A magnificent book from an unschooled Prophet.
Examining the real miracle of the Quran
A magnificent book from an unschooled Prophet.
In order to understand why and how the Qur’ān is a miracle, we should first consider the objective that it seeks. The Qur’ān addresses questions that are most fundamental to our existence in this world, such as our origin, our reality, our purpose in this life, choice, responsibility, death, and afterlife. Many of these, if not all, are beyond the reach of ordinary human knowledge and capacity. The entire system offered by the Qur’ān – which covers both the theory and practice – is by nature unique and unrivaled by human production. The Qur’ān also speaks to the heart and conscience of each human being, enabling the person to verify its authenticity at the individual level.
A Magnificent Book from an Unschooled Prophet
The Qur’ān challenges its audience in many verses to gather around and do everything that they can in order to bring a book, ten chapters or even one chapter like it (2:23, 10:38, 11:13, 17:88, 52:34). It clearly says:
“This Qur’ān could not have been fabricated by anyone besides Allah” (10:37) and denies the claim that: “It [the Qur’ān] is nothing but the speech of a human being” (74:25).
Sometimes it specifically points to the fact that the Prophet (ṣ) is an unschooled individual and that his past shows that he could not have come up with this book on his own (7:157-158, 10:16, 28:86, 62:2).
“You did not use to recite any scripture before it, nor did you write it with your right hand, for then the impugners would have been skeptical” (29:48).
It also refutes the claim that the Prophet (ṣ) has been taught the book by someone else (6:105, 16:103, 25:4-6). Here are some verses that provide more insight to the Qur’ān’s miracle:
1. According to the Qur’ān, mankind’s incapability to bring the like of this Book proves its authenticity as the word of God and makes it binding on them to follow it: “And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down to Our servant, then bring a sūrah like it [or from one like him – Muḥammad], and invoke your helpers besides Allah, should you be truthful. And if you do not – and you will not – then beware the Fire whose fuel will be humans and stones, prepared for the faithless” (2:23-24); “Do they say, ‘He has fabricated it?’ Say, ‘Then bring ten sūrahs like it, fabricated, and invoke whomever you can, besides Allah, should you be truthful.’ But if they do not respond to you, know that it has been sent down by Allah’s knowledge, and that there is no god except Him. Will you, then, submit [to Allah]?” (11:13-14).
2. The Qur’ān has been described as a sign (āyah), evidence (bayyinah), proof (burhān) and light (nūr) from God. For example: “And this Book that We have sent down is a blessed one; so follow it, and be God-wary so that you may receive [His] mercy. Lest you should say, ‘The Book was sent down only to two communities before us… or [lest] you should say, ‘If the Book had been sent down to us, surely we would have been better-guided than them.’ There has already come to you a manifest proof from your Lord and a guidance and mercy. So who is a greater wrongdoer than him who denies the signs of Allah, and turns away from them? Soon We shall requite those who turn away from Our signs with a terrible punishment because of what they used to evade“(6:155-157); “O mankind! Certainly a proof has come to you from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a manifest light” (4:174); “Certainly there has come to you a light from Allah, and a manifest Book” (5:15); “So have faith in Allah and His Apostle and the light which We have sent down” (64:8).
3. The Qur’ān presents itself as a sign and proof that should suffice from any other sign or miracle:”Certainly we have drawn for mankind in this Qur’ān every [kind of] parable. Indeed if you bring them a sign [that is, a miracle], the faithless will surely say, ‘You are nothing but fabricators!’ “(30:58); “Those who have no knowledge say, ‘Why does not Allah speak to us, or come to us a sign?’ So said those who were before them, [words] similar to what they say. Alike are their hearts. We have certainly made the signs clear for a people who have certainty” (2:118); “They say, ‘Why does he not bring us a sign from his Lord?’ Has there not come to them a manifest proof in that which is in the former scriptures?” (20:133).
It should be noted here that even though the Qur’ān is the primary and top miracle of the Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ), it is not his only miracle. He also had other miracles that were more physical and apparent. One that is hinted at in the Qur’ān is the splitting of the moon (54:1-5). There were also several cases of foretelling future events or dreams that came true later, but these were not presented as proofs for the Prophet’s (ṣ) claim of apostleship, therefore they cannot be considered as miracles in the specific sense of it. There are many more mentioned in hadith (narrations), such as informing the polytheists about their caravan in the desert after his night journey, the testimony of the lizard, and the uprooting, splitting and moving of a tree. What makes the Qur’ān distinct from all other miracles is that it is not an event that occurred at one point in history, in a single location and before a limited audience. Rather, it is an everlasting miracle for everyone everywhere, and its preservation is guaranteed by God (15:9), which could itself be another miracle.
