Definition of the Qur’an
By Dr. Muhammad Abdullah Diraz
The Arabic word qur’anis a form of the infinitive meaningto read. This term is used as an infinitive in the two following verses:
(Surely on Us (devolves) the collecting of it and the reading of it. Therefore, when We have read it, follow its reading.) (Al-Qiyamah 75:17–18)
The term has later come to acquire a new sense denoting the Glorious Book revealed by Almighty Allah. Today, this is the most common usage of the word. The term with its new sense occurs in another Qur’anic verse in which Allah says:
(Surely this Qur’an guides to that which is most upright.) (Al-Israa’ 17:9)
In fact, Allah’s Book is called the Qur’an because it is read by the tongue. It is called the Book because it was written down with pens. Both names are derived from what actually takes place with regard to a book. The fact that these two descriptions have come to be treated as names of the Divine Book emphasizes that this Book should be treated rightfully. It should be kept and preserved in two places rather than one: people’s memory and the pages of the Book.
Thus, should an error find its way into one place, the other place will correct it. One cannot trust what a reciter learned by heart, unless it is confirmed by the written text unanimously approved by the Prophet’s Companions. It is the text that reached us through the generations in its original form. Likewise, one cannot trust the writing of a scribe unless it is confirmed by what scholars of the Qur’an have shown to be the correct version supported by uninterrupted chains of transmission.
This double protection provided by Almighty Allah imparts to the Muslim community a keen desire to keep the Qur’an intact by consciously following the guidance of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Indeed, this exceptional protection has always ensured the unassailableness of the Qur’an with regard to its accuracy and purity from all distortion. This is a practical aspect of the fulfillment of Allah’s promise to preserve the Qur’an in its original form. Almighty Allah says:
(Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We will assuredly be its guardian[against all corruption].) (Al-Hijr 15:9)
Hence, the Qur’an remained free from all forms of distortion, corruption, and interruption of transmission that had befallen earlier scriptures. Almighty Allah did not undertake to preserve these earlier scriptures. Rather, He left them to people to guard and keep; He says:
(It was We who revealed the Torah (to Moses): Therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews by the Prophets who surrendered (as in Islam) to Allah’s will and by the rabbis and the doctors of law, as to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s book and they were witnesses thereto.) (Al-Ma’idah 5:44)
This distinction has a reason and a wisdom: All former divine revelations were meant for a certain period of time, not for eternity. The Qur’an, on the other hand, was sent down by Almighty Allah to confirm the truth of what was revealed earlier and to supersede the previous scriptures. Thus, it contains all what the earlier scriptures established of true facts, adding whatever Almighty Allah willed.
The Qur’an takes over the role of old scriptures, and none of them can play its role. It is the will of Almighty Allah that the Qur’an will remain the final arbiter until the Day of Judgment. When Allah wills something, He, All-Wise, All-Knowing, brings about what guarantees that His will is going to be done exactly as He pleased. In this accurate sense, the Qur’an may be described as particular and true, as may be said in logic. Hence, it is difficult to define it by any standard logical definition that speaks of kinds, parts, and characteristics.
Almighty Allah challenged the humankind and jinn to match the superior style of it.
This also applies to all that is true and particular: They cannot be defined in this manner because each part of a logical definition is universal in itself, and what is universal cannot, conceptually, be exactly like what is particular. This is because what is universal applies to all what is mentally considered identical to it in that sense, even though it may not exist in reality. Thus, it does not distinguish it from everything else. As such, it does not become a truly definitive description.
A particular object is defined by reference to it when it is physically present or familiar to one’s mind. Thus, if one wants a definitive description of the Qur’an, one has no way of doing so unless by referring to it in its written form (the book) or its spoken form (recitation). One can then say, “It is what is contained between this front cover and this back cover.” Or one can say, “It is the following text [and then one reads the Qur’an, starting from the first word in Surat Al-Fatihah and ending with the last word in Surat An-Nas].”
