بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم
In these series of notes, what is being done is commenting on a series of articles under the heading of ‘Inimitability of the Qur’an and Some Evidences of It Being From Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala)’.
I have personally chosen to start here since there this article serves as an introduction to this field. It is important for all the Muslims to consider this field seriously, since the main miracle of the Qur’an that is accessible to all people throughout every age is its eloquence and style. Of course, we say that what the Qur’an elucidates is never contrary to the truth, but we say that trying to tie this with modern scientific discoveries may have its drawbacks, since we are never sure whether any given scientific position may shift tomorrow towards a different explanation, leaving the Muslim who tied certain Qur’anic Verses with scientific explanations in an awkward position, and perhaps throwing certain people into doubt.
The link is available at the following location.
o We need to say before we start with the articles that there are two types of proofs for the truth of Islam. The first type is the rational-only proofs and the second is the textual proofs. It is very necessary for the Muslim to know about both types proofs, since he has to first dismantle the non-Muslims’ cosmology and establish the truth of the Islamic view on the Divine Being (i.e. Allah), and then he has to show that Allah has indeed revealed the message of Islam to Muhammad (SAW), and that we are all obliged to follow this message without any hesitation or excuse. [Notice that the textual proofs start with the Noble Qur’an, which establishes the veracity of the Messenger and his Message, after which we can apply the rules of Usool (i.e. fundamentals) to the received texts.
o We are personally of the view that if someone were to show the non-Muslim how his cosmology and philosophy is totally incorrect, then he would have no choice but to accept Islam. If someone asks “Why do you propound such a big jump?” we say that the “non-Muslim theologies” point to impossibilities at the end of the day, and it cannot be that our existence and actions are dictated by an impossibility, since impossible situations or Beings cannot have any effect on us possible existents. But there is obviously a very long discussion on how we reach these conclusions, and it is not the place to bring such matters to the fore.
o Be that as it may, what we see nowadays unfortunately is a slackening in both fields – the rational proofs and the textual proofs. Firstly, there are so many Muslims who cannot properly explain what the Islamic view on Allah the Exalted is and many others who have been led astray by various groups and ideologies who claim to be under the flag of Islam.
o Not only this, but we also have such lack of understanding concerning the miraculous nature of the Quran. There are some who say the miracle relates to the “scientific miracles of the Quran”. We never deny that there is only truth in the Qur’an, and that such truth may be discovered by mankind as time goes on, but we cannot say that “modern science” is the main miracle the Quran expounds. The way this is shown is that if we take a short Surah like Surah al-Kawthar, we see that it does not make any scientific declaration, but yet it is miraculous and no one can come up with something like Surah al-Kawthar.
o So from this we understand that the miracle is much more connected to its internal arrangement and to its external message, eloquence in the words and phrases and undeniable truth in its message.
o As a final comment, let us make a distinction between the rational proofs for Islam and the miracle-based proofs for Islam. In the first type, we are dealing with the subject of Allah the Exalted. Allah is the Necessary Existent upon whom all other contingent beings exist. This is why the proofs in this field are developed and investigated to the level of complete certainty with absolutely no chance of the opposite being true. Even if there had been no revelation sent, still we would be able to deduce the existence of Allah from the workings and nature of the Universe itself, and many of our scholars do say that it is incumbent upon every human to acknowledge this, even apart from whether he has received the news of the revelation.
o As a further proof that such is the case, when we argue with the Christians, Hindus, etc., we should say that the Islamic position differs from their theological/cosmological assertions in such-and-such points, but we can present such points without even once making direct reference to the Qur’an or the primary Islamic texts. Of course, as I mentioned above, if they accept the Islamic theological positions, there is really nothing they can do to rationally reject Islam as a whole [but humans are quite irrational and emotionally charged, which is why there will always be some or the other objection in this field].
o However, when we come to the matter of miracles as a category of occurrence, what we see is that they are violations of normal activity. Being as they are, within the realm of this Universe, where only possibilities are brought into and out of existence, the unbeliever feels that he can challenge this matter more easily.
o As an example from the time of ‘Isa (AS), one of his miracles was to resurrect the dead by the permission and power of Allah the Exalted. But we can behold someone commenting that perhaps “science” has not progressed enough to understand what death truly means, and that there is always the possibility that perhaps we find out at a later point that death may not occur to certain people even after many years of being declared clinically dead – the only thing that happened was that this “dead man’s” waking up was coincidental with ‘Isa (AS) praying for his “revival”, or that there was some knowledge in ancient times about how to recognize those who seemed dead but were not really dead, and that the “revival” took part on such bodies, and other similar explanations. And if we see it from the “skeptic” worldview at the center of scientific endeavor, we have to say that such a thing is a possibility, however remote.
o So this is the opening the skeptic and hardened disbeliever loves to seize, since he does not have to discard unquestionable rational laws, while at the same time he can push the boundaries of possibilities to the ultimate end, in the hope that the believer will snap. [Of course, the seasoned unbeliever will even discard rational rules such as the principle of non-contradiction, and other matters of deductive reasoning, and we have to in such cases bring the matter back to the essential discussion as best as we can, at least for the benefit of those who are not so dogmatically oriented against Islam].
o This is where the “miracles of the Qur’an” topic may get derailed by the stubborn non-Muslim, since he may make an irrelevant objection to the Qur’an, and try to bury the discussion right then and there. So this is why we have to recognize the various levels of the Qur’anic miracle, but also not overstep and try to find a “miracle” in things that do not match the sublimity and loftiness of the Qur’an.
