The Inimitable Qur’an – The Revelation to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: The Proofs of Prophethood Series (Updated)
Published: May 5, 2020 • Updated: September 15, 2023
Author: Sh. Mohammad Elshinawy
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Updated: September 15, 2023
September 15, 2023 Substantial revisions have been made to this paper in order to align with our newly published e-book The Final Prophet: Proofs for the Prophethood of Muhammad.
For more on this topic, see Proofs of Prophethood
There was no prophet except that he was granted signs that caused the people to believe in him, but what I have been uniquely granted is a revelation that Allah has inspired me with, and thus I am hopeful to have the most followers among them on the Day of Resurrection.
A Literary Masterpiece
Whenever a poet emerged in an Arab tribe, other tribes would come to congratulate, feasts would be prepared, the women would play lutes as they do at weddings, and old and young men would all rejoice at the good news—for this was a shield for their honor, a defense of their lineages, and an immortalization of their triumphs. The Arabs used to congratulate each other only on the birth of a child and when a poet rose among them.
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Old Arabic poetry is a highly complex phenomenon. The vocabulary, grammatical idiosyncrasies, and strict norms were passed down from generation to generation, and only the most gifted students fully mastered the language. A person had to study for years, sometimes even decades, under a master poet before laying claim to the title of poet.
...the miraculousness of the Qur’an lies in this very paradox: the paradox of its being truly Arabic, and its being, at one and the same time, a new language. This might appear to be illogical. However, the logic of miracle inheres in precisely the fact that it surpasses logic. A miracle that rests on logic ceases to be a miracle.
Muhammad or Shakespeare?
- Unlike the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, Shakespeare was educated in both Greek and Latin and had, alongside his mentors, access to libraries of books that he built on for his own writings.
- Shakespeare earned a living as a professional playwright and continued refining his craft with each dramatic production, while the Prophet ﷺ was never reported to utter a single full couplet of poetry in his entire life,nor was it possible for him to retract any word of the Qur’an for quality control once it was spoken to his vast Muslim and non-Muslim audiences.
- Sonnets were known and produced for centuries before Shakespeare, while the Qur’an had a unique compositional structure that differed from every pattern of writing or speech used by Arabia’s master poets.
- Unlike Shakespeare, whose hallmark style and vocabulary permeate all his writings, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ brought the world a Qur’an whose style differs from the Hadith tradition—the everyday statements of Muhammad ﷺ. While this was noticed by his contemporaries, more than a dozen experiments have since been conducted to establish this objectively. Stylometry is the statistical analysis of variations in literary style to discriminate between one writer and another. It has been utilized to distinguish between the authentic and pseudonymous letters of Paul in the New Testament, and to prove that the Hadith and the Qur’an must have had two different authors. Researchers of the latter were forced to accept that it would be impossible for any human being to employ such extensive self-policing of their language for a lifetime. For instance, they found that 62% of the words from Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, a voluminous collection of Hadith, do not appear in the Qur’an, and 83% of Qur’anic terms do not exist in Hadith.
- Shakespeare’s sonnets were not uniformly eloquent, but instead had segments of distinct brilliance. In contrast, the Arabs who took great pride in their naqd (literary critique) tradition, a genre in which they brutally scrutinized each other’s poetry to identify suboptimal word choices, never identified a single passage in the Qur’an that could be improved.
- Shakespeare and his peers never considered his work beyond the reach of human effort; it was but the champion—to some—in an arena of worthy competitors. In fact, Professor Hugh Craig of Newcastle University ranked Shakespeare as the seventh-greatest English-speaking playwright, behind Webster, Dekker, Peele, Marlowe, Jonson, and Greene.In contrast, the Qur’an shamed its deniers and challenged them at every turn to try to create anything that merely resembled it;and this challenge has never been met. As Allah says,
And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our servant [Muhammad], then produce a sūrah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful. But if you do not—and you will never be able to—then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.
- Shakespeare enjoyed the creative liberties of fictional storytelling. As for the Qur’an, entertainment is not its goal. It addresses theology, philosophy, history, and law—stiff technical discussions that do not ordinarily have mass appeal. The Qur’an asserted complex existential truths and taught a nuanced morality with a remarkable blend of precision and graceful elegance. It deconstructed prevalent wrongs that had become normalized and revealed the hypocrisy within—all uncomfortable narratives that would not be expected to garner widespread embrace. The Qur’an also repeats its themes quite often (to inculcate and reinforce its value system), a technique that skilled authors generally try to avoid, but with such artistic variation each time that leaves its rhetorical richness unblemished.
