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The Qur’an (also spelled Quran or Koran) is Islam’s holiest book and in simplistic terms is the Islamic equivalent of the Bible. “Qur’an” is generally translated to mean "recitation." Muslims believe it be the word of God revealed to Muhammad through the archangel Gabriel in bits and pieces over a 23 year period with the first revelations occurring on what is now Ramadan.

The Quran is considered by Muslims to be the exact word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad in Arabic by the Archangel Gabriel while he was meditating in the cave of Hira near Mecca over 22 years beginning in A.D. 610. . Faraz Rabbani wrote for the BBC: “The Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet gradually...The essence of its message is to establish the oneness of God and the spiritual and moral need of man for God. This need is fulfilled through worship and submission, and has ultimate consequences in the Hereafter. The Qur'an is the word of God. Because of its inimitable style and eloquence, and, above all, the guidance and legal provisions it came with, it ensures the worldly and next-worldly welfare of humanity. [Source: Faraz Rabbani, BBC, September 3, 2009 |::|]

Muslims believe that all of Allah's revelations to the Prophet are contained in the Qur’an, which is composed in rhymed prose. The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters, called suras , the first of which is a short "opening" chapter. The remaining 113 segments are arranged roughly in order of decreasing length. The short suras at the end of the book are early revelations, each consisting of material revealed on the same occasion. The longer suras toward the beginning of the book are compilations of verses revealed at different times in Muhammad's life. [Source: Library of Congress *]

"The Muslim counterpart of Jesus," wrote historian Daniel Boorstein, "is not Muhammad. Christians believe in the Incarnation, the taking of human form by Jesus, conceived as the son of God. But Muslims believe in liberation, the embodiment of God in a Book. That book is the Qur’an. The reverence and mystery that Christians feel toward Jesus Christ is what Muslims feel toward their Book."μ

According to the BBC: “Some Qur'anic fragments have been dated as far back as the eighth, and possibly even the seventh, century. The oldest existing copy of the full text is from the ninth century. Although early variants of the Qur'an are known to have existed, Muslims believe that the text we have today was established shortly after the death of the Prophet by the Caliph Uthman.” [Source: BBC, July 14, 2011 |::|]

Websites and Resources: Islam Islam.com islam.com ; Islamic City islamicity.com ; Islam 101 islam101.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/islam ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; Patheos Library – Islam patheos.com/Library/Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts web.archive.org ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam britannica.com ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs web.archive.org ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary pbs.org frontline ; Discover Islam dislam.org ;

Qur’an (Quran, Koran) and Hadith:
Quran translation in English alahazrat.net ; Quran in Easy English, Urdu, Arabic and 70 other languages qurango.com ; Quran.com quran.com ; Al-Quran.info al-quran.info ; Quranic Arabic Corpus, shows syntax and morphology for each word corpus.quran.com ; Word for Word English Translation – emuslim.com emuslim.com/Quran ; Digitised Qurans in the Cambridge University Digital Library cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk ; Sunnah.com sunnah.com ; Hadith – search by keyword and by narrator ahadith.co.uk

Uncreated Qur’an

page from a 8th or 9th century Qur'an, Sura 39

The Qur'an is Islam's holiest book. It is considered by Muslims to be the written record of the word of God. Qur'anic revelations are regarded by Muslims as the sacred word of God, intended to correct any errors in previous holy books such as the Old and New Testaments. According to the BBC: "The Qur'an is treated with immense respect by Muslims because it is the sacred word of God. While the Qur'an is recited aloud, Muslims should behave with reverence and refrain from speaking, eating or drinking, or making distracting noise.

Muslims believe the Qur’an is "uncreated" and "co-existent with God" and has "existed from eternity." Shortly after Muhammad died this concept created a great debate among Islamic theologians. The arguments that arose were a bit like those that try to ascertain the beginning of universe. If the Qur’an was uncreated, it was reasoned, that meant that Allah didn't create it and therefore a being greater than God must have done it. Others declared that Allah was all powerful and if he said the Qur’an was "uncreated" then that was that. Men where tortured and bodies of the dead were exhumed and displayed if their stand on this issue contradicted the view that prevailed at the time. By contrast the Torah and the Bible are regarded not as the word of God but the words of divinely-inspired humans. Among early Christians there were bitter debates over whether Jesus was divine or human or both. [Source: Daniel Boorstin, "The Creators"]

Majd Arbil wrote in IslamiCity: “According to Muslim tradition the complete Quran was revealed over a period of 22 years in segments during the life of the Prophet. The order and sequence of the Quran was Divinely inspired and was instructed to the Prophet by God through archangel Gabriel. Whenever the Prophet recited a revelation to his companions, he would also mention in which chapter and after which verse the new revelation belonged. [Source: Majd Arbil IslamiCity Oct 26, 2007]

“It is recorded that the verses were written on separate pieces of different material, scrapes of leather, thin flat stones, leaflets, palm branches, shoulder blades, etc. After the demise of the prophet, Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam ordered that the Quran be copied from the various materials on to a common material which was in the shape of sheets. At the same time several companions of the Prophet had memorized the complete Quran.”

