islam, pp. 145-204.
[28] al-Suyūṭī. Al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān. 2:311-312.
[29] See Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Tasfir al-Qurtubi and Tasfir al-Jalalayn.
[30] Muhammad Taqi Usmani. An Approach to the Quranic Sciences: Uloomul Quran. Darul Ishaat. Translated by Dr. Mohammad Swaleh iddiqui. Revised and Edited by Rafiq Abdur Rehman. 2000, p. 260.
[31] Cited in Robert Irwin. The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature. Penguin Books. 1999. p.2.
[32] The Muqaddimah, volume 3, p. 374.
[33] Ibn Rashiq, ‘Umda, vol. 1, p. 65.
[34] Ibn Qutayba, ‘Uyun al-akhbar, (Cairo, 1964), vol. 2, p. 185.
[35] Navid Kermani “Poetry and Language” in The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an. Edited by Andrew Rippin. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009, p. 108.
[36] Hussein Abdul-Raof. Exploring the Qur’an. Al-Makhtoum Institute Academic Press. 2003, p.64.
[37] Personal interview with Professor Angelika Neuwrith in German. A copy of the recording is available on request.
[38] Amin Ahsan Islahi. Pondering Over the Qur’an. Volume 1. Tafsir of Surah al-Fatiha and Surah al-Baqarah. Translated by Mohammad Saleem Kayani. Islamic Book Trust. 2007, pp. 25-26.
[39] Cited in Amin Ahsan Islahi. Pondering Over the Qur’an. Volume 1. 2007, p. 26.
[40] E H Palmer (Tr.), The Qur’an, 1900, Part I, Oxford at Clarendon Press, p. lv.
[41]  M. A. Draz. Introduction to the Qur’an. I. B. Tauris. 2000, p. 90
[42] Martin R. Zammit. A Comparative Lexical Study of Qur’anic Arabic. Brill. 2002, page 37.
[43] Shah Waliyyullah. Al-Fawz al-Kabir fi Usul at-Tafsir. Translated, introduced and annotated by Tahir Mahmood Kiani. Ta-Ha. 2014, p.160.
[44] Muhammad Taqi Usmani. An Approach to the Quranic Sciences: Uloomul Quran. Darul Ishaat. Translated by Dr. Mohammad Swaleh iddiqui. Revised and Edited by Rafiq Abdur Rehman. 2000, p. 262.
[45] al-Suyūṭī. Al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Bruce Lawrence. The Qur’an: A Biography. Atlantic Books, p 8.
[49] H. A. R. Gibb. 1980. Islam: A Historical Survey. Oxford University Press, p. 28.
[50] Cited from Grammatical Shift For The Rhetorical Purposes: Iltifat And Related Features In The Qur’an. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1992, Volume LV, Part 3.
[51] H. Abdul-Raof, Exploring the Qur’an, Al-Maktoum Institute Academic Press, 2003 and H. Abdul-Raof, Qur’an Translation: Discourse, Texture and Exegesis, Curzon Press, 2000.
[52] Muhammed Abdel Haleem, Understanding the Qur’an: Themes & Styles, 1999, p. 184-210.
[53] Ibid.
[54] Safaruk Z. Chowdhury. Introducing Arabic Rhetoric (Course Notes). Ad-Duha. 2008, p. 99.
[55] Ibid.
[56] Qur’an 108:1-3
[57] Neal Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, Georgetown University Press. 2004, p. 254.
[58] Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi. An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an. Al-Hidaayah.1999, p. 269.
[59] Navid Kermani “Poetry and Language” in The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an. Edited by Andrew Rippin. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009, p. 110.
[60] Qur’an 16:104
[61] Tafsir Ibn Kathir
[62] Diana Vanlancker–Sidtis. Auditory recognition of idioms by native and nonnative speakers of English: It takes one to know one. Applied Psycholinguistics 24 (2003), 45–57.
[63] Ibid.
[64] Hyltenstam, K. and Abrahamsson, N. (2000), Who can become native-like in a second language? All, some, or none? Studia Linguistica, 54: 150–166. doi: 10.1111/1467-9582.00056
[65] Muhammad Mohar Ali. The Qur’an and the Orientalists.  Jam’iyat Iḥyaa’ Minhaaj Al-Sunnah. 2004, p. 14.
[66] Navid Kermani “Poetry and Language” in The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an. Edited by Andrew Rippin. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009, p. 108.
[67] Muhammad Taqi Usmani. An Approach to the Quranic Sciences: Uloomul Quran. Darul Ishaat. Translated by Dr. Mohammad Swaleh iddiqui. Revised and Edited by Rafiq Abdur Rehman. 2000, p. 261.
[68] Muḥammad ‘Abdullāh Drāz. The Qur’ān: An Eternal Challenge. Translated and Edited by Adil Salahi. The Islamic Foundation. 2001, p. 83.
[69] Literary and Linguistic Computing, Vol. 27, No. 4, 2012
[70] Ibid.
[71] Martin Lings. Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources. 2nd Revised Edition. The Islamic Texts Society. 1983, pp. 53-79.
[72] See
[73] Poems of al-Mutanabbi : a selection with introduction, translations and notes / by A.J. Arberry. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press,1967.
[74] Examples include replicas of Picasso’s art, see here
[75] Mabillard, Amanda. ShakespeareanSonnet Basics: Iambic Pentameter and the English Sonnet Style. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000.
[76] Holland, Peter. (Sept 2004) “Shakespeare, William (1564–1616)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press; online ed, Jan 2007.
[77] G. J. H. van Gelder. Classical Arabic Literature: A Library of Arabic Literature Anthology New York University Press. 2013, pp. 31-33.
[78] Denis E. McAuley. Ibn `Arabi’s Mystical Poetics. Oxford University Press. 2012, p.93.
[79] Ibid, p. 94.
[80] Cited by Denis E. McAuley in Ibn `Arabi’s Mystical Poetics, p. 94.
[81] S. A. Bonebakker. Hatimi and his encounter with Mutanabbi: A biographical sktech. Oxford: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1984, p.47.
[82] Ibid, p.15; and see Wen-chin Ouyang. Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic Islamic Culture: The Making of a Tradition. Edinburgh University Press. 1997.
[83] Ibid, p. 44.
[84] See . Here are some useful references from the site: B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary On The New Testament: A Companion Voume To The United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, 1971, United Bible Societies, London & New York; David A. Black’s New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, 1994, Baker Books: Grand Rapids (MI); Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament, vol. 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982) 182; Frederic G. Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1912; 2d ed., London: Macmillan, 1926) 1-2;
[85] See Naturalism: A Critical Analysis. Edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. Routledge. 2006.
[86] Qur’an 18:109

Since the eighties there has been a growing movement of Muslim academics and apologists using science to establish the miraculous and Divine nature of the Qur’ānic discourse. On a grass roots level, Muslims across the world, especially in the West, try to articulate the veracity of Islam by using verses that allude to science as evidence for the Qur’ān’s Divine authorship. The internet is full of websites, essays, videos and posts on the scientific verses in the Qur’ān. A Google search on “Quran and science” produces over 40 million search results.[1]
This movement has classical and modern origins. The Islamic classical scholarly tradition was engaged in a debate as to whether to use science as an exegetical tool to explain the Qur’ānic verses. However, it was during the eighties that the apologetic expression of this movement was born. I would argue there are two main events that facilitated the emergence of this movement. The first was the publishing of the book Bible, the Qur’ān and Science in 1976 written by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, and the second was the 1980s video This is The Truth produced by the Islamic scholar Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani. Dr Bucaille’s book argued that there were no scientific errors in the Qur’ān and that the Bible was full of scientific inaccuracies. Dr. Bucaille’s book became a best seller in the Muslim world and it was translated into many languages. Even though the book has faced academic criticism[2], it is still a popular read and used as a reference for Islamic apologetics and proselytisation.
