Children's Encyclopedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious texts
The Qur’an (Arabic: القرآن al-qur’ān, literally "the recitation"; also sometimes transliterated as Qur’ān, Koran, Alcoran or Al-Qur’ān) is the central religious text of Islam. Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the book of divine guidance and direction for mankind, and consider the original Arabic text to be the final revelation of God. Islam holds that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad by the angel Jibrīl (Gabriel) over a period of 23 years. Muslims regard the Qur’an as the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with those revealed to Adam, regarded in Islam as the first prophet, and continued with the Suhuf-i-Ibrahim (Scrolls of Abraham), the Tawrat ( Torah), the Zabur ( Psalms), and the Injeel ( Gospel). The aforementioned books are not explicitly included in the Qur’an, but are recognized therein. The Qur’an also refers to many events from Jewish and Christian scriptures, some of which are retold in comparatively distinctive ways from the Bible and the Torah, while obliquely referring to other events described explicitly in those texts.
The Qur'an itself expresses that it is the book of guidance. Therefore it rarely offers detailed accounts of historical events; the text instead typically placing emphasis on the moral significance of an event rather than its narrative sequence. It does not describe natural facts in a scientific manner but teaches that natural and supernatural events are signs of God.
The Qur’an was written down by Muhammad's companions while he was alive, although the prime method of transmission was oral. It was compiled in the time of Abu Bakr, the first caliph, and was standardized in the time of Uthman, the third caliph. The Qur’an in its actual form is generally considered by academic scholars to record the words spoken by Muhammad because the search for variants in Western academia has not yielded any differences of great significance and that historically controversy over the content of the Qur’an has never become a main point. Therefore all Muslims, Sunni or Shia use the same Qur’an.
Etymology and meaning
The original usage of the word qur`ān is in the Qur’an itself, where it occurs about 70 times assuming various meanings. It is a verbal noun ( maṣdar) of the Arabic verb qara`a (Arabic: قرأ), meaning "he read" or "he recited", and represents the Syriac equivalent qeryānā which refers to "scripture reading" or "lesson". While most Western scholars consider the word to be derived from the Syriac, the majority of Muslim authorities hold the origin of the word is qara`a itself. In any case, it had become an Arabic term by Muhammad's lifetime. Among the earliest meanings of the word Qur’an is the "act of reciting", for example in a Qur’anic passage: "Ours is it to put it together and [Ours is] its qur`ān". In other verses it refers to "an individual passage recited [by Muhammad]". In the large majority of contexts, usually with a definite article (al-), the word is referred to as the "revelation" ( wahy), that which has been "sent down" ( tanzīl) at intervals. Its liturgical context is seen in a number of passages, for example: "So when al-qur`ān is recited , listen to it and keep silent". The word may also assume the meaning of a codified scripture when mentioned with other scriptures such as the Torah and Gospel.
The term also has closely related synonyms which are employed throughout the Qur’an. Each of the synonyms possess their own distinct meaning, but their use may converge with that of qur`ān in certain contexts. Such terms include kitāb ("book"); āyah ("sign"); and sūrah ("scripture"). The latter two terms also denote units of revelation. Other related words are: dhikr, meaning "remembrance," used to refer to the Qur’an in the sense of a reminder and warning; and hikma, meaning "wisdom," sometimes referring to the revelation or part of it.
The Qur’an has many other names. Among those found in the text itself are al-furqan ("discernment" or "criterion"), al-huda ("the guide"), dhikrallah ("the remembrance of God"), al-hikmah ("the wisdom"), and kalamallah ("the word of God"). Another term is al-kitāb ("the book"), though it is also used in the Arabic language for other scriptures, such as the Torah and the Gospels. The term mus'haf ("written work") is often used to refer to particular Qur'anic manuscripts but is also used in the Qur’an to identify earlier revealed books.
The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters of varying lengths, each known as a sura. Chapters are classed as Meccan or Medinan, depending on where the verses were revealed. Chapter titles are derived from a name or quality discussed in the text, or from the first letters or words of the sura. Muslims believe that Muhammad, on God's command, gave the chapters their names. Generally, longer chapters appear earlier in the Qur’an, while the shorter ones appear later. The chapter arrangement is thus not connected to the sequence of revelation. Each sura with the exception of one, commences with the Basmala.
Each sura is formed from several ayat (verses), which originally means a sign or portent sent by God. The number of ayat differ from sura to sura. An individual ayah may be just a few letters or several lines. The ayat are unlike the highly refined poetry of the pre-Islamic Arabs in their content and distinctive rhymes and rhythms, being more akin to the prophetic utterances marked by inspired discontinuities found in the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. The actual number of ayat has been a controversial issue among Muslim scholars since Islam's inception, some recognizing 6,000, some 6,204, some 6,219, and some 6,236, although the words in all cases are the same. The most popular edition of the Qur’an, which is based on the Kufa school tradition, contains 6,236 ayat.