o An example of how a non-Muslim may try to play games is by saying that perhaps the Arabs had not really found the pinnacle of poetry and prose at the time of Muhammad (SAW), and that it is disingenuous for us to mention that the Qur’an is unmatched, since the “high rhetoric skill of the Arabs” is not something the current non-Muslim is willing to accept as a premise. Or they may say that Arabic in and of itself is not a good language at all, so whatever comes in an Arabic idiom is not sublime. There are answers to such things, such as the fact that the lifestyle of the Arabs for centuries and even millennia would lead to the high development of the language (while modern Industrial-Age civilization has not even passed 500 years, and probably will not make it past the one thousand year mark), and that if someone or even a whole tribe had come up with a new literary form, they would have had made it known to everyone and claimed credit for it themselves, since this was a matter of huge prestige and honor for themselves and their tribes. As for other languages, the multitude of languages are mostly dying out (in terms of their literary output and the classical fluency of their speakers), and the “international languages” suffer from extremely rapid changes due to the heightened pace of transformation in technological and societal realities; however, some of the scholars and experts have mentioned something about the challenge of the Qur’an as it relates to other languages, and these may be presented at a later time.
o One additional thing we think is important to mention, even though it is seldom if ever explicitly brought out in the writings concerning the miracle of the Qur’an, is that there is a “scientific” aspect to the challenge of the Qur’an. By this we do not mean the “newest scientific theory” which finds confirmation in the Qur’an (something which we frankly think is a dangerous thing to pursue), but that the Qur’an is laying itself out in its totality, and telling everyone that if you think this revelation is in fact the handiwork of creation, then come and make something similar or better than it. So it is laying itself out for testing, verification, study, analysis through any and all valid ways one can think of, and then saying that in spite of whatever the creation may try, they will not be able to match it.
o We know that the “challenge” part of the Qur’an is difficult to square with “modern science” (in that the supposition of modern science is that there are no revealed, established truths), but all should be able to discern that the Qur’an presents itself openly for study, so that the proof may be established on all those who come into contact with it, and that those whom Allah wills may benefit from it.
Excerpt from an article written by scholars of al-Azhar
o Coming to the article itself: The first tract is without a title, but it simply says that it is an extract from an article written by scholars of al-Azhar. It mentions ten proofs for the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. We will mention them, and come upon them again either in this or in other articles, based on the need of the situation.
o Firstly, the Qur’an is undoubtedly the pinnacle of linguistic perfection. The Jahili Arabs were not accustomed to its form, and where hindered by its concise “Bayan” (informing a plenitude of meanings while using few words).
o The structure of the Qur’an was unique when it came to the beginning of the Verses, their termination, and the pauses encountered while reciting it. In addition to the masters of the language, the pure minds of the Arab desert dwellers were amazed at its recitation.
o Thirdly, the Qur’an gives news about things yet to come, such as its prediction that the Muslims would enter Makkah peacefully to perform ‘Umrah.
o Fourth, it mentioned the stories of people of the past, even though the Arabs were totally ignorant about these stories, and they knew that Muhammad (SAW) had never sat in the company of teachers to learn any stories of the people of old. Yet, the Qur’an declares that it is narrating on that which the Children of Israel differ in (Ayah 27:76). Thus, it is setting itself as the definitive authority as to what happened in the past, and it cannot be expected that such a bold statement could be made in this respect except if the revealer of the Qur’an knew that this claim could not be contradicted.
o Fifth, the Qur’an declared the secrets of those who used to plot against the Islamic religion. Even if one were to somehow learn the stories of the past, there is no way that one can now what the enemies of Islam are clandestinely doing except through eavesdropping on them (a mortal risk that no sensible person would undertake), or through divine revelation.
o The Qur’an includes both the knowledge of the smallest particles and of cosmic facts which no one at that time could possibly know (this angle perhaps should be kept to only those things which have been confirmed by ‘Tawaatur’ (narrational mass transmission), since then someone may take this to the level of “scientific miracles”, which has its own problems).
o In addition, we see that the base of all Shar’i laws, the ways of logical argumentation, and the wisdom inherent in the tales of yore are all encompassed by the Qur’anic text.
o Seventh, it is free of discrepancy even though it is a large text. (We know there are those who will try to bring internal contradictions, but all these have very simple and straightforward answers).
o Eight, the Qur’an is read in uniformity, and this is related to Allah’s promise to protect it. We do not see this level of protection for any other book in the world, since in all the other cases, there will be countless controversies over which redaction is closer to the original, and so forth [Just take a look at the changes that have occurred to the Bible since the King James Version was published in view of supposedly more authentic information becoming available to Biblical scholars].
o But in the case of the Qur’an, the nature of the Arabs and the fact that they were largely illiterate (as was the rest of the world) meant that the preservation of the Qur’an was done from chest to chest, and this had many advantages when it came to preserving the Qur’an, advantages that may have been curtailed if it had been revealed at an epoch were literacy was the norm. [This also partly covers the issue of why was the revelation given at that particular place and time and not at any other – like those who arrogantly say that they do not wish to live in the 7th century “dark ages”. There is a mental and spiritual development of peoples over different times, and it does not necessarily follow that simply because our era is one of technological advancement, that it is the best in terms of our internal mental and spiritual development. I would say that in fact this is one of the worst eras, since selfishness and individualism have pervaded everything in the world, and the only goal seems to be unfettered materialistic achievement. Humanity as a whole does reach a point where any admonishment to them will be futile for most of them, and this shows that certain times (such as that of the Arabs in the seventh century) are better than epochs coming after them].
o Note that the sweetness of the Qur’an remains ever fresh for those who recite it and hear it, and it makes those who are constantly with it to love it. One does not become bored with it as would be the case with poems and songs. In the case of the Qur’an, repeated recitation can unlock new doors and understandings with every Verse.
o The Qur’an includes both proof and proven. Those who understand its meanings know how to derive proofs and religious rulings, based on the consideration of how it is read and how it is understood. This is because it contains the clear logical basis for discourse, and its syntactical structures can be used to derive a multitude of rulings, as we see in the examples of Fiqh.
o Finally, memorizing the Qur’an has been made easy in comparison with the memorization of any other work, even the works of Ahadith (which have their own lofty level of linguistical achievement but are not inimitable). It is actually very common to find people who are not good at memorizing in general, but who have been able to memorize the Qur’an or large portions of it, due to how its composition and recitation aid in its memorization.
