The Qur’ān

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The Qur’an[1] (Arabic: القرآن‎ al-qur’ān, literally “the recitation”; also sometimes transliterated as Quran, 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.[2][3][4][5]

Islam holds that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad by the angel Jibrīl (Gabriel) over a period of approximately twenty-three years, beginning in 610 CE, when he was forty, and concluding in 632 CE, the year of his death.[2][6][7] Followers of Islam further believe that the Qur’an was written down by Muhammad's companions while he was alive, although the primary method of transmission was oral. Muslim tradition agrees that it was fixed in writing shortly after Muhammad's death by order of the caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar[8], and that their orders began a process of formalization of the orally transmitted text that was completed under their successor Uthman with the standard edition known as the "Uthmanic recension."[9] The present form of the Qur’an is accepted by most scholars as the original version authored or dictated by Muhammad.[10]

To read the Qu'ran, follow this link.

Muslims regard the Qur’an as the main miracle of Muhammad, as proof of his prophethood,[11] and as the culmination of a series of divine messages. These started, according to Islamic belief, with the messages revealed to Adam, regarded in Islam as the first prophet, and continued with the Suhuf Ibrahim (Sefer Yetzirah or Scrolls of Abraham),[12] the Tawrat (Torah or Pentateuch),[13][14] the Zabur (Tehillim or Book of Psalms),[15][16] and the Injeel (Christian Gospel).[17][18][19] The Qur'an assumes familiarity with major narratives recounted in Jewish and Christian scriptures, summarizing some, dwelling at length on others, and, in some cases, presenting alternative accounts and interpretations of events.[20][21][22]. The Qur'an describes itself as book of guidance. It rarely offers detailed accounts of specific historical events, and often emphasizes the moral significance of an event over its narrative sequence.[23]

Etymology and meaning

The word qur`ān appears 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”; the Syriac equivalent is 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.[24] In any case, it had become an Arabic term by Muhammad's lifetime.[2] An important meaning of the word is the “act of reciting”, as reflected in an early Qur’anic passage: “It is for Us to collect it and to recite it (qur`ānatu)”.[25]

In other verses, the word 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.[26][27] 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".[28] The word may also assume the meaning of a codified scripture when mentioned with other scriptures such as the Torah and Gospel.[29]

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.[24][30]

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.[2]


The text of 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.[2] 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 except the ninth commences with the Basmala[31], an Arabic phrase meaning (“In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”). There are, however, still 114 occurrences of the basmala in the Qur’an, due to its presence in verse 27:30 as the opening of Solomon's letter to the Queen of Sheba.[32]

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.[2]

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).[2]

The Qur’anic text seems to have no beginning, middle, or end, its nonlinear structure being akin to a web or net.[2] The textual arrangement is sometimes considered to have lack of continuity, absence of any chronological or thematic order, and presence of repetition.[33][34]

Fourteen 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,[35] which is mentioned in Sura 74:30[36] of the Qur’an.


The Qur'anic verses contain general exhortations regarding right and wrong and the nature of revelation. Historical events are related with a view to outlining general moral lessons.

Literary structure

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.[37]

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.[38]

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."[39][40] Sells also addresses the much-discussed "repetitiveness" of the Qur’an, seeing this, too, as a literary device.

"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?" - Sells[39]

Significance in Islam

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,[41] revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel over a period of twenty-three years[6][7] and view the Qur’an as God's final revelation to humanity.[42][6]

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.[43]

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. The Qur'an refers to a written pre-text which records God's speech even before it was sent down.[44][45] “ 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.[46]

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 meditating 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.[47]


Islamic scholars believe the Qur’an to be 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].[48][49][50] These claims originate directly from Islamic belief in its revealed nature, and are widely disputed by non-Muslim scholars of Islamic history.[51][1]


  1. pronounced qurˈʔaːn

Arabic pronunciation (help·info)

