The Book of God, the Holy Quran, is the principal source of every form of Islamic thought. It is the Quran which gives religious validity and authority to every other religious source in Islam. Therefore, it must be comprehensible to all. Moreover, the Quran describes itself as the light which illuminates all things. Also it challenges men and requests them to ponder over its verses and observe that there are no disparities or contradictions in them. It invites them to compose similar work, if they can, to replace it. It is clear that if the Holy Quran were not comprehensible to all there would be no place for such assertions.
To say that the Quran is in itself comprehensible to all is not in any way contradictory to the previous assertion that the Prophet and his Household are religious authorities in the Islamic sciences, which sciences in reality are only elaborations of the content of the Quran. For instance, in the part of the Islamic sciences which comprises the injunctions and laws of the Shari'ah, the Quran contains only the general principles. The clarification and elaboration of their details, such as the manner of accomplishing the daily prayers, fasting, exchanging merchandise, and in fact all acts of worship ('ibadat) and transactions (mu'amalat), can be achieved only by referring to the traditions of the Holy Prophet and his Household.
As for the other part of the Islamic sciences dealing with doctrines and ethical methods and practices, although their content and details can be comprehended by all, the understanding of their full meaning depends on accepting the method of the Household of the Prophet. Also, each verse of the Quran must be explained and interpreted by means of other Quranic verses, not by views which have become acceptable and familiar to us only through habit and custom.
Whoever has studied with care the hadiths of the Household of the Prophet, and the outstanding companions who were the followers of the Prophet, will have no doubt that the commentary of the Quran through the Quran is the sole method of Quranic commentary taught by the Household of the Prophet.
Prophethood and messengerhood are closely and inseparably linked to the miracle that proves the relationship of the claimant to prophethood with the supra-natural realm; the miracle is the clearest and most objective evidence that disarms those who would illogically deny prophethood, for it demonstrates that the claim of the Prophet is founded on a reality.
All the Prophets had but a single aim in fulfilling their Divine missions; their teachings are all of a similar type, notwithstanding the peculiarities of the mission of each, and the truths they expounded concerning the supra-natural realm differ only with respect to the degree of detail. It is true that there are differences with regard to acts of worship and social dealings; a common principle is implemented in differing ways that take in to consideration the specific characteristics of each age and represent an evolutionary process.
It appears that one of the reasons for the variation in miracles is that in the times of earlier Prophets, people were inclined to believe only on the basis of material observations of visible objects that lacked any spiritual content. The fetters imposed on human thought by the seers and sages of those times caused people's attention to be limited to a particular realm, which, in turn, was the most significant factor in separating them from God and causing their minds to stagnate. The destruction of such a limited mode of thought was therefore of necessity a principal aim of the Prophets.
The Prophets were entrusted by God with the duty of attacking this source of error by confronting the seers and soothsayers with deeds of a type similar to that which they performed, but enjoying a special advantage that placed them beyond the reach of all competition. By the power of the miracle, they negated and destroyed that particular cause of the human beings' separation from God-the concentration of their attention on the dazzling acts performed by the soothsayers of the age which enslaved their spirits. By demonstrating their own miracles and setting forth the realistic principles of Divine religion, they opened the doors of guidance, growth, and development toward perfection, and linked all dimensions of human life and activity to God. All of this survives from the real nature of the miracle.
The Prophet of Islam began conveying his heavenly message in the midst of a society where people's minds revolved exclusively around eloquent speech and the composition of beautiful and attractive poetry and literary excellence. Precisely this concentration on a field of activity that cannot be counted among the basic and vital concerns of the human being was an important factor in prolonging the stagnation of thought and lack of attention to the source of all existence.
Under these conditions, God equipped His Prophet with a weapon, the Quran, that apparently belonged to the same category as the literary works of the age but possessed unique and astonishing characteristics that were beyond the capacity of the human being to reproduce.
The Quran's sweetness of speech, the attraction exerted by the verses of God's book, filled the hearts of the Arabs with new feeling and perception. Their deep attention was drawn to this Divine trust that had come to them, this inimitable work. Fully versed as they were in the arts and subtleties of rhetoric, they realized that the extraordinary eloquence of the Quran was beyond the power of man to produce. It was impossible for someone to hear the Quran and understand its meaning without being profoundly affected by its power to attract. From the beginning of revelation, the Quran was, then, the most important factor in bringing the human being to God's religion.
Moreover, if the Prophet of Islam had performed some miracle other than the Quran, it would have had no meaning for that people, given their mental structure. The path would have been open for all kinds of doubt and hesitation. But the Arabs of that age who were addressed by the Quran could never have any doubts about its extraordinary eloquence, for they were well aware of all the mysteries of rhetoric and had living among them masters of language and literary composition.
At the same time, since the Quran is intended to be an eternal miracle, revealed to make science and learning blossom among human beings, it is also a scientific miracle. It has expounded, in the most eloquent fashion, truths of a metaphysical nature together with everything that touches, however slightly, on the happiness of wretchedness of the human being. Although those who are not acquainted with the Arabic language cannot fully appreciate its miraculousness, they can perceive the miraculous nature of the meanings and truths it contains.
The limitation in time of the miracles performed by the earlier Prophets was an indication of the impermanence of their religions and the laws that they brought. By contrast, the miracle attesting to the prophethood of the Prophet of Islam cannot be temporally limited, because his message is universal and represents the culmination of all preceding religions; his prophethood requires an eternal miracle, a brilliant and eloquent proof of its immortality.