The Islamic Scholar Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani, founder of the Commission on Scientific Signs in the Qur’ān and Sunnah, produced a video entitled This is the Truth. Al-Zindani invited prominent Western academics to attend one of their conferences. During the conference al-Zindani claimed that a group of eminent non-Muslim scholars in several fields testified to the fact that there were scientific miracles in the Qur’ān. However, theCommission received criticism that it had spread out of context and misleading statements to justify its narrative.[3] Relatively recently an Atheist video blogger and commentator personally contacted some of the scientists who had attended the conference and conducted interviews with them. The interviews were recorded and uploaded on YouTube. All of the scientists he interviewed claimed that their statements had been taken out of context, and that there is nothing miraculous about the scientific statements in the Qur’ānic discourse.[4]
In spite of this, millions of booklets and pamphlets have been printed that make the claim that there are scientific miracles in the Qur’ān, and countless non-Muslims have converted to Islam as a result. This growing movement has influenced academia too, for example an academic book published by Curzon entitled Qur’ān Translation: Discourse, Texture and Exegesis dedicates a few pages on the topic.[5] Famous popularisers such as Dr. Zakir Naik[6] and Yusuf Estes[7] have also used the scientific miracles narrative to verify the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. Due to this intense popularisation over the past few decades, there is now a growing counter movement that attempts to demystify the so-called scientific statements, and they seem to be more nuanced, with a growing popularity. A significant number of apostates from Islam (many of whom I have had private conversations with) cite the counter movement’s work as a causal factor in deciding to leave the religion. Nevertheless, I do believe that apostasy is not entirely an intellectual decision but rather a spiritual and psychological problem. This can include a lack of spiritual connection with God and disheartenment with Islam due to unfortunate negative experiences with Muslims and the the Muslim community.
Regrettably, the scientific miracles narrative has become an intellectual embarrassment for Muslim apologists, including myself. A few years ago I took some activists to Ireland to engage with the audience and speakers at the World Atheist Convention. Throughout the convention we had a stall outside the venue and as a result positively engaged with hundreds of atheists, including the popular atheist academics Professor P. Z. Myers and Professor Richard Dawkins.  During our impromptu conversation with Professor Myers we ended up talking about God’s existence and the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. The topic of embryology came up, and Professor Myers being an expert in the field challenged our narrative. He claimed that the Qur’ān did not predate modern scientific conclusions in the field. As a result of posting the video[8] of the engagement on-line we faced a huge intellectual backlash. We received innumerable amounts of emails by Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims were confused and had doubts, and the non-Muslims were bemused with the whole approach. Consequently, I decided to compile and write an extensive piece on the Qur’ān and embryology, with the intention to respond to popular and academic contentions.[9] During the process of writing I relied on students and scholars of Islamic thought to verify references and to provide feedback in areas where I had to rely on secondary and tertiary sources. Unfortunately they were not thorough and they seemed to have also relied on trusting other Muslim apologists. When the paper was published it was placed under a microscope by atheist activists.[10] Although they misrepresented some of the points, they raised some significant contentions. I have since removed the paper from my website. In retrospect if this never happened, I probably wouldn’t be writing this essay now. It is all a learning curve and an important part of developing intellectual integrity.
In light of this, this essay aims to provide a rational and Islamic perspective on how to understand the scientific verses in the Qur’ān. It is time more people from the Muslim community spoke out against this problematic approach to verifying the Divine nature of the Qur’ān. It has become an intellectual embarrassment for Muslim apologists and it has exposed the lack of coherence in the way they have formulated the argument. Significantly, many Muslims who converted to Islam due to the scientific miracles narrative, have left the religion due to encountering opposing arguments. This essay intends to explain how the scientific miracles narrative is problematic and incoherent, and it aims to bring to light a new approach on how to reconcile and discuss science in the Qur’ān. It must be noted that I am not asserting that the Qur’ān is inaccurate or wrong, or that there is nothing remarkable about the Qur’ānic statements eluding to natural phenomena. I am simply bringing to light the perilous nature of the claim that some Qur’ānic verses are miraculous due to their scientific content. For this reason, I am offering a new approach to the topic that is nuanced and bypasses the intellectual hurdles and problems faced by the scientific miracles narrative.
A summary of the scientific miracles claim
The scientific miracles of the Qur’ān are expressed in different ways but with the same philosophical implications.
1.     The Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) did not have access to the scientific knowledge mentioned in the Qur’ān, therefore it must be from God.
2.     No one at the time of revelation (7th century) had access to the necessary equipment to understand or verify the scientific knowledge in the Qur’ān, therefore it must be from God.
3.     The Qur’ānic verses where revealed at a time where science was primitive and no human could have uttered the truths mentioned in the Qur’ān, therefore it must be from God.
There are an array of reasons of why the above expressions of the scientific miracles are problematic and incoherent. These include,
1.     The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle
2.     Inaccurate History
3.     Teleology of the Qur’ānic Verses
4.     Scientism, the Problem of Induction and Empiricism
5.     “Unscientific” Verses
6.     Miracles, Simplicity and A Note on Qur’ānic Exegesis
Each of these points will now be explained in detail.
1. The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle
The science in the Qur’ān claim commits a logical fallacy called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. This fallacy is where two different things are equated due to a common middle ground that is misused. Below is a generic example:
1. All As are Cs
2. All Bs are Cs
3. Therefore all As are Bs
The above fallacy is in the conclusion. Since A and B share the common category C, it doesn’t follow that A is the same as B.
Another example includes:
1.     John needs oxygen to survive
2.     My dog needs oxygen to survive
3.     Therefore John is my dog
As can be seen above, the middle ground that is misused is oxygen. Although the first two premises are true, that both John and my dog need oxygen to survive, it doesn’t follow that John is my dog.
Most of the science in the Qur’ān arguments commit this type of fallacy. Below is a summary:
1.     A description of a scientific fact A uses C
2.     A description in the Qur’ān B uses C
3.     Therefore, the description in the Qur’ān B is the description of A
The following are some specific examples:
1.     The scientific fact in embryology is the implantation of the blastocyst in the uterine wall. Implantation can be attributed as a safe place.
2.     The Qur’ān uses the words qarārin[11] makīn[12], which can mean a safe place.
3.     Therefore, the Qur’ān is describing the scientific fact of the implantation of the blastocyst.
In the above syllogism, it doesn’t follow that the words qarārin makīn (a safe place) imply the process of implantation just because it to shares the attribute of a safe place. The argument will only be valid if all descriptions of qarārin makīn refers to, and describes, the process of implantation. Since qarārin makīn can also refer to the womb[13], which was the 7th century understanding of the words, then the argument is invalid. The mere correlation between a Qur’ānic word and a scientific process or description does not ascertain the intended meaning of the verse.
