Doctrines >Dialogue on the nature of the Qur'an


Dialogue on the nature of the Qur'an

By  the Religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah

Is the Qur'an the word of God, which He revealed to Mohammad (p.) that it could be viewed as a proof of his Prophet(p.)ic mission and authority over people? Or is it the word of Mohammad (p.), i.e. either composed by him or copied for/by him from the old narratives, including the People of the Book?

This question was being circulated in the Arab community that witnessed the advent of Islam. For them, it was a fiery issue in need of an answer to settle their acceptance of Islam or otherwise. It might also have been an accusation thrown in to challenge the Prophet(p.) (p.) in his noble task. This was because the Qur'an had represented the strength of the Islamic message in the context of proving it right and capable of reaching the community (ummah).

The stand-off was indicative of the magnitude of the message, which had braved the challenge with reasoned and calm dialogue that did not only aim to leave the adversaries speechless but also wanted them to see the strength of its argument. If not, it aimed to demolish their stubbornness by jolting their minds so that they could start making independent judgment, not from a standpoint of animosity to the Islamic faith.


Breaking the stalemate

In order to break the deadlock of the debate, the Qur'an tried two approaches.

1. Counter-attack

By challenging the opponent to imitate it, even with one surah. This demand was not confined to a certain group of people. It went further than that, by giving them the opportunity to enlist the help of all other creatures, human and jinn, regardless of their educational standard, individually or in a joint effort. Confident that they were unable to accept the challenge, the Holy Qur'an proved their power-lessness to meet the challenge.

History did not report any genuine or successful experience in this regard. This is in spite of the fact that the adversaries of Islam did not spare any effort in scoring points against the Prophet(p.) and his mission in the entire struggle that was raging between the two camps. To combat the relentless campaign of falsehoods and fabrications that was waged against the Holy Qur'an by the adversaries, Islam had sought to argue thus: if the Qur'an were the words of a mortal, it should have reflected certain ideological or culture levels that were prevailing in life. This would make it susceptible to emulation, either in the same measure or over and above its style. Should the reverse happen, i.e. Qur'an is inimitable; the end result would prove that it is the word of God. Nothing can match, or be superior to, it.

The objective here was not to silence the opponents; rather, the Qur'an had sought to make the challenge as a means to their accepting the Islamic viewpoint that was put to them. This is brilliantly portrayed in these Qur'anic verses:

Or they may say, "He forged it," Say, "Bring ye then ten Surahs (Chapters) forged, like into it, and call (to your aid) whomsoever ye can, other than God! If ye speak the truth! (11:13).

And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Surah (Chapter) like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides God, if your (doubts) are true. (2:23)

This verse sums up the mood:

Say: "If the whole of mankind and jinn were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support. (17:88).

2. The rational analytical approach.

This approach subjects this opposing argument to a restrained critical examination. The Holy Qur'an adopted this approach in three areas:

a. Uncovering some aspects of the cultural history of the Prophet(p.).

As for his schooling, he never read a book, wrote a letter, or attended a school, as is evident from these verses:

And thou were not (able) to recite a Book before this (Book came), nor are thou (able) to transcribe it with thy right hand: In that case, indeed, would the talkers of vanities have doubted. (29:48)

And thus have We, by Our Command, sent inspiration to thee: thou knews not (before) what was Revelation, and what was Faith; but We have made the (Qur'an) a Light, wherewith We guide such of Our servants as We will; and verily thou dost guide (men) to the Straight Way. (42:52)

Accounting for the period of the Prophet(p.)'s life with his people, before he was revealed to: "Say: If Allah had so willed, I should not have rehearsed it to you, nor should He have made it known to you. A whole lifetime before this have I tarried amongst you. Will ye not then understand?"' (10:16)

Before he was charged with the responsibility of delivering the message of Islam, the Prophet(p.) had lived among his people for forty years, he neither said nor alluded to anything that might have led to any indication of what would become of his future. In this, there is a clear proof that neither the message, nor the Qur'an emanated from the Prophet(p.)'s own personal capabilities. It is unlikely, if not impossible, that a person who had any ideas would have lived in utter silence for forty years without at least talking about his views. Man's conduct, by word and deed, would be a natural mirror of his opinions on life, the like of which is the light of the sun and the water gushing forth from the spring, all without choice or will.

The Arab society in which the Prophet(p.) was born and lived did not lend itself to the birth of an ideology on a par with the one, whose culture is mutli-dimensional, especially in the different fields of knowledge, legislation, ethics, secrets of the universe, and psychological, social, or moral issues. All this was somehow alien to the limited educational standards of the society of the Arabian Peninsula, which used to embrace a single-dimensional culture, i.e. literary excellence.

The reference to this matter could be gleaned from the Qur'anic description of members of the Meccan society, i.e. being ignorant and in manifest error:

It is He Who has sent amongst the Unlettered an apostle from among themselves, to recite to them His Signs, to sanctify them, and to instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom, although they had been, before, in manifest error. (62:2).

The Prophet(p.) was not linked to any other cultural environment. Nothing in his biography points to any long journey he took for schooling. His travels included two trade trips to Syria. Those trips did not take longer than it took a person to travel, using the transport available in those days. They took place at a period long before his emigration to Medina. In both the journeys, the Prophet(p.) did not get to Beirut, which was then centre of knowledge and scholarship. He travelled as far as Basra, as has been mentioned in his biography.

b. The rational approach to dialogue on the subject

The case for attributing the Qur'an to some other person. i.e. to the exclusion of God, was clear in claiming that he was non-Arab. It is noteworthy, though, that, as we have already mentioned, the Prophet(p.) did not speak any other language besides Arabic. How could the teaching be plausible? How could the translation/interpretation be possible? Besides, should foreigners have been the source of these words, the language used would have been foreign, thus:

We know indeed that they say, It is a man that teaches him. The tongue of him they wickedly point to is notably foreign, while this is Arabic, pure and clear. (16:103).

c. The Qur'an is consistent

All the issues, concepts and laws the Holy Qur'an has tackled have been characterized by consistency. It can be said, therefore, that the argument that tries to attribute the writing of the Qur'an to the Prophet(p.) would necessarily mean that it would contain contradictions and discrepancies. (Supposing that is it true) what could substantiate this type of argument is the fact that the Qur'an was revealed in different places and circumstances over a long period; this would, as a consequence, have made it lacking in cohesion, in that a mortal is usually accident-prone and liable to make mistakes. This has been succinctly captured in this verse:

Do they not consider the Qur'an (with care)? Had it been from other than God, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy. (4:82).

Thus, in all that we have demonstrated of Prophet(p.) Mohammad's approach to dialogue with his opponents, who cast doubt on the Qur'an being the word of God, you will become aware of the spirit of the Islamic approach, an approach that desires to place the dialogue in a positive territory. That is, on the side of knowledge about, and conviction of, the issue being debated by the strength of evidence, not through a whipped-up atmosphere that is not conducive to an honest and fruitful debate.