This is the sixth in a series of posts about Islam. For more articles in this series, click on the links at the end of this article.
How did this book that continues to affect lives come to be? Muslims believe that Allah revealed the writings of the Quran orally to the prophet Muhammad, after he called on him to recite. Hence, the word Quran means the reading or the recitation. The words were revealed through the archangel Gabriel over a period of more than two decades, until Muhammad’s death in 632 AD. Muslims believe the Quran is Allah’s final revelation, giving Muhammad the legitimacy of a prophet. Muhammad himself was illiterate. After his death, his companions compiled the messages he supposedly received, having written them down earlier or memorized them. There were many versions in circulation, but Muhammad’s son- in-law, Uthman, the third caliph, issued a standard version which is still in print today. Most of the previously circulating texts were suppressed or destroyed. Interestingly, in recent years, several very early texts have been found in the Arabian Peninsula that show differences with the standardized version in circulation, casting doubt on the unity of the information contained in the book.
The Quran is written in difficult Arabic, with complex calligraphy, and is considered the highest work of Arabic literature. In fact, since Islam forbids images and statues, mosques are decorated with Quranic verses in exquisite calligraphy. Many parts of the Quran are difficult to understand, even in Arabic. But the Quran itself claims to be clear and protected from corruption, and as such cannot contain contradictions. While it has been translated into many languages, Islam teaches that the Quran can only be read and recited in Arabic, and its miraculous message is lost if it is translated. That is why all Muslims, even non-Arabs who make up about 85% of all Muslims in the world, have to study Arabic in order to read the Quran in its original language. In fact, many parents start teaching their children to read and memorize the Quran at a very young age.
The Quran does not contain books but is divided into 114 chapters, known as Surah. Each of these is divided into verses, totaling 6,236. In comparison, the Old Testament contains 23,145 verses, and the New Testament contains 7,957. So the Quran’s length is about a fifth shorter than that of the New Testament. The first Surah in the Quran, Al-Fatihah (the opener), is a short prayer of guidance, containing seven verses only. It is recited daily in prayers by Muslims. After the first Surah, the Quran is written from the longest to the shortest Surah, rather than chronologically. Nearly every Surah starts with the same sentence: “In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, the most merciful.” The book does not follow a particular structure or continuity, as many chapters appear to begin and end abruptly. Its main messages are monotheism, prayer, obeying the will of Allah, submitting to Allah, curses against the infidels, exhortations to fight against the infidels, resisting wrong teachings, denying biblical claims, and the promise of paradise to the faithful.
As mentioned earlier in this series, the Quran names many of the same biblical characters, but none of Jesus’s disciples or later apostles. Many of the stories in the Quran have superficial similarities to their biblical counterparts but contain deep variations and corruptions to what has been revealed in the Holy Scriptures. In fact, most stories simply serve to corroborate Muhammad’s message. These are some of the major differences with the Bible found in the Quran:
- Abraham took Ishmael to be offered as a sacrifice, not Isaac
- Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s wife, not daughter
- One of Noah’s sons refused to enter the ark and perished
- Haman was a member of the court of Pharaoh rather than Ahasuerus
- Pharaoh repented and converted to Islam while drowning in the Red Sea
- Mary the mother of Isa, not Miriam, was the sister of Aaron
- Jesus was not crucified
- Jesus was not the son of God
- Jesus should not be worshiped
While the Quran claims to be a direct revelation from Allah and not the writing of a man, the Bible claims to be inspired by the Holy Spirit while authored by forty different people over a period of nearly 1500 years, compiling a total of sixty-six books. The Quran is written in the first-person plural as a direct revelation from Allah in mostly rhyme, while the books of the Bible contain history, narration, oracles, prose, rhyme, prayer, songs, poems, allegory, parables, sermons and others. Moreover, the Bible can be and has been translated into many languages without violating the inerrancy of the original Hebrew or Greek. This means that the Bible remains the inerrant, infallible, true word of God whether in English, Arabic, or Mandarin, while the Quran is not the Quran except when read and recited in Arabic. In fact, the Quran is considered very holy, the true and miraculous word of Allah, and is as such treated with the utmost respect. Muslims treat every copy of the Quran like Christians would treat Jesus. It is sacred and can only be touched after performing a ritual of purity. It is to never be written in, placed under other objects, or disposed of except through burial in a cemetery, storage in a cave or in a safe place, or complete burning as a last resort, followed by scattering of ashes in running water.
The Very Word of God
The Bible is the very word of God, and should be treated with respect, yet Christians do not regard the physical copy itself as miraculous; it is the words in it that are living and active. Unlike the Quran, the Bible has thousands of manuscripts that corroborate its books, and nearly 10,000 such manuscripts for the New Testament alone, many of which date to the very early decades of Christianity. It is the final revelation of God and as such cannot be superseded by any other later manuscript that claims superiority or preeminence over the Bible.
For more articles in this series on Islam, click on the links below: