Saturday, May 12, 2012

Allah (God Allmighty)'s Word i.e. The Quran's Linguistic Challenge (Part 3)

Allah (God Allmighty)'s Word i.e. The Quran's Linguistic Challenge (Part 3)

A) Remarkable structure - The Ring Composition
B) Quran is both Concise and Comprehensive
C) Literary Magnificence of the Quran
D) The Quran - God's eternal Challenge to Mankind

Courtesy: (Sheikh Hamza Andreas Tzortzis)

The Remarkable Structure of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an is a very unique book in terms of its composition. Its 114 chapters (or ‘Surahs’ in Arabic) are not arranged chronologically or thematically. Even within the individual chapters, numerous topics can be covered with sudden switches from one topic to another and then back again.
This unique structure at face value may appear to be disjointed. However, modern research has discovered a sophisticated structural coherence in the Qur’an known as ring composition.
Ring composition has been explained by Mary Douglas in her book “Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition”. In ring compositions there must be a correspondence between the beginning and the end. It is structured as a sort of circle, or mirror image. The central meaning of the text is placed at its centre. The second half mirrors the first half, in reverse order — e.g., A, B, C, D, C’, B’, A’.
The correspondence usually involves the repetition of a striking or evident word or phrase, and there must be a clear thematic connection between the two sections. The correspondence serves to complete the circle and provide closure. Also, the internal sections – within the ring – must correspond to each other.
To put it in simple terms; ring composition is the equivalent of putting a mirror in the middle – what is mentioned in the first half will be reflected in the second half.
Before getting into the ring composition of the Qur’an, it’s worth discussing the background and circumstances of the Qur’an’s revelation:
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, could not read or write. The Qur’an itself confirms this:
“Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel…” [Chapter 7, verse 157]
Throughout his life, prior to Prophethood, Muhammad did not have a reputation for poetry. In fact we know from history that at a personal level he disliked it and wasn’t a skilled poet. There are instances where he attempted to relate some poetry and would jumble the words up [1]:
Qatadah narrated, Aisha was asked: Did the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, use to relate anything from poetry?” She said: It was most detestable thing to him except that (at times) he used to relate a verse from the person of Banu Qays and he jumbled it up. Abu Bakr told him it was not like that. So the Prophet of Allah said, “By Allah I am not a poet and neither is it appropriate for me.”
The Qur’an was originally delivered to its first audience in the form of speech through recitation. Remarkably the Qur’an did not have the opportunity for an editorial process, as many verses were revealed on the spot as a response to unexpected questions and challenges that were brought forward to Prophet Muhammad from both believers and non-believers.
The 6,236 verses that make up the Qur’an were revealed gradually over a period of 23 years. It did not go through multiple revisions as it was revealed:
And those who disbelieve say, “Why was the Qur’an not revealed to him all at once?” Thus [it is] that We may strengthen thereby your heart. And We have spaced it distinctly. [Chapter 25, verse 32]
In light of these circumstances, one would expect the structure of the Qur’an to be incoherent. What we find however, is that it exhibits the sophisticated structure of ring composition.
Surah al-Baqarah, which we are going to use as a case study in this article, happens to be the longest chapter of the Qur’an and was revealed over a span of many years. Surah Al-Baqarah consists of 286 verses and can be divided into nine main sections based on theme/topic (verse numbers in parenthesis):
1. Faith vs. unbelief (1 – 20).
2. Allah’s creation and knowledge (21 – 39).
3. Deliverance of Law to Children of Israel (40 – 103).
4. Abraham was tested (104 – 141).
5. Ka’ba is the new qibla (142 – 152).
6. Muslims will be tested (153 – 177).
7. Deliverance of Law to Muslims (178 – 253).
8. Allah’s creation and knowledge (254 – 284).
9. Faith vs. unbelief (285 – 286).
Re-arranging this list to fit into a ring composition:
A Faith vs. unbelief (1 – 20).
——–B Allah’s creation and knowledge (21 – 39).
—————-C Deliverance of Law to Children of Israel (40 – 103).
————————D Abraham was tested (104 – 141).
——————————–E Ka’ba is the new qibla (142 – 152).
————————D’ Muslims will be tested (153 – 177).
—————-C’ Deliverance of Law to Muslims (178 – 253).
——–B’ Allah’s creation and knowledge (254 – 284).
A’ Faith vs. unbelief (285 – 286).
The coherence in the form of a ring composition is best illustrated in the diagram below (please click on picture to enlarge) [2]:
Baqarah ring diagram
If we examine the 9 sections we find that they contain sub-ring compositions. So what we have is rings within rings (please click on pictures to enlarge) [3]:

