The content of the Qur’an is wholly divine and its Arabic speech descended on this one chosen individual, Muhammad (saw) Al-Amin. The Prophet (saw) had no role to play in the production of the Qur’an and passively received the sacred text and repeated it verbatim to his amanuensis for recording. The Qur’an, then, is not in any way co-authored. An illiterate individual cannot be anything more than a mouthpiece, albeit a sentient and intelligent one, in the Islamic model of revelation. Whenever Muhammad (saw) was asked for a miracle, he would refer to the composition of the Qur’an.
It is important to understand the context in which the Qur’an entered the natural order. In the history of the prophets, what magic was to Moses and what medical skill was to Jesus, eloquence was to Muhammad (saw): it was the skill of the age, the skill at its highest peak of development at the time of the appearance of each, which thus functioned as the subject matter for the authenticating miracle. If Moses confounded the sorcerers, Jesus the doctors and Muhammad (saw) the poets and masaqi (eloquent men) of their respective communities, there was no better proof that they had some divine backing in doing so.
When Walid ibn al-Mughira - God’s curse be upon him! – chief of Quraysh and a man known for his eloquence heard the Qur’an , he was struck into silence, his heart turned numb, his eloquence forsook him, his argument collapsed, his case was devastated, his impotence clearly appeared and his wits were befuddled and he said:
“… By God, there is a certain sweetness to his words, a certain grace…” (Zarkashi, al-Burhan fi ulum al-Qur'an)
The above quote encapsulates the response at the first appearance of the Qur’an amongst the Qurayshi Arabs. It exemplifies the reluctant and perplexed appreciation of the Qur’an even from the Prophet’s (saw) antagonists who cast doubt on his prophethood.
Even orientalist scholars remarked:
"The Koran constantly stresses the need for intelligence in deciphering the ‘signs’ or ‘messages’ of God. Muslims are not to abdicate their reason but to look at the world attentively and with curiosity… But the greatest sign of all was the Koran itself: indeed, its individual verses are called ayat. Western people find the Koran a difficult book and this is largely a problem of translation. Arabic is particularly difficult to translate: even ordinary literature and the mundane utterances of politicians frequently sound stilted and alien when translated into English, for example, and this is doubly true of the Koran, which is written in dense and highly allusive, elliptical speech. The early suras in particular give the impression of human language crushed and splinted under the divine impact…" (Karen Armstrong. A History of God, 1993)
“And it was not possible for this Qur’an to be produced by other than Allah, but it is a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the former Scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds.” (Qur’an 10:37)
“Say: ‘If all mankind and the djinn would come together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even though they exerted all and their strength in aiding one another.” (Qur’an 17:88)
“Or do they say that he has invented it? Say (to them), ‘Bring ten invented chapters like it, and call (for help) on whomever you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.” (Qur’an 11:13)
“And if you are in doubt about what I have revealed to My servant, bring a single chapter like it, and call your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful.” (Qur’an 2:23)
The following assumptions form the foundation for i’jaz ul Qur’an.
The Linguistic Construction of the Qur’an is the Miracle
One can hardly find a work on the topic of i’jaz that does not pose the same question: ‘What does the miracle of the Qur’an subsist in?’ The miracle rests on the Qur’an’s literary inimitability.
The Challenge of the Qur’an
The Qur’an itself asserts the doctrine of i’jaz in the form of a series of challenges (al-tahaddi fi al-Qur'an) which in six different loci invites Muhammad’s (saw) antagonists, those who deny his prophethood and declare the Qur’an a 'fabrication’, to produce something of its like. It is important to note that this challenge was addressed not to the believers but to the unbelievers.
The challenge was also not simply a denunciation of the unbelievers, but constituted an invitation to them to carefully examine the Qur’an and see if it could have been, as they claimed it was, the product of the mind of a man possessed. The underlying assumption of this challenge was that the merit and beauty of the Qur’an could be appreciated even by those outside the fold of the faith.
Allah’s challenge to imitate the Qur’an (mu’arada) implies effort and exertion. Failed attempts at imitating the Qur’an are a reflection of the divine hand behind its construction. The miracle, in other words, is located in the Qur’an itself. The miracle is not located outside of the Qur’an by virtue of Allah’s deterrence (man’) frustrating attempts at imitation since this would have rendered the deterrence miraculous and not the Qur’an.
An understanding of the definition of miracles is required before examining details of the linguistic aspect of the miracle. Baqillani’s al-Farq bayna’l -mu’jizat wa’l karamat discusses the definition of a miracle as an act that ‘breaks the custom’ (kharq al-ada) – i.e. the natural order of things.
Umar (ra) is an example of those who were converted on the spot after simply listening to the eloquent persuasiveness of the Qur’an.
There are two avenues of the proof for the i’jaz. One is the way of ‘circumstantial’ evidence as espoused by the Ash’arite Sayf al-Din al-Amidi. It can be summed up as follows: a) the contemporaries of Muhammad (saw), notwithstanding their being ‘the most eloquent people on the face of the earth’, as is often said, and being notoriously vain about their poetic skills, and despite their ample motives for taking up the challenge, such as Muhammad’s (saw) vilification of their gods and his (saw) declaring their lives and property forfeit, did not do so and instead embarked on a series of wars, thus, breaking the ‘custom’ of normal behaviour; b) evidently, the Qur’an has not been successfully imitated.
This argument was best tailored for the needs of those who were not versed in either literature or, even more fundamentally, the Arabic language, and could only be convinced by this type of ‘indirect’ evidence.
The ‘direct’ way of proving i’jaz was to be espoused by those scholars who aimed at unveiling the miraculous nature of the Qur’an from a literary standpoint, and more specifically with the boundaries of nazm as the essence of the miracle.
The Arabs, upon hearing it, were lost for words in trying to classify it: ‘Is it poetry?’ ‘Is it magic?’ ‘Is it soothsaying?’ ‘It is only the stories of the ancients!’ The Arabs could not find a literary form to which the Qur’an corresponded.
The Qur’an can be disqualified from all existing categories of composition. Linguists and rhetoricians have produced tables of all known literary forms and the Qur’an falls into none of these.
The Qur’an’s eloquence is sui generis, totally outside both human forms (let alone levels within forms) of literature. To be sure, it may include familiar elements, but only to assimilate them in this unclassifiable otherness. For if the Qur’an ‘did not fall outside the styles they speak in, and it fell within them, no miracle would occur.’
The eloquence of the Qur’an cannot be explained by mere skill (hidhq) and superior ability (taqaddum). The only explanation is one of divine origin.
The Qur’an challenges the unbelievers to produce just a single verse of its like. The challenge serves to invite the unbelievers to carefully examine its inimitability and thus ponder over its origin.
The Qur’an’s inimitability rests on its linguistic supremacy. The unique eloquence of the Qur’an is not simply a degree of excellence which is of the highest type but it is a wholly different genre of expression which defies classification. It cannot be compared to any other literary form and resides beyond it, breaking the normative literary custom to enter the realm of the miraculous.
The challenge has never been met and suffices as proof that the Qur’an is nothing less than the revelation of the Lord of the Worlds.
Abdul Aleem, I’jaz-Ul-Qur'an
Mustansir Mir, The Qur’an as Literature
M. Rahmatullah Kairanvi, Izhar-Ul-Haq
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