Chapter XX - Koran - First Source
The word “Koran” is derived from the Arabic kara'a. i.e to read to recite. It is designated “al-Furqan” (the distinguisher), Kalamul-lah (the word of God), the Kitab (the book), Nur (the light) and al-Huda (the guidance). It has a large number of other names, some mentioned in the Koran itself and others given Muslims. The Koran is held in the greatest respect by all sects of Islam. It is never touched without ablution performed beforehand. it is considered the eternal miracle of Islam, as the expounder of the most sublime truth; as superior to what was laid down by all past religions as the best guide for seeking God and for obtaining emancipation; the perfection of all moral codes; as the word of God, uncreated in its origin and existing before being conveyed to the Prophet; as noble and complete in itself. It has been revealed in parts at different times during a period of twenty-three years, as necessity demanded it. Some chapters were revealed in complete form; others in portions. It was divided into thirty parts, containing 114 chapters, known in Arabic as Suras,, were very long and others very brief. The chapters were arranged under the personal direction of the Prophet, who used to ask the scribe present to insert revealed passage in a particular chapter and before or after a particular verse of the chapter. It was neither arranged in chronological order not at random, but as commanded by the Prophet himself. Order of Abu Bakr, a copy of the Sacred Book having been left in the custody of Hafsa, the widow of the Prophet and daughter of Omar, the second Khalifa. The third Khalifa, Osman, ordered the revision and comparison of the various fragments in the possession of different people with the original copy, and the arrangement of the whole -Sacred Book into its chapters under the supervision of the following experts: -
- Zaid ibn Thabit, who also was the first compiler.
- 'Abdullah ibn Zubair
- Sa'id ibn Al-As.
- 'Abdul-Rahman ibn Haris.
With the exception of the first, the other three belonged to the Koraishite tribe. The work was complete. The work of compilation was first undertaken by after careful scrutiny and comparison with other fragments and presented to the Khalifa who caused a number of copies of it to be made and sent to the different centres of Islam, and these became texts for all subsequent copies of the Holy Book. The fragments in possession of different people were recovered and burnt. As a number of companions such as 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud; Salim: 'Ali (the fourth Khalifa); Mu'az ibn Jabal; Ubayy ibn Ka'b; 'Abdullah ibn Omar, had committed the whole Koran to memory and a large number had each got by heart a big portion of it, hardly any difficulty was experienced in the matter of securing a correct text or in arranging it as required. The Prophet used to encourage his companions to write and learn the text of the Suras by heart. The attachment of the Muslims to the Sacred Book is so great that it has retained its purity, without the least change, for the last one thousand, three hundred and eighty years. Its contents were revealed in the Meccan dialect of the Koraish, and the object of ‘Osman was to make people read it in this self-same dialect.
A Muslim believes in the Koran as the word of God uttered in a manner which is unsurpassable in the beauty of its language and in the declaration of the truth of the doctrines inculcated by it. Non-Muslim writers and critics in Europe are unanimous in admitting its high literary merit. George Sale, whose translation of the Koran is well known, writes:-
"So strongly captivating to the minds of his audience that several of his opponents thought it to be the effect of witchcraft and enchantment.
"Omar the second Khalifa, before embracing Islam,. was an opponent of the Prophet; and once he left his place with the intention of killing him. On his way he met his own sister, who had embraced Islam, and found her reading some passages from the Koran. He took these passages and read them, and was so much affected them that he immediately became a Muslim.
In describing the great world Flood (Deluge), the passages in the Koran describing it became extremely figurative and sublime. According to Arab writers on rhetoric, the following few lines taken from these passages contain twenty-three figures or speech in them. These lines cannot, for obvious reasons, retain their original beauty in the translation offered here: -
"And the ark moved in with them amid waves like mountains. and Noah called out to his son (when) he was apart. 'O my child! Embark with us, and be not with unbelievers’. He said “I will betake myself to a mountain, that shall save me this day form God's decree, save him on whom he shall have mercy, and a wave passed between them and he (the son) was drowned and it was said (by God); 'O Earth! Swallow down the water and O Heaven! Withhold thy rain; and the water abated and God’s decree was fulfilled and the ark rested on al-Judi (a mountain)"
Such is the style of the Koran, most beautiful fluent, concise, persuasive, possessing great force of expression; in some instance composed for hearing rather than for reading; magnificent when describing the majesty and sublimity of God, encouraging to warriors, seekers of the truth and undetermined hearts. It is composed neither in poetry nor in simple prose. The sentences generally end in rhyme; words being well selected and beautifully placed. Each chapter has its own rhymed words, coming at the end of each sentence.