  1. Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2007). "Qur’an". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  2. Qur'an 2:23–24
  3. Qur'an 33:40
  4. Watton, Victor, (1993), A student's approach to world religions:Islam, Hodder & Stoughton, pg 1. ISBN 0-340-58795-4
  5. Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World's Faiths, Mary Pat Fisher, 1997, page 338, I.B. Tauris Publishers.
  6. Qur'an 17:106
  7. Sahih al-Bukhari 6:60:201
  8. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction Michael Cook, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  9. See: William Montgomery Watt in The Cambridge History of Islam, p.32 Richard Bell, William Montgomery Watt, Introduction to the Qur’an, p.51 F. E. Peters (1991), pp.3–5: “Few have failed to be convinced that … the Qur’an is … the words of Muhammad, perhaps even dictated by him after their recitation.”
  10. Peters (2003), pp.12 and 13
  11. Qur'an 87:18–19
  12. Qur'an 3:3
  13. Qur'an 5:44
  14. Qur'an 4:163
  15. Qur'an 17:55
  16. Qur'an 5:46
  17. Qur'an 5:110
  18. Qur'an 57:27
  19. Qur'an 3:84
  20. Qur'an 4:136
  21. “The Qur’an assumes the reader to be familiar with the traditions of the ancestors since the age of the Patriarchs, not necessarily in the version of the ‘Children of Israel’ as described in the Bible but also in the version of the ‘Children of Ismail’ as it was alive orally, though interspersed with polytheist elements, at the time of Muhammad. The term Jahiliya (ignorance) used for the pre-Islamic time does not mean that the Arabs were not familiar with their traditional roots but that their knowledge of ethical and spiritual values had been lost.” Exegesis of Bible and Qur’an, H. Krausen.
  22. * Nasr (2003), p.42
  23. “Ķur'an, al-”, Encyclopedia of Islam Online.
  24. Template:Quran-Yusuf Ali
  25. Qur'an 20:2 cf.
  26. Qur'an 25:32 cf.
  27. Qur'an 7:204
  28. See “Ķur'an, al-”, Encyclopedia of Islam Online and [Qur'an 9:111]
  29. According to Welch in the Encyclopedia of Islam, the verses pertaining to the usage of the word hikma should probably be interpreted in the light of IV, 105, where it is said that “Muhammad is to judge (tahkum) mankind on the basis of the Book sent down to him.”
  30. Arabic: بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم, transliterated as: bismi-llāhi ar-raḥmāni ar-raḥīmi.
  31. See: “Kur`an, al-”, Encyclopaedia of Islam Online

Allen (2000) p. 53

  1. Samuel Pepys: "One feels it difficult to see how any mortal ever could consider this Koran as a Book written in Heaven, too good for the Earth; as a well-written book, or indeed as a book at all; and not a bewildered rhapsody; written, so far as writing goes, as badly as almost any book ever was!"
  2. "The final process of collection and codification of the Qur’an text was guided by one over-arching principle: God's words must not in any way be distorted or sullied by human intervention. For this reason, no serious attempt, apparently, was made to edit the numerous revelations, organize them into thematic units, or present them in chronological order.... This has given rise in the past to a great deal of criticism by European and American scholars of Islam, who find the Qur’an disorganized, repetitive, and very difficult to read." Approaches to the Asian Classics, Irene Blomm, William Theodore De Bary, Columbia University Press,1990, p. 65
  3. Rashad Khalifa, Qur’an: Visual Presentation of the Miracle, Islamic Productions International, 1982. ISBN 0-934894-30-2
  4. Qur'an 74:30 Prophecies Made in the Qur’an that Have Already Come True]
  5. Issa Boullata, "Literary Structure of Qur’an," Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, vol.3 p.192, 204
  7. Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an (White Cloud Press, 1999)
  8. Norman O. Brown, "The Apocalypse of Islam." Social Text 3:8 (1983-1984)
  9. Qur'an 2:23–4
  10. Watton, Victor, (1993), A student's approach to world religions:Islam, Hodder & Stoughton, pg 1. ISBN 0-340-58795-4
  11. See: Corbin (1993), p.12 Wild (1996), pp. 137, 138, 141 and 147 Qur'an 2:97 Qur'an 17:105
  12. Wild (1996), pp. 140
  13. Qur'an 43:3
  14. Corbin (1993), p.10
  15. Corbin (1993), pp .10 and 11
  16. Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an - Miracles
  17. Ahmad Dallal, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Qur'an and science
  18. Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an - Byzantines
  19. Harris, Sam (2005). The End of Faith. The Free Press. ISBN 978-0-7432-6809-7.