Miraculousness of the Qurān – A Historical Overview (Part 2)

In this post, we will begin looking into six different approaches scholars have put forth to explain how the miraculous nature of the Qurān can be attested.

Taste and Feel

This approach says that in order to sense the beauty of a text, one must develop the ability to differentiate between good and bad speech. This taste and feel can either be attained by living in a certain environment, alongside making use of one’s intellect and emotions, or it can be attained by learning the principles of speech used by a group of people in any given environment. A person with such experience would eventually develop the ability to critique speech which isn’t up to par with the language constructs laid down by any given group of people.

In other words, in order to experience the miracle of the Qurān, one would be required to develop a taste of the Arabic language. Ibn Khaldūn alludes to this in his work:

Something of it may be understood by those who have a taste for it as the result of their contact with the (Arabic) language and their possession of the habit of it. They may thus understand as much of the inimitability of the Qur’an as their taste permits. Therefore, the Arabs who heard the Qur’an directly from (the Prophet) who brought it (to them) had a better understanding of its (inimitability than later Muslims). They were the champions and arbiters of speech, and they possessed the greatest and best taste (for the language) that anyone could possibly have.[1]

Based on this approach, the miraculous nature of the Qurān was first and foremost realized by the Arabs living at the time of the Prophet (p). Perhaps not every Arab living around the Prophet (p) was on the same level of literary expertise, but many of them would have had a strong affinity with the language. Hence, we see the polytheists discouraging and preventing others from even simply listening to the Qurān:

[41:26] The faithless say, ‘Do not listen to this Qur’ān and hoot it down so that you may prevail [over the Apostle].’

Perhaps they were fully aware of the consequences simply listening to the Qurān could have had on a person, as they would have been able to experience and feel the beauty of the verses. One of the scholars who was a proponent of this view was Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. al-Ṭayyib al-Bāqilānī (d. 403 AH/1013 CE). He has dedicated a whole work on the subject, titled I’jāz al-Qurān, in which he claims that anyone who has a strong feel for the language will be able to tell that the Qurān is a miracle the moment they hear its verses. Through this, he also critiqued one of the prevailing theories at his time which claimed that the Qurān was only a miracle for the Arabs living during the time of the Prophet (p).

He considered the miracle of the book to be rooted in the way its verses are organized and its high degree of eloquence. In his work, he explains the difference between poetry, rhymed prose and other technicalities regarding speech generally studied in Arabic rhetoric and eloquence and then goes on to say what preliminaries need to be understood in order to understand the miraculous nature of the Qurān.[2] Below is a summary[3] of what he puts forth in his work over the course of 20 pages:

1) The literary style of the Qurān along with varying forms is beyond the prevailing literary styles in Arabic literature.

2) Arabs had no literary legacy that might be equated with the Qurān in its rhetoric so much as it might have preserved the beauty of style as well as the length in the measurement as that of the Qurān.

3) The Qurān interacted a variety of subjects ranging from the orders and the prohibitions, the promises and the warnings, to the stories and the historical events; all this was brought in the style unmatched by the best selection of the prose and poetry. The poets and the orators might do excellence in any one or few subjects. The Qurān, in contrast, performed excellently in all the subjects simultaneously.

4) We find the kinds of expression varying in the writings of dignitaries and celebrities even though they interact a single subject especially when they move from one idea to the other. The Qurān, in contrast, combines all the varying dimensions and brings them out in a method that demonstrates them as a harmonious unit.

5) The literary style of the Qurān is not only higher than the style of the human being, but it also supersedes the style of the Jinn cited by the Arabs.

6) Different styles of expression available in Arabic literature like bast (the elaboration) and ījāz (the conciseness); jam’ (the hold together) and tafrīq (the separation); isti’ārah (the metaphor) and tasrīh (the clarification), etc. These styles are, however, higher and more impressive as well as more communicative than others if compared with.

7) Composing the words and sentences in a novel idea is difficult than composing them in a familiar one. The Qurān interprets the newer thoughts in a method inaccessible to the human being.

8) The excellence of the order and exaltedness of the rhetoric incorporated in the Qurān exhibits when any word of the Qurān is borrowed to be accommodated in any prose or poetry and attracts the attention of the reader or listener forcefully.

9) The Alphabets in Arabic are 29 in number, and the number of chapters that being with the disjointed letters total 28. 14 letters of the Arabic Alphabet have been used in these disjointed letters and signifies that the miracle of the Qurān is through the organization and ordering of these letters.

10) The language of the Qurān is convenient, and its meaning may be easily understood, and no abstruse word or construction disturbs them. But there is no scope for the human style to be in conformity with the Qurānic one.

Numerous other scholars agreed that the Qurānic miracle is one that is to be experienced, and not one that can be simply described for others. One would need to acquire the taste of the language and only then would they be able to attest that it is a miracle. Someone like Ibn Sinān al-Khafājī (d. 466 AH / 1073 CE) in his Sirr al-Faṣāḥah, al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538 AH / 1143 CE) in his al-Kashshāf, al-Sakkākī (d. 626 AH / 1229 CE) in his Miftāḥ al-‘Ūlūm, and others all point towards this literary nature of the Qurān being miraculous in it and of itself and that its attestation is dependant on one’s feel and taste of the language. In fact, al-Khafājī argues that even if one happens to be a proponent of the theory of al-ṣarfah, one would still need to possess a strong familiarity with the sciences of Arabic rhetoric and eloquence and an affinity with the language in order to even enter the discussion concerning the miracle of the Qurān.

In our next post, we will give an overview of another approach taken by scholars, which though remains within the realm of linguistics, but is concerned more with the semantics of the Qurānic text.


[1] The science of syntax and style and literary criticism, in The Muqaddimah, of Ibn Khaldūn. Translated by Franz Rosenthal

[2] I’jāz al-Qurān, by Abū Bakr Muḥammad bin al-Ṭayyib, pg. 51-71, ed. Al-Sayyid Aḥmad Ṣaqir

[3] Translation is taken from The I’jāz al-Qurān: A Study of the Classical Scholars, by Obaidullah Fahad pg. 18-19 – with minor changes made by myself

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.