- Unlike the entertainment suitable for a stage in London in the seventeenth century, the Qur’an as a religious text had to resonate with the young and the old, the premodern and postmodern mind, the eastern and western personality, and the spiritually versus intellectually inclined. When analyzing the effect of the Qur’an on the vast spectrum of hearts and minds, across the globe and across generations, no other text in human history has fascinated such a wide range of people. In America today, for instance, a Qur’an recitation competition will be attended by all segments of the Muslim community. On the other hand, an English play by Shakespeare will find almost no appreciation among the common man and only attract the college-educated middle-to-upper class elite.
- Shakespeare had decades of deliberation to decide what to include and omit from his works. Contrast this with the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, who would convey verses from the Qur’an in response to people’s unscripted inquiries. For instance, there are thirteen passages in the Qur’an that begin with “And they ask you [O Prophet] about… Say…”Furthermore, he ﷺ would receive fresh Qur’anic revelations in the most stressful conditions, at times while bleeding after an attack or mourning his deceased relatives, specifically pertaining to events that had just taken place. Should not such spontaneous “productions” of the Qur’an necessitate a disparity in eloquence between them and those written under serene candlelight, after the events have unfolded and the emotional turbulence has quieted?
- Shakespeare must have written his works in a linear fashion, building from the ground up, just as any author would, and was free to decide from the onset how each drama would begin and end. The Qur’an, however, was assembled like a jig-saw puzzle over twenty-three years. The order of the Qur’an today does not reflect the chronology of its revelation, but rather the later designated location for each passage within its respective chapter. This means that the Qur’an did not just exhibit fascinating consistency in its structure,despite being spoken not written, but was somehow designed with interspersed additions, of various themes and lengths, many of which addressed unpredictable external events impromptu, and yet all this never disrupted its seamless tapestry.
And what can I possibly say? There is not a single man among you who is more versed in prose or poetry than I, or in the poems of even the jinn. By God, what he says bears no resemblance to any of these things. By God, his statement which he utters has a sweetness to it, and a charm hovers over it. Its highest parts (surface meanings) are fruitful and its depths gush forth without end. It dominates and cannot be dominated, and it will certainly crush all that is beneath it.
Knowledge of the Inaccessible Past
And We took the Israelites across the sea, and Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity until, when drowning overtook him, he said, ‘I believe that there is no deity except that in whom the Israelites believe, and I am of the Muslims.’ Now? And you had disobeyed [Him] before and were of the corrupters? So today, We will save you in [terms of] your body that you may be to those after you a sign. And indeed, many among humanity are heedless of Our signs.
The Heavens Did Not Grieve for Pharaoh
Joseph’s King Wasn’t a Pharaoh
I must confess that when the Qur’an was first being conveyed to people, the ancient Egyptian language had vanished from the collective memory of humanity for over two centuries and remained that way until the nineteenth century. Therefore, it was impossible for us to know that the king of Egypt should be called anything other than the title mentioned in the Holy Bible. The subtle word choice of the Qur’an on this matter is thought-provoking.
Over it (the Hellfire) are nineteen. And We have not made the keepers of the Hellfire but angels, and We have not made their number except as a trial for those who disbelieve, and so that those who were given the Scripture [prior] would be certain...
The first Arabic translation surfaced towards the end of the eighth Gregorian century and more than one hundred years after Islam. It was done by Bishop John of Seville in Spain. It was a partial translation that did not include the entire book and was insufficiently circulated.
Was Muhammad Spoon-Fed Biblical History?
Preserved as Promised
“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its Guardian.”
For Muslims, the Ḳurʾān is much more than scripture or sacred literature in the usual Western sense. Its primary significance for the vast majority through the centuries has been in its oral form, the form in which it first appeared, as the “recitation” (kurʾān) chanted by Muhammad to his followers over a period of about twenty years… The revelations were memorized by some of Muhammad’s followers during his lifetime, and the oral tradition that was thus established has had a continuous history ever since, in some ways independent of, and superior to, the written Ḳurʾān… Through the centuries the oral tradition of the entire Ḳurʾān has been maintained by the professional reciters, while all Muslims memorise parts of the Ḳurʾān for use in the daily prayers. Until recently, the significance of the recited Ḳurʾān has seldom been fully appreciated in the West.
An Extraordinary Potency
The inimitability of the Qur’an has yet another dimension, one which people tend to overlook, and is unrecognized except by a sparse few—namely what it generates in the hearts and impresses onto the souls. Aside from the Qur’an, you do not hear of any discourse, neither poetry nor prose, that upon reaching one’s ears provides such immediate pleasure and sweetness, and at other times such awe and intimidation, like the Qur’an does.
Once he reached the verses, “Were they created out of nothing, or are they the creators [of themselves]? Or did they create the heavens and the earth? No, they are not certain. Or have they the repositories of your Lord, or are they the controllers [of them]?,”my heart nearly took flight.