On the article: ‘The doctrine of the Qur’ân’s inimitability (I’jâz al-Qur’ân)’ by Oula bint al-Shoubaki
o This was concerning the first article. The next work is entitled “The doctrine of the Qur’ân’s inimitability (I’jâz al-Qur’ân)” by Oula bint al-Shoubaki, an Arabic linguist who has written a few articles concerning the inimitable characteristics of the Qur’an.
o The next article is entitled “The doctrine of the Qur’ân’s inimitability (I’jâz al-Qur’ân)” by Oula bint al-Shoubaki, an Arabic linguist who has written a few articles concerning the inimitable characteristics of the Qur’an.
o In here, what is shown first is the Ayah 29:50-51 of the Qur’an. A reading by a simple-minded person may lead one to believe that this Verse says there were no other miracles given to Muhammad (SAW) other than the Qur’an, but as we have mentioned before, this is untrue. Rather, it is stressing that the Qur’an is a much bigger miracle than the other readily perceptible miracles the world witnessed at the hands of the Prophet (SAW).
o As mentioned in other places, the Prophets (AS) were given miracles based on whatever subject their people had mastered at the time of their appearance, as was the case with Musa, ‘Isa, and Muhammad (SAW).
o In the fact that the Arabs had perfected the art of speech and eloquence there was a hidden “blessing” when it was coupled with the Qur’anic revelation. Thus, whoever wants to appreciate the true miracle of the Qur’an will have to learn Arabic to a high degree of proficiency. Of course, this is a difficult undertaking for many people, but it is not impossible. However, transporting one’s self back to the times of any of the Prophets (AS) in order to personally witness their miracles in indeed impossible. This shows why this specific miracle was a challenge to all creatures of the Universe until the Day of Judgment – since the Qur’an is through hearing and reciting, and learning a language is possible for people to undertake, whereas the immediate sensory miracles are only the subject of belief and confirmation once we have heard about them.
o Coming back to the time of the Prophet (SAW) and the rhetoric of the Arabs, we see that even a hardened opponent, such as Walid bin al-Mughira, was totally overcome by the beauty and elegance of the Qur’an. This is why he said: “I swear by God, there is none amongst you who knows poetry as well as I do, nor can any compete with me in composition or rhetoric – not even in the poetry of jinns! And yet, I swear by God, Muhammad’s speech (i.e. the Qur’an) does not bear any similarity to anything I know, and I swear by God, the speech that he says is very sweet, and is adorned with beauty and charm. Its first part is fruitful, and its last part is abundant, and it conquers all other speech, and remains unconquered! It shatters and destroys all that has come before it!”
o We also know the story of Utba, to whom the Prophet (SAW) recited a large portion of Surah Fussilat. Note that the narrations say that his expression changed altogether (because the Arabs had reached a high level of rhetorical mastery, where speech had become intertwined with the body of a person… even today, words do have an effect on a person, which is why insulting words or biting sarcasm can make people act violently. But the Arabs had reached far beyond what we see in the English language today) and said: “I have heard a discourse the like of which I had never heard before. I swear to God, O Quraysh, that it is neither poetry, nor spell, nor witchcraft. Take my advice and leave this man alone.”
o So this is the statement from those who were masters in poetry and rhetoric. However, there were those who had not achieved this high level of linguistical proficiency, and they ignorantly thought that the Qur’an could be challenged and that they could compose something similar to the Qur’an. This is what appears in Ayah 8:31. These were the people who called the Prophet a sorcerer, madman, poet, soothsayer, etc. [of course, the likes of al-Walid also claimed the same things, but deep down they knew such things were not true. The second group however, considered it to be true, since they did not understand the miraculous composition of the Qur’an to begin with].
o Of course, if the ignorant among the Arabs of the Prophet’s (SAW) time could not understand the intricacies of the miracle of the Qur’an, then it is much more likely that Orientalists (who have the same hatred for Islam, but even much lesser knowledge of the Arabic language), would be unable to understand what the miracle of the Qur’an is about. This is why we have critics like Bell, Stobart, and Rodinson, who mistakenly claimed that the Qur’an was nothing but poetry of some or the other type, either fully intentional from the part of Muhammad (SAW), or existing subconsciously in his mind and finding expressions at some points of time.
o However, this ignores the fact that Arabic poetry had to (as a matter of necessity) adhere to specific literary features, such as its wazn, bahr, ‘arud and qaafiya. These had to be adhered to even at the expense of grammar and semantics. Yet the Qur’an does not display these fixed features, which shows that the claims of the Qur’an being poetry are totally unfounded (Perhaps at a later time the specificities of wazn, bihaar, and so forth can be expounded. It is actually a difficult subject to explain to the non-Arab non-Muslim, since he has no idea about the concept of wazn, or of the different verb-forms of the Arabic language upon which the bihaar were based, etc.)
o Note also that Watt said that the Qur’an was from Muhammad’s (SAW) creative imagination, and that what one thinks comes from outside one’s self may in many instances have a mundane inner explanation, such as coming from someone’s unconscious thoughts. This is a very strange thing to say with respect to the Qur’an, since “unconscious thoughts” are very difficult to equate with anything that makes sense in the conscious realm. Think about how one dreams- amazing things may happen while one is dreaming, like flying unassisted, but they always stay within one’s dreams, and cannot generally be applied to the non-dream world.
