Al Qur’an: The Miracle of the Prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Every Prophet is given a miracle — a sign. The miracle of the Prophet of Islam is the Qur’an. The Prophethood of Muhammad, on whom be peace, was to be valid until the Last Day. It was imperative, therefore, that his miracle also be one which would last for all time. The Qur’an was, therefore, assigned to the Prophet as his everlasting miracle.
The Prophet’s opponents demanded miracles, such as those performed by previous prophets, but the Qur’an stated clearly that such miracles would not be forthcoming. (17:59) The Qur’an even had this to say to the Prophet:
If you find their aversion hard to bear (and would like to show them a miracle), seek if you can a burrow in the earth or ladder
to the sky by which you may bring them a sign. Had God pleased, He would have given them guidance, one and all. Do not be
ignorant then. (6:35)
Instead, the revealed Book of God was made into the Prophet’s miracle:
They ask: ‘Why has no sign been given him by his Lord?’
Say: ‘Signs are in the hands of God. My mission is only to give
plain warning.’ Is it not enough for them that We have revealed
to you the Book which is recited to them? Surely in this there
is a blessing and an admonition to true believers.
There are many different aspects of the Qur’an’s miraculous nature. Here we are going to concentrate on just three:
1. The language of the Qur’an — Arabic — has, unlike other international languages, remained a living form of communication over the ages.
2. The Qur’an is unique among divine scriptures in that its text has remained intact in the original form.
3. The Qur’an challenged its doubters to produce a book like it. No one has been able to take up this challenge, and produce anything comparable to the Book of God.
The languages in which all the ancient scriptures were revealed have been locked in the archives of history. The only exception is Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, which is still current in the world today. Millions of people still speak and write the language in which the Qur’an was revealed nearly 1500 years ago. This provides stunning proof of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an, for there is no other book in history which has been able to make such an impact on its language; no other book has molded a whole language according to its own style, and maintained it in that form over the centuries.
Take the Injil known as the New Testament, of which the oldest existing copy is in Greek and not Aramaic, the language which Jesus is thought to have spoken. That means that we possess only a translated account of what the Prophet Jesus said and did; and that too, in ancient Greek, which is considerably different from the modern language. By the end of the 19th century the Greek language had changed so much that the meaning of at least 550 words in the New Testament — about 12% of the entire text — was not known. At that time a German expert, Adolf Deissman, discovered some ancient scrolls in Egypt. From them it emerged that biblical Greek was in fact a colloquial version of classical Greek. This language was spoken inPalestine during the first century ad. Deissman was able to attach meanings to some of the unknown words, but there are another fifty words whose meanings are still unknown. (The Gospels and the Jesus of History, by Xavier Leon-Dufour S.J.) Ernest Renan (1823-s1894) carried out extensive research on Semitic languages. He wrote a book on their vocabularies, in which he had this to say about the Arabic language:
“The Arabic language is the most astonishing event of human history. Unknown during the classical period, it suddenly emerged as a complete language. After this, it did not undergo any noticeable changes, so one cannot define for it an early or a late stage. It is just the same today as it was when it first appeared.”
In acknowledging this ‘astonishing event of human history’ Renan, a French orientalist, is in fact acknowledging the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. It was the Qur’an’s phenomenal literary style which preserved the Arabic language from alteration, such as other languages have undergone. The Christian Jurgi Zaydan (1861-1914) is one of the scholars to have recognized this fact. In a book on Arabic literature he writes:
“No religious book has had such an impact on the language in which it was written as the Qur’an has had on Arabic literature.”
World languages have changed so much throughout the ages that no expert in any modern language is able to understand its ancient form without the aid of a dictionary. There have been two main causes of language alteration — upheavals in the social order of a nation and the development of a language’s literature. Over the centuries these factors have been at work in Arabic, just as in other languages. The difference is that they have not been able to change the structure of the Arabic language.
