Chapter 3     Chapter 5


page 17

IV.

THE QUR'AN



      Enemies of Islam have often said that Muhammad copied the Qur'an from the Christian and Jewish Scriptures. This is impossible. Muhammad knew only Arabic. He had never seen the Bible. "The earliest official Arabic translations of the Old and New Testaments were made centuries after Mohammed's death."[1]

      If it be objected that the Prophet of God traveled to Syria in His earlier years, and that there, as well as in Arabia, there were both Jews and Christians (such as 'Abdu'llah ibn Salam--Waraqa--the Nestorian monk Buhayra - who understood and recognized Muhammad on the basis of their Scriptures) who could have relayed information to Muhammad, this of course is true. The Qur'an itself makes references to such sources--e.g., Surih 10:94: "And if thou art in doubt as to what we have sent down to thee, inquire at those who have read the Scriptures before thee." But we should explain that merely knowing of various religious teachings does not make one a Prophet of God.

      It is important to understand that anyone could have compiled some former teachings in a book, but that only a Manifestation of God could create a living religion that swept across the world and influenced millions of human beings down the centuries .

      Furthermore the historical material is only one aspect of the Qur'an. Muhammad could never have copied the laws which He inaugurated and the many other teachings He brought--from the Old and New Testaments, because they were not there.[1a]

      The great miracle of Islam is that an illiterate man gave the Arabs their first Book.

      As Muhammad approached forty, He would retire to a cave on Mt. Hira to be alone and meditate. Finally He was absent for a long period, and since He had taken very few provisions with Him, Khadijih was much troubled. She sent a slave to the mountain, and he stood at the cave and called, but only his own voice echoed back. When Muhammad returned, He was exhausted. An apparition had come to Him, an angel, saying: "Read!" Muhammad had said, "I cannot read." Again the presence cried, "Read!" and then a third time, and Muhammad said, "What shall I read ?" And the being said, "Read, in the name of thy Lord who created; Created man from clots of blood...Thy Lord is the most Beneficent, Who hath taught the use of the pen; Hath taught man that which he knoweth not." These are the opening lines of the first surih of the Qur'an according to Rodwell's arrangement. The Qur'an means the Reading, or the Book to be Read. A surih is a chapter of the Qur'an-- the word is also used of a row of stones in a wall, or a rank of soldiers, or things in a series.

      Muhammad began to fear He was possessed of a jinn, or was going mad. He was in despair. Sometimes measured phrases burst from, Him. He went to Khadijih, and she consoled Him: "...are you not the Amin (the Trusted One)...? How can God allow you to be deceived when you do not


  1. Bodley, R V C, The Messenger, 86.
  2. [a] . There is only one direct quotation from the Bible in the entire Qur'an: Surih 21:105 quotes Psalms 37:29.



page 18

deceive? Are you not a pious, sober, charitable, hospitable man? Have you not respected your parents,. fed the hungry, clothed the naked, helped the traveller, protected the weak? It is not possible that you are the plaything of lying demons and malicious jinns."[2] She talked with her cousin Waraqa about this; he was a Christian, versed in the Scriptures, and he was overjoyed: "Holy, holy, verily this is the Namus- i-Akbar, who came to Moses. He will be the prophet of His people. Tell Him this. Bid Him be of brave heart."[3] For some time Muhammad continued to fear Himself the victim of a hallucination. He returned to the mountain, and no voice came. He was utterly despondent, and longed for death. Then once again Gabriel appeared, and brought Him great consolation--a surih of the Qur'an called The Brightness: "By the noon-day Brightness, And by the night when it darkeneth' Thy Lord hath not forsaken thee, neither hath He been displeased. And surely the future shall be better for thee than the past, And in the end shall thy Lord be bounteous to thee and thou be satisfied. Did He not find thee an orphan and gave thee a home ?...And found thee needy and enriched thee....as for the favors of thy Lord tell them abroad."

      The angel Gabriel is the Holy Ghost, the intermediary between God and Muhammad; in Christianity it is symbolized by a dove; in the Baha'i Dispensation, the spirit of God within Baha'u'llah is personified by a Maiden, as the Guardian explains in the book God Passes By (p. 118, 121, etc.). The Trinity according to our teachings is the unknowable Lord, the Perfect Man, and the Holy Spirit.