Baqarah ring A

Baqarah ring B

Baqarah ring C

Baqarah ring D

Baqarah ring E

Baqarah ring D'

Baqarah ring C'

Baqarah ring B'

Baqarah ring A'
Here is a table showing parallels between the corresponding sections (the correspondences here are indicated horizontally):
Baqarah ring summary
Finally, it’s worth paying special attention to a particular verse of Surah al-Baqarah, the 255th verse known as ‘Ayat al-Kursi’. This verse is considered the most excellent verse of the Qur’an, according to Prophet Muhammad. Its memorisation is highly encouraged, and it just so happens that it too exhibits a ring composition:
ayat kursi
Raymond K Farrin, author of “Surat al-Baqarah – A Structural Analysis”, concludes on Surah al-Baqarah’s ring composition:
“Indeed this sura exhibits marvellous justness of design. It is precisely and tightly arranged, as we have seen, according to the principles of ring composition; even the section lengths fit perfectly in the overall scheme. Moreover, the precise structure serves as a guide, pointing to key themes in the sura. These occur, according to the logic of the pattern, at the centers of individual rings and, particularly, at the center of the whole sura. At the center of the sura, again, one finds instructions to face Mecca — this being a test of faith; identification of the Muslims as a new, middle community; and the message that all people, regardless of their qibla or spiritual orientation, should race to do good and God will bring them together.”
Ring composition has great exegetical application. For a ring structure not only holds the text together, but also gives focus to the important words and themes. By means of concentric patterning, ring composition calls attention to the centre – we are drawn to look here for the essential message. As Mary Douglas notes concisely, “The meaning is in the middle.” [4]
It also serves as an aid in memorisation, especially useful given the length of Surah al-Baqarah. In his study of ancient poetry, Cedric Whitman found that ring composition simultaneously performed both aesthetic and mnemonic functions. It aids memorisation by permitting the oral poet to easily recall the basic formulae of the composition during performances [5].
Given the difficult and protracted circumstances of the Qur’an’s revelation, one would expect it to be in disorder. However as this article has demonstrated, any such understanding reveals a lack of insight into the Qur’an’s sophisticated structure. Upon deep analysis of the Qur’an’s composition we see that it exhibits a remarkable structure. It is simply impossible for Prophet Muhammad, given that he could neither read nor write and had no reputation as a poet or literary expert, to have engineered such a structure himself. This represents compelling evidence that his inspiration for the Qur’an was God Almighty, as the Qur’an itself states:
“Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. He was taught by one mighty in Power.” [Chapter 53, verses 2-5]
1 – Tafsir at-Tabari, also see Tafsir Abdul Razzaq 3/86 Narration No. 2496 under Qur’an 36:69.
2 – Original diagram taken from article at Islam21c, “The Coherence of al-Baqarah”.
3 – Surat al-Baqarah – A Structural Analysis, Raymond Farrin, 2010.
4 – Mary Douglas, Thinking in Circles 16, 35.
5 – Cedric M. Whitman. Homer and the Heroic Tradition. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958.

How the Qur’an is Both Concise and Comprehensive.

