Discover Islam: Basic Concepts: Qur'an






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Style of the Qur’ân

The Qur’ân is like no other book that any man has written. For those who accept it as the Word of Allâh, it is easier to approach and understand because they can discard any preconceived notions of human literary style while reading it. For others, however, its style can truly be blinding.

And if We had appointed it a Qur’ân in a foreign tongue they (the disbelievers) would assuredly have said: ‘If only its verses were expounded (so that we might understand)!’ What? A foreign tongue and an Arab (audience)? Say unto them (O Muhammad): For those who believe it is a guidance and a healing; and as for those who disbelieve, there is a deafness in their ears, and it is blindness for them. Such are they who are (as if) cried unto from a place far-off.[1]

As Marmaduke Pickthall concisely notes in his Introduction to the translation,

The arrangement is not easy to understand. Revelations of various dates and on different subjects are to be found together in surahs (chapters); some of the Madînah surahs, though of late revelation, are placed first and the very early Makkan surahs at the end. But the arrangement is not haphazard, as some have hastily supposed. Closer study will reveal a sequence and significance—as, for instance, with regard to the placing of the very early Makkan surahs at the end. The inspiration of the Prophet progressed from inmost things to outward things, whereas most people find their way through outward things to things within.

There is another peculiarity which is disconcerting in translation though it proceeds from one of the beauties of the original, and is unavoidable without abolishing the verse-division, of great importance for reference. In Arabic, the verses are divided according to the rhythm of the language. When a certain sound which marks the rhythm recurs there is a strong pause and the verse ends naturally, although the sentence may go on to the next verse or to several subsequent verses. That is of the spirit of the Arabic language; but attempts to reproduce such rhythm in English have the opposite effect to that produced by the Arabic.


Structurally, the Qur’ân is divided into verses called âyât. The Arabic word, âyah (singular) actually means “miracle” or “sign” emphasizing that the sentences are not just verses of some poem but each phrase is a Sign from the Almighty. Then, the Qur’ân is divided into chapters, each one called a sűrah and each one of which is given a title according to its contents. There are 114 sűrahs in the Qur’ân some of which are as short as 3 verses and the longest of which is comprised of 286. There are other useful divisions of the Qur’ân, such as into 30 equally sized “parts” called juz, or 7 equally sized parts called manzil. These divisions are helpful for those who wish to complete the Qur’ân once in a month, or in a week.

The Qur’ân is such a composition that is neither prose nor poetry. Although it follows no set rules of any type of poetry, it somehow has an infinitely more rhythmic and appealing elegance than any ode or musical score. It is beyond human power to describe the system used by the Qur’ân to effect its sonic rhythm but that effect is undeniable for anyone who recites it according to its rules, or even hears its proper recitation. (See appendix B for more details on the miracle of the Qur'ânic style.)


Themes of the Qur’ân[2]

A close examination of the subjects of the Qur’ân reveal that they can be divided into four major headings and every verse of the Qur’ân can be placed under one or more of these:








Examples, parables, and proverbs


Beliefs (Affirmative)

In the Qur’ân, three fundamental beliefs have been brought out: Oneness (of God), Messengership, and Hereafter.

Tawhîd, or “Oneness,” means that man should believe that every particle of this universe is the creation of One Being. He should worship the same Being, love Him, fear Him, beseech Him, and have firm faith that ever particle of the universe is His possession and nobody else can alter it without the Divine Will.

Belief in messengership means that a person accept the Prophet Muhammad  and the prophets before him as true Messengers of Allâh. One should confirm whatever the prophets have said.

Belief in the Hereafter means that man should believe in such a life after death that will be eternal, and in it everyone will be rewarded for the deeds done in the worldly life. If he had done good, he will deserve the blissful blessings of Paradise; and if he had wasted his worldly life in evil deeds he would be destined for the eternal doom of Hell.

In order to establish support for these three beliefs the Qur’ân has given different kinds of arguments. By way of reasoning there can be four types of arguments. To prove something, a man could cite an authority that his opponent also respects. This is known as a recorded argument. Or he tries to prove it in a logical manner and so produces a logical argument. Or he shows such evidence that persuades his opponent to draw the same conclusion as he has drawn himself, and this is known as an observational argument. Or, finally, he invites attention towards previous occurrences to prove his point of view and show that people succeeded or failed depending on whether they heeded the advice or not. This type of argument is known as an experimental or empirical argument. In the Qur’ân each of these types of arguments is present and in this way the three fundamental beliefs are fully supported.


Beliefs (Negative)

In addition to establishing the above mentioned beliefs, the Qur’ân negates many incorrect beliefs and actions and gives satisfactory answers to different doubts people may harbor. In these types of verses beliefs of people gone astray are addressed, such as polytheists and idolaters, the Jews, the Christians, and the hypocrites. The types of erroneous beliefs that are addressed are:

·        Associating others with Allâh. The belief that although Allâh was the Creator of everything He, like the emperors of this world, delegated certain of his powers to others who became partners of His in some attribute(s). For example, the belief that matters of subsistence are entrusted to certain idols and that Allâh does not interfere in their affairs, hence such idols should be worshipped. The Qur’ân rejects such beliefs in different ways: by asking them to support such blind conduct with proof, giving proof that Allâh has undisputed authority over everything, etc.