Muhammad and the Qur’an

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Muhammad receiving revelation from the angel Gabriel
The Qur’an was not written by Muhammad. It is regarded as the word of God revealed to Muhammad through exhausting religion experiences over a 20 year period from A.D. 610 to 630, with the last revelation occurring two years before Muhammad's death. The Qur’an was revealed in two stages — first in Mecca for 13 years and then in Medina, where the Prophet established Islamic rule in city filled with Jews, Christians and pagans.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art : In the year 610 A.D., the Prophet frequently visited a mountain cave called Hira', located outside of Mecca, to meditate and pray. On one such visit, Gabriel asked him to recite the first five verses of the Qur'an. He commanded: "Read in the name of your Lord who created; Created man from an embryo; Read, for your Lord is most beneficent; Who taught by the pen; Taught man what he did not know" (Sura 96). The divine revelations continued over the course of the next twenty years, first in Mecca, and then in Medina following the migration (hijra) of Muhammad and his followers in 622 A.D. (equivalent to the first year of the hijri calendar). [Source: Maryam Ekhtiar, Julia Cohen, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

Paul Halsall of Fordham University wrote: “The Qur'an [or Qur’an], is a collection of the speeches made by Muhammad, remembered by his followers, and collected, written down and edited after his death. For Muslims Muhammad is in no way the author of the Qur'an, which is understood as the direct word of God given to Muhammad. The message of Muhammad, however, was not difficult to grasp - stark and absolute monotheism, the evil of sin, the revelation of God in the Qur'an and through Muhammad, and the creation of a new Muslim community. This message is repeated throughout the Qur'an. [Source: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]

The Meccan verses are addressed, though Muhammad, to humanity in general, and are filled with ideas of freedom and equality. The Medina verses are filled with rules, coercions and threats including orders for jihad. The Qur’anic verses used to justify sharia come mostly from the Medina verses.

Muhammad's Vision

Koran revealed to Muhammad

In A.D. 610, when he was 40, Muhammad experienced his first vision while mediating in a dark cave in Mt. Hira near Mecca for a message from the true god. He had been contemplating the injustice of idols desecrating the house of Abraham and was sleeping when a bright light appeared and a voice suddenly commanded him to read the words that appeared on a brocaded coverlet. He responded, "But I can not read." This was not surprising. In Muhammad's time written Arabic was used only as an aid for memorization.

The voice insisted that Muhammad "Recite" and grabbed Muhammad by the throat and shook and choked him. Muhammad said, “Recite what?” “Recite in the name of your Lord who has created, created man from a drop of blood. Recite, for your Lord is most generous...Who taught man what he did not know.”

Out of fear Muhammad ran from the cave. The voice belonged to the archangel Gabriel (known to Muslims as “ Jibril” ), who was the same angel who delivered the news to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Halfway down the mountain, Gabriel appeared and told Muhammad "thou art the messenger of God" and insisted it was his duty was to "arise and warn" his people that there was only one God: Allah. The event is celebrated during Ramadan.

The experience was so overwhelming it brought Muhammad to his knees. When he got home he was so shaken up he hid under a blanket and had to be comforted by his wife who told him: “Allah will not let you down, because you are kind to relatives, you speak only the truth, you help the poor, the orphaned and needy, and you are an honest man.”

Muhammad's Revelations and the Qur’an

Muhammad had other revelations over the next 21 years. They were painful experiences. He often broke out into sweats and suffered convulsions. After them he thought he might be losing his mind and said he often felt “my soul had been torn away from me.” and he had serious doubts about whether they were truly messages from God, especially since the intervals between the revelations were long.

The words revealed to Muhammad are said to have sounded like the ringing of a bell. During the revelations Muhammad went into a trance which he said "overwhelmed and bore him down." When the illiterate prophet emerged from the trance he usually related what he heard to his companions who said that Muhammad spoke in an ecstatic manner that was quite different from his normal speech.

Muhammad revelations were later formed into the Qur’an. The early revelations initially were not written down but when their importance was realized they were all recorded "on palm leaves and flat stones and the hearts of men" as well as scraps of leather, bark and animal shoulder bones (the Arabs had no paper at that time).

It generally believed that Muhammad received the short chapters first during his Meccan period and the longer ones when he was in Medina and had become a military and political leader. Some Jews accused Muhammad of receiving his revelations from a learned Jew who read him scriptures from the “ Torah” . Muslims regard this as blasphemy. They argue the fact that Muhammad couldn’t read or write as proof that he received pure, divine revelations.

