The Qur’aan challenged it detractors to produce just one chapter like it, if they think that the Qur’aan is a human product. It even emphatically claimed that no one would be able to do it. This challenge was given to Arabs who were proud of their eloquence. Initially, they were challenged to produce a book like this. Then, they were asked to produce ten chapters like those of the Qur’aan. Then, in this final challenge, it was reduced to one soorah (chapter) utilizing all the help they can get. But no one – not even the bitterest enemies of Islam and recognized orators – dared to take the challenge because they knew it is humanly impossible to match the stunning style of the Qur’aan. The inferiority of their attempt would have been immediately noticed by Arabs in general and they would lose credibility rather than being seen as viable challengers. They at least knew their strengths and weaknesses and they did not dare to take this challenge. However, a few people have recently made some crude, childish attempts to answer this challenge by composing some Arabic text and posting it on the internet. It has become a clear evidence of their own ignorance, ineptness and lack of understanding. Even a person with a limited exposure to Arabic literature cannot help but find their claim laughable. What they conveniently ignore is that to meet this challenge or to assess if the challenge has been met, one first needs to understand what it means to be Qur’aan-like. In other words, one has to know the salient features of the Qur’aan.
I. How did the Qur'aan come about?
1. Allaah appointed a messenger, and gave him a mission to bring people to the worship and submission to One God, establish justice in the society and motivate people to pursue personal excellence.
2. The mission was a fully-guided mission -- the Messenger was precisely guided every step of the way by Allaah’s own words revealed on a timely basis, as needed.
3. The revealed messages contained:
- Details of the Islamic beliefs in Allaah, Hereafter, angels, books and messengers that must be adopted with conviction to be counted as a believer;
- Precise instructions for the messenger about the kind of attitude he should maintain and the actions he should undertake, at any given phase of the mission;
- Invitation to the disbelievers to become believers, presenting them arguments and rational evidence based on logic, natural signs and historical anecdotes;
- Responses to his opponents’ objections, questions and attacks, as they were raised or made; and
- Guidance and commands for his followers, the believers, about what is expected of them; what kind of mindset, attitude and paradigms they should adopt and maintain; what kind of behaviour behooves them; and what kind of life they should live.
4. In support of the above-mentioned content, the revelations also cited many historical anecdotes which the Prophet had no way of knowing from any human sources. They also cited signs from the systems of nature to make people think rationally.
5. About the matter related to the mission, the revelations made some predictions along the way about the future course of history, each of which came to happen exactly as predicted.
6. These revelations continued in bits and pieces, as needed, until the messenger completed the mission in about 23 years, and was acknowledged in that respect.
7. The preserved collections of all those messages revealed in bits and pieces over 23 years is the Qur’aan. Thus, the Qur’aan is:
- A collection of all messages revealed during 23 years by Allaah in His own words to His final Messenger, guiding him step by step through the mission given to him to establish His rule and the rule of justice and excellence in his society, from the point of his appointment to the mission until the completion of the mission.
II. What is unique about it?
1. It is not a narrative of the prophetic mission; merely and purely, the revealed words were assembled without addition of any comments or descriptions to make them a narrative of the mission.
2. It was not compiled in the order in which each piece was revealed; rather the revelations were compiled in a totally different order dictated by Allaah Himself. Each revelation came with instructions about its placement in the body of the Qur’aan. With the last revelation, the compilation was also complete, never to change or be changed, ever again.
3. None of the revealed words were ever edited, changed, adjusted or deleted.
4. The resulting prose was stunningly superb in style and eloquence, exceeding the most exquisite literary standard of the Arabic of its time. One outstanding characteristic of its style is that it uses the absolutely minimum possible number of words to convey the maximum possible information, without creating any ambiguities or confusion. Such brevity was one of the major criteria of the literary excellence among the Arabs at the time of the revelation of the Qur’aan; and the Qur’aan did it beyond the capability of any human being.
5. All pieces put together took the shape of a “book” that is a cohesive text of guidance and wisdom, free of any inconsistencies in contents or style whatsoever; utterly unlike a collection of mismatched bits and pieces that one would expect such a compilation to be.