The Arabic that is spoken today is the same as that which was current in Mecca when the Qur’an was revealed. Homer’s Iliad (850 BC), Tulsi Das’ Ramayan (1623 AD), and the dramas of Shakespeare (1564-1616), are considered literary masterpieces of their respective languages. They have been read and, in the case of the Ramayan and Shakespeare’s plays, performed continuously from the time of their compilation until the present day. But neither their literary worth nor their form has been able to prevent the languages in which they were written from being altered. The Greek of Homer, the Sanskrit of Tulsi Das and even the English of Shakespeare, are now classical rather than modern languages. The Qur’an is the only book to have molded a language and maintained it in that same form over the ages. There have been various intellectual and political upheavals in Arab countries, but the Arabic language has remained as it was when the Qur’an was revealed. No change in the Arab social order has been able to alter in any way the Arabic tongue. This fact is a clear indication that the Qur’an came from a supernatural source. One does not have to look any further than the history of the last 1500 years to see the miraculous nature of the Book revealed to the Prophet Mohammad.
Social Upheavals The example of Latin shows how social upheavals affect languages. Though in latter days Italy became the center of Latin, it was not originally a product of that country. Around the 12th century BC, during the Iron Age, many central European tribes spread out into surrounding regions. Some of them, especially the Alpine tribes, entered Italy and settled in and around Rome. Their own language mixed with the language of Rome, and that was how Latin was formed. In the third century BC Lubus Andronicus translated some Greek tales and dramas into Latin, thus making it a literary language. The Roman Empire was established in the first century BC, and Latin became the official language. The strength of Latin was even further reinforced by the spread of Christianity. With the support of religious and political institutions, and backed by social and economic forces, Latin continued to spread until eventually it came to cover almost the whole of ancient Europe. At the time of St. Augustine, Latin was at its peak, and right up to the Middle Ages it was considered the main international language.
The 8th century ad was an age of Muslim conquest. The Romans were forced to take refuge in Constantinople, which became the capital of the eastern half of the Empire, until in 1453 the Turks took Constantinople and banished the Romans from this, their last stronghold. The decline of the Roman Empire enabled various local languages to flourish, notably French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Latin had a strong influence on all of them, being the language from which they were all derived, but itself survived only as the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. No longer a living tongue, it was ultimately only of historical interest, although it did continue to provide the linguistic bases for technical, legal and scientific terms. Without a good grasp of Latin, for instance, one cannot read Newton’s Principia in the original.
Every classical language followed much the same pattern, changing along with social circumstances until, eventually, the original language gave way to another, completely changed one. Ethnic integration, political revolutions, and cultural clashes have always left a deep imprint on the languages of the affected peoples. These factors have been at work on the Arabic language over the last 1500 years, but amazingly it has remained intact. This extraordinary resilience of the Arabic language is entirely due to the miraculous spell the Qur’an has cast on it.
After the coming of Islam, Arabs settled in many parts of Africa and Asia where other languages besides Arabic were spoken. Their intermingling with other races, however, did not have any effect on the Arabs’ language, which remained in its original state. There are also instances of other peoples changing over to Arabic, such as the Jewish tribes who left Syria in 70 A.D. and settled in Medina where, having come in contact with the Arabic-speaking ‘Amaliqa tribe, they adopted Arabic as their language, although the Arabic they spoke was different from common Arabic, retaining a strong Hebrew influence.
In the very first century after the revelation of the Qur’an, Arabic was exposed to the sort of forces which cause a language to alter radically. This was when Islam spread among various Arab tribes, who began to congregate in major Muslim cities. Intonation and accent varied from tribe to tribe. So much so that Abu ‘Amr ibn al-ula was moved to remark that the ‘Himyar tribe do not speak our language; their vocabulary is quite different from ours.’ ‘Umar ibn Khattab once brought before the Prophet an Arab whom he had heard reciting the Qur’an. The Arab had been pronouncing the words of the Qur’an in such a strange manner that ‘Umar was unable to make out what part of the Book of God he was reading. The Prophet once spoke to a visiting delegation from some Arab tribe in their own dialect. It seemed to ‘Ali as if the Prophet was speaking in a foreign tongue.