Qur’an on the Qur’an

The Qur’an reads: “This is the Book. In it is guidance sure, without doubt to those who fear Allah, who believe in the unseen, are steadfast in prayer and spend out of what we have provided for them, and who believe in the revelation sent to you, and sent before your time and in their hearts have the assurance of the hereafter. They are on true guidance from the Lord, and it is these who will prosper. [Source: BBC, July 14, 2011 |::|]

Sunan ad-Darakutni, an important work for the implication of the Sunnah

The Qur’an reads: “These are verses of the Wise Book, a guide and a mercy to the doers of good, those who establish regular prayer, and give regular charity, and have in their hearts the assurance of the hereafter. |These are on true guidance from their Lord: and these are the ones who will prosper. |::|

The Qur’an reads: “The revelation of this book is from Allah, exalted in power, full of knowledge, who forgives sin, accepts repentance, is strict in punishment, and has a long reach in all things. There is no God but he: to him is the final goal. |::|

Sunnah and Hadith

According to the BBC: “In addition to the Qur'an, the other sacred sources are the Sunnah, the practise and examples of the Prophet Muhammad's life, and the Hadith, reports of what the prophet Muhammad said or approved. [Source: BBC, July 14, 2011 |::|]

“Both the Hadith and Sunnah must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures its authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria will be disregarded. |::|

“One famous example is that of the scholar of Hadith literature, Imam Bukhari, who travelled several hundred miles on horseback to acquire a Hadith. When he arrived, he saw the man that knew the Hadith deceiving his donkey into thinking there was grain in a sack in order to induce him to move forward. Imam Bukhari promptly left without approaching the man because he was not willing to allow any individual with a questionable personality to join a chain of narration or contribute knowledge that would define the practice of the religion. |::|

Sunnah on Reading the Qur'an

The Sunnahs are the practices and examples drawn from the Prophet Muhammad's life. Along with the Hadiths they are the most important texts in Islam after the Qur’an. They must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures their authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria are disregarded.

The Sunnah reads: “The state of a Muslim who reads the Qur'an is like the orange fruit, whose smell and taste are pleasant; and that of a Muslim who does not read the Qur'an is like a date which hath no smell, but a sweet taste; and the condition of any hypocrite who does not read the Qur'an is like the colocynth which hath no smell, but a bitter taste; and the hypocrite who reads the Qur'an is like the sweet bazil, whose smell is sweet, but taste bitter. Read the Qur'an constantly; I swear by him in the hands of whose might is my life, verily the Qur'an runneth away faster than a camel which is not tied by the leg. [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 11-32]

Hadiths and Other Muslim Texts

Tilings of a Hadith on a wall in Nishapur
Other Muslim Texts include: 1) the “Hadith” , a collection of sayings and deeds of the Prophet (Muhammad); 2) the “sunna” , the body of Islamic social and legal customs based on the Prophet’s response to his revelations; 3) the “ sira” , biographies of the Muhammad; and 4) “ tafsir” and “ tawil” , Qur’anic commentary and explanation. Sometimes all these texts are collectively called as the Hadiths

Many of the precepts for appropriate behavior are specified in the Qur’an. Other spiritual and ethical guidelines are found in the hadis (in Arabic, hadith ), an authenticated record of the sayings and actions of Muhammad and his earliest companions. Devout Muslims regard their words, acts, and decisions — called collectively the sunna — as models to be emulated by later generations. Because of its normative character, the sunna is revered along with the Qur’an as a primary source of seriat (in Arabic, sharia ), or Islamic law. [Source: Library of Congress]

The Hadith provides the basis for much of Islamic law. It contains many laws and rules based on interpretations of the Qur’an. Much of Islamic thought is found in the Hadith partly because the Hadith has traditionally been understood to be a text open to "interpretation. argument and rigorous intellectual inquiry."

The Hadith is a collection of more than 60,000 accounts of Muhammad’s words and actions. They are divided into six revered collections, or “ sahib” , meaning “sound.” The authenticity of some hadiths is still a matter of debate. Those who told the stories, and recorded them, were not always reliable.

There are 170,000 known narrations of the prophet’s sayings. They are supposed to record Muhammad’s words and deeds as a guide to daily life and a key to some of the mysteries the Qur’an. Many of the these anecdotes came out of specific historical contexts that occurred much later. Mehmet Gormez, a theology professor at the University of Ankara, told Newsweek, sometimes the scholars who produced the Hadiths confused “universal values of Islam with geographical, cultural and religious values of their time and place. Every Hadith narration has...a context.”

Gharib al-Hadith page 19
Some hadiths with historical contexts are erroneously used to justify modern prohibtions. One that forbids women from traveling alone is used to deny women the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Gormez said, “This is clearly not a religious injunction but related to security in a specific time and place. In the Qur’an Muhammad laments the days when women could travel alone from Yemen to Mecca.”

