Miraculousness of the Qurān – A Historical Overview (Part 1)

What follows is the first of a series of posts going over the discussion on the miraculousness of the Qurān. I will try to keep the posts as simple and non-technical as possible so that non-seminarians can benefit as well. This of course also means I will have to leave out a lot of details. The information is being taken from a few different works, but the overall outline is being taken from the work Sayr Tarikhi I’jāz-e Qurān by Sayyid Ḥusayn Sayyidi.

That the Qurān is a miracle, is a belief not disputed by the Muslims. The belief remains a central pillar for them and denying such a belief could possibly render the book irrelevant. What remained contested, however, was the nature of its miracle. What aspect of the Qurān was miraculous? What was understanding its miracle dependant on? Was the miracle in the way words were employed or in the meanings they implied? It was these questions that forced Islamic scholarship to discuss these various aspects of the Holy Book and provide explanations.

Before looking at the miraculous aspect of the Qurān as explained by Muslim scholars over the centuries, what needs to be known is that no book revealed on a previous Messenger has been deemed a miracle. This is all the while different Prophets (p) were given miracles, yet these miracles remained of an empirical nature. Even though numerous empirical miracles have also been attributed to the Messenger of Islam (p), it appears that the Qurān – if it is to be considered an everlasting miracle – is not merely an empirical miracle, rather there is an aspect to it which demands intellectualization. As human intellectual capacity grows and their knowledge with regards to their selves and their surroundings increases, the Qurān is still meant to remain a miracle. As such, while most miracles of the Prophets (p) ceased to exist after a certain period of time, or with the demise of a Prophet (p) himself, the miracle of the last Messenger (p) is considered to be everlasting and accessible by all those who come after him (p).

Another major difference between the Qurān and other miracles, as pointed out by Ibn Khaldūn in his al-Muqaddimah, is that unlike other Prophetic miracles, the Qurān is revelation itself. This is all the while other miracles demonstrated by previous Prophets (p) or even Prophet Muḥammad (p) himself were not divine revelation. Though these and other qualities are what makes the Qurān stand out, the question regarding what constitutes its miraculous aspect remains to be explained.

The opinions of Muslim scholars with respects to the Qurān and its miraculous dimension can be divided into two very general categories. Firstly, those who believed that the miracle of the Qurān is not in its text, but rather it is something external to it. Secondly, those who believe that the miracle is contained within the text of the Qurān itself.

The first opinion upholds the view that what makes the Qurān miraculous is not its literary style and nor its text, rather the great poets and eloquent individuals of the time were literally rendered incapable to produce anything like it. This incapacitation was bestowed upon them through Divine interference and it was this external aspect that makes the Qurān a miracle. This view is famously known as al-ṣarfah and we will get into it more in subsequent posts.

The second opinion – which constitutes the opinion of the majority – is that the miracle of the Qurān is contained within the text itself. Some of the scholars in this camp argue against the view of al-ṣarfah saying such a view would mean that the Qurānic text is not any different than the books revealed upon previous Prophets (p).

However, what do the scholars in this second camp understand the miracle of the Qurān to be? We can narrow down their opinions into four general notions:

1) Its eloquence

2) It being clear and understandable

3) Its organization and style

4) Its reports regarding the unseen and absence of contradictions

The Challenge

A second aspect of any miracle is its accompanying challenge. Āyatullah Jawādī Āmulī explains how the Qurān puts forth this challenge to mankind:

If this book is not the word of God, then it is the word of a human. If it is a word of a human, then since you are also a human, bring forth something like it. If you are able to bring something like it, it will prove that the book is the word of a human. If you are unable to bring something like it, it will prove that it is not the word of a human – and it being a miracle will be shown, subsequently proving the claim of Prophethood and the message.[1]

The Qurān puts forth its challenge in a number of verses. We will list them below:

[17:88] Say, ‘Should all humans and jinn rally to bring the like of this Qur’ān, they will not bring the like of it, even if they assisted one another.’

[10:38] Do they say, ‘He has fabricated it?’ Say, ‘Then bring a sūrah like it, and invoke whomever you can, besides Allah, should you be truthful.’

[11:13] Do they say, ‘He has fabricated it?’ Say, ‘Then bring ten sūrahs like it, fabricated, and invoke whomever you can, besides Allah, should you be truthful.’

[52:33-34] Do they say, ‘He has improvised it [himself]?’ Rather they have no faith! Let them bring a discourse like it, if they are truthful.

[2:23-24] And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down to Our servant, then bring a sūrah like it, and invoke your helpers besides Allah, should you be truthful. And if you do not—and you will not—then beware the Fire whose fuel will be humans and stones, prepared for the faithless.

There are a number of points that can be extracted from these verses.

1) The earliest chapter in which a challenge is put forth is Sūrah al-Isrā, a Makkī chapter revealed during the final years of the Prophet (p) in Makkah. The last chapter in which we find a challenge is Sūrah al-Baqarah, which was revealed soon after the Prophet’s (p) migration. This shows that the challenges revealed in the Qurān were during the time period when the polytheists had increased their pressure on the Prophet (p) up until his migration to Medīnah.

2) All the verses are addressing the polytheists and in context of establishing the truth of the Prophet’s (p) message.

3) What they are being challenged on is different, at times being asked to bring something like the Qurān itself, or 10 chapters like it, or even just 1 chapter.

It thus appears that the challenge put forth to the Arab polytheists of the time is to bring something like the Qurān, in terms of its prose, literary style and eloquence. In the next post, we will look at six different approaches scholars have taken to identify the ways by which the miracle of the Qurān can be identified and experienced.

[1] Tafsīr Mawḍū’ī Qurān, vol. 1, pg. 138 – by Ayatullah Jawādī Āmulī

About Ali Imran 238 Articles
An internet marketer by profession, I am the author of Iqra Online. I am currently pursuing a MA in Islamic Studies from The Islamic College of London, and as well as continuing my studies in a seminary in Qom, Iran.