A permanent message must display to mankind a permanent and everlasting miracle, one which advances with time, so that just as it offered convincing proof to people of the past, it may do the same to people of the future. A short-lived miracle that is imperceptible to later generations cannot be a source of reference or judgment for the future.
For this reason, the Quran is presented as a permanent and everlasting miracle, the final manifestation of God's revelation. The Quran itself says: The true and well-formulated message of your Lord has now been completed, and none is able to change it. (6:115)
From the very first day when he presented his religion as a universal school of thought, the influence of which was not to be contained by geographical or ethnic boundaries, the Prophet of Islam displayed this proof of his messenger hood to the whole of mankind, as a living proof that his mission and the revolutionary movement he inaugurated represented the final chapter in the history of prophetic missions and movements.
The Quran does not represent an ideological weapon for temporary use in moving from an inferior social system to a superior one at a given stage in history; it represents the permanent ideology of the human being living in the social and intellectual order of Islam.
The miracle accompanying the mission of the beloved Prophet of Islam brings to an end all the previous messages, limited as they were to a certain time. In its unique style, the Quran provides the human being with all necessary guidance by means of either recalling the circumstances leading to the revelation of various verses or of recounting of historical narratives or of describing the events that took place during the life of the Prophet, or by means of various similes and comparisons that touch on the different concerns of human life and guide the human being in the direction of higher degrees. By analyzing the stories and events contained in the Quran, which include also a distinctively Quranic mode of Judgment, it is possible to deduce certain general principles.
Although the gradual and orderly descent of the Quranic revelation was regarded as a defect by superficial and ignorant people, it should, in fact, be recognized as a principal factor in the triumph of the Prophet's message, given the conditions of the age and the events with which he was confronted.
Just as chronic diseases require long-term treatment, a continuous struggle against the factors that constantly prevent the human being from perceiving the truths of existence and stand in the way of his growth and development must be grounded on a firm ideational basis and a comprehensive social organization. Only then will it be able to implement its goals over a period of time and guide human beings to its ultimate purpose their liberation from self-alienation.
Solutions whose efficacy does not transcend events limited in time and space will be unable to solve the problems of the human being. Islam represents the only system which is able to answer those problems because of the attention it pays to all phenomena.
For Muslims, the miraculousness of the Quran is a matter of religious belief; for scholars and researchers, it is a matter of scientific belief. The Quran possesses a remarkable comprehensiveness and richness, with respect to its worldview and scientific content, and its ability to guide the individual and society. There are still many matters contained in the Quran that call for investigation and await discovery by further research.
It has been explained that the Holy Quran elucidates religious aims through its own words and gives commands to mankind in matter of doctrine and action. But the meaning of the Quran is not limited to this level. Rather, behind these same expressions and within these same meanings there are deeper and wider levels of meaning which only the spiritual elite who possess pure hearts can comprehend.
The Prophet, who is the divinely appointed teacher of the Quran, says: The Quran has a beautiful exterior and a profound interior. He has also said, The Quran has an inner dimension, and that inner dimension has an inner dimension up to seven numerous references to the inner aspect of the Quran.
The main support of these assertions is a symbol which God has mentioned in Chapter XIII, verse 17, of the Quran. In this verse divine gifts are symbolized by rain that falls from heaven and upon which depends the life of the earth and its inhabitants. With the coming of the rain, floods begin to flow and each river bed accepts a certain amount of the flood, depending on its capacity. As it flows, the flood is covered with foam, but beneath the foam there is that same water which is life-giving and beneficial to mankind.
As is indicated by this symbolic story, the capacity for comprehension of divine sciences, which are the source of man's inner life, differs among people. There are those for whom there is no reality beyond physical existence and the material life of this world which lasts but a few days. Such people are attached to material appetites and physical desires alone and fear nothing but the loss of material benefits and sensory enjoyment. Such people, taking in to consideration the differences of degree among them, can at best accept the divine sciences on the level of believing in a summary fashion in the doctrines and performing the practical commands of Islam in purely outward manner without any comprehension. They worship God with the hope of recompense or fear of punishment in the next world.
There are also those who, because of the purity of their nature, do not consider their well-being to lie in attachment to the transient pleasures of the fleeting life of this world. The losses and gains and bitter and sweet experiences of this world are for them no more than an attractive illusion. Memory of those who passed before them in the caravan of existence, who were pleasure-seekers yesterday and no more than subjects of stories today, is a warning that is continuously present before their eyes. Such men who possess pure hearts are naturally attracted to the world of eternity. They view the different phenomena of this passing world as symbols and portents of the higher world, not as persisting and independent realities.
It is at this point that through earthly and heavenly signs, signs upon the horizons and within the souls of men, they observe in a spiritual vision the Infinite Light of the Majesty and Glory of God. Their hearts become completely enamored with the longing to reach an understanding of the secret symbols of creation. Instead of being imprisoned in the dark and narrow well of personal gain and selfishness they begin to fly in the unlimited space of the world of eternity and advance ever onwards toward the zenith of the spiritual world.
When they hear that God has forbidden the worship of idols, which outwardly means bowing down before an idol, they understand this command to mean that they should not obey other than God, for to obey means to bow down before someone and to serve him. Beyond that meaning they understand that they should not have hope of fear of other than God; beyond that, they should not surrender to the demands of their selfish appetites; and beyond that, they should not concentrate on anything except God, May His Name be Glorified.
