The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

How the Qur’an Justifies Itself

a (7)In a previous posting about Islam’s rational monotheism (which can be read here), we saw how the Qur’an utilises a rationalist discourse to substantiate some of its main theological doctrines. As for how the Qur’an vindicates itself and rationalises its claim of truly being the Word of God, it deploys the following line of argument:

Firstly, it states that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was an unlettered Prophet [7:157]; that is, he was unable to read or write, and most certainly uneducated in the modern sense of the word: And you did not used to recite any book before this, and nor did you write it with your right hand. For then the seekers of falsehood would have had misgivings. [29:48] Say: ‘Had God so willed I would not have recited it to you, neither would He have made you aware of it. I have lived among you a lifetime before this [came to me]. Will you not use your reason.’ [10:16]

Secondly, it asserts its miraculous nature – described by Muslim scholars as its i‘jaz or “inimitability.” The Qur’an, as Muslims believe, has no equal: as hard as someone may try, they will not be able to match it in terms of its sheer eloquence, beauty, cadence, wisdom and internal consistency. Speaking about its literary style, Turner said about the Qur’an: ‘Indeed, the Koran is written in a language wholly divergent in syntax and structure from any other, including the ‘secular’ Arabic literature of pre-Islamic times. Many experts in Arabic literature will attest it is distinguished by excellences of sound and eloquence, rhetoric and metaphor, assonance and alliteration, of onomatopoeia and rhyme, of ellipsis and parallelism. So sublime were they that certain Arab poets of the day would fall in prostration at the inimitable eloquence of the Muhammadan message, while the first recipients of the Divine message were moved to deem it miraculous.’1

It is not just in form that it is miraculous, but in content too: Will they not reflect upon the Qur’an. If it had been from other than God they would have surely found therein many contradictions. [4:82] Thus, to those who are prepared to consider it carefully (free of ideological or political agendas which blinker the heart’s receptivity from the outset), the Qur’an reflects a perfect consistency, spiritual beauty and a complete absence of error and inaccuracy which suffice as proof for its Divine origin. In fact, its wisdoms, prophecies, lack of scientific errors, historical narratives, self-assertions and unique literary style – in that it does not fit any of the known rhythmic metres (bihar) of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry (shi‘r), nor the rules of rhymed prose (saj’), nor straightforward speech (mursal) – make it impossible for the Qur’an to be an actual product of human authorship.

Thirdly, the Qur’an challenges its skeptics and deniers to produce something similar to it: Do they say: ‘He has invented it?’ No, they have no faith. Let them produce a speech like it, if what they say be true! [52:33-34] The above verse is one of the so-called tahaddi or “challenge” verses which sets out to prove the divine nature of the Qur’an. Another verse seems to have lightened the challenge: Do they say: ‘He has forged it?’ Say: ‘Then bring ten forged chapters like it, and call [to you aid] whomsoever you can, other than God, if what you say be true.’ [11:13] The final passages on the matter eases the challenge still more: If you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down upon Our servant [Muhammad], then produce a chapter the like thereof, and call your witnesses other than God, if you are truthful. But if you cannot, and you will not be able to, then guard yourself against a fire whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. [2:23-24] Now the reasoning here is clinical. If it truly was written by a man, another man should be able to author something similar; even if it be just a chapter (the shortest chapter, or surah, of the Qur’an consisting of just three verses). Yet this challenge remains unmet until today – a sure proof of its miraculous origin. Rationally speaking, then, once doubt is dispelled, one ought to take steps to follow the Quranic message and accept its truths and teachings, and thus guard against the Hellfire.

Ibn Kathir makes the following point: ‘Many scholars have said that God sent each prophet with a miracle that was appropriate for the people of their time. Thus, in the time of Moses, peace be upon him, sorcery was prized and sorcerers highly regarded. So God sent him with a miracle to bedazzle the eye and confound every sorcerer. When they became certain the miracle was from [God] the August, the Compeller, they surrendered to Islam and became righteous. As for Jesus, peace be upon him, he was sent in an age of physicians and those who studied the natural sciences. So he came to them with miracles that were beyond the doing of anyone, save one who is aided by He who revealed the Law. For how could a physician be able to give life to clay, or cure the blind and heal the lepper, or raise to life he who was in his grave awaiting Judgement Day? Similarly, God sent Muhammad, peace be upon him, in a time of eloquence of speech and accomplished poets. So he came to them with a Book from God which, if all men and jinn gathered together to produce the like of it, or the like of ten chapters of it, or the like of a single chapter of it, they wouldn’t be able to do so; even if they were to help one another. For it is none other than the Word of God, which no human speech can replicate.’2

The examples in the earlier blog, and this blog piece, serve to show the rationality of the Qur’an, and that it is one which is grounded in self-evident matters and everyday experience; accessible to all who care to reflect or pay heed. Nowhere does the Qur’an require blind acceptance of its fundamental theological principles. Rather, it urges, it cajoles; demands even, that people use their God-given sense of reason and ponder over its assertions and truths. And while the final step is, ultimately, a leap of faith, the actual run up to it is a matter that engages not just heart and soul, but the faculty of mind and reason too. Says the Qur’an: And they will say: ‘Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we would not now be among the people of the Blazing Fire.’ [67:10]

1. Colin Turner, Islam: the Basics (Great Britain: Routledge, 2006) , 52.

2. Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 1:373.