Another example includes:
1.     The scientific fact is that the Earth’s atmosphere helps destroy meteorites as they approach Earth, filters harmful light rays, protects against the cold temperatures of space, and its Van Allen Belt acts like as a shield against the harmful radiation. The Earth’s atmosphere can be attributed as a protected roof.
2.     The Qur’ān uses the words saqfan maan, which means a protect roof.[14]
3.     Therefore, the Qur’ān is describing the function of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Again, the above syllogism is invalid. It doesn’t logically follow that the words saqfan maan, which refers to a protected roof, describes the function of the Earth’s atmosphere. This is because saqfan maan can also refer to a physical roof. Some interpretations of the Qur’ān include that the heaven is erected with invisible pillars, and that a fragment of the heaven or sky can fall on Earth; (see Qur’ān 13:2 and 34:9). These interpretations indicate a solid roof like structure, as confirmed by the classical exegete Ibn Kathīr who cites a scholar mentioning that “the heaven is like a dome over the earth”.[15] Therefore the words saqfan maan can also refer to a physical roof or dome like structure. For that reason, the above argument will only be valid if all interpretations and descriptions of saqfan maan describes the function of Earth’s atmosphere.
In light of the above, the argument that the Qur’ān is a miracle because the descriptions of certain words it uses seem to relate to descriptions of words used in scientific facts, is logically fallacious. The scientific miracles claim would only be valid if it could be demonstrated that the interpretations of the words that seem to correlate with science are the intended meanings. The principles of Qur’ānic exegesis dictates that this is impossible to ascertain (this will be discussed later in the essay).
Furthermore, there a myriad of questions that exposes the incoherence of the scientific miracles narrative. For instance: why are the more simpler explanations and meanings of the verses in the Qur’ān dismissed? What about the alternative valid interpretations of these verses that are unscientific or crude? Since the ambiguity of the words renders it impossible to know what the intended meaning of the verses are, how can anyone claim them to be miracles? What about the ancient civilisations and their accurate predictions of scientific phenomena before they were verified by modern science? Does that make the ancient civilisations Divinely inspired?
2. Inaccurate history
To salvage the strength of their argument, those who advocate the scientific miracles narrative assert that there was no knowledge of the science implied by the Qur’ānic verses available in the 7th Century. Their argument is usually expressed in two ways:
I.  The knowledge implied by the Qur’ānic verses was not available or discovered at the time of revelation (7th Century)
II.  The Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) could not have had access to the knowledge implied by the Qur’ānic verses.
I. The knowledge implied by the Qur’ānic verses was not available or discovered at the time of revelation
Concerning the above assertion when we refer to history we will see that it is false. The following are examples of verses that mention knowledge that was available and known at the time (or before) of revelation:
The Sending Down of Iron “Miracle”: Take for instance the claim that the Qur’ān is miraculous due to the fact that it mentions that iron was “sent down”[16] (وَأَنْزَلْنَا). This can refer to the fact that iron was sent down from space, something which has been scientifically confirmed.[17] The Qur’ān states: ”And We sent down iron…”[18]
However, the Ancient Egyptians 1400 years before the Prophet-hood of Muhammad (upon whom be peace) referred to iron as ba-en-pet meaning “Iron from heaven.”[19] The Assyrians and Babylonians also had similar concepts for iron.
The Moon Being a Borrowed Light “Miracle”: Another example is the word used to describe the moon’s light. The word used is nūran[20] (نُورًا) which means a borrowed or reflected light.
“It is He who made the sun a shining light and the moon a derived light (nūran) and determined for it phases – that you may know the number of years and account [of time]. Allah has not created this except in truth. He details the signs for a people who know.”[21]
The claim made by the scientific miracles advocates is that no one at the time, or even before, knew that the moon did not omit its own light. In light of history this is not true, at around 500BC, 1200 years before the Qur’ānic revelation, Thales said: ”The moon is lighted from the sun.”[22] Anaxagoras, in 400-500BC asserted that: ”The moon does not have its own light, but light from the sun.”[23]
The Mountains Have Roots “Miracle”: Consider the verses speaking about mountains having pegs or roots. The Qur’ān states: ”Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse, and the mountains as pegs?”[24]
This knowledge was already available via the ancient Hebrews as the Old Testament explicitly mentions the roots of the mountains:
“To the roots (לְקִצְבֵי) of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.”[25]
The key word in this verse used is the Hebrew word לְקִצְבֵי which means extremity, and it is a poetic description of the bottoms or roots of the mountains.[26]
The Big Bang “Miracle”: The Qur’ān mentions the creation of the cosmos in the following way:
“Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?”[27]
This knowledge was already available via previous cultures, for example a particular creation story from ancient Egypt includes the separation of the heavens from the earth. Alan Alford, who is an independent researcher and author, writes about Egyptian views on the creation of the universe: ”This is the myth of the separation of the heavens from the earth. Note that the separation takes the form of a cataclysm.”[28]
In Sumerian literature we find similar concepts in the Epic of Gilgamesh: “When the heavens had been separated from the earth, when the earth had been delimited from the heavens, when the fame of mankind had been established.”[29]
In light of the above, to claim that these verses are miraculous is farfetched and does not take into account the possibility of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) accessing the common knowledge of the time from other cultures, and it does not consider the fact that earlier civilisations made similar statements. This does not mean I adopt the absurd view that the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) borrowed knowledge from other civilisations and inserted that knowledge in the Qur’ān, nor do I believe the Qur’ān is a representation of 7th Century knowledge. I believe the Qur’ān is accurate and true. My main point here is that claims of miraculousness via verses eluding to natural phenomena does not stand in light of intellectual scrutiny and a new approach is needed – something I will discuss later in this essay.
A contention to the above is that only the primary meanings and a crude understanding of the language has been used, and not the other meanings that can be reconciled with modern scientific conclusions. This may be true, there may be other meanings that can reconcile the verses with scientific conclusions. However, the point raised above is not that these verses cannot be reconciled with modern science, rather the point here is to show that with the primary or explicit meanings the verses point to knowledge – that although not entirely inaccurate – could have been accessed or known at the time of revelation. In light of this, claiming that the verses are miraculous is wrong. From a rational point of view, if a plausible naturalistic explanation is available then that explanation will be adopted over a supernatural one. The very fact that a plausible naturalistic explanation is possible implies that there is no miracle because by definition a miracle is an event that cannot be explained naturalistically. This point will be explained later in this essay.
II. The Prophet (upon whom be peace) could not have had access to the knowledge implied by the Qur’ānic verses
In the eyes of a sceptic or truth seeker, the knowledge currently available about the history of ideas renders the above assertion as unsound. The Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) could have accessed some form of popularised knowledge at the time of revelation because he already referred to other cultures and civilisations. For example, in permitting intercourse with one’s suckling wife the Prophet (upon whom be peace) took into consideration the practices of the Romans and Persians. Below is the Prophetic tradition (adīth):
“I intended to prohibit cohabitation with the suckling women, but I considered the Romans and Persians, and saw that they suckle their children and this thing (cohabitation) does not do any harm to them (to the suckling women).”[30] [Please note that this does not mean the Prophet (upon whom be peace) used knowledge from other civilisations as a source of revelation. Rather, in Islamic theology when it concerns medical and scientific matters, it is advised to seek the best opinions and best practice, as practised by the Prophet (upon whom be peace) himself. Access the following link for a discussion using cross pollination as an example]
This authentic adīth shows that the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) had access to medical practices prevalent in other civilisations. Therefore, in the eyes of the sceptic, it is not impossible that he could have accessed other scientific knowledge that was popularised at the time.