Apart from the beauty of its composition, it contains original ideas especially in connection with the unity or existence or the singleness of God.
Divisions Of The Koran
The Chapters of the Koran arc divide into Meccan and Medinite. The Meccan chapter are usually in brief sentences, full or enthusiasm, poetical, lofty and brilliant; denouncing idol worship, promising paradise and threatening with the dire punishment of hell; describing the unity and majesty of God, the day of judgment with allusions to some of the earlier prophets and the events of their time; rich in eloquence, with appreciation of objects in nature; and with most of them beginning with one or a number of oaths, very attractive to Arabs as in the following: -
By the sun and his noonday brightness;
By the moon when she followeth him;
By the day when it revealeth him
By the night when it enshroudeth him;
By thc heaven and Him who built it;
By the earth and Him who spread it;
“By a soul and Him who perfected it, and inspired in it (with) what is wrong and what is right for it" (XCJ-1-8). ()
The Medinite Chapters narrate the same subjects but generally in greater details, the verses being more prosaid and the chapters much longer. They are chiefly noted for the addition of (1) civil and criminal laws; (2) directions and rituals, such as prayer fasting, giving alms, making the pilgrimage, etc. (3) social reform (4) moral regulations (5) brief description of some of the important battles fought with the Koraishites and the Jews; (6) criticism and condemnation of hypocrites who professed Islam but worked against. it; (7) exhortation to defend the cause of Islam; and (8) a brief description of past Prophets, and events illustrating the fundamental principles of Islam.
Orientalists Reviewing The Koran
Speaking of the Koran in his west-Ostlicher Divan, Von Goethe states: -
"However often we return to it (the Koran), at first disgusting us each time afresh, it soon attracts, astounds and, in the end, enforces our reverence. Its style, in accordance with its contents and aim, is stern, grand, terrible-ever and a non truly sublime. Thus, this book will go on exercising, through all ages, a most potent influence." ()
Dr. Stengass, the learned compiler of the English-Arabic and Arabic-English Dictionary (W.H. Allen and Co.), has recorded his opinion on the Koran in Dr. Hughes' 'Dictionary of Islam', After alluding to the above words of Goethe, Dr. Steingass writes: "These words seem to me so much the more weighty and worthy of attention as they are uttered by one who, whatever his merits or demerits in other respects may be deemed to be, indisputably belongs to the greatest masters of language of all times and stands foremost as a leader of modern thought and the intellectual culture of modern times. A work then, which calls forth so powerful and seemingly incompatible emotions, even in the distant reader - distant as to time, and still more so, as to mental development - a work (i.e. the Koran) which not only conquers repugnance with which he may begin its perusals, but changes this adverse feeling into :astonishment and admiration. Such a work must be a wonderful production of the human mind indeed, and a problem of the highest interest to every thoughtful observer of the destinies or mankind. We may well say, the Koran is one of the grandest books ever written because it reflects the character and life of the greatest man that ever breathed “Sincerity”, writes Carly1e, sincerity in all senses, seems to me the merit of the Koran” same sincerity, this ardour and earnestness in the search for truth, this never flagging perseverance in trying to impress it, when partly found, again and again upon his unwilling hearers, appears to me the real and undeniable, Seal of prophecy' in Muhammad'. ()
( ) By the inspiration by God into the soul (with) what is right and what is wrong is meant that the Almighty God has gifted man with the faculty of distinguishing and the power or choosing between right and wrong; in other words. He pointed to man the two Conspicuous ways. Commentators explain the verse to mean that God has perfected man by making him understand and know both ways - the wrong and the right.
It is to be noted here that both Rodwell and Palmer are wrong in translating the verse as meaning: “and breathed Into it (the soul) its wickedness and is piety” (Palmer), for the statement in this form is not only contradicted by the whole of the Quran, but is also self-contradictory and meaningless, because the words would thus imply that when a man left evil and did good, it was God who breathed in him to do so, and when a man left good and did evil it was again God who taught him to do so, which is manifestly absurd,
() C. Goethe's west-ostlicher Divan it is worthy of remark that these 'words of Goethe were placed by Dr. Rodwell by way of motto on the reverse or the title page or his translation of the Quran - (Author).