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Introduction to the Noble Quran

By Dr. Munir Munshey

 

 

Miracle of the Qur’an

The history of the world is a witness to the fact that the authenticity of the Qur'an is beyond reproach. There are absolutely no discrepancies in its text, and there is only one version. Every copy is exactly like the other and anyone can verify that fact. The skeptic can purchase a copy of the Qur'an in Indonesia and check it against the recitation of a blind 'hafiz', one of those who memorize the entire Qur’an by heart, in any of the obscure villages of Central Africa. He may acquire a copy from any library or museum and compare it against the annual public recitation, the ‘taraweeh’, held in the month of Ramadhan in any mosque around the world. He will have to confirm that not even a dot has changed in its text over the centuries. The disbeliever may disagree with its verses, but would have to confirm that it is, word for word, the same Qur’an that was revealed to prophet Muhammad, SAW; the same one that electrified, transformed and catapulted the nomads into the role of the leaders of the world. The skeptic may doubt its message, but would have to concede, in all honesty, that a person reciting the Quran today moves his lips in exactly the same sequence, as did the prophet, SAW. Its message is surprisingly simple, that the end of life is not the end of a person. The real life is the life to come, while this life is just a test. This world is unreal, an illusion, and the shadow of the world to come. Infinitely better than success here, is the triumph of the hereafter. Those who prefer the hereafter and rush towards its rewards will find that this world trails them like a shadow. Those who run after this world find themselves chasing their own shadows.  Those who prefer this world to the next one, actually end up losing both. This transient elusive world, too, slips right through their fingers. About the hereafter, Prophet Muhammad, SAW, said, “Accept this truth and you will find that this world and the next world will come tumbling down on your feet.” The obscure people of Arabia accepted that fact in the first millenium of the Common Era, and this world fell prostrate before them. The barbarians of Mongolia accepted that fact in the second millenium, and became civilized. The riches and power of this world were theirs for several centuries. It has the potential to produce the same spectacular results in the third millenium. Quran, the miracle, is still alive and awaits a nation, any nation, to come alive and heed its call. Five times every day the call of the Qur’an, the ‘athaan’, resounds throughout the world! The miracle belongs to humanity, not to the black, white or any other race!

Seven centuries after the Qur’an was first revealed, it produced yet another miracle.  The citizens of the Islamic state ignored it, lost their faith and became decadent. The Mongols, the most vicious and bloodthirsty barbarians of central Asia invaded the Muslim territories. They ransacked every city and went on a rampage killing every one within sight. Streams of blood flowed through the cities, headless bodies clogged the rivers, and throughout the area the stench of corpses permeated the air for months. Using their victims’ skulls, they erected tall towers as ghoulish monuments of their cruelty. Within months, such towers replaced hundreds of towns and villages.  That was a particularly gory and gruesome period of world history. The world had never seen such ferocity and barbarism. They killed for fun, and did not spare women or children. They slaughtered even stray cats and dogs. The names of Gengis Khan, the chief leader of the Mongols and Halaku Khan, the captor of Baghdad will forever be remembered in history for their savagery and brutality. They were full of hatred for Islam, and were committed to wipe it out of this world. They vengefully eradicated all symbols of religion. They burned books and libraries, and razed mosques and schools to the ground. Except for a small Islamic state in Egypt all the Muslim areas came under their sway. Before the Mongol invasion, Baghdad the capital of the Islamic caliphate had a population of one and a quarter million people.  Barely three hundred thousand survived the ordeal. The same story was repeated in every single town under the control of the Mongols. It is estimated that they killed about one-third to one half of the entire population of the country. The pillage and carnage continued for fifty years and it appeared to the world that Islam had run its course. It seemed that Islam was destined to die out in its own citadel, and that the Qur’an will go the way of the previous scriptures. The tragic end seemed near at hand.

But then something stunning and mind boggling happened.  A miracle took place! The world had never before witnessed such a miracle.  The fiercest, most savage people in the world, were miraculously struck by the sword of Islam _ the Marvelous Majestic Qur'an.  Barely fifty years after they conquered the Muslim country, the Mongols embraced Islam. The barbarians became civilized and found religion. The savage had a change of heart and found God. The victor adopted the religion of the vanquished, something that had never happened before. The Qur’an mellowed their hearts and drove them to tears. They performed ablution, rinsed away their hatred, brought home the scripture, and showered it with respect. They became the humble servants of the same Qur’an that they had set out to trample under their feet.  With contempt they had cursed it, but with reverence they picked it up and kissed it. They bestowed the highest honor to the Qur’an, and placed it in the safest of places _ their hearts and their lives. They adopted it as their constitution and the source of law, and zealously began to implement its teachings in their public and private lives. They were the defenders of the Qur'an for centuries after that.  Against all odds, and despite being defeated and vanquished, the Qur'an won over the heart and soul of the most savage and ruthless people the world had ever seen.  Islam does conquer by its sword! The sword of Islam, the Quran, continues to strike friends and foes alike, across the world.  Why else would they abandon the religion of their birth and choose to call themselves Muslims? 