It is important to note that 7th Century Arabian economic life was based around trade and commerce. Travelling as far as the Far East was a common occurrence. Therefore, it is not impossible that there was an exchange of popular scientific practices and ideas. The historian Ira M. Lapidus in his book, A History of Islamic Societies, clearly states that the Arabs in Mecca were established traders travelling far and wide:
“By the mid-sixth century, as heir to Petra and Palmyra, Mecca became one of the important caravan cities of the Middle East. The Meccans carried spices, leather, drugs, cloth and slaves which had come from Africa or the Far East to Syria, and returned money, weapons, cereals, and wine to Arabia.”[31]
Therefore, in the view of a sceptic or seeker of truth, the assertion that the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) could not have accessed knowledge that was implied by the Qur’ānic verses is false. This is due to the fact that the probability of Prophet (upon whom be peace) exchanging ideas and practices with other cultures is higher than the probability of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) not accessing such knowledge. Therefore a new approach is needed to overcome to this intellectual obstacle, something which I will address later.
3. Teleology of the Qur’ānic verses
The entire scientific miracles narrative seems to ignore or overlook the main theological objectives for these verses. These verses were revealed as signposts to reflect and come to the conclusion that God is One and that He alone deserves to be worshipped. Other reasons include to evoke an understanding and an appreciation of God’s Majesty, Power, Glory, Mercy and Love. Studying classical commentaries of popular creedal books, such asAqeedah Tahawiyyah, will elaborate on the above reasons. Simply put, they are not there to provide details on science. This is not their scope. The sub-continent thinker and scholar Amīn Asan Iī in his Tadabbur-e-Qur’ān elaborates on this point:
“The reference to the creation of the heavens and the earth indicates and demonstrates the tremendous power and might of their Creator. The way they are fashioned testifies to the uniqueness of His handiwork and astounding wisdom. It also refers to the beneficial nature of the creation and its harmony with human life and needs, the benefits and advantages we gain and depend upon. All these are indicative of the grace and Mercy of the Creator and His providential care for His servants. Besides, these also clearly demonstrate that there is a higher purpose behind the creation of this life and the universe. Surely, a universe so marvellous, harmonious and full of so many manifestations of wisdom, cannot be a purposeless creation, without direction and a higher goal. Indeed, it has been created for a sublime purpose, says the Qur’ān, and a day is fixed for its fullest accomplishment. The harmony between the heavens and the earth clearly shows that they are both creation of one and the same Creator, Who not only created them but also runs and manages them. And it is His scheme and law alone that prevails in them; no other power can in any way or manner interfere in His decisions.”[32]
In similar light, professor of philosophy Shabbir Akhtar in his book The Qur’ān and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam explains that the purpose of the Qur’ānic verses that allude to the natural world is to point to a hidden immaterial order:
Nature’s flawless harmonies and the delights and liabilities of our human environment, with its diverse and delicate relationships, are invested with religious significance. Created nature is a cryptogram of a reality which transcends it: nature is a text to be deciphered. Evidences accumulating in the material and social worlds and in the horizons jointly point to a hidden immaterial order.”[33]
In the academic reference work Encyclopedia of the Qur’ān, under Science and the Qur’ān, it maintains that the majority of the classical commentaries on the verses eluding to the natural world argue that they are there to lead people to reflect on the wisdom of creation, and not to establish a scientific fact:
“The marvel of creation is a recurrent theme of qur’ānic commentaries. These marvels are viewed as signs of God and proofs that he exists, is all-powerful and all-knowing, and is the willing creator of all being…At a basic level, such reflection leads to the conclusion that there is order and wisdom in creation, which in turn means that a wise maker must have created it…Ultimately, when people reflect on the heavens and the earth, they will come to realize that their creator did not create them in vain but for a remarkable wisdom and great secrets and that the intellects are incapable of comprehending them…This means that the ultimate purpose of reflection is to establish the limitations of human knowledge and its inability to comprehend creation, not to establish a scientific fact and demonstrate its correspondence with the Qur’ān…The Qur’ān, according to these commentaries, directs people to reflect on the wisdom of the creation of nature but provides no details on the natural order or on ways of deciphering it; these details, if and when they appear in classical qur’ānic commentaries, are drawn from the prevailing scientific knowledge of the time.”[34]
Therefore, these verses must be reflected on and used as opportunities to open the intellectual and spiritual windows to reach an understanding of God’s Oneness, Glory and Transcendence. It is no wonder that the 14th Century scholar Al-Shatibi was against using science, as it removes the reader away from this necessary reflection:
Many people have overstepped all bounds and made undue claims about the Qur’ān when they assigned to it all types of knowledge of the past and the present such as the natural sciences, mathematics and logic.[35]
From an empirical or scientific perspective these verses can also provide intellectual stimuli to encourage the listener or reader to look into the interconnecting principles of nature, and to explore the inner dimensions of reality. So when God says in the Qur’ān, “Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them…” This can encourage the believing scientist to seek answers concerning the origins of the universe and look for clues concerning a cosmic beginning. So rather than giving us the answers, the Qur’ān encourages us to look for them ourselves.
4. Scientism, the problem of induction and empiricism
Jalees Rehman, a cardiology fellow at Indiana University School of Medicine, aptly and concisely articulates a major problem with the scientific miracles narrative. He writes:
“One danger of such attempts to correlate modern science with the Qur’ān is that it makes a linkage between the perennial wisdom and truth of the Qur’ān with the transient ideas of modern science.”[36]
What Rehman is eluding to here is that there is a philosophical issue in asserting that Qur’ānic verses are miraculous. The problem is that science does not claim certainty or 100% truth, and to use science as a method to establish the absolute nature of the Qur’ān is fallacious. Science by its very nature is not static, it is dynamic. Its conclusions change over time, even ones that we may think are established facts. A hidden assumption behind the scientific miracles narrative is that science is the only way to render truth about the world and reality – a proposition known as scientism.
So there are 3 things to discuss here:
1.     Science does not claim certainty or 100% truth.
2.     Science is dynamic and therefore changes over time.
3.     Science is not the only way to render truths about the world and reality.
Science does not claim certainty or 100% truth
 The philosophy of science is a field of study that attempts to address how we can derive knowledge from scientific experiments and empirical data. Key problems in the philosophy of science include induction and empiricism, as they both have limitations and a restricted scope. Understanding these issues will enable us to reach the conclusion that scientific facts are not 100% and there is always the possibility of doubt.
Induction: Induction is a thinking process where one makes conclusions by moving from the particular to the general. Arguments based on induction can range in probability from very low to very high, but always less than 100%.
Here is an example of induction:
“I have observed that punching a boxing bag properly with protective gloves never causes injury. Therefore no one will be injured using a boxing bag.”
As can be seen from the example above, induction faces a key problem which is the inability to guarantee the conclusion, because a sweeping generalisation cannot be made from a limited number of observations. The best it can provide are probabilities, ranging from low to very high. In the aforementioned example the person who made the statement could not logically prove that the next person to punch a boxing bag will not get injured.
