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A Challenge of Qur’anic Proportions

Written by Theresa Corbin

The Bedouins (nomadic Arabs) of the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were known for their mastery of poetry. There was a Shakespeare or Chaucer in every corner in every tribe. They took great pride in composing and refining every word and line of their art.

A Challange of the Quran

When Muhammad (PBUH) told these poets about the message of Allah, they asked him for a miracle to prove his prophethood. And Allah answered them in a revelation.

 

20:133
 
And they say, “Why does he not bring us a sign from his Lord?” Has there not come to them evidence of what was in the former scriptures? (Quran 20:133)
And these seasoned poets were in awe of the Arabic recitation that is lost in translation. Those who were enemies of the Prophet (PBUH) and Islam would even hide in places where they could sit and and listen to the Quran. How could Muhammad, an illiterate Arab, in a land of pagans–a man who had never produced poetry or prose of any kind–suddenly produce the most eloquent speech of the Quran?

The answer is he could not and did not. Muhammad (PBUH) did not produce the Quran. The Quran is from God and is in itself the miracle the Arabs asked for. It is a mastery of language that even the most skilled poet from among poets could not approach.

In the Quran, God sets forth a challenge to those who doubted the message and its chosen messenger:

2:23

And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a chapter the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful. (Quran 2:23)

10:37
 
And it was not [possible] for this Quran to be produced by other than Allah, but [it is] a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the [former] scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds. (Quran 10:37)
 
10:38

Or do they say [about the Prophet], “He invented it?” Say, “Then bring forth a chapter like it and call upon [for assistance] whomever you can besides Allah , if you should be truthful. (Quran 10:38)

It is important to note that when the Quran is translated into another language, even though the general meaning can be understood, sadly the actual miracle is lost.

The Arabs who were at the pinnacle of their poetry and prose during the time of revelation of the Quran could not even produce the smallest chapter similar to it (the smallest chapter in the Quran consists of only 3 verses).

Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, who was a notable British translator, said:

That though several attempts have been made to produce a work equal to it as far as elegant writing is concerned, none has as yet succeeded. 

Even Goethe, a famous German writer, has been quoted as saying that the Quran:

 […] soon attracts, astounds, and in the end enforces our reverence […] Its style, in accordance with its contents and aim is stern, grand – ever and always, truly sublime – So, this book will go on exercising through all ages a most potent influence.

Many linguists, poets, thinkers -whatever their faith- speak about the style of the Quran with veneration.

When it is read aloud or recited it has a hypnotic effect.

This effect became even more clear to me while on a road trip. My husband and I, both American converts, were driving from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama with three of his Christian nieces in the back seat of the car. These young ladies were in their early teens, and all were their usual hyper, talkative, and boisterous selves.

We feared that our small car would not be able to contain the teenage energy until the loudest niece shouted from the middle seat that she had heard my husband praying. She said that she liked the way it sounded and wanted to hear more. So we told them that if we played the Quran for them they would have to be quiet and listen.

They all agreed and within 20 seconds all three of them were sleeping peacefully. My husband and I looked at each other with astonishment. Up to this point we had only heard rumors that they did in fact sleep from time to time.

The Quran is the speech of the Creator. No one can bring rest to the hearts of the creation but the one who has created it.

Life is not like  box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump has so famously claimed. To me, life is like a ship sailing on a stormy sea. When we have nothing to guide us we become fearful and stressed. Allah has given us a guide in the Quran, and when we let it lead our lives, those lost in the storm can be at ease.

The challenge of the Quran does not mean that we should not write prose or craft poetry. We should use the creativity and ability to communicate that Allah has given us. The challenge is put forth simply as proof that the Quran is the word of God. It has never been met and will never be met.

 

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5 thoughts on “A Challenge of Qur’anic Proportions

  1. I enjoyed this read. Thank you for sharing. You know you’re quote from Goethe and the orientalist, do you have the source for those, by any chance? I find this topic fascinating.

    I like your analogy of life: “life is like a ship sailing on a stormy sea,” which is much more apt, I feel, than the notion of a box of chocolates. Good metaphor. There is depth to it. Love the alliteration of ‘L’s and ‘S’s. ‘L’ for ‘life’, ‘S’ for ‘sea’.

    The spoken poetry was amazing. Yes, we’ve got to shake ourselves awake in life, living, really, truly, living. Before we become ashes to ashes, we’ve got to shake the dust.

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    1. http://www.allahsquran.com/what_others_say_about_quran.php is the link to the Goethe quote. (forgot to include that in my sloppy bibliography. YIkes!)
      The orientalist is the 11th citation at http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/essays-articles/exploring-the-quran/the-inimitable-quran/

      This particular spoken word inspires me. I am glad you enjoyed it. We do indeed become complacent in our lives. It is probably one of the greatest tragedies of mankind. We have so much potential, and it is mostly wasted. Whenever I feel the dust start to collect, I listen to this poem.

      Thanks for noticing my alliteration and liking my metaphor. If life were truly like a box of chocolates, it would never last very long in my house, hehe.

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  2. SubhanAllah! Truly a beautiful perspective on the impact of poetry and how it can be utilized to highlight and share the wisdom that exists in the Qur’an. None can match the words of God, but to be able to carefully select fine words that, when stitched together, ultimately remind humanity as a whole that we are all cut from the same cloth. This is an area of interest that I am passionate about as my blog is dedicated to share the universal virtues of Islam through such literary works. Keep it up! 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Holisitc Poet. Your opinion means a lot to me, as I enjoy your work very much. We are indeed all cut from the same cloth, and the sooner people start to recognize that the better of we will all be 🙂

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