A miracle is an occurrence contrary to the normal course of events, and involves suspension of the laws of nature. It defies explanation and indicates divine intervention. To deny it is to display arrogance, intransigence and ignorance of the laws of nature. For those who witness it first hand, it is a proof positive. After the witnesses pass away, its overwhelming influence begins to pass, and diminishes with each succeeding generation.  For those born later, it is merely a lore penned and propagated by zealots, and backed by the sanctity of the scriptures. After the passage of time, it fails to excite anyone except the staunchest of believers. The real impact of the miracle is upon those actually present at the time.  Others must take a leap of faith to believe it. The raising of the dead, the restoring of sight to the blind, and the parting of the sea were unenduring miracles with waning influences. Their proof is lost with the passing of the eyewitnesses.  The permanent miracle must neither fade nor fail to inspire awe. The march of time should not taper its validity, and it must endure and abide till the end of time.  Subsequent generation should be able to witness its wonder first hand, and not have to rely upon amazing anecdotes. It must continue to defy explanation and must bear its own unimpeachable testimony. The Qur’an is such an enduring miracle! Its text is unadulterated, and the language of its revelation continues to be alive and widespread.  Its authenticity and effect has not ebbed. Ubiquitous and universal, it is truly a living miracle. Even the manner in which it is preserved is miraculous.

 

Authenticity of the Qur’an

The prophet and hundreds of his companions committed it to memory right at the time of its revelation. Those who were literate read the written text and learnt it by heart. Others, particularly those born blind, learnt it by rote and taught it to others similarly afflicted. Its melodious and singsong quality makes it easy to memorize. Each generation __ included in it are those deprived of the gift of sight __ bequeathed this gift of God to their children. The process went on uninterrupted and still goes on. The passage of time did not alter its impact.  By rote, and reposed in the hearts of men, it traveled through time. Those who commit the entire Qur’an, along with all the accent and punctuation marks, are called the ‘Hafiz’ or the ‘Preservers’. They are not monks or priests who shun the world and devote themselves to the study and practice of religion. Rather, they are ordinary men and come from all walks of life. Some of them are doctors, engineers, lawyers, businessmen, artisans and farmers. No one, not even a single person has ever memorized any other book in the world, religious or secular, scientific or spiritual. There is such a stark and striking difference between it and the rest of the books of the world. The Qur’an is the only book in the history of mankind that has been committed to memory in its entirety.  Today there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who can recite the entire Qur’an by memory in its original order. It can never become extinct, even if all of its written copies are destroyed. The ‘hafiz’ would be able to reproduce the entire text from memory.  The Qur’an is immortalized in this manner, and preserved for posterity. Such an extraordinary phenomenon is nothing short of a miracle!

Indeed, it is Our responsibility to have it collected (compiled) and read (as a book).  (75:17)

Books did not withstand the pressures of time. They were easy targets during periods of persecution. Scribes copied them one at a time, and the process was painstaking and slow.  It took weeks, if not months to produce a single copy, but only minutes to burn an entire roomful of books to ashes. Through out history, libraries have been ransacked and razed and books have been banned, burnt and banished. Countless number of books has become extinct over the years. They have been lost during forced migrations and exodus due to war, famine, and disease. Written texts do not preclude the possibility of adulteration, and scriptures that relied upon them have all been corrupted. The history of the bible demonstrates the inadequacy of the written records. Since scribes had to make copies by hand, inadvertent errors often slipped by into the bible. Subsequent scribes, then, copied the errors of oversight as the word of God. Often, alterations made in the text were calculated and deliberate. The defenders of faith interpolated verses to make it more defendable and palatable. Sectarian and internecine struggle muddied the field. All sects fiddled with the text to foster their own beliefs.  Counterfeit and corrupted copies of the text crept into circulation, and threw doubt on the validity of all versions. Several attempts to rid the texts of errors corrupted it still further. Each such attempt introduced the world to yet another version of the bible. Under the pretext of standardizing the text, kings appointed councils to alter and edit portions of it. With the awesome and absolute power of the state at their disposal, they canonized their own concoction of verses and issued edicts banning all other versions. The Catholic, the Protestant, and the Mormon bibles are substantially different, and are merely the versions canonized at different times. All non-canonized versions are not extinct and some, like the Gospel of Barnabas, differ drastically from the canonized bibles. Thousands of old manuscripts of the bible are said to exist, but no two of them are alike. Memorized text, however, is far less susceptible to corruption. The text engraved on stone can be wiped clean, but not the text etched on the hearts of men. Fire readily swallows words inscribed on paper, but not those committed to memory. A man can be imprisoned or killed, but he cannot be robbed of his memory. Neither the sword, nor the dungeon can distort the memorized text. That, which lies shielded within the ribcage, can neither be killed nor caged. Written records support, sustain and supplement the memorized text. Together, they confer immunity against corruption, and grant the seal of sanctity to the scriptures.