The above points about the Prophet’s (ṣ) life and the Qur’ān being a miracle and a decisive proof are summarised in the following verses:
“When Our manifest signs are recited to them, those who do not expect to encounter Us say, ‘Bring a Qur’ān other than this, or alter it.’ Say, ‘I may not alter it of my own accord. I follow only what is revealed to me. Indeed should I disobey my Lord, I fear the punishment of a tremendous day.’ Say, ‘Had Allah [so] wished, I would not have recited it to you, nor would He have made it known to you, for I have dwelled among you for a lifetime before it. Do you not apply reason?’ So who is a greater wrongdoer than him who fabricates a lie against Allah, or denies His signs? Indeed the guilty will not be felicitous” (10:15-17).
The Qur’ān’s Challenge
The question to ask here is: What makes the Qur’ān a miracle? What makes it clear evidence to the truth of the Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) and a binding proof that one should follow him as an apostle of God? Is it because of the Qur’ānic claim and challenge that ‘no one else can bring the like of it’? If so, then one should be able to apply the same logic to any other book or act: bring another book like the Divan of Ḥafiẓ; bring another book like Mullā Ṣadrā’s Asfār; bring another set of tragedies and sonnets like Shakespeare’s; bring another theory like Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity; and so on. Moreover, is it just a matter of language and Arabic eloquence? If so, then how would this challenge ever be even applicable to non-Arabs? One could equally come from a remote village with an unknown language, compose a book or poem, and then claim, ‘Even if all of mankind and jinn gather they cannot make the like of it.’ Would that prove that person or book to be divine and make it incumbent on others to follow him?
These are important and common questions that are heard in one way or another from time to time. Before answering the Qur’ān’s challenge and miracle in particular, we should emphasise that religion by nature involves an element of test and trial, and any claim or proof in religion falls under such a paradigm. Therefore, we should not be deceived into expecting some event or evidence in religion to leave people with no choice but to accept, because that would be contradiction.
As with the Qur’ān in particular, sometimes its eloquence and linguistic excellence is presented as what makes it a miracle. However, it should be noted that elegance of expression is only one aspect of the Qur’ān, while when the Qur’ān presents itself as a miracle it presents itself in its entirety. The Qur’ān as a whole, including all of its aspects and traits, is a miracle that no one other than God can compose. Emphasising the eloquence of Qur’ān essentially reduces it to a literary masterpiece or a work of art. This is far from the whole purpose of the Qur’ān. The Book is certainly a literary miracle, but that should be thought of as a secondary feature and a by-product of the real theme of God’s Book. Furthermore, the Qur’ān is a miracle for all mankind, in all places and at all times, who are mostly non-Arabs and have no knowledge of Arabic. It is rather absurd to challenge such an audience to produce a work of Arabic literature and then conclude that ‘because you are incapable of doing so I am the word of God and it is incumbent on you to follow me.’
The objections, criticisms and accusations of the disbelievers against the Qur’ān were things like:
“The faithless say, ‘This is nothing but a lie that he has fabricated, and other people have abetted him in it’… They say, ‘He has taken down myths of the ancients, and they are dictated to him morning and evening’ “(25:4-5).
They likened the Qur’ān to the myths and legends of the ancients, and the problem with those myths was not a matter of linguistics, nor was their merit in their eloquence. Rather, these objections show that their problem with the Qur’ān pertained to its message and content. Hence, when the Qur’ān answers their objections by saying, ‘Bring one like it’ it also pertains to the aspect of message and content.
Key Point: Comparison with the Torah
As with a full answer to the question of Qur’ān’s miracle, it can be deduced from reflecting on the following verses:
“It is We who are the senders [of the apostles]. And you were not on the side of the Mount when We called out [to Moses], but [We have sent you as] a mercy from your Lord that you may warn a people to whom there did not come any warner before you, so that they may take admonition. And lest – should an affliction visit them because of what their hands have sent ahead – they should say, ‘Our Lord! Why did You not send us an apostle so that we might have followed Your signs and been among the faithful?’ But when there came to them the truth from Us, they said, ‘Why has he not been given the like of what Moses was given?’ Did they not disbelieve what Moses was given before, and said, ‘Two magicians [or ‘Two sorceries’; that is, the Torah and the Qur’ān] abetting each other,’ and said, ‘Indeed we disbelieve both of them’? Say, ‘Then bring some Book from Allah better in guidance than the two so that I may follow it, should you be truthful.’ Then if they do not respond to you[r] [summons] know that they only follow their desires. And who is more astray than him who follows his desires without any guidance from Allah? Indeed Allah does not guide the wrongdoing lot” (28:45-50).