There is a crosscutting division into 30 parts, ajza, each containing two units called ahzab, each of which is divided into four parts (rub 'al-ahzab). The Qur’an is also divided into seven stations ( manazil)
The Qur’anic text seems to have no beginning, middle, or end, its nonlinear structure being akin to a web or net. Critics have commented on the textual arrangement pointing out lack of continuity, absence of any chronological or thematic order, and presence of repetition.
The Qur’an's message is conveyed through the use of various literary structures and devices. In the original Arabic, the chapters and verses employ phonetic and thematic structures that assist the audience's efforts to recall the message of the text. There is consensus among Arab scholars to use the Qur’an as a standard by which other Arabic literature should be measured. Muslims assert (in accordance with the Qur’an itself) that the Qur’anic content and style is inimitable.
Richard Gottheil and Siegmund Fränkel in the Jewish Encyclopedia write that the oldest portions of the Qur’an reflect significant excitement in their language, through short and abrupt sentences and sudden transitions. The Qur’an nonetheless carefully maintains the rhymed form, like the oracles. Some later portions also preserve this form but also in a style where the movement is calm and the style expository.
|"The values presented in the very early Meccan revelations are repeated throughout the hymnic Suras. There is a sense of directness, of intimacy, as if the hearer were being asked repeatedly a simple question: what will be of value at the end of a human life?"|
Michael Sells, citing the work of the critic Norman O. Brown, acknowledges Brown's observation that the seeming "disorganization" of Qur’anic literary expression — its "scattered or fragmented mode of composition," in Sells's phrase — is in fact a literary device capable of delivering "profound effects — as if the intensity of the prophetic message were shattering the vehicle of human language in which it was being communicated." Sells also addresses the much-discussed "repetitiveness" of the Qur’an, seeing this, too, as a literary device.
Qur’an as a religious text
Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the book of divine guidance and direction for mankind and consider the text in its original Arabic to be the literal word of God, revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel over a period of twenty-three years and view the Qur’an as God's final revelation to humanity.
The Christian concept of revelation which means God incarnating and unveiling himself and become visible and audible for mankind is foreign to Islam. Wahy in Islamic and Qur’anic concept means the act of God addressing an individual, conveying a message for a greater number of recipients. The process by which the divine message comes to the heart of a messenger of God is tanzil (to send down) or nuzul (to come down). As the Qur'an says, "With the truth we (God) have sent it down and with the truth it has come down." It designates positive religion, the letter of the revelation dictated by the angel to the prophet. It means to cause this revelation to descend from the higher world. According to hadith, the verses were sent down in special circumstances known as asbab al-nuzul. However, in this view God himself is never the subject of coming down.
The Qur'an frequently asserts in its text that it is divinely ordained, an assertion that Muslims believe. The Qur'an — often referring to its own textual nature and reflecting constantly on its divine origin — is the most meta-textual, self-referential religious text amongst all religious texts. The Qur'an refers to a written pre-text which records God's speech even before it was sent down.
|“||And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides God, if your (doubts) are true. But if ye cannot — and of a surety ye cannot — then fear the Fire whose fuel is men and stones, which is prepared for those who reject Faith.||”|
—Qur'an 2:23–4 ( Yusuf Ali)
The issue of whether the Qur'an is eternal or created was one of the crucial controversies among early Muslim theologians. Mu'tazilis believe it is created while the most widespread varieties of Muslim theologians consider the Qur'an to be eternal and uncreated. Sufi philosophers view the question as artificial or wrongly framed.
Muslims maintain the present wording of the Qur'anic text corresponds exactly to that revealed to Muhammad himself: as the words of God, said to be delivered to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Muslims consider the Qur'an to be a guide, a sign of the prophethood of Muhammad and the truth of the religion. They argue it is not possible for a human to produce a book like the Qur'an, as the Qur'an itself maintains.
Therefore an Islamic philosopher introduces a prophetology to explain how the divine word passes into human expression. This leads to a kind of esoteric hermeneutics which seeks to comprehend the position of the prophet by mediating on the modality of his relationship not with his own time, but with the eternal source from which his message emanates. This view contrasts with historical critique of western scholars who attempt to understand the prophet through his circumstances, education and type of genius.