Therefore, the problem with induction is that it can’t produce certainty. This issue was raised by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume in his book, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume argued that inductive reasoning can never produce certainty. He concluded that moving from a limited set of observed phenomena to making conclusions for an unlimited set of observed phenomena is beyond the present testimony of the senses, and the records of our memory.[37]
From a practical scientific perspective, generalisations made for an entire group or for the next observation within that group, based on a limited set of data will never be certain. Take the following example into consideration, a scientist travelled to Wales and wanted to find out the colour of sheep (assuming he does not know the colour of sheep). He started observing the sheep and recorded what colour they were. After 150 sheep observations he found that all of them were white. The scientist concluded, using induction, that all sheep are white. This basic example highlights the problematic nature with the process of induction as we know sheep can also be black. Certainty using induction will never be achieved, because there is always the possibility of new observations undermining the previous conclusion.
Professor Alex Rosenberg in his book Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction  concludes that this is a key problem facing science; he writes:
“Here we have explored another problem facing empiricism as the official epistemology of science: the problem of induction, which goes back to Hume, and added to the agenda of problems for both empiricists and rationalists.”[38]
Empiricism: Empiricism claims that we have no source of knowledge in a subject or for the concepts we use in a subject other than sense experience. Philosopher Elliot Sober in his essay Empiricism explains the empiricist’s thesis:
“Empiricists deny that it is ever rationally obligatory to believe that theories provide true descriptions of an unobservable reality…For an empiricist, if a theory is logically consistent, observations are the only source of information about whether the theory is empirically adequate.”[39]
Empiricism suffers from limitations and logical problems. One form of empiricism – which I will call strong empiricism – is limited to things that can only be observed. This form of empiricism faces a whole host of logical problems. The main problem with strong empiricism is that it can only base its conclusions on observed realities and cannot make conclusions on unobserved realities. Elliot Sober explains this problem:
“Empiricists need to address problems in the philosophy of perception. The most obvious first stab at saying what seeing an object involves is to describe the passage of light from the object into the eyes, with the result that a visual experience occurs. However, the invisibility of white cats in snowstorms and the fact that we see silhouettes (like the moon during an eclipse) shows that this is neither sufficient nor necessary.”[40]
Further exploring Sober’s example, imagine you observe a white cat walking outside of a house towards the direction of an oncoming snowstorm; you can see the cat walking up to the snowstorm and then you can no longer see the cat. A strong empiricist’s account would be to deny that there is a cat in the snowstorm, or at least suspend any claims to knowledge. However, based on other intellectual tools at your disposal you would conclude that there is a white cat in the snowstorm regardless of whether or not you can observe one.
The problems faced by strong empiricism have not gone unaddressed by empiricists. They have responded by weakening their definition for empiricism by redefining empiricism to the view that we can only know something if it is confirmed or supported by sensory experience – I shall call this weak empiricism. Others have dogmatically maintained the view that the only way to truth is via direct observation and being supported by observation is not good enough. These responses have created an unresolved dilemma for the empiricist. The Philosopher John Cottingham exposes this problem in his book Rationalism:
“But what about ‘all water at a given atmospheric pressure boils at 100 degrees Celsius’? Since this statement has the form of an unrestricted universal generalization, it follows that no finite number of observations can conclusively establish its truth. An additional and perhaps even more worrying problem is that when we reach the higher levels of science…we tend to encounter structures and entities that are not observable in any straightforward sense. Atoms, molecules, electrons, photons and the like are highly complex theoretical constructs…here we seem to be very far removed from the world of direct ‘empirical observation’…The positivists tended to respond to this difficulty by weakening their criterion for meaningfulness…it was proposed that a statement was meaningful if it could be confirmed or supported by sensory experience. However, this weaker criterion is uncomfortably vague…Statements about God or Freedom, or the nature of Substance, or the Absolute, may not be directly checkable against experience…The positivist thus seems to be faced with a fatal dilemma: either he will have to make his criterion so stringent that it will exclude the generalizations and theoretical statements of science, or else he will have to weaken his criterion sufficiently to open the door to the speculations of the metaphysician. The dilemma has remained unresolved to this day…”[41]
In light of the above, since induction and empiricism are used in deriving knowledge from scientific data then science cannot claim certainty. There are the obvious problems of the unobserved and the inability to guarantee that the next observation will be the same as the previous observation. Our observations do not encompass all phenomena, therefore science is tentative. In other words it can change based upon future observations. For science to be certain, all natural phenomena must have been observed. This is impossible.
Therefore to use the scientific method, which is a method that does not provide certainty, to justify a book which demands certainty is obviously problematic and incoherent.
Science is dynamic and therefore changes over time
To claim that there is anything scientifically miraculous about a particular Qur’ānic verse is incoherent. This is because science can change due to new observations and studies. Therefore, for someone to claim that a particular verse is miraculous would mean that the one making the claim can guarantee that the science will never change. To make such a guarantee would imply gross ignorance. Ignorance of the fact that science does change and is tentative due to the problems faced by induction and empiricism. The problems of induction and empiricism (as discussed in the previous section) explain the reason for the dynamic nature in science. In summary these problems are that a new observation can be made, or more data can be found. Therefore, by definition, we can never claim that a particular verse is miraculous because to make such an assertion would mean that the science is fixed. This is impossible to maintain.
To explain this point clearly, take into consideration, Muslims living in the 19th century. The science and academia of the time were asserting that the universe is static and without a beginning, known as the steady state theory. Since the Qur’ān argues that the universe had a beginning, does that mean the Qur’ān must have been rejected by Muslims living in the 19th century? Of course not, because all Muslims believe the Qur’ān to be from the Divine, and the Divine cannot be wrong. This exposes a hidden assumption: the Qur’ān is from the Divine and science will at some point show how the verses are in line with reality. This assumption exposes the scientific miracles narrative, as the Qur’ān being from the Divine is presupposed.
This assumption however it not problematic, because it leads us to a new approach. This new approach will help us to use the verses eluding to natural phenomena in a more nuanced and balanced way.
Science is not the only way to render truths about the world and reality
Another hidden assumption behind the scientific miracles narrative is that science is the only way or method to render truths about the world and reality. This assertion is known as scientism. To put it simply, scientism claims that a statement is not true if it cannot be scientifically proven. In other words if something cannot be shown to be true via the scientific method, then it is false. There are a few problems with scientism, for instance:
1. Scientism is self-defeating. Scientism claims that a proposition is not true if it cannot be scientifically proven. But the proposition itself cannot be scientifically proven! It is like saying “there are no sentences in the English language longer than three words” or “I cannot speak one word of English”.[42]
2. Scientism cannot prove necessary truths like mathematics and logic. For example, If P, then Q. P. Therefore, Q[43] and 3 + 3 = 6 are necessary truths and not merely empirical generalisations.[44]
3. Scientism cannot prove moral and aesthetic truths. For example love, beauty, right and wrong.
4. Science cannot prove other sources of knowledge. For example justified beliefs via ‘authentic testimony’. A major problem with scientism is that truths can be established outside the scientific paradigm. As aforementioned, authentic testimony is a valid source of knowledge in which epistemologists have argued at length to explain that the say so of others can – within certain criteria – provide a basis for truth.
