Introduction to I’jāz al-Qur’ān: The Miraculous Nature of the Qur’an
Say, “Even if all mankind and jinn came together to produce the equivalent of this Qur’an, they could not produce its equal, however much they helped each other.”1
- Those who claim that the Qur’an is the Speech of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ through Angel Jibrīl (Gabriel); or
- Those who claim that the Qur’an is not from God but was authored by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ or other human beings.
What is the Qur’an?
The iʿjāz of the Qur’an
… when the Prophet brought [the challenge] to them, they were the most eloquent rhetoricians so he challenged them to produce the [entire] likes [of the Qur’an] and many years passed and they were unable to do so, as God says, “Let them then produce a recitation similar to it if indeed they are truthful.” Then, [the Prophet] challenged them to produce ten chapters like it where God says, “Say, bring then ten chapters like it and call upon whomever you can besides God if you are truthful.” Then, he challenged them to produce a single [chapter] where God says, “Or do they say he [i.e., the Prophet] has forged it? Say, bring a chapter like it and call upon whomever you can besides God, if you are truthful…” When the [Arabs] were unable to produce a single chapter like [the Qur’an] despite there being the most eloquent rhetoricians amongst them, [the Prophet] openly announced the failure and inability [to meet the challenge] and declared the inimitability of the Qur’an. Then God said, “Say: if all of humankind and the jinn gathered together to produce the like of the Qur’an, they could not produce it—even if they helped one another...”12
Know that the greatest of all miracles, and the most sacred and blessed, and the clearest in proof, is the Qur’an that was revealed to the Prophet [Muhammad] ﷺ. This is because all other miracles, in general, were brought forth separate from the actual inspiration (that the Prophet received), as a means of proving the truthfulness of the inspiration. As for the Qur’an, it is the inspiration and the miracle in one, and is therefore not in need of any external miracles (to prove itself), unlike all the previous inspirations. It is, therefore, the clearest and most powerful miracle, since it combines the boast and the proof into one. This is the meaning of the Prophet's statement, “...I hope, therefore, that I will have the largest number of followers on the Day of Judgment.” This shows that a miracle as clear and powerful as this one—for it is the inspiration in its essence—must have the greatest number of believers and followers...15
History of the doctrine of iʿjāz al-Qur’ān
The scope of iʿjāz al-Qur’ān
The Qur’an is miraculously inimitable because it has come forth with the most eloquent words compounded in the most beautiful composition containing the most valid ideas such as believing in the unity of God, declaring Him to be Transcendent in His qualities, calling (humanity) to His obedience, elucidating the way of worshipping Him, as well as prescribing what is permitted and what is prohibited, what is forbidden and what is allowed, in addition to admonishing and correcting, commanding what is good and forbidding what is evil, and guiding to good qualities and restraining from bad ones. In all this, it has put every one of these things in its place which cannot be substituted by a more appropriate one, and nothing can be imagined that is more suitable than it.49
The facets of iʿjāz al-Qur’ān
- The inimitability of the Qur’an
- The literary miracle of the Qur’an
- The preservation of the Qur’an
- Predictions about the future
- Lost knowledge of the past
- Knowledge about the natural world
- Elucidations about the origins of life
- The existence of God, His Names, and His Attributes
- Universal laws, objective morals, and guidance
- The ease by which the Qur’an is memorized
- The lack of errors and contradictions within it
- Personal experiences related to the Qur’an
The inimitability of the Qur’an
- words conveying meanings;
- ideas in passages;
- composition organizing those words and ideas.
The literary miracle of the Qur’an
- The placement of a particular word over its synonyms. The connotations of the chosen word are better than those of its synonyms.
- The sentence structure and syntax, which does not follow any one pattern but varies throughout the Qur’an. Each style is unique and its rhythm is clear and resounding.
- The use of different tenses (past vs. present; plural vs. singular, etc.) to illustrate deeper meanings of a passage.
- The pronunciation of words matching their meanings. In other words, when discussing topics that are encouraging and bearing glad tidings, it uses words that are easy to pronounce and melodious to hear, whereas harsh topics tend to be associated with harsher phonemes.
- The perfect combination of concision and detail. When the subject requires elaboration, the Qur’an discusses the topic in detail, and when a short phrase will get the message across, it remains brief. The sentences are constructed in an elegant manner that uses the smallest number of words, without sounding too brief, to express rich ideas.
- The rhythms of the syllables are more sustained than in prose and less patterned than in poetry. The pauses come neither in prose form nor in the manner of poetry but with a harmonious and melodic flow.
- The Qur’an’s words are neither mundane nor completely unfamiliar but are recognized as completely balanced and noble.
- The conciseness of expression attains such striking clarity that the least learned Arabic-speaking person can understand the Qur’an without too much difficulty. At the same time, there is such profundity, flexibility, inspiration, and radiance in the Qur’an that it serves as the basis for the principles and rules of Islamic sciences and arts for theology and juridical schools. Thus, it is almost impossible to express the ideas of the text by only one interpretation, either in Arabic or in any other language even with the greatest care.
- There is a perfect blend between the two antagonistic powers of reason and emotion, intellect, and feeling. In the narrations, arguments, doctrines, laws, and moral principles, the words have both persuasive teaching and emotive force. Throughout the whole Qur’an, the speech maintains its surprising solemnity, power, and majesty which nothing can disturb.57
- The combination of word choice, word order, grammatical shifts, subtleties, figurative and literal language, storytelling structures, and symmetry, in not one verse, but throughout the entirety of the Qur’an, regardless of the subject matter.
- The perfection of the Qur’an and the context of its delivery;
- The non-chronological revelation of the Qur’an; and
- The question of the Qur’an’s origins.
And they ask you [O Muhammad] about the soul. Say, “The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind has not been given knowledge except a little.”58
They ask you [O Muhammad] about wine and gambling. Say, “In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.” And they ask you what they should spend. Say, “The excess [beyond needs].” Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.59
Is it not enough for them that We have sent down to you the Book [which is] recited to them? Surely in this Qur’an is a mercy and reminder for people who believe.61