Likewise when they hear from the Quran that they should pray, the external meaning of which is to perform the particular rites of prayers, through its inner meaning they comprehend that they must worship and obey God with all their hearts and souls. Beyond that they comprehend that before God they must consider themselves as nothing, must forget themselves and remember only God.
It can be seen that the inner meaning present in these two examples is not due to the outward expression of the command and prohibition in question. Yet the comprehension of this meaning is unavoidable for anyone who has begun to meditate upon a more universal order and has preferred to gain a vision of the universe of reality rather than his own ego, who has preferred objectivity to an egocentric subjectivism.
From this discussion the meaning of the outward and inward aspects of the Quran has become clear. It has also become evident that the inner meaning of the Quran does no eradicate or invalidate its outward meaning. Rather, it is like the soul which gives life to the body. Islam, which is a universal and eternal religion and places the greatest emphasis upon the reformation of mankind, can never dispense with its external laws which are for the benefit of society, nor with its simple doctrines which are the guardians and preservers of these laws.
How can a society, on the pretense that religion is only a matter of the heart, that man's heart should be pure and that there is no value to actions, live in disorder and yet attain happiness? How can impure deeds and words cause the cultivation of a pure heart? Or how can impure words emanate from a pure heart? God says in His Book, Vile women are for vile men, and vile men for vile women. Good women are for good men, and good men for good women. (Quran, XXIV, 26) He also says, As for the good land, its vegetation cometh forth by permission of its Lord; while as for that which is bad, only evil cometh forth (from it). (Quran, VII, 58) Thus it becomes evident that the Holy Quran has an outward and an inward aspect and the inward aspect itself has different levels of meaning. The hadith literature, which explains the content of the Quran, also contains these various aspects.
the Quran represents the principal source of all researches concerning the Islamic school of thought. Moreover, in every age and every part of the world, it can serve as the basis for a developed and free society which enables all the hidden capacities and potentials of the human being to blossom in all their dimensions; it lays down a path to the ideal society and the government of God.
More than fourteen centuries have passed since the revelation of the Quran. Throughout this period, mankind has undergone numerous changes, and passing through repeated stages of development and growth, it has attained a more comprehensive awareness of the mysteries of creation. Nonetheless, the Quran has at all times retained its proud and dignified presence on the stage of human history.
When this miracle first came into existence, at a time when the foundations of human thought had not fully developed, it served to prove categorically the messengerhood of the Prophet of Islam. In the present age, as the human being discovers in the treasure house of the Quran, more and more remarkable indications, commensurate with his own growth in perception, knowledge and civilization, the Quran still stands as a permanent historical miracle and a living universal proof for the veracity of the Seal of the Prophets. The increase in the volume of human knowledge and the opening up of new horizons of thought have given us the chance to benefit more fully from the Quran than past generations.
If the Quran had been able to establish itself only during a certain segment of time and in a limited spatial environment, it would not have been able thus miraculously to advance together with time. The reason for the eternal vitality and authenticity of the Quran is that it has always been a source for spiritual guidance and command in the face of the changing events of time.
History bears witness that the emergence of the Seal of the Prophets and his mode of activity within society marked the beginning of a new stage in human thought and ratiocination and in the development and expansion of the will and independence of the human being. For in his growth to maturity, the human being now advanced in his investigations from the stage of mere observation to that of thought; an exact and profound examination of phenomena took the place of simplistic assumption. All this is indicated by the fact that the human beings' acceptance of true faith was no longer on the basis of miracles involving supranatural or extraordinary phenomena, as was the case with the mission of previous Prophets.
Human beings turning to faith on the basis of knowledge and thought - something to which the Quran repeatedly invites human beings - represents in itself the miracle wrought by the heavenly message of Islam. Reliance on sensory miracles would not have been compatible with the nature of the final Divine message and its aim of liberating the human being and fostering the growth of his intellect. God, therefore, prepared the human being in the course of many thousands of years to receive the final guidance.
Our investigations of the Quran can be of value only when we empty our minds of all pre-existing notions and attitudes, because fanatical convictions concerning the contents of the Quran will yield nothing but mental stagnation and immobility. This is a pitfall that every alert and fair-minded researcher must seek to avoid.
It is an undeniable reality that the Quran is too elevated a book to be the product of ideas held by a group of scholars. It is even more impossible for it to have been produced by a single individual or to have been borrowed by him from other sources, particularly an individual who was unlettered, had not even studied, and had grown up in the degenerate environment of the Arabian peninsula at that time, an environment which was totally alien to science and philosophy.
When we consider the system and program of action proposed by the Quran for the uplift of the human being and compare it with the laws and systems of the past, we realize that it borrowed nothing from them and bore no resemblance to them. It represents an entirely new phenomenon, original and unprecedented in its fundamental nature, and among its lofty aims are the transformation of human societies and their restructuring on the basis of justice, equality, and freedom for the oppressed and deprived masses.
The Quran speaks in detail of the history of earlier Prophets and their communities, referring constantly to the events that occurred during their careers. When we encounter the narratives contained in the Quran, the events that it relates, we are brought into direct contact with reality, in an unparalleled fashion. Every reference they contain, direct and indirect, acquaints us with the very substance of truth. It is, then, totally impossible that the narratives of the Quran should have been borrowed from the Torah or the Gospels. The Quran always presents the stories of the Prophets in a positive framework by changing and modifying them so as to purge them of unworthy excesses and elements contrary to pure monotheism, reason, and sound religious thinking. A copying would have resulted in mere imitation, and would have been entirely negative.