·        Similitudes. That is to compare Allâh to humans or other things (i.e. anthropomorphism). For example, the idolaters used to say that Allâh had a body and a family, and they referred to the angels as His daughters. The Qur’ân replied:

He begets not, nor was He begotten.[3]

Or has He daughters while you have sons?[4]

What is the matter with you? How do you judge?[5]

·        Interpolation. While regarding themselves as followers of the religion of Ibrâhîm and claiming to follow his creed, the Arabs had innovated many subsidiary laws and orders on their own. They circumambulated the Ka’bah in a naked state, whistled and clapped as a form of prayer, and altered the order of months arbitrarily during the year. In each such case, the Qur’ân exposed the absurdity and instructed the Muslims to refrain from such behavior.

O children of Âdam! Take (goodly apparel for) your adornment at every place of worship.[6]

And their prayer at the (sacred) House is nothing but a whistling and a clapping of hands. Therefore (it will be said unto them), Taste of the doom because you disbelieve.[7]

The shifting of the sacred months is only an excess of disbelief.[8]

·        Denial of the messengership of Muhammad . They argued that how could a person who walked, talked, ate, and drank like them be a Messenger? The Qur’ân addressed this question repeatedly and pointed out that messengers have always been human beings:

And We did not send before you (any messengers) but men from the people, to whom we sent revelation.[9]

Had We appointed an angel (Our messenger), We assuredly would have made (i.e. sent) him (in the form of) a man (that he might speak to you).[10]

And nothing prevents mankind from believing when the guidance came unto them except that they said: Has Allah sent a mortal as (His) messenger? Say: If there were in the earth angels walking secure, We would have sent down for them from heaven an angel as messenger.[11]

·        Denial of the Hereafter. Many thought that resurrection after death was not possible. The Qur’ân has censored such a stand in different verses, for example:

Do they not see that Allâh, Who created the heavens and the earth and was not wearied by their creation, is able to give life to the dead?[12]

·        Alteration of the words and meaning of previously revealed scriptures and concealment of verses of the same. These were vices that crept into the nations of the previous Books, which were translated and interpreted according to the mercy of their scholars, who often bent to the whims of the people in order to please them and retain their esteem. In doing so, they would go so far as to conceal parts of the scriptures which would have offended the people or unfavorably affected the scholars’ honor and dignity. For example, the verses in the Torah predicting the coming of Muhammad  or the verses about the punishment due to an adulterer. The Jews used to instruct each other not to disclose these to the Muslims or other people.

·        Belief in a “trinity.” This was an innovated belief of the Christians which held that God has three components that are blended together in some respects and separate in others—the “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Ghost”—of whom the “Son” part came to this world as ‘Îsâ (Jesus - ). Allâh negated this silly, ignorant concept through the light of knowledge and reason at many places in the Qur’ân. He emphasized that this was an unreasonable concept from which ‘Îsâ himself had sought refuge.[13]

They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allâh is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allâh, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! Whoever ascribes partners unto Allâh, for him Allâh has forbidden Paradise; his abode is the Fire. For evildoers there will be no helpers.

They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allâh is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve.

Will they not rather turn unto Allah and seek forgiveness of Him? For Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food. See how we make the revelations clear for them, and see how they are turned away![14]



The second main subject of the Qur’ân is the laying down of commandments, which can be divided further into three kinds:

·        Laws and commands pertaining exclusively to the rights of Allâh. This is called worship. These include ritual purification, prayer, obligatory poor-due, fasting, sacrifice of animals, performance of the Hajj, etc. The Qur’ân gives basic guidelines for these matters.

·        Laws and commands pertaining exclusively to the rights of people, referred to as mutual dealings. For example, trade, justice, witnessing, trusts, pawning, eating of slaughtered animals, use of different drinks, bequest and inheritance, etc. The rules relating to these matters are laid down in the Qur’ân itself.

·        Laws and commands which are acts of worship in some respects and mutual dealings in others. In treating these, the Qur’ân has described rules and instructions about marriage and divorce, criminal laws, honesty, torts, wars, belief, oaths, and partnerships.