The purity of the Quran has been assured by not just one, nor even two, but rather by three distinct methods. It was committed to memory during the life of the prophet, right at the time of its revelation, and the institution of ‘hafiz’ transmitted the memorized text to each succeeding generation. Soon after the death of the prophet, an official written text was prepared, and the earliest available copy dates back to the time of the third Caliph of Islam whose reign began about twelve years after the death of the prophet. The Caliph was reading the Qur’an when he was assassinated, and that official copy, stained by his blood is preserved in a museum. In addition to the above two methods, the uninterrupted practice of the annual public recital of the Quran maintained its purity. It rendered the text immune to corruption. Each night during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a hafiz leads the prayers and as part of the ritual, recites a portion of the Qur’an from memory. Within three or four weeks, the recitation of the entire text is completed. The congregation stands behind in ‘salat’ and listens attentively. Any mistake of the ‘hafiz’ is promptly corrected. Neither a word, nor the order of the words may alter. Not even a dot can change. Neither by accident, nor by design can a word be added to, or deleted from the text. Prophet Muhammad, SAW, started this practice a year before his death, and it has continued uninterrupted till the present. The annual public reading, called the ‘Taraweeh’, is held in every city of the Muslim world and in most cities of the non-Muslim world. The miracle goes on display every year, and every generation can witness the wonder of the Qur’an first hand. The constitution of the Kingdom of God, the document of the utmost importance to mankind, is recited from memory every year in front of a large audience, at thousands of places around the world. One requires the arrogance of an atheist to ignore the evidence of the obvious.  This miracle of the Qur'an is as undeniable as the midday sun on a clear day.

If the author of the Quran was not the Almighty, Muhammad, SAW, would have to be a literary genius, the like of which this world has never seen before or since. Writing a book of that stature requires a treasure of knowledge spread over many diverse fields of study. Such an author would have to study and master scores of books on many subjects.  In the seventh century AD, the town of Makkah had only a handful of people who could read and write, and Muhammad, SAW, was not one of them.

Oh messenger! Before this you never read a book. Nor did you ever write anything with your hand. Otherwise, the biased ones would have raised questions and doubts! (29 : 48)

Similarly, We sent a spirit _ (Angel Gibraeel) _ towards you by Our command. You knew nothing about the book, or the matters of faith. But We made this book a beacon of guidance. (42: 52)

The fact that these verses were revealed to a man who could neither read nor write makes the miracle of the Qur'an far more awesome and irrefutable, and too profound to ignore. A human creation could not be that exquisite, excellent and consistent.  The evidence of its divine source exists within the text.  It contains rhythm and rhyme, and a unique style. The clear consistent and concise verses are itself the convincing living evidence of its divine origin. It is the pinnacle of perfection and the epitome of excellence. A flame runs through its words and melts away doubt. Vibrating and pulsating with life, its words head straight for the heart. The melody of its recital mellows the heart and affects the mood. Even those believers who do not understand a word of the Qur'an are distinctly moved and affected.  It produces a quasi-hypnotic effect on the believer. Its impassioned appeal impacts the heart, and the delight of its diction stirs the soul. The persistent, passionate and poignant appeal produces a profound effect. It invites and impacts the heart and seeks to evoke a response. It invites the reader to think, ponder and reason. Heart feels convinced that the acceptance of the Qur'an would confer peace and solace to life.

 

The preservation of Qur’an for posterity

Society has never been inclined or eager to embrace a new religion. It resists notions that threaten to change the old ways.  The history of Buddhism and Christianity is similar. The founder was not taken seriously during his lifetime. Those in power treated him as a pariah, intellectuals shunned him and the jesters earned a few laughs at his expense. Very few people heard, and fewer still answered, his call. The initial converts were oppressed and obscure people, who were poorly organized, wielded no influence and had meager resources. They were deprived and downtrodden, and invoked nothing but contempt from the society.  The early events in the life of the movement largely passed unnoticed by society. History ignored the new religion completely and failed to record the life and teaching of its founder. The followers, too, wrote nothing down. What motivated them was the life to come, and success in this world, either for themselves or for their movement, was not their goal. They shunned the world and sought solace in spiritual salvation. The religion grew at a snail’s pace and entered a new phase as it crossed into foreign lands.  Persecution tested their endurance and the influx of foreign ideas infested their faith. The untended and unintended spread coupled with the reliance on ambiguous oral traditions, led to diverse interpretations of the teachings, and conflicting accounts of the early events. Apart from belief in a dogma, the religion did not burden its followers much, and several sects flourished. Centuries later, the religion gained popularity and respectability, when it unexpectedly acquired the political patronage of those in power, and became the state religion.  This belated adoption of the religion by the state was actually the acceptance of only its dogma. The teachings were too quaint and quixotic, and were confined to Sunday sermons. Law, and the affairs of the state, remained independent of them. It was only then that history became interested in the religion and the life and teachings of its founder. Historians searched their sources and drew a blank.  Their annals had made no mention of the new religion or its founder. Accurate and independent accounts were absent because centuries had elapsed between its inception and its acceptance as a state religion. The only available sources were the oral traditions, and a few sketchy accounts of the second and third generation disciples. History could not separate facts from fiction and the life of the founder and the early events of the religion remained shrouded in mystery. Exaggeration made the founder of the religion seem more like a fictional character, not a real person. Centuries later, even some of the adherents are unsure whether their religion was built around a mythical being, or did he actually exist.

In sharp contrast, the Qur’an was revealed in the full glare of history. The prophet of Islam endured thirteen years of persecution. Then, a community a couple of hundred miles from his birth town, embraced Islam and the prophet, along with believers from all over Arabia, migrated there. A unique community came into existence comprising of people from all tribes, and the bonds of belief replaced old ties of tribe, family, race, and nationality. Some believers belonged to foreign lands. Under the leadership of Muhammad, SAW, the new community was willing to put the ideology into practice. The rest of Arabia felt threatened and tribes forged an alliance to defeat the believers. An intense struggle waged for ten years and led to several battles. The prophet of Islam was the chief legislator, and the chief executive of the new state. Above all he was the messenger of God.  His teachings were the law of the land, not just moral injunctions. His proclamations affected people and politics. The battles he fought and the alliances he formed affected not only his community, but also the entire geo-political entity.  He was not just a sage but a head of state, and was recognized as such by all including those who did not believe in him.  During the life of the prophet, Islam gained total domination over the entire Arabian Peninsula. History, therefore, could not ignore the founder of this movement, or his teachings. His sayings and actions were recorded as those of a head of state. The letters he sent to other heads of state were officially received and given diplomatic status. Some of them are still preserved in museums around the world. The contemporary historians chronicled the speeches his emissaries delivered in the courts of the kings and emperors. The private historians of the Roman and the Persian Empires noted in their diaries and journal the birth of the new ideology, and the events as they happened. Both super powers attempted to influence the outcome of the struggle being waged in Arabia. Their intelligence agencies, because it was vital to their interest, gathered information and studied the impact of the new religion upon their own civilization. The records of the life and the teachings of the prophet were compiled for different reasons by adherents and opponents, as well as concerned and unconcerned international observers. Of course, the followers compiled a detailed account, and carefully recorded and memorized everything the prophet said. His public as well as his private life is known to all. History does not maintain such a meticulous account of the private and public life of any other individual in the world. The Qur’an occupied a special status with the followers. It was their constitution and the source of law, as well as their sacred scripture. So sacred in fact, that they had to perform ablution before they could even touch it. Such a holy document came into being in the limelight of history, and has remained pristine and pure. 

Ever since then, the Qur’an has stayed in the limelight of history. Within the lifetime of the very first believers, the community established by the prophet gained supremacy over both the super powers of the time, the Roman and the Persian Empires. The Qur’an guided the community through thick and thin, and transformed it into a model civilization and the moral conscience of humanity. Its instructions and injunctions cast the mold of the new community and its influence pervaded the private and public lives of its adherents.  It regulated commerce and trade, taxation and public spending, and provided the principles of law and jurisprudence and the laws of marriage and divorce. The companions of the prophet, who were among the first ones to heed his call, went from being the nomads to the rulers of one of the super powers of the world. Islam became the ideology of the world and the Qur’an was the book of that ideology.  It became the constitution of the Islamic State, and no laws could be enacted against its dictates. Over the centuries, the world has seen many changes and people of many diverse ethnic backgrounds have run the Islamic states. The world has been torn by wars, diseases, famine and the invasions of the barbarians, but the Qur’an has always been the highest document of a vast expanse of this world. Ever since its revelation, there has not been any time when it was not the constitution of one or more countries of the world. Most of the time it was either the constitution of one of the super powers of the time, or that of the only super power of its time. No other book has so profoundly influenced so many millions, in so many diverse cultures for so many centuries. It was, and is, the most widely read book in the world. If ever there were those who wanted to alter the text of the book, they never had the opportunity to do so.

