In what way then, one would ask, is the Qur'an miraculous? I have heard many responses to this, the most common being:
1) In its literary eloquence.
2) In its subject matter.
3) In its preservation over the centuries.
In the following article, I want to consider only response number one. Later articles will discuss the other two, and since this article itself is lengthy, I will split number one into two sections - one regarding the meeting of the challenge (this article), and the other being a rebuttal for the Qur'an's supposed perfect eloquence. Most of the ideas in this, and the following articles are borrowed, and I have tried to give due credit wherever possible. I would like to say that it is not my intention to insult Muslim readers, so I have tried to be careful in my choice of words, in order to avoid offence and encourage serious discussion of the real issues. If I have overlooked anything it is due to my own ignorance, and readers are invited to write to the maintainer of the homepage about any corrections, they would like to see. With this out of the way, let us now discuss three cases where I believe passages have been composed that are comparable, if not superior, literarily, to the Qur'an.
If a person wants an opinion on something, he or she goes to an expert in the field to get it. If you want to know whether you should try a new sort of medical treatement, you go to a doctor; if you want to know what you should take up for a profession, you go to a counsellor; if you want to find out more about the Universe, you read a book by an astronomer. So what if you want to find out about language - of course, you go to a language expert. What do some Qur'anic and linguistic scholars have to say about the Qur'an's eloquence?
Ali Dashti, the famous Iranian-Arab scholar, has the following to say:
"Neither the Qur'an's eloquence, nor it's moral precepts are miraculous." (emphasis mine) (Ali Dashti, Twenty Three Years, pg 57)
Earlier on in the book, he discusses cases of other scholars who shared his point of view, such as the blind Syrian poet Abu 'l-Ala al Ma'arri, who Dashti describes differently as: "...a great and penetrating Arab thinker" (pg 53) and "...a great and universally admired poet-philosopher" (pg 94). This man considered some of his own works, to be on par with the Qur'an. If his evaluation of the facts is faulty, who then, if not a man of his learning, can be the judge of such a thing? Indeed even Muslim scholars in that age, did not believe that the Qur'an was untouchable in literary excellence. Here is a quote from Dashti concerning this:
"Among the muslim scholars of the early period, before bigotry and hyperbole prevailed, were some such as Ebrahim on-Nazzim who openly acknowleged that the arrangment and syntax of the Qur'an are not miraculous and that work of equal or greater value could be produced by other God-fearing persons", (emphasis mine, pg 48)
This case is only one of many like it. Others who shared this view include "... Ebn Hazm and ol-Khayyat ......and several other leadering exponents of the Mo' tazzilite school." (pg 48). In more recent years there is the case of some linguistic scholars, who worked in Jerusalem for sixteen years, trying to produce Biblical passages in a Qur'anic style. To deny that they have been succesful in their attempts, is to deny their scholarship, and the science of Linguistics.
Of course, Muslims could accuse these people of being biased in their opinions. In the case of the Syrian poet, he may have done this to glorify his own work. The scholars in the Jerusalem, project were "obviously" biased, being Christians. I would ask if these men would be foolish enough to make such daring claims, and risk their reputations, if there were not some truth to them. Also, they have put their works out in the open, for anyone to refute them - if you honestly have a reason not to trust their claims, go ahead and refute them. If not then it would be best to accept them. In the cases of the two quotes, I do not believe there is any room for doubt. Ali Dashti, throughout his book, retains an atmosphere of neutrality, and intellectualism, without any hint of pro, or anti-Islamic bias. I invite any reader to get his book, read it, and then tell me that he is biased. Dashti's very goal in writing the book, was to give an unbiased account of Muhammad's life, and religion. In the last case I believe, if anything, there should be a bias towards Islam, as these men are Muslims - but we do not find this. In this case thus, there is no chance for an anti-Islamic bias. So in the opinions of experts, even Muslim ones, the challenge is not untouchable, and may have already been met.
There is evidence to the effect that Suras 1, 113, and 114 are not originally part of the Qur'an, but later additions. It is a well known fact that Abdulla ibn Masud, a man described by Muhammed as one of the, if not THE, highest authority on the Qur'an (Bukhari), did not consider these to be part of the it (Bukhari), but rather liturgical in nature, the latter point being evident from his writings. Critics in the 1930s, approaching the problem from a different perspective, also arrived at the same conclusions. There is a third reason why I believe Muslims cannot consider Sura 1 a part of their book.
Muslims believe that the Qur'an is God's DIRECT revelation - it is exactly His words; it is Him speaking .Hence, according to their concept of inspiration, God speakes directly in the first person, and passages that do not convey this cannot be His words. An example of this belief is reflected in the arguments of Muslim apologists, who state that such passages in the Bible as the Psalms cannot be God's words, as the author is directly worshipping Him. They ask: "Does God worship God?". I would ask then, how Muslims can ascribe Sura 1 to God, even if it is a direct prayer for guidance, and of worship by the author (the word "say" is not present at the beginning of the sura, so it cannot be considered instuctional)? To follow the Islamic idea of inspiration, and line of reasoning, is God praying to himself? The only logical answer, in my opinion, for a Muslim is no. There is no doubt that this Sura, is one of the more eloquent ones in the Qur'an, as it stands today. If it was composed not by God, but by a man, or men, and is considered as eloquent as any sura in the Qur'an, has the challenge not been met?
Reference: Ali Dashti, "Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad", Routledge Chapman & Hall, Mazda Pubs, Bibliotheca Iranica: Reprints Ser., Vol. No. 2., 1985, 246p. $15.95, ISBN 1-56859-029-6.
Is the Qur'an miraculous?
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