History of Qur’an
The Prophet era
According to hadith and Muslim history, after Muhammad emigrated to Medina and formed an independent Muslim community, he ordered a considerable number of the companions ( sahaba) to recite the Qur’an and to learn and teach the laws which were being revealed daily. Companions who engaged in the recitation of the Qur’an were called qurra'. Since most sahaba were unable to read or write, they were ordered to learn from the prisoners-of-war the simple writing of the time. Thus a group of sahaba gradually became literate. As it was initially spoken, the Qur’an was recorded on tablets, bones and the wide flat end of date palm fronds. Most chapters were in use amongst early Muslims since they are mentioned in numerous sayings by both Sunni and Shia sources, relating Muhammad's use of the Qur'an as a call to Islam, the making of prayer and the manner of recitation. However, the Qur’an did not exist in book form at the time of Muhammad's death in 632.
Welch, a scholar of Islamic studies, states in the Encyclopaedia of Islam that he believes the graphic descriptions of Muhammad's condition at these moments may be regarded as genuine, seeing as he was severely disturbed after these revelations. According to Welch, these seizures would have been seen as convincing evidence for the superhuman origin of Muhammad's inspirations by the people around him. Muhammad's critics, however, accused him of being a possessed man, or of being a soothsayer or magician since his claimed experiences were similar to those made by such figures well known in ancient Arabia. Additionally, Welch states that it remains uncertain whether these experiences occurred before or after Muhammad began to see himself as a prophet.
The Qur’an states that Muhammad was ummi, interpreted as illiterate in Muslim tradition. According to Watt, the meaning of the Qur’anic term ummi is unscriptured rather than illiterate. Watt argues that a certain amount of writing was necessary for Muhammad to perform his commercial duties though it seems certain that he had not read any scriptures.
According to Shia and some Sunni scholars, Ali compiled a complete version of the Qur’an mus'haf immediately after death of Muhammad. The order of this mus'haf differed from that gathered later during Uthman's era. Despite this, Ali made no objection or resistance against standardized mus'haf, but kept his own book.
After seventy reciters were killed in the Battle of Yamama, the caliph Abu Bakr decided to collect the different chapters and verses into one volume. Thus, a group of reciters, including Zayd ibn Thabit, collected the chapters and verses and produced several hand-written copies of the complete book.
In about 650, as Islam expanded beyond the Arabian peninsula into Persia, the Levant and North Africa, the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan ordered the preparation of an official, standardized version, in order to preserve the sanctity of the text (and perhaps to keep the Rashidun Empire united, see Uthman Qur'an). Five of the reciters from amongst the companions produced a unique text from the first volume which had been prepared on the orders of Abu Bakr and which was kept with Hafsa bint Umar. The other copies already in the hands of Muslims in other areas were collected and sent to Medina where, on orders of the Caliph, they were destroyed by burning or boiling. This remains the authoritative text of the Qur’an to this day.
The Qur’an in its present form is generally considered by academic scholars to record the words spoken by Muhammad because the search for variants in Western academia has not yielded any differences of great significance and that historically controversy over the content of the Qur’an has never become a main point.
In addition to and largely independent of the division into suras, there are various ways of dividing the Qur’an into parts of approximately equal length for convenience in reading, recitation and memorization. The thirty ajza can be used to read through the entire Qur’an in a week or a month. Some of these parts are known by names and these names are the first few words by which the juz' starts. A juz' is sometimes further divided into two ahzab, and each hizb subdivided into four rub 'al-ahzab. A different structure is provided by the ruku'at, semantical units resembling paragraphs and comprising roughly ten ayat each. Some also divide the Qur’an into seven manazil to facilitate complete recitation in a week.
|“||...and recite the Qur’an in slow, measured rhythmic tones.||”|
—Qur'an 73:4 ( Yusuf Ali)
One meaning of Qur’an is "recitation", the Qur’an itself outlining the general method of how it is to be recited: slowly and in rhythmic tones. Tajwid is the term for techniques of recitation, and assessed in terms of how accessible the recitation is to those intent on concentrating on the words.
To perform salat (prayer), a mandatory obligation in Islam, a Muslim is required to learn at least some suar of the Qur’an (typically starting with the first one, al-Fatiha, known as the "seven oft-repeated verses," and then moving on to the shorter ones at the end). Until one has learned al-Fatiha, a Muslim can only say phrases like "praise be to God" during the salat.
A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur’an is called a qari', whereas a memoriser of the Qur’an is called a hafiz (fem. Hafaz) (which translate as "reciter" or "protector," respectively). Muhammad is regarded as the first qari' since he was the first to recite it. Recitation ( tilawa تلاوة) of the Qur’an is a fine art in the Muslim world.