      The Qur'an was not revealed to Muhammad all at one time. It came to Him over a period of about twenty-three years, that is, from the time He was forty until His ascension in Medina in 632. Sometimes the voice was silent. Sometimes its on-rush was so great that a vein would swell on Muhammad's forehead, and His sweat would pour down. Once, we read, He was riding on a camel when the revelation came to Him with such intensity that the camel was forced to its knees. These physical effects of the revelation upon Him account for the enemies of Islam referring to Muhammad as an epileptic. Modern scholarship has refuted this. No one in the disturbed physical condition of epilepsy could have endured Muhammad's thirteen years of agony in Mecca, His arduous desert campaigns, and His onerous and complex duties as Head of the Muslim State. Furthermore, then as now, inspired utterance is distinguishable from pathological expression--the babbling of a sick man could never create a Book that has attracted and inspired the most brilliant minds of many centuries.[3a]

      Baha'u'llah says, "...the unfailing testimony of God to both the East and the West is none other than the Qur'an." (Iqan, 210). The Guardian tells us that the Qur'an, "apart from the sacred scriptures of the Babi and Baha'i Revelations, constitutes the only Book which can be regarded as an absolutely authenticated Repository of the Word of God." (The Advent of Divine Justice). Baha'u'llah writes of the "mighty Qur'an" (Son of the Wolf, 112) and says "Hearken unto that which the Merciful hath revealed in the Qur'an..." (Ibid.., 82). He says that Muhammad "came unto them with a Book that judged between truth and falsehood with a justice which turned into light the darkness of the earth, and enraptured the hearts of such as had known Him..." (Ibid., 81). You must not be afraid of not being able to understand the Qur'an; Baha'u'llah says, "Were it beyond


  1. Dermenghem, E., Life of Mahomet, 60, 61.
  2. Ameer-`Ali, Spirit of Islam, 84.
  3. [a] . Dermenghem, op. cit., 249: "His creative ability and the vastness of his genius, his sense of the practical, his will, his prudence, his self-control and his activity--in short the life he led--make it impossible to take this inspired mystic for a visionary epileptic."



page 19

the comprehension of men, how could it have been declared as a universal testimony unto all people?" (Iqan, 210). He says, "The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit." (Ibid., 211). And the Bab has said, "Should a tiny ant desire in this day to be possessed of such power as to be able to unravel the abstrusest and most bewildering passages of the Qur'an, its wish will...be fulfilled, inasmuch as the mystery of eternal might vibrates within the innermost being of all created things."[4]

      The Qur'an is divided into 114 surihs, which in turn are divided into "verses"--the Arabic word for these is "ayih," a term signifying any revealed verse or other sign or miracle of the Manifestation of God. Muhammad had nothing to do with this division, or with the chapter titles, which latter are taken from the first important word, or from something else in the text. Every surih except the ninth is prefixed with the words, "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful," a verse which Muhammad constantly used. As Baha'u'llah frequently says, God in the Qur'an is preeminently the "All-Merciful."

      Some surihs are prefaced with detached letters of the alphabet--e.g., the surih which Muhammad is said to have called "the heart of the Qur'an," and which is read to the dying in Muslim countries, is named the Ya Sin, because it begins with these letters. We read in God Passes By ( 140) that Baha'u'llah when in Baghdad revealed a commentary on these letters.

      The Qur'an is from the literary standpoint most beautiful. It is the standard Arabic Text, and is written in the dialect of the tribe of Quraysh, to which Muhammad belonged. Imam 'Ali was the great authority on the Qur'an; he said, "There is not a verse in the Qur'an of which I do not know the matter, the parties to whom it refers, and the place and time of its revelation, whether by night or by day, whether in the plains or upon the mountains."[5] I read in the Persian Bayan that 'Ali would keep the fragments of the Qur'an in the fold of his robe. The verses were written down at the moment of revelation or soon after, on palm leaves, leather, stone, the shoulder-blades of sheep; furthermore, the Arabs had wonderful memories, and many learned it by heart. What we have today is a gathering-up of all the verses into one text; to this day, in spite of all the schisms in Islam, there is only one Qur'an, and scholars say "There is probably in the world no other work which has remained twelve centuries with so pure a text."[6] The oldest copies now extant probably belong to the third century of the Hijra, and a few may belong to the second.[7] Muir, certainly no friend of Islam, tells us that "we may upon the strongest presumption affirm that every verse in the Kor'an is the genuine and unaltered composition of Mohammad himself, and conclude with at least a close approximation to the verdict of Von Hammer: That we hold the Kor'an as surely Mohammad's word, as the Mohammadans hold it to be the word of God." (Op. cit., xxviii). (The few variations are mostly vowel points and diacritical signs, invented at a later date).

      Soon after the ascension of Muhammad many reciters of the Qur'an were killed in battle; it was therefore thought necessary to compile the entire Qur'an into one; the task was given to the Prophet's amanuensis, Zayd ibn Thabit. Therefore, although with misgivings and doubting the


  1. Dispensation of Baha'u'llah.
  2. Muir, Sir Wm, The Life of Muhammad, Edinburgh rev. ed, 1923, xx iv n.
  3. Ibid., xxiii.
  4. Ibid., xxiii n.



page 20

propriety of the work, Zayd searched out the entire Qur'an and compiled it, simply putting the long surihs first, regardless of chronology. As a matter of fact, the short surihs at the end, telling of the coming of the Day of God, were revealed at the beginning. (The English version of J.M. Rodwell attempts to restore the true chronology). Zayd's text continued to be standard during 'Umar's caliphate, but it was found that variations had crept in to many copies; the men of Syria and 'Iraq had different readings, and the caliph 'Uthman therefore had all the versions compared with Zayd's original, Zayd and three coadjutors being appointed to do the work. Transcripts of this recension were sent out to all the cities, all other copies were burnt, and what we still have is this recension of the third caliph's. Zayd's original compilation was made within two or three years of Muhammad's ascension, and there is no question as to its accuracy; 'Ali, the Imam, was there, and many of the devout who knew the Qur'an by heart, and besides the transcripts of the separate portions were in daily use.[7a]

      There is to my knowledge no satisfactory translation of the Qur'an into English. Some day a Baha'i group of scholars may perhaps make one. Able Christian writers have translated the Qur'an but their hostility always creeps in. Of the equally able Muslim translators, not one has had the necessary literary skill to convey the Text to us, and this also applies to the work of Christian converts to Islam The translators I use are Sale ( 1734), who is scholarly and accurate; Rodwell ( 1861), whose work is the most literary in quality and easy to read; Maulana Muhammad-'Ali, who includes both Arabic and English texts and a learned and helpful commentary; and a two-volume version by A. Yusuf 'Ali, also a bi- lingual text, mechanically the most legible and accessible of all.

      In Persia the Qur'an is in constant use. It is often seen with a lacquered cover, and an illuminated opening page, and may be carefully wrapped in a hand-woven cloth. When you move to a new house, the Qur'an is taken there first, to bless it. When you leave on a journey, someone holds the Qur'an over you and you pass back and forth under it to ensure safety. My Muslim aunt read her Qur'an faithfully, every day. She longed for us to be Muslims, instead of Baha'is. She often thought she was ill, and would summon us to her deathbed. At one of her numerous deathbeds, she took her large Qur'an and banged me on the head with it, as a sort of baptism.

      When you wish for guidance in Persia, you open the Qur'an and read wherever your eye falls. This is also done with the Odes of Hafiz. A friend of ours, married but romantically inclined, was once going on a journey. He decided to ask Hafiz if he would meet an attractive woman on the trip. He opened the book of Odes and his eye fell on this verse: "You have found your pearl; seek no more."