The Qur’an is a very concise book. You do not find unnecessary or superfluous detail in its verses; the information that it contains always serves and supports the overall purpose of the Qur’an which is guidance for mankind. By contrast the Old Testament provides a lot of unnecessary, and arguably harmful, detail that is of no benefit to those seeking guidance. A good example is Ezekiel 23:20, which describes the genitals and semen of men using obscene language. The New Testament suffers from a lot of repetition, for example the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke contain so much duplicated material between them that it has led many Christian scholars to conclude that their authors used a common source which has since been lost to history.
In fact compared to other Scriptures such as the Old Testament and New Testament, the Qur’an is significantly shorter, around 10 times shorter than the Old Testament and half the length of the New Testament. One of the wisdoms behind making the Qur’an concise is so as to make it easy to remember:
And We have certainly made the Qur’an easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember? [Chapter 54, verse 17]
The Qur’an is indeed easy to remember, the proof being the millions of Muslims alive today who have memorised it from cover to cover in its original Arabic.
A truly amazing property of the Qur’an is that it maintains conciseness without compromising on being a comprehensive means of guidance. The Qur’an makes the claim of being a “clarification for all things”, “detailed” and containing “every example”:
…And We have sent down to you the Book as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims. [Chapter 16, verse 89]
Alif, Lam, Ra. [This is] a Book whose verses are perfected and then presented in detail from [one who is] Wise and Acquainted. [Chapter 11, verse 1]
And We have certainly presented for the people in this Qur’an from every [kind of] example – that they might remember. [Chapter 39, verse 27]
How is this possible when in literature these two features, conciseness and comprehensiveness, are mutually at odds? We are going to take a look at some examples of how the Qur’an achieves this momentous feat.
Or were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]? Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Rather, they are not certain. [Chapter 52, verses 35-36]
For everything like man that has a beginning in time, there are only three ways of explaining how it came to be:
a. Either it is caused by nothing at all i.e. it came out of nothing.
b. Or it is the creator of itself.
c. Or it has a creator, cause, or maker, outside of itself.
Notice that the Qur’an does not mention the third option, it only explicitly proposes the first two possibilities. We can’t have been caused by nothing, because from nothing, nothing comes. We can’t have created ourselves because that would require that we were in a state of existence and non-existence simultaneously, an impossibility. So these first two possibilities are so absurd that we are left to conclude that we must have a Creator. In this instance the Qur’an does not waste any space covering what is the only sensible explanation as to the origin of man, God Almighty, because it does not need to. Upon reflection any sensible individual will arrive at this conclusion themselves.
O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew. [Chapter 62, verse 9]
The literal meaning of the word used here for trade is ‘sale’. Although the intent is to ban all activities of buying and selling which may distract people from going to Friday prayer, the verse has mentioned ‘sale’ only, because when one aspect of trading is abandoned, the other aspect would automatically come to an end. If there is no one to sell, there will be no one to buy, because trade is a bilateral transaction. The underlying wisdom is that there may be an uncountable number of customers and buyers, and it would not be possible by any practical means to stop them all. The sellers and shopkeepers, however, are by comparison limited in number and they can be stopped. If they are stopped from selling, the buyers automatically will stop buying. Hence, God Almighty deemed it sufficient to impose the ban on ‘sale’, as any mention of buying would be superfluous.
There is a huge variety of beliefs among the many Christian sects throughout the world. Is Jesus God? Is God one person or three persons? Do we need works to enter heaven, or are we justified by faith alone? Should Christians observe the Sabbath? Was the Crucifixion of Jesus a payment for mankind’s sins to appease God’s wrath, or was it an act of love towards us by God? Does Hell exist? Out of all these variant beliefs among the Christian sects, God Almighty focuses on refuting the two beliefs that are common to virtually all Christian sects:
And they say, “The Most Merciful has taken [for Himself] a son.” You have done an atrocious thing. The heavens almost rupture therefrom and the earth splits open and the mountains collapse in devastation That they attribute to the Most Merciful a son. And it is not appropriate for the Most Merciful that He should take a son. There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant. [Chapter 19, verses 88 – 93]
And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. [Chapter 4, verse 157]
These two beliefs, the divine Sonship of Jesus and the Crucifixion, are the bedrock of Christianity and common denominator across the Christian sects. Therefore by refuting these the Qur’an is being extremely efficient as it cuts to the core doctrines of Christianity whilst at the same time addressing the maximum number of people. A truly comprehensive rebuttal.
…And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. [Chapter 4, verse 171]
Now one might wonder to themselves, why is it that God Almighty did not get into the details of the doctrine of the Trinity, why did He only mention a few words, “do not say three”? Since belief in the Trinity is disbelief on the part of Christians, considered the worst of sins in Islam, one might think that the Qur’an should have gone into as much detail as possible in defining the Trinity. Instead the Qur’an tackles the issue in general terms. It simply says, “do not say three”. No matter who the persons of the Trinity are, no matter the relationship between the persons within the Trinity, simply do not say three, no matter how you Christians say it.
Indeed there is great wisdom in taking this approach. If we examine the history of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, then we find that it has been evolving, with Christians at different times and places having had differing beliefs. Today, for example, there are those who believe that God is one God in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Others believe that each of these three persons is a distinct and separate god, representing three gods in total (known as tritheism). So there are different conceptions for the doctrine of the Trinity. The advantage of the Qur’an speaking about the Trinity in only general terms, is that all the Christians who believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, no matter what form or shape, are given guidance by the Qur’an. A question that Christian readers would do well to ponder on is how did the author of the Qur’an have the foresight to tailor it in such a way that it addresses every kind of Trinitarian, including those who came about after its revelation.
Say, “He is Allah , [who is] One,
Allah , the Eternal Refuge.
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor is there to Him any equivalent.” 
[Chapter 112]
There are a multitude of false beliefs about God Almighty throughout the many religious outlooks in the world. Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism are just some examples that are at odds with the pure monotheistic nature of God Almighty. Rather than spending time directly addressing each and every one of these false beliefs individually, God Almighty instead clearly defines who He is and provides the yardstick by which to measure all other deities. Amazingly, there is no other god or goddess that measures up to this yardstick. Allah is the Supreme God against Whom all other deities fall short. In just four short verses, less than 20 words, every other deity that is, and has ever been, worshipped by man is shown to be inferior to Allah and therefore not worthy of worship.
For the Qur’an to maintain conciseness throughout without sacrificing its comprehensive guidance is a feat beyond human capability. Despite being in a world that is constantly evolving, whether technologically, morally or socially, the Qur’an remains remarkably fresh and relevant for every time and place. Even 1,400 years after the revelation of the Qur’an, this is a book whose limited size does nothing to hinder its unlimited scope for guiding mankind:
This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah. [Chapter 2, verse 2]
Those readers interested in learning more about the Qur’an can download an excellent English translation here (PDF file):
Alternatively, order your free copy here:

The Literary Magnificence of the Qur’an.

Usually when one thinks of literature the medium of writing comes to mind. Many non Muslims are unaware that the Qur’an was not originally delivered to its first audience in the form of writing, but rather speech. There is a fundamental difference between written and oral communication. Certainly with live, unplanned oral discourse, you don’t have the benefit of the editorial process. Whereas when it comes to publishing written works, you do not release the first draft. The writing process generally involves proof reading, review, corrections and the removal of redundancy before any respectable author considers their work to be in a fit state for public consumption.
To reiterate, the entire Qur’an was first delivered to its audience, a mixture of believers and non believers, in the form of speech. We know from pre-Islamic history that the Arabs were keen on scrutinising each other’s poetic efforts. So Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had a tough audience. In addition the Qur’an often did not have the opportunity for an editorial process, as many verses were revealed on the spot as a response to questions and challenges that were brought forward to Prophet Muhammad from both believers and non believers. Moreover, although the Qur’an was revealed gradually over a period of 23 years, it did not go through multiple revisions as it was revealed. This is in contrast to the New Testament which has undergone numerous corrections as the manuscripts were passed from one scribe to another and they decided to correct each other’s mistakes. So had any mistakes or errors crept into the Qur’an, it would have been extremely difficult to correct or retract them given the rapid and mass spread of the Qur’an to multiple tribes and countries. Finally, Prophet Muhammad did not have a reputation for poetry. In fact there is evidence indicating that at a personal level he wasn’t a skilled poet. [1]
In the face of all these obstacles, one would naturally expect the Qur’an to exhibit traits of incoherence, contradictions, redundancy, errors and other such issues. As we will see, this couldn’t be further from the truth. What we are going to take a look at are a few examples of what makes the Qur’an a literary masterpiece against all odds.
In the chapter of the Qur’an known as Maryam (Mary), there are sudden changes in the rhyming scheme (click on picture to enlarge):
Notice that the pattern for the verse endings are “-a” from the beginning of the chapter all the way up to and including the 33rd verse. The subject of these verses are the prophets with themes of monotheism. The 34th verse suddenly switches to an ending of “-oon”. This verse and the few that follow it divert the subject to the disbelievers. The 41st verse onwards bring the subject back to the prophets and monotheism, resuming the “-a” ending pattern up to the end of the chapter, the 98th verse. What is the purpose of breaking this pattern? This change in pattern represents the audio equivalent of a footnote in written literature. The Qur’an instilled the footnote in the Arabic listener via this change in rhyme scheme. You know that the original subject is continuing from where it left off by the return to the “-a” ending pattern. This was a device that had never been used before in Arabic poetry.
Allah has not made for a man two hearts in his interior. And He has not made your wives whom you declare unlawful your mothers. And he has not made your adopted sons your [true] sons. That is [merely] your saying by your mouths, but Allah says the truth, and He guides to the [right] way. [Qur’an, chapter 33, verse 4]
Allah stated that He has not placed two hearts into any man. This statement is therefore to the exclusion of women. This is in spite of the fact that women are spoken about in this very verse. Had Allah said that He has not placed two hearts inside of any human being, or any person, then women would have been included. But then there would be an issue if this verse were to be interpreted literally, as women can have two or more hearts inside them when they are pregnant and carrying a baby.
Do they not consider the Qur’an (with care)? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein many contradictions. [Qur’an, chapter  4, verse 82]
There are two methods of examining whether the Qur’an is what it claims to be, depending on how one chooses to interpret the above words.
The first involves reading the whole book, verifying that the information present in it contains no contradictions and then passing a verdict. This is the clear and apparent meaning of the verse.
The second method is much simpler. If one wanted to be devilish then they would not to look to the apparent meanings of the words, but rather to treat them as abstract logical terms. With this in mind they would interpret the verse as follows:
Do they not consider the Qur’an (with care)? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein many [occurrences of the word] contradictions. [Qur’an, chapter 4, verse 82]
In other words, if the word ‘contradictions’ (in original Arabic the grammatical accusative form “ikhtilafan”) occurs more than once in the Qur’an, then the Qur’an is from other than Allah. What we find is that the other forms of the word in Arabic occur in many places throughout the Qur’an. But the form ‘contradictions’ occurs only once in total – the very verse that we are analysing.
But wait, we can take it a step further. Note the order of the following statements as we find them within the verse:
… Had it been from other than Allah → they would surely have found therein many contradictions.
Had it been written the other way around as follows:
… If you find therein many contradictions → then it is from other than Allah.
Then this would not be logically robust, as this very verse contains a mention of “many contradictions” and therefore we conclude that it is from other than Allah! So to summarise, the verse itself is logically robust from every conceivable interpretation.
One might think that this is an isolated case, yet here is another verse which exhibits similar properties:
Leave Me and him whom I created alone (wahidan) [Qur’an, chapter 74, verse 11]
The word ‘wahidan’ means “alone”. How many times is the word “alone” in the Qur’an? The answer is once, in this verse, so it is literally alone.
Thus We have appointed you (Muslims) a middle (wasatan) nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness against you… [Qur’an, chapter 2, verse 143]
The second chapter of the Qur’an, known as al-Baqarah, consists of a total of 286 verses. The verse quoted above is the 143rd verse within the chapter. One of the meanings of the word ‘wasatan’ is “middle”. So this statement about the Muslims being a “middle” nation occurs exactly in the middle of the chapter.
“(O Muslims) Your (real) friends are Allah, His Messenger [Muhammad], and the (Fellowship Of) Believers, those who establish regular prayers and regular charity, and they bow down humbly (in worship).   [Qur’an, chapter 5, verse 55]
Hypocrites, those who professed Islam publicly but inwardly were disbelievers, were living amongst the ranks of the true Muslim believers at the time this verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. It was very difficult to distinguish the hypocrites from the true believers based on outward appearance and actions, as they prayed and performed other acts of worship publicly just like the true believers.
Note the order of the following statements as we find them within the verse:
… the (Fellowship Of) Believers → those who establish regular prayers and regular charity
Had it been written the other way around as follows:
… Those who establish regular prayers and regular charity → (are) the (Fellowship Of) Believers
Then the implication would be that the all disbelieving hypocrites are true believers, because they prayed and gave charity! But Allah chose the perfect order for the words within the verse, the true believers are those that pray and give charity.
Verily, the likeness of Jesus before Allah is the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then He said to him: “Be!” – and he was. [Qur’an, chapter 3, verse 59]
Notice that God Almighty tells us that Jesus Christ, like Adam, was created without a father. This is the Islamic argument; that Jesus cannot be regarded as divine simply because he had no father, because if that holds true, then Adam must also be considered divine as he had neither a father nor a mother.
What is interesting is that this connection between Jesus and Adam is not merely confined to the meaning of the verse as explained above. This connection even exists with regards to the various mentions of both Jesus and Adam in the Qur’an.
To explain further, if we look for the word ‘Jesus’ in the Qur’an, we find that it is mentioned 25 times in total. Similarly, if we look at the mention of ‘Adam’ in the Qur’an, we find, again, that it is mentioned exactly 25 times.
Perhaps just a coincidence? We can take this analysis a step further. The above verse (“Verily, the likeness of Jesus before Allah is the likeness of Adam…”) is the only verse in the Qur’an where both Jesus and Adam were mentioned together. In no other verse do the two names meet; this gives the verse a pivotal importance in our discussion. The number of times the word ‘Adam’ is mentioned from the beginning of the Qur’an up to this pivot verse is 6 times, just like the word ‘Jesus’ which is also mentioned 6 times!
To better illustrate this, each of the 25 verses mentioning Jesus and Adam are listed below in their order of appearance in the Qur’an (click on picture to enlarge) [2]:
Adam and Jesus
