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Inimitability of the Qur'an and Some Evidences of It Being From Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala)

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

Excerpted from an article written by scholars from al-Azhar

..Follow us we'll show you a straight path and show you some matters which will prove that the Qur'an is God's word:

FIRST - Because it is the pinnacle of linguistic perfection. The Arabs [of Jahiliyyah] were not accustomed to its form. Their linguistic abilities were hindered by the fact that its expression was worded in the shortest of forms without loss of clear meaning [bayan].

SECOND - Its wonderful structure was unique when it comes to the beginning of verses, their termination, and the places where one stops [when rehearsing it].  This is added to a refined way of presenting truth and the true knowledge of God [`irfan].  Its beautiful word and kind insinuation, easiness of construct and correctness of ordering made the minds of the purest of desert dwellers [al-Arba'] amazed and the understanding of the masters of the tongue struck. The wisdom behind this intended differentiation in which the Qur'an was revealed was to leave no doubt for those with wit [fiTna] or give them reason to steal [by producing something like it].

THIRD - Because the Qur'an has a record of things to come. They came to pass in accordance with the way God has intended. Allah said, "you shall most certainly enter the Sacred Mosque [Mecca], if Allah pleases, in security, (some) having their heads shaved and (others) having their hair cut, you shall not fear." (Surah "The Victory", 48.27) 

FOURTH - What it told about previous generations and the people of yore and it was known [to the people of Quraish] that [Mohammed] was but an illiterate who neither read nor wrote.  He did not sit with teachers in schools, nor mixed with the learned. He was raised within a people who knew no book. They were naked [`arin] when it came to scientific inquiry [al-ulum al-`aqliyyah]. Allah said, "Surely this Qur'an declares to the children of Israel most of what they differ in."  (Surah "The Ant", 27.76).

FIFTH - What it revealed of the secrets of those who opposed it and what they used to plot. Their deceit was revealed to the messenger of God.

SIXTH - That it included knowledge from the smallest of particles to cosmic facts the Arabs did not know in general and neither did Mohammed (peace be upon him); most important, what it included about the science of Shari`ah and how to deduce laws, the ways to logical argumentation [al-hujaj al-`aqliyyah], the wisdom one derives from the stories of yore, the matters of the hereafter and the best of manners and behavior.

SEVENTH - It is free of contradiction despite the fact that it is
a large book which includes many facts and various arts. "If it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy." (Surah "The Women", 4.82)

EIGHTH - It is a living miracle for it is read everywhere in
uniformity, and God has promised to protect it. It is an established argument that, in contrast to other prophets whose miracles disappeared with them, the Qur'an is Mohammed's eternal miracle.

NINTH - Those who read it are not tired of it. Those who hear it are not bothered by it. And those who rehearse it fall in love with it.

TENTH - It includes both proof and proven. Those who understand the meaning know how to derive proof and how to find religious dictum at the same time when they consider both the way it is read and the way it is understood.  It is conciseness of words [balaghah] which proves its miraculous character. It is with meaning that one finds God's order and His warning. Learning it by heart [hifdh] has been made easy. The fear that comes to the heart when hearing it and the humbleness that surrounds those reading it are beyond description.

Courtesy Of: Islaam.com

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The doctrine of the Qurns inimitability (Ijz al-Qurn)


by Ola bint al-Shoubaki

And they say, Why are not miracles sent down to him from his Lord? Say: The signs are only with Allh, and I am only a plain warner. Is it not a sufficient miracle for them that We have sent down to you the Book which is recited to them?  Verily, herein is a mercy and a reminder for a people who believe. (29:50-51)

