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(Redirected from Quran)
This article forms part of the series
Vocabulary of Islam
Five Pillars
Profession of faith
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Holy Cities
HijraIslamic calendarEid ul-Fitr
Eid ul-AdhaAashura – Arba'in
Islamic architecture
Functional Religious Roles
Interpretive Texts & Practices
Sunni (Schools of thought:
Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi'i)
Shi'a: Ithna Asharia, Ismailiyah, Zaiddiyah
Non-Mainstream Sects/Movements
Related Faiths
Druze; Bahaism

The Qur'an (also Quran, Koran, Alcoran; Arabic قُرْآن) is the Islamic holy book of Allah (Arabic for God).

Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the literal word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of 22 years. The Qur'an consists of 114 suras (chapters) with a total of 6,236 ayats (verses). The Qur'an retells stories of many of the people and events of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, although it differs in many details. Well-known Biblical characters such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mary, 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).


'Created' vs. 'uncreated' Qur'an

Traditional Muslim theology believed in an eternal, 'uncreated' Qur'an. In this it was influenced by 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 implied that all differences between the Qur'an and the Bible must be the result of human corruption of the earlier divine revelations.

However, the above doctrine of the uncreated Qur'an has been disputed by some, including the Mu'tazili and Ismaili sects. 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. A Qur'an created by God for a particular context might also account for differences between the Bible without resorting to accusations of human corruption of divine texts.

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 spoken by Muhammad himself; created by God and delivered to Muhammad through Gabriel. Muhammad is supposed to have only delivered the Qur'an in spoken form during his lifetime; the word Qur'an (repertoire) is suitably translated as "recital", indicating that it cannot exist as a mere text. To ensure they remembered the text thoroughly, the faithful were required to (and many still do) memorize passages perfectly, down to the last syllable, and recite them frequently. A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur'an is called a Qari' (قَارٍئ) or Hafiz (which tranlates as "protector" or "memorizer".)

According to the dominant tradition, Muhammad's companions began recording all the suras in writing before Muhammad died in 632 CE. Thus, as Muslims proudly note, two different mechanisms were in place -- oral and written -- to help ensure that no corruption of the text took place over time.

Most Muslims believe that of the major Ibrahimic religious works containing the word of God, (the Qur'an, the Tanakh, and the New Testament) only the Qur'an has remained uncorrupted over the years. In recent years, some students of Muslim theology have advocated the findings of modern biblical textual criticism, which claims to have shown that the extant version of the five books of Moses was not written solely by Moses 3500 years ago, as traditional Jews and Christians had believed, but instead was compiled perhaps 2500 years ago from a number of previous sources. This is known as the Documentary hypothesis. Similar work has been carried out on the New Testament. In Muslims' view, this demonstrates that the Jewish and Christian scriptures, though originally divinely inspired, have been corrupted by malicious or careless scribes over the centuries, and cannot therefore provide a reliable guide to God's will for mankind - thus necessitating the final revelation of the Qur'an. However, the Qur'an also stipulates that the Jewish and Christian scriptures are based, however loosely, on divinely inspired originals, and Muslims therefore have respect for them.

Among Islamic scholars, there is almost no dispute that the text today is as it was when it was first written down. The emphasis on the need for copies of the Qur'an to be exact has resulted in the destruction of any copies which differ from the original. Some textual critics argue that this makes an objective and scientific study on the authenticity of Qur'anic codexes virtually impossible, suggesting that this practice simply destroyed variations that had been original to the text.

The two best-known readings of the Qur'an are the Warsh (ورش) and Hafs (حفص) readings, which differ in the vocalization (tashkil تشكيل) of a few words, however, 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. Recent discoveries of "Qur'an Graveyards" have thrown more light onto the subject of text evolution and transcription disputes in early Islam.

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. 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.

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).

Contemporary Scholarship 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 attempting to do the same for the Qur'an. They claim 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 indicate 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.

Islamic history records that Uthman ibn Affan collected all variants of the Qur'an and destroyed those which he regarded as corrupted. Beside the known earlier versions from Abdallah Ibn Masud and Ubay Ibn Ka'b, there exist also some highly dubious 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. Modern researchers assume that the differences between the versions consisted mostly of orthographical and lexical variants and differing count of verses. Also, 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 this and continued to serve under the Caliph's rule and the first two were, as orthodox Muslims believe, licensed by Muhammad himself to teach the Qur'an. The copy used as a standard, according to Islamic history, was the one compiled by the first Caliph (Abu Bakr) almost immediately after the demise of Muhammad. Abu Bakr only ruled two years. This may explain why no opposition existed once the written Qur'an copies were standardised.

Since Uthman's version contained no diacritical marks and could be read in various ways, around the year 700 the development of a vocalized version started. Today the Qur'an is published in fully vocalized versions.

The Hadiths (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) represent an additional view into the Muslim understanding of Islamic law; they are roughly equivalent to Judaism's oral law in the Mishnah and Talmud. Different schools within the various branches of Islam accept different hadith collections as genuine.

The interpretation of the Qur'an soon developed into its own science, the ilm at-tafsir. Famous commentators were at-Tabari, az-Zamakhshari, at-Tirmidhi. While these commentaries mention all common and accepted interpretations, modern fundamentalist commentaries like the one of Sayyed Qutb show tendencies to stick to only one possible interpretation.

Today seven canonical readings of the Qur'an and several uncanonical exist. This sevener-system was laid down by Ibn Mujahid who tried to find the special characteristics of each reading and thus derived common rules by analogical reasoning (qiyas).

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

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

See also


  • A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, Touchstone Books, 1996. ISBN 0684825074
  • Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes in the Qur'an, Bibliotheca Islamica, 1989. ISBN 0882970461
  • W. M. Watt and R. Bell, Introduction to the Qur'an, Edinburgh University Press, 2001. ISBN 0748605975
  • J. D. McAuliffe (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an, Brill, 2002-2004.
  • Don Richardson, Secrets of the Koran, Regal Books, 2003. ISBN 0830731245
  • Ibn Warraq (ed.), The Origins of the Koran, Prometheus Books, 1998. ISBN 157392198X
  • Muhammad ibn Jarir at-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

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45