The Quran (which means ‘Recitation’) is the starting point of Islam. In order to have a basic understanding of the religion, you must first have a basic understanding of this book.
What Is The Quran?
Made up of 114 chapters, known commonly as Suras, which are divided into verses (ayat), the Quran is compiled not from beginning to end but with the exception of the first Sura (which acts as an introductory prayer), it is organized from longest to shortest. Believed to be eternal (without beginning), inspired and given to us by Allah, the Quran also covers a wide range of topics including human existence, doctrine, social organization, legislation and is only a little shorter than the Christian New Testament.1
Who Wrote The Quran?
It’s earthly conception is said to have started in 610 AD when the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in a cave on abal-e-Hira, which is near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Here is the place where the angel commanded Muhammad to recite the words that were spoken to him (96:1-19). These recitations, which took place over a span of 23 years until is death in 632 AD became known as the Quran.
Muhammad, though a merchant by trade, is not commonly believed to have possessed the skills of reading and writing; so before Muhammad could leave the cave following a recitation, he had to first take the entire piece into memory. From there he would repeat the words of revelation to those present, many of whom had to take it to memory themselves, except for his scribes who according to tradition wrote them out on pieces of paper, stones, palm-leaves, shoulder-blades, ribs, and bits of leather.
Two Periods Of Writing
Out of the 114 Suras, eighty-six were revealed during what is known as the Meccan period and twenty-eight at Medina. These two periods are of great significance in the Quran. The earlier of the two (Meccan) is when Islam had just began being preached. Throughout this period Muhammad was greatly persecuted by the people in the area but only managed to converted a small handful of people. As a result, Muhammad fled Mecca to the city of Medina in 622 AD. This even is commonly known as the Hijra. Here his message was more greatly accepted, and from here on his message greatly changed.
In the earlier suras (which tend to be the shorter ones), the literary style of the Quran comes very close to the rhymed prose of the soothsayers during Muhammad’s era. However, after the move to Medina the verses get progressively longer and more circumstantial, the rhymes appearing further and further apart to the point where the reader can see a definite change in linguistic style. While the earlier suras tend to be short, vivid expressions, with poetic force, the later verses begin to morph into more detailed, complicated and quite often even violent writings, especially against Christians and Jews. It is as though Muhammad had gone from preacher to prince. From warner to warrior.2
Of course for orthodox Muslims the evolutionary literary style of the Quran does not pose any problems because in their belief, its perfection of language is an undeniable dogma they must accept. A common statement made by many Muslims is that the Quran itself is the ultimate proof of it’s own inspiration, due to it’s unapproachable beauty in style from beginning to end. In actuality, it is due to the direct address of the Quran that Muslims believe that the New Testament and most of the Old Testament are disqualified from being the Word of God.
- Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: the crescent in light of the cross (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002) 94
- Ibid. 95-97