All means to assure the purity of a scripture would come to no avail, if its original language declines and becomes extinct. The fate of the text of any scripture is tied to the fate of its original language. If the later becomes extinct, the former cannot be far behind. Unless understood, the words would be nothing more than incantations, just jingles and merely meaningless mutterings. Without the living language to anchor it, the text is like an unmanned ship lost at sea, drifting away from its destination. When the language falls into disuse, the words become detached from its intended meaning, and myriad of translations and interpretations come into being. It is common usage that assigns specific meaning to phrases. Many phrases are restricted to specific circumstances. By custom, some phrases are meant to complement, while others convey sarcasm even though the words seem complementary. Merry, happy and gay are synonymous. Yet ‘Happy Christmas’ sounds awkward, and ‘Gay Christmas’ is inappropriate. Had English been extinct, simple sentences like ‘Mary had a little lamb’ would be difficult to understand. ‘Had’ can mean ‘owned’ or  ‘ate’ and ‘a little’ can mean ‘a small amount’ or ‘small in size’. Similarly ‘lamb’ can be taken to mean ‘the meat of lamb’, cooked or raw, or it can mean the live animal. It can also mean a gentle soul. Many widely different meanings can be given to that simple sentence and all of them would be correct according to the English grammar and dictionary. It could mean, “Mary gave birth to a gentle soul __ (the Lamb of God)” The statement would then acquire a religious sense. Had English been extinct, the scholar would have argued endlessly trying to assign a meaning to the simple sentence, ‘Mary had a little lamb’. Only common usage determines the correct meaning. To decipher a dead language is to make the deceased deliver the eulogy. Understanding simple sentences in an extinct tongue is like learning a complex technical subject in a foreign language, using just its dictionary and grammar. Translations are faint echoes of the original. When translated into a foreign language, a catchy phrase that rhymes, turns into an awkward jumble of words and lacks the ability to stir the soul and make it surge and sing. The validity of the text rests upon the continued survival of the original language, and the scripture not supported by a living and thriving language is neither inspiring nor trustworthy. The original language of the New Testament has been dead since a long time.  Today, not even a single soul speaks Aramaic, the language spoken by the messenger Jesus, son of Mary (peace be upon him), and his disciples. The New Testament is translated into English from the Greek, Latin or Hebrew versions. They, too, are the translations of the original Aramaic.

The language of the Qur’an, Arabic, is very much alive, and appears destined to stay alive for the foreseeable future. All the words used by the text are still in everyday use. Its rules of grammar are followed by the literary Arabic of today.  There was not much of written literature in Arabic at the time of its revelation. The Quran is Arabic at its best, and it formulated and fixed the rules of grammar. It coined many phrases and standardized the use of many others. Never before has the classic of an obscure language preceded the phenomenal rise of the language itself. Arabic has changed little, if at all, since the Qur’an was revealed in the seventh century AD. About three hundred million Muslims and thirty million non-Muslims around the world speak this language.  In the Arab world, it is the primary language spoken in homes and bazaars, classrooms and playgrounds, slums and parliaments, and courtrooms and corporate suites. It is taught in schools and universities, and is the language of science and technology, business and administration, law and jurisprudence, and poetry and prose.  Day to day business, and conversation on every topic that concerns humans is carried out in that language. Thousands of books on every subject imaginable are written and printed in Arabic every year. It is the official language of close to two dozen nations around the world and one of the official languages of the United Nations. The available scriptures of the other major religions of the world, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, are translations.  The originals are extinct, because the original languages of those scriptures have been extinct since many centuries.  The Qur'an is therefore unique among the scriptures of the world.

 

The beauty and eloquence of the Qur’an

The first audience of the Qur’an were the desert-dwellers of Arabia, who were proud of their language skills. Their material possessions were meager, but their language was far in advance of their culture. They earned their livelihood by trading and took many trips abroad to buy and sell goods. Their long journeys across the desert provided them the time to ponder about nature, and the order of the nature of things. They were very meticulous in their choice of words, and very specific in their speech. They adored oratory and diction, and effective communication. They were skillful in the articulation of finer thoughts, and quite adroit in their expression of ideas. Words were their wares, and eloquence was their fetish and forte. Communicating finer thoughts in the finest form was their obsession. Composing poetry and prose was their passion. They vied each other in their ability to be fluent and eloquent. They produced elegant literature of high quality, even though the subjects they chose were mostly petty and profane. They squandered their skills in embellishing the tales of their tryst, their amorous exploits and adventures, the exaggerated and boastful accounts of their valor in warfare, and the virtues of their wine and women. Their written literature was scanty, but they had a prolific memory and committed thousands of quotes, anecdotes and poems to memory. Their literature was passed along to subsequent generations by oral traditions. So proud were they of their diction and eloquence that they declared themselves to be the masters of the language, and others to be deprived of the faculty of speech. Compared to theirs, other languages were merely the crude communications of inarticulate mute men. They referred to all non-Arabs as ‘Ajums’, those suffering from a speech impediment.