Dr. Maurice Bucaille, the French scholar, expresses himself as follows on this point: 'In the West, Jews, Christians and Atheists are unanimous in stating (without a scrap of evidence, however) that Muhammad wrote the Quran or had it written as an imitation of the Bible. It is claimed that stories of religious history in the Quran resume Biblical stories. This attitude is as thoughtless as saying that Jesus Himself duped His contemporaries by drawing inspiration from the Old Testament during His preaching: the whole of Matthew's Gospel is based on this continuation of the Old Testament.... What expert in exegesis would dream of depriving Jesus of his status as God's envoy for this reason?
The existence of such an enormous difference between the Biblical description and the data in the Quran concerning the Creation is worth underlining once again on account of the totally gratuitous accusations leveled against Muhammad since the beginnings of Islam to the effect that he copied the Biblical descriptions. As far as the Creation is concerned, this accusation is totally unfounded. How could a man living fourteen hundred years ago have made corrections to the existing description to such an extent that he eliminated scientifically inaccurate material and, on his own initiative, made statements that science has been able to verify only in the present day? This hypothesis is completely untenable. The description of the Creation given in the Quran is quite different from the one in the Bible.
Taking these factors into consideration, no truth-loving individual can conceive of an origin other than Divine revelation for the Quran which is not only a book, but also a proof of messenger hood and a manifestation of the miraculousness that supported the Prophet.
The Quran thus came to be the profound, brilliant and eternal miracle of God's Messenger enabling the teachings and laws of Islam to retain their validity through time. The Divine commands and instructions were made manifest in phrases and sentences that were marked by miraculousness, thus implementing God's will for the preservation of religion when faced with the assaults of rancorous enemies and for the frustration of their conspiracies.
Through the permanence and stability of the mould in which God's Commands are uniquely set, these enemies who would reach out against them in order to change and distort them are permanently prevented from attaining their goal; the eternal teachings and laws of God will last throughout time, immune from change or distortion.
Another aspect of the miraculousness of the Quran which has had a great effect is the revolutionary transformation it brought about in human civilization. A matter calling for serious attention in the study of Islam is the fact that it received no assistance from factors external to itself when it began to create the nucleus of a universal society out of a scattered and disunited people that lacked all science and free thought and did not even seek to unify its constituent tribes; and when it began, moreover, to found a uniquely, vast and spiritual civilization. All the factors for changing the world, for putting forward an international law with the slogan of unity among races, peoples, and social classes, for creating a movement for the liberation of thought and the ennobling of knowledge, were derived from the very text of the Quran, from the culture that emerged from the Quran and from the Islamic order. Islam never relied on a government or a power situated outside the society it had itself brought into being.
Even the aggressors who attacked the Islamic lands and triumphed over the Muslims, thanks to their military superiority, lost their dominance in the end when they were confronted with the spiritual power of Islam, and they adopted the religion of the people they had conquered. This history of nations does not record any other example of a victorious aggressor adopting the religion of the people it had defeated.
The Noble Quran was revealed in the Arabic language, one of the richest languages in the world f r o m the point of view of firmness of structure and abundance of vocabulary. It descended like a flash of lightning in the darkness of the Age of Ignorance, and in the manner in which it conveyed various types of subject matter in the most concise of sentences it had nothing in common with the conventional language of the Arabs.
At the time that the Quran was revealed, the literary talent and eloquence of the Arabs was at its peak. Works created by poets and orators commanded the attention and admiration of everyone, and literature constituted the only art cultivated by the Arab elite.
The Quran, which constituted the documentary proof of the messengerhood of the Prophet of Islam and the raw materials of which its constituent letters and words was revealed over a period of twenty-three years in accordance with the particular needs that emerged over time. Thus, it guided the Prophet and his companions step by step toward their exalted goals. The words and expressions of the Quran are harmonious and its words are set together pleasingly and with the utmost beauty, and in complete accord with the subtle meanings they express. This unique combination of wording and meaning is a special feature of the Quran and another aspect of its miraculousness.
With the revelation of the Quran, the Arabs made the acquaintance of a fresh and new form of speech which was neither prose nor poetry, but the melody of which was more beautiful and attractive than that of poetry and the discourse of which was more eloquent and effective than that of prose. Whoever heard it was drawn toward it and transformed by it. It was utterly different f r o m all forms of human speech by virtue of the superiority of its concepts, the eloquence of its style and outward form, and its exposition of meanings in the most concise way.
The firm laws and clear logic of the Quran showed human beings the way to correct religion and living, and inspired them with the determination to create an epic unparalleled in history. The Quran destroyed utterly the superstitions that the oppressors and their helpers had elaborated throughout history.
The Quran established a mode of thought leading to the truth, which is identified as thought that eschews all obstinacy, caprice and fanaticism. From the very first day that the Prophet began preaching his message of monotheism, he summoned people also to a realistic vision of the world. When inviting them to faith, he addressed their wisdom and intelligence and called on them to use their eyes and their ears to perceive the truth. He unshackled them f r o m custom and usage, f r o m obstinately clinging to ancient heritages, and strove to convince them that they should not perversely insist on retaining the beliefs and loyalties that had been born of polytheism. Although these efforts earned him bitter harassment, he was not dismayed, and he did not give up before fulfilling the role that the Creator had given him in improving men's lives.