The epistemology of testimony is the branch of the theory of knowledge “concerned with how we acquire knowledge and justified belief from the say-so of other people”.[45] Therefore, one of the key questions it tries to answer is “how we successfully acquire justified belief or knowledge on the basis of what other people tell us.”[46]
Many truths that we hold are on the basis of authentic testimony, because we trust the statements of others and we have no good reason to reject what they have said. This is especially so when we have multiple people telling u-s the same thing via different chains of transmission (known astawattur reporting in Islamic thought). Professor C. A. J. Coady highlights some of the truths we accept on the basis of testimony, he writes:
“Many of us have never seen a baby born, nor have most of us examined the circulation of the blood…”[47]
Assistant Professor Benjamin McMyler in his book Testimony, Truth and Authority, explains that some of the things he knows are due to testimony:
“Here are a few things that I know. I know that the copperhead is the most common venomous snake in the greater Houston area. I know that Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo. I know that, as I write, the average price for gasoline in the U.S is $4.10 per gallon. And I know that my parents recently returned home from a trip to Canada. All of these things I know on the basis of what epistemologists call testimony, on the basis of being told of them by another person or group of persons.”[48]
Although this is a vast topic, there is a general consensus that authentic testimony is a source of knowledge. However, there are disagreements amongst epistemologists on how we validate the transmission of knowledge via testimony. Even scientists require testimony as a source of knowledge in order to understand science itself. For instance, there are many assumptions in science that are purely based on the say so of other scientists.
Whatever discussions there are around testimony, the key point to raise here is that it is a valid source of knowledge. Therefore, the view that science is the only way to establish truth, is false. Professor Keith Lehrer summarises the validity of testimony as a source of knowledge:
“The final question that arises concerning our acceptance of testimony is this. What converts our acceptance of testimony of others into knowledge? The first part of the answer is that we must be trustworthy in our evaluations of the trustworthiness of others, and we must accept that this is so. Moreover, our trustworthiness must be successfully truth-connected, that is, the others must, in fact, be trustworthy and their trustworthiness must be truth-connected. We must accept this is so. In short, our acceptance of their testimony must be justified in a way that is not refuted or defeated by any errors that we make in evaluating them and their testimony. Undefeated or irrefutable justified acceptance of the testimony of others is knowledge.” [49]
It logically follows from the above that since science is not the only way to reach conclusions about things, then we should entertain the possibility of other routes to knowledge. Therefore, assuming science to be the only yardstick to establish the truth of the Qur’ān is false.
5. “Unscientific” Verses
Some verses in the Qur’ānic discourse are currently “unscientific”. This does not mean the Qur’ān is wrong or not from the Divine (as we have already discussed above that science is not the only way to render truth claims about the world and reality, and that it faces problems in the way that it derives knowledge from empirical data), rather it can show that our scientific knowledge is limited and has not reached the right conclusions yet. The reason I am including unscientific verses here is to highlight the inconsistency of the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān methodology. The inconsistency is that if science was a yardstick to use to verify the Divine origins of the Qur’ān, then all verses must be in line with scientific conclusions. Given that some verses are not currently in line with science, then it follows that either the Qur’ān is wrong – and therefore not from the Divine – or that the Qur’ān is right and from the Divine, and that science will catch up. This dilemma, for the Muslims at least, is solved by affirming the Divine origins of the Qur’ān and limited nature of science. In this case it de-scopes the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān claim methodology, and is reduced to the following statement: the Qur’ān is from God and the science that agrees with it is correct, and the science that does not is incorrect. Therefore, the miracle claim is reduced to: the Qur’ān will never be wrong.
Here is an example of an unscientific verse. The Qur’ān says:
“We said: Get down all of you from this place (the Paradise), then whenever there comes to you guidance from Me, and whoever follows My guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve.”[50]
The above verse refers to Adam and Eve (upon whom be peace). It asserts that they were sent from paradise to earth and implies that they were both fully formed and created before coming to earth. This literal and orthodox interpretation of the verse is in direct conflict with science. The theory of evolution asserts that human beings were formed via natural selection and random mutations on earth over long period of time.  The theory of evolution also argues that human have a shared ancestry with non-human species. One attempt to reconcile the theory of evolution and the orthodox interpretation of the Qur’ān is to accept evolution for non-humans and to claim that the creation of Adam was a miracle. A problem with this is that since the scientific evidence for non-human evolution is the same or similar as the evidence used to conclude human evolution, it would be incoherent to call it a miracle, because one would have to accept the same scientific evidence for one and reject it for another, which is tantamount to rejecting the all of the science.[51]
6. Miracles, Simplicity and A Note on Qur’ānic Exegesis
When claiming that something is miraculous it means that there is no plausible naturalistic explanation. In this case, in order for a scientific verse to be miraculous there should be no physical causal link between the verse and the nature of the knowledge of the time, and there should be no alternative linguistic explanation available to explain the verse. This definition of a miracle applied to the Qur’ānic verse exposes the incoherent methodology employed by many to try and find something miraculous.
From a linguistic perspective for a verse to be miraculous it must only have one meaning. If other meanings are available then it would be more rational to take the unscientific or crude meanings over the meanings that imply miraculousness. For a verse to be miraculous it would mean that there is no causal link between the verse and the knowledge of the language, or the science available and accessible at the time. However, since the Qur’ānic discourse allows multiple meanings (obviously within a certain scope) then the miracle claim is unfounded and incoherent by definition. The fact that the language used in the Qur’ān for the verses eluding to natural phenomena is not unequivocal and definitive exposes the perilous nature of the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān claim. Simply put, there are alternative simpler meanings that allow these verses to be explained naturalistically, and the knowledge was available and accessible at the time to explain such statements. Therefore, since a causal link can be found to explain the verses, it renders any miracle claim as null and void.
A Note on Qur’ānic Exegesis
In order for a verse in the Qur’ān to be a scientific miracle it would mean that the meaning attributed to a verse or word is definitive and absolute. This is untenable in light of the science of Qur’ānic exegesis. In the science of Qur’ānic exegesis (known as usul ul-tafsīr in Arabic) when a verse or word has not been explained via the Prophetic traditions (adīth) and the statements of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) and their students, then the linguistic meaning is offered as an explanation. When the linguistic meaning is offered one would have to consult the classical tradition and the classical Arabic dictionaries. A consequence of this is discovering a range of meanings for a particular word. The general rule is that no one can claim that the meaning that someone has chosen is the intended meaning, someone could not say that God intended word X to mean Y. Rather, the approach that has to be taken is to claim that a particular word has a range of meanings and that word X may mean Y. The indefinite nature of a word clearly highlights how it is untenable to claim a miracle, as mentioned above, it would mean that the meaning chosen for a particular word is the intended meaning by the author, in this case God.
A New Approach
So what now? How do we change the direction of the science in the Qur’ān tidal wave that has engulfed Muslim apologetics (more commonly known asdawah in the Muslim community)? How do we transform the narrative? The simple answer is we need a new approach. This new approach is what Professor of Physics and Astronomy Nidhal Guessoum calls a “multiple, multi-level” approach.[52]
The new approach is based on the following axioms and principles:
1.     The Qur’ān allows multiple and multi-level meanings.
2.     Our understanding of natural phenomena and science changes and improves with time.
3.     The Qur’ān is not inaccurate or wrong.
4.     In the case of any irreconcilable difference between a Qur’ānic assertion and a scientific one, the following must be done:
·           Find meanings within the verse to correlate with the scientific conclusion.
