Responses to Islamic Awareness
What Is The Challenge Of The Qur'an With Respect To Arabic Prose
In this article,
the "Islamic Awareness" team attempts to defend the Qurānic challenge - that none can
produce "a sūrah like it". The article begins with an informative discussion of Arabic
poetry, and then tells us:
So, the challenge, as cAbdur Rahîm Green mentions,
is to produce in Arabic, three lines, that do not fall into one of these sixteen
al-Bihār, that is not rhyming prose, nor like the speech of soothsayers
[Emphasis is ours], and not normal speech, that it should
contain at least a comprehensible meaning and rhetoric, i.e. not gobbledygook. Indeed
The Qur'ân is not verse, but it is
rhythmic. The rhythm of some verses resemble the regularity of sajc,
and both are rhymed, while some verses have a similarity to Rajaz in its vigour and
rapidity. But it was recognized by Quraysh critics to belong to neither one nor
the other category.
Quotes provided by the "Islamic Awareness" team must also be placed in the context
in which they were written. In this case, Beeston, Johnstone, Serjeant and Smith were
quoting Mubarak's Nathr. The authors agree that the Qur'an is in a literary
category of its own. However, on pages 196-197, they tell us:
The Qur'an is written throughout in rhyming prose (saj'), and appears therefore,
to a greater or lesser extent, artistically constructed and strongly rhetorical in
comparison with ordinary prose. The individual parts of a sentence, the sentence
or combination of sentences which end with a rhyme and are called verses (ayah,
plural ayat) follow the rhyme scheme a-a, b-b, c-c. The same rhyme is repeated
not only once but as often as the author pleases, e.g. a-a-a, b-b, c-c-c-c (surah ci).
Short surahs sometimes have only one rhyme. Ideally, as in the earliest surahs,
the rhymes follow in rapid succession at fairly equal intervals; this also seems to
have been the case with the rhymes of the ancient Arabic soothsayers. (Presumably
the Prophet in fact adopted the alternation of short rhyme sequences from the practice
of these soothsayers ...). In the surahs from the latter years of Muhammad's
career the verses lengthen increasingly, and the rhymes no longer have the effect of
rhetorically enlivening elements, but sound monotonous and often forced, as though
they have been added later.
On page 198, we are told:
A large number of early pronouncements in the Qur'an are introduced by strange oaths,
or rather asseverations, a stylistic device which Muhammad in all probability
copied from the old Arabic soothsayers.
What Do The Orientalists Say About The Inimitability Of The Qur'ān?
The "Islamic Awareness" team provides us with several quotes from H.A.R. Gibb
which cast a favorable light on the style of the Qur'an. They establish his credibility
The famous Arabist from University of Oxford, Hamilton Gibb was open upon about
the style of the Qur'ān.
H.A.R. Gibb indeed admired the literary merits of the Qur'an :
Though to be sure, the question of literary merit is one not to be judged on
a priori grounds but in relation to the genius of the Arabic language;
and no man in fifteen hundred years has ever played on that deep-toned instrument
with such power, such boldness, and such range of emotional effect as Mohammed did.
(Mohammedanism; an historical survey, London, New York, Oxford University
Press, 1953, p. 37)
However, Gibb was indeed "open" about the style when he said, on the previous page (36) :
In the earliest period of his preaching Mohammed's utterances were delivered in
a sinewy oracular style cast into short rhymed phrases, often obscure and sometimes
preceded by one or more formal oaths. This style is admittedly that of the ancient
kahins or Arabian oracle-mongers, and it is not surprising that
Mohammed's opponents should have charged him with being just another such kahin.
For this and other reasons his style gradually loosened out into a simpler but still
rhetorical prose; and as social denunciations and eschatological visions passed into
historical narrative, and that in turn at Medina into legislation and topical addresses,
little was left of its original stylistic features but a loose rhyme or assonance
marking the end of each verse, now anything from ten to sixty words long.
Is The Bible Inimitable?
The "Islamic Awareness" team correctly points out that the Bible does not claim
"stylistic perfection", (but conclude by attacking the Bible for, what they see,
as a lack of "stylistic perfection"!) and make their standard attacks against
the Bible, especially the issue of text variants - which is discussed
The "Islamic Awareness" argument suffers from the logical fallacy of style over
substance. God spoke through His Prophets, and the Bible records God's relationship
with His creation. Unlike Muhammad, God's Prophets showed us signs in the form of
miracles and prophecies to authenticate their Prophetic credentials. Muhammad
performed no miracles (according to the Qur'an) and was notorious for his
false prophecies. Also, God's
Prophets did not go into trances and convulsions when God gave them revelation.
This behavior was common among shamans, and among some modern-day false prophets
of the "New Age" Movement.
Muhammad was no Prophet, but he did understand the power of words. Those who want
to use aspects of eloquence as criteria for determining the spiritual validity and
value of a text, should ponder these words of Muhammad:
Narrated Abdullah bin Umar:
Two men came from the East and addressed the people who wondered at their eloquent
speeches On that Allah's Apostle said. "Some eloquent speech is as effective as magic."
Bukhari Volume 7, Book 71, Number 662
Muhammad was a product of his environment, which was largely Pagan. This heritage
is visible in his "revelations" and the way in which he "received" them.
The Miracle of the Qur'an
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