What Is the Qur’an; How Can It Be Defined?, by Ali Ünal

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According to the majority of scholars, the word “Qur’an” is an infinit- ive form of the verb QaRaA meaning reading or reciting. Therefore it lit- erally means a thing recited by adding letters and words to one another.

The verb Qa-Ra-A has another infinitive form, qar’u, which means “to collect.” So, some are of the opinion that Qur’an means “The Thing Which Collects.” It is narrated from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas that the word Qur’an in the verse, Surely it is for Us to collect it (in your heart) and en- able you to recite it (by heart) (75: 17), means that it is being collected and established in the heart. For this reason, some assert that since the Qur’an collects and contains in it the “fruit” of the previous Scriptures and the whole of knowledge, it is called the “Qur’an”.

Some other scholars affirm that the word “qur’an” was not derived from any word. It is the proper name given to the Book which God, may His Majesty be exalted, sent to His Last Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. Imam Shafi‘i held this opinion (Abu’l-Baqa, 287; Raghib al-Isfahani, 402; as-Salih [translated], 15–18).

The Qur’an is the Word of God and, therefore, eternal, and it was not created. But as a book conveyed to the Prophet by the Archangel Gabriel, and composed of letters and words, recited, touched, and listened to, it is not eternal.

The general definition of the Qur’an is as follows: The Qur’an is the miraculous Word of God which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, written down on sheets, and transmitted to the succeeding generations by numerous reliable channels, and whose recitation is an act of worship and obligatory in daily prayers.

The Qur’an describes some of its features as follows: The month of Ramadan, in which the Qur’an was sent down as guidance for people, and as clear signs of Guidance and the Criterion (between truth and falsehood). (2: 185)

And this Qur’an is not such that it could possibly be fabricated by one in attribution to God, but it is a (Divine Book) confirming (the Divine origin of and the truths that are still contained by) the Revelations prior to it, and an explanation of the Essence of all Divine Books – wherein there is no doubt,8 from the Lord of the Worlds. (10: 37)

We send it down as a Qur’an (discourse) in Arabic so that you may reflect (on both its meaning and wording) and understand. (12: 2)

This Qur’an surely guides (in all matters) to that which is most just and right and gives the believers who do good, righteous deeds the glad tidings that for them, there is a great reward. (17:9)

And indeed (by revealing it through human language), We have made the Qur’an easy for remembrance (of God, and taking heed), then is there any that remembers and takes heed? (54: 17)

Most certainly it is a Qur’an (recitation) most honorable, in a Book well-guarded. (56: 77–78)

The Qur’an has other titles, each of which describes it in one of its as- pects and, therefore, can be regarded as one of its attributes. Some of them are, the Book, the Criterion, the Remembrance, the Advice, the Light, the Guidance, the Healer, the Noble, the Mother of the Book, the Truth, the Admonishment, the Good Tiding, the Book Gradually Revealed, the Knowledge, and the Clear.

The Qur’an aims to guide all people to truth and has four main pur- poses: demonstrating God’s existence and Unity; establishing Prophet- hood; proving and elucidating afterlife, with all its aspects and dimen- sions; and promulgating the worship of God and the essentials of justice. The verses of the Qur’an mainly dwell on these purposes. There are, based on these main purposes, the principles of creed, rules to govern human life, detailed information on the Resurrection and afterlife, pre- script for the worship of God, moral standards, direct or indirect inform- ation on some scientific facts, principles for the formation and decay of civilizations, outlines of the histories of many previous peoples, and so on. The Qur’an is also a source of healing; its application in life provides a cure for almost all psychological and social illnesses. It is also a cosmo- logy, epistemology, ontology, sociology, psychology, and law. It was re- vealed to regulate human life in the world. It is not limited to any time, place or people. It is for all times and for all peoples.

The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, declares:

The Qur’an is more lovable to God than the heavens and earth and those in them.

The superiority of the Qur’an over all other words and speeches is like God’s superiority over His creatures. The Qur’an is a definite decree distinguishing between the truth and falsehood. It is not for pastime. Whoever rejects it because of his or her despotism, God breaks his or her neck . It contains the history of previ- ous peoples, the tiding of those to come after you, and the judgment on the disagreements among you. Whoever searches for guidance in something other than it, God leads him or her astray. It is God’s strong rope. It is the wise instruction. It is the Straight Path. It is a book which desires cannot deviate and tongues cannot confuse, and which scholars are not fed up with, never worn-out by repetition, and has uncountable admirable aspects. It is such a book that they could not help but say: “We have indeed heard a wonderful Qur’an, guiding to what is right in belief and action and so we have believed in it.” Whoever speaks based on it speaks truth; whoever judges by it judges justly and whoever calls to it calls to truth. (at-Tirmidhi, “Thawab al-Qur’an,” 14)

We close this topic with the definition of the Qur’an by Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, an illustrious Muslim scholar who started an Islamic revival movement in Turkey during the first half of the twentieth century: The Qur’an is an eternal translation of the great book of the universe and the everlasting translator of the various “languages” in which Div- ine laws of the creation and operation of the universe are “inscribed;” the interpreter of the books of the visible, material world and the world of the Unseen; the discoverer of the immaterial treasuries of the Divine Names hidden on the earth and in the heavens; the key to the truths which lie beneath the lines of events; the tongue of the unseen world in the visible, material one; the treasury of the favors of the All-Merciful One and the eternal addresses of the All-Glorified One coming from the world of the Unseen beyond the veil of this visible world; the sun of the spiritual and intellectual world of Islam and its foundation and plan; the sacred map of the worlds of the Hereafter; the expounder, the lucid in- terpreter, articulate proof, and clear translator of the Divine Essence, At- tributes, Names and acts; the educator and trainer of the world of hu- manity and the water and light of Islam, which is the true and greatest humanity; the true wisdom of humankind and their true guide leading them to happiness; and for human beings it is both a book of law, a book of prayer, a book of wisdom, a book of worship and servanthood to God, and a book of commands and invitation, a book of invocation, and a book of reflection, a holy book containing books for all the spiritual needs of mankind, and a heavenly book which, like a sacred library, con- tains numerous booklets from which all the saints and the eminently truthful, and all the purified and discerning scholars have derived their ways peculiar to each, and which illuminate each of these ways and an- swer the needs of all those with different tastes and temperaments who follow them.

Having come from the Supreme Throne of God, and originated in His Greatest Name, and issued forth from the most comprehensive rank of each Name, the Qur’an is both the word of God as regards His being the Lord of the Worlds, and His decree in respect of His having the title of the Deity of all Creatures, and a discourse in the name of the Creator of all the heavens and earth, and a speech from the perspective of the abso- lute Divine Lordship, and an eternal sermon on behalf of the universal Sovereignty of the All-Glorified One, and a register of the favors of the All-Merciful One from the viewpoint of the All-Embracing Mercy, and a collection of messages, some of which begin with a cipher, and a holy book which, having descended from the surrounding circle of the Divine Greatest Name, looks over and surveys the circle surrounded by the Supreme Throne of God.

It is because of all these that the title of Word of God has been, and will always be, given to the Qur’an most deservedly. After the Qur’an come the Scriptures and Pages (or Scrolls) which were sent to some other prophets. As for the other countless divine words, some of them are con- versations in the form of inspirations coming as the particular manifesta- tions of a particular aspect of Divine Mercy, Sovereignty, and Lordship under a particular title with particular regard. The inspirations coming to angels, human beings and animals vary greatly with regard to their uni- versality or particularity.

The Qur’an is a heavenly book, which contains in brief the Scriptures revealed to the previous prophets in different ages, and the content of the treatises of all the saints with different temperaments, and the works of all the purified scholars, each following a way particular to himself; the six sides of which are bright and absolutely free of the darkness of doubts and whimsical thoughts; whose point of support is with certainty Divine Revelation and the Divine Eternal Word, whose aim is manifestly eternal happiness, and whose inside is manifestly pure guidance. And it is surrounded and supported: from above by the lights of faith, from be- low by proof and evidence, from the right by the submission of the heart and the conscience, and from the left by the admission of reason and oth- er intellectual faculties. Its fruit is with absolute certainty the mercy of the Most Merciful One, and Paradise; and it has been accepted and pro- moted by angels and innumerable men and jinn through the centuries. (The Words 2, “the 25th Word,” 388–389 )


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