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17 thoughts on “How the Qur’an Justifies Itself

  1. Reblogged this on Nazemyat – ناظميات and commented:
    The second installment of a fascinating analysis of the Qur’an’s rationality.
    This is my favorite statement:
    “Nowhere does the Qur’an require blind acceptance of its fundamental theological principles. Rather, it urges, it cajoles; demands even, that people use their God-given sense of reason and ponder over its assertions and truths. And while the final step is, ultimately, a leap of faith, the actual run up to it is a matter that engages not just heart and soul, but the faculty of mind and reason too.”

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  2. mashaAllah, wonderful post. i am a native english speaker. i have been studying classic arabic for 2 years now. i have depended on translations of quran for 20 years. now for the first time, the true miracle of quran is opening up to me just from the perspective of grammar. i’m not even at the point of rhetoric. all though, my teacher detours into some balagha (rhetorical) points on occasion. it is simply mind blowing and extremely humbling. baarakAllahu fikum.

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    • May Allah bless you in your study of the Quran and of the Arabic language. May He allow us all to experience something of the Qur’an’s amazing wonders and healing. It does tend to make a huge difference when one can begin to appreciate something of the Quranic Arabic, in terms of the openings in comprehension and marvels that begin to dawn upon the hearts. Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

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  3. Abu Hamza on said:

    salaamulaikum and jazakallah for a brilliant post. many great points to reflect upon and simply say ‘subhanallah!’ to. the call to reason in the Quran is truly unmatchable by any other religious text. however, upon reading about its marvels, what truly saddens (and to be honest, flabbergasts) me is how native arabic speakers who are non-muslim are not persuaded by the sheer weight of eloquence and reason employed in the Quran. Truly we are blessed to possess faith in our hearts, alhamdulillah, when so easily we could have been left to go astray.

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    • Barakallahu fikum. We are truly indebted to Allah for the Majestic & Glorious Qur’an. So as we begin to marvel at its internal consistency and beauty, we need to let that sink deep into our souls, so as to be transformed by the marvels of its teachings, wisdoms and instructions.

      That Arab speaking non-Muslims seem not to share the same wonderment towards the Qur’an may be due to (i) Most of them (like their Muslim Arabic speaking counterparts) may not possess a sufficient command of classical of grammar or balaghah needed to appreciate the more finer points of the Qur’an. (ii) It could be due to their obstinacy or prejudice, such that the Qur’an refuses to yield its treasures and guidance to such hearts. (iii) It could be because they have not yet been invited to properly ponder the Qur’an. (iv) And let’s not forget the possibility that some may have read the Qur’an, and even marvelled at its sheer beauty and inimitability; but do not know how to take the next step.

      Whatever the case, we as an ummah need to do a lot more work.

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  4. The Quran is like its Speaker!

    I too have recently started learning Arabic and I have found my interaction, wonderment and desire to ponder and understand God’s Book has, by His permission and Grace, increased tremendously. Thank you for this insightful and beneficial piece.

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  5. Nice article. May Allag S.w.t bless us with this Holy Book. Amin.

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  6. Great Article May ALLAH Bless You.

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  7. Asalaamu alaykum

    Thanks for a set of two thought provoking articles. I have a couple of questions I’d be grateful if you could offer your thoughts on. Don’t worry, I’m a Muslim but trying to think deeply and perhaps anticipate objections that sceptics may pose.

    1 – You state: “Now the reasoning here is clinical. If it truly was written by a man, another man should be able to author something similar; even if it be just a chapter (the shortest chapter, or surah, of the Qur’an consisting of just three verses). Yet this challenge remains unmet until today – a sure proof of its miraculous origin.”

    A) How can you empirically validate that the challenge remains unmet until today?

    B) What set of judgments and criterion would be used to decide whether a competing narrative rivals the Qur’an in its beauty and eloquence? Surely these would be subjective and therefore dependent on the predilections of the judges? In other words, believers would always adduce the inimitability of the Qur’an against its rivals while sceptics may well declare the challenge to have been met.

