What is the origin of the Quran?

What is the origin of the Quran?
30th January 2020, Thursday

This question immediately crosses one’s mind when talking about the sacred book of Muslims called the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Why should we accept the Muslims’ point of view? Are we not entitled to ask questions about this?

Historians have generally agreed that the Qur’an was propagated by an illiterate Arab man, by the name of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, who was born in Makkah in the sixth century CE. This consistent testimony of history stands outstandingly decisive and obviously has credibility. We clearly read in this book that it is not the work of Muhammad (PBUH), that it is a noble speech that God revealed to him, and that Muhammad’s task is only to convey it and explain it to the people as it is, without adding or deleting anything from it.

Could it be that Muhammad, the Messenger of Islam himself invented it or learned from others and then presented it to people after rewording and paraphrasing their work into his own?

These are legitimate questions, which would immediately come to mind unless those posing them have studied the Qur’an or the biography of Muhammad and his accounts.

It is common knowledge substantiated by historical studies, that many writers and intellectuals have plagiarized others’ work and attributed it to themselves. Why would then anyone in his right mind attribute his own work to anyone else?

Here a question arises: If he really wanted to engage in deception to extend his influence on people by attributing the Qur’an to God, why did he not then claim that all of his words are from God?!

It would sound completely nonsensical to claim that he authored the Qur’an and attributed it to God to extend his influence and have his status and honour raised, when at the same time we find a number of instances in the same book where it directly reproves Muhammad (PBUH), guides him and corrects his mistakes.

As is well known to those who read the Qur’an, such holy book excludes from rebuke neither private nor public matters. Indeed, it has rebuked and advised Muhammad (PBUH) in matters relating to his family life, and pointed out to him the mistakes he committed in his leadership decisions, and even in the way he called people to Islam.

To give an example, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was once deeply and earnestly engaged in inviting pagan leaders to Islam when a blind man, seeking satisfaction for his spiritual craving, interrupted him, saying, “Teach me some of what God has taught you.” The Prophet was too busy talking that he did not pay much attention to him. The blind man repeated his request more than once. The Prophet naturally disliked the interruption and wished the blind man would wait until he had finished talking to the pagan leaders. Therefore, he frowned and turned away from him without saying a word. The Qur’an recorded this incident in history, describing it accurately and in detail, and indicating how Muhammad (PBUH) frowned at the blind man and turned away from him, and even rebuking him and instructing him, in very clear and strong words, not to repeat such behaviour. This incident is stated in a surah (an entire chapter of the Qur’an), which bears the name of the incident itself, namely, ‘He Frowned’ (Qur’an, 80: 1-11).

This incident reflects the highest honour of the Prophet’s sincerity in the revelation that was bestowed to him. The Prophet afterwards held the man in high honour and esteem and would meet him with a welcoming and smiling face, saying to him, “Welcome to him on whose account my Lord has rebuked me”, and would even spread his cloak on the ground and make him sit on it as a gesture of respect.

The Qur’an has recorded a number of incidents instructing the Prophet (PBUH) and even rebuking him in such a manner that many of us would not accept to be said about him in public. How could a person seeking prestige and honour for himself publish his mistakes and record them in history in this manner?

History also proves to us in a number of instances how Muhammad (PBUH) encountered difficult times in which he wished divine revelation would come down to prove his or his family’s sincerity, position and/or innocence, but it just would not come.

In one such incident, his own people, who had long opposed him and even meted out harm to him, sought the help of some learned Jews in their war against him.

They suggested to them to ask him about three matters. If he answered them, they stated, he is a prophet, but if he does not, then he is not a prophet. Acting as coached by the Jews, the people of Makkah asked the Prophet (PBUH) the three questions, and he defiantly said he would answer them the next day.

No revelation came to him for the next fifteen days. His enemies would ridicule him every time they passed him. Naturally, Muhammad (PBUH) was deeply grieved as a result. After this interval of fifteen days, the answer to the questions was revealed. Also revealed along with the answers were God’s instructions to Muhammad (PBUH). He was never to firmly say that he was going to do something without saying “If God wills”, thus making his actions entirely dependent upon God’s will, and to inform him that the delay in revelation was intended by God for instructional purposes (18: 23-24).

Recurring Accusations

It is remarkable that the life story of Muhammad (PBUH) may be considered one of the most conclusive proofs that he was truthful.

It is a fact that Muhammad (PBUH) was an illiterate man living among illiterate people. He shared their lives, attended their councils without committing any abominations whatsoever, and was preoccupied with earning a livelihood to support himself and his family as a shepherd or a trader. How could he then, after forty years and without having been in contact with the learned people, all of a sudden inform them of matters they had never heard of before and of facts they did not themselves know about their own ancestors!? He related to them stories of the ancient peoples, told them about the beginning of creation and described the lives of the previous prophets in detail, among other things. He also came up with new detailed and comprehensive legislation in all spheres of life!

This fact stunned the enemies of Muhammad (PBUH) from among his people so much so that they did not know what accusation they could bring forth to warn people against him.

It was difficult for his enemies to claim that the Qur’an was his own invention, for anyone who reads it and ponders on its verses will know with absolute certainty that this is not true. It was also impossible for them to claim that he had learnt it from others, for he lived amongst them and knew all the minutest details of his life. Therefore, they leveled contradictory accusations against him. At one time, they asserted that he himself invented it; at yet another time, they asserted he just related to them the dreams he had seen in his sleep. When they failed to prove their claims, they accused him of being a magician and a poet, and even a lunatic!