And [mention, O Muhammad], when Moses said to his people, “O my people, why do you harm me while you certainly know that I am the messenger of Allah to you?” And when they deviated, Allah caused their hearts to deviate. And Allah does not guide the defiantly disobedient people. And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.” [Qur’an, chapter 61, verses 5-6]
Prophet Moses was sent to the Israelites, as was Prophet Jesus. Even though there was a long span of time between the two prophets, they are addressing the same people, the Israelites.
Notice that when Moses addresses the Israelites, he says “My Nation”. Whereas Jesus says “Sons of Israel”. In Semitic tradition, identity is given by the father. The nation itself is named after the father. According to Biblical tradition Israel is another name for Prophet Jacob. In the same way that we are referred to as Children of Adam, not Eve. This is natural in most societies as the surname is acquired from the father. To be from a nation your father should also be from that nation.
So when Moses says, “My Nation”, he’s actually saying that my father is from among you. But never in the Qur’an do we find Jesus saying “My Nation”, every time he addresses the Israelites he says “Sons of Israel”. This is because he does’t have a father, his birth was miraculous through the virgin Mary. Amazingly this kind of precision is present throughout the Qur’an.
Two very similar verses appear in the 6th and 17th chapters of the Qur’an:
“and do not kill your children because of poverty, We provide for you and them” [Qur’an, chapter 6, verse 151]
“and do not kill your children due to fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you” [Qur’an, chapter 17, verse 31]
At first glance it may appear that there is duplication and therefore redundant information. It turns out that there is a subtle difference in the wording due to the different contexts of the two verses:
  1. In the first verse, Allah refers to a reason that already exists in the present, poverty.
  2. In the second verse, Allah mentions fear, which is something that might happen in the future but doesn’t exist yet.
So, there are different contexts, two types of parents mentioned in these verses:
  1. Those who are already poor in the present.
  2. Those who fear poverty after children in the future.
When Allah speaks to the first group of parents, who are already worried about themselves, He promises that they will be taken care of.
When He addresses the second group, those whose fear is associated with having children, Allah mentions that He will take care of the children, and He will take care of you (the parents).
In literature, aesthetics and structure are often at odds. For example one might write a poem that sounds pleasing to the ears but has a lot of repetition, so its aesthetics far outweigh its structure. It’s difficult to tailor your literature around one without compromising the other. What is remarkable is that whenever Allah employs these rhetorical devices and linguistic nuances it does not degrade the Qur’an’s poetic beauty. Amazingly the Qur’an never compromises on either.
“Say: ‘If all mankind and the jinn would come together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce its like even though they exerted all and their strength in aiding one another.’” [Qur’an, chapter 17, verse 88]
There were numerous literary experts in Arabia at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an who devoted their entire lives to their craft. They were unable to bring anything like the Qur’an. Some of them did not even attempt it, because as soon as they heard the Qur’an it was an uncontested defeat.
What the reader must appreciate is that the examples given above are just a few. Every page of the Qur’an is literally filled with such rhetorical devices and literary nuances. So it is reasonable to conclude they are present by design rather than coincidence. Some sceptics of Islam argue against Muhammad’s Prophethood by stating that he invented the Qur’an himself and claimed it was divine in origin in order to gain power and influence in Arabia. For the sake of argument, were a human being able to craft a literary work of the magnitude of the Qur’an, then surely they would mention examples like those discussed above. In a land filled with poets, where poetry was highly valued, a conman would surely use these examples as they would have been the perfect claim to fame. The refutation is that Prophet Muhammad never mentioned these literary examples in his own lifetime! He did not say: ‘look this verse, it contains so and so, become Muslim!’ This was discovered by the scholars of Qur’anic exegesis centuries later.
Those readers interested in learning more about the Qur’an can download an excellent English translation here (PDF file):
Alternatively, order your free copy here:
1 – Tafsir Abdul Razzaq 3/86 Narration #2496 under Qur’an 36:69.
2 – Abduldaem Al-Kaheel (