Many of the polytheists did not permit themselves to listen to the Quran for they were well aware of its remarkable effect and afraid that its profound and astonishing influence might conquer their hearts as well, drawing them ineluctably towards it.
Ibn Hisham writes in his life of the Prophet: So strong was the heartfelt desire of the people to hear the Quran that even some of the unbelievers of the Quraysh would stealthily go near the Prophet's house at night, remaining there until dawn, in order to listen throughout the night to the pleasing melody of the Quran as recited by the Messenger of God. This happened many times.
When the revelation of the Quran began, the Most Noble Messenger clearly proclaimed the Quran to be the Word of God, and said it was impossible for any human being to duplicate it; if anyone disagreed, he ought to make an attempt to copy it, and should feel free to seek help f r o m any source in doing so. None was able to take up this challenge and produce even a short surah similar to the Quran.
Still more remarkable is the fact that the utterances of the Prophet, whose tongue would recite the Quran, bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Quran. This is in itself a convincing proof that the Quran originated f r o m a source other than the mind of the Prophet.
Furthermore, as a matter of general principle, if one consistently follows and studies the style of a certain form of speech, he will ultimately be able to imitate it. But the Quran forms an exception to this rule: however much one tries to practice the use of the Quranic style, he will never be able to create something resembling the Quran. This reveals to us a significant truth: mere learning and study can never give us the capability to imitate the Quran. History has not a single instance to show in which this particular aspect of the miraculousness of the Quran has been negated; it cannot point to a single book comparable to the Quran. Even among the speeches and sayings of the Prophet, nothing can be found which resembles the Quran from the point of view of style and eloquence.
If the forces opposing Islam, with all of their skilled rhetoricians, had been able to create works capable of competing with the Quran, there would have been no need for them to endure losses and casualties by going to war, to suffer hardship and expend material resources. They could have won an easy victory by means of propaganda, a kind of cold war, and put paid to the rise of Islam within itself, its place of origin.
They called in to play all their resources in an effort to meet the challenge of the Quran, but all their efforts came to naught. They were unable to point even to a single error or defect in the Quran and were obliged to admit that its words were situated on a higher plane than the thought and speech of the human being. The verses of the Quran penetrated the depths of human beings' hearts with such unprecedented swiftness that all people of sound mind and heroic disposition eagerly embraced its message.
By contrast, the devotees of ignorance and mental stagnation, people who assigned little value to wisdom and thought, and whose lives were spent in the swamp of neglect and lack of awareness, were the principal element in opposing Islam and urging others to do so. In order to conceal from people's view the miraculous nature of the Quran, they attributed the Quran to the workings of magic, seeking thus to explain the extraordinary attraction exerted by its verses and its unique influence. Sometimes they would also subject the converts to Islam to harassment and a hail of contempt and ridicule, or through force and coercion they would attempt to prevent the people from thinking freely. Their whole method of struggle against Islam was, in fact, childish, and it betrayed their weakness and utter helplessness.
For example, they instructed a group of people to go and make a noise, to whistle and clap their hands, while the Prophet was reciting the verses of the Quran, so that the people would not fall under the influence of its eloquence and power to attract.
The methods followed by the leaders of Quraysh and their insistence on preventing the message of the Quran from reaching the ears of the people showed that a deadly serious struggle between truth and falsehood was not indeed underway.
The Quran itself unmasks the methods they followed and the negative role that they played: The polytheists said: 'Do not listen to the verses of the Quran, and make a noise while they are being recited; perhaps you will thus triumph.' (41:26)
Now that we are in the fifteenth century since the Quran first laid down its challenge, a time when the progress of learning has opened up new horizons of thought in front of us, we can appreciate the Divine origin of the Quran and its infinite values by reference to other matters, quite apart from the unique and inimitable structure and eloquence of the Quran. We can perceive the Quran to be an everlasting miracle, because the position of revelation vis-a-vis its deniers remains firmly the same, and the challenge of the Quran still resounds to all of mankind: If you doubt the heavenly origin of this book, produce one surah like it. (2:23)
Can the person of today take up the challenge of the Quran and produce a surah like it, thereby conquering the stronghold of Islam and invalidating the claims of its Prophet?
Both in past and present times, there have been obstinate and impudent enemies of Islam among the experts on Arabic language and literature. If it had been possible for them to meet the challenge of the Quran, that eternal miracle of harmony and symmetry, and produce a single surah like it, they would certainly have devoted themselves fully to such a destructive undertaking.
One is the conquest of Mecca and the triumph of the Muslims over the polytheists, described by the Quran as follows: That which God inspired in his Prophet by means of a dream is true and veracious: without any doubt, you will enter the Sacred Mosque in safety and security. You will shave your heads and shorten your hair without any fear or anxiety. God knows what you do not know, and you will win a victory near at hand before your conquest of Mecca. (48:27)
This verse informs the Muslims that they will enter the Sacred Mosque and perform the ceremonies of the lesser pilgrimage ('umra) without any fear, and that the polytheists will be defeated and their power will vanish. It also assures them that in the near future they will enjoy another victory. These predictions were made at a time when no military expert or adviser could have predicted the occurrence, given the difficult circumstances of the Muslims and the unfavorable situation in which they found themselves.
In reality, then, it was not the outer beings of the Muslim warriors, the physical strength and weaponry they possessed, that were victorious; it was God's aid, joined to their strenuous efforts, that gave rise to victory.