The miracles that were given to the prophets were such that they would have the greatest impact on that particular nation.  The people at the time of Moses (peace be upon him) excelled in magic and sorcery, so he was given miracles which surpassed all their abilities, as a proof of his prophethood.  The people at the time of Jesus (peace be upon him) excelled in healing and medicine, and he was accordingly given appropriate miracles.  The people at the time of Muhammad (peace be upon him) were masters of language and eloquence - he was sent to them with the Qurn.  The powerful effect it had on its listeners, who were skilled practitioners in the art of rhetoric, was unsurpassable.  Few could help but be enchanted by it, including al-Wald ibn al-Mughra, who exclaimed, I swear by God, there is none amongst you who knows poetry as well as I do, nor can any compete with me in composition or rhetoric not even in the poetry of jinns! And yet, I swear by God, Muhammads speech (i.e. the Qurn) does not bear any similarity to anything I know, and I swear by God, the speech that he says is very sweet, and is adorned with beauty and charm.  Its first part is fruitful, and its last part is abundant, and it conquers all other speech, and remains unconquered! It shatters and destroys all that has come before it![1] 

Thus it was that the most eloquent and esteemed poet during the time of Muhammad (peace be upon him) was able to recognize the verbal power of the Quran, and its extraordinary composition.  There were those, however, who opposed its message disparagingly, and aimed at reviling Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his claim to prophethood, and at challenging the divine nature of the Qurn.  They accused Muhammad (peace be upon him) of being a liar who forged the Qurn, a soothsayer (khin), a poet (shir), a sorcerer (shir), and even a madman, possessed by jinn (majnn), in an attempt to find an alternative explanation for his speech.  They claimed that there was nothing miraculous about the Qurn, and could imitate it if they so desired, And when Our verses are recited to them, they say, We have heard this! If we wish, we can say something similar to it.  These are nothing but stories of old. (8:31) 

Interestingly, the fourteen hundred year old accusations of the Arabs find their echo in contemporary Orientalism.[2] Amongst those who claimed that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a poet, were the likes of  Bell in the 1920s[3], Rodinson who could only explain this poem as a product of Muhammads (peace be upon him) unconscious mind and Stobart who, writing in the 19th century maintained that the Qurn could have been written by any Arab acquainted with the general outline of Jewish history and of the traditions of his own country and possessed of some poetic fire and fancy. All of these critics, however, failed to realise that whereas Arabic poetry was commonly distinguished by its specific literary features, such as the wazn, bahr, ard and qfiyah, which had to be adhered to even at the expense of grammar and semantics, the Qurnic style displays no such established features. Therefore, the claims that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was merely a poet seem to be unfounded. 

On a similar level were the claims of those Orientalists who suggested that the Qurn was a result of Muhammads (peace be upon him) wishful thinking,[4] or a product of his creative imagination.[5]  These were the exact words of Watt who, in the 1960s, applied modern methods of literary analysis to the text and concluded that, What seems to a man to come from outside himself may actually come from his unconscious.   However, the unique occurrence of any kind of creative imagination producing a text the likes of which has never been equalled in recorded history, would seem to suggest the intervention of some force other than imagination. 

Following the disbelievers claims that they could produce speech similar to the Qurn, there emerged the central aspect in proving undoubtedly the veracity of Muhammads (peace be upon him) message and its divine authorship.   If it could be shown that the Qurn was inimitable by man and jinn alike, the accusations of the disbelievers[6] would be nullified.  This would effectively eliminate the possibility of man being author, leaving only one other possible option for authorship God.  Thus, the significance of proving the Qurns inimitability was manifest from the onset.

The Qurnic challenge was posed those who claimed that Muhammad (peace be upon him) forged the Qurn were called upon to produce an entire Qurn like it, this being gradually reduced to ten chapters similar to it.[7]  When the Quraysh were unable to do this, the final challenge and promise was given, And if you are in doubt as to what We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a chapter similar to it, if you are truthful.  But if you do not do it and of a surety you cannot do it then fear the Fire whose fuel are men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. (2:23-24)

Despite the pagan Arabs being masters of verbal eloquence, they were unable to rise to the challenge, an argument presented by many early Muslim writers.  [Contemporary critics who question the divine authorship of the Qurn have not, to date, produced any material which may lend proof to their claims.]  Al-Jhiz, in his Hujaj an-Nubwwa, commented that this was even in spite of strong motivation on account of their tribal pride and their opposition to Islam, and in spite of the fact that meeting the challenge would have been easier for them than engaging the Muslims in battle as they did, only to lose eventually.[8] It caused the Muslims to regard events as divine authentication of the veracity of the message of the Qurn and Muhammads (peace be upon him) prophethood.  By the early third/ninth century, the phenomenon of the Qurn not being equalled in content or form came to be known as ijz (incapacitation), a term probably first used by Imm Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 204 A.H.).[9]  By the end of the century, it came to refer to the miraculous inimitability of the Qurn. 