The miracles wrought by earlier Prophets had been transient, so to say, and for that very reason, rapidly forgotten, while that of the Verses may be called “The Permanent Miracle.” Its activity was unceasing. Everywhere and at all hours, each believer, by reciting the Verses, helped to realise the miracle, and in this can be found the explanation of many sudden conversions, incomprehensible for the European who knows nothing of the Qur’an, or judges it by cold and inaccurate translations.
Whoever listens carefully to the words of Allah, and the words of His Messenger with his mind and ponders over them with his heart, he will arrive through them at certain meanings, sweetness, guidance, remedy for the hearts, blessings, and benefits that he would never find in any other words, whether poetry or prose.
And thus We have revealed to you a spirit of Our command. You did not know what the Book or [what] faith was, but We have made it a light by which We guide whom We will of Our servants. And indeed, you [O Muhammad] guide to a straight path, the path of Allah, to Whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Unquestionably, to Allah do all [matters] evolve.
Echoes of a Prophet ﷺ
- The name of Moses (as) appears in the Qur’an 135 times, the name of Jesus (as) appears twenty-five times, while the name of Muhammad ﷺ appears only five times. One would assume that a person would avoid citing the primary personalities of a religious tradition that he is accused of plagiarizing from, especially when experiencing regular mockery by the Jews of Madinah and facing them in warfare.
- Mary, the Mother of Jesus (as), is cited by name thirty-four times in the Qur’an, while the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ own wives and daughters are not named a single time therein. Had he wanted to elevate the status of his family for political clout, for instance, one might think he would have included a tribute, or simply mentioned their names, at least once.
- “O Prophet, why do you prohibit [yourself from] what Allah has made lawful for you, seeking the approval of your wives? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”If a community leader were to air his family disputes and charge himself with “just trying to please his wife,” especially in seventh-century Arabia, how would that be received by the masses? Yet, in this brief chapter of the Qur’an, an entire mini family drama is showcased: two wives are jealous of the third; they devise a scheme; it works; the Prophet ﷺ makes a suboptimal decision; it must be rectified, and so forth.
- “Say, ‘I am not something original among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me…’”Authors and influencers always brand their product as something special and unprecedented, not merely the replica of a prior model, while the Qur’an reminds time and again that it does the exact opposite. While it does bring some novel revelations, its primary function was to bring humanity back to a treasure they once had.
- “He frowned and turned away when the blind man came to him.”Ibn Umm Maktūm, a blind man, interrupted an important meeting which displeased the Prophet ﷺ but he just frowned silently so as not to offend him. And yet, the Qur’an reveals the very thing the Prophet ﷺ had tried to conceal, to be recited in prayer until the end of time. A false prophet would have chosen self-aggrandizement, but the Messenger of God had no choice in the matter.
- “If not for a decree from Allah that preceded, you would have been touched for what you took by a great punishment.”Following the revelation of this verse, both the Prophet ﷺ and Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq (rA) were found weeping from fear of God. This verse was censuring them for the premature ransoms they had accepted to release their captives after the Battle of Badr. If someone’s boss scolded him in a private email, would they publicize it to their staff and teach it? Several such passages exist in the Qur’an, yet they never undermined the Prophet’s ﷺ credibility with his Companions who knew he was not threatening himself; these were not his words.
- When Allah ordered the Prophet ﷺ to marry Zaynab (rAh) after she was divorced by Zayd (rA) (his adopted son), he ﷺ knew the hypocrites would pounce on this “easy opportunity” to accuse the Prophet ﷺ of being a lustful man who circumvents his own laws to marry his daughter-in-law.This looming storm caused the Prophet’s ﷺ heart to become heavy, not from guilt or shame regarding the marriage, but from the pain it would inflict through demonizing him, shaking those weak in faith, and potentially mobilizing a critical mass of Madinans to overthrow their head of state. Despite all this, Allah reveals that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was in fact apprehensive about taking this step and the controversy it would spark: “And you concealed within yourself that which Allah is to disclose. And you feared the people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him.”‘Āishah (rAh) said, “If the Messenger of Allah ﷺ were to conceal anything from the Qur’an, he would have concealed this verse.”
- “Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men.”Every son of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ died young, and thus it deeply hurt him every time the pagans called him “abtar,” meaning severed from having male descendants. Allah even revealed an entire chapter of the Qur’an (108) in response to this taunting. However, the verse above—revealed to establish that Zayd was not his biological son—indirectly captures this painful past of the Prophet’s life and is recited around the clock. There are many verses of this nature, citing the slurs of his critics who called him a madman, a liar, and a sorcerer. Were Muhammad ﷺ the author of the Qur’an, one would think he would bury what hurt him, not ensure that it be never forgotten.