Discover Islam: Basic Concepts: Qur'an






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Introduction to the Quran


Bukhâri, Imâm Muhammad al-, Sahîh al-Bukhâri.

Daryabadi, ‘Abdul Mâjid, Tafsir-ul-Qur’ân (Translation and Commentary of the Holy Qur’ân). (Darul-Ishaat, Karachi, 1991).

Hasan, Sayyid Siddiq, Reflections on the Collection of the Qur’ân. (Qur'ânic Arabic Foundation, Birmingham, UK, 1999/1419H).

Pickthall, Marmaduke. The Meanings of the Holy Qur’ân.

Shafî’, Mufti Muhammad. Ma’âriful-Qur’ân.

Usmani, Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi, An Approach to the Qur’ânic Sciences. (Darul-Ishaat, Karachi, 2000).



Appendix A: Characteristics of Makkan and Madînan Revelations[1]


Upon analysis of the Qur’ân, commentators have described certain attributes of the various sűrahs through which one can tell at a glance whether a particular sűrah is Makkan or Madînan. Some of these are rigid rules while others hold valid most of the time. The rigid rules are:

·        Every such sűrah in which the word “kallâ” – “Certainly not!” – in it is a Makkan sűrah. This word has been used 33 times in 15 sűrahs and all such occur in the second half of the Qur’ân. For example:

But man would fain deny what is before him. He asks: When will be this Day of Resurrection? But when sight is confounded; And the moon is eclipsed; And sun and moon are united; On that day man will cry: Whither to flee!? Certainly not! No refuge! Unto thy Lord is the recourse that day. On that day man is told the tale of that which he has sent before and left behind.[2]

·        Every sűrah containing a “verse of prostration”[3] is a Makkan sűrah.[4]

·        Every sűrah, with the exception of Sűrah Baqarah (2), which relates the story of Âdam  and Iblees (Shaytân or Satan) is Makkan.

·        Every sűrah in which a permission of jihad or its rules and injunctions are given is Madînan.

·        Every sűrah is Madînan wherein there is a mention of hypocrites. Some scholars consider Sűrah ‘Ankabűt (29) an exception in fact while this sűrah as a whole is Makkan, the verses mentioning hypocrites are Madînan.

The following characteristics are general and frequent but do not hold all the time:

·        In Makkan sűrahs people are generally addressed as “Yâ ayyuhan-nâs” – “O Mankind!” – whereas in Madînan sűrahs the address is “Yâ ayyuhal-ladhîna âmanű” – “O you who believe!”

·        Makkan sűrahs and verses are generally short, concise, and powerful, while Madînan verses are long and detailed.

·        Makkan sűrahs generally deal with affirmation of the oneness of Allâh, prophethood, the Hereafter, depictions of the Resurrection, words of comfort for the Prophet , and events of previous nations. There are very few injunctions and rules to be found in these. Contrarily, Madînan sűrahs deal with social and family laws, injunctions related to war, punishment, and other duties of life.

·        Makkan sűrahs mostly speak of the confrontation with idolaters, while Madînan sűrahs deal with the People of the Book and the hypocrites among the Muslims.

·        The style of the Makkan sűrahs is more elegant. They contain more similes, metaphors, allegories, and parables; and a large vocabulary is used. The Madînan sűrahs have a comparatively simply and straightforward style. 



Appendix B: Miracle of Style and System in the Qur’ân[5]


The most brilliant exposition of miracle of the Qur’ân is noticeable in its style and this can be perceived by anyone. The following are its striking miraculous attributes:

1) In spite of the fact that the prose of Qur’ân does not follow the rules and regulations of poetry, it is infinitely more rhythmic and appealing than any poetry. This is explained by the fact that a person’s aesthetic sense does not get the same pleasure from prose that it gets through poetry. Looking for its reason one finds that the secret lies in the arrangement of words that creates a particular sonic rhythm. In the ancient Arabic, Persian, and Urdu poetry this is produced by the pre-fixed meters of the lines and verses. One’s aesthetic taste gets a thrill when one hears the words of the same measure again and again; and when rhyming words are added to this measure the thrill is still more magnified.