·           If no words can match the scientific conclusion then science is to be improved.
·           Find a non-scientific meaning. The verse itself may be pertaining to non-physical things, such as the unseen, spiritual or existential realities.
Mustansir Mir, Professor of Islamic Studies at Youngstown State University, argues for a similar approach. He writes,
“From a linguistic standpoint, it is quite possible for a word, phrase or statement to have more than one layer of meaning, such that one layer would make sense to one audience in one age and another layer of meaning would, without negating the first, be meaningful to another audience in a subsequent age.”
“The word yasbahun (swim or float) in the verse ‘And He is the One Who created the night and day, and the Sun and Moon – each swimming in an orbit’ (Q 21:33) made good sense to seventh-century Arabs observing natural phenomena with the naked eye; it is equally meaningful to us in light of today’s scientific findings [i.e. celestial mechanics].”[53]
Let’s use another example to highlight Professor Mir’s point and apply the axioms and principles mentioned above. In chapter 23 verse 14 of the Qur’ān uses the word alaqah (عَلَقَة) which can mean a clinging substance, a leech or a worm, and a blood clot, or blood in a general sense.[54] This word is used to describe a stage of the development of the human embryo. A mutli-level and multilayered analysis can include:
1. Appropriate for the time: The meaning that refers to the embryo as a clinging substance and a blood clot could be seen with the naked eye, as the Hellenic physicians and ancient Hebrews predating the Qur’ānic revelation also described the embryo as a clinging substance and a blood clot.[55] So from this perspective it agrees with the predominant scientific view of the time.
2. Appropriate for our time: The word alaqah also refers to a worm or a leech. This can correlate to the external and internal appearance of the leech.[56] This view of the embryo could only have been discovered after the 15th century. Although the embryo at this stage (days 22 – 25) can be seen with the naked eye, it is about the size of the kernel of wheat and such details cannot be seen without a microscope[57], which was discovered in the 15th century.[58]See some of the images below taken from the essay by Elias Kareem, Embryology in the Qur’ān: The alaqah Stage[59]:

Figure 1: External Structure of a Leech compared to the Embryo
Figure 1 A, shows a lateral view of an embryo (size 2.5-3.0mm) at days 24 to 25. (Modified from Moore & Persaud: The Developing Human 8th Edition) B, Hirudo medicinalis, medicinal leech (modified from The Human Body. The Incredible Journey from Birth to Death, © BBC Worldwide Ltd, 1998) C, Scanning electron micrograph of an embryo at Week 4, 26 – 30 days. (Professor Kathy Sulik, The University of North Carolina). Note the leech-like appearance of the human embryos at this stage.
Figure 2: Internal Structure of a Leech compared to the Embryo
Figure 2 A, Ventral dissection showing the internal anatomical structure of a leech. (From J.G. Nicholls and D. Van Essen. The nervous system of the leech, 1974, Scientific American 230:38-48.) B, Dorsal view of a 13-somite embryo at approximately 24 days, actual size 3.0mm. (From Professor Hideo Nishimura, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan). Note the remarkable similarity in appearance between the human embryo and the internal structure of the leech.

This however doesn’t imply a miracle, because the above interpretation of the word alaqah is not certain, and a sceptic could argue that it could be just a guess. [There is also the problem of interpreting the literal meaning of the word as a metaphorical one. This is beyond the scope of the essay, but I adopt the view that a comprehensive understanding of Arabic and Qur’ānic stylistics allows this word to be understood as leech-like or worm-like and not referring to an actual leech or worm]. The point here though is not to argue the miraculous but to articulate the view that the Qur’ān is multilayered, and therefore can address various perspectives and interpretations.
3. Timeless non-scientific perspective: The leech acts like a parasite, it clings on to its host and starts to suck its blood. The embryo can also be likened to a parasite where it drains the resources of its mother. Hence we should lower the wing of humility and mercy for our parents, especially our mothers, as they sacrificed willingly in order for us to be here today. This raises the perspective that we are not truly independent, self-sufficient or free, as in our very development in the womb we are dependent on our mothers. This should instil a sense of humility and an understanding that we are all dependent on each other in some way, and ultimately dependent of God.
Interestingly, this comparison between the leech and the embryo has also been made by Lord Robert Winston, who is Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College:
“[The leech] takes whatever it needs to live by sucking the blood of whatever it can latch onto; in this case that’s me. As it sucks my blood, it takes from it all that it needs to live, it literally lives off me and the whole of pregnancy is shaped by a similar kind of parasitic relationship. Unlike the leech, the developing embryo doesn’t suck the maternal blood but t does raid her blood for the raw materials it needs to grow. From the word go both leech and embryo are out for themselves.”[60]
4. Future findings: In absence of a link between the meaning of a particular word or verse and scientific conclusions, the meaning can be used as a motivation to find new data and develop innovative scientific solutions.
If a multi-level or a multilayered analysis cannot produce anything meaningful, then a future scientific discovery or conclusion can open the window of opportunity to provide a meaningful analysis. This exposes the axiom that the Qur’ān is not inaccurate or wrong. This is not a unjustified assumption, as there are a myriad or arguments that indicate the Qur’ān is a signpost to the supernatural, in other words from the Divine. Although it is not the scope of this essay to discuss this in detail, one such example to show that the Qur’ān has Divine origins includes the fact that it is linguistically inimitable.[61]
How to articulate this in a simple way
For those concerned on how to articulate this in a simple way I suggest a simple step process:
1. When talking about Divine revelation speak about:
·           the fact that there are historical statements that are mentioned in the Qur’ān were not known at the time
·           the linguistic and literary miracle of the Qur’ān
·           ]the fact that Qur’ān is preserved
·           the meaning and message of the Qur’ān
·           the Qur’ān’s concept of God
·           other remarkable features of the Qur’ān
2. After establishing the plausibility of the Qur’ān having Divine origins, you can speak about the multi-level and the multilayered approach we have discussed. An example includes:
“You know what is very interesting about the Qur’ān? Well, the Qur’ān seems to address various levels of intellect and addresses different levels of understanding at different periods in human history. For example, in chapter 23 verse 14 of the Qur’ān, it mentions the word alaqah to described a stage of the development of the human embryo. This word can mean a blood-clot, something that clings and a leech or a worm. The knowledge that was available during the 7th century maintained that the embryo was like a blood-clot and that it is something that clings. Interestingly in the 21stcentury the embryo on a microscopic level looks like a leech, even the internal structure of the leech looks like the embryo at around 4 weeks in its development. The word leech can also imply that when we were embryos we drained our mothers resources, just like a leech does, so we should love our mothers more and lower the wing of mercy and humility because they willingly sacrificed for us. This is an interesting aspect of the Qur’ān, it seems to be able to address various times and different levels of understanding. If some statements do not seem to be in line with modern science, then science will catch up. I have already shown how the Qur’ān can be from God without using science, and therefore we can conclude that what God says is true. Also, and as you know, science is not absolute, it changes with time and that there is always the possibility of new observations and new findings.”