Schools of recitation
There are several schools of Qur’anic recitation, all of which are possible pronunciations of the Uthmanic rasm: Seven reliable, three permissible and (at least) four uncanonical - in 8 sub-traditions each - making for 80 recitation variants altogether. A canonical recitation must satisfy three conditions:
- It must match the rasm, letter for letter.
- It must conform with the syntactic rules of the Arabic language.
- It must have a continuous isnad to Muhammad through tawatur, meaning that it has to be related by a large group of people to another down the isnad chain.
These recitations differ in the vocalization ( tashkil) of a few words, which in turn gives a complementary meaning to the word in question according to the rules of Arabic grammar. For example, the vocalization of a verb can change its active and passive voice. It can also change its stem formation, implying intensity for example. Vowels may be elongated or shortened, and glottal stops ( hamzas) may be added or dropped, according to the respective rules of the particular recitation. For example, the name of archangel Gabriel is pronounced differently in different recitations: Jibrīl, Jabrīl, Jibra'īl, and Jibra'il. The name "Qur’an" is pronounced without the glottal stop (as "Qur’an") in one recitation, and prophet Abraham's name is pronounced Ibrāhām in another. The more widely used narrations are those of Hafss (حفص عن عاصم), Warsh (ورش عن نافع), Qaloon (قالون عن نافع) and Al-Duri according to Abu `Amr (الدوري عن أبي عمرو). Muslims firmly believe that all canonical recitations were recited by Muhammad himself, citing the respective isnad chain of narration, and accept them as valid for worshipping and as a reference for rules of Sharia. The uncanonical recitations are called "explanatory" for their role in giving a different perspective for a given verse or ayah. Today several dozen persons hold the title "Memorizer of the Ten Recitations." This is considered a great accomplishment amongst Muslims.
The presence of these different recitations is attributed to many hadith. Malik Ibn Anas has reported:
- Abd al-Rahman Ibn Abd al-Qari narrated: " Umar Ibn Khattab said before me: I heard Hisham Ibn Hakim Ibn Hizam reading Surah Furqan in a different way from the one I used to read it, and the Prophet (sws) himself had read out this surah to me. Consequently, as soon as I heard him, I wanted to get hold of him. However, I gave him respite until he had finished the prayer. Then I got hold of his cloak and dragged him to the Prophet (sws). I said to him: "I have heard this person [Hisham Ibn Hakim Ibn Hizam] reading Surah Furqan in a different way from the one you had read it out to me." The Prophet (sws) said: "Leave him alone [O 'Umar]." Then he said to Hisham: "Read [it]." [Umar said:] "He read it out in the same way as he had done before me." [At this,] the Prophet (sws) said: "It was revealed thus." Then the Prophet (sws) asked me to read it out. So I read it out. [At this], he said: "It was revealed thus; this Qur’an has been revealed in Seven Ahruf. You can read it in any of them you find easy from among them.
Suyuti, a famous 15th century Islamic theologian, writes after interpreting above hadith in 40 different ways:
|“||And to me the best opinion in this regard is that of the people who say that this hadith is from among matters of mutashabihat, the meaning of which cannot be understood.||”|
Many reports contradict the presence of variant readings:
- Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami reports, "the reading of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Zayd ibn Thabit and that of all the Muhajirun and the Ansar was the same. They would read the Qur’an according to the Qira'at al-'ammah. This is the same reading which was read out twice by the Prophet (sws) to Gabriel in the year of his death. Zayd ibn Thabit was also present in this reading [called] the 'Ardah-i akhirah. It was this very reading that he taught the Qur’an to people till his death".
- Ibn Sirin writes, "the reading on which the Qur’an was read out to the prophet in the year of his death is the same according to which people are reading the Qur’an today".
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi also purports that there is only one recitation of Qur’an, which is called Qira'at of Hafss or in classical scholarship, it is called Qira'at al-'ammah. The Qur'an has also specified that it was revealed in the language of the prophet's tribe: the Quraysh.[Qur'an 19:97][Qur'an 44:58])
However, the identification of the recitation of Hafss as the Qira'at al-'ammah is somewhat problematic when that was the recitation of the people of Kufa in Iraq, and there is better reason to identify the recitation of the reciters of Madinah as the dominant recitation. The reciter of Madinah was Nafi' and Imam Malik remarked "The recitation of Nafi' is Sunnah." Moreover, the dialect of Arabic spoken by Quraysh and the Arabs of the Hijaz was known to have less use of the letter hamzah, as is the case in the recitation of Nafi', whereas in the Hafs recitation the hamzah is one of the very dominant features.