It is clear that the same accusation was leveled at other God’s prophets. Moses (AS) was accused of being a magician and Jesus (AS) was accused of being a lunatic.

The other prophets, (PBUT) were subjected more or less to the same accusations. When their enemies could not find anything to accuse them of, they claimed that they were magicians or lunatics. The same position is adopted by someone bearing false witness. If he finds himself in an embarrassing situation and becomes aware that his evidence is rather weak, he starts searching everywhere for any possible accusation to save his face, which will never happen!

Why not just Consider It a Stroke of Genius?

It is a truism that God has endowed the human mind with tremendously unimaginable abilities and creativity. However, is the logical reasoning faculty of the mind not rather limited, as a matter of course? Although the mind testifies to the existence of an omnipotent God and Creator and that God’s justice requires the existence of another life where everyone will be rewarded or punished commensurate with his good or evil deeds, can the mind prove the minutest details of this life and other matters, for that matter, regarding which there is immediate concrete evidence?

A cursory look at the texts of the Qur’an will reveal that it provides a thorough explanation of the limits of faith, a detailed description of the world and all the living things, how they all began and how they will eventually end. It depicts Paradise and its bliss, and Hellfire and the torment in it, the number of its gates and the number of angels in charge of it. It further establishes detailed issues about the reality of the universe and humankind. What logical theory are all such details then based?

The fact of the matter is that this information cannot possibly be obtained through intelligence and genius. It can be either falsehood and guess, or the ultimate truth that can only be gained through divine revelation.

While modern science has now proved some of the facts stated in the Qur’an, it has not challenged any of the information it has stated. In addition, it is generally in agreement with the information found in the previous divine books regarding the unseen world.

Could Muhammad (PBUH) have Rewritten the Previous Scriptures?

Let us pause for a moment and see if the Qur’an has derived such information, even to a lesser extent, from the scriptures of the previous prophets.

Muhammad (PBUH) and his people were mostly illiterate and unacquainted with the information contained in the Qur’an. He did not associate with people to whom the previous divine books had been revealed except for a very brief encounter with one person during one of his journeys as a child while in the company of his relatives. Those educated in the Jewish and Christian scriptures at that time concealed the knowledge that they had from people to maintain their position, and that such knowledge was not readily available.

If we overlook all that, the ultimate truth is revealed to the serious and unbiased researcher. The Qur’an does not agree with everything in the previous divine books available at the time. Rather, it came to correct some of the false information that religious scholars had included in them. It also came to provide the missing information in some stories, make public what religious scholars used to conceal, expose doctrinal or behavioral corruption that was attributed to the religion that their prophets at the time had brought. Indeed, the Qur’an is replete with examples testifying to this fact. Would it then be reasonable to assume that Muhammad (PBUH) has derived all that information from them?!

A Crucial Historical Fact

Any fair-minded person who is willing to look objectively at the teachings of Islam will by no means fail to ask himself these questions: Was the Messenger of Islam, Muhammad (PBUH), not Arab?

Does history not inform us that his own people had no art of their own to boast about except eloquence, articulate speech and literary expression for which they held forums, councils and forums, and that an Arab tribe would rise to glory or fall into disgrace because of a poem composed regarding it?

Does history and literature books not tell us that hardly any Arabs composed a work of poetry or prose rush to rectify any defect in it, add whatever was missing and even respond using his own literary style? Do they not inform us that the power of literary expression was the area in which they excelled and contested with one another and the field in which they proudly displayed their strength and excellence?

How could his mortal enemies who left no stone upturned in their attempt to wage war on him, mete out harsh treatment upon him and warn people against him, fail to take up the challenge when he asked them to produce a Qur’an? The Qur’an similar to the one he had brought, or at least a small portion of it, remaining instead in stupefied bewilderment, unable to face the challenge!?

Did Muhammad (PBUH) not fear that by mounting such a challenge regarding a skill in which his enemies excelled, they would, as both individuals and groups, spring to action and compete with him with a view to confuting him and proving to people that what he had brought was wrong!?

Let us suppose that he only mounted such a challenge because he knew his people were not capable enough to rise to his challenge. How could he then make it a permanent challenge to the future generations until the end of time, firmly and emphatically stating that if all of them gathered together to produce a book like the Qur’an, they would fail to do so even if they helped one another as best they could?!

Taking such a step constitutes a considerable risk that could only be taken by someone whose heart is filled with confidence and is certain of what he said. By issuing such a challenge, neither his own people, the Quraysh, nor the then leading speakers known for their eloquence dared produce something similar to the Qur’an, or even a small portion of it. This challenge still remains unsuccessful today, and history has it that anyone who has ever attempted or entertained the thought of taking the challenge has been doomed to ignominious failure and become an object of ridicule and the target of literary derision among others.

Everyone Has His Final Word

After all, everyone will have his final word in this matter. Their judgement and attitudes about the Qur’an will essentially be based on their personal experience in carefully reading it and making an earnest effort to understand it, making sure to select an appropriate translation of it in their language, if they are not versed in Arabic.

The Qur’an pointedly states that one of the greatest proofs of the sincerity of Muhammad’s prophethood lies in the outcome our hearts and minds after reading the Qur’an in an effort to understand it. As it states, “What, is it not sufficient for them that We have sent down upon you the Book that is recited to them? Surely in that is a mercy and a reminder to a people who believe” (29:51).

Indeed, the Qur’an invites everyone to read it and ponder over it in order to understand it, clearly stating that only those who have “locks on their hearts and minds” refuse to do so (47:24).

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