In verse 28:48, there is a disagreement among exegetes and scholars whether the two magicians or sorceries refer to Prophets Moses and Aaron (‘a), Prophets Moses and Muḥammad (ṣ), the two initial miracles of Moses, or the Torah and the Qur’ān. However, verse 49 is more than clear: “Say, ‘Then bring some Book from Allah better in guidance than the two so that I may follow it, should you be truthful'”. Unlike the other verses where the Qur’ān challenges the people to bring a book like itself, here it challenges them to bring a book like itself or the Torah. In other words, the Torah is also a miracle just as the Qur’ān is a miracle, for neither can be composed by other than God. Now, what makes these two books miracles? The answer is found in verse 28:49 where it says: “better in guidance.” This verse clearly shows that the salient feature of the Qur’ān which makes it a miracle is that it is a book of guidance. It comprises of what guides mankind to his perfection.
Based on the above, what makes the Qur’ān a miracle is not merely its linguistic eloquence. Of course, the Qur’ān has repeatedly described itself as being in a clear and lucid Arabic language (16:103, 26:195, 39:28, 41:3), but that is only so that its direct and primary audience at the time of revelation may comprehend it and take admonition from it (12:2, 20:113, 39:28, 42:7, 43:3). Otherwise, the Qur’ān has described its real nature and reality as follows:
“O mankind! There has certainly come to you an advice from your Lord, and a cure for what is in the breasts, and a guidance and mercy for the faithful” (10:57)
The idea of the Qur’ān being a cure for the believers is also found in verses 17:82 and 41:44.
Advice, guidance, cure, and mercy from God are the unique commodities that the Qur’ān offers and no one other than God can offer. The significance of these commodities is better understood if one reflects on the fact that we are eternal beings that face everlasting life after death. We need to prepare our eternal abode and secure our everlasting happiness, but to do so we are in dire need of instruction, guidance, education, training, and purification. This is what makes the Qur’ān stand out as a miracle. It is indeed the best miracle and sign because it has the same nature as the message and mission that it is supposed to prove, as opposed to apparent and physical miracles that do not have a nature of guidance and instruction intrinsically.
This could itself explain why the Qur’ān has sometimes challenged its audience to bring the like of it (17:88), a speech (ḥadīth) like it (52:34), ten chapters like it (11:13), or a single chapter (sūrah) like it (2:23, 10:38). This is because what makes the Qur’ān a miracle is its content of advice, guidance, cure and mercy. Such content is conveyed in at least one sūrah (chapter), for a sūrah is a set of verses that pursue a specific objective that distinguishes them from the other verses. Then there can be more general and encompassing objectives pursued by sets of chapters (such as ten sūrahs), and then a more universal objective pursued by the Book as a whole.
Another verse that shows the miracle of the Qur’ān is:
“Do they not contemplate the Qur’ān? Had it been from [someone] other than Allah, they would have surely found much discrepancy in it” (4:82)
The significance of this lack of discrepancy is better appreciated if one reflects on the gradual descent of this Book over 23 years and in various different conditions such as ease, hardship, war, peace, victory, defeat, hope, fear, home, journey, Mecca, Medina, etc. (see 17:106 and 25:32). This verse again shows that the Qur’ān’s miracle is not a matter of linguistic excellence, but a matter of content, because the verse is about the consistency of the content and lack of discrepancy in it  and it bases its argument on contemplation:
“Do they not contemplate the Qur’ān?” (4:82)
This could be another reason for why the Qur’ān challenges its audience to bring ten chapters in addition to its challenge of one chapter: it is a challenge of consistency and lack of discrepancy.
The Qur’ān’s view about miracles – especially about itself as a miracle – can be summarised by the following verses:
“They say, ‘Why has not some sign [that is, a miracle] been sent down to him from his Lord?’ Say, ‘The signs are only with Allah, and I am only a manifest warner.’ Does it not suffice them that We have sent down to you the Book which is recited to them? There is indeed a mercy and admonition in that for a people who have faith. Say, ‘Allah suffices as a witness between me and you: He knows whatever there is in the heavens and the earth. Those who put faith in falsehood and defy Allah, – it is they who are the losers’” (29:50-52); “If only it were a Qur’ān whereby the mountains could be moved, or the ground could be split, or the dead could be spoken to… Rather, all command belongs to Allah. Have not the faithful yet realised that had Allah wished He would have guided mankind all together?” (13:31).
By Tawus Raja
 Qummī, 2/13. Amālī.Ṣ, 448, ḥ 1.
 Ṭabarānī, al-Majma‘ al-Awsaṭ, 6:127. Kharrāz Rāzī, Kifāyat al-Athar, 172-173. Rāwandī, al-Kharā’ij wa al-Jarā’iḥ, 1/38, ḥ 43. Haythamī, 8/293. Kanz, 12/355-356, ḥ 35364.
 Nahj, Sermon 192. Kanz, 12/354, ḥ 35360.
 Iṣfahānī, Abwāb al-Hudā, 52-53.
 Incidentally, the Torah is also a book of literary excellence and eloquence, with many poetic subtleties. However, these verses explicitly argue based on the guidance involved in the two scriptures, not their eloquence.
 Mīzān, 10/166-169.
 Mīzān, 10/163.
 Mīzān, 10/164-165.