o In any case, whatever thoughts come to a person, these are still within the bounds of human endeavors and capacity. Whether it is from the strict conscious mind or from the subconscious, they still cannot be anything other than the collected experiences and knowledge that one has attained throughout his life. And since we know that the modes of Arabic poetry and prose were known to all Arabs and he (SAW) could not have possibly learned something other than what was already available for all to learn, our points remain.
o It is interesting that Watt mentioned the “unconscious” (perhaps he meant subconscious), since at least he recognized that Muhammad (SAW) did not come up with the Qur’an intentionally. But it would still not explain the fact that if such a hypothesis were true, then he (SAW) would have had this “genius ability” inherent within him, only that he did not know about this “genius” hidden inside of him. But even then, it would not explain that once this “genius” purportedly had come out, then it would be very difficult for the mind to keep on asserting that it is “hidden”, especially when we see the continued insistence on it being from Allah, along with the challenges to produce something like the Qur’an.
o If someone says that Muhammad (SAW) “fooled himself into believing that something was being revealed to him”, this is basically a regurgitation of the above point. And again, it does not explain the complex miracle of the Qur’an, since our opponents would have to say that all their hypotheses lead back to Muhammad (SAW) composing the Qur’an himself, whether intentionally, unintentionally, due to himself or in spite of himself, etc., along with all the problems inherent in such a suggestion.
o So when certain of the ignorant Arab people said that they could produce something like the Qur’an, this challenge was presented to them. Note that there was no running away from this challenge, showing that the definition of Mu’jiza as understood by Islamic scholarship was being applied to the Qur’an.
o So when the challenge was posed, first it was to produce something like the Qur’an itself – that is the entirety of the Qur’an (since this was the boast of the disbelievers). However, later this was reduced to ten chapters and then down to only one chapter. According to a number of scholars, the order of the tahaddi (challenge) Verses was as follows: 52:33-34, 17:88, 11:13, 10:38, 2:23-24.
o One matter which is of importance is that in each case, the challenge was gradually reduced: First, it was for them as an Arab tribe to bring something like the Qur’an. Then, it was to take the help of all humanity and all jinn to bring something like the Qur’an. Then, it was to bring ten Chapters, then one Chapter, and then in addition to the challenge of one Chapter, to come humbly into the fold of Islam once they discovered that they could not meet this challenge at all.
o It is mentioned that Allamah az-Zarkashi (RA) said that when the challenge for ten chapters was brought forth, this was understood to be in both prose and syntax, but not in content. However, when it was reduced to one chapter, then it had to match the prose, syntax, and content of the Qur’an.
o In spite of the challenge, the Arabs could not rise up to the challenge, even though they were very eloquent in their speech. As an aside, it is mentioned that contemporary critics of the Qur’an have not come up with anything other than low-quality attempts, which would not have convinced even the hardened early critics of Islam.
o This was so, even though there was a lot at stake in this challenge: If it had been met, then the entire Prophetic mission would have stopped at that time, since it would have been shown to be false. Not only this, but from the non-Muslims’ side, the motivation was also very high for them to meet this challenge: If they could come up with something like the Qur’an, then this religion would be quelled, and the disturbance to their livelihoods would have evaporated. There would be no need for the future confrontations and wars, in which the non-Muslims put their lives at risk (and in many cases lost), since it is obviously much easier to meet a rhetorical challenge than a martial challenge.
o As mentioned in the article also, there was something miraculous about the martial meetings also. Especially if we consider the Battle of al-Ahzab, when Madinah was besieged from both outside forces and by traitors inside the city, it would have been very easy for the Muslims to have been annihilated, had the help of Allah not been with them. Moreover, we see the huge obstacles the Muslims had to overcome in many of the battles during and after the time of the Prophet (SAW), and this reaches the point where certain secular commentators point out that the success of Islam in promoting its way of life in the world cannot even be matched by what the Communists or Napoleon did, since in their case their gains fizzled after some time. But in the case of Islam, its gains where very quick and its legacy is still felt even today by a large part of the world’s population.
o Thus, by the end of the third Islamic century, the phenomenon of the inimitability of the Qur’an was routinely referred to an I’jaz (lit. incapacitation).
o It was also noted by the scholars of Islam that the Qur’an towers above other heavenly revealed books in that it is the only one that has stylistic and linguistic inimitability. In order to further this point, Qadi al-Baqilani mentioned that the style was not miraculously eloquent, God had not referred to them as eloquent, nor did the Prophets who brought them claim that they were inimitably eloquent. As some other scholars add, the ordering of the Qur’an was by divine inspiration, and this was not the case with the previous books.
o So after the issue of the Qur’an’s inimitability was known, the next question was the nature of those aspects which make the Qur’an miraculous. There are those, like Kamal Abu Dib, who say that there are no particular characteristics that were to be matched by those pretending to produce something like the Qur’an- for him the challenge was ambiguous.
o However, classical scholars, such as Jurjani and az-Zarkashi said that there had to be definite characteristics of the Qur’an which made it miraculous, since it would be unwise for a challenge to be posed if the challenged did not know what this challenge entails.
o In fact, there are many different opinions about what makes the Qur’an miraculous – including its eloquence, the arrangement of its verses and chapters, its laws, predictions, etc. Some gave a list of about ten or a dozen different facets of inimitability, but Allamah as-Suyuti gave over three hundred different aspects of inimitability, which shows the huge depth and breadth of this issue. Al-Zarkashi mentions that the true I’jaz of the Qur’an is the combination of all these factors, and not one of them in isolation.