It would be significant to note at this point that for the duration of the discussions which took place regarding the aspects of the Qurnic ijz, it was asked whether the Torah and the Gospel(s), sharing with the Qurn the quality of being revelation from God, also shared the quality of inimitability.  It was argued by al-Bqilln[10] that they did not for a number of reasons.  Firstly, although they included some information regarding the unseen (akhbr al-ghayb), they were not revealed in a miraculously eloquent structure or style, as was the Qurn.  Secondly, God had not referred to them as being inimitable, as He did the Qurn, and thirdly, no claim was made by the Prophets who brought them regarding their inimitability, as was made with the Qurn.  Az-Zarkash and az-Zamakhshar added that the arrangement of the Qurn was also divinely inspired, unlike that of the Torah and the Gospel(s).  Therefore, the question of inimitability is posed with reference to the Qurn alone, the affirmation of which would exalt its status over and above other revelation.

Following the recognition of its inimitability, there naturally arose the issue of what makes the Qurn miraculous, and the nature of those aspects of it which cannot be imitated. According to the contemporary writer Kaml Ab Db, the challenge was ambiguous for it specified no particular qualities which those who were challenged were to match.[11] Jurjn held a different view, however.  He asked, is it possible that God ordered His Prophet (peace be upon him) to challenge the Arabs to produce something like it (the Qurn), without them knowing the description of it by which, if producing (speech) according to that description, they will have produced something like it?[12] This view was shared by many scholars of the Classical period, such as az-Zarkash, who also held that it is inappropriate to pose a challenge while the challenged one is ignorant of that which his challenge entails.[13]

There were numerous responses put forward by various scholars of the Qurnic Sciences on this issue, which included aspects such as the Qurns eloquence, the arrangement of its chapters and verses, its stories of past, present and future nations and events,[14] its predictions, its laws, and its scientific facts.   There is not a single definitive list of the aspects, and while, for example, the scholar Muhammad ibn Juzay al-Kalb (d. 741 A.H.) divided the Qurnic ijz into ten categories, as-Suyt classified its related sciences and arts under approximately 300 headings![15] Az-Zarkash lists over a dozen, after which he concludes, the statement of those who have researched the issue thoroughly is that the ijz of the Qurn is due to all of the previous factors simultaneously and not by any one of them only.  For (the ijz) is in combining all of these facets[16]  It has even been suggested that every category discussed in the Sciences of the Qurn (Ulm al-Qurn) is in fact a facet of the ijz.[17]

A prominent Mutazilite of the period, however, by the name of al-Nazzm (d. 232/846), propounded a concept which seems anomalous to Mutazilite beliefs - that of sarfa (aversion).  He maintained that the miracle of the Qurn consisted in the divine prevention of Muhammads (peace be upon him) companions and followers from imitating it, by removing their competence and knowledge in this regard.  Thus Nazzm held that, were it not for this notion of sarfa, man would have had the capability and capacity to imitate the Qurn.  In doing so, he reduced the speech of God, the Creator, to the same level as the speech of man, the created.  There necessarily has to be a distinction between the two, however, for the difference between the speech of God and the speech of His creation is the difference between God and His creation.[18]

By holding this position, Nazzm inadvertently contradicted Mutazilite beliefs regarding mans free will, and the Justice of God, for it would not be just for God to challenge man to exert his efforts in an activity for which He had removed their potential of ever successfully completing.  The sarfa argument also rejected revelation as the miracle, but rather the sarfa itself, [19] a position which is undermined by the Qurn with the statement of the Almighty, Say: If all of mankind and jinn gathered together to produce the like of the Qurn, the y could not produce the like thereof, even if they helped one another. (17:88). Regarding this issue, as-Suyt comments, this verse mentions their incapability to (reproduce the Qurn), despite the fact that they still possess their faculties and powers.  If (the ijz of the Qurn) were in the elimination of their power, there would be no benefit in their gathering together, for it would be the same as if dead corpses were gathered together.  Since the Qurn challenges them to gather together, this clearly shows that the Qurn itself is the source of ijz.[20]

The term ijz later developed to be primarily associated with the Qurns rhetorically unsurpassable and sublime style.[21] This was due to the influence of early Islamic thinkers, such as al-Jhiz, who tended to emphasize the eloquence of the Qurn in their writings. [22]  Many treatises were written on the literary ijz of the Qurn, more than had ever appeared before in the field of religious writings, but as Wansborough points out, eloquence was peculiar to the Arabic language, hence there was no room for such analysis of the Torah or the Gospel(s) in previous times.  As al-Bqilln noted, such a literary masterpiece could best be appreciated by the well-versed Arab linguist, and this is reflected in the statements of many Orientalists  (such as Stobart who only read the translation of the Qurn before making his assertion mentioned above) who had not mastered the Arab language enough to recognise and appreciate the various subtle techniques, styles and parallelisms employed by the language to emphasise intended meanings.  Rather, they mistook it for a wearisome jumble, crude and incondite.[23] They seemingly overlooked the classical works of the likes of al-Bqilln and al-Khattb, amongst others, who formulated intricate theories on the literary inimitability of the Qurn.  Al-Khattb (d. 388/998) postulated that speech is made up of three basic elements.  Firstly, words conveying meanings.  Secondly, ideas subsisting in words, and thirdly, structure organizing them both.  He deduced that the Qurn is inimitable because it is the speech of al-lim (the All-Knowing).  Humans do not possess this attribute of infinite knowledge, and as such, do not know all the words of Arabic, all the ideas ingrained in each word, and all the varieties of structure.[24]  Such is the difference between the speech of the Creator, and the speech of His creation.  While He creates, His creation merely manipulates.    

Another such example comes from Jurjn[25] (d. 470/1078) who, after systematically eliminating a number of different aspects in which the literary miracle could be manifest,[26] postulated a theory of nazm, in which he argued that arrangement and construction in a text creates different shades of meanings for individual words.   It follows, therefore, that the best style is the one which chooses the most expressive words to connote the intended meaning and places them in the most effective arrangement.  It was this that he referred to with his term nazm, and said that the Qurn uses the best nazm which, when the Arabs heard it, they realised they were unable to match. 

The above discussion presents an outline of some of the factors which contributed to the ijz of the Qurn.  As az-Zarkash claimed, however, we cannot say that the ijz was in any one of them alone, and it was perhaps this inability to produce a single definition for it which led Ab Db to assert that the challenge was ambiguous.  But this ambiguity, in my estimation, rather than being a weakness, was another testification of the inimitability, for it is relatively simpler to define the specific factors which form the speech of men.  Thus, it was an impetus which drove the disbelievers to more aggression and hostility, for it is a characteristic of man that they fear the indefinable and the unknown.

The doctrine of the inimitability of the Qurn is significant to the Islamic faith, for it   is ultimate proof of divine revelation, without which accusations against its authenticity would have no end.  It was a force which compelled a deeper study of the Qurnic text, from all possible angles, leading to such assertions as, It is meaningless to apply adjectives as beautiful or persuasive to the Qurn; its flashing images and inexorable measures go directly to the brain and intoxicate it.[27]  And as the famous Islamic scholar of the 8th century, Ibn Taymiyyah, wrote, Its very revelation is one of the most supernatural and extraordinary of acts, for it is the call (to the worship of Allh), and the proof (of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the miracle (all in one)![28] That such speech, the like of which has never afterwards been composed, was brought to the Arabs by the illiterate Muhammad (peace be upon him), should dispel all doubts regarding its authorship. 

The challenge of the Qurn is open and valid until the end of time.  That the challenge has not yet been met stands as a witness to the truth of its message, and is a constant reminder for mankind. It also contains guidance for whosoever may doubt its source as divine, in that they know what is needed to lend proof to their claims.  But they also know the penalty of their doubts if they fail.

But if you do not do it and of a surety you cannot do it then fear the Fire whose fuel are men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. (2:23-24)

Appendix

Present literary authorities at al-Azhar University in Cairo have pointed out the following ways in which the Qurnic style transcends the power of man and defies imitation: [29]

  1. The form of the Qurn reflects neither the sedentary softness of the townsmen nor the nomadic roughness of the Bedouins.  It possesses in right meansure the sweetness of the former and the vigour of the latter.
  2. 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.
  3. The sentences are constructed in an elegant manner which uses the smallest number of words, without sounding too brief, to express ideas of utmost richness.
  4. The Qurnic words neither transgress by their banality nor by their extreme rarity, but are recognized as expressing admirable nobility.
  5. The conciseness of expression attains such a striking clarity that the least learned Arabic-speaking person can understand the Qurn without difficulty.  At the same time, there is such a profundity, flexibility, inspiration and radiance in the Qurn that it serves as the basis for the principles and rules of Islamic sciences and arts for theology and the juridical schools.  Thus, it is almost impossible to express the ideas of the texts by only one interpretation, either in Arabic or in any other language, even with the greatest care.
  6. 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 Qurn the speech maintains its surprising solemnity, power and majesty which nothing can disturb.

Some other aspects of the literary ijz are as follows:[30]

1. The placement of a particular word in perfect context, over its synonyms.  The connotations given by the chosen words are better than those that would have been given by its synonyms.

2. The unique sentence structure and syntax, which does not follow any one pattern but varies throughout the Qurn.  Each style is unique, and its rhythm clear and resounding.

3. The use of different tenses (past vs. present; plural vs. singular, etc.) to give deeper meanings to a passage.

4. The pronunciation of a word matches its context.  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, and vice-versa.

5. The perfect combination of concisement and detail.  When the subject requires elaboration, the Qurn discusses the topic in detail, and when a short phrase suffices, it remains brief.

Bibliography

  • Abu Db, K., Literary Criticism, Abbsid Belles Lettres, Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, ed. Ashtiany, J., Johnstone, T.M., Latham, J.D., Sergeant, R.B., and Smith, R., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
  • Boullata, I.J., Literary structures of religious meaning in the Quran, (London: Curzon Press, 2000).
  • Ibn Hishm, al-Sra al-nabawyya, ed. Mustaf al-Saqq, Ibrhm al-Abyr, and Abd al-Hfiz Shalab, 2nd edn. (Cairo:1955)
  • Al-Jurjn, Abd al-Qhir, Asrr al-Balgha film al-Bayn, ed. Rida, M.A., (Cairo: Dr al-Matbt al-Arabiyya, n.d.)
  • ________, Dalil al-Ijz, ed. Shakir, M., (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khanaji, 1989).
  • Khalifa, M., The Sublime Quran and Orientalism, (New York: Longman, 1981).
  • Khattb, Bayn Ijz al-Qurn, Thalath rasil f Ijz al-Qurn, ed. M. Khalafallah and M. Zaghlul, (Cairo: Dar al-Maarif, 1991).
  • Qdi, Abu Ammr Ysir, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran, (Birmingham: Al-Hidaayah Publishing and Distribution, 2000)
  • Qattn, Mann, Mabhith f ulm al-Qurn,
  • Al-Rummn, Abul-Hasan Ali b. Isa, al-Nukat f Ijz al-Qurn, Thalath rasil f Ijz al-Qurn, ed. M. Khalafallah and M. Zaghlul, (Cairo: Dar al-Maarif, 1991).
  • Al-Suyt, Jall ad-Dn, al-Itqn f ulm al-Qurn; with Ijz al-Qurn by al-Bqilln, (Beirut: Dr al-Marifa, n.d.).
  • Wansborough, J., Qurnic Studies: Sources and methods of scriptural interpretation, (London: Oxford University Press, 1977)
  • Az-Zarkash, Badr al-Dn Muhammad b. Abd Allh, al-Burhn f ulm al-Qurn, ed. Muhammad Abul Fadl Ibrhm, 4 vols., (Cairo: Dar al-Turth, n.d.)

Footnotes:

[1] Ibn Hishm, al-Sra al-nabawyya, pg 270-271

[2] Khalifa, pgs 10-17. All quotes in this section are taken from these pages.

[3] Bell described the Prophet (peace be upon him) as a poet, but not of the ordinary Arab type, because other poets did not compose their works on the same themes of religion, faith, and piety as he did.

[4] The view of Anderson in the 1960s.

[5] Similar to the disbeleivers accusations to the Prophet (peace be upon him), Nay, they say: These revelations are mixed up false dreams! (21:5)

[6] Of both pagan Arab and Orientalist stock.

[7] The order in which the five tahadd (challenge) verses were revealed, according to az-Zarkash (v.2, p.110), Ibn Kathr and others, is 52:33-34, 17:88, 11:13, 10:38, 2:23-24. Az-Zarkash, however, holds that due to the wording of verse 11:13 (Say: Bring then ten forged chapters similar to it), at this time the challenge was to imitate the Qurn in prose and syntax, but not content, for the word forged appears only in this verse. When the challenge was reduced to one chapter, it was to be matched in prose and content both.

[8] Boullata, pg 141

[9] Faqih, Muhammad Hanf, Nadhariyya ijz al-Qurn ind Abd al-Qhir al-Jurjn, Masters Diss., Cairo University, 1960, pg 13, as quoted in Qd pg 257.

[10] Bqilln, Ijz al-Qurn, pg 609

[11] Abu Db, Literary Criticism, pg 362

[12] Jurjn, Dalil al-ijz.

[13] Az-Zarkash, al-Burhn, pg 93

[14] This aspect is important because the information it contains regarding these issues could not possibly have been known by natural means to an illiterate man, such as Muhammad (peace be upon him).

[15] Khalfa, pg 21 footnote.

[16] Az-Zarkash, v.2, pg106

[17] Qd, pg 267.

[18] Abu Abd ar-Rahmn as-Sulam, a famous Tbi (Successor), as quoted in Qd, pg 258.

[19] al-Bqilln, Ijz al-Qurn, pg 43-44.

[20] As-Suyt, v.2, pg151. (A paraphrase from the Arabic).

[21] Boullata, pg 141.

[22] For more detailed lists on the literary ijz of the Qurn, see Appendix.

[23] Quoted from Khalifa, pg 20.

[24] Khattb, Bayn Ijz al-Qurn

[25] See his Dalil al-ijz

[26] An example of this is in Jurjns illustration that the ijz could not merely be in the arrangement of vowels of the words, for this notion lead to attempts at composing verses which followed the same prototype as the existing Qurnic chapters. Such an attempt was made by Musaylamah who claimed to have met the Qurnic challenge with his verses, Inn ataynkal jamhir. Fasalli li rabbika wa hjir. Inna shniaka huwal kfir and, wat-thinti tahnan. (These were composed according to the protoptype of verses 108:1-3 and 100:1 of the Qurn).

[27] Khalifa, ch 2 endnote 19 (pg 24)

[28] Ibn Taymiyyah, Majm al-Fatw, v.11, pg 324.

[29] Khalifa, pg 24.

[30] Qd, pg 268 (taken from Itr, Hasan Diyq ad-Dn, al-Mujiza al-Khlidah, and al-Qattn, Mann, Mabhith f Ulm al-Qurn)

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