How could scientific miracles be established?
In light of the above, Muslims who have adopted the science in the Qur’ān narrative may argue that what I have presented is pessimistic. They may also assert that I haven’t provided a method or criteria on how to assess if a verse can be described as a scientific miracle. The primary reason why I find the science in the Qur’ān narrative incoherent is due to the philosophy of science. However, it could be argued that a verse could be deemed as more likely to have not come from a 7th century Arab if it adhered to the following criteria:
1.     The verse must have meanings/interpretations that correlate to a scientific fact(s).
2.     The meanings/interpretations must be clear and unambiguous. [An intentionally unsophisticated meaning is possible so that the Qur’ān’s direct audience could appreciate it.
3.     The scientific fact must fall within the range of the verse’s meanings/interpretations.
4.     The correlation between the scientific fact and the meanings/interpretations of the verse must be a strong one. In other words, it must not be a tenuous link.
5.     The science that the verse is eluding to must be as close to a fact as possible, in other words it must not be a working in progress theory. The scientific fact must be established as a conclusive or factual via the scientific community.
6.     It must demonstrate that no other naturalistic explanations (chance aside) can account for the correlation between the meanings/interpretations of the verse and the scientific conclusion. In other words, there must be a exhaustive study of the history of science to establish that: such scientific knowledge would have been impossible to discover and
7.     no one in the past theorised or discussed the scientific conclusion in question.
8.     If such scientific knowledge was available, then a exhaustive study of the Prophetic and Arab history must be done to establish the impossibility of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) or any 7th century Arab could have accessed such information.
9.     If the verse in question has an alternative valid simpler unscientific interpretation/meaning. Then a probability analysis of the verse must be performed. To consider the verse to be miraculously predating science, the probability analysis must show that it is far more likely it could not have come from someone living in the 7th century (in context of the history, culture and language). The probability analysis may take in to consideration that it is remarkable that at least some plausible meanings/interpretations do indeed correspond to scientific facts.
Although this proposed criteria to salvage the science in the Qur’ān narrative is still work in progress, I personally find it almost impossible to practically fulfil the above criteria. Scholars, thinkers and apologists should develop this further.
This essay has argued that the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān narrative is incoherent, and it has articulated a new approach to reconcile and discuss science in the Qur’ān. It is hoped that the readers of this essay will adopt the new approach so a new narrative emerges in the public sphere. This new narrative will be able to withstand scientific criticism while bringing to light the timeless nature of the Qur’ānic discourse. I appreciate that this essay may agitate some readers, especially those who have adopted the scientific miracles in the Qur’ān narrative. The intention is not to stir emotions, but rather to facilitate a new coherent discourse in Muslim apologetics and proselytisation. I pray it brings about the much needed discussion and dialogue, as it is through speaking to one another, exchanging ideas and scrutinizing the approaches we take that we can find solutions and answers to contemporary problems.

[2] Bigliardi, S. (2011), Snakes from Staves? Science, Scriptures, and the Supernatural in Maurice Bucaille. Zygon, 46: 793–805. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.2011.01218.x
[3] Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science’ of the Quran by Daniel Golden Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2002. pg. A.1, posted on the website of California State University, Fullerton by Dr. James Santucci.
[4] Here is an example: “Alfred Kröner – Quote mined scientist denounces Quran miracle claims”, accessed 9:20AM, 26 June 2013
[5] Written by the academic linguist Hussein Abdul-Raof. Refer to pages 166 – 169.
[6] Dr. Zakir Naik – Quran & Modern Science:
[7] Yusuf Estes – Science in Islam:
[8] See
[9] You can download a copy here
[10] You can download a copy here
[13] The classical exegete Ibn Kathīr mentions that these words mean the womb. See here
[17] See here
[18] Qur’ān 57:25
[19] See The Story of Chemistry. N. C. Datta, p. 22; The Spirit of Ancient Egypt. Ana Ruiz. Algora Publishing, p. 72; Origins and Development of Applied Chemistry. James Riddick Partington, p87. Ayer Company Pub, 1975;
[21] Qur’ān 10:5
[22] Doxographi on Thales, Aet. ii. 1 ; Dox. 327. See online reference here
[23] The Doxographists on Anaxagoras, Hipp. Phil, 8 ; Dox. 561 260-1.
[24] Qur’ān 78:6-7
[25] Bible Jonah 2:6,
[26] Reading Jonah in Hebrew. Duane L. Christensen. Bibal Corporation. 2005, p. 16. See online link here
[27] Qur’ān 21:30
[30] Sahih Muslim Book 8  adīth 3392 [also repeated in adīth 3394 and Malik’s Muwatta Book 30, adīth 16].
[31] Ira M. Lapidus, ‘A History of Islamic Societies’, Cambridge, p.14.
[32] Amīn Asan Iī. Tadabbur-e-Qur’ān. Pondering over the Qur’ān. Vol 1. Translated by Mohammad Slaeem Kayani. Islamic Book Trust. 2007, p 410.
[33] Shabbir Akhtar. The Qur’ān and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam. Routledge. 2008, page 217.
[34] Dallal, Ahmad. “Science and the Qur’ān.” Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Georgetown University, Washington DC. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Andreas Tzortzis. 19 July 2013 <>
[35] Al-Shatibi, Ibrahim. Al-Muwafaqat, ed. Muhammad al-Khidr Husayn al-Tunisi. 4 Vols., Cairo: al-Matba’a al-Salafiya, 1922. Vol. 2, pp. 80-1.
[36] Jalees Rehman “Searching for Scientific Facts in the Quran: Islamization of Knowledge or a New Form of Scientism?’ Islam & science, 2003.
[37] David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 108.
[38] Professor Alex Rosenberg. Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction. 2012, p. 198.
[39] Elliot Sober “Empiricism” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Edited by Stathis Psillos and Martin Curd. 2010, p. 129.
[40] Ibid, p. 131.
[41] John Cottingham. Rationalism. Paladin. 1984, pp. 109 -110.
[42] Taken and adapted from an online lecture by Professor J. P. Moreland.
[43] Access the following link to understand what this means
[44] See here
[45] Benjamin McMyler. Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p. 3.
[46] The Epistemology of Testimony. Edited by Jennifer Lackey and Ernest Sosa. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 2006, p. 2.
[47] C. A. J. Coady. Testimony: A Philosophical Study. Oxford University Press. 1992, p. 82.
[48] Benjamin McMyler. Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p 10.
[49] Keith Lehrer cited in The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford University Press. 2006, p. 158.
[50] Qur’ān 2:38
[51] I take an epistemic approach to evolution which doesn’t require one to reject the science or the Qur’ān. Read my essay here
[52] See Nidhal Guessoum. Islam’s Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. I. B. Tauris. 2011. Chapter 5.
[53] Cited from Nidhal Guessoum. Islam’s Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. 2011, p. 152.
[54] Embryology in the Qur’ān: The ‘Alaqah Stage. Elias Kareem. Accessed here
[55] Corpus Medicorum Graecorum: Galeni de Semine (Galen: On Semen) pages 92 – 95.
[56] Embryology in the Qur’ān: The ‘Alaqah Stage. Elias Kareem. Accessed here
[57] For more information read here
[59] Ibid.
[60] See the video here
[61] See here for more information


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