Someone may say that the inability of someone to bring up something like the Qur’an is not proof that it is actually inimitable, only that it has not yet been done. According to such people, from a scientific viewpoint of potential falsifiability, the inimitability of the Qur’an can never be proven, since the possibility of its being imitated always remains open. They further say that if the main premise of Islam is unproven and unprovable (due to the above-mentioned potential falsifiability, differences as to what constitutes eloquence, and other issues), how can any Muslim expect others to convert to Islam. How do we respond to this claim?
Answered by Sharif Randhawa (Researcher at Bayyinah Institute, owner of Qur’anic Musings blog), with slight modifications
First of all, it is a fallacy to claim that in order for something to warrant belief, it must be scientifically testable or falsifiable. (This is the fallacy of positivism or scientism.) Anyone who has studied basic epistemology knows that this is only one way something can be known. Fields like history, archaeology, literary criticism, ethics, metaphysics, logic, epistemology, and aesthetics could not exist if that were the case, and there would be no way of acquiring knowledge about these areas.
Appreciation and criticism of classical Arabic literature, including the Qur’an, is not purely subjective but is not purely scientific either—it includes aspects of both. For example, there were well-known conventions of Arabic literature and rhetoric that can be studied academically. This is a well-established field that involves the study of rhythm, rhyme, alliteration and assonance, lexical choice, syntax, and various kinds of literary devices. Moreover, I see no reason why it is not theoretically possible to document examples of linguistic phenomena in the Qur’an that exceed human capacity— though in my opinion more work has to be done on this topic. At the same time, a full appreciation of the Qur’an’s rhetorical power requires many years of study of classical Arabic to the point that one acquires a taste of what is considered beautiful and ingenious in the world of classical Arabic. In its milieu, the Qur’anic recitation was not something whose rhetorical power was studied, but experienced. That experience is what produced in people, including the greatest litterateurs and literary critics, the conviction that this work was not a product of human invention—much less that of an unlettered person like Muhammad ﷺ—nor the “supernatural” yet ecstatic utterings of soothsayer-poets, but a different class of literature altogether.
To give an analogy, no one with any credible knowledge of literature would claim that Dr. Seuss is equal to or superior to Shakespeare in literary merit. The falsity of this claim would be obvious even to an average literate person who was to read parts of both, even if he does not know anything of the methods of literary criticism. Yet the falsity of this claim could also be demonstrated beyond doubt and with little effort by using the methods of literary analysis derived by scholars. Therefore, the literary superiority of Shakespeare is something that is primarily meant to be directly experienced rather than tested, but it is something that can be easily tested in many cases as well. I use this rough example primarily to show why literary comparisons are theoretical possible, not how they are to be made with the Qur’an in particular.