But the rules of meter and rhymes are not the same in every region and language. The people of every language fix different rules according to their own taste and temperament. The Arabs, for example, have kept their poetry confined to such moulds of meter and rhyme that were designed by Khalîl bin Ahmad and others. In Persian poetry the scope of measures was further expanded and new meters were adopted but more strict conditions were imposed in the bounds of rhyming words and their placements. Thus, in Arabic poetry, “qabűr” and “kabîr” are considered to by rhyming with each other. If “qabűr” in one couplet is followed by “kabîr” in the next it is not considered to be a flaw. But this is not allowed in Persian poetry. Similarly, if half the phrase occurs in one line and the other half in the following line of a verse it is not considered improper in Arabic poetry but it is highly so in Persian poetry; in fact such a verse is not regarded as a verse at all. Also, there occur so many omissions in Arabic poetry that sometimes the actual meter becomes quite distorted, but this does not occur in Persian poetry.

Despite such differences in Arabic and Persian poetry there exist a great deal of unanimity in the meters. But ancient Hindi poetry is still different. Here the weighing of words is done with the number of letters each word contains. If two words have the same number of letters they are considered in balance even if their motions and diacritical sounds may be different. Sometimes one finds a wide divergence in the meters or rhymes in Hindi couplets and even in the number of letters, yet they are recited and sung with great gusto and the effect they produce is undeniable.

In this context, the trend of English poetry is perhaps more liberal than all the others. In it the line may have variable proportions in its metric length and there may be no consideration of rhyming, but a specific rhythm is produced by the syllabic pronunciation of words, and it is this rhythm that imparts pleasure to the people of that language.

It becomes clear from this discussion that there is no universal standard for the fixed rules of meters and rhymes for producing pleasure and symphony in the poetry. That is why such rules keep on changing in different languages and regions. But there is one thing which is common among all the languages and nations, and that is a “balanced sonic rhythm,” which means an arrangement of words in such a manner that their pronunciation and audibility are delightful to a person’s aesthetic perceptions. But since man is powerless to liberate this common value from the established moulds of meters and rhymes, he feels bound to adhere to the rules and regulations framed within his own setting whenever he wants to create the pleasures of poetry. The miracle of the Qur’ân is that it did not choose any of the rules of poetry prevalent in different regions of the world, but only adopted the common value of the “balanced sonic rhythm” which is the ultimate aim of all these rules and regulations. That is why the Qur’ân, despite being a prose composition, carries an inherent grandeur and elegance of poetry, and not only the Arabs but people all over the world experience an extraordinary thrill and impact when they hear it.

This explains very well why some of the idolaters of Arabia had termed the Qur’ân poetry. Evidently, the popular definition of poetry did not apply in the case of the Qur’ân, and the idolaters of Arabic, despite all their faults, did have enough sense to distinguish between prose and poetry. They were not unaware that for a poetic composition meters and rhymes were essential and that the Qur’ân was independent of them. Yet they called it poetry because they felt greater pleasure and effect than poetry in its style and symphony; and they knew that even without conforming to the restrictions of meters and rhymes it carries in full measure the aesthetic beauty to meet the demands of ecstatic feelings and poetic taste that cannot be obtained even with a rigid conformity to meters and rhymes.

What new principles have been adopted by the Qur’ân to create the effect of this permanent sonic rhythm? It is beyond human power to describe it because words and phrases cannot adequately translate the true effect that pervades the style of the Qur’ân. However, anybody having a literary taste and aesthetic perceptions can verify for himself the truth of our statement while reciting the Qur’ân.

2) The scholars of the science of rhetoric have laid down three categories of “style”: (1) oratorical, (2) literary, and (3) scientific. All of them have their own separate spheres, distinct qualities, and different occasions, and it is not possible to combine all three of them in one single piece of writing. When making a speech you have a particular style; when writing an academic treatise you adopt a different style; and when writing literary prose your style differs from both of them. But the miracle of the Qur’ân is that it combines all three styles together. In it the force of oratory, the elegance of literature, and the sobriety of an academic piece all go together and none of them loses its force and quality.

