How the Qur’an Justifies Itself
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.