6. In addition to the above, amazingly, this compilation of 23-year utterances has a mathematical structure that has been discovered only in recent decades and that is miraculous in many respects as follows:
- A number of its statements remain true even if they are applied to the number of times its key words are mentioned in the Qur’aan. For example, For example, verse 3:59 of Aali-’Imraan states,
In Allaah’s view, Jesus is like Adam whom Allaah created from dust (earthly elements) then said to him to “Be” and he was. (Aali-’Imraan 3:59)
In this verse, Adam and Jesus have been described to be similar in creation because both came into existence through the Command of Allaah SWT, not the normal human reproductive system. Thus, the words of this verse have been “used” to convey a message that “Jesus was like Adam in terms of his creation”. However, the statement “Jesus is like Adam” remains true if you count the word “Adam” and the word “Jesus” wherever they have been “mentioned”, disregarding how each of them was “used” at each mention. Amazingly, both have been mentioned exactly 25 times throughout the Glorious Qur’aan, though they have been used in totally different contexts and places. Thus, the Qur’aanic statement is valid even in terms of the mention of the words. No one can say that Adam and Jesus are not alike in the Qur’aan, because they have been mentioned different number of times.
Similarly, there is a verse in the Qur’aan that invites people to ponder on that fact that the Noble Qur’aan does not have inconsistencies. Had it been a human writing like other religious books, it also would have been inconsistent at some place or the other. A perfect coherence among all its parts and all its teachings is in itself a proof that it is from Allaah SWT. Thus, the use of the word “inconsistencies” or “discrepancies” in the following verse to convey this message is very clear:
Do they not ponder over the Qur’aan? Had it been from anyone other than Allaah, they (doubters) would have found many discrepancies (iIkhtilaafan katheera) in it. (An-Nisaa 4:82)
To evaluate the accuracy of this statement, normally, a person would look at the message of the Glorious Qur’aan throughout its text to find if there are any discrepancies in its approach, philosophy, message or teachings. And the reality is that any honest person will not find any such defect in the Qur’aan. But impressively, the statement remains true if someone tries to find that word exactly in that format anywhere else in the Qur’aan, because there is no other such occurrence. Therefore, no argumentative person can refute the above statement of the Glorious Qur’aan, saying, “Here, I have found other occurrences of ‘ikhtilaafan katheera” in the Qur’aan”.
Also, one verse (At-Tawbah 9:36) says, “As far as Allaah is concerned, the number of months (in a year) has indeed been twelve (lunar) months”. This statement remains true from the mention of the words perspective because the word “month” has been mentioned exactly 12 times in the Qur’aan, at different places in different contexts.
Another example is that the Qur’aan talks about seven heavens; even from the mention perspective, if one counts “seven heavens” used at different places in the Qur’aan, this mention will also be found to be exactly seven.
Aali-‘Imran verse 3:36 says, “The male is not like the female”. Even the number of their mention is different: “male” (zakar) has been mentioned only 12 times, while the female (unthaa) has been mentioned 18 times. Similarly, 59:20 says, “The inmates of the Fire will not be equal to the dwellers of Paradise”; their mention is also unequal 20 vs. 14.
Keep in mind that assessing the accuracy of a statement on the basis of the mention of the word, rather than the use of the word in conveying a message is a recent philosophical argument that was not used anywhere at the time of the revelation of the Qur’aan.
- The Qur’aan’s mention of “month” 12 times is not the only amazing thing about the celestial time-keeping in the Qur’aan. Even more amazing is the fact that the word “Day” is used exactly 365 times in the Qur’aan (1). First of all, keep in mind that it was impossible for a human being to monitor the number of times a certain word has been used while the text of the Qur’aan was still continuously being added to. But secondly, why 365, when the Arabs had no calendar and they ran their affairs according to an adjusted-lunar year that never had exactly 365 days? It had anywhere from 354 days to 385 days (ie., 354 or 355 days in normal years and 383, 384, or 385 days in leap years)? While the mention of days is aligned to the number of days in a solar year; the Qur’aan did not forget the moon in its system of mathematical mentions, the word moon has been mentioned 27 times through the Qur’aan at different places in various contexts; which is exactly the lunar sidereal cycle (2). Furthermore, there are two words for “year” in Arabic: sanah (سنة) and ‘Aam (عام). Although they can be used interchangeably in general, according to Suhayli in Ar-Rawdul-Unuf, there is a subtle difference: Sanah is more specific for a period equal to the solar year (the longer year) and ‘Aam is more specific for a lunar year. Interestingly the words “year” (sanah) and “years” (sineen) are mentioned 19 times in total, while the word ‘Aam on its own has been used seven times. This beautifully corresponds to the Metonic cycle whereby if seven lunar months are intercalated during 19 lunar years, they become equal to 19 solar years (3). The difference between the lunar year and the solar years was also recognized in Soorah Al-Kahf 18:25 while describing the People of the Cave’s stay in the cave to be 300 years according to some and 309 years according to others.