When the Arabs first heard the Qur’an, they were awe-struck by its eloquence and listened in amazement. Never before in their life had they heard such a stunning and stately sermon. Their instincts convinced them that such a noble and august discourse could only be a divine diction, not a human creation. It was far more sublime and solemn than all their literature put together. The Qur’an proclaimed that it is not a man-made composition, and challenged its audience to present any composition that matches its style and elegance. It declared that humans would fail to produce a single composition to match its caliber, even if they joined hands and converged and coordinated their efforts. It threw the gauntlet, “If you have any doubt about what We have revealed to Our servant (Muhammad, SAW), then present just a single chapter like it. Call your witnesses, besides Allah, if you are truthful.” (2:23) The expert composers of Arabia heard the dare, but could not come up with an answer. Compared to the Qur’an their literary endeavors appeared clumsy and childish. They felt like they were inexperienced novices, the talentless tyros. The distinguished and prolific poets seemed immature and puerile. The vociferous and verbose orators found themselves at a loss for words. They were humbled and humiliated by the heavenly harangue. The masters of the Arabic language failed to find any flaw or lapse in the language of the Qur’an. They acknowledged defeat and expressed their inability to match the matchless. Many were so mesmerized by its message that they embraced Islam right there and then. The internal evidence of the Qur’an is enough to dispel doubts. The conscious mind lauds the excellent and eloquent discourse, while the subconscious is convinced that a human could not have composed it. The choice and arrangement of its words are coded to convey a subtle and subliminal message, “These are not the words of a poet or a mystic, nor are they the words of a sage or a soothsayer. This is the communiqué from the Creator, the Lord and Master of the universe.”

Man is the subject of the Quran. It narrates the story of man as an integral whole, and it describes all the stages of man’s journey to his ultimate destination __ birth, life, death, resurrection, the judgement of his deeds and depending upon the judgement, heaven or hell. In this temporal and physical world, the observation and experience of man is restricted to his birth, the trials and tribulations of his life and his death. His five senses do not enable him to perceive an existence beyond the confines of this physical world. The eyes do not see light emanating from the other world, and the ears do not detect sounds from the other side. The hands cannot feel, the nose cannot smell, and the tongue cannot taste anything that is not of this world. The mind therefore fails to perceive the presence of the world beyond. So scanty is his knowledge about the other world, or the laws that prevail there, that he can barely bring himself to believe in its existence. Yet, intuitively he knows that there does exist the other world. Unless the two worlds are considered together, the purpose of life and the presence of man on earth would remain an enigma. The eloquence of human narration is limited to matters that man can observe in this world. The writers and poets do not create in a vacuum. They benefit from the experiences of others and build upon their imagination and insight. The masterpieces of the previous writers, poets and philosophers inspire others to think further and rise higher. Newcomers ride on the shoulders of the veterans. Regardless of the language he speaks or the culture he belongs to, man will never acquire independent knowledge of the life to come. Forced to rely upon conjectures, he can hardly converse coherently, much less eloquently, about matters past the grave. When it comes to events of the other world, the poets, writers and philosophers do not have any masterpieces of the past to inspire them. Human narration about the other world that can compare with the artistic and masterly eloquence of the Qur’an is nonexistent in any language. The great beyond lies past the borders of death. Resurrection, the judgement of deeds, and heaven and hell are events scheduled to take place there. Fluently and poignantly, and with an aura of confidence, the Qur’an describes these events in detail. It narrates with the knowledge of certainty. It discusses the events of the other world with the same ease and eloquence as the events of this world. Ever since it was first revealed, the Qur’an has seen fourteen centuries, but not an answer to its challenge. Its diction and eloquence remain unsurpassed, not only in Arabic but also in all languages of the world. The challenge still stands. Man will never be able to match its literary quality. Every passing day increases the validity and the credibility of its claim that the Almighty is its author.

Poetry owes its lure and luster to lies and fiction. The poet lets his imagination run wild, and roams about unbridled beyond the realm of reality. The more he indulges his imagination, the prettier is his poem. The further he flies into the land of fancy, the more fanciful and fabulous is his fiction. Truth is an early casualty of his excursion into the land of fantasy. Phrases are his toys and fiction is his field of play. Words are his tools, and his workshop is the beauty parlor, where simple becomes sensual and sensational, and plain facts are dressed up to appear pretty and presentable. Beautiful and befitting words are his profession, and he aims to spark and kindle the imagination of his audience. He plans to plunge his listeners into an arena of illusion, the unreal and ethereal world. Exaggeration is the specialty of the poet, his special calling. Even a simple simile for a poet is a flight of fancy. He stretches the truth to a fault, till it becomes a lie. With a little embellishment, he turns a bland and blase event into a tantalizing and titillating tale. If the truth is not to his liking, he proceeds to dilute and dampen the effect of the fact. If the fact does not fit his fancy, he mixes it with a lavish measure of myth, and throws the fact out of focus. With words, he can knit a shield to deflect the fact. Thus, he trivializes the truth. He will twist and turn the words, and tug at the truth till it yields the meaning he desires. He covers the truth with layers of interpretations, until the truth becomes a stranger. With deft and adept use of words, he can baptize a fiction as well as fictionalize a fact.  He circulates lies by wrapping them with layers of known and irrefutable facts. He lends credence and respect to baseless assumptions by surrounding them with accepted and respected facts. Falsehood thus becomes fortified and unassailable. Poetic text is the priority of a poet and his talent consists of fanciful phrases, not truth. Poetry pleases the aesthetic and tickles the intellect, but truth it is not. About the poets, the Qur’an says:

As for the poets, only the misguided ones heed them.  Do you not see? These poets dabble in every subject and meander about with every thought.  They do not practice what they proclaim!  (26: 224-226)

 We did not teach him (Muhammad SAW) poetry. That is beneath him! What it is (the Qur’an), is a reminder and an illuminating open book! (36: 69)

It, (the Qur’an), is the word of the noble messenger.   (Certainly)! It is not the word of a poet. Little do you believe! Nor is it the word of a fortuneteller. Seldom do you ponder! It is the revelation from the Lord of the universe!  (69: 40-43)

The Quran did not excel over all other literature just because its author was better and it was adjudged the best of the masterpieces. It was not because other classics were good, while it was better. The difference between it and the work of the poets, writers and philosophers is not only that of degree or quality, but also that of character and class. It did not stoop down to the earthy model of distortion and dishonesty. Rather, it aggrandized and sanitized the standards of literature, and introduced it to a new height. It imposed a tougher requirement for literary standard and demanded absolute honesty and accuracy. It refused to espouse fiction and the art of fictionalizing facts, and spurned exaggeration. It did not win by using the ways and means of the other literary works. The literary giants know the rules of grammar and diction. Yet, they cannot comply with the rule laid down by the Qur’an. They are handicapped because their expertise is of no avail without falsehood and fiction. If exaggeration was to be edited out of their work, they would not be left with much of their work. They cannot imagine poetry without a modicum of lies and embellishment. Thus the Qur’an unfettered the facts and liberated the truth from the clutches of its captors _ the poets, the writers and the philosophers of the past, present and the future. It exposed their craftiness. When it comes to matters pertaining to this world, they do know the facts but do not always choose to be honest and accurate. However, when it comes to matters past the grave, they are actually the charlatans relying on guesses and conjectures.

Most of them follow nothing but conjectures. When it comes to the truth, conjectures do not suffice at all. Surely, Allah has the real knowledge of what they are doing? (10 : 36)

Most of the people of this world _ if you choose to follow them _ would lead you far away from the path of Allah. They merely pursue their presumptions; they just guess and speculate.  (6 : 116)

The Quran defied the accepted norms of literature and achieved eloquence and eminence without resorting to exaggeration of any sort. Because of that, every literary classic created in any period of history and in any language of the world, would fall in a class lower than that of the Qur’an. It has a unique character all is own. It lays down facts plainly, and meticulously adheres to accurate narration. Even when it quotes a parable, the comparison is never misleading and it does not twist or bend the truth. The words and phrases it uses bring out the unadulterated truth. It is sworn to tell nothing but the truth. Precision is its priority, and all of its text can be accepted literally. Scientific treatise should be that exact. Its adherence to accuracy when it comes to matters pertaining to this world infuses faith and confidence into its believers. They become convinced that the events scheduled to occur beyond death are also depicted with the same accuracy and precision, and without exaggeration. The reason Qur’an has remained matchless in substance and style is because it is the absolute truth. About itself, it says:

(Oh Muhammad SAW), We recite to you the revelation of Allah with the absolute truth. Of course, you are the messenger sent (by Us)!  (2:252)

He revealed to you the book with the truth; it confirms the scriptures that came before it. (It is) He (Who) revealed the Torah and the Gospels, (3:3)

Alif, Laam, Meem, Ra. These verses of the book are the absolute truth revealed to you by your Lord. But most people do not believe! (13:1)

 

The message of the Qur’an

Books generally follow a standard pattern. Every book bears a title that reflects its subject, and is divided into sections and subsections. Information and ideas are neatly separated into compartments. Every section and subsection carry their own headings and subheadings and discuss specific aspects of the subject. Matter discussed in one chapter is seldom brought up in another. Redundancy is considered a major defect and an antonym of eloquence. A good author packages his contents well and discusses specific aspects of the subject into appropriate sections.  However, the Qur’an does not fit that mold of ‘a book’. It was revealed a little at a time, over twenty three years. Being voluminous, it is divided into chapters that serve only as identifiers. Neither the name of the book itself, nor the titles of the chapters indicate the subject to be discussed. The chapter entitled ‘cow’ does not discuss cows, and the chapter entitled ‘elephant’ does not discuss elephants. It is not a book written on the subject of religion and its title simply means ‘the recital’.  The subject of the Qur’an is the message that the end of life is not the end of a person. There is a life after this life. The Creator __ the One and Only __ will judge the performance of all men in this life, and that judgment will determine their abode for eternity. The paradise is for the pious, and hell is for the wicked. The subject and purpose of the Qur’an is to invite mankind to believe in this simple truth.

