The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The Qur'an (Arabic al-qurʾān أَلْقُرآن; its literal meaning is "the recitation" and is often called "Al Qur'an Al Karim": "The Noble Qur'an", also transliterated as Quran, Koran, and less commonly Alcoran) is the holy book of Islam.

Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the literal word of God and culmination of God's revelation to mankind, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of 23 years by the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel). The Qur'an consists of 114 suras (chapters) with a total of 6,236 ayat (verses; the exact number of ayat is disputed, not due to content dispute but due to different methods of counting; the sect founded by Rashad Khalifa claims the exact number is 6,346). The Qur'an retells stories of many of the people and events recounted in Jewish and Christian sacred books (Torah, Bible) and devotional literature (Apocrypha, Midrash), although it differs in many details. Well-known Biblical characters such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and John the Baptist are mentioned in the Qur'an as Prophets of Islam. (Note: For a complete list, see Similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an).


Origin and development of the Qur'an

Muslims believe that the wording of the Qur'anic text that we have today is identical to that revealed to Muhammad himself; words of God delivered to Muhammad through Jibreel (Gabriel).

Muhammad, according to tradition, could neither read nor write, but would simply recite what was revealed to him for his companions to write down and memorize. This tradition of memorization is still very strong among Muslims. The Qur'an has remained in the hearts of millions of Muslims throughout the world in the centuries since Muhammad's mission. Muslims regard this as evidence of the fulfillment of God's promise to preserve the Qur'an:

"We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)." (15:9)

The very word Qur'an is usually translated as "recital," indicating that it cannot exist as a mere text. To be able to perform salat (prayer), a religious obligation in Islam, a Muslim is required to learn at least some suras of the Qur'an (typically starting with the first sura, al-Fatiha, known as the "seven oft-repeated verses," and then moving on to the shorter ones at the end). The more of the Qur'an learned, the better. A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur'an is called a Qari' (قَارٍئ) or Hafiz (which translate as "reciter" or "memorizer," respectively). Muhammad is regarded as the first Hafiz.

Muhammad's companions began recording all the suras in writing before Muhammad died in 632; written copies of various suras during his lifetime are frequently alluded to in the traditions. For instance, in the story of the conversion of Umar ibn al-Khattab (when Muhammad was still at Mecca), his sister is said to have been reading a text of surat Ta-Ha, and at Medina, about 65 Companions are said to have acted as scribes for him at one time or another, and he would regularly call upon them to write down revelations immediately after they came.

According to Islamic tradition, the first complete compilation of the Qur'an in one volume was made in the first Caliph Abu Bakr's time by Zayd ibn Thabit , who "gathered the Qur'an from various parchments and pieces of bone, and from the chests (ie memories) of men." This copy was kept in Hafsa bint Umar's house. However, during the caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan, a dispute developed about the use of various dialects (ahruf ) that the Qur'an was being recited in. Some were also alarmed by reported divergences in the recitation of the revelation, especially among new Muslims. In response, Uthman decided to codify and standardize the text. According to some Islamic traditions, Uthman commissioned a committee, that included Zayd and several prominent members of Quraysh, to produce a standard copy of the text, based on the compilation in the keeping of Hafsa.

When finished, Uthman sent out copies of it to the various corners of the Islamic empire, and ordered the destruction of all copies that differed from it. Several manuscripts, including the Samarkand manuscript , are claimed to be one of the original copies Uthman sent out[1]; however, many scholars dispute that Samarkand is Uthmanic copy. Among the recently discovered Sanaa Qur'an manuscripts, at least three are dated to before 50 AH. Inscriptional evidence begins somewhat later; the earliest dated inscriptions containing portions of the Qur'an other than the basmala (bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim) are dated to around 70 AH[2][3].

