”The case of he the first Surah suffices” The Qur'an claims, in Sura 11:16, that it is a book that is unmatchable in its content, and is hence miraculous. When Muslims are challenged regarding their faith, they turn to this claim as an irrefutable proof. Their defence is based almost wholly on this, since the Qur'an itself does not offer any evidence for it's claim to be of divine origin. And Muslims see this as powerful enough, to stand on its own. Just as the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one point on which the Christian faith rests, so the entire Islamic faith rests on this. The book is so sure of its uniqueness, that it challenges any man or spirit to produce one like it, or a passage like any one in it.
In what way then, one would ask, is the Qur'an miraculous? I have heard many responses to this, the most common being:
1) In its literary eloquence.
2) In its subject matter.
3) In its preservation over the centuries.
In the following article, I want to consider only response number one. Later articles will discuss the other two, and since this article itself is lengthy, I will split number one into two sections - one regarding the meeting of the challenge (this article), and the other being a rebuttal for the Qur'an's supposed perfect eloquence. Most of the ideas in this, and the following articles are borrowed, and I have tried to give due credit wherever possible. I would like to say that it is not my intention to insult Muslim readers, so I have tried to be careful in my choice of words, in order to avoid offence and encourage serious discussion of the real issues. If I have overlooked anything it is due to my own ignorance, and readers are invited to write to the maintainer of the homepage about any corrections, they would like to see. With this out of the way, let us now discuss three cases where I believe passages have been composed that are comparable, if not superior, literarily, to the Qur'an.
If a person wants an opinion on something, he or she goes to an expert in the field to get it. If you want to know whether you should try a new sort of medical treatement, you go to a doctor; if you want to know what you should take up for a profession, you go to a counsellor; if you want to find out more about the Universe, you read a book by an astronomer. So what if you want to find out about language - of course, you go to a language expert. What do some Qur'anic and linguistic scholars have to say about the Qur'an's eloquence?
Ali Dashti, the famous Iranian-Arab scholar, has the following to say:
"Neither the Qur'an's eloquence, nor it's moral precepts are miraculous." (Ali Dashti, Twenty Three Years, pg 57)
Earlier on in the book, he discusses cases of other scholars who shared his point of view, such as the blind Syrian poet Abu 'l-Ala al Ma'arri, who Dashti describes differently as: "...a great and penetrating Arab thinker" (pg 53) and "...a great and universally admired poet-philosopher" (pg 94). This man considered some of his own works, to be on par with the Qur'an. If his evaluation of the facts is faulty, who then, if not a man of his learning, can be the judge of such a thing? Indeed even Muslim scholars in that age, did not believe that the Qur'an was untouchable in literary excellence. Here is a quote from Dashti concerning this:
"Among the Muslim scholars of the early period, before bigotry and hyperbole prevailed, were some such as Ebrahim on-Nazzim who openly acknowledged that the arrangement and syntax of the Qur'an are not miraculous and that work of equal or greater value could be produced by other God-fearing persons", (emphasis mine, pg 48)
This case is only one of many like it. Others who shared this view include "... Ebn Hazm and ol-Khayyat ......and several other leading exponents of the Mo' tazzilite school." (pg 48). In more recent years there is the case of some linguistic scholars, who worked in
Of course, Muslims could accuse these people of being biased in their opinions. In the case of the Syrian poet, he may have done this to glorify his own work. The scholars in the
There is evidence to the effect that Suras 1, 113, and 114 are not originally part of the Qur'an, but later additions. It is a well known fact that Abdulla ibn Masud, a man described by Muhammed as one of the, if not THE, highest authority on the Qur'an (Bukhari), did not consider these to be part of the it (Bukhari), but rather liturgical in nature, the latter point being evident from his writings. Critics in the 1930s, approaching the problem from a different perspective, also arrived at the same conclusions. There is a third reason why I believe Muslims cannot consider Surah 1 a part of their book.
Muslims believe that the Qur'an is God's DIRECT revelation - it is exactly His words; it is Him speaking. Hence, according to their concept of inspiration, God speaks directly in the first person, and passages that do not convey this cannot be His words. An example of this belief is reflected in the arguments of Muslim apologists, who state that such passages in the Bible as the Psalms cannot be God's words, as the author is directly worshipping Him. They ask: "Does God worship God?". I would ask then, how Muslims can ascribe Sura 1 to God, even if it is a direct prayer for guidance, and of worship by the author (the word "say" is not present at the beginning of the sura, so it cannot be considered instuctional)? To follow the Islamic idea of inspiration, and line of reasoning, is God praying to himself? The only logical answer, in my opinion, for a Muslim is no. There is no doubt that this Surah, is one of the more eloquent ones in the Qur'an, as it stands today. If it was composed not by God, but by a man, or men, and is considered as eloquent as any sura in the Qur'an, has the challenge not been met?
Surah 1: [In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful: All Praises to Allah, Lord of the Universe. The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Sovereign of the Day of Judgment. You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path; The path of those on whom You have bestowed your grace, not of those who have earned Your anger, nor of those who go astray] (Link)
What are the conclusions one can draw from such discussion? So what if the challenge has been met? If indeed the Qur'an's challenge has been met, then it is no longer miraculous in nature. If so then the only evidence Islam has for the divine origin of it's book shatters, and Muslims are left with no justifiable reason as to why they believe, what they believe. We have already seen many objective, reasonable reasons to believe that this is the case. What then is your verdict?
A WORD TO MUSLIM READERS
I am aware that many Muslim readers will still refuse to face the objective conclusions, reached in this article. I will ask them the following question - Is your conclusion based on the facts, or on your faith? Are you a person who says - The challenge will never be met. If such is the case, then your conclusion is based on faith, and not reasoning. The challenge becomes void, in that you have already decided the outcome. Be careful here though - you are treading on dangerous ground. If you have indeed made the challenge void then the only intellectual basis for your faith has been made void. The so called miracle of the Qur'an, is the ONLY supernatural thing by which Muslims break the circularity of Muhammad's claims. What do I mean by that? Ask a Muslim - How do you know that Muhammad is a prophet? Answer: Because the Qur'an says so, and the Qur'an is the word of God. Ask them then: How do you know that the Qur'an is God's word? Answer: Because Muhammad says so. The only thing that can break such circularity, as in the case of Christianity, is some evidence outside these two sources, to substantiate these claims (Ravi Zacharias - Islam Lectures). The Qur'an claims that it is its miraculousness that does this, and the challenge substantiates the miraculousness. So if the challenge is made void, there is no corroboration for this claim, and then there is no intellectual basis for your faith - it is a blind faith - it is a faith that even the Qur'an does not support, since it always appeals to man's intelligence to guide him to the truth. Are you still determined to stick to your guns, or will you be honest with your mind, and your heart?
Reference: Ali Dashti, "Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad", Routledge Chapman & Hall, Mazda Pubs, Bibliotheca Iranica: Reprints Ser., Vol. No. 2., 1985, 246p. $15.95, ISBN 1-56859-029-6.