The same subject is repeated in every chapter. Other subjects are discussed, and repeated in succession, to call attention to it, and to present evidence of its veracity. The Qur’an explains the creation of the cosmos to stress the insignificance of man compared with the power and might of the Almighty, and to illustrate the vastness of the universe. It describes the creation of man and invites attention to the fact that he is equipped with the faculties of reasoning and speech, and a free will. It declares that life has a purpose and that man has a special status in the scheme of things. It brings up the subject of the creation of the earth to highlight the fact that elaborate preparations preceded man’s arrival on the scene. The earth was positioned in the precise location to allow the evolution of life. Everything man needs is made available in the right proportions and measure. The elements were tamed and tuned to perfection, so that the earth became a cradle for man. The system of rain and wind and the supply of nutrients in the soil assure the growth of vegetation, and provide an ample supply of food for man and his cattle. Thus the earth was readied to serve as an examination hall _ a place for him to be tested. He will undergo a trial in this life for a prescribed period. The transition of man through different stages of life proves that his stay on earth is destined to be brief. Relentlessly, he advances towards death and the Day of Judgment, where man will witness the result of his endeavors. The Quran narrates the stories of the past messengers to indicate that the Creator not only provided for the material needs of man, but also revealed the divine guidance for him to follow. It narrates the history of man to demonstrate his arrogance _ and its consequences _ towards the guidance of his Creator.

The Quran repeatedly brings up these subjects in succession and parades them as proofs to reinforce its message. It stays on a subject long enough to secure a point and then returns to its main subject. The echo of its message reverberates even when it lays down the rites of worship, the rules of conduct, and the punishment and consequences of crimes. Thus the Qur’an scuttles from one topic to another, and sometimes changes the subject in the middle of a sentence, all perfectly designed to achieve its objective _ to convey the message. The words, context, emotional tone and the manner of narration vary, but it never deviates from its purpose. It is as focussed on its message, as the magnetic needle is to face the North Pole. The repetition attains its planned objective. Not only does it clarify and confirm the message, but it also keeps it in the forefront and does not let it slip out of the limelight. It fortifies the belief that the consequences of actions are inevitable. Deeds are recorded and registered in this world, the harms and benefits ensue in the next world. Efforts made in this life yield results in the life to come. Seeds sown here bear fruit in the hereafter. The brevity of our life precludes the reward and punishment of our moral deeds in this world. The Qur’an moors the psyche of its believers to the life of the hereafter. The message is repeated in the Qur’an scores of times. According to literary standards, the frequent recurrence of subjects is a flaw that should render a book unreadable and unworthy. Such a book would have become obscure long ago. But the Quran achieves eloquence despite the frequent and abrupt changing of subjects. The repetition enhances rather than diminishes its quality. No other literary classic can sustain that inimitable style. That is why it is not an ordinary book, but rather, it is the Book.  The masters of languages create the classics, but the Master and Creator gave us the Qur’an.

Poets and writers are born, not taught. The penchant for poetry clamors for expression and manifests itself early in life in the form of heightened interest in rhythm and rhyme. But the natural gift needs to be nurtured and nourished, or it will wither and wane. It needs to be groomed and polished with years of practice. Talent matures with time and toil. Raw talent hardly ever produces readable composition, much less a masterpiece. A novice becomes the protégé of a master, learns the rules of language, increases his vocabulary, and benefits from the experiences of his peers and other masters. All those who aspire to be great do not produce a masterpiece. Even with talent, hard work, and years of practice and patience, only a precious few create classics that survive them. Classics follow many failed attempts and cast their shadows before they come about. The poets, writers and philosophers of the time, as well as ordinary folks, were astounded because, out of the blue, a seemingly ordinary man began to recite an elegant and exquisite composition of the highest caliber. He had lived in their land ever since he was born, and had never before composed poetry, nor had he ever recited a poem composed by others. Before he caused a sensation by preaching the worship of One God, he led a quiet life of a small town businessman. His associates were ordinary people and he never courted the company of poets and other literary types. His friends and family had never known him to exhibit any signs of poetic prowess. Suddenly, and without a prior hint, revelation poured forth from the lips of a man totally uninterested in poetic expression. Christians cite the miracles of Jesus, son of Mary (peace be upon them both), and worship him as one of the three gods. Buddhists treat their leader, Buddha, as god. Because of the miracle of the Qur’an the Arabs, too, would have readily accepted Muhammad, SAW, as a god. However, instead of taking credit for the extra ordinary occurrence, Muhammad, SAW, the recipient of the revelation, humbly disclosed its source to the world. It was not his doing, he said. It was from God, the One and Only, the First and Last, and the Everlasting!

Say, “In fact, I am a human being like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is only one God! So, seek the path (that leads) straight to Him, and seek His forgiveness. Misery is for those who associate partners (with Allah).” (41: 6)

 

By Munir Munshey

 

 

 

 

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