Beside the known earlier versions from Abdallah Ibn Masud and Ubay Ibn Ka'b, there exist also some reports about a Shiite version which was allegedly compiled by Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law, which he gave up in favor of Uthman's collection. Muslim scholars assume that the differences between the versions consisted mostly of orthographical and lexical variants and differing count of verses. All three of the mentioned people (Ibn Masud, Ubay Ibn Ka'b & Ali) were in positions of authority that would allow them to oppose any variations that existed between their collection and that of Uthman's. But to the contrary they all supported the Uthmanic compilation and continued to serve under the Caliph's rule.

Since Uthman's version contained no diacritical marks, and could thus be read in various ways by those who had not memorised it, around the year 700 the development of a vocalized version started.The oldest existing copy of the full text is from the ninth century[4]. Today the Qur'an is published in fully vocalized versions.

Today ten canonical recitations of the Qur'an and four uncanonical exist. For a recitation to be canonical it must conform to three conditions:

  1. It must match the Uthmanic compilation, letter for letter.
  2. It must conform with the syntactic rules of the Arabic language.
  3. It must have a continuous isnad to Prophet Muhammad through tawatur, meaning that it has to be related by a large group of people to another down the isnad chain.

Ibn Mujahid documented seven such recitations and Ibn Al-Jazri added three. They are:

  1. Nafi` of Madina (169/785), transmitted by Warsh and Qaloon
  2. Ibn Kathir of Makka (120/737), transmitted by Al-Bazzi and Qonbul
  3. Ibn `Amer of Damascus (118/736), transmitted by Hisham and Ibn Zakwan
  4. Abu `Amr of Basra (148/770), transmitted by Al-Duri and Al-Soosi
  5. `Asim of Kufa (127/744), transmitted by Sho`bah and Hafs
  6. Hamza of Kufa (156/772), transmitted by Khalaf and Khallad
  7. Al-Kisa'i of Kufa (189/804), transmitted by Abul-Harith and Al-Duri
  8. Abu-Ja`far of Madina, transmitted by Ibn Wardan and Ibn Jammaz
  9. Ya`qoob of Yemen, transmitted by Ruways and Rawh
  10. Khalaf of Kufa, transmitted by Ishaaq and Idris

These recitations differ in the vocalization (tashkil تشكيل) of a few words, which in turn gives a complementary meaning to the word in question according to the rules of Arabic grammar. For example, the vocalization of a verb can change its active and passive voice. It can also change its stem formation, implying intensity for example. Vowels may be elongated or shortened, and glottal stops (hamzas) may be added or dropped, according to the respective rules of the particular recitation. For example, the name of archangel Gabriel is pronounced differently in different recitations: Jibrīl, Jabrīl, Jibra'īl, and Jibra'il. The name "Qur'ān" is pronounced without the glottal stop (as "Qurān") in one recitation, and prophet Ibrāhīm's name is pronounced Ibrāhām in another.

The more widely used narrations are those of Hafs (حفص عن عاصم), Warsh (ورش عن نافع), Qaloon (قالون عن نافع) and Al-Duri (الدوري عن أبي عمرو). Muslims firmly believe that all canonical recitations were recited by the Prophet himself, citing the respective isnad chain of narration, and accept them as valid for worshipping and as a reference for rules of Sharia. The uncanonical recitations are called "explanatory" for their role in giving a different perspective for a given ayah. Today several dozen persons hold the title "Memorizer of the Ten Recitations," considered to be the ultimate honour in the sciences of Qur'an.

Textual Criticism and the Qur'an

Higher biblical criticism revolutionized Judaism and Christianity by calling into question long-held assumptions about the origins of the Bible; some ambitious textual critics are doing the same for the Qur'an. They say that parts of the Qur'an are based on stories of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the New Testament of the Christian Bible, and other non-canonical Christian works; differences of the biblical to the Qur'anic versions suggest to some scholars that these stories were not taken directly from written texts but seem rather to have been part of the oral traditions of the Arab peninsula at Muhammad's time. To Muslims, however, this explanation is topsy-turvy: the "non-canonical" Jewish and Christian stories are simply further textual corruptions of an otherwise nearly lost divine original reflected in the Qur'an.

These critics also seek to find evidence of text evolution and transcription disputes in early Islam; the results have been meager, but some have expressed hopes that recent discoveries of "Qur'an Graveyards" in Yemen will throw more light on the subject.

Interpretation of the Qur'an

According to the earliest accounts, all of which were written by believers, the Qur'an was revealed piecemeal over a long period; thus each sura, and sometimes even an individual verse, has its own specific circumstances. In some cases, these are mentioned in the well-known tafsirs (for instance, surat Iqra, or many parts, including ayat 190-194, of surat al-Baqarah); in other cases (eg surat al-Asr), the most that can be said is which city the Prophet was living in at the time (dividing between Makkan and Madinan suras.) In some cases, such as surat al-Kawthar, the details of the circumstances are disputed, with different traditions giving different accounts. Where known, however, the circumstances are considered an important aid in understanding the intended meaning of each verse. The more general background of the Qur'an, especially historical, is also of value in its interpretation. For example, it would scarcely be possible to make sense of surat al-Fil without the background knowledge given by early Arab historians' account of the Year of the Elephant.

The most important external aid used in interpreting the meanings of the Qur'an is the Hadith — the collection of Islamic traditions from which the details of early Islamic history are derived. An extensive science of isnad emerged in the early centuries of Islam, attempting to classify alleged sayings according to their reliability. The interpretation of the Qur'an soon developed into its own science, the ilm at-tafsir. Famous commentators include at-Tabari, az-Zamakhshari, at-Tirmidhi, Ibn Kathir. While these commentaries mention all common and accepted interpretations, modern fundamentalist commentaries like the one of Sayyed Qutb tend to stick to only one of the possible interpretations.

Belief in the Qur'an's direct, uncorrupted divine origin is fundamental to Islam; this of course entails believing that the Qur'an has neither errors nor inconsistencies. ("This is the book in which there is no doubt, a guide to the believers": Surat al-Baqarah, verse 2.) However, it is well-known that certain chronologically later verses supersede earlier ones — the banning of wine, for instance, was accomplished gradually rather than immediately — and certain scholars have argued that some verses which discourage certain practices (for instance, polygamy) without banning them altogether should be understood as part of a similar process, though others argue that this contradicts "This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and chosen for you Islam as your religion" (5.3). Also, Christian missionaries say they have pointed out inconsistencies in the Qu'ran; Muslims, meanwhile, say they have refuted the Christian missionaries' arguments. (Indeed, a long debate is ongoing over whether the Qu'ran - and the Christian Bible - have inconsistencies, and, if so, what inconsistencies are there.)

Note that, while certain Hadith — the Hadith Qudsi — are claimed to record noncanonical words spoken by God to Muhammad, or the gist of them, Muslims do not consider these to form any part of the Qur'an.

As to the basic message of the Qur'an, there are three fundamental points, repeated and restated throughout the book. They are as follows: this present physical life is a test; the afterlife is certain; our actions in this present life have consequences in the next.

'Created' vs. 'uncreated' Qur'an

The most widespread varieties of Muslim theology consider the Qur'an to be eternal and 'uncreated'. Such an approach echoes Greek philosophy, especially Plato's theories that all ultimate realities and truths had to be eternal and unchanging. Given that Muslims believe that Biblical figures such as Moses and Jesus all preached Islam, the doctrine of an unchanging, uncreated revelation implies that contradictions between their statements according to the Qur'an and the Bible must be the result of human corruption of the earlier divine revelations.

However, some, notably including the Mu'tazili and Ismaili sects, dispute this doctrine of the uncreated Qur'an. Various liberal movements within Islam implicitly or explicitly question the doctrine of the uncreated Qur'an when they question the continuing applicability and validity of Islamic law, as their justifications for doing so are often based on a belief that such laws were created by God to meet the particular needs and circumstances of Muhammad's community.