AZ [however] says that the people of El-Hijaz and Hudhayl, and the people of Makkah and Al-Madinah, to not pronounce hamzah [at all]: and 'Isa Ibn-'Omar says, Tamim pronounce hamzah, and the people of Al-Hijaz, in cases of necessity, [in poetry,] do so.
So the hamzah is of the dialect of the Najd whose people came to comprise the dominant Arabic element in Kufa giving some features of their dialect to their recitation, whereas the recitation of Nafi' and the people of Madinah maintained some features of the dialect of Hijaz and the Quraysh.
However, the discussion of the priority of one or the other recitation is unnecessary since it is a consensus of knowledgable people that all of the seven recitations of the Qur’an are acceptable and valid for recitation in the prayer.
Moreover, the so-called "un-canonical" recitations such as are narrated from some of the Companions and which do not conform to the Uthmani copy of the Qur’an are not legitimate for recitation in the prayer, but knowledge of them can legitimately be used in the tafsir of the Qur’an, not as a proof but as a valid argument for an explanation of an ayah.
Writing and printing
Most Muslims today use printed editions of the Qur’an. There are many editions, large and small, elaborate or plain, expensive or inexpensive. Bilingual forms with the Arabic on one side and a gloss into a more familiar language on the other are very popular.
Qur’ans are produced in many different sizes. Most are of a reasonable book size, but there exist extremely large Qur’ans (usually for display purposes) and very small Qur’ans (sometimes given as gifts).
Qur’ans were first printed from carved wooden blocks, one block per page. There are existing specimen of pages and blocks dating from the 10th century AD. Mass-produced less expensive versions of the Qur’an were later produced by lithography, a technique for printing illustrations. Qur’ans so printed could reproduce the fine calligraphy of hand-made versions.
The oldest surviving Qur’an for which movable type was used was printed in Venice in 1537/1538. It seems to have been prepared for sale in the Ottoman empire. Catherine the Great of Russia sponsored a printing of the Qur’an in 1787. This was followed by editions from Kazan (1828), Persia (1833) and Istanbul (1877).
It is extremely difficult to render the full Qur’an, with all the points, in computer code, such as Unicode. The Internet Sacred Text Archive makes computer files of the Qur’an freely available both as images and in a temporary Unicode version. Various designers and software firms have attempted to develop computer fonts that can adequately render the Qur’an.
Before printing was widely adopted, the Qur’an was transmitted by copyists and calligraphers. Since Muslim tradition felt that directly portraying sacred figures and events might lead to idolatry, it was considered wrong to decorate the Qur’an with pictures (as was often done for Christian texts, for example). Muslims instead lavished love and care upon the sacred text itself. Arabic is written in many scripts, some of which are both complex and beautiful. Arabic calligraphy is a highly honored art, much like Chinese calligraphy. Muslims also decorated their Qur’ans with abstract figures ( arabesques), colored inks, and gold leaf. Pages from some of these antique Qur’ans are displayed throughout this article.
Translation of the Qur’an has always been a problematic and difficult issue. Since Muslims revere the Qur’an as miraculous and inimitable (i'jaz al-Qur’an), they argue that the Qur’anic text can not be reproduced in another language or form. Furthermore, an Arabic word may have a range of meanings depending on the context, making an accurate translation even more difficult.
Nevertheless, the Qur’an has been translated into most African, Asian and European languages. The first translator of the Qur’an was Salman the Persian, who translated Fatihah into Persian during the 7th century. The first complete translation of Quran was into Persian during the reign of Samanids in the 9th century. Islamic tradition holds that translations were made for Emperor Negus of Abyssinia and Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, as both received letters by Muhammad containing verses from the Qur’an. In early centuries, the permissibility of translations was not an issue, but whether one could use translations in prayer.
In 1936, translations in 102 languages were known.
Robert of Ketton was the first person to translate the Qur’an into a Western language, Latin, in 1143. Alexander Ross offered the first English version in 1649. In 1734, George Sale produced the first scholarly translation of the Qur’an into English; another was produced by Richard Bell in 1937, and yet another by Arthur John Arberry in 1955. All these translators were non-Muslims. There have been numerous translations by Muslims; the most popular of these are by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al Hilali, Maulana Muhammad Ali, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, M. H. Shakir, Muhammad Asad and Marmaduke Pickthall.
The English translators have sometimes favored archaic English words and constructions over their more modern or conventional equivalents; for example, two widely-read translators, A. Yusuf Ali and M. Marmaduke Pickthall, use the plural and singular "ye" and "thou" instead of the more common " you." Another common stylistic decision has been to refrain from translating "Allah" — in Arabic, literally, "The God" — into the common English word "God." These choices may differ in more recent translations.
