The Qur’an’s Styles
The Qur’an is a book conveyed by the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, as the Word of God and which testifies to his prophethood. It is also his greatest miracle, which challenges not only the Arabs of his time but all people to come until the Last Day to produce one like it, not just of the whole, but even of a single chapter of it. The Qur’an is also unparalleled among the Divine Scriptures in being preserved and transmitted to the later generations without the slightest alteration. There is not a single difference among the copies of the Qur’an which have been circulating in the world since its first revelation.
Although there is no problem of any theological value which the Qur’an has not dealt with, and it surpasses all scriptural records of pre- or post-Islamic ages in the abundant variety of its contents, yet its method of approach, presentation and solution is exclusively unique in itself. Rather than dealing with any topic in the common, so-called systematic way used by any author of theology or by an apostolic writer, it expressly says that it has adopted a special manifold method of its own which may be called “tasrifi.” That is, it displays various or changing topics, shifting from one subject to another, or reverting to the previous one and repeating deliberately and purposefully one and the same subject in a unique and peculiar rhythmic and recitative form, to facilitate the understanding, learning and remembering of it.
“Look, how We set out the signs (of God’s Existence and Unity and other truths of faith) in diverse ways, so that it may be that they will penetrate the essence of matters and understand.” (6: 65)
The Qur’an exhibits the order of the universe. As almost all varieties of existing things present themselves side-by-side or mingled before our eyes, the Qur’an displays varieties linked together with a rhythm of peculiar pitch. This is to show forth the signs of the Unity of God. Although itself openly expresses that this changing attitude will cause some opponents of it to put forth doubts about its Divine Authorship (6: 106), it gives the reason for this, so as to stir up the depth of human intellect to reflect on the unity in variety, and the harmony in diversity. As a matter of fact, the Holy Qur’an deals in each chapter of particular rhythm with various topics in various ways. This variety adds only to its unique beauty and matchless eloquence. An attentive reciter, or an intelligent audience, of the Holy Qur’an while passing through these varieties of rhythmical pitch, enjoys these to the extent that the Qur’an itself declares:
“God sends down in parts the best of the words as a Book fully consistent in itself, and whose statements corroborate, expound and refer to one another. The skins of those who stand in awe of their Lord tingle at (the hearing and understanding of) it. Then, their skins and their hearts come to rest in the Remembrance of God (the Qur’an). This is God’s guidance, by which He guides whomever He wills. And whomever God leads astray, there is no guide for him.” (39: 23)
In addition to this unique style of the Qur’an, the arrangement of its verses and chapters does not follow a chronological order. You find some verses that were revealed together and put in the same place in the Qur’an but are preceded and followed by other verses. Some chapters and verses are lengthy, while some others are very short. Although this arrangement is one of the aspects of the Qur’an’s miraculousness, one of the most important reasons why many orientalists and their imitators in the Muslim world venture to criticize the Qur’an on the pretext that there is not consistency among its verses, is this:
The Qur’an exhibits the order of the universe. Just as there is both a whole-part and holistic-partial or universal-particular relation among the things or elements in the universe, the same relation is also true for the verses of the Qur’an. That is, a body is a whole and the head, arms, legs and other organs are its parts. Any of these parts cannot wholly represent the body because whatever there is in the body is not to be wholly found in any of its parts. However, each part is a whole in itself. Similarly, humankind and every species in existence is holistic or universal. That is, each species is composed of members wherein each contains all of the features of the species, and therefore represents the species. Thus, a human being is an exact specimen of humankind in structure.
It is just like this that each of the Qur’anic verses is a whole in itself and also has an independent existence. Most of them can be put in any place in the Qur’an without harming either the composition or the meaning. In addition, there is an intrinsic relation among all the verses of the Qur’an, and between a verse and all the others. In the words of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi:
“The verses of the Qur’an are like stars in a sky among which there are visible and invisible ropes and relationships. It is as if each of the verses of the Qur’an has an eye which sees most of the verses, and a face which looks towards them, so that it extends to them the immaterial threads of a relationship to weave a fabric of miraculousness. A single surah can contain the whole ‘ocean’ of the Qur’an, in which the whole of the uni- verse is contained. A single verse can comprehend the treasury of that surah. It is as if most of the verses are each a small surah, and most of the surahs, each a little Qur’an. And it is a commonly accepted fact that the whole of the Qur’an is contained in Surat al-Fatihah, and Surat al-Fatihah in the Basmalah” (The Words, “the 25th Word,” 394).
There are verses in the Qur’an which, at first glance, seem to be contradictory. However, there is not a single contradiction in the Qur’an. As mentioned above, the “tasrifi” arrangement of the verses may cause such an “apparent” contradiction. However, the Qur’an is like an organism, all parts of which are interlinked with one another. Both because of this arrangement, and due to the whole-part and wholistic-partial relationship among the verses, in most cases, a correct understanding of a verse is dependent upon an understanding of the whole of the Qur’an. This is another characteristic particular to the Qur’an which is another aspect of its miraculousness and demonstrates its Divine Authorship. This characteristic is very important in the interpretation of the Qur’an, since the Qur’an is the written counterpart of the universe and humanity. According to Muslim sages, the Qur’an, the universe, and humanity are three “copies” of the same book – the first being the “revealed” and written universe and humans, as the second and third, are each a “created Qur’an”; this also teaches us how we can view humanity and the universe. Therefore, what a careless human being sees as a contradiction in the Qur’an is, in reality, the contradiction in his or her viewpoint. One whose being has been unified with the Qur’an will see no contradiction in it, as such a one has been freed from all contradictions. If one views the Qur’an from the windows of one’s particular world, full of contradictions, he or she will absolutely see contradiction in it. This is why first a human being who attempts to approach the Qur’an must be freed from all kinds of contradictions.
The Qur’an was revealed in the language of Arabic. The Qur’an’s language is its outer body. It should not be forgotten that religion does not solely consist of either a philosophy or a theology. It is a method of unifying all the dimensions of our being. Therefore, as pointed out above, the language of the Qur’an is one of the essential, inseparable elements of the Qur’an. It was revealed in Arabic, and not only because the Arabs of the time of its revelation could understand it. Rather, a universal religion must have a universal language. The Qur’an views the world as the cradle of human brotherhood and sisterhood. It envisages uniting all races, colors, and beliefs as brothers and sisters, and as servants of One God. Its language is one of the basic factors that helps a human being not only to ponder over religious realities but also to unite all the dimensions of his or her being according to the divine standards. Translations of the Qur’an cannot be recited in prescribed prayers, since any of its translations is not identical with it. Without Arabic, one can be a good Muslim but one can understand only a little of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an is the source of all knowledge in Islam, not only the religious and spiritual, but also social and scientific knowledge and good morals, law and philosophy.