Through the Qur’ân, Allâh wants to give to the world such a clean way of life that will allow people to live in peace and tranquility. That is why it implemented its orders historically in a gradual process. No command was given abruptly, rather people were first mentally prepared for it and then it was implemented. A common example given of this is the prohibition of intoxicant drinks. The Arabs were so addicted to these that they had two hundred and fifty names for intoxicant drinks (wine) in their language. To rid them forever of this evil habit is a miracle of the Qur’ân alone. When the Prophet  was first asked about their permissibility, the reply came in the Qur’ân:

Say: In both (wine and gambling) is a grievous sin and some benefit for mankind. But the sin therein is more grievous than their benefit.[15]

Upon this, many good-natured people understood that it was better to give up such habits. Later, a more restrictive command was sent:

Draw not near to prayer while you are intoxicated.[16]

This brought about a more general disliking of wine because it interfered with worship, which had become a dear and beloved act for the believers. Finally, after some time came the complete prohibition:

Wine, gambling (games of chance), (sacrificing) to idols, and divining arrows are each an abomination of Satan’s handiwork, so abstain from it.[17]

The result of this was that an entire nation became abstinent and never experienced a relapse.[18]



The stories and happenings of the Qur’ân fall into two categories: events of the past and events to come in the future.

Of past events, the Qur’ân mostly describes the happenings related to previous prophets and messengers. The Qur’ân also relates accounts of pious men and disobedient nations. The names of over 20 prophets are explicitly mentioned in the Qur’ân:

Âdam, Nűh (Noah), Idrîs, Hűd, Sâlih, Ibrâhîm (Abraham), Ismâ’îl (Ishmael), Is’hâq (Isaac), Lűt (Lot), Ya‘qűb (Jacob), Yűsuf (Joseph), Shu‘ayb, Műsâ (Moses), Hârűn (Aaron), Yűnus (Jonah), Ilyâs, Al-Yasa’, Dâwűd (David), Sulaymân (Solomon), Dhul-Kifl, ‘Uzayr, Zakariyyâ, Yahyâ (John), and ‘Îsâ (Jesus), peace be upon them all.

The aim of the Qur’ân in describing these stories is not to recall history but to draw moral lessons and advice for the Muslims. It reminds us too that the happenings of previous nations were being recited by one who was unlettered and had never been in the company of anyone who could teach or impart that knowledge to him. Hence, he was indeed being informed by Allâh, and the source of the words could not possibly be any human being.

The Qur’ân also makes many predictions and prophecies. These include signs of the Last Day, events of the Day of Judgment and the scene of that Day, torments of Hell, and the charms and pleasures of Paradise.


Repetition of Events

Sometimes the same story is repeated in the Qur’ân several times. For example, the events related to the Prophet Műsâ (Moses - ) have been described seventy-two times. Why is it so? It seems that it would be easier for people if an event was narrated only once and all relevant tenets described along with it. There are, however, several expedient reason for the Qur'ânic repetition:

·        The Qur’ân was not revealed all at once but it was revealed gradually and was sent to a people who had to face immense hardships and ever-new trials in their early days. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that their entire life was spent in sacrifices, hard work, and even warfare. They would have become disheartened if solace was not offered to them repeatedly. That is why we find that the Qur’ân has described the events of previous prophets when the Muslims were faced with difficulties in order to remind them that they were not the only ones facing these trials, but that every people charged with the duty of inviting mankind to righteousness had passed through trials and hardships but ultimately gained success and victory. These same lessons have applied to Muslims throughout the centuries up till today in the face of persecution, torture, and tyranny.

·        It becomes clear from the repetition of these stories that the purpose of the Qur’ân is not to give the details of various commands but only to describe the principles underlying them. The basic purpose of the Qur’ân is to reform the beliefs, exhort to moral behavior, and build character. As for the details of the laws, they were taught and explained by the accompanying Prophet  through the non-Qur’ânic revelations. This approach of the Qur’ân is convincing proof for the authority and importance of the prophetic traditions (hadîth).

·        A third wisdom in repetition of stories is that it brings out again the miraculous nature of the Qur’ân. It is human psychology that listening to the same thing over and over again tires the ears. Even an interesting story loses it charm. But the Qur’ân narrations are such that every time the reader or listener gains a fresh interest and insight into it and one cannot resist but conclude that the Qur'ânic discourse cannot be the product of a human mind.



[1] Qur’ân 41:44.

[2] This section is primarily a condensed version of chapter 8 of An Approach to the Qur'ânic Sciences, pp. 307-336.

[3] Qur’ân 112:3.

[4] Qur’ân 52:39.

[5] Qur’ân 68:36.

[6] Qur’ân 7:31.

[7] Qur’ân 8:35.

[8] Qur’ân 9:37.

[9] Qur’ân 12:109.

[10] Qur’ân 6:9.

[11] Qur’ân 17:94.

[12] Qur’ân 46:33.

[13] See Qur’ân 5:116-118. The Bible also mentions Jesus “rebuking” those who ascribed any type of divinity to him.

[14] Qur’ân 5:72-75.

[15] Qur’ân 2:219.

[16] Qur’ân 4:43.

[17] Qur’ân 5:90.

[18] In contrast to the “Prohibition” movement of the early 1900s in the U.S.



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Last modified 08/12/05 09:45 AM - Connecticut Council of Masajid, Inc.