Many people, particularly in the West often wonder what fascination Muslims have for their holy book – the Qur’an. To them it is just another religious scripture, like all other religious scriptures they know of, revealed as it were for the edification of its followers. But to say ‘revealed’ is perhaps not what they really hold it to be, for many westerners hold to the belief that its author was none other than the Prophet of Islam – Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).
Yet, there is more to the Qur’an than meets the eye. The Qur’an unlike other scriptures is addressed to the whole of mankind and as such has universal appeal. It declares in no uncertain terms: And truly this is a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds (Tanzilu Rabbil Alamin) which the trustworthy spirit (Ruhul Amin i.e.Gabriel) has brought down upon your heart (O Muhammad) that you may be of the warners (Minal Mundhirin), in the plain Arabic language (Lisanin Arabiyyin) And verily, it is announced in the scriptures of former people (Zuburil Awwalin) (Surah Ash-Shu ‘ara V.192-196). It further declares that the Book was revealed in order that the Prophet might lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light – by the leave of their Lord (kitabun anzalnahu ilaika litukhrija-n-nasa min-az-zulumati ila-n-nuri bi idhni rabbihim)(Surah Ibrahim.V.1).
The force and beauty of its language that combines words of wisdom with a poetic diction that no translation can really capture and with a rhythm so haunting that it literally leaves one addicted; the profundity of its message and its matter of fact manner of addressing as it were all mankind, warning and admonishing him and showing him the path that is to be followed if he is to gain salvation; its prophesies and stunning revelation of scientific facts and phenomena that modern science is only now beginning to unravel, all prove that it is more than the work of a man and indeed is nothing short of a miracle. Indeed, Muslims hold that it is the Greatest Miracle ever sent down to man. God declares in the Qur’an (Surah Al-Hijr V.9) that He would guard it (from corruption) and Muslims today proudly point out that even after more than 1400 years have elapsed since its revelation, not a single word has been changed unlike other scriptures such as the Torah and Gospel which have been corrupted over time.
The uniqueness of the Qur’an
But before proceeding further let me point out a unique feature of the Qur’an that I came to realize only recently, and that only when a friend pointed it out to me. There are things in life that are so very obvious that they often escape your attention and are taken for granted. And so it is with the manner in which the Qur’an is arranged. Indeed there does not appear to be any special systematic manner in which the Qur’an is arranged unlike other scriptures such as the Bible which commences for instance with Genesis outlining the creation of man and the universe. And so it is with other books, both religious and non-religious works. But why we may ask does the Qur’an seem so disjointed as a religious scripture, its verses contained in 114 chapters having apparently no beginning or end. It struck me that this was no arbitrary act of the Divinity that had revealed it, but rather had an Intelligent Purpose behind it, that is, that at any point in which one opens the book, it can be read and comprehended without having to resort to the first page.
This is not to say that we do not know which and which verses were revealed when and when, we certainly do. The first few verses that were revealed to the Prophet were when the angel Gabriel revealed to him in the Cave of Hira the first five lines of the chapter that later came to be known as Surah Al Alaq or the Chapter of the Clinging Clot, now the 96th chapter of the Qur’an. The circumstances of this first revelation are related to us by the Prophet as follows:
He (Gabriel) came to me while I was asleep with a coverlet of brocade whereon was some writing, and said “Read!”. I said “What shall I read ?”. He pressed me with it again so that I thought it was death and said “Read!” I said “What then shall I read ?”- and this I said only to deliver myself from him, lest he should do the same to me again.
He said: Read in the name of thy Lord who created,
Who created man from a clinging clot
Read ! Thy Lord is the most beneficient
Who taught by the pen
Taught man that which he knew not
The last revealed verse of the Qur’an was verse 3 of Surah Al Maidah or the Chapter of the Table, the fifth chapter of the Qur’an where the Almighty declares in no uncertain terms:
This day I have perfected for you your religion, completed My favours upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion”
But this is not how the Qur’an as we have it starts or ends. The chronological sequence of the Qur’an we would find is not followed. Rather it starts with Suratul Fatiha or the Chapter of the Opening which is the equivalent of the Lord’s Prayer and ends with Suratul Nas or the Chapter of Men, which faithfully reflects the order followed by the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) in his complete recital of the Qur’an during the holy month of Ramadan some time before his death upon the instructions of the Angel Gabriel. Between these we find chapters with no apparent logical arrangement or sequence connecting these except for the fact that they are usually arranged in decreasing order of length. Indeed, even the verses in a given chapter do not follow any order or sequence, a pecularity that may strike the casual observer and even earn his contempt. But this is where he is mistaken, for as in everything else about it, its arrangement has a purpose. One has only to commence reading the Qur’an from any page he or she chooses or happens to set eyes on to comprehend its unique message that runs like a thread through its numerous pages. Thus in a sense the Qur’an really has no beginning or end. And those who really reflect on its meaning would realize that the message contained in it transcends time and space, having existed in the knowledge and wisdom of God which is unbound by either the limitations of time and space to which the rest of creation is subject to.