The main reason for this difference was variation in accent. For instance, the Banu Tameem, who lived in the eastern part of Najd, were unable to say the letter ‘j’, and used to pronounce it as ‘y’ instead. The word for mosque (masjid), they used to pronounce ‘masyid’, and instead of ‘shajarat’ (trees), they would say ‘sharat’. ‘Q’ they pronounced as ‘j’, calling a ‘tareeq’ (road) a ‘tareej’, a ‘sadiq’ (friend) a ‘sadij’, ‘qadr’ (value) ‘jadr’ and ‘qasim’ (distributor) ‘jasim’. According to normal linguistic patterns, the coming together of tribes who spoke such varying dialects should have initiated a fresh process of change in the Arabic language, but this was not to be. The supreme eloquence of the language of the Qur’an guarded Arabic from any such transformation. What happened instead has been explained by Dr Ahmad Hasan Zayyat:
“After the coming of Islam, the Arabic language did not remain the monopoly of one nation. It became the language of all those who entered the faith.”
Then these Arab Muslims left their native land, conquering territory extending from Kashghar in the east to Gibraltar in the west. Persian, Qibti, Berber, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Suryani were among the languages spoken by the peoples they came into contact with. Some of these nations were politically and culturally more advanced than the Arabs. Iraq, bastion of an ancient civilization and the cultural center of major tribes, was one of the countries they entered. They mingled with the Iranians, masters of one of the world’s two great empires. The highly advanced Roman civilization and an expanding Christian religion were two of the forces that they clashed with. Among the countries they occupied was Syria, where Phoenician, Ghassanid, Greek, Egyptian and Cana‘anian tribes had left behind outstanding traditions in literature and ethics. Then there was Egypt, the meeting place of oriental and occidental philosophy. These factors were more than enough to transform the Arabic language, as had been the case with other tongues exposed to similar forces. But they were rendered ineffective by the Qur’an, a specimen of such unrivalled literary excellence that no power could weaken the hold of the language in which it had been written.
With the conquests of Islam, Arabic no longer belonged to one people alone; it became the language of several nations and races. When the ‘Ajamis’ (non-Arabs) of Asia and Africa accepted Islam, they gradually adopted Arabic as their language. Naturally, these new converts were not as proficient in speaking the language as the Arabs of old. Then the Arabs in their turn were affected by the language spoken by their new co-religionists. The deterioration of Arabic was especially evident in large, cosmopolitan cities, where there was more intermingling of races. First it was the rank and file, those who did not pay much attention to the finer points of linguistics, who were affected. But the cultural elite did not remain immune either. A man once came to the court of Ziyad ibn Umayya and lamented. ‘Our fathers have died, leaving small children,‘ with both ‘fathers’ and ‘children’ in the wrong grammatical case. Mistakes of this nature became commonplace, yet the Arabic language remained essentially the same. Shielded by the Qur’an’s supreme eloquence, written Arabic was not corrupted by the degradation of the spoken version. It remained cast in the mould of the Qur’an.
For proof of the Qur’an’s miraculous nature, one has only to look at all the traumatic experiences that Arabic has been through over the last 1500 years. If it had not been for the protective wing of the Qur’an, the Arabic language would surely have been altered. The unsurpassable model that was established by the Qur’an remained the immutable touchstone of standard Arabic.
The fall of the Umayyad dynasty in the second century Hijrah posed a great threat to the Arabic language. The Umayyad had been a purely Arab dynasty. Strong supporters of Arab nationalism, they took their promotion of Arabic literature and language almost to the point of partiality. Their capital was situated in Damascus, in the Arab heartland. In their time, both the military and the civil administration were controlled by Arabs. Now the Abbasids took over the reins of power. Since it was Iranian support that had brought the caliphate to the Abbasids, it was inevitable that the Iranians should maintain a strong influence on their administration.
This influence led to the capital being moved to Baghdad, on the threshold of Persia. The Abbasids gave the Iranians a free hand in affairs of government, but looked down on the Arabs and their civilization, and made conscious efforts to weaken them, unlike the Umayyad who had always preferred Arabs for high posts. With the wane of pro-Arab favoritism, Iranians, Turks, Syrians, Byzantine and Berber elements were able to gain control over all affairs of society and state. Marriages between Arabs and non-Arabs became commonplace. With the mixing of Aryan and Semitic civilizations, Arabic language and culture faced a new crisis. The grandsons of the emperors and lords of Persia arose to resurrect the civilization of their forefathers.
