Introduction to the Quran

Introduction to the Quran B

(This session is also available in audio and video)


Let's look at the Quran from a literature point of view.

            God wanted the Quran to be a miracle and a proof.  It was sent as challenge for the nonbelievers;   and If you want to challenge someone to prove superiority, you must challenge them in something they excel at.  You cannot challenge a weak or disabled person in weightlifting  -that will prove nothing-.  You have to challenge a weightlifter.  So when the Quran came and challenged the Arabs in their own language and prevailed, it did not mean that the Arabs at that time were weak in the language arts. To the contrary, it is a testimony that they excelled and mastered their language at a high -Shakespearean- level.  So, when the Quran prevailed over them linguistically, it became a true triumph.

            The Arabs at the time of the prophet, especially in the vicinity of Mecca, excelled in language arts. From poetry to storytelling and literature, they used to attract the best of the best. Fame and fortune came to those who mastered literature.  So, Where did Mohammad – a resident of Mecca- stand among these poets and literature elites?  Mohammad lived among Meccans for 40 years before he received the Quran and the message of Islam.  During that time he was virtually unknown in the circles of poetry and language arts.  when the Quran was revealed to the prophet, God wanted it to be a literary work and a linguistic challenge that came from a person who was not known to have any of these fine skills.  Meccans had to know that this speech did not come from Muhammad.  After all, the talent and genius of a person typically appears in their twenties or early thirties, talents do not manifest in the person's forties and fifties.

            Mohammad at the age of 40 was illiterate, he did not know how to write and had not composed any poetry.  When, all of a sudden, he started reciting verses of the Quran that were revered by the elites of the poets and the masters of the language of his time, the question was: where did all of this come from? It didn't make any sense that he had this talent all along, kept it to himself until he was 40, and then decided to use it.  If he had this talent, He could have used it to gain status in his community.  More importantly, he could not have known that he would live to be 40 in a society where many people died young.  This had to mean that he never possessed this ability, rather the holy text was revealed to him.

            God teaches the prophet to address this issue with the non-believers in the following verse

"Say: "Had God so wished, I would not have recited it to you nor would He have made it known to you. I lived among you for many years before it came. Will you not use your intellect?" ” (Chapter 10: Verse16)

Moreover, Who would refuse to take the credit for such a great piece of work? The prophet was offered all the credit for the Quran and all the Glory that would come with it, but he declined as mentioned in the following verse:

"When Our Clear Signs are recited to them, those who do not expect to meet Us say, "Bring a Qur'an other than this one or change it." Say: "It is not for me to change it of my own accord.  I follow nothing except what is revealed to me. I fear, were I to disobey my Lord, the punishment of a Dreadful Day."(10:15)

People love to take credit for things they have done and many even claim credit for things that they have not done.  Here the prophet was offered credit, and said no, this is not from me.

            The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) always welcomed questions from believers and nonbelievers alike.  However, if you research the companions of the prophet, you will notice that none had asked him about verses in the Quran that did not carry any clear meaning to such as the verse (ألف لام ميم)ALM or (حا ميم) HM.  Perhaps More interestingly, none of the nonbelievers -who came to the prophet with the purpose of debating and proving that his holy book was nonsense- questioned these verses.  How could the non-believers -despite their deep knowledge of the Arabic language- have missed such an opportunity to attack the prophet?  This cannot be unless deep down they understood the value of such speech. Even though they did not believe in the Quran, they did not find fault in these verses to use against the prophet.  Moreover, when the nonbelievers returned to their tribes, they instructed their followers not to listen to the Quran.  They knew that those who truly listened will find sweetness in its words and experience its influence in their hearts and minds.  If they truly believed that the Quran was worthless, they wouldn't mind who listened and who did not.  The leaders of the nonbelievers took it a step further.  They asked their followers to distract from the Quran while it was read.  They understood that the Quran has true substance and deep influence.  God Almighty says:

And those who disbelieve say, "Do not listen to this Quran and do make a noise in the midst of its reading that you may overcome it." (41:26)

            Now, let's take a look at the different types of speech the prophet relayed to us: 

First there's the Quran; Second there are the prophet's narrations (hadeeth), and finally there are the holy or sacred narrations (which is God's speech that is not part of the Quran).  All these types of speech came to us from the prophet, but each carried a very distinct literature style.  In the same day, the prophet would relay a narration that is part of the Quran and another that would fall under hadeeth, and so on.  Even the most talented of writers and poets throughout the ages have a distinct personal style spanning all their work.  If the prophet was writing these narrations, then his style will creep up into all parts of speech regardless of how hard he tried to mask it.  This is just another piece of evidence that it is from God and not from the prophet.

            It is no surprise then that when God sent the message to the prophet, it caused bewilderment and turmoil among the nonbelievers.  They wanted to discredit the Quran and the new message but did not know how.  On some occasions, they accused the prophet of sorcery and said that he was a magician, to which we say, if he was such a brilliant magician how come he could not charm you?  How come he could not affect you with his magic like he affected the others who believed in him. The fact that you are disbelieving, is in by itself a proof that he's not a magician.

            On other occasions the nonbelievers tried to claim that the prophet was insane, and what he said was just crazy talk.  So, to answer that charge, let's take a minute and a define insanity: "it is for one to behave in a manner that does not make sense". An insane person acts irrationally and inappropriately in social situation.  However, the prophet was well known in the entire community of Mecca for his great character and impeccable manners.  Having good character and good manners -in essence behaving most properly- is the exact opposite of being insane. Having manners means that one acts appropriately and responds well to social situations. This was addressed by God in the following verses to answer those who alleged the prophet's insanity  

“By the blessings of your Lord, you are not mad.  You will have a wage which never-fails.  Indeed you are truly vast in character”.(68:2-4)

            Ironically, even while the disbelievers were trying to discredit the prophet and his message and accuse him of insanity, they used to trust him with their valuables when they traveled.  He was one of  a few people in Mecca, in which Meccans trusted to leave their wealth and valuables with when they traveled.  When things truly mattered to them, when it concerned them at a personal level, they trusted this man.

            The truth is, the disbelievers did not distrust the prophet as a person, nor did they dislike the Quran. What they truly hated was the fact that such great work was not revealed to them, the elites.  They could not stand that the message was revealed to someone else, an ordinary person not from their ranks.  Their hate and foolishness is shown clearly in what they said in this verse:

“And they say, 'God, if this is really the truth from You, rain down stones on us out of heaven or send a painful punishment down on us. “ (8:32)

An intelligent sincere person would have said "God if this is a truth from you then please guide me to it".  Instead what they said was that if this is the truth: we would rather die than follow this man.

And in another verse in the Quran:

"They say, 'Why was this Qur'an not sent down to one of the great men of the two cities?” (43:31)

They did not object to the Quran itself.  They did not object to the message of the Quran. What the non-believers were most concerned with was the superficial issue of who the Quran was revealed to.  They left behind the core of the matter, the true message.