The Quran mentions the future occurrence of another historical event, namely the triumph of the Muslim warriors at Khaybar and their conquest of its formidable fortresses. Hard blows had been inflicted on the Muslims from Khaybar, but in the end the army of Islam triumphed over the Jews, and the prediction of the Quran was completely fulfilled.
Would it have been possible to speak of victory, at a time of the utmost weakness, without utter confidence in the content of Divine revelation? Can we ascribe this precise knowledge of the future to the knowledge and perspicacity of the Prophet of Islam?
Knowledge cannot permit one to speak of an ineluctable future, to make categorical predictions; this is something in which only the true Prophets and friends of God can engage.
In these victorious wars, Islam triumphed not only materially over the forces of unbelief; it also subjected its opponents and enemies to its ideological and spiritual power.
Nonetheless, the Quran predicts with clarity the final outcome of the life of a given individual, Abu Lahab, the obstinate enemy of Islam. It proclaims categorically that he will refuse the religion of monotheism until the very end of his life, and that for this reason his painful destiny will be to enter the fire of God's wrath. These are the verse of the Quran: May Abu Lahab, who was constantly vexing and opposing the Prophet, perish, and may his two hands be cut off!
The wealth he accumulated to destroy Islam has not availed him or saved him from destruction; he will soon fall in to the flaming fire of Hell. (111:1-3)
All historians are agreed that Abu Lahab closed his eyes on this world as an unbeliever and that he persisted in his obstinate hostility to the Prophet of Islam until the final moments of his life.
The verses revealed concerning the events mentioned above constitute a further proof that the sacred book of Islam is from God, and that it is linked, in a profound and exclusive way, with the supra-natural realm.
Other verses of the Quran also predict certain future events, such as the preservation of the Prophet from physical harm throughout the period of his messengerhood and his inhumanity from the evil deeds of his enemies. At the time this was predicted, the third year after the beginning of his mission, there was no indication that he would remain unharmed by his enemies throughout the period of his mission, and yet the passage of time proved this to be the case.
In Surah Kawthar, the Quran informs people that the descendants of the Prophet will ultimately be numerous - this despite the fact that in his lifetime his enemies were hopeful that he would die without issue, since all the sons of the Prophet had died in infancy and only one of his daughters survived. Given this, was it possible for any other than God, that eternal reality and fixed pivot of truth, to predict that matters would unfold in a sense completely opposed to existing circumstances? Likewise, the prediction that the Prophet would return to Mecca, his home, made at a time when he abandoned it for Medina because of the pressures of the polytheists, is also an indication of a higher consciousness: God Who made incumbent on you the recitation of the Quran will return you to your birthplace. (28:85)
In Surah Nasr, the Quran also predicts the definitive conquest of Mecca by the Muslims with numerous different groups of people joining the ranks of the Muslims. All these predictions of future events are inexplicable unless they be ascribed to the source of revelation, to the infinite knowledge of God.
Quran is a book which has brought about the greatest and most astounding changes in the history of the human being. It possesses an everlasting vitality and shines continuously throughout every age of history. With the profound insight it exhibits in legislating for the human being and providing for all his genuine and natural needs, it is the richest and most abundant resource available to the human being. The comprehensive scheme proposed by Islam rests on a perception of his primordial nature. With a realism that is all its own, Islam analyzes the human being as he is and assumes a determining role in all the dimensions of his life. This is one of the reasons for the lasting validity of Islam.
Taking into account the extensive developments that have occurred in science, bringing in their wake fundamental and irreversible changes, the characteristics that set Islam apart from other schools of thought must be examined with great care.
Were the principles and regulations of Islam to belong to the same category as those of other schools, the ascending level of the knowledge of human beings would necessarily invalidate them.
But we see exactly the opposite is true. In circles that concern themselves with scientific and legal problems, the position of Islam is stronger than ever before; it enjoys increasing prestige and receives more attention than at any other time.
One of the clear characteristics of the Quran is that by means of a finite verbal form, it expresses an infinity of meaning that derives from the infinite knowledge of God. This is in contrast with all other books and writings where both the verbal form and the meanings they express are finite.
Imam Sadiq, upon whom be peace, said to Hammad: 'I swear by God that I am aware of all that is in the heavens and the earth, and all that is in Paradise and hellfire.' Hammad then looked at the Imam with astonishment, whereupon he continued: 'Oh Hammad, it is by means of the Book of God that I have this knowledge.' He then recited this verse: 'On the day that We raise up a witness for every people from among their own messengers and bring you forth as a witness for this people. We have sent this great Quran to you to make plain the reality of all things and to be a source of guidance, mercy and glad tidings for the Muslims.'
One of the companions of Imam Sadiq, upon whom be peace, related that he heard the Imam say: I swear by God that I have in my possession all the truths of the Quran, from beginning to end.
This book contains an account of the heavens and the earth, of that which is and that which has been, for the Quran makes apparent the reality of all things.
The Quran may be regarded as a trans c r i p t of the world of nature, the hidden secrets of which the passage of time and the expansion of knowledge have brought to light. The appearance of new and profound concepts in the Quran is therefore a continuing process.
God made His Book comprehensible so that human beings might reflect on it. Nonetheless, the secrets and mysteries of its verses become more apparent, and its rays exert a more powerful attraction, the more the scientific capacity of the human being increases and his researches concerning the scheme of the universe continue to expand. This is true also of researches into the psychology of the human being and the laws governing social and legal relationships. Thus, thinkers who spend their lives studying exclusively civil or international law will never be able to reach the lofty pinnacle of the Quran.