These events had a profound effect on the Arabic language. The state that it had reached by the time of the poet Mutanabbi (915-965 AD) is expressed in the following lines:
“The buildings of Iran excel all others in beauty
As the season of spring excels all other seasons.
An Arab youth goes amongst them,
His face, his hands, his tongue, a stranger in their midst.
Solomon, they say, used to converse with the jinns.
But were he to visit the Iranians, he would need a translator.”
It was the Qur’an’s literary greatness alone which kept Arabic from being permanently scarred by these upheavals. The language always returned to its Qur’anic base, like a ship which, after weathering temporary storms on the high seas, returns to the safety of its harbor.
During the reign of the caliph Mutawakkil (207-247 ah), large numbers of Ajamis—especially Iranians and Turks—entered Arab territory. In 656 the Mongolian warrior Hulaku Khan sacked Baghdad. Later the Islamic empire received a further setback when, in 898, Andalusia fell to the Christians. The Fatimid dynasty, which had held sway in Egypt and Syria, did not last long either: in 923 they were replaced by the Ottoman Turks in large stretches of Arab territory. Now the center of Islamic government moved from Cairo to Constantinople; the official language became Turkish instead of Arabic, which continued to assimilate a number of foreign words and phrases.
The Arab world spent five hundred and fifty years under the banner of Ajami (non-Arab) kings. Persian, Turkish and Mughal rulers even made attempts to erase all traces of the Arabic language. Arabic libraries were burnt, schools destroyed; scholars of the language found themselves in disgrace. The Ottoman emperors launched an anti-Arabic campaign, fittingly called “Tatreek ‘ul-’Arab” (Turkisation of Arabs) by the well-known reformer Jamaluddin Afghani (1838-97). But no effort was strong enough to inflict any permanent scar on the face of Arabic. Fierce attacks were launched on Arabic language and literature by the Tartars in Bukhara and Baghdad, by the Crusaders in Palestine and Syria, then by other Europeans in Andalusia. According to the history of other languages, these assaults on Arab culture should have been sufficient to eradicate the Arabic language completely. One would have expected Arabic to have followed the path of other languages and merged with other Semitic tongues. Indeed, it would be true to say that if Arabic had not come up against Turkish ignorance and Persian prejudice, it would still be spoken throughout the entire Muslim world today. Its very survival in the Arab world was due solely to the miraculous effect of the Qur’an whose greatness compelled people to remain attached to Arabic. It inspired some Arab scholars — Ibn Manzoor (630-711 ah) and Ibn Khaldun (732-808 ah) being two that spring to mind — to produce, in defiance of the government of the day, works of great literary and academic excellence.
Napoleon’s entry into Cairo (1798) ushered in the age of the printing press in the Middle East. Education became the order of the day. The Arabic language was invested with new life. Yet the centuries of battering that Arabic had received was bound to leave its mark: instead of pure Arabic, a mixture of Arabic and Turkish had been taken as the official language in Egypt and Syria.
The situation changed again with the British occupation of Egypt in 1882. They opposed Arabic with all their strength, prescribing compulsory English in schools and eliminating other languages from syllabi. The French did the same in areas over which they had gained control. With the colonial powers forcing their subjects to learn their languages, Arabic lived in the shadow of English and French for over one hundred years. Yet it still remained in its original form.
Certainly, it assimilated new words — the word “dabbaba” meaning tank, for instance, which had previously been used for a simple battering ram. New styles of writing emerged. If anyone were to write a book about why people adopt Islam today, he might call it. “Limadha aslamna” (Why we accepted Islam), whereas in the old days rhythmical and decorative titles were preferred. Many words were adopted by the Arabic language — the English word “doctor” for example. But such changes were just on the surface. Arabic proper still remained the same as it had been centuries ago, when the Qur’an was revealed.