o An interesting suggestion given by some is that every facet discussed in Uloom al-Qur’an is a part of the I’jaz of the Qur’an.
o Next we come to the position of Nazzam, a Mu’tazilite who propounded a strange concept- that of sarfa (aversion). He said that Allah took away the capacity of people to produce something like the Qur’an, and had it not been for this taking away of the capacities, then they would have been able to produce something like the Qur’an. However, it seems that this concept was propounded in order to further the Mu’tazili position, which holds that there is no such thing as Kalaam Nafsi, but that rather all what is called “Speech of Allah” is only created speech and nothing else (i.e. it does not point to any Eternal Attribute of Allah the Exalted).
o Of course, this insistence on ‘sarfa’ meant that Nazzam had himself contradicted the principles of Mutazili theology. The reason for that was that according to the Mu’tazilis, Allah cannot challenge man to do something which he is incapable of achieving, since that would be burdening someone with something beyond his capability, which is disallowed according to their concept of ‘Adl or “Divine Justice”.
o Also, this sarfa argument would deny the miraculous “nature” of the Qur’anic text, because the “miracle” is transferred unto the “sarfa” or incapacitation only- we could think of any series o words, phrases, or long text being made inimitable through this method of “incapacitation”, not only the revealed Qur’an. This is attested by what the Qur’an says in Verse 17:88, where Allah mentions that had all the humans and jinn come together to produce something like the Qur’an, they would not be able to meet this challenge. So it is obvious that there is something in the Qur’an’s composition itself, not only an external “incapacitation”.
o As-Suyuti also mentioned this, when he said that had it been an issue of ‘sarfa’, then challenging the people and jinns to gather together would be the same as telling dead corpses to gather together to produce something, and this is unacceptable. Thus, what we see is that in spite of their faculties and powers being intact, all of humankind and jinn cannot come up with something like the Qur’an.
o The term “I’jaz” then, came to be mostly associated with the Qur’an’s perfect rhetorical style. This was the view of the scholar al-Jaahiz, and it came to preponderate in all of the discussions concerning the inimitability of the Qur’an. It should be noted that such high eloquence was peculiar to the Arabic language, which is why such types of analysis were not made of the Torah or the Gospels in previous times.
o We see this in the writings of al-Baqilaani and al-Khattabi who formulated intricate theories concerning the literary aspects of the Qur’an, such as the subtle techniques, styles and parallelisms which are inherent in the Arabic language.
o As a small example, take the following phrase in the Qur’an ‘يأخذون عرض هذا الأدنى’. It is conventionally translated as: “taking the commodities of this lower life”. The reason why it is written “lower life” is that الأدنى means “the lowest”, but it is also made up of the root words for the word “دنيا” which is normally translated as “world”. But the reason why the Arabic language is using “دنيا” for this earthly life is to emphasize that it is lowly, and that what one achieves on Earth is passing and ephemeral. This is amazingly brought together when the Qur’an mentions “هذا الأدنى” which means “this (the) lowest”- the Arabic listener will understand the stress being put on the extreme uselessness of pursuing the goods of the worldly life. It is not possible to express this “lowliest world” concept in the English language merely by saying “world”, but we have to add some word for “low” in order for the reader to understand the connection. But this is all brought together in Arabic by using the diminutive form “أدنى” which refers to world, low, and the superlatively negative nature of that lowliness.
o This quality of the Arabic language can also be seen by the statements of those Orientalists and non-Muslims who pass comments on the style of the Qur’an only after reading the translation. We know that they may comment on its being crude and wearisome, not seeing that the stylistic miracle is in the Arabic language itself, and that is not translatable. Yes, anyone who reads a good translation may understand the deep message of the Qur’an, but this is only one aspect of the Qur’an’s truthfulness. If the non-Muslim wishes, we can engage with them based only on the message of the Qur’an and its overarching coherence, but in such a case we cannot fully appreciate the value of the Qur’an in its totality.
o To elucidate this matter of speech more, al-Khattabi said that all speech consists of three basic elements. He said these were words conveying meanings, ideas subsisting in words, and the structure organizing them both. Since the Qur’an is the speech of Allah the Exalted, this means that only He knows all the words, all of the ideas ingrained in each word, and all the varieties of structure. So there is no way that man (or jinn) with their limited knowledge can ever come up with something like the Qur’an.
o [At this point, some people may ask that how is it possible for “Jinn” (loosely translated as spirits, even though its meaning is deeper than that) to compose anything, since we cannot even perceive them. We say that Jinn definitely do exist, and their influence is also known personally to many people. What we see today in the craze for the occult, mediums, etc. is only a manifestation of people’s desires to communicate with spirits and forces they are amazed by. In this context, it is very possible for people to receive something from them, so the relevance of this challenge for the Jinn is known].
o We see another line of argument in al-Jurjani, who said that the I’jaz was related to “Nazm”, in which the arrangement and structure of words in a text creates different shades of meaning for the individual words (and for the relationship between them). Thus, the best “Nazm” is the one that uses the most pertinent words for the intended meaning, and places them in the most effective arrangement. He said it was this “Nazm” which led the Arabs to immediately identify it as miraculous.
o During al-Jurjani’s discussion on “Nazm”, he mentioned that the inimitability of the Qur’an could not be one particular aspect, such as the arrangement of vowels in the words. This is so, since this could lead to attempts to compose verses following the same prototype as the Qur’anic Chapters.