3) All at the same time, the Qur’ân addressees happen to be rustic villages, educated persons, learned scholars, and experts in science, and its style impresses all of them equally. On one side, an illiterate person finds simple realities in it and he feels that the Qur’ân has been revealed exclusively for his own benefit, while on the other hand, learned scholars and researchers discover such scientific truths when they study it closely that they feel that this book is full of such deep knowledge about the sciences and arts that a man of ordinary understanding just cannot grasp it.

For a man of average mind the style of Qur’ân reasoning is very simple and mostly based on arguments drawn from direct observation. It proves the complex philosophical concepts of Unity of Allâh, Prophethood and Messengership, the Hereafter, Creation of life, and Existence of God with arguments based on the direct observation of man, and drawing attention to natural phenomena it has described such realities as may be easily understood by a man of average intellect. But if you go deeper into the same simple realities you will also find purely intellectual and logical arguments which satisfy also those fond of philosophical hair-splitting about everything. Quite in passing, it has also resolved the complex problems of philosophy and science, the solution of which has always eluded eminent and renowned philosophers.

4) If the same thing is repeated over and over again, the listeners get fed up after a certain stage, no matter how distinguished may be the place held by the speaker. The force of speech is lost and its impact is very much reduced. But with the Qur’ân it is different. In it the same thing has sometimes been repeated scores of times and the same event has been described several times yet every time one gets out of it a new pleasure, a new feeling, and a new impact.

5) Elegance in a speech and its appealing sweetness are two contradictory qualities. Different style has to be adopted for each of them. It is beyond human power to combine both of them in one single piece. It is a miracle of the Qur'ânic style alone that both these qualities are to be found blended together in most perfect synthesis.

6) The Qur’ân has treated with the height of eloquence those topics to which the human mind could not give literary beauty, whatever he may do to try and achieve it. For example, the law of inheritance is such a dry and intractable subject that even all the scholars and poets of the world cannot create any literary beauty while dealing with it, but then just go through the verse of Sűrah an-Nisâ (4) and you cannot help exclaiming that this is an extraordinary composition. All these verses have described the law of inheritance but in such a beautiful and elegant manner that deeply moves one.

7) Every poet and scholar has his own particular field and any departure from it makes his work colorless. In Arabic Imra-ul-Qays is the patriarch of ghazal (a special type of poetry), Nâbighah is famous for portraying fear and horror, A’âsha for beauty of aspiration and attributes, and Zuhair for hope and desire. The same is the case with every language; but the Qur’ân has dealt with so many diverse subjects that it is very difficult to encompass them all. But whether there be incentive or admonition, promise or reprimand, advice and preaching, stories and examples, matters of faith, or injunctions, everywhere it shows the highest standard of eloquence and beauty.

8) Brevity is the exclusive attribute of Qur'ânic style and its miraculous excellence in this respect is quite marked. Since the Qur’ân has been sent as a guide for all times to come, till the Last Day, it deals in a pithy manner with such a vast number of topics that one can get guidance from it in every age. Despite the passage of fourteen hundred years its subjects have not become out-dated. Human life has suffered a great many vicissitudes, many a great revolution have taken place, but the Glorious Qur’ân has remained eternally fresh and it shall remain so. It is not a book of history yet it is the most authentic source of history; it is not a book of law and politics yet in short sentence it has described such principles of statecraft and global conquest that will guide mankind for all times to come; it is not a book of science and philosophy but it has unraveled many mysteries of philosophy and science; it is not a book of economics and sociology yet it has given such concise guidelines in both these subjects that it is only now that all the sciences and arts of the world are approaching nearer to it after faltering for centuries.

