Response To Claims Made Against The Elo­quence of the Qur’an

Intro­duc­tion

This arti­cle was writ­ten to exam­ine the lan­guage of the Qur’an and the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing it, in ref­er­ence to its super­nat­ur­al elo­quence. We will also at the same time scru­ti­nize a post­ing by a Chris­t­ian apol­o­gist, Pete Nash — or oth­er­wise known as Kip Rid­er, which attacks the elo­quence claim of the Qur’an and see whether it stands up to the examination.

The Mirac­u­lous Elo­quence of The Qur’an

Mr. Pete Nash alias Kip Rid­er expounds his claims as follows :

    Unlike the Bible, which is full of mir­a­cles that many dif­fer­ent wit­ness­es saw over a peri­od of thou­sands of years, the Qur’an is not such a book. Muham­mad claimed that the Qur’an itself, was a mir­a­cle. Most Mus­lims believe that it was the only mir­a­cle that Muham­mad offered as proof of his claims to be a prophet. There are sev­er­al rea­sons giv­en by Mus­lims as to why they con­sid­er the Qur’an to be a mir­a­cle. One of the main rea­sons is the Qur’an’s unique lit­er­ary style”. We are told that the Qur’an has an elo­quence about it that no oth­er book even approach­es. It’s beau­ty is unsur­passed say the Mus­lim apol­o­gists. It is that aspect of the Quran that I want to briefly address. Is it the work of art that the Mus­lims claim ? Is it lin­guis­ti­cal­ly supe­ri­or to all oth­er books ? Also, is elo­quence a valid test to prove the divine inspi­ra­tion of a book ?

He then tries to answer his last ques­tion by saying :

    If the Qur’an is elo­quent (and I’m not say­ing that it is), it would only prove that Muham­mad was a gift­ed per­son. It would not prove that the Qur’an orig­i­nat­ed from God. If elo­quence were a valid test for divine inspi­ra­tion, then one could make the case that Mozart’s sym­phonies were divine­ly inspired. Or how about Home­r’s Ili­ad” and Odyssey”. Or Shake­speare’s works, such as Romeo and Juli­et”. No one would claim that these works, as elo­quent as they are, were divine­ly inspired. The peo­ple that wrote them were just very tal­ent­ed. So, elo­quence is a poor indi­ca­tor of divine inspiration.

We would not address the claims of one thou­sand and one” mir­a­cles of the Bible, since this is not the issue of this arti­cle and irrel­e­vant, and there­fore we will go straight to the gist of the mat­ter, i.e. the super­nat­ur­al elo­quence of the Qur’an. To argue that elo­quence is not the proof of divine inspi­ra­tion, i.e. that is, there are oth­er works of so-called equal” elo­quence such as Homer and Shake­sphere, reflects a deep igno­rance of the Ara­bic and the sub­ject mat­ter by the writer. We should keep in mind that dur­ing pre-Islam­ic Ara­bia, the Arabs were well-known for their suprema­cy in lan­guage. So proud and haughty were the Arabs of their lan­guage that they refer to oth­er races as عُجْم (ajam), or dumb. As Philip K. Hit­ti observes :

No peo­ple in the world, per­haps, man­i­fest such enthu­si­as­tic admi­ra­tion for lit­er­ary expres­sion and are so moved by the word, spo­ken or writ­ten, as the Arabs. Hard­ly any lan­guage seems capa­ble of exer­cis­ing over the minds of its users such irre­sistible influ­ence as Ara­bic.Philip K. Hit­ti, His­to­ry of the Arabs, 10th edi­tion (Macmil­lan Press, 1970), p. 90. Par­tial­ly cit­ed by Hus­ton Smith, The Reli­gions Of Man (Harp­er & Row, 1958), p. 204

Hus­ton Smith com­ments, in ref­er­ence to the above obser­va­tion made by Philip K. Hit­ti, that :

It is not dif­fi­cult to sur­mise why this is so. Nomads are pro­hib­it­ed by their tran­sient way of life from devel­op­ing visu­al art. Their archi­tec­ture is restrict­ed to flap­ping tents, their crafts to the few pots and fab­rics they can car­ry with them. With life one long process of pack­ing and unpack­ing, one is not like­ly to accu­mu­late a muse­um. Blocked on the visu­al side by the need to keep gear light, the nomad’s art took a ver­bal turn. Wis­dom,” says a famous adage, has alight­ened on three things : the brain of the Franks, the hands of the Chi­nese, and the tongue of the Arabs.“Hus­ton Smith, ibid., p. 204

When the Qur’an was first recit­ed, the Quraysh imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized it to be of great speech and elo­quence, but were try­ing to make excus­es to hide the fact. Ibn Ishaq recounts the inci­dent of their con­sul­ta­tion with al-Walid b. al-Mughi­ra in his book Sir­at Rasul Allah as fol­lows :

A num­ber of the Quraysh came to al-Walid b. al-Mughi­ra, who was a man of some stand­ing and he addressed them in these words : The time of the fair has come round again and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Arabs will come to you and they will have heard about this fel­low of yours, so agre upon one opin­ion with­out dis­pute so that none will give the lie to the oth­er’. They replied, You give us your opin­ion about him.’ He said, No, you speak and I will lis­ten.’ They said, He is a kahin.’ He said, By God, he is not that, for he has not the unin­tel­li­gent mur­mur­ing and rhymed speech of the kahin.’ Then he is pos­sessed,’ they said. No, he is not that,’ he said, we have seen pos­sessed ones and here is no chok­ing, spas­mod­ic move­ments and whis­per­ing.’ Then he is a poet,’ they said. No, he is not a poet, for we know poet­ry in all its forms and metres.’ Then he is a sor­cer­er.’ No, we have seen sor­cerors and their sor­cery, and here is no spit­ting and no knots.‘A. Guil­laume, The Life of Muham­mad : A Trans­la­tion of Ibn Ishaq’s Sir­at Rasul Allah, 1978, Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, p. 121

So what is the mir­a­cle of the Qur’an, exact­ly ? As recog­nised by the Arabs quot­ed above, Abdur Raheem Green men­tions that :

    These are the six­teen al-Bihar (lit­er­al­ly The Seas”, so called because of the way the poem moves, accord­ing to its rhyth­mic pat­terns): at-Taw­il, al-Bassit, al-Wafir, al-Kamil, ar-Rajs, al-Khafaf, al-Haz­aj, al-Mut­takarib, al-Mun­sar­ih, al-Muk­tatab, al-Muk­tadarak, al-Madad, al-Muj­tath, al-Ramel, al-Khabab and as-Saria’. So the chal­lenge is to pro­duce in Ara­bic, three lines, that do not fall into one of these six­teen Bihar, that is not rhyming prose, nor like the speech of sooth­say­ers, and not nor­mal speech, that it should con­tain at least a com­pre­hen­si­ble mean­ing and rhetoric, i.e. not gobbledygook.

The team at Islam­ic Aware­ness bril­liant­ly explains the Ara­bic lan­guage and the Arab speech, as follows :

To begin with, the Ara­bic lan­guage and Arab speech are divid­ed into two branch­es. One of them is rhymed poet­ry. It is a speech with metre and rhyme, which means every line of it ends upon a def­i­nite let­ter, which is called the rhyme’. This rhymed poet­ry is again divid­ed into metres or what is called as al-Bihar, lit­er­al­ly mean­ing The Seas’. This is so called because of the way the poet­ry moves accord­ing to the rhyth­mic pat­terns. There are six­teen al-Bihar viz ; at-Taw­il, al-Bassit, al-Wafir, al-Kamil, ar-Rajs, al-Khafaf, al-Haz­aj, al-Mut­takarib, al-Mun­sar­ih, al-Muk­tatab, al-Muk­tadarak, al-Madad, al-Muj­tath, al-Ramel, al-Khabab and as-Saria’. Each one rhymes dif­fer­ent­ly. For metres of Ara­bic poet­ry please see please see Lyal­l’s book Trans­la­tions Of Ancient Ara­bi­an Poet­ry, Chiefly Pre-Islam­ic. He dis­cuss­es al-Kamil, al-Wafir, al-Hajaz, at-Taw­il, al-Bassit, al-Khafaf and al-Madad briefly. The oth­er branch of Ara­bic speech is prose, that is non-met­ri­cal speech. The prose may be a rhymed prose. Rhymed prose con­sists of cola end­ing on the same rhyme through­out, or of sen­tences rhymed in pairs. This is called rhymed prose” or saj. Prose may also be straight prose (mur­sal). In straight prose, the speech goes on and is not divid­ed in cola, but is con­tin­ued straight through with­out any divi­sions, either of rhyme or of any­thing else. Prose is employed in ser­mons and prayers and in speech­es intend­ed to encour­age or fright­en the mass­es. One of the most famous speech­es involv­ing saj is that of Haj­jaj bin Yusuf in his first dep­u­ta­tion in Iraq in post-Islam­ic and Quss bin Sa’i­dah in pre-Islam­ic times.

Indeed, it is clear that :

The Qur’an is not verse, but it is rhyth­mic. The rhythm of some vers­es resem­ble the reg­u­lar­i­ty of saj, and both are rhymed, while some vers­es have a sim­i­lar­i­ty to Rajaz in its vigour and rapid­i­ty. But it was rec­og­nized by Quraysh crit­ics to belong to nei­ther one nor the oth­er cat­e­go­ry.A F L Bee­ston, T M John­stone, R B Ser­jeant and G R Smith (Edi­tors), Ara­bic Lit­er­a­ture To The End Of The Ummayad Peri­od, (Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press : 1983) pp. 34

The Ori­en­tal­ists’ View Of The Qur’an : What Do They Real­ly Say ?

Next, we read that the poster has claimed that :

    Is the Qur’an even an elo­quent book to begin with ? Not every­one thinks so. In fact, most peo­ple of the West­ern world agree with Car­lyle who said this of the Qur’an : It is as toil­some read­ing as I ever under­took, a weari­some, con­fused jum­ble, crude, incon­dite. Noth­ing but a sense of duty could car­ry any Euro­pean through the Koran.” I am in com­plete agree­ment with Car­lyle in this regard. It is only with extreme effort that I can work my way through the Qur’an. It is a poor­ly writ­ten, con­fused, and com­plete­ly bor­ing book.

We would argue that the above quote as cit­ed from Car­lyle is not only decep­tive, but tak­en out of its orig­i­nal con­text. Car­lyle indeed said the above, but it was not meant to be a crit­i­cism on the lit­er­ary style of the Ara­bic Qur’an. On the con­trary, Car­lyle was stat­ing his opin­ion about the Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the Qur’an­ic text, specif­i­cal­ly by George Sale. We repro­duce the whole con­text of the quote cit­ed by the poster, which is as follows :

We also can read the Koran ; our Trans­la­tion of it, by Sale, is known to be a very fair one. I must say, it is as toil­some read­ing as I ever under­took. A weari­some con­fused jum­ble, crude, incon­dite ; end­less iter­a­tions, long-wind­ed­ness, entan­gle­ment ; most crude, incon­dite ; – insup­port­able stu­pid­i­ty, in short ! Noth­ing but a sense of duty could car­ry any Euro­pean through the Koran. We read in it, as we might in the State-Paper Office, unread­able mass­es of lum­ber, that per­haps we may get some glimpses of a remark­able man. It is true we have it under dis­ad­van­tages : the Arabs see more method in it than we. Mahome­t’s fol­low­ers found the Koran lying all in frac­tions, as it had been writ­ten down at first pro­mul­ga­tion ; much of it, they say, on shoul­der-blades of mut­ton, flung pell-mell into a chest : and they pub­lished it, with­out any dis­cov­er­able order as to time or oth­er­wise ; – mere­ly try­ing, as would seem, and this not very strict­ly, to put the longest chap­ters first. The real begin­ning of it, in that way, lies almost at the end : for the ear­li­est por­tions were the short­est. Read in its his­tor­i­cal sequence it per­haps would not be so bad. Much of it, too, they say, is rhyth­mic ; a kind of wild chant­i­ng song, in the orig­i­nal. This may be a great point ; much per­haps has been lost in the Trans­la­tion here. Yet with every allowance, one feels it dif­fi­cult to see how any mor­tal ever could con­sid­er this Koran as a Book writ­ten in Heav­en, too good for the Earth ; as a well-writ­ten book, or indeed as a book at all ; and not a bewil­dered rhap­sody ; writ­ten, so far as writ­ing goes, as bad­ly as almost any book ever was ! So much for nation­al dis­crep­an­cies, and the stan­dard of taste.

Yet I should say, it was not unin­tel­li­gi­ble how the Arabs might so love it. When once you get this con­fused coil of a Koran fair­ly off your hands, and have it behind you at a dis­tance, the essen­tial type of it begins to dis­close itself ; and in this there is a mer­it quite oth­er than the lit­er­ary one. If a book come from the heart, it will con­trive to reach oth­er hearts ; all art and author-craft are of small amount to that. One would say the pri­ma­ry char­ac­ter of the Koran is this of its gen­uine­ness, of its being a bona-fide book. Prideaux, I know, and oth­ers have rep­re­sent­ed it as a mere bun­dle of jug­g­leries ; chap­ter after chap­ter got up to excuse and var­nish the author’s suc­ces­sive sins, for­ward his ambi­tions and quack­eries : but real­ly it is time to dis­miss all that. I do not assert Mahome­t’s con­tin­u­al sin­cer­i­ty : who is con­tin­u­al­ly sin­cere ? But I con­fess I can make noth­ing of the crit­ic, in these times, who would accuse him of deceit pre­tense ; of con­scious deceit gen­er­al­ly, or per­haps at all ; – still more, of liv­ing in a mere ele­ment of con­scious deceit, and writ­ing this Koran as a forg­er and jug­gler would have done ! Every can­did eye, I think, will read the Koran far oth­er­wise than so. It is the con­fused fer­ment of a great rude human soul ; rude, untu­tored, that can­not even read ; but fer­vent, earnest, strug­gling vehe­ment­ly to utter itself in words. With a kind of breath­less inten­si­ty he strives to utter him­self ; the thoughts crowd on him pell-mell : for very mul­ti­tude of things to say, he can get noth­ing said. The mean­ing that is in him shapes itself into no form of com­po­si­tion, is stat­ed in no sequence, method, or coher­ence ; – they are not shaped at all, these thoughts of his ; flung out unshaped, as they strug­gle and tum­ble there, in their chaot­ic inar­tic­u­late state. We said stu­pid:” yet nat­ur­al stu­pid­i­ty is by no means the char­ac­ter of Mahome­t’s Book ; it is nat­ur­al uncul­ti­va­tion rather. The man has not stud­ied speak­ing ; in the haste and pres­sure of con­tin­u­al fight­ing, has not time to mature him­self into fit speech. The pant­i­ng breath­less haste and vehe­mence of a man strug­gling in the thick of bat­tle for life and sal­va­tion ; this is the mood he is in ! A head­long haste ; for very mag­ni­tude of mean­ing, he can­not get him­self artic­u­lat­ed into words. The suc­ces­sive utter­ances of a soul in that mood, col­ored by the var­i­ous vicis­si­tudes of three-and-twen­ty years ; now well uttered, now worse : this is the Koran.Thomas Car­lyle, Heroes and Hero Wor­ship, Project Guten­bergs E‑Text

Car­lyle admit­ted that his obser­va­tions were lim­it­ed by the Eng­lish trans­la­tion, and is not and indict­ment of the Ara­bic Qur’an. Since no Mus­lim would claim that the trans­la­tions of the Qur’an is the Qur’an itself and cer­tain­ly has no bear­ing on the lit­er­ary elo­quence of the text, we accuse the poster of delib­er­ate­ly mis­quot­ing Car­lyle’s state­ment and, by tak­ing it out of its orig­i­nal con­text, tries to apply it to the Ara­bic instead.

In truth, Car­lyle did have an admi­ra­tion of the Qur’an, despite his com­plain­ing about the con­fu­sion” of its translation.

E. H. Palmer, as ear­ly as 1880, rec­og­nized the unique style of the Qur’an. He writes in the Intro­duc­tion to his trans­la­tion of the Qur’an, that :

…the best of Arab writ­ers has nev­er suc­ceed­ed in pro­duc­ing any­thing equal in mer­it to the Qur’an itself is not sur­pris­ing. In the first place, they have agreed before-hand that it is unap­proach­able, and they have adopt­ed its style as the per­fect stan­dard ; any devi­a­tion from it there­fore must of neces­si­ty be a defect. Again, with them this style is not spon­ta­neous as with Muham­mad and his con­tem­po­raries, but is as arti­fi­cial as though Eng­lish­men should still con­tin­ue to fol­low Chaucer as their mod­el, in spite of the changes which their lan­guage has under­gone. With the Prophet, the style was nat­ur­al, and the words were those in every-day ordi­nary life, while with the lat­er Ara­bic authors the style is imi­ta­tive and the ancient words are intro­duced as a lit­er­ary embell­ish­ment. The nat­ur­al con­se­quence is that their attempts look laboured and unre­al by the side of his impromp­tu and forcible elo­quence.E. H. Palmer (Tr.), The Qur’an, 1900, Part I, Oxford at Claren­don Press, pp. lv.

The famous Ara­bist from Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford, H.A.R. Gibb was open upon about the style of the Qur’an. In his words :

…the Mec­ca­ns still demand­ed of him a mir­a­cle, and with remark­able bold­ness and self con­fi­dence Moham­mad appealed as a supreme con­fir­ma­tion of his mis­sion to the Koran itself. Like all Arabs they were the con­nois­seurs of lan­guage and rhetoric. Well, then if the Koran were his own com­po­si­tion oth­er men could rival it. Let them pro­duce ten vers­es like it. If they could not (and it is obvi­ous that they could not), then let them accept the Koran as an out­stand­ing evi­dent mir­a­cle.H. A. R. Gibb, Islam : A His­tor­i­cal Sur­vey, 1980, Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, pp. 28.

And in some oth­er place, talk­ing about the Prophet(P) and the Qur’an, he states that :

Though, to be sure, the ques­tion of the lit­er­ary mer­it is one not to be judged on a pri­ori grounds but in rela­tion to the genius of Ara­bic lan­guage ; and no man in fif­teen hun­dred years has ever played on that deep-toned instru­ment with such pow­er, such bold­ness, and such range of emo­tion­al effect as Moham­mad did.ibid., pp. 25..

As a lit­er­ary mon­u­ment the Koran thus stands by itself, a pro­duc­tion unique to the Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture, hav­ing nei­ther fore­run­ners nor suc­ces­sors in its own idiom. Mus­lims of all ages are unit­ed in pro­claim­ing the inim­itabil­i­ty not only of its con­tents but also of its style.…. and in forc­ing the High Ara­bic idiom into the expres­sion of new ranges of thought the Koran devel­ops a bold and strik­ing­ly effec­tive rhetor­i­cal prose in which all the resources of syn­tac­ti­cal mod­u­la­tion are exploit­ed with great free­dom and orig­i­nal­i­ty.H A R Gibb, Ara­bic Lit­er­a­ture : An Intro­duc­tion, 1963, Oxford at Claren­don Press, pp. 36.

On the influ­ence of the Qur’an on Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture, Gibb says that :

The influ­ence of the Koran on the devel­op­ment of Ara­bic Lit­er­a­ture has been incal­cu­la­ble, and exert­ed in many direc­tions. Its ideas, its lan­guage, its rhymes per­vade all sub­se­quent lit­er­ary works in greater or less­er mea­sure. Its spe­cif­ic lin­guis­tic fea­tures were not emu­lat­ed, either in the chancery prose of the next cen­tu­ry or in the lat­er prose writ­ings, but it was at least part­ly due to the flex­i­bil­i­ty impart­ed by the Koran to the High Ara­bic idiom that the for­mer could be so rapid­ly devel­oped and adjust­ed to the new needs of the impe­r­i­al gov­ern­ment and an expand­ing soci­ety.ibid., pp. 37

As the Qur’an itself says :

And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our ser­vant, then pro­duce a Sura like there­un­to ; and call your wit­ness­es or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true. But if ye can­not- and of a sure­ty ye can­not- then fear the Fire whose fuel is men and stones,- which is pre­pared for those who reject Faith.“Qur’an, 2:23 – 24

The above quotes cit­ed eas­i­ly speak for them­selves. Thus, with­in the Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture — either poet­ry or prose — there is noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble to the Qur’an. Mus­lims through­out the cen­turies are unan­i­mous upon its elo­quence and inimitability.

Sub­jec­tive Judge­ment” And The Bible

Our poster also claims that :

    To use com­mon Amer­i­can lan­guage, it is just a very bad read”. If Mus­lim apol­o­gists want to prove the divine inspi­ra­tion of the Qur’an, they would be wise to stay away from the elo­quence” test. The Qur’an fails that test mis­er­ably. Now, some may argue that the elo­quence of the Qur’an is pure­ly a sub­jec­tive judge­ment. That’s a valid point.

The valid point” can eas­i­ly be dis­proved by ask­ing the ques­tion : if the lan­guage of the Qur’an was pure­ly a sub­jec­tive point, why were the pagan Arabs will­ing to accuse the Prophet(P) of being pos­sessed, or mak­ing mag­ic or of being a sooth­say­er, instead ? Any­one who reads the argu­ments of the pagan Arabs against the Prophet(P) could eas­i­ly see that they had to resort to ad hominem, argu­ment against the man. They were clear­ly unable to explain the lan­guage of the Qur’an accord­ing to the rhymed speech­es they were famil­iar with. And these were the same peo­ple who labelled oth­er non-Arabs as ajam”, as had been stat­ed ear­li­er. The argu­ment for the mir­a­cle of the elo­quence of the Qur’an is cer­tain­ly not sub­jec­tive”, and nei­ther do the pagan Arabs think so. Had it been an utter­ly sub­jec­tive cri­te­ri­on” as insin­u­at­ed, they would have used the charge against the Qur’an already, and that would have been the end of the matter.

Now we move on to the next top­ic : what about the Bible ? How is its lan­guage com­pared to the Qur’an ? Com­par­ing the styl­is­tic per­fec­tion of the Qur’an ver­sus styl­is­tic imper­fec­tion of the Bible, von Grunebaum states that

In con­trast to the styl­is­tic per­fec­tion of the Kur’an with the styl­is­tic imper­fec­tions of the old­er Scrip­tures the Mus­lim the­olo­gian found him­self unknow­ing­ly and on pure­ly pos­tu­la­tive grounds in agree­ment with long line of Chris­t­ian thinkers whose out­look on the Bib­li­cal text is best summed up in Niet­zsche’s brash dic­tum that the Holy Ghost wrote bad Greek.B Lewis, V L Menage, Ch. Pel­lat & J Schacht (Edi­tors), Ency­clo­pe­dia Of Islam (New Edi­tion), 1971, Vol­ume III, E J Brill (Lei­den) & Luzac & Co. (Lon­don), pp. 1020 (Under I’d­jaz)

Futher, he elab­o­rates the posi­tion of West­ern the­olo­gians on the can­on­iza­tion process and com­po­si­tion of the Bible, as follows :

The knowl­edge of the West­ern the­olo­gian that the Bib­li­cal books were redact­ed by dif­fer­ent writ­ers and that they were, in many cas­es, acces­si­ble to him only in (inspired) trans­la­tion facil­i­tat­ed admis­sion of for­mal imper­fec­tions in Scrip­ture and there with less­ened the com­pul­sive insis­tence on its styl­is­tic author­i­ty. Chris­t­ian teach­ing, leav­ing the inspired writer, under the guid­ance of the Holy Spir­it, free in mat­ters of style, has pro­vid­ed no moti­va­tion to seek an exact cor­re­la­tion between the revealed text on the one hand and gram­mar and rhetoric on the oth­er. It there­by relieved the the­olo­gian and the crit­ic from search­ing for a har­mo­ny between two styl­is­tic worlds, which at best would yield an ahis­toric con­cept of lit­er­ary per­fec­tion and at worst would pre­vent any­thing resem­bling tex­tu­al and sub­stan­tive crit­i­cism of Rev­e­la­tion.… In Chris­tian­i­ty, besides, the apol­o­gy for the low” style of the Bible is mere­ly a part of edu­ca­tion­al prob­lem — what to do with sec­u­lar eru­di­tion with­in Chris­tian­i­ty ; where­as in Islam, the cen­tral posi­tion of the Kur’an, as the focal point and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of gram­mat­i­cal and lit­er­ary stud­ies, was the­o­ret­i­cal­ly at least, nev­er con­test­ed with­in the believ­ing com­mu­ni­ty. ibid.

That pret­ty much sums up the Bible, its styl­is­tic per­fec­tion (or the lack of it!) and the posi­tion of West­ern theologians.

Con­clu­sions

It is clear that far from being an utter­ly sub­jec­tive cri­te­ri­on”, the lan­guage of the Qur’an sur­pass­es any known Ara­bic poet­ry in regards to its elo­quence. And this is even tes­ti­fied to by the Ori­en­tal­ists cit­ed above. If any­one were to argue against the evi­dence by sim­ply mak­ing excus­es or dis­miss­ing it as a sub­jec­tive” cri­te­ri­on, it will be obvi­ous that the accuser, in the light of the evi­dences pre­sent­ed above, would only reflect their opin­ion” of not only deep igno­rance regard­ing the sub­ject mat­ter, but also prej­u­dice. As the poster who made the alle­ga­tions apt­ly says :

    My opin­ion of the Qur’an, is after all, only my opinion.

which, we may add, does not count for much. And that sums up the mat­ter quite well ! Response To Claims Made Against The Eloquence of the Qur'an 1Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi, Response To Claims Made Against The Elo­quence of the Qur’an,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Octo­ber 14, 2005, last accessed May 27, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​q​u​r​a​n​/​r​e​s​p​o​n​s​e​-​c​l​a​i​m​s​-​e​l​o​q​u​e​n​c​e​-​q​u​r​an/

6 Comments

  1. Muham­mad is not a prophet of the Judeo-Chris­t­ian God. Islam’s Allah is not the pro­fessed God of the Jews & Chris­tians. Mean­ing, the Qur’an does not ref­er­ence the same God of Judeo-Chris­t­ian Scrip­ture. How­ev­er, Chris­t­ian Scrip­ture may indeed ref­er­ence the same God as the Old Testament.

    [Snip pla­gia­rism from http://​www​.answer​ing​mus​lims​.com/​2012​/​10​/​w​h​y​-​d​i​d​-​m​u​h​a​m​m​a​d​-​a​t​t​e​m​p​t​-​s​u​i​c​i​d​e​.​h​tml Don’t you have any opin­ion of your own apart from regur­gi­tat­ing trash?]

  2. Jesus is the com­mu­ni­ca­ble Eter­nal Word that entered a human ves­sel, and so effected/​imparted sav­ing grace unto human­i­ty in this life­time — a scan­dal, that believ­ers can actu­al­ly be saved in this life, instead of only a hope­ful redemp­tion in the next.

    The Word is akin to Knowl­edge, or a liv­ing Mes­sage, that bears & con­tains divine mer­its, i.e. the activ­i­ty of God. God does not depart Eter­ni­ty, how­ev­er, His self-knowl­edge can ; hence Rev­e­la­tion. In Christ, a human body was pre­served for the agency of Grace, and God’s knowl­edge (Word) was impart­ed upon (adjoined to) that body. In oth­er words, thru Jesus (incar­nate), God direct­ly reveals Him­self and acts among creation.

    In God’s con­cep­tion of mankind, God (from an eter­nal stand­point) knew that redemp­tion was inti­mate­ly part of cre­ation ; only His sub­stance (grace) can effect sal­va­tion, or actu­al­ly remove sin, instead of earth­ly ordi­nances and prac­tices (i.e. the law). Church Fathers right­ly dis­cerned two natures co-exist­ing side by side, hav­ing divin­i­ty & human­i­ty un-meshed ; human­i­ty did not detract from divin­i­ty, and vice-versa.

    In Jesus’ divin­i­ty, He served as the agent of the Father’s will to impart grace in this life­time. Jesus’ divin­i­ty pre­ced­ed the Incar­na­tion. God’s self-knowl­edge (and plan of redemp­tion) con­tains God & His mer­its. In oth­er words, God’s knowl­edge of Him­self (and actions) reflect God, i.e. God’s knowl­edge is as real & liv­ing as He is. Nev­er­the­less, God’s con­cep­tion of self is gen­er­at­ed” or pro­duced” and there­fore serves Him ; hence Jesus serv­ing the Father through­out earth­ly ministry.

    In Jesus’ human­i­ty, the Holy Spir­it was present with­out stain (Jesus nev­er com­mit­ted sin); hence the Vir­gin Birth (preser­va­tion), which extends the eter­nal effect of the Immac­u­late Con­cep­tion, and bod­i­ly vic­to­ries against temp­ta­tion to sin, or denial of the Holy Spir­it (per­se­ver­ance). Jesus’ body was there­fore unob­struct­ed (unblem­ished) for expi­a­tion of sin. God does not depart Eter­ni­ty, how­ev­er, He wills to direct­ly com­mune with the hearts & minds (spir­its) of believ­ers, who dwell out­side Eternity.

    God, act­ing in this way, frees from the law those who tes­ti­fy to the Holy Spir­it, for the Holy Spir­it tes­ti­fies to the Pas­sion (death & res­ur­rec­tion) of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ bod­i­ly sac­ri­fice, human­i­ty’s shed­ding of human blood is expi­at­ed for, eter­nal­ly. In oth­er words, Christ (more than) ful­filled the law, and was Lord of the Sab­bath (where Rev­e­la­tion informed, and gave pur­pose to, the Sab­bath), so Christ gifts fol­low­ers with the Holy Spir­it. In the Holy Spir­it, believ­ers have full (unob­struct­ed) com­mu­nion with God via Trini­tar­i­an faith. This is human­i­ty’s return to Par­adise, a state of
    grace that pre­ced­ed the punc­ture of sin.

  3. I have a question,is it pos­si­able to write some­thing in ara­bic that makes sense that dosen’t use the 16 al-bihar,saj,or mur­sal ? And if no,why ? Also why is the ara­bic lan­guage restrict­ed to these forms of writ­ing. I appre­ci­ate any answers thank you.

    Your broth­er in islam,

    Sha­di.

  4. The lat­est non mus­lim attempt to meet the chal­lenge of the quran is the true furqan. It mis­er­ably fails to meet the chal­lenge of the quran. This is because this book has been writ­ten in rhymed prose or what is known in ara­bic as Saj. The quran is not writ­ten in Saj, even though a few igno­rant non mus­lims force the quran into this category.

  5. Assala­mu alaykum broth­ers and sis­ters and greet­ings to any­one read­ing this.

    I would like to add anoth­er quick com­ment. Many peo­ple in the past did try to meet the chal­lenge of the Quran only to fail. Some of these works are still present today, which the mis­sion­ar­ies try to present in chal­lenge to the Quran. For a thor­ough analy­sis of these so-called vers­es meet­ing the chal­lenge’ please read http://​www​.islam​ic​-aware​ness​.org/​Q​u​r​a​n​/​M​i​r​a​c​l​e​/​i​j​a​z​1​.​h​t​m​l​#​Muk, http://​www​.islam​ic​-aware​ness​.org/​Q​u​r​a​n​/​M​i​r​a​c​l​e​/​Q​u​s​s​.​h​tml and http://​www​.islam​ic​-aware​ness​.org/​Q​u​r​a​n​/​T​e​x​t​/​f​o​r​g​e​r​y​.​h​tml. These pro­vide an in-depth analy­sis and prove that not only do these so-called surahs fail, but fail mis­er­ably. You may also want to see http://​www​.theinim​itable​quran​.com/​A​B​r​i​e​f​H​i​s​t​o​r​y​O​f​T​h​e​Q​u​r​a​n​i​c​C​h​a​l​l​e​n​g​e​.​h​tml for a short his­to­ry on this.

    Apart from this many mis­sion­ar­ies present the works on surahlikeit​.com and islam​-exposed​.org. In these web­sites are attempts at meet­ing the chal­lenge. In surahlike it​.com, you will find some short chap­ters writ­ten in Ara­bic while the islam​-exposed​.org web­site is actu­al­ly the online ver­sion of the True Furqan’, which is a fair­ly large book writ­ten to try and meet the chal­lenge of the Quran. These attempts to put it light­ly are pathet­ic. Many peo­ple have com­ment­ed on these so-called chap­ters includ­ing Shaykh Hamza, who said :

    You post­ed the fol­low­ing sites :

    http://​www​.islam​-exposed​.org
    surahlikeit​.com

    I have already dealt with these. They are just sim­ple rhymed prose exam­ples of Ara­bic that con­tain no com­plex lin­guis­tic fea­tures, they fail to have as many rhetor­i­cal devices as the Quran, they are not lin­guis­ti­cal­ly sen­si­tive which means any word can be replaced and the mean­ing will not be altered, they have no com­plex cohe­sive struc­tures, they do not employ con­so­nance as the Quran does etc etc the list can go on. As I said any Ara­bic nurs­ery rhyme can be a chal­lenge to the Quran if you do not scratch the sur­face and start to think. I thought you were a free thinker”. If you still believe that these so called chal­lenges are valid, then prove to me they have com­plex lin­guis­tic struc­tures (exam­ples below). Just sim­ply post­ing two sites up does not prove any­thing. You have to give me an analy­sis. Stop stand­ing on the shoul­ders of giants”! Use your mind.’

    Notice that all these so-called chap­ters on surahlikeit​.com and islam​-exposed​.org use par­tic­u­lar tech­niques com­mon to the Ara­bic lan­guage and they all fit into a par­tic­u­lar cat­e­go­ry of the Ara­bic lan­guage. If you read the post above, it is already known that the style and pat­tern of the Quran is such that it does not fit the 16 Al-Bihar, does not fit prose (saj and mur­sal), does not fit kahin nor does it fit nor­mal speech. In fact it is unique in that it can­not be cat­e­go­rized into any known form of the Ara­bic lan­guage. These so-called chap­ters try­ing to meet the chal­lenge clear­ly do fit into par­ticlar known tech­niques of the Ara­bic lan­guage and so in that respect alone (and in many oth­er ways) fail. In par­tic­u­lar, the book, The True Furqan’ is writ­ten in the style of saj (rhymed prose). Some peo­ple have tried to meet the chal­lenge by try­ing to pla­gia­rise parts of the Quran and insert­ing words here and there. How­ev­er, every surah in the Quran is lin­gui­t­i­cal­ly sen­si­tive and has seman­tic cohe­sion. As a result they fail mis­er­ably. The team at caliphate​.org have com­ment­ed on this :

    In recent times we have seen the cheap attempts of Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies who claim they have some­thing bet­ter than the Qur’an. What they have is trans­la­tions of the Bible or sto­ries adapt­ed from the Bible. One quick look at their texts indi­cates the fee­ble nature of their attempts ; they are writ­ten mim­ic­k­ing the style of the Qur’an but always falling short. The Qur’an said bring some­thing like it, not pla­gia­rise its style in a sub­stan­dard man­ner. So it’s no won­der no-one stud­ies their works as a piece of lit­er­a­ture let alone some­thing which is dis­tin­guished for its lit­er­ary qualities.’