The Qur’an: God’s Eternal Challenge to Mankind.

God Almighty has issued forth a challenge to mankind and jinns (spirits) in the Qur’an:
And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant (Muhammad), then produce a chapter the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah , if you should be truthful. But if you do not – and you will never be able to – then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. [Chapter 2, verses 23-24]
Perhaps the greatest miracle of the Qur’an is its inimitability, this divine challenge has stood for over 1,400 years. God Almighty tells us that it is impossible for any human being or jinn to produce just one chapter like the Qur’an, even if we were to all aid one another in the effort:
Say, “If mankind and the jinn gathered in order to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they were to each other assistants.” [Chapter 17, verse 88]
What’s remarkable is that the tools needed to meet this challenge are the finite grammatical rules and the twenty eight letters that comprise the Arabic language; these are independent and objective measures available to all. For argument’s sake, were the origin of the Qur’an not divine in nature, with it merely being the invention of the mind of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), then surely another human being, with equal or greater literary ability, should be able to produce a chapter like it. Many have tried and failed to meet this challenge, and this is in spite of having the very blueprint, i.e. the Qur’an itself, as an example. In addition, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was unlettered and did not have a reputation for poetry. Moreover, this is a challenge that gets harder as time passes by. As we learn more and more about the Qur’an (e.g. recent discoveries of mathematical patterns) the scope of the challenge increases as any new discovery is added to the list of criteria that a challenger must meet.
A challenge only has merit if there are individuals capable of mounting a response. This is why it is crucial to note the historical context in which the Qur’an emerged. The Arabs at the time considered themselves (and are still considered by historians and linguists to this day) to be masters of the Arabic language. The following quotation from Ibn Rashiq illustrates the importance attached to language at the time. He writes:
“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.” [1]
The 9th century scholar Ibn Qutaiba 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.” [2]
Ibn Khaldun, a notable scholar of the 14th century, remarked on 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.” [3]
The failure of those at the peak of their trade – mastery of the Arabic language – to rival the Qur’an which challenged them should make one think. The famous British historian H. A. R. Gibb states:
“Well then, if the Qur’an 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 Qur’an as an outstanding evidential miracle.” [4]
This is an example of the poet Musaylimah attempting (and failing) to bring something ‘like’ the Qur’an [5]:
Before embracing Islam, Amr bin Al-’As went to visit a poet known as Musaylimah.
Upon his arrival, Musaylimah said to him, “What has been revealed to your friend (Muhammad) during this time?”
Amr said, “By time. Verily, man is in loss. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and recommend one another to the truth, and recommend one another to patience.”
So Musaylimah thought for a while. Then he said, “Indeed something similar has also been revealed to me.”
Amr asked him, “What is it?”
He replied, “O hyrax, O hyrax! You are only two ears and a chest, and the rest of you is digging and burrowing.”
Then he said, “What do you think, O Amr?”
So Amr said to him, “By Allah! Verily, you know that I know you are lying.”
(This is a Hyrax, in case you were wondering).
(This is a Hyrax, in case you were wondering).
By analysing the above attempt to imitate the Qur’an it can be seen that the contemporary of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) just extrapolated verses from the Qur’an, retaining its rhythm whilst lacking the linguistic features of the Qur’an. Amr was not Muslim at that point, and he clearly recognised and openly admitted that this attempt was a poor imitation of the Qur’an.
So then, what exactly does meeting the challenge entail? A lot of people misunderstand the Qur’an’s literary challenge to produce something like it, many assume it simply means writing something as “good” as the Qur’an.
Because of this, many skeptics point out that literary value judgments are highly subjective. This is a fair point to make. If someone says that they think a certain selection of prose or poetry is better than the Qur’an, who can argue with them? After all, isn’t it really just a matter of personal preferance and taste?
The Qur’an’s challenge, however, is not simply to write something of equal literary merit, but rather what is required is to achieve at least a comparable degree of the literary beauty, nobility, and sublimity of the Qur’an while at the same time emulating the Qur’an’s particular style.
It is possible to superficially mimic the style of the Qur’an, as was seen earlier with the poet Musaylamah’s attempt, but all such attempts from the days of Musaylimah to the present have proven to be inadequate.