Literary Advancement Once in a while, writers of outstanding status appear on a language’s literary scene. When this happens, the language in which they write undergoes some change, for their literary masterpieces influence the mode of popular expression. In this way languages are continually passing through progressive evolutionary stages, until eventually they become quite different from their original form. With Arabic this did not happen. At the very outset of Arabic history, the Qur’an set a literary standard that could not be excelled. Arabic maintained the style set for it by the Qur’an. No masterpiece comparable to the Qur’an was destined to be produced after it; so Arabic remained cast in the mould of that divine symphony.
Take the example of English. In the 7th century AD it was just an ordinary local dialect, not geared to the expression of profound intellectual thought. For another five hundred years this situation continued. The Normans conquered England in 1066 and, when the founding father of the English language — Geoffrey Chaucer — was born around 1340, the official language of their court was still French. Chaucer himself had a command of Latin, French and Italian, besides his native English. This, along with his great gifts of scholarship, enabled him to make English into an academic language. To use Ernest Hauser’s words, he gave the English language a ‘firm boost’ with his Canterbury Tales. Chaucer transformed a dialect into a language, paving the way for fresh progress in times to come.
For two hundred years English writers and poets followed Chaucer’s guidelines. When William Shakespeare (1558-1625) appeared on the scene, English took another step forward. His dramas and poems set a new literary standard, enabling English to march further forward. The coming of the scientific age two hundred years later had a tremendous impact on every stratum of society. Language now began to follow the dictates of science. Prose became more popular than poetry, factual expression more effective than storytelling. Dozens of poets and writers from Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) to T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) were representative of this trend. They were the makers of the modern age of English literature through which we are now passing.
The same thing happened with other languages. Writers, or groups of writers, kept on emerging who became more popular than their predecessors. Whenever they appeared, they steered the language on a new course. Eventually every language changed so much that it became impossible for a person to understand the ancient form of his own tongue without the aid of dictionaries and commentaries.
There is only one exception to this universal trend, and that is Arabic. The claim of the Qur’an, that no one would ever be able to write a book like it, has been borne out to the letter. For further proof of this fact, one need only look at the various attempts to produce a work equal to the Qur’an that have been made over the centuries. All attempts have failed dismally. Musailema ibn Habib, Tulaiha ibn Khuwailid, Nadhr ibn al Harith, Ibn al Rawandi, Abu al Ala al Ma’arri, Ibn al Muqaffa, Al Mutanabbi, and many others, have tried their hand at it, but their efforts, like Musailema’s extraordinary reference to ‘God’s blessing upon pregnant women, extracting from them a sprightly life, from between the stomach and the fetal membrane’ look ridiculous when compared with the literary majesty of the Qur’an.
But the greatest substantiation of the Qur’an’s claim that no one would be able to write a work like it (17:88) comes from what Ernest Renan has called the ‘linguistic miracle’ of the Arabic language. As with every other language, masters of Arabic — great poets and writers — have appeared over the ages. But, in the 1500 years since the Qur’an was revealed, no one has been able to produce a work that excelled it. Its standard has never been improved upon and Arabic has remained on the course set for it by the Qur’an. The impact that the Qur’an has had on Arabic is like that of a writer who produces a work of unsurpassable literary excellence at the very beginning of a language’s history. After such a figure has made his mark, no lesser writer can change the face of the language. The Qur’an, revealed in the Arabic current at the time was cast in a more elevated literary mould than had ever been seen before or afterwards.