Miracle of System: A miracle of the Qur’ân lies in the mutual link and coordination, and arrangement and system of its verses. If you recite the Qur’ân in a cursory manner it would apparently seem that every verse deals with an independent topic and there is no link among them. That is why the commentators of the Qur’ân stand divided into two groups. One group holds the view that the Qur’ân was revealed piecemeal over a period of twenty-three years therefore there is no need to look for any inter-connecting link between its verses and that each verse deals with an exclusive subject. Contrary to this, the other group maintains that as a book the Qur’ân is an organic whole and is interlinked from beginning to end, and it must be studied from this angle. The second group contends that inconsistency in a book is a sign of its defect and the word of Allâh is most certainly free from that. In response to this, the first group argues that just as there is no order and arrangement in natural sceneries, but actually their beauty lies in their dissimilarity that somewhere there are meandering rivers, somewhere rugged mountains and somewhere valleys high and low, similarly the beauty and grace of the Qur’ân lies, rather than in a fixed structure. The topic of each and every couplet of a ghazal (certain type of poem) is different and nobody takes it amiss; likewise dissimilar arrangement in the Qur’ân is no defect.

But the fact remains that there is an exceedingly graceful link between the various verses of Qur’ân that cannot be denied. If an orderly arrangement was not intended for the Qur’ân there was no need to follow a different order for writing it down from its chronological order of revelation. The Qur’ân might have been recorded in the same order in which it was revealed. A different order fixed by the Holy Prophet  is a clear proof of the fact that the Qur'ânic verses are interlinked. But, of course, it is a rather delicate link and it needs a lot of deep thinking and insight to get to it. In this way the individual verse remains intact and the generalization of its words is not lost.

In addition to this, the general style of speech and poetry among the Arabs at that time was also the same, that the subject matter therein had a distinct place rather than being bound and interlinked to each other. Hence, the Qur’ânic style was in conformity with the literary taste of that time. Thus, at a cursory glance every verse would appear to be independent but a close look will reveal that the book is one continuous and interlinked whole.

The style adopted by the Qur’ân in its arrangement and system is, therefore, its most subtle miracle, and a reproduction the like of it is beyond human power. Many scholars have written exclusive books to explain the system of Qur’ânic arrangement and some commentators have made special references to it in their writings. Imâm Râzi’s Tafsîr al-Kabîr is probably the most commendable work in this connection. He had a divine gift for elaborating the system of the Qur’ân. After him, Qâdi Abus-Sa’űd has also made special efforts to describe the attributes of the Qur'ânic system. Subsequent commentators have mostly been gleaners from the above two.

A glimpse of the system of the Qur’ân can be seen in the following example. In Sűrah al-Hijr it is stated:

Announce, (O Prophet) unto My servants that verily I am the Forgiving, the Merciful; And that My doom is the painful doom.[6]

And tell them of Ibrâhîm’s (Abraham’s) guests, [7]

After this, the well-known event of the angels coming to the Prophet Ibrâhîm  has been described. Apparently, there seems to be no connection between the two statements. But a closer attention makes it clear that the incident of the Prophet Ibrâhîm  is in fact supporting the first sentence, because the angels who came to him did two things. First, they gave the glad tidings of a virtuous son, Ishâq (Isaac - ), and secondly the same angels had brought destruction for the people of the Prophet Lűt (Lot - ). The first one was a manifestation of “I am the Forgiving, the Merciful,” and the second was the manifestation of “My doom is the painful doom.” Thus, the two sentences are closely connected but when looked at separately they also hold an independent place of their own.



[1] Adapted from Approach to the Qur’ânic Sciences, pp. 68-69.

[2] Qur’ân 75:5-13.

[3] There are fourteen verses in the Qur’ân, upon the recitation or hearing of which a Muslim must perform a prostration.

[4] There is one sűrah, Sűrah Hajj (22), about which there is contention over its being Makkan or not. If it is considered not to be, then it is an exception to this rule.

[5] Approach to the Qur’ânic Sciences, pp. 272-281.

[6] Qur’ân 15:49-50.

[7] Qur’ân 15:51.





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