Levels of meaning
Shias and Sufis as well as some Muslim philosophers believe the meaning of the Qur’an to be not restricted to the literal aspect. The Qur’an also has inward aspects. Henry Corbin narrates a hadith that goes back to Muhammad:
"The Qur'an possesses an external appearance and a hidden depth, an exoteric meaning and an esoteric meaning. This esoteric meaning in turn conceals an esoteric meaning (this depth possesses a depth, after the image of the celestial Spheres which are enclosed within each other). So it goes on for seven esoteric meanings (seven depths of hidden depth)."
Commentaries dealing with the zahir (outward aspects) of the text are called tafsir, and hermeneutic and esoteric commentaries dealing with the batin are called ta'wil (“interpretation” or “explanation”), which involves taking the text back to its beginning. Esoteric commentators believe that the ultimate meaning of the Qur’an is known only to God.
In contrast, Qur'anic literalism which follows by Salafis and Zahiris is the belief that the Qur'an should be taken at its apparent meaning, rather than employing any sort of interpretation. This includes, for example, the belief that Allah has appendages such as hands as stated in the Qur’an; this is generally explained by the concept of bi-la kaifa, the claim that the literal meanings should be accepted without asking how or why.
The Qur'an has sparked a huge body of commentary and explication, known as tafsir. This commentary is aimed at explaining the "meanings of the Qur’anic verses, clarifying their import and finding out their significance." and best tafseer is done by Allah himself.
Tafsir is one of the earliest academic activities of Muslims. According to the Qur’an, Muhammad was the first person who described the meanings of verses for early Muslims. Other early exegetes included a few Companions of Muhammad, like Ali ibn Abi Talib, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abdullah ibn Umar and Ubayy ibn Kab. Exegesis in those days was confined to the explanation of literary aspects of the verse, the background of its revelation and, occasionally, interpretation of one verse with the help of the other. If the verse was about a historical event, then sometimes a few traditions ( hadith) of Muhammad were narrated to make its meaning clear.
Because the Qur’an is spoken in classical Arabic, many of the later converts to Islam (mostly non-Arabs) did not always understand the Qur’anic Arabic, they did not catch allusions that were clear to early Muslims fluent in Arabic and they were concerned with reconciling apparent conflict of themes in the Qur’an. Commentators erudite in Arabic explained the allusions, and perhaps most importantly, explained which Qur’anic verses had been revealed early in Muhammad's prophetic career, as being appropriate to the very earliest Muslim community, and which had been revealed later, canceling out or " abrogating" (nāsikh) the earlier text (mansukh). Memories of the occasions of revelation ( asbāb al-nuzūl), the circumstances under which Muhammad had spoken as he did, were also collected, as they were believed to explain some apparent obscurities.
Inward Aspects of the Qur’an
It is an essential idea for Shia as well as Sufi Muslims that the Qur’an has inward aspects too. They refer to several hadith of Muhammad such as
"The Qur’an possesses an external appearance and a hidden depth, an exoteric meaning and an esoteric meaning. This esoteric meaning in turn conceals an esoteric meaning (this depth possesses a depth, after the image of the celestial Spheres which are enclosed within each other). So it goes on for seven esoteric meanings (seven depths of hidden depth)."
According to this view, it has also become evident that the inner meaning of the Qur’an does not eradicate or invalidate its outward meaning. Rather, it is like the soul, which gives life to the body.
On the base of this viewpoint, Henry Corbin considers the Qur’an to have a part to play in Islamic philosophy, because gnosiology itself goes hand in hand with prophetology. However, it is clear that those who don't believe in the divine origin of the Qur’an or any kind of sacred or spiritual existence completely oppose any inward aspect of the Qur’an.
As Ja'far Kashfi has defined ta'wil means to lead back or to bring back something to its origin or archetype is a science whose pivot is a spiritual direction and a divine inspiration, while the tafsir is the literal exegesis of the letter; its pivot is the canonical Islamic sciences. Allameh Tabatabaei says according to popular explanation among the later exegetes ta'wil indicates that particular meaning towards which the verse is directed. The meaning of revelation ( tanzil), as opposed to ta'wil, is clear or according to the obvious meaning of the words as they were revealed. But this explanation has become so wide spread that, at present, it has become the real meaning of ta'wil, while originally this word meant "to return" or "the returning place". In his view what has been rightly called ta'wil, or hermeneutic interpretation, of the Qur’an is not concerned simply with the denotation of words. Rather, it is concerned with certain truths and realities that transcend the comprehension of the common run of men; yet it is from these truths and realities that the principles of doctrine and the practical injunctions of the Qur’an issue forth. Interpretation is not the meaning of the verse; rather it transpires through that meaning - a special sort of transpiration. There is a spiritual reality which is the main objective of ordaining a law, or basic aim of describing a divine attribute; there is an actual significance to which a Qur’anic story refers.