By making vital additions to traditional modes of expression, the Qur’an opened the way for expansion of the Arabic language. The use of the word ‘one’ (ahad) in the 112th chapter of the Qur’an, entitled ‘Oneness’, is a good example. Previously it had been used in the genitive to express ‘one of us’ for example, or for the ‘first day’ of the week, Saturday or Yaum al Ahad. It was used for general negations, as in ‘Ma Ja’ni ahadun’ — ‘no one came to see me.’ But in using ahad as an attribute of Almighty God, the Qur’an put the word to an entirely novel use. The Qur’an brought many foreign words into Arabic usage, for instance istabraq from Persian, qaswara from Abyssinian,sirat from Greek, ‘yamm’ from Syrian, ghassaq from Turkish, qistas from Latin, ‘malakut’ from Aramaic and ‘kafoor’ from Hindi. The Qur’an tells us (25:60) that the idolaters of Mecca were baffled at the word ‘rahman’. They used to say ‘What is this ‘rahman’? This was because the word was not Arabic; it had been taken from the Sabaean and Hamiri languages. The Christians of Yemen and Abyssinia used to call God ‘rahamnan’. The Meccans considered the word foreign when it appeared in the Qur’an in an Arabic zed form. They enquired what ‘rahman‘ meant, being unaware of its linguistic background. Over one hundred non-Arabic words of this nature were used in the Qur’an, taken from languages as far apart as Persian, Latin, Nabatean, Hebrew, Syrian, Coptic and many others.
Although the Qur’an was revealed mainly in the language of the Quraysh, words used by other Arab tribes were also included. Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas, a Qurayshi Muslim, was puzzled when the word fatir appeared in the Qur’an. ‘I did not know what the expression ‘Originator of the heavens and the earth’ meant,’ he explained. ‘Then I heard an Arab saying that he had ‘originated’ a well, when he had just started digging it, and I knew what the word ‘fatir’ meant.’ Abu Huraira said that he had never heard the word ‘sikkin’ until he heard it in the chapter, ‘Joseph’, of the Qur’an. ‘We always used to call a knife ‘mudiya’, he said.
As Jalaluddin Suyuti has pointed out in Al-Itqan, many words were pronounced differently by various Arab tribes. The Qur’an took some of these words, and used them in their most refined literary form. The Quraysh, for instance, used the word a’ata for ‘he gave’, while the Himyaris used to pronounce it ‘anta’. The Qur’an preferred a’ata to anta. Likewise it chose ‘asabi’ rather than shanatir and dhi’b instead of kata. The general trend of preferring Qurayshi forms was sometimes reversed, as in the phrase ‘layalitkum min a’amalikum’ — ‘nothing will be taken away from your actions’ — which was borrowed from the Bani ’Abbas dialect.
In giving old Arabic words and expressions new depth and beauty, the Qur’an set a standard of literary excellence which no future writer could improve on. It revised certain metaphors, rephrasing them in a more eloquent form than had been heard before. This was how an ancient Arab poet described the impermanence of the world:
“Even if he enjoys a long period of secure life, every mother’s son will finally be carried aloft in a coffin.”
The Qur’an put the same idea in the poignantly succinct words: ‘Every soul shall taste death’ (3:185). Killing and plundering presented a major problem in ancient Arabia. Certain phrases had been coined to express the idea that only killing could put an end to killing, and these were considered highly eloquent in pre-Islamic days. ‘To kill some is to give life to the whole,’ one of them went. ‘Kill more, so that there should be less killing,’ and ‘Killing puts an end to killing,’ were some other examples. The Qur’an expressed the idea in these words: ‘In retaliation there is life for you, O men of understanding.’ (2:179).
In pre-Qur’anic days, poetry held an important place in Arabic, as in other languages of the world. Poetical expression of ideas was given pride of place in the literary arena. The Qur’an, however, left this beaten track, and used prose instead of poetry. This in itself is proof that the Qur’an came from God, for in the 7th century AD who, save God — who knows the future just as He knows the past — could know that prose rather than poetry should be chosen as the medium for divine scripture that was to last for all time. The Qur’an was addressed to future generations, and soon poetry was going to become less important as a mass medium of communication. Rhetorical language was also very much in vogue before the Qur’an, but for the first time in literary history, the Qur’an introduced a factual rather than a rhetorical style. The most famous topics for literary treatment had previously been military and romantic exploits. The Qur’an, on the contrary, featured a much wider spectrum, including matters of ethical, legal, scientific, psychological, economic, political and historic significance within its scope. In ancient times, parables were a popular mode of expression. Here too, the Qur’an trod new ground, adopting a more direct method of saying things. The method of reasoning employed in the Qur’an was also considerably different from that used in pre-Qur’anic times. Whereas purely theoretical, analogical proof was all that the world had known prior to this, the Qur’an introduced empirical, scientific reasoning. And to crown all its achievements, the Qur’an expressed all this in a refined literary style, which proved imperishable in times to come.
There was an ancient Arab saying that ‘the sweetest poem was the one with the most lies.’ The Qur’an changed this, introducing a new mode of ‘articulate speech’ (55:4) based on verifiable facts rather than on hypothetical fables. Now Arabic followed the Qur’an’s lead. Pre-Islamic Arabic literature was collected and compiled, keeping the preservation and understanding of the language of the Qur’an in mind. Great departments of learning, facilitating understanding of the Qur’an and explaining its orders and prohibitions came into existence. The learning of Arabic grammar, syntax and etymology, Islamic theology and traditions, as well as Qur’anic studies, were all aimed at helping us to understand the message of the Qur’an. Even the subjects of history and geography were originally taken up as part of the Arabs’ attempt to understand and practice the teachings of Qur’an. There is no other example in the history of the world of any single book having such an enormous impact on a people and their language.
Through its development and improvement of the Arabic language, the Qur’an became a superb literary masterpiece. Anyone who knows Arabic can appreciate the unique quality of the Qur’an’s style as compared to that of any other work of Arabic literature. The Qur’an is written in a divine style vastly superior to anything humans can aspire to. We will close this chapter by relating a story which clearly portrays the difference between the work of God and that of man. It is taken from Sheikh Tantawi’s commentary of the Qur’an, Al-Jawahir fi Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-Karim.
‘On 13 June 1932,’ Tantawi writes, ‘I met an Egyptian writer, Kamil Gilani, who told me an amazing story. One day he was with an American orientalist by the name of Finkle, with whom he enjoyed a deep intellectual relationship. ‘Tell me, are you still among those who consider the Qur’an a miracle?’ whispered Finkle in Gilani’s ear, adding a laugh to indicate his ridicule of such belief. He thought that Muslims could only hold this belief in blind faith. It could not be based on any sound, objective reasoning. Thinking that his blow had really gone home, Finkle was visibly pleased with himself. Seeing his attitude, Gilani too started laughing. ‘Before issuing any pronouncement on the style of the Qur’an,’ he said, ‘we should first have a look and see if we can produce anything comparable to it. Only when we have tried our hand, shall we be able to say conclusively whether humans can produce anything comparable to the Qur’an or not.’
Gilani then invited Finkle to join him in putting a Qur’anic idea into Arabic words. The idea he chose was: Hell is extremely vast. Finkle agreed, and both men sat down with pen and paper. Between them, they produced about twenty Arabic sentences. ‘Hell is extremely vast,’ ‘Hell is vaster than you can imagine,’ ‘Man’s intellect cannot fathom the vastness of Hell,’ and many examples of this nature, were some of the sentences they produced. They tried until they could think of no other sentence to express this idea. Gilani looked at Finkle triumphantly. ‘Now that we have done our best, we shall be able to see how the Qur’an stands above all works of men,’ he said. ‘What, has the Qur’an expressed this idea more eloquently?’ Finkle enquired. ‘We are like little children compared to the Qur’an,’ Gilani told him. Amazed, Finkle asked what was in the Qur’an. Gilani recited this verse from Surah Qaf: ‘On that Day We will ask Hell: ‘Are you full?’ And Hell will answer: ‘Are there any more?’ (50:30) Finkle was startled on hearing this verse. Amazed at the supreme eloquence of the Qur’an, he openly admitted defeat. ‘You were right, quite right,’ he said, ‘I unreservedly concede defeat.’ ‘For you to acknowledge the truth,’ Gilani replied, ‘is nothing strange, for you are a man of letters, well aware of the importance of style in language.’ This particular orientalist was fluent in English, German, Hebrew and Arabic, and had spent all his life studying the literature of these languages. (Sheikh al-Tantawi al-Jauhari, Al-Jawahir fi Tafseer Al-Qur’an Al-Kareem, Vol. 23, pp. 111-12).
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