The definitions used by scholars in terms of kinds and parts, which are normally used to define universal facts, are mainly intended to make these definitions easier to understand and to distinguish them from what may be given a similar name, even falsely. All what is revealed by Almighty Allah, thequdsihadiths (Arabic for: Divine Hadiths), and authentic Prophetic hadiths are, like the Qur’an, divine revelations. Based upon this fact, someone may say that these may also be called the same —Qur’an. For this reason, the scholars try to explain that the name exclusively applies to the Qur’an by highlighting its qualities and characteristics that distinguish it from all other texts. Some scholars define the Qur’an as follows:
The Word of Almighty Allah that He sent down to His Prophet Muhammad and whose recitation is a form of worship.
By analyzing this definition, we find that the termwordrefers to all speech. However, when it is attributed to Allah, it excludes the speech of humankind, jinn, and angels. That this word of Allah was “sent down” excludes all other words of Allah that He kept for Himself or addressed to the angels for implementation without imparting it to any human being. Not every word said by Almighty Allah was revealed or sent down. Indeed, what was sent down is only a small portion. This fact is confirmed in the following Qur’anic verses:
(Say, “If the sea were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the sea be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if We added another sea like it for its aid.”) (Al-Kahf 18:109)
(And were every tree that is in the earth (made into) pens and the sea (to supply it with ink), with seven more seas to increase it, the words of Allah would not come to an end; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.) (Luqman 31:27 (
The definition says, “Sent down to Prophet Muhammad.” It therefore excludes all what was sent down to earlier Prophets, such as the Torah revealed to Prophet Moses, the Gospel to Prophet Jesus, the Psalms Prophet David, and the Scrolls to Prophet Abraham (peace be upon them all(.This last exclusion is indicated by the phrase that describes recitation of the Qur’an as a form of worship.
This means that the Qur’an includes only the part of revelation that we are ordered to read in Prayer and at other times as part of our worship. Thus, everything that we are not required to recite is excluded, such as the methods of recitation transmitted by single reporters at a time, unlike the methods of recitation transmitted by large numbers of reporters in every generation. Also excluded are thequdsihadiths (Divine Hadiths) quoting Almighty Allah Himself, if one is of the view that the wording itself was revealed by Him.
As for the ordinary Prophetic hadiths, they may be divided into two categories according to their meanings: The first category isdeduced hadiths. It includes those hadiths that Prophet Muhammad stated on the basis of his understanding of the Qur’an or his contemplation of the universe. Certainly, the hadiths falling under this category are not part of the Word of Allah — the Qur’an.
The second category isreceived hadiths. The import of the hadiths belonging to this category was given to the Prophet through revelation. In turn, he taught them to humankind in his own words. Hence, the meaning and content of such hadiths are attributed to Allah and the wording is attributed to the Prophet.
Normally, speech is attributed to the speakers who construct it in their style, even though the meaning may be one that is very familiar and is transmitted from one person to another. Thus, the two categories of hadiths are excluded from the definition because the first characteristic in the definition of the Qur’an is that it should be the literal Word of Allah.
Similarly, excluded are the Divine Hadiths if one is of the view that they were revealed in meaning, a view that is predominant in our judgment. Had they been revealed in wording as well, they would have had the same sanctity as the Qur’an, and there would be no grounds for distinguishing two types of revealed speech that is attributed to Allah.
If this is the case (that Divine Hadiths were revealed by Allah in terms of both wording and meaning), it would have been imperative to preserve them intact. It would have been impermissible to quote them using their meanings alone. Moreover, the reader would not have been allowed to handle the sheets containing them without performing ablution first. But, in fact, no scholar has ever claimed that.
Besides applying the teachings revealed in it, the Qur’an was revealed for other purposes: Almighty Allah challenged the humankind and jinn to match the superior style of it. Also, reciting the verses of the Qur’an is an act of worship. Hence, the Qur’an was revealed word for word and letter for letter.
However, Divine Hadiths have no such additional purposes. They were revealed simply for their messages. So, understanding the message is sufficient. For example, when one explains an Arabic line of poetry, one says, “the poet says so and so,” and when one explains in his or her own words a verse from the Qur’an, one says, “Almighty Allah tells us this and that.” In the same way, Allah tells us what Moses, Pharaoh, and others said, stating the import of what they actually uttered and expressing it in words and styles other than those used by any of them. Nevertheless, He, Almighty, attributes those words to them.
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