The Qur’an is the Book of
Allah (God) that was revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Muhammad
(peace and blessings be upon him) over a period of twenty-three
years. He dictated it to his followers as he received it from the
Angel Jibril (Gabriel), and they wrote it down on whatever materials
were available. The Prophet and many of his followers memorized
it as it was revealed.
The Qur’an consists of 114
surahs (sometimes called chapters) of various lengths, from 3 to
286 verses. The verses were revealed a few at a time and not in
their present order but were placed in their position by the Prophet
in accordance to instructions from the Angel Jibril.
Shortly after the death of the Prophet,
the first caliph, Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, ordered the scribe Zayd ibn
Thabit to collect the manuscripts and make one copy of the Qur’an.
He did so with the assistance of the hundreds of Companions of the
Prophet who had memorized the Qur’an, thus assuring that nothing
was added or omitted, and that the order of the verses was according
to the Prophet’s instructions. Later, the third caliph, ‘Uthman
ibn ‘Affan, again asked Zayd to oversee the copying of the
Qur’an. Several standard copies were made and sent to all
the provinces of the Muslims, with orders that all other manuscripts
be burned. This was to ensure that there would not be various readings
of the Qur’an.
Thus, the Qur’an remains today
exactly as it was revealed more than 14 centuries ago and contains
the exact Words of Allah. Many thousands of Muslims memorized it
each generation so that it was never forgotten. Further, the Arabic
language in which the Qur’an was revealed remains a living
language. There are copies of the Qur’an from the first century
after the revelation in libraries in the Muslim world. A comparison
to modern printed copies shows that the Qur’an has not changed
over the centuries.
Only the Arabic text is the authentic
Word of Allah. Translations of the meaning of the Qur’an have
been made in many languages, but no translation can capture the
full meaning of the Qur’an. Therefore, to properly understand
the teachings of Islam, one must refer to and understand the Arabic
text of the Qur’an.
What Is the Qur’an
Someone who is familiar with the
Bible might expect the Qur’an to be similar, but will be surprised
to find that it is not. It is not a narrative or a collection of
rules or a hymnal or a science book, yet it contains elements of
all these things and more.
The Qur’an speaks of the nature
of Allah, man’s relationship with Allah, and man’s relationship
with others. The Qur’an has a unique style that moves from
one topic to another, interweaving various themes, moving from the
specific to the general and back again. For this reason, calling
the surahs “chapters” is really a misnomer, for a chapter
deals with one theme. The word “surah” is unique to
The Qur’an contains, among
other things, glimpses of the stories of previous prophets but,
with the exception of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), does not tell each
story in one unbroken narrative. Rather, in various places it relates
certain details and asks us to reflect on their significance.
The verses revealed in Makkah during
the first 13 years of the Prophet’s mission generally deal
with the articles of faith — the Oneness and Uniqueness of
Allah, the Day of Judgment, the Angels, Prophets, previous Books,
and Divine Decree. The verses revealed in Madinah, where the Muslims
had established a nascent Islamic society, generally deal with social
relationships between individuals and groups. Often just a few verses
came down at a time to deal with a question or situation that had
arisen in the Muslim community. Therefore, the study of the “reasons
for revelation” — the background of when, where and
why a particular verse was revealed — is integral to scholars’
understanding of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an remains the most
widely read book in the world. All Muslims memorize some parts of
it to recite in their ritual prayers daily. Many others devote a
part of each day to reading the Qur’an, and even more so during
the month of Ramadan. Further, there are still hundreds of thousands
— both Arab and non-Arab — who memorize the entire Qur’an.