    Shaykh Hamza has com­ment­ed on the chal­lenge of the Quran : When the best of Arab poets, rhetori­cians, lin­guists etc., of a lin­guis­ti­cal­ly homoge­nous com­mu­ni­ty of the time failed [to pro­duce a surah like that of the Quran], the lay­man Mus­lim won­ders how a bilingual/​bicultural indi­vid­ual can suc­ceed in repro­duc­ing an equiv­a­lent Quran”. The task is so frus­trat­ing. My list will exhib­it this fact’

    I end this arti­cle by prais­ing Allah sub­hanahu Wa Ta’ala and send­ing salu­ta­tions on the Mes­sen­ger of Allah, Muham­mad sal­lal lahu alai­hi wa salam and his fam­i­ly and companions.

    And Allah knows best.

  6. Assala­mu alaykum broth­ers and sis­ters and greet­ings to any­one read­ing this.

    The mir­a­cle of the Quran is not a sub­jec­tive phonom­e­non. Allah chal­lenges peo­ple to pro­duce a surah like that of the Quran. As explained by Abdur Rahim Green in the above arti­cle Ara­bic lan­guage con­sists of : 1. Nor­mal speech ; 2. Prose, which can be divid­ed into saj and mur­sal ; 3. Poet­ry, which con­sists of the 16 Al-Bihar and 4. Kahin, or the speech of sooth­say­ers. Each of these lan­guage tech­niques are dif­fer­ent and spe­cif­ic. If you take any Ara­bic poem, you will find that it fits into one of the cat­e­gories of the Al-Bihar. Sim­i­lar­ly, any peice of Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture fol­lows a par­tic­u­lar known tech­nique. Indeed, it is inter­est­ing to know that ALL the pre-Islam and post-Islam­ic poet­ry col­lect­ed by Louis Cheikho falls in the above six­teen metres or al-Bihar. The only text in Ara­bic that fits nei­ther of the four cat­e­gories (poet­ry, prose, nor­mal speech or kahin) is the Quran. Thus one aspect of the chal­lenge is to pro­duce a surah, that does not fit into the pat­tern of the 16 metres of Al-Bihar (poet­ry), does not fit the pat­tern of prose (saj and mur­sal), does not fit the pat­tern of kahin (the speech of sooth­say­ers) and is not nor­mal speech. At the same time it must meet the oth­er attrib­ut­es that every surah in the Quran has inclus­ing rhyme, rhythm, rhetor­i­cal devices, pho­net­ics and sound (which is decribed as an inim­itable sym­pho­ny’ by Pick­tall and oth­er lead­ing lin­guists), force and elo­quence to name just a few. Thus, the chal­lenge of the Quran cer­tain­ly is NOT sub­jec­tive ; rather it is objec­tive. More aspects of the chal­lenge are men­tioned by Hamza Tzortzis :

    Let me also high­light that the chal­lenge is not based on sub­jec­tive or aes­thet­ic cri­te­ria. I will give you some exam­ples : Does the Quran have the great­est use of rhetor­i­cal devices ? Yes or No ? Does the Quran employ con­so­nance unlike any oth­er text ? Yes or No ? Does the Quran have numer­i­cal sym­me­try ? Yes or No ? Does the Quran have syntati­co-rhetor­i­cal infer­til­i­sa­tion ? Yes or No ? Does the Quran employ gram­mat­i­cal shift in a log­i­cal and struc­tured man­ner and in a fre­quen­cy unlike any oth­er text ? Yes or No ? Is the Quran a sen­si­tive genre, if a par­ti­cle or word is changed the seman­tic cohe­sion of the pas­sage changes ? Yes or No ? – Do you get my point. All the com­ments about beau­ty of style are sub­jec­tive. The Quran­ic chal­lenge is objec­tive. I repeat – the Quran does the above (and more) or not ? Simple. ”

    What Shaykh Hamza men­tions in the above quote are just some oth­er aspects of the chal­lenge, which the surah in answer­ing the chal­lenge of the Quran must meet.

    The team at Caliphate​.co​.uk have also writ­ten on the subject :

    Elo­quence, beau­ty, rhetoric, struc­ture, rhythm, rhyme, gram­mar, clar­i­ty, depth. These are some of the attrib­ut­es sought for in Ara­bic poet­ry, prose and rhymed prose. These were the then three exis­tent styles of artis­tic expres­sion in Ara­bic. Also amongst the attrib­ut­es superla­tives are sought in are the num­ber of words used to con­vey [less is supe­ri­or] and their depth, coher­ence, con­sis­ten­cy, sym­me­try and force. It was impos­si­ble for the poets to write vers­es in Ara­bic that peaked in each and every con­sid­ered cat­e­go­ry all at once. Inevitably qual­i­ty in on or a few attrib­ut­es would be at the expense of qual­i­ty in some of the oth­ers. This is a nor­mal rule of any lan­guage. The Qur’an when it arrived pro­duced a fourth cat­e­go­ry of its own. In each and every sura the very high­est lev­el of every attribute was achieved all at once. The Qur’an was renowned for its abil­i­ty to cov­ey an extra­or­di­nary depth of mean­ing in just a few words. All while main­tain­ing excel­lence in all char­ac­ter­is­tics of the lan­guage. It was in a league of its own, a league no man could pro­duce even one small piece of in the same style. As a fur­ther exam­ple in Ara­bic there are six­teen forms of poet­ry, six­teen al-Bihar , lit­er­al­ly seas” so-called because of the way the poem moves, accord­ing to a rhythm. In Ara­bic poet­ry each one is more suit­ed to one or a few of the above men­tioned char­ac­ter­is­tics at the expense of the oth­ers. The Qur’an achieved an unpar­al­leled excel­lence through­out in all con­sid­er­a­tions. Thus it tran­scend­ed any of the Bihar , any prose or rhymed prose. This is why the Arabs were shak­en by what they heard, and many con­vert­ed upon hear­ing the spo­ken words. For them it was akin to see­ing the moon split into two.”