1 I have verified these counts myself. You are most welcome to do it yourself. If you use Al-Baaqi’s index of the Qur’aan, please note that verse 59 of Al-A‘raaf is missing from the list of Al-yowm. Hence, the count of Al-yowm is 349 + 16 yowman = 365.
2 Measuring the motion of the Moon around the Earth relative to the distant stars leads us to what is called the sidereal period. The sidereal period is the time required for a celestial body within our solar system to complete one revolution with respect to the fixed stars‹i.e., as observed from some fixed point outside the system. The sidereal period of the Moon is the time needed for it to return to the same position against the background of stars. The Moon appears to move completely around the celestial sphere once in about 27.3 days as observed from the Earth. This is called a sidereal month. It represents the orbital period of the Moon around the Earth. Measuring the motion of the Moon around the Earth relative to the Sun leads us to what is called the synodic (pronounced si-nod-ik) period. The synodic period is the time required for a body within the solar system, such as a planet, the Moon, or an artificial Earth satellite, to return to the same or approximately the same position relative to the Sun as seen by an observer on the Earth. The Moon's synodic period is the time between successive recurrences of the same phase; e.g., between full moon and full moon. The Moon takes 29.5 days to return to the same point on the celestial sphere as referenced to the Sun because of the motion of the Earth around the Sun; this is called a synodic month (lunar phases as observed from the Earth are correlated with the synodic month). https://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/questions/question32.html)
3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metonic_cycle; https://www.britannica.com/science/Metonic-cycle
- In addition to the consistency between a statement’s true meanings and its application to the mention of its key words, the Qur’aanic words have other mathematical symmetries as well. For example, the Qur’aan quotes the opponents of the mission at various places with the verb “They said”. It also tells the Prophet to “say” certain statements to his audience. Both “they said” and “say” may sometimes occur in the same context but often, they both are used in different contexts at a variety of different places throughout the Qur’aan. However, if one counts all of “they said” and “say” as they occur at all the various places, each of the two words amazingly occurs 332 time throughout the Qur’aan. Another example of this symmetry is that “this world” and “Hereafter” have both been mentioned 115 times.
7. The signs from natural systems it cites were presented so that people can reflect upon those signs and rationally arrive at the conclusions that lead them into believing the realities the Islamic faith requires the people to believe. The purpose of citing them was not to teach people about the science of the things mentioned as the signs, but to present them as points of reflection for understanding its message. Therefore, the Qur’aan describes those signs with words that people from every age and level of intellect can relate to in their own way and understand at their own level of sophistication and knowledge, without losing the benefits for which the signs have been cited. A Bedouin in the desert having no scientific knowledge can relate to them, benefit from them and draw the same conclusions as a celebrated research scientist of the 21st century. In fact, with advancement of scientific knowledge, people of knowledge are able to better understand the meaning of the verses of the Qur’aan that cite signs from natural phenomena. The words used are such that they equally reflect the newest research findings as they are meaningful to a person with the rudimentary understanding of those signs. Thus, neither does the advancement in science and knowledge of things contradict the words of the Qur’aan, nor do they ever render the words of the Qur’aan out-dated. This is another miracle of the words of the Qur’aan.
III. So, what is the Challenge?
When the Qur’aan challenges people to bring a chapter like the Qur’aanic chapter, the chapter produced in response to the challenge must have the features of the Qur’aan described above, such as:
1. It should be composed while interacting with people;
2. Once the words are uttered, they must not be edited;
3. It should use the minimum possible words to convey full-fledged messages, without creating confusion or ambiguities;
4. The Arabic must have the same elegance of style and literary excellence as that of the Qur’aan;
5. The composition of bits and pieces uttered during interactions with people should become a consistent whole that has wisdom, provides guidance; and has a logical structure;
6. It should contain information not available from human sources;
7. It should predict future events accurately; and
8. It should be worded such that its assertions can never be repudiated, falsified or outdated.
Any composition that does not fulfill the above criteria cannot be called Qur’aan-like.
The reality is that the miraculous prose of the Qur’aan cannot be copied in its miraculous aspects, its style, its melodious rhythm, its stunningly artistic beauty, its conciseness, its full-of-wisdom content, its doubtless guidance, its profoundness, its true-to the-word prophecies, its being based on perfect knowledge, its being proven right by all scientific discoveries, its not being proven wrong or inconsistent in any aspect, so on and so forth. No human prose can match even the eloquence, the literary excellence and the stunning style of the Qur’aanic text, much less in its miraculous aspects.