History of the Hadiths

The Hadith are based on memories of people who knew Muhammad that were either written down or passed down from one generation to another. The ones that were passed on orally often given more weight. These were collected and incorporated into biographies about Muhammad from written between the mid-8th to the 10th centuries.

The hadiths that were collected often varied from place to place and time to time. Sometimes, local customs, beliefs and traditions influenced their content. Other times, polemicists presented religious principals and ideas and selectively used hadiths to back their arguments.

In the 9th century, scholars did a thorough investigation of the hadiths and their history and sources and weeded out ones of dubious origin and compiled reliable ones into texts accepted by the Islamic community as a whole. In many cases the reliable ones were picked on the basis of the worthiness of the chains of witnesses that passed down each hadith. Many of the hadiths emerged by consensus from a community of scholars after considerable discussion and rely heavily on analogies known as “ ijima” and “qiryas” .

The two of most widely accepted collections of hadiths were gathered by al-Bukhari (810-70) and Muslim bin Hajjaj (817-75) With the hadiths taking on some authority there were used as the basis for much of Muslim law.

World’s Oldest Library, in Fez, Morocco

The Qarawiyyin library in Fez, Morroco was built in 9th century.Hervé Bar of AFP wrote: “Nestled in a labyrinth of streets in the heart of Morocco’s ancient city of Fez, stands the world’s oldest working library. Its sculpted dark wooden door stands almost hidden on the edge of a square, where artisans hammer away at copper in a deafening din, delighting passing tourists. But for the few lucky enough to be allowed behind the door, a staircase tiled with green and blue hints at the written wonders beyond. [Source: Hervé Bar, AFP, December 1, 2016 ^/^]

““A house of science and wisdom,” according to its founder Fatima Al-Fihri, the Qarawiyyin library was one of the Arab world’s largest centers of learning. Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Al-Qayrawan in Tunisia, established the library, the university that originally housed it and a mosque in 859 CE. ^/^


“Today the university has moved to a new location, but the mosque — which shares an emerald-green tile roof with the library — still stands. The library as it appears today was built in the 14th century under Sultan Abu Inan, and completely restructured under King Muhammad V, the grandfather of Morocco’s current monarch. Over the centuries, sultans, noblemen, princesses and wise men have contributed works to its shelves. ^/^

“Under an imposing ceiling of wooden arabesques and a huge copper chandelier, the main reading room sits next an area that contains some 20,000 books. A short walk — through a corridor of mosaics, past panels of sculpted cedar wood under finely chiseled ceilings — leads to the library’s centerpiece. The manuscript room is hidden behind two heavy metal doors and protected by an alarm system and surveillance cameras. Its wooden window shutters are closed to prevent sunlight from entering.” ^/^

Texts in the World’s Oldest Library Fez, Morocco

The Qarawiyyin library in Fez is home to priceless treatises in Islamic studies, astronomy and medicine. Hervé Bar of AFP wrote: “The precious manuscripts are each bundled in a grey-colored cardboard file and displayed on standard metal shelves. Works can be consulted sitting at one of two chairs next to a simple table — on which sits a green felt cushion embroidered with gold thread. Around 3,800 titles are kept here, some of them priceless. The library counted 30,000 manuscripts when it was founded under Abu Inan. But many were destroyed, stolen or plundered over the years, says Jouane. There’s only very little left of what once was, but today we carefully watch over these priceless treasures.” [Source: Hervé Bar, AFP, December 1, 2016 ^/^]

Qarawiyyin library

“One example is a treatise on medicine by philosopher and physician Ibn Tufayl from the 12th century. “From baldness to corn on the foot, all ailments of the body are listed — in verse to make them easier to learn,” Jouane says. The word “diabetes,” which is of Greek origin, already features written in Arabic script. Another gem is a handwritten copy of historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun’s “Book of Lessons.” The treatise in history has been signed by the 14th-century thinker himself. “Praise be to God, what is written belongs to me,” a line he wrote reads in breathtakingly elegant handwriting. ^/^

“Another 12th-century manuscript — a treatise in astronomy by philosopher Al-Farabi — shows the course of the planet Jupiter, complete with drawings of astonishing precision. And then there is a treatise on the Malikite doctrine in Islam written by the grandfather of the Arab philosopher Averroes. Its 200 pages of gazelle leather are inscribed with tiny immaculate calligraphy dotted with embellishments in gold ink. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the “works most in demand,” according to Jouane, is Christian: a 12th century copy of the Gospel of Mark in Arabic. It was translated “in all likelihood by a Christian man of letters from Andalusia who had come to Qarawiyyin to learn Arabic,” says Jouane, expressing pride at the “incredible degree of tolerance at the time.”“ ^/^

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Qarawiyyin library, CNN

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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