    2 – A question which has bugged me for some time: if the Qur’an is God’s miracle for all humanity why is it under strict lock and key for only those who understand classical Arabic? We never tire of saying that no translation can do it justice but does this not effectively rule out the bulk of humanity from accessing it’s miraculous nature? EG – It’s not reasonable to expect a Chinese peasant to be converted by the Qur’an…

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful by asking these questions but am trying to think on a deeper level and perhaps anticipate objections of sceptics. I would be very grateful if you could offer your thoughts.

    Jazakallah Khair for the excellent articles on this site which a friend only recently introduced me to, Alhamdulillah.

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  8. I would like to add to the above questions – أعزكم الله – this extract from “My Ordeal with the Quran” which offers a critique on the divine origins of the Quran. It makes for worthwhile reading and can be downloaded for free with the footnotes omitted below by searching for it.

    The Belief of Muslims in the Miraculous Nature (of the Qur’ān)

    “Say: ‘If the whole of mankind and jinn were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur’ān, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.’”

    The Qur’ān is indeed a unique book. It is prose, and yet unlike prose. It is poetry, and yet unlike poetry. It is metered and rhyming, and yet it is not like the standard meters or rhymes. So, what is it, then? It is the Qur’ān, and that’s it!

    Perhaps the best description of the Qur’ān is that which the late Dean of Arabic Literature, Dr. Ta Ha Hussain, said: “The Genres of Arabic expression are poetry, prose, and Qur’ān,” for the Qur’ān is not poetry—no! And it is not prose, either. It is a type of speech that is of a singular nature, unique of its kind. It is the Qur’ān! For that reason, the scholars are united in the opinion that what is called the “miraculous nature of the Qur’ān” is its amazing composition.

    Miraculousness (al-‘Ijaaz) in the Arabic language comes from “to make unable.” In other words, it attributes the inability to another, and a miracle is called a miracle because mankind is unable to replicate it.

    The scholarly discipline focused on the miraculous nature of the Qur’ān was a discipline that was an innovation in religion. The concept reached its full maturity in the 4th century of the Hijra, when it became independent and grew into a discipline in its own right. Today, it is a fundamental tenet of faith that no-one can dare cast doubt upon. Beginning in the 4th century of the Hijra, the discipline of the miraculous nature appeared indelibly written in stone. Despite that, there were those who cast doubt on this belief, going right back to the first centuries of Islam.

    Perhaps the first of these skeptics was al-Ja’d ibn Dirham, tutor to Marwan ibn Muhammad, the last of the Umayyad Caliphs. He was the first one to openly express skepticism of the Qur’ān, and to attempt its refutation. He had said that its eloquence was not a miracle, and that people can do the like of it and better, when no scholar before him had made such claims. Marwan, who was nicknamed “the donkey,” used to follow his view to the extent that he was linked to him, and called “Marwan al-Ja’di.”

    During the mid-Abbasid period, the view that the Qur’ān was not a miracle spread along with other views of a similar nature, such as the view that the Qur’ān was created. The views of its opposition—the belief that it was not created, but eternal, on the “Protected Tablet”—also spread.

    The first to go to great lengths in that was ‘Isa ibn Sabih, known as Abu Musa al Mirdar, who was one of the Mu’tazilite scholars, and among the leading ones. He was called the “Monk of the Mu’tazilites,” and differed from the rest of the Mu’tazilites in all of the issues that concern us here. He said, in regards to the Qur’ān, that people are able to produce the like of this Qur’ān in terms of eloquence, composition, and rhetorical beauty.

    Similar to that view was the view taken by his contemporary, Ibrahim Ibn Sayyar Ibn Hani’ al-Nazzam, who expounded many of the works of the philosophers and combined their ideas with the ideas of the Mu’tazilites. But he differed from his colleagues in thirteen matters, while Al-Baghdadi differed in twenty-one.

    If al-Shahrastani labels the areas al-Nazzam differed from his colleagues as “issues,” these “issues” become “shameful scandals” in the view of al-Baghdadi! The ninth issue that al-Shahrastani reproaches al-Nazzam about becomes “The 25th shameful scandal of his shameful scandals,” according to the wording of al-Baghdadi. “His view regarding the miraculous nature of the Qur’ān is to do with the fact it predicts events of the past and future, and the fact it diverted the causes of opposition and prevented the Arabs—by force and incapacitation—from being concerned with trying to imitate it, because if Allah let them, then they could have produced a Surah equal in beautiful rhetoric, eloquence, and composition.” The idea that mankind was able to produce the likes of the Qur’ān, but Allah diverted mankind from doing so by hindering them, is called “The View of Diversion.”

    Now, we ask: what is the nature of the miraculousness of the Qur’ān?

    The scholars of Arabic—especially the scholars of language and elegant speech—are almost completely united in the belief that the Qur’ān is, in itself, a miracle. They believe that its miraculousness is in its wonderful composition, in the eloquence of its expressions, in the astounding nature of its clear speech, and in its unique style that is unlike any other style. It is also in its captivating verbal impact, which reveals itself in its acoustic structure, linguistic beauty, and sublime artistry.

    Al-Qadi Abu Bakr (d. 1148) said the nature of the miraculousness of the Qur’ān is
    in its composition, arrangement, and structure. He claimed that it is beyond all types of standard composition in the language of the Arabs, departing from their styles of oration, and, for this reason, they were unable to oppose it. The composition of the Qur’ān had no model to imitate, nor any antecedent to emulate, and he believed that it is unreasonable to think that the likes of it could happen by chance. He said, “The miraculousness of the Qur’ān is much clearer in some parts, while in some parts it is more subtle and more obscure.”

    Al Imam Fakhr al-Din (d. 1210) said the nature of the miraculousness is its eloquence and unique style, free from all defects.

    Al-Zamalkani (d. 727h) said the nature of the miraculousness derives from the composition that is unique to it, and is not haphazard. He believed that its words are finely balanced in construction, in meter, and the reason behind the way it has been put together in meaning, so that every word occurs in the best possible place for its pronunciation and meaning.

    Ibn Atiyya said, “The correct opinion, and the one that laymen and experts are agreed upon, is that its miraculousness, derives from its composition, the soundness of its meanings, and in the arrangement and eloquence of its wording. And that is because Allah’s knowledge surrounds all things and surrounds all aspects of language. So, since the organisation of the wording in the Qur’ān is something His knowledge completely surrounds (each word perfectly suits the one it follows and each meaning is elucidated after another, and that is the case from beginning to end of the Qur’ān), and man is encompassed by ignorance, bewilderment, and perplexity, and it is self-evident that no human being encompasses all knowledge, then, as a result, the arrangement of the Qur’ān is the epitome of eloquence. For that reason, one destroys the sayings of those who claim that the Arabs were able to replicate the likes of it, or that they were ‘diverted’ from doing so. The correct opinion is that it was not within the ability of anyone to reproduce—ever!”

    But the scholars disagree about the different degrees of eloquence displayed by the verses of the Qur’ān, after having agreed that the Qur’ān is the highest form of eloquence insofar as one cannot find phrasing that is more suitable or balanced to convey its meaning.

    Al-Qadi takes the opinion of “negation,” meaning a negation of any difference in degrees of eloquence in the Qur’ān. He believed that every word in the Qur’ān is in its highest form, even though some people are better at sensing it than others.

    Meanwhile, Abu al-Qushairy and others took the opinion of “difference” in degrees of eloquence, saying, “We do not claim that everything in the Qur’ān is in the highest rank of eloquence.” And, likewise, others have said, “In the Qur’ān is both the eloquent and the most eloquent.” This is the opinion taken by Sheikh ‘Izz al-Din ‘Abd al-Salam, who then asked: “Why was the Qur’ān not entirely in the most eloquent form?”

    Al-Sadr Mawhoob al-Jazari attempted to answer this question by saying, “If the Qur’ān had come entirely in the most eloquent form, it would not be in the usual style of human speech, which contains the most eloquent along with the eloquent, and that would mean it would not be a valid challenge. It had to come in their usual style of speech to highlight their inability to challenge it, so the critics could not say, for example: ‘You have brought that which we have no ability in its like. Just as it would not be right for a sighted person to say to a blind person, ‘I beat you by virtue of my sight,’ because the blind person will say to him: ‘Your victory can only be valid if I was able to see, and then you could say your sight was better than mine. But if I lack the ability to see, then how can I make a challenge?’”

    In any case, the Qur’ān is, in the eyes of Muslims, the Prophet’s greatest miracle. No falsehood in it, either before or behind it. “Indeed, everything in the Qur’ān is a miracle.

    MLT: You may want to look into how it was a syncretic form of Islam that was bought into the hinterlands where no Abrahamic tradition existed in the 15th century by those of Turkic origins. In a nutshell, Sufi missionaries convinced pagans and polytheists that they were essentially already Muslims, but that their deities and rituals went by different names in the language of Islam. Judith Pfeiffer at Oxford does research on this.

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    • As-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah. Mashallah, you’ve posted quite a bit this month. Truth be told, each of your questions is very intensive, challenging and – more often than not – requires a thorough and in-depth response. Your questions reflect one of the greatest needs of our time, and are indeed worthy of detailed responses. Indeed, your questions further reflect the depth and time that you’ve invested in such matters. Regrettably, time doesn’t allow me to answer them all in written form. But I’d like it extend a warm invite to you to meet up with me, if at all possible, to discuss some of these matters face to face. I think I’d find tat beneficial, and we could go through issues bit by bit, step by step. I know I’d certainly benefit from that; and I also believe it’d be an excellent learning curve for me.

      Please do let me know of the possibility.

      Your brother,
      Surkheel Abu Aaliyah

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