o A number of such “attempts” were made by Musaylima the Liar, such as his “Surah Jamaahir”, or his “Surah at-Taahinaat”. This last so-called “Chapter” is to do with flour and its kneading. The Qur’an would not get into such a mundane topic, since its subject matter is much more lofty than what flour is, and then what its kneading into bread or use in broth are good for. We see in here that the subject matter is chosen to simply show that the person can rhyme certain things together
o Note that this supposed to be a copy of Sura al-‘Aadiyaat, but Surah al-‘Aadiyaat does not contain a rhyme like ‘Wa Taahinati Tahnan, Wal ‘Aajinati ‘Ajnan…’, since its syntactic breadth is deeper than what Musaylima did by merely repeating the same word, which would wind up with the awkward translation of “(By the) floured flour, and the kneaded flour when it is kneaded”. Also, these are oaths that Allah is taking, and the subjects of such oaths are far above flour and its derivatives.
o Concerning the first “Sura”, it is meant to be a copy of Sura al-Kawthar. [Its “text” is: “Innâ a‟taynâka‟l jamâhir. Fasalli li rabbika wa jâhir. Inna shâni‟aka huwa‟l kâfir‟] What we can see is that only the last word is being substituted, and the ending is changed from the Qur’anic “ar” to his “ir”. But even here, we see that there are deficiencies and things that do not make it comparable to Surah al-Kawthar, even though only the last word was modified – a fact which should be enough to show that this was at most a half-hearted attempt at making something like the Qur’an. (We will mention them here, then as time moves on, these may be modified as needed, especially in view of the fact that there may be mistakes in the below exposition)
o Some of the mistakes of this “invented Sura” can be seen in the following matters: The use of the word “Jamaahir” introduces an extra few characters which do not aid in the flow of the Chapter. Additionally, the Qur’anic Verse uses the word “وأنحر” which maintain the structure of this Chapter, while in Musaylima’s case the phrase “Wa Jaahir” is clumsy in this context. Also consider that the word ‘Kaafir’ is redundant in this case, since the translation of this so-called “Verse” would be something like “Your opponent is a disbeliever”, while this is something known before the alleged “Chapter” began. But in the Qur’an there is a new characteristic being added to the description of the Prophet’s enemy, namely his being cut-off from all good.
o Moreover, there is a thread running through the three words used in the Qur’an. The word in the first Verse is “Kawthar”, in the second Verse it is “Anhar”, and in the third Verse it is “Abtar”. Thus in the first Verse, the Prophet (SAW) is told that he has been given the “Kawthar” which signifies plenitude and abundance. In the second Verse, he is told to sacrifice (“Anhar”), which is tied to the fact that the one given in plenitude offers sacrifices and thanks to his Lord from part of what he has been given. In the last Verse, a very important contrast is made between the Prophet (SAW) and his enemies. This is pointed to by the word “Abtar”, which means cut-off. The reader can see the difference between the Prophet (SAW) who has been given plenitude and the enemies who have been cut off from all goodness- and remembrance, since the taunt behind the revelation of this Chapter was that the Prophet (SAW) had no sons, so no one would remember him after he died. But in this Chapter the tables are turned, with Allah mentioning that it is the Prophet (SAW) who has been given abundance in this world and the Hereafter of everything that is good, while the enemies will have their lives, efforts, and remembrance cut off and put to nothingness.
o However, we do not see any of this in the attempt by Musaylima. The first word is Jamaahir (related to “crowds”), the second one is Jaahir (related to “saying something openly”), and the third one is Kaafir (disbeliever). Jaahir and Kaafir are not related to Jamaahir or to each other in the way the Qur’anic words are in relationships with each other. The most important deficiency in here is the one between “Jamaahir” and “Kaafir”, since they are not in an antagonistic relationship (since crowds may be believers or disbelievers, so bringing the word “Kaafir” does not establish any relationship of antagonism). Compare this to what we find in Surah al-Kawthar, one of the most striking effects is that al-Abtar (cut-off) is placed at the end of the Verse, indicating that the disbeliever mocking the Prophet is finished and done with. There is also an element of prophecy in here for the success of Islam and of the remembrance of the Prophet (SAW), which cannot be seen in Musaylima’s attempt. (There are definitely more contrasts between the Qur’an and this attempt from Musaylima, but we will limit it to these few points and perhaps deal with this matter at a later time in more detail if needed).
o So all this points to some of the aspects in which the Qur’an is inimitable. Allamah az-Zarkashi (RA) however, said that it is not any one of these matters alone, and it was perhaps this issue which led Abu Dib to say that the challenge was “ambiguous”.
o Even so, it can be forcefully said that this “ambiguity” is not a weakness at all, but rather is an added strength pointing towards the Qur’an’s inimitability. This is because it is relatively easier to define the specific factors which form the speech of man than it is to specify what makes each Qur’anic Chapter miraculous.
o So it is said that it was this “fear of the unknown” which led the disbelievers to more aggression against the message of Islam, since they could not pin down exactly what it was that made the Qur’an miraculous, yet they felt it in their hearts and minds.
o So then, we come back to the fact that the Qur’an is the ultimate miracle of Islam, since it is what buttresses all other messages brought by Muhammad (SAW). This is why the scholars of succeeding centuries studied the Qur’anic text from all possible angles, and concluded that simply calling it “beautiful” or “persuasive” did not do justice to the effect of the Qur’anic recitation, since its effect is still deeper than that.
o Finally then, it is mentioned that the challenge is open for all times and all the accountable creation, but those who attempt to meet this challenge are met with the stern warning that once they have failed, they should fear the blazing Fire, since this is the only result of their continued intransigence even after their failure has become obvious.
On the Appendix
o So that was the second article. Next there is an appendix, which in other links goes under the title ‘Qur’anic style transcends the power of man’. It starts out by saying that Arabic linguists at al-Azhar have pointed out various ways in which the Qur’anic style transcends the power of man and defies imitation (we have to note that this is based on what the scholars have been able to discover. But it does not mean that this is the end-all of every research into this topic, and we will come back to this point over and over again).
o Firstly, the style of the Qur’an is neither tied to the softness inherent in townspeople, nor to the roughness of the Bedouins. Rather, it is in the middle of these two extremes. Obviously, if it had been composed by Muhammad (SAW), then he would not have been able to achieve this balance, since people will naturally write based on the life experiences they have accumulated.
o The Quran is neither prose nor poetry. This is crucial, since it shows that the Qur’an is outside and far beyond the norms of common speech. It is to be mentioned in here that the Arabs had for centuries agreed that effective speech was limited either to prose or to the different Bihaar of poetry. When the Quran came forth and could not be categorized as anything the Arabs knew from before, they had to admit that it was something of a supernatural character, even if they would stubbornly refuse to follow the consequences of this reality. (Of course, here when we say “Arabs”, we are talking about those Arabs who had knowledge of eloquent speech and true poetry, not those who had no firm grasp of this topic – this is why we say that the miracle is best observed and appreciated by those who are experts in the field, and this has always been the way in which the entire depth of miracles is laid bare, by the experts in the appropriate field realizing their impotence to match what the Prophet of Allah (AS) has brought forward). [A related matter which anyone learning the Arabic language can see is that with normal “high Arabic prose”, the language gets very complicated at the outset, and in order to fully understand what the writer wants to express, one has to spend a considerable amount of time simply deciphering what the words mean].
o As an elucidation of the above point, we see that the rhythm of its syllables is more sustained than in prose, yet it is less patterned than it poetry. Even the pauses in the recitation of the Qur’an do not come either from the rules of prose nor the rules of poetry; rather, the Quran has its own unique harmonious flow and pauses.
o The sentences in the Quran are constructed in an elegant manner. Note that some people raise the question as to why the Qur’an is so “relatively small” in comparison to the Bible. This is because the Quran avoids unnecessary repetition; rather, it uses the smallest number of words without being too brief, to convey ideas of utmost richness. There is no even one word that can be considered to be superfluous to the Quran, but rather there is a definite reason why any given word was revealed in a certain position.
o The words of the Quran do not transgress the bounds of eloquence by being either too commonly repeated, nor too rarely brought up, but they rather “follow” a middle course in this respect.
o Conciseness of expression is also very important, in that the Qur’an’s clarity is such that even the lowly educated Arab can understand the Qur’an without difficulty (of course, here we are referring to understanding the initial message of the Qur’an, not that one is able to independently deduce rulings and beliefs only by reading or listening to the Qur’an, since even in this case the task is left to the qualified ‘Ulama).
o As an addendum to the above point, we would say that even for those struggling to learn Arabic, it is much easier for them to understand the Quran that it is for them to understand common colloquial speech, or even written material from common newspapers, books, etc. This proves that the Quran has attained an extremely high rank in eloquence, since it is normally impossible to use few words to convey lofty ideals, and (with the added condition) that such words are easier to understand than common language and speech.
o As a comparison with the English language, we see that there are difficult concepts and ideas expressed with one word, but this one word is something that the common person will have difficulty in understanding when confronted with such a word, an he will need to look up the word in order to come to an understanding of the topic under discussion. Note that it is obviously possible to convey the essence of the idea in simpler terminology, but in this case there is always a excess of words and verbosity sets in. But the Quran has miraculously avoided both extremes, using the easily understandable words in order to convey very lofty ideas.
o Also note that if we were to tell a struggling learner to read what is acclaimed as the best literature in that language, he will not be able to go even one paragraph without having to beg for help in understanding what the writer is saying. It is interesting that some ignorant people say that “Shakespeare is also inimitable, but that does not make his writings miraculous”. This saying is loaded with ignorance for the following reasons.
o Firstly, like any other script, Shakespeare’s visible plays were the collaborative result of not only the individual writer, but also of editors, censors, and so forth. After all, the finished product was to be presented to a royal and aristocratic audience, and the restrictions applicable in addressing higher authorities would be visible in his plays.
o Secondly, it is very difficult for people in this day and age to understand what Shakespeare is saying in his plays. All those who have studied his plays in literature know that he is using a language that has fallen by the wayside, and one needs extensive help just to identify what words he is using. As we have mentioned, this is very much unlike the Qur’an, where the words used are still easily accessible and understandable even to the struggling learner of the Arabic language.
o There are some people who say that Shakespeare should be seen beyond the archaic language, as the emotions he brings up are timeless. But this is applicable to so many other writers who bring up tales of the emotions and difficulties related to heroism, love, class conflicts, war, and so forth (For example, Hemingway, Faulkner, and others are known for their depictions of these topics – in this respect it is not something peculiar to Shakespeare). We say that the Qur’an is sublime and remarkable both in its subject matter as well as its language, not “in spite” of its language.
o Additionally, his poetry, like poetry in every language, is much more difficult to understand than common speech, so there is nothing miraculous in his poetry either.
o There is also a distinctive change of style during Shakespeare’s lifetime, from the time he was imitating other playwrights, to the time he was experimenting with different styles, when he tried to improvise, and so on. Here we do not wish to get too deep into the matters, but we need to mention that some of his plays were failures, and that later scholars have found a number of reasons to criticize aspects of even his most celebrated plays.
o Something else we need to keep in mind is that the immediate success of his plays was partly due to the characters that would play the characters; this is why even today actors are given prime billing and even a huge industry is based on such worthless things as their personal lives, because the producers and writers know that without good actors their scripts and films are of no use. So the “greatness” of the plays was many times dependent on something other than the writings themselves.
o Anyway, not all of Shakespeare’s plays have been well-received at all times. Rather, there was ebb and flow about what was a minor play, and what was considered a major play or a masterpiece. Thus, the writing quality and the critical acclaim have not been constant since the time Shakespeare wrote his plays.
o Perhaps most interestingly though, is that Shakespeare wished to be known for his poetry much more than his plays (which he thought were just work). But generally, poets other than Shakespeare are held in higher esteem, which shows that the area where he wished to attain fame did not materialize.
o Returning to the conciseness of the Qur’an, we see that its brevity still serves as the main basis for all Islamic jurisprudence, Islamic ‘Aqeedah sciences, spirituality, and so on.
o As an example, consider the Qur’anic Verse ‘أم خلقوا من غير شيء أم هم الخالقون’. This is only eight words, yet it can serve as the cornerstone for volumes of books about Islamic Aqeedah concerning Allah the Exalted, and how He is distinct from the Creation.
o Or as yet another example, let us consider Surah al-Ikhlas, which is a very sublime Surah. Only four Verses long, it refutes no less that 8 different types of false beliefs concerning Allah and, how other belief systems and cosmologies are in deep error. Again, the original Verses are few, but the scope for elucidation is huge.
o Thus, we see that it is basically impossible to fully convey the ides of the Qur’anic text with only one interpretation, but rather so many different interpretations may be derived based on the sub-science that is looking at the Qur’an.
o To those ignoramuses who claim that anyone can make up something like the Qur’an in the English language, we say that of the major languages in the world today, English is one of the least capable of even being considered for meeting the challenge of the Qur’an. The reason for this is that there is very little declension in Modern English, which means that there will be a need to use a multitude of words in order to express a simple idea. But Arabic is highly inflected when it comes to nouns, adjectives, and so forth, so much so that one Arabic word may need four or even more English words in order to convey its simple meaning fully.
o Take the case of the Qur’anic word ‘أنلزمكموها’. It is one word, but its translation is: ‘should we compel you (to accept) it?’. (Thus, it can actually be taken as a whole sentence when translated into English, even though it would not be correct as a stand-alone sentence in the context of the Verse in question, which is Verse 11:28). We can say that the ‘accept’ is known by the context, but look at how the rest of a small combination of the letters in this word sometimes needs a separate English word to express its meaning correctly. To begin with the ‘أ’ is the ‘alif of istifham’ which means it denotes a question, in this case the word ‘should’. The ‘ن’ indicates plural, which in the translation is ‘we’. Then the ‘لزم’ is translated as “compel”, while ‘كم’ is in fact ‘you all’ (as in a plural, but it is translated as ‘you’ in the Verse since the context indicates a group). The ‘ها’ is the “it” (which is referring to the message in this case). This also shows another weakness in the English language, in that ‘ها’ is actually a female pronoun, for the word ‘بينة‘ occurring earlier in the Verse, but this is something which is not considered in English. In English, they think strictly in terms that a message cannot have a gender, so it should be neuter, but in Arabic there is a distinction between the gender based on the structure of the word itself and what the gender based on the meaning of the word – this is why ‘خليفة’ (Caliph) is a female word even though the post of Caliph can only be filled by men [The ‘و’ does not have an exact mapable meaning, but is used for the internal arrangement of this word].
o So we see in here very clearly that one word needs 6 English words in order for us to gain a proper idea of what it means. From this angle, we see that Modern English is actually worse for the purpose of conveying concise meanings than older forms of English, since the pattern has been towards simplification of words in the English language, leading to verbosity.
o Coming back to our main topic, we also see the balance there is in the Qur’an between reason and emotion, intellect and feeling. Thus, the words and phrases used in the Qur’an have both persuasive force and emotive effect. And this is a characteristic which is seen throughout the Qur’an, not just with certain parts of it.
o Also related to this issue, even though it is not mentioned specifically, is that the Qur’an is not a dry depiction of abstract theological syllogisms and proofs. It is also not an overtly emotional treatment of subjects, where there is overuse of mystical and metaphorical terminology. We see both extremes in the works of human beings; because there is no way man can keep his deeply rational or emotional side (whichever one is at the high point at that time) from besmirching his work. But in the Qur’an, we see a balanced use of metaphors and clear language, of rational proofs couched in lofty language, of unquestionable evidences invoked to arouse the self-respect of people into submitting to Allah, and other matters which can be further studied at their appropriate times.
o Then, the author shifts to another set of miracles, seen from another angle, which are:
o Firstly, only the most appropriate word is placed in any given position in the Qur’an. If we were to attempt to substitute the original Qur’anic word with a synonym, the rhythm and style of the Verse under consideration would be negatively affected.
o There is no one fixed pattern in the Qur’an, but rather the sentence structure and syntax vary throughout the Qur’an. However, each style is unique and the rhythm is clear in each case.
o Different tenses (such as past vs. present, plural vs. singular) are used to give deeper meanings to the Qur’anic passages.
o The pronunciation of a word matches the context of what is being conveyed. Thus, when the Qur’an discusses the Heavenly abode, it use words which are easy to pronounce and melodious to hear, and when the topic is Hellfire, then the words and letters used itself change to give the feeling of dread and fear.
o For example, note how Surah Muhammad (Chapter 47, also termed Surah al-Qitaal (the fighting)) has relatively “tough” words and letters, and the pauses between one Verse and the next (and even within the Verses themselves) are abrupt, since it is a Madinan Sura dealing with fighting, hypocrites, etc., and the feeling that is to be conveyed is one of dread and fear.
o Finally, there is a perfect blend between concise statements and detailed elaborations. Thus, when the requirement is for short phrases, the Qur’an remains brief; but when an explanation is needed, then the Qur’an discusses the matter in detail.