      In addition to the Qur'an, the revealed word of God, there is a great body of hadith, i.e., recorded traditions of what Muhammad did and said; also, to the Shi'ah Muslims--that section of Islam from which the Bab arose--there are the recorded traditions of the holy Imams. Hadith means relation of something that happened; it is from the root hadatha- -to happen. Another word used instead of hadith is sunna--which means the way or custom (of the Prophet). After Muhammad's ascension, a new generation


  1. [a] . The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to restore one of these 'Uthman Qur'ans. Earnest Carroll Moore, The Story of Instruction, 256.



page 21

was eager to learn all they could of Him from His old Companions (the Muhajirin, Emigrants, His companions from Mecca, or the Ansar, Helpers, His Medinite followers).[8] We hear of a conversation that took place in the mosque at Kufa: "didst thou really see the Prophet, and wert thou on terms of familiar intercourse with him?...And how wert thou wont to behave towards the Prophet?" "Verily, we used to labour hard to please him." "Well, by the Lord...if I had been but alive in his time, I would not have allowed him to put his blessed foot upon the earth, but would have borne him on my shoulders wheresoever he listed." (Muir, op. cit., xxx). Each hadith had its isnad--its ascription, or chain of guarantors leading back to its source (Cf. Alfred Guillaume, The Traditions of the Prophet, Oxford, 1924; 20). A basic European authority on hadith literature is Ignaz Goldziher. The "Sahih" of al- Bukhari is now available in English and French). Men called "Collectors" spent their whole lives traveling from city to city, looking for vestiges of memories of the Prophet. The earliest of the six standard Sunni collections were compiled under the caliphate of al-Ma'mun (813-833 A.D.); the four canonical Shi'ah collections somewhat later. The collector al-Bukhari, after years of journeying, collected 600,000 traditions, and concluded that only 4,000 of these were authentic. There are 1,465 collections of traditions extant. The authenticity of a tradition was decided on the basis of the character of the men in its chain of guarantors. Muslim law is to a considerable extent founded on the hadith; so is Muslim practice; for instance we hear of a pious man who would not eat watermelon--he knew watermelon was not forbidden, but he could not discover what the Prophet did with the seeds. Here are typical hadith:
      "The world is sweet in the heart, and green to the eye...then look to your actions, and abstain from the world and its wickedness."

      "To every young person who honoureth the old, on account of their age, may God appoint those who shall honour him in his years."

      "The most excellent of alms is that of a man of small means, which he has earned by labour, and from which he giveth as much as he is able."

      "He is of the most perfect Muslims, whose disposition is most liked by his own family."

      "He who asketh the help of God in contending with the evil promptings of his own heart obtaineth it."

      "Heaven lieth at the feet of mothers."

      "The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr."

      "Kindness is a mark of faith; and whoever hath not kindness hath not faith."

      "Verily, God is mild, and is fond of mildness, and He giveth to the mild what He doth not give to the harsh."

      "Desire not the world, and God will love you; and desire not what men have, and they will love you."

      "The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of self."

      "Death is a bridge that uniteth friend with friend."

      "Trust in God, but tie your camel."

      "No man hath drunk a better draught than anger which he hath swallowed for God's sake."

      "Paradise is nearer to you than the thongs of your sandals; and the Fire likewise."


      Muhammad's prayer, after being stoned out of Ta'if was this:

"O Lord! I make my complaint unto Thee, out of my feebleness, and the


  1. The general term for the Prophet's Companions is Ashib, their successors being the Tabi'un.



page 22

vanity of my wishes. I am insignificant in the sight of men, O Thou most merciful! Lord of the weak! Thou art my Lord! Forsake me not. Leave me not a prey to strangers, nor to mine enemies. If Thou art not offended, I am safe. I seek refuge in the light of Thy countenance, by which all darkness is dispelled, and peace cometh in the Here and the Hereafter. Solve Thou my difficulties as it pleaseth Thee. There is no power, no strength, save in Thee."[9]


  1. See The Sayings of Muhammad, compiled by Sir 'Abdu'llah Suhrawardy.


Books
Home ][ Sacred Writings ][ Bulletin board
Primary sources ][ Secondary sources ][ Resources
Links ][ Personal pages ][ Other sites
 

Google distinguishes accents, e.g. "Babi" and "Bábí"
return different results. See more search tips.