Furthermore, every human work, however valuable and precise, is of ultimately limited utility: its value is finite, such that a few experts and specialists learned in their trade will be able to clarify every part of the book and exhaust its contents.
But the Noble Quran is revelation, deriving from the knowledge of a Creator in Whose infinite ocean of wisdom all the intelligence, thoughts and perceptions of human beings are but a d r o p; compared to the blinding brilliance of the vision and knowledge that embrace all of being, they are like a feeble and flickering lamp. The potentialities of the Quran for further investigation, discovery, and deduction are endless. This principle is not restricted to questions of law and jurisprudence; researchers in every branch of human knowledge can discover some new dimension of the Quran.
Even specialists in some of the modern sciences of the human being, such as psychology, sociology and the philosophy of history, can deduce new and exact points of scientific validity from the Quran. This shows that the Quran has a whole series of different capacities that cannot be exhausted by the imagination of a single culture or a single age. There is no other book on the general and particular aspects of which so much effort has been expended for fourteen centuries across such a vast area and which yet retains the capacity to be investigated still further.
It is obvious that the results obtained by thought and investigation will depend on the originality, skill and intellectual power of the individual scholar, so that the multidimensional meanings of the verses of the Quran cannot be restricted to what one individual has been able to deduce from them.
We should study carefully the topics contained in the Quran such as the origin of beings, the ineluctable future that is the afterlife, ethics, jurisprudence, law and historical narratives. Our aim is such a study should be more than a simple re-telling of events, a dry summary of contents; we should try to discover how the Quran has impelled human beings to advance intellectually from one stage to the next. Then we will encounter the true teachings of the Quran, and by opening up new fields of new knowledge and enquiry, we will come to appreciate the unique richness and profundity of the Quran.
Every scientist and researcher is liable to change his attitude to scientific topics under investigation and the opinions he bases on them. Relying on the knowledge and conclusions he has accumulated; he may express a certain opinion on a given topic at one time and later repudiate that opinion in the light of continuing and more extensive research and the solution of certain problems. His new insights take the place of his previous thinking, and his opinion changes. This process of change is an important reason for the variations and contradictions we find within the views of a single individual.
Furthermore, in the course of twenty-three years, a person will inevitably change some of his ideas and opinions as a result of natural bodily changes which also entail changes in his psychology and nervous system.
It has always been the custom of thinkers, lawgivers and writers to correct their errors and revise their opinions and their writings.
The Noble Quran contains profound and exact statements on a wide variety of subjects. It establishes and legislates principles and regulations for the practical and ethical duties of the human being and for the ordering and administration of society. However, the slightest variation or contradiction is not to be seen in this great mass of material. Considering the fact that the Quran was revealed over a period of twenty-three years, it is important to note that this gradualness did not cause the verses to lose their harmony and inner unity.
It is true, of course, that certain verses containing regulations were abrogated by others, so that the period of their applicability came to an end. But the meaning of this abrogation is that the benefit envisioned by the regulation proclaimed in the earlier verse was temporally limited, so that the corresponding regulation also was necessarily limited. Once the new regulation is proclaimed, the validity of the first regulation is terminated. It is plain that the proclamation of a temporary regulation cannot be objected to if the benefit intended by a permanent regulation is not yet apparent.
This is something quite different from what happens as a result of human error and ignorance. The human being promulgates a certain regulation with a view to a certain benefit, and then, after a time, he realizes he has made a mistake. He then abolishes the first regulation and substitutes another one for it.
One cannot in any way attribute to God such an abrogation, arising from ignorance and error. Concerning the question of abrogation, the Noble Quran has this to say: ' Whenever We abrogate a certain benefit and send down another in its place and God knows best what He sends down - the unbelievers say, 'You are always a forger.' It is not so, but most of them do not understand.
Here, it is possible to evaluate the Quran from two different points of view: first, the individual nature of the verses, viewed in isolation from each other and possessing an unparalleled brilliance; and second, the verses taken together as a whole, exhibiting utter harmony and mutual compatibility and lacking all contradiction with respect to style and content. Precisely this lack of contradiction represents another aspect of the miraculousness of the Quran.
When the Quran wishes to establish its own heavenly nature, it draws attention to the fact that although it was revealed over a period of twenty-three years, it is completely uniform and lacking in contradiction. It says: Do they not reflect on the Quran? if this book were from other than God, they would certainly find much variation and contradiction in it. (4:81)
This verse reminds us that those who deviate from the path of honesty and veracity will naturally fall prey to contradiction in their statements and sayings. The fact that not the slightest trace of contradictoriness can be found in the contents of the Quran or unevenness in its style is a shining proof of its truth and veracity.
The Quran therefore leaves it to the sound disposition of human beings, untrammeled by all prejudices and pre-existing notions, to recognize this fact and to distinguish truth from falsehood.
If the Quran which took shape under a variety of different circumstances and was revealed in fragments over a period of twenty-three years, in Mecca and Medina, was the record of the thoughts of Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings}, it would inevitably have been subject to the general rule that development implies change and contradiction; it would not possess the uniformity that it manifestly does.
Furthermore, through the adoption of an attitude conformable to the prevailing conditions of the day, considerable differences would have appeared within the world view expounded in the Quran. Contradiction and incongruity would have become evident in it, and it would have lost, in the course of time, the evenness and harmony that characterize its style.
In contrast with the method followed by conventional books that devote themselves to explaining or researching a single legal, historical, philosophical, social or literary topic, the Quran discusses numerous and varied subjects, such as law and politics, the knowledge of God, civil and penal law, ethics and customs of behavior, history and the details of Divine regulations, together with tens of other subjects. Despite this, it is absolutely uniform with respect to the coherence of its subject matter and of its style.
There is no difference between the first surah revealed to the Prophet (Sarah Alaq) and the last surah of the Quran (Sarah Nasr).
Throughout the Quran, unique eloquence and power of expression are fully apparent, to the point of constituting a firm and brilliant proof in their own right.
Not only does the Quran not negate and invalidate previous revelations, it positively confirms the messengerhood of all previous Prophets and true guides, and praises those great men for their efforts and exertions.
In the Quran, the names of those revered by Jews and Christians as their leaders have been mentioned repeatedly and with respect. Does this praise and veneration of those figures not indicate the veracity, truthfulness and trustworthiness of the message of the Quran, as based on revelation? After all, the followers of Judaism and Christianity were intensely hostile to the new religion of Islam, and the fact that the Quran praises the figures sacred to those two religions proves how far removed the Quran is from all petty rivalry and how alien to it are all kinds of powerseeking.
The Quran proclaims: We have sent this book down to you in truth, confirming, verifying and protecting the previous heavenly books.(5:48)
Since religion is rooted in the essential disposition of the human being, as one of his fundamental impulses that find expression in his view of the world and his deeds, it is basically one and unvarying. The Noble Quran says: Turn directly towards religion, for God has created the human being's fundamental disposition in accordance with it. (30:29)
So although the human being is subject to the norms that prevail in the phenomenal world and gains meaning by entering in to relationship with those phenomena and the law of growth toward perfection that governs them, his path to happiness is single and unique. It is religion alone that can show him the specific path to a specific goal. Montesquieu says: It is in the very nature of human laws that they obey events and occurrences. That is to say, events influence them. By contrast, heavenly laws do not change on the basis of events or the changing will of the human being. Human laws always aim at attaining the best of solutions; heavenly laws actually discover the best of solutions. Virtue and goodness have, no doubt, many different aspects and varieties, but the best of all solutions is necessarily unique and also, therefore, immutable. The human being can change human laws because it is possible that a given law be beneficial in one age but not in another. Religious systems always offer the best laws and because they cannot be improved upon, they are unchangeable.
If we turn our backs on Divine Laws and have recourse to manmade regulations, we have, in fact, abandoned the broad and open plain of the universal law of religion for the narrow and uneven alley that is the limited mind of the human being.
The fundamental difference between the mission of the Prophet of Islam and that of the other Prophets lies in the fact that their revelation served as the basis for a temporary program of action.
Once Islam made its appearance and earlier religious systems had begun to weaken and crumble, it was no longer possible to adhere to those religions and systems of belief.
The value-system of Islam, by contrast, completes the whole structure of prophethood: its logical coherence and unshakable firmness embrace all the extensive dimensions of prophethood, and it includes within itself all that the preceding Prophets put forward to satisfy the human being's needs for social regulation, as well as all other moral and material needs.
Another aspect of the Quran which serves to indicate its unique and exceptional nature is the remarkable and inexhaustible attraction that it exerts. Take the best poems or pieces of literature, and read them several times. You will come to see that for all the interest you have in reading them and all the pleasure they give you, a repeated reading of them will tire and even bore you in the end.
The effectiveness and attractiveness of the best writings produced by geniuses of the past and present is not something fixed, immutable, and permanent. For a time, they can hold the reader under their sway but they will gradually forfeit their attractiveness so that in the end they can neither command attention nor cause any pleasure.
However, if we examine the Quran, this transcript of a heavenly archetype, from this point of view, we will see that those who are acquainted with the Quran and have acquired some of the riches contained in its teaching are well aware that there is a direct relationship between the repeated reading of the Quran and the attraction that it exerts. They read or recite God's verses hundreds of times, and each time the Quran acquires a different aspect for them, an aspect that conquers and overwhelms their soul and their spirit.
Their experience of spiritual pleasure is in direct proportion to their comprehension of the exalted concepts of the Quran, and indeed anyone can satisfy his spiritual needs by referring constantly to the Quran and benefiting from it to the degree of his capacity to know and perceive.
The rays of attraction exerted by the Quran spread outwards from Mecca together with the movement of the Muslims. They shone in the Christian court of Ethiopia, thanks to the recitation of Ja'far b. Abi Talib, despite the unfavorable situation prevailing there and the pressure brought to bear by the opponents of Islam. Equally, they shone in Medina, the base for the formation of a new society, where the Quran was recited by Mus'qab b. 'Umayr.
Active people such as these were dedicated to destroying false values and bringing into being a movement that would result in fundamental changes in the way of life and thought and society. They sought to spread awareness among human beings and to encourage them to adopt a realistic attitude towards the truths of the Quran.
With its message, the Quran provided human beings with the means needed for making a choice between falsehood, on the one hand, and the new values that were enabling human beings to refashion their lives, on the other. For the life of the human being has no meaning unless he adheres to a certain worldview, a vision of existence and history, and a concept of the aim of creation.
Today, more than fourteen centuries after the revelation of the Quran, the captivating sound of the recitation of the Quran can still be heard in different parts of the world.