The skeptic says that contrary to what Muslims say, there were and still are many bona fide experts in the Arabic language who, while appreciating the Arabic of the Qur’an, did not see it as of a miraculous nature. The skeptic says that this in itself should be a strong proof against Islam, since miracles may be tried to be explained away by the disbelievers in the religion, but they will never be totally unacknowledged. What is our response to this?
Answered by Sharif Randhawa (Researcher at Bayyinah Institute, owner of Qur’anic Musings blog), with slight modifications and an additional note
There were some cases of literary figures questioning the inherent inimitability of the Qur’an, like al-Nazzam and Abū ’l- Ala al-Ma’rri. The former still held that a miracle prevented the Qur’an from being imitated, just not that it was intrinsic to the Qur’an. The latter took up the challenge of the Qur’an and you can read about that in brief here. Both of these cases are well-known and Muslim scholars wrote about the literary inimitability of the Qur’an in response to them.
As for modern Western Arabists, they have tended not to be very well-acquainted with the stylistic techniques of the Qur’an, as people like Mustansir Mir, M.A.S. Abdel-Haleem, and Neal Robinson have shown. Unfortunately, this still remains a pretty neglected area of study by Western scholars.
[Note: To elucidate a little bit concerning al-Nazzam, he said that the inimitability of the Qur’an is due to a divine ‘Sarfa’ (divinely established incapability in the people), but that there was really nothing in the Qur’an itself that was miraculous. He said that the inimitability was simply because Allah had taken away the knowledge among the Arabs of how to compose something like the Qur’an.
In the context of this question, this seems to be a play on words, because by all means we do acknowledge that Allah has incapacitated all of creation from bringing something like the Qur’an; however, the referent must ultimately go back to the Qur’an and there must be something (whatever it may be) within the ‘phenomenon of the Qur’an’ itself which manifests this incapacity of creation.]