It is, likewise, possible for a person writing in Arabic to reach a great level of literary excellence and, in the most moving of poetry and prose, convey the noblest thoughts and sentiments – but nobody has ever done so using the Qur’an’s unique style. The Qur’an is so unique that it created an entirely new genre of Arabic literature whilst at the same time being internally consistent in maintaining its unique style. Respected British Orientalist Arthur J Arberry states:
“For the Koran is neither prose nor poetry, but a unique fusion of both” [6]
This, then, is the acid test: write something in the exact same style as the Qur’an and in doing so produce something of arguably similar quality and sublimity.
Still, one could argue that the evaluation of the results is grounded in subjective literary tastes. However, the second part of the challenge is to bring witnesses to attest to the quality of that evaluation, and not just make an unattested claim:
“Or do they say ‘He has forged it.’ Say: ‘Then bring a chapter like it and call whoever you can besides Allah if you are truthful’.” [Chapter 10, verse 38]
French scholar Paul Casanova marvels at the language of the Qur’an:
“Whenever Muhammad was asked a miracle, as a proof of the authenticity of his mission, he quoted the composition of the Qur’an and its incomparable excellence as proof of its divine origin. And, in fact, even for those who are non-Muslims nothing is more marvellous than its language with such apprehensible plenitude and a grasping sonority… The ampleness of its syllables with a grandiose cadence and with a remarkable rhythm have been of much moment in the conversion of the most hostile and the most sceptic.” [7]
The fact that it has not been matched since it emerged to this day does not surprise most scholars familiar with the language Arabic, as Professor Palmer explains:
“That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur’an itself is not surprising” [8]
Coming from a prominent Orientalist and litterateur deeply conversant with Arabic, this excerpt from A.J. Arberry’s translation of the Qur’an highlights its literary excellence:
“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.”
Here British linguist and Orientalist Dr.Steingass talks about the wider sociological impact of the Qur’an:
“Here, therefore, its merits as a literary production should perhaps not be measured by some preconceived maxims of subjective and aesthetic taste, but by the effects which it produced in Muhammad’s contemporaries and fellow countrymen. If it spoke so powerfully and convincingly to the hearts of his hearers as to weld hitherto centrifugal and antagonistic elements into one compact and well-organised body, animated by ideas far beyond those which had until now ruled the Arabian mind, then its eloquence was perfect, simply because it created a civilized nation out of savage tribes…” [9]
Furthermore, the Qur’anic use of rhetoric and eloquence is arguably unparalleled in the Arabic language. The language of the Qur’an is precise and accurate in both meaning and expression; each letter and word has its place while the language is free from fault. The English physician, writer and scholar Henry Stubbe explains:
“The truth is I do not find any understanding author who controverts the elegance of Al Qur’an, it being generally esteemed as the standard of the Arabic language and eloquence.” [10]
Dawood, an Iraqi Jewish Scholar in his translation of the Qur’an comments describes it as a ‘literary masterpiece':
“The Koran is the earliest and by far the finest work of Classical Arabic prose… It is acknowledged that the Koran is not only one of the most influential books of prophetic literature but also a literary masterpiece in its own right.” [11]
The Qur’an reaches, indeed defines, the peak of eloquence in the Arabic language. The Qur’an stakes its claim to divine origin on the matter of its language, by issuing a challenge to rival even its shortest chapter.
How could a man, unable to read or write and without any reputation for being a poet, become the most important author, in terms of literary merits, in the whole of Arabic literature? It is incontestably the standard of the Arabic tongue, inimitable by any human pen. If the Qur’an was written by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), why were not Arab scholars and linguists able to rival it? This renders the position of those that hold him to be the author untenable. The answer to the question of authorship lies in the Qur’an itself:
Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. He was taught by one mighty in Power. [Chapter 53, verses 2-5]
You can download an excellent English translation of the Qur’an here (PDF file):
Alternatively, order your free copy here:
1 – Ibn Rashiq, ‘Umda, vol. 1, p. 65.
2 – Ibn Qutaiba, ‘Uyun al-akhbar, (Cairo, 1964), vol. 2, p. 185.
3 – The Muqaddimah, volume 3, page 374.
4 – H. A. R. Gibb, Islam-A Historical Survey (Oxford University Press: 1980), 28.
5 – Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Surah Asr.
6 – The Koran. Oxford University Press, 1998, p. x.
7 – Paul Casanova, “L’Enseignement de I’Arabe au College de France” (The Arab Teaching at the College of France), Lecon d’overture, 26 April 1909.
8 – Professor E.H. Palmer.1820. Introduction to The Koran.
9 – Dr Steingass quoted in T. P. Hughes – “Dictionary of Islam”, pp 256-257.
10 – Henry Stubbe. 1911. Rise and Progress of Mohammadanism.
11 – N. J. Dawood.1990.The Koran Translated. Doubleday.

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