Among the many reasons the dissenting voices have offered for their critique of the doctrine of an eternal Qur'an has been its implications to the doctrine of tawhid, or unity of God. Holding that the Qur'an is the eternal uncreated speech of Allah, speech that has always existed alongside Him, seemed to some thinkers to be a step in the direction of a more plural concept of God's nature (which could lead to what Muslims consider the sin of shirk, the association of something with God). Concerned that this interpretation appeared to echo the Christian conception of God's eternal Word or logos, some Muslim philosophers and theologians rejected the notion of the Qur'an's eternality.

Stylistic attributes

The Qur'an often, although by no means always, uses loose rhyme between successive verses; for instance, at the beginning of surat al-Fajr:

Wa laylin `ashr(in),
Wash-shaf`i wal-watr(i)
Wal-layli 'idh yasr(),
Hal f dhlika qasamun li-dh ḥijr(in).

or, to give a less loose example, the whole of surat al-Fil:

'A-lam tara kayfa fa`ala rabbuka bi-'aṣḥbi l-fl(i),
'A-lam yaj`al kaydahum f taḍll(in)
Wa-'arsala `alayhim ṭayran 'abbl(a)
Tarmhim bi-ḥijratin min sijjl(in)
Fa-ja`alahum ka-`aṣfin ma'kl(in).

Note that verse-final vowels are unpronounced when the verses are enunciated separately, a regular pausal phenomenon in classical Arabic. In these cases, and often rhyme, and there is some scope for variation in syllable-final consonants. Some suras also include a refrain repeated every few verses, for instance ar-Rahman ("Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?") and al-Mursalat ("Woe unto the repudiators on that day!")

The length of verses (ayat) varies notably from sura to sura; in general, the earlier Makkan suras tend to have shorter verses than the later Madinan suras, with legal verses being particularly long. Contrast the Makkan verses above with a verse such as al-Baqara 229:

Divorce must be pronounced twice and then (a woman) must be retained in honour or released in kindness. And it is not lawful for you that ye take from women aught of that which ye have given them; except (in the case) when both fear that they may not be able to keep within the limits (imposed by) Allah. And if ye fear that they may not be able to keep the limits of Allah, in that case it is no sin for either of them if the woman ransom herself. These are the limits (imposed by) Allah. Transgress them not. For whoso transgresseth Allah's limits: such are wrong-doers.

Similarly, the Madinan suras tend to be longer, including the longest sura of the Qur'an, al-Baqara.

Every chapter but one is preceded by the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate". 29 suras begin with letters taken from a restricted subset of the Arabic alphabet; thus, for instance, surat Maryam begins "Kaf. Ha. Ya. 'Ain. Sad. A mention of the mercy of thy Lord unto His servant Zachariah." While there has been some speculation on the meaning of these letters, the consensus of Muslim scholars is that these letters' full meaning is beyond our understanding. However, they have observed that in all but 4 of the 29 cases, these letters are almost immediately followed by mention of the Qur'anic revelation itself. Western scholars' efforts have been tentative; one proposal, for instance, was that they were initials or monograms of the scribes that had originally written the sura down. See Qur'anic initial letters for a fuller discussion.

A notable feature of the Qur'an is its rather frequent partial repetition, ranging from brief epithets (eg "Lord of the heavens and the earth") to sentences. For instance, in the story of Adam, the words "And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all save Iblis", are repeated verbatim in suras al-Baqarah, al-Isra, al-Kahf, and Ta-Ha, and with only slight change in al-A'raf. Similarly, "Come not nigh to the orphan's property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength" is found both in al-An'am 152 and in al-Isra 34. These repetitions sometimes serve to emphasise an important point, and sometimes are repeated in different contexts to illustrate different points. They often prove difficult for memorisers of the Qur'an, since, whereas most verses can only have one possible verse following them, these can have several.

Less literally, thematic repetition is also found; the stories of Thamud or Adam, for instance, is narrated in several places to about the same level of detail each time. One reason for this is that the Qur'an is not a narrative; rather than having a single centralized place for a given account, it generally tells the account whenever it serves to illustrate the appropriate point, typically recounting those portions of it that are most relevant.