However Shia and Sufism on one hand and Sunni on the other hand have completely different positions on its legitimacy. A verse in the Qur’an points out this issue, but Shia and Sunni disagree on how it should be read. According to Shia, those who are firmly rooted in knowledge like the Prophet and imams, know the secrets of Qur’an, while Sunnis believe just God knows it. According to Allameh Tabatabaei "none knows its interpretation except Allah", remains valid, without any opposing or qualifying clause. Therefore, so far as this verse is concerned, the knowledge of the Qur’an's interpretation is reserved for Allah. But he uses another verses and concludes those who are purified by God know the interpretation of the Qur’an to a certain extent.
The most ancient spiritual commentary on the Qur'an consists of the teachings which the Shia Imams propounded in the course of their conversations with their disciples. It was the principles of their spiritual hermeneutics that were subsequently to be brought together by the Sufis. These texts are narrated from Imam Ali and Ja'far al-Sadiq by Shia and Sunni Sufis.
As Corbin narrates from Shia sources, Ali himself gives this testimony:
Not a single verse of the Qur’an descended upon (was revealed to) the Messenger of God which he did not proceed to dictate to me and make me recite. I would write it with my own hand, and he would instruct me as to its tafsir (the literal explanation) and the ta'wil (the spiritual exegesis), the nasikh (the verse which abrogates) and the mansukh (the abrogated verse), the muhkam (without ambiguity) and the mutashabih (ambiguous), the particular and the general...
According to Allameh Tabatabaei, there are acceptable and unacceptable esoteric interpretations. Acceptable ta'wil refers to the meaning of a verse beyond its literal meaning; rather only the implicit, whose ultimate meaning is known only to God and can't be comprehended directly through human thought alone. The verses in question here are those which refer to the human qualities of coming, going, sitting, satisfaction, anger and sorrow apparently attributed to God. Ta'wil that is unacceptable means "to transfer" the apparent meaning of a verse to a different meaning by means of a proof; this method is not without obvious inconsistencies. Although this view has gained considerable acceptance, it is incorrect and cannot be applied to the Qur’anic verses. The correct interpretation is that reality to which a verse refers; it is found in all verses, the decisive and the ambiguous alike; it is not a sort of a meaning of the word; it is a real fact that is too sublime for words; Allah has dressed them with words so as to bring them a bit nearer to our minds; in this respect they are like proverbs that are used to create a picture in the mind and thus help the hearer to clearly grasp the intended idea.
Therefore Sufi spiritual interpretations usually are accepted by Islamic scholars as authentic interpretations as long as certain conditions were met. In Sufi history, these interpretations were sometimes considered religious innovations ( bid'ah), as Salafis today believe. However, even among Shia, ta'wil is extremely controversial. For example, when Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the leader of Islamic revolution, gave some lectures about Surat al-Fatiha in December 1979 and January 1980, some protests forced him to suspend it before he could proceed beyond the first two verses of the surah.
Relationship with other literature
The Torah and the Bible
|“||It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong).||”|
—Qur'an 3:3 ( Yusuf Ali)
The Qur'an speaks well of the relationship it has with former books (the Torah and the Gospel) and attributes their similarities to their unique origin and saying all of them have been revealed by the one God.
The Qur'an retells stories of many of the people and events recounted in Jewish and Christian sacred books ( Tanakh, Bible) and devotional literature (Apocrypha, Midrash), although it differs in many details. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Heber, Shelah, Abraham, Lot, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Jethro, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Aaron, Moses, Ezra, Zechariah, Jesus, and John the Baptist are mentioned in the Qur’an as prophets of God (see Prophets of Islam). Muslims believe the common elements or resemblances between the Bible and other Jewish and Christian writings and Islamic dispensations is due to their common divine source, and that the original Christian or Jewish texts were authentic divine revelations given to prophets.
Muslims believe that those texts were neglected, corrupted ( tahrif) or altered in time by the Jews and Christians and have been replaced by God's final and perfect revelation, which is the Qur'an. However, many Jews and Christians believe that the historical biblical archaeological record refutes this assertion, because the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Tanakh and other Jewish writings which predate the origin of the Qur’an) have been fully translated, validating the authenticity of the Greek Septuagint.
Influence of Christian apocrypha
The Diatessaron, Protoevangelium of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Arabic Infancy Gospel are all alleged to have been sources that the author/authors drew on when creating the Qur'an. The Diatessaron especially may have led to the misconception in the Qur'an that the Christian Gospel is one text. However this is strongly refuted by Muslim scholars, who maintain that the Qur’an is the divine word of God without any interpolation, and the similarities exist only due to the one source.
After the Qur’an, and the general rise of Islam, the Arabic alphabet developed rapidly into a beautiful and complex form of art.
Wadad Kadi, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at University of Chicago and Mustansir Mir, Professor of Islamic studies at Youngstown State University state that:
Although Arabic, as a language and a literary tradition, was quite well developed by the time of Muhammad's prophetic activity, it was only after the emergence of Islam, with its founding scripture in Arabic, that the language reached its utmost capacity of expression, and the literature its highest point of complexity and sophistication. Indeed, it probably is no exaggeration to say that the Qur’an was one of the most conspicuous forces in the making of classical and post-classical Arabic literature.
The main areas in which the Qur’an exerted noticeable influence on Arabic literature are diction and themes; other areas are related to the literary aspects of the Qur’an particularly oaths (q.v.), metaphors, motifs, and symbols. As far as diction is concerned, one could say that Qur’anic words, idioms, and expressions, especially "loaded" and formulaic phrases, appear in practically all genres of literature and in such abundance that it is simply impossible to compile a full record of them. For not only did the Qur’an create an entirely new linguistic corpus to express its message, it also endowed old, pre-Islamic words with new meanings and it is these meanings that took root in the language and subsequently in the literature...
Islamic scholars believe that the Qur’an is miraculous by its very nature in being a revealed text and that similar texts cannot be written by human endeavor. Its miraculous nature is claimed to be evidenced by its literary style, suggested similarities between Qur’anic verses and scientific facts discovered much later, and various prophecies. The Qur’an itself challenges those who deny its claimed divine origin to produce a text like it. [Qur'an 17:88][Qur'an 2:23][Qur'an 10:38]. These claims originate directly from Islamic belief in its revealed nature, and are widely disputed by non-muslim scholars of Islamic history.
14 different Arabic letters form 14 different sets of “Qur’anic Initials” (the "Muqatta'at", such as A.L.M. of 2:1) and prefix 29 suras in the Qur’an. The meaning and interpretation of these initials is considered unknown to most Muslims. In 1974, Egyptian biochemist Rashad Khalifa claimed to have discovered a mathematical code based on the number 19, which is mentioned in Sura 74:30 of the Qur’an.
Most Muslims treat paper copies of the Qur’an with veneration, ritually washing before reading the Qur’an. Worn out, torn, or errant (for example, pages out of order) Qur’ans are not discarded as wastepaper, but rather are left free to flow in a river, kept somewhere safe, burnt, or buried in a remote location. Many Muslims memorize at least some portion of the Qur’an in the original Arabic, usually at least the verses needed to perform the prayers. Those who have memorized the entire Qur’an earn the right to the title of Hafiz.
Based on tradition and a literal interpretation of sura 56:77-79: "That this is indeed a Qur’an Most Honourable, In a Book well-guarded, Which none shall touch but those who are clean.", many scholars opine that a Muslim perform wudu (ablution or a ritual cleansing with water) before touching a copy of the Qur’an, or mus'haf. This view has been contended by other scholars on the fact that, according to Arabic linguistic rules, this verse alludes to a fact and does not comprise an order. The literal translation thus reads as "That (this) is indeed a noble Qur'ān, In a Book kept hidden, Which none toucheth save the purified," (translated by Mohamed Marmaduke Pickthall). It is suggested based on this translation that performing ablution is not required.
Qur'an desecration means insulting the Qur’an by defiling or dismembering it. Muslims must always treat the book with reverence, and are forbidden, for instance, to pulp, recycle, or simply discard worn-out copies of the text. Respect for the written text of the Qur’an is an important element of religious faith by many Muslims. They believe that intentionally insulting the Qur’an is a form of blasphemy.
The Qur’an's teachings on matters of war and peace have become topics of heated discussion in recent years. On the one hand, some critics interpret that certain verses of the Qur’an sanction military action against unbelievers as a whole both during the lifetime of Muhammad and after. On the other hand, other scholars argue that such verses of the Qur’an are interpreted out of context, and argue that when the verses are read in context it clearly appears that the Qur’an prohibits aggression, and allows fighting only in self defense.
Some scholars, such as Patricia Crone, Michael Cook, and Gerd R. Puin, are skeptical of traditional religious accounts of the Qur'an's creation and history.