    In regards to the issue of whether oth­er woks such as Shake­speare are inim­itable, Shaykh Hamza has written :

    The fol­low­ing is a fre­quent com­ment by many who research into the inim­itabil­i­ty of the Qur’an­ic discourse :

    Now, if you want inim­itable style you should read Shake­speare. This genius wrote in a unique style that set new stan­dards in lan­guage.” Now let us take Shake­spear as an exam­ple. It has been sug­gest­ed that the inim­itabil­i­ty of the Quan is nec­es­sar­i­ly unique, for great eng­lish poets like shake­spear, Chaucer, or great poets in any lan­guage tend to have dis­tinct­ly unique styles, which set them apart from their con­tem­po­raries. How­ev­er, if, for exam­ple, some lead­ing poet of today were to make an indepth study of Shake­spears style in old ink and on old paper, then claim that he had dis­cov­ered a lost poem of Shake­spears, the lit­er­ary world would prob­a­bly accept this claim, even after care­ful study. Thus even the great­est of poets could be imi­tat­ed, no mat­ter how unique his style was, just like the famous painters have been imi­tat­ed. In FACT some Eng­lish schol­ars con­sid­er much of what has been attrib­uted to Shake­spear to have been writ­ten by his con­tem­po­rary Christo­pher Marlowe!”

    I would just like to also add that to that it is true that some Eng­lish schol­ars con­sid­er Shake­speare’s work to be the work of oth­ers. Some schol­ars con­sid­er a lot of Shake­speare’s work to actu­al­ly be the work of the fol­low­ing people :

    Christo­pher Marlowe
    Sir Fran­cis Bacon
    Edward de Vere
    Sir Hen­ry Neville
    William Stanley
    Sir Edward Dyer

    And there are more ! So, Shake­speare’s and oth­er authors writ­ings may be good, but they aren’t inim­itable like the Quran is.

    Any­one inter­st­ed may visit :

    http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​h​a​k​e​s​p​e​a​r​e​a​n​_​a​u​t​h​o​r​s​hip

    Works, which are con­sid­ered to be great are writ­ten in known styles and can there­fore be imi­tat­ed. This is not the case with the Quran. The style of the Quran is unique unlike any oth­er peice of lit­er­a­ture. Take an hon­est look at any oth­er peice of lit­er­a­ture and you will come to this same conclusion.

    Shaykh Hamza states : Oth­er scrip­tures have claimed to be beau­ti­ful” works or lit­er­ary mas­ter­pieces” such as the Great Poet Vem­ana. Now if we analyse such works we can see that they are in the form of known lin­guis­tic styles such as the Aata Velad­hi metre. The Quran dif­fers as it is in an unknown form with­in a sound gram­mat­i­cal struc­ture. And yet no one can repli­cate its intri­cate lin­guis­tic struc­tures and the abun­dance of rhetor­i­cal devices etc. Oth­er pieces of lit­er­a­ture can be amazi­ing and may have great aes­thet­ic effects, but they are not inim­itable. If one man can do it, so can anoth­er. This is not the case with the Quran­ic discourse.”

    Anoth­er issues raised is dis­cussed by Shaykh Hamza :

    A point was raised that stat­ed why does God want to show the detailed lin­guis­tic struc­tures, that are too com­pli­cat­ed to under­stand?”. The mirac­u­lous nature of the Quran­ic lan­guage is actu­al­ly the most effec­tive way to prove its divin­i­ty. If a text had sci­en­tif­ic mir­a­cles, one could say in the future sci­ence may change (as it has changed through­out the years), also – if a text stat­ed that there were mir­a­cles 2000 years ago, then one could say that this is his­to­ry and could have not hap­pened. The list can go on. With the lan­guage mir­a­cle this is dif­fer­ent, it is based upon known rules and unchang­ing set of tools i.e. let­ters, words etc. So with the chal­lenge there is no chance of rais­ing these type of ques­tions. Fur­ther­more the Quran directs mankind to think and the chal­lenge is open and gen­er­al so this indi­cates that the real­i­ty of the text, con­tent, mean­ing etc should be analysed. Thinkers should not want things on a plate. They should actu­al­ly go out and scratch the sur­face and find out if things are true. And as a result of my inde­pen­dent research I have come to the con­clu­sion that the Quran is a unique and sen­si­tive genre that can not be imi­tat­ed. Ratio­nal deduc­tion sug­gests only the Cre­ator could have pro­duced the Quran. This is realised from the real­i­ty of the text and the his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances i.e. it was revealed over a 23 year period.”

    Please vis­it these fan­tas­tic web­sites for a detailed expla­na­tion of the objec­tive chal­lenge of the Quran : http://​www​.theinim​itable​quran​.com, http://​www​.islam​ic​-aware​ness​.org/​Q​u​r​a​n​/​M​i​r​a​c​l​e​/​i​j​a​z​.​h​tml, http://​www​.caliphate​.co​.uk/​b​e​l​i​e​f​s​/​p​r​o​o​f​q​u​r​a​n​.​htm.

    Many great books have also been writ­ten on the top­ic, but most of them are cur­rent­ly in non-Eng­lish lan­guages. You may want to read : The Qur’an : an Eter­nal Chal­lenge’ by Abdul­lah Muham­mad Draz
    for example.

    I end this arti­cle by prais­ing Allah Sub­hanahu Wa Ta’ala and send­ing salu­ta­tions on the Prophet of Allah, Muham­mad sal­lalahu alai­hi wa salam and his fam­i­ly and companions.

    And Allah knows best.

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