The Qur’ān (Arabic: القرآن) is the Muslim sacred scripture, they regard the contents and words of the Qur’an as revealed by God; they also believe that the Qur’an is a miracle, a proof for the prophethood of Muhammad (s), and the final divinely revealed scripture. The Qur’an has emphasized its own miraculous nature, challenging the disbelievers to produce a work similar to it.
The revelation of the Qur’an began in the Cave of Hira, located in Mount Nur (Jabal al-Nur). The majority opinion is that the verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet (s) both through the angel of revelation and directly. Most Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed gradually, but some believe that, in addition to the gradual revelation, the Qur’an or some parts of it were revealed to the Prophet (s) instantaneously.
During the time of the Prophet (s), the verses of the Qur’an were written on different writing materials, including animal skins, palm wood, paper, and cloth. After the demise of the Prophet (s), the verses and chapters of the Qur’an were compiled by a number of the Companions, and several copies of the Qur’an were produced. These copies were different from each other in the order of the chapters and in the ways certain words were to be pronounced. This prompted Uthman, the third caliph, to decide to produce a unified version of the Qur’an and eliminate the other copies. Following their Imams (a), the Shia consider the Uthmanic version authentic and complete.
Among the other titles of the Qur’an are al-Furqan, al-Kitab, and Mushaf. The Qur’an contains 114 suras and about 6,000 verses. It is divided into thirty parts (juz’) and 120 segments (hizb).
The Qur’an discusses such themes as the unity of God, resurrection, the story of the prophets, Islamic laws, ethical virtues and vices, the battles of the Prophet (s), and demoting polytheism and hypocrisy.
Until the fourth/tenth century, there were diverse forms of recitation (qira’at) among Muslims. The primitive nature of the Arabic script of the time, different Arabic accents, and the arbitrary changes made by the reciters were among the factors that led to this diversity. In the fourth/tenth century, seven recitations were chosen and the rest were abandoned. The recitation of Asim as narrated by Hafs is now the widespread recitation among Muslims.
The Qur’an was first translated into Farsi in the fourth/tenth century, and the first translation into Latin was produced in the 12th century. The latter work was first published in Italy in 1543 CE. Iran was the first Muslim country to print the Qur’an in 1243/1827-28. The wide-spread printed copy of the Qur’an hand-written by Uthman Taha, is based on the edition published by al-Azhar University in Cairo in 1924.
The Qur’an has inspired the development of various branches of scholarship among Muslims, including exegesis and Quranic sciences, which discuss themes such as the history, lexicography, orthography, eloquence, stories, and the miraculous nature of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an has had a special place in Muslim rituals, the most important of which is reciting the Qur’an wholly or in part in different settings and on different occasions.
The Qur’an also has a central place in Muslim art, manifested in calligraphies, illuminated manuscripts, cover designs, literature, and architecture.
Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad (s). They believe that both the content and the words of the Qur’an were divinely revealed. The Cave of Hira in Mount al-Nur was the place where the Prophet (s) received the first revelation. It is reported that the content of this first revelation was the beginning verses of Qur’an 96 and that the first complete sura revealed to the Prophet (s) was Qur’an 1. Muslims hold that Prophet Muhammad (s) was the last prophet and that the Qur’an is the final sacred scripture revealed by God.
According to the Qur’an, there are three ways in which revelation may take place: “It is not [possible] for any human that Allah should speak to him except through revelation, or from behind a curtain, or send a messenger who reveals by His permission whatever He wishes” (Qur’an 42:51). Based on this and other evidence, the majority of Muslim scholars believe that the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (s) both directly and indirectly. However, Some scholars have maintained that the Qur’an were revealed only indirectly through Gabriel.
According to some verses, the Qur’an was revealed on the Night of Qadr in the month of Ramadan. However, there is disagreement among Muslims as to whether the whole Qur’an was revealed on that night or just some parts of it. Some hold that the verses that were to be revealed in one year were revealed to the Prophet (s) instantaneously on the Night of Decree each year; some others believe that the Qur’an was revealed only gradually and that only the beginning of its revelation occurred on the Night of Decree in the month of Ramadan; and yet some others maintain that the Qur’an was revealed both instantaneously and gradually.
Several alternative titles are mentioned for the Qur’an, the most well-known of which are al-Furqan, al-Kitab, and al-Mushaf; the latter name was used for the Qur’an by Abu Bakr, but the other names are mentioned in the Qur’an itself. The name “al-Qur’an” means recitable; it is used in the Qur’an fifty times, and in all instances, it refers to the Qur’an itself. This title has been used twenty times without the definite article “al-“, referring, in thirteen cases, to the Qur’an.
The Qur’an is the most important intellectual source for Muslims and a criterion against which all other sources of the Islamic thought, such as hadiths and the tradition, are measured. That is to say, doctrines grounded in other Islamic sources are invalid if they conflict with Quranic doctrines. According to hadiths from the Prophet of Islam and Shiite Imams, hadiths should be compared to the Qur’an, and if they fail to agree therewith, they should be deemed invalid or fabricated.
For example, the Prophet is quoted as saying that: “whatever is quoted from me, then if it agrees with the Qur’an, it is my word, and if it conflicts with the Qur’an, that is not my word.” According to a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a), any hadith in conflict with the Qur’an is false.
The Prophet (s) greatly emphasized memorizing, reciting, and writing the Qur’an. Since the early times of his mission, whenever he received a revelation, he would call the Scribes of Revelation to carefully write it down. Thus, the verses of the Qur’an were recorded and collected gradually on the available writing materials such as animal skin, palm wood, paper, and cloth.
The Prophet (s) himself oversaw the works of the scribes. After reciting the verses for them, he would ask them to read what they had written in order to correct possible mistakes.
According to al-Suyuti, although the whole Qur’an was written down during the time of the Prophet (s), it was not compiled in one codex, nor was the order of the suras fixed. Accordingly, the Qur’an had to go through a process of compilation. Affirming this view, Ma’rifat states that the compilation of the Qur’an in one codex and determining the order of the suras took place after the demise of the Prophet (s) and based on the opinions of his Companions. According to him, the first person who compiled the Qur’an was Imam Ali (a), who collected the suras on the basis of the date of their revelation.
After the demise of the Prophet (s), some of his prominent Companions undertook the compilation of the Qur’an. Thus, several copies of the Qur’an were compiled, which showed differences in the order of the suras and in the recitation of certain words.
Thus, with the suggestion of Hudhayfa, ‘Uthman, the third caliph, appointed a group to produce a standard copy of the Qur’an and solve the problem of differences. He gathered all other copies of the Qur’an from all over the Muslim territories and eliminated them. According to al-Tamhid, the unification of the copies of the Qur’an took place most likely in 25/645-46.
According to the Shiite tradition, the Imams (a) agreed with the unification of the Qur’an and endorsed the standard version compiled at the time of Uthman. Al-Suyuti reports that Uthman consulted with Imam Ali (a) about the unification of the copies of the Qur’an and the Imam (a) agreed with it. It is also reported that Imam al-Sadiq (a) prohibited a person who was reciting the Qur’an differently from the known recitations from doing so and told him to recite “the way people recite.” The Shia consider the current copy of the Qur’an authentic and complete.
Prior to the 4th/10th century, there were different recitations (qira’at) among Muslims. Some of the factors that led to this diversity were the differences in the copies of the Qur’an, the primitiveness of the Arabic script at the time (especially the lack of diacritics), the various Arabic accents, and the arbitrary recitations by the reciters of the Qur’an.
In the 4th/10th century, Ibn Mujahid, the master of the reciters of Baghdad, chose seven recitations, attributed to the Seven Reciters (al-Qurra’ al-Sab’a), from the existing recitations of the time. Since each of the seven recitations was transmitted through two different chains of transmitters, fourteen recitations emerged, and all were accepted by Muslims.
In the Sunni tradition, it is reported that the Qur’an was revealed in different verbal forms, and people are allowed to choose any of them for recitation. However, Shiite scholars maintain that the Qur’an was revealed only in one verbal form, and the fact that the Imams (a) recognized the variety of recitations was to make the recitation of the Qur’an easier.
The widespread recitation among Muslims is the recitation of ‘Asim as transmitted by Hafs. Some Shiite scholars of Quranic sciences today maintain that only this recitation is correct and the others are not taken from the Prophet (s) but are the products of the arbitrary changes made by the reciters.
Diacritic marks play a significant role in meanings of Arabic words, and they are doubly significant in the case of the Qur’an, since errors in its diacritic would lead to changes in meanings and at times to meanings contrary to what is meant by God. Initially, the scribes of the revelation transcribed the Qur’an without diacritic marks, which was not problematic for contemporaries of the Prophet. However, it led to different readings and meanings for next generations, and in particular, non-Arab Muslims. Thus, the diacritic of the Qur’an was essential for settling disputes and preventing changes or semantic distortions in the Qur’an. There are different historical reports concerning the first person who added diacritic marks to the Qur’an. Abu l-Aswad al-Du’ili (d. 69) is often introduced as the first person who did so with the help of Yahya b. Ya’mar. The first version of diacritic was as follows: for nasb a dot was put on the last letter of the word; for jarr a dot was put under the last letter of the word; and for raf’ a dot was put after the last letter of the word. A century later, Khalil b. Ahmad al-Farahidi (175) replaced dots with other signs: a small rectangle on the letter for nasb; a rectangle under the letter for jarr; a small “و” on the letter for raf’; repetition of the relevant mark for nunation; the teeth of the letter, “س” for shadda (or emphasis); the head of the letter, “ص” for sukun. Then, with the emergence of the School of Arabic Syntax in Basra under Sibawayh and the School of Arabic Syntax in Kufa under al-Kasa’i in the second half of the second century, and the emergence of the School of Arabic Syntax in Baghdad in the middle of the third century, remarkable developments were made in the science of the diacritic of the Qur’an.
The translation of the Qur’an was carried out in the early centuries of Islam. It is said that the first translator of the Qur’an was Salman al-Farsi, though the first complete translation into Farsi