Traditionally, the Arabic grammarians consider the Qur'an to be a genre unique unto itself, neither poetry (defined as speech with metre and rhyme) nor prose (defined as normal speech or rhymed but non-metrical speech, saj' .)

Parts and subdivisions

In addition to and largely independent of the division into suras, there are various ways of dividing the Qur'an into parts of approximately equal length for convenience in reading, reciting and memorizing. The seven manazil (stations) and the thirty ajza' (parts) can be used to work through the entire Qu'ran in a week or a month, one manzil or one juz' a day, respectively. A juz' is sometimes further divided into two ahzab (groups), and each hizb is in turn subdivided into four quarters. A different structure is provided by the ruku'at , semantical units resembling paragraphs and comprising roughly ten ayat each.

The Qur'an and Islamic culture

Before touching a copy of the Qur'an, or mushaf , a Muslim performs wudu (washing for prayer.) This is based on a literal interpretation of sura 56 :77-79: "Most surely it is an honored Qur'an, in a book that is protected; none shall touch it save the purified ones."

Cantillation (tilawa تلاوة) of the Qur'an is a fine art in the Muslim world, and allows for several variations of pronunciation of, for instance, pausal vowels and ta marbutah.

The traditions governing the translation and publication of the Qur'an state that when the book is published, it must never simply be entitled "The Qur'an." The title must always include a defining adjective (avoiding conceivable confusion with other "recitations", in the Arabic meaning), which is why all available editions of the Qur'an are titled The Glorious Qur'an, The Noble Qur'an, and other similar titles.

Translation of the Qur'an

The Qur'an has been translated into many languages, but translations of the Qur'an from Arabic to other languages are not considered by Muslims to be actual copies of the Qur'an, but rather are considered to be interpretive translations of the Qur'an; they are thus not given much weight in debates upon the Qur'an's meaning. In addition, as mere interpretive translations of the Qur'an, they are treated as ordinary books instead of being accorded the privileged status of Holy Books requiring special care.

Robert of Ketton was the first to translate the Qur'an into Latin, in 1143.

See also


  • A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, Touchstone Books, 1996. ISBN 0684825074
  • M. M. Al-Azami, The History of the Qur'anic Text from Revelation to Compilation, UK Islamic Academy: Leicester 2003.
  • Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami al-bayan `an ta'wil al-Qur'an, Cairo 1955-69, transl. J. Cooper (ed.), The Commentary on the Qur'an, Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0199201420
  • Ibn Warraq (ed.), The Origins of the Koran, Prometheus Books, 1998. ISBN 157392198X
  • J. D. McAuliffe (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an, Brill, 2002-2004.
  • Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes in the Qur'an, Bibliotheca Islamica, 1989. ISBN 0882970461
  • Robinson, Neal, Discovering the Qur'an, Georgetown University Press, 2002. ISBN 1589010248
  • W. M. Watt and R. Bell, Introduction to the Qur'an, Edinburgh University Press, 2001. ISBN 0748605975
  • Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Quranic Christians : An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegesis, Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN 0521364701
  • Barbara Freyer Stowasser, Women in the Qur'an, Traditions, and Interpretation, Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (June 1, 1996), ISBN 0195111486
  • Helmut Gatje, Alford T. Welch, The Qur'an and Its Exegesis, Oneworld Publications; New Ed edition (November 1, 1996). ISBN 1851681183
  • Hanna E. Kassis, A Concordance of the Qur'an, University of California Press (March 1, 1984), ISBN 0520043278

External links


  • The Noble Qur'an — Translated by Dr.Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al Hilali, and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan. A well-known English translation endorsed by the Saudi government. Includes Arabic commentary by Ibn Katheer, Tabari, and Qurtubi.


  • Qur'an Search Search English, Turkish, French, Spanish, Malay, German

Tafsir (Commentary)

Ulm (Qur'anic studies)


Supporting views regarding Islamic traditions and the Qur'an

Skeptical views of Islamic traditions and the Qu'ran

Western academic discussion of the origins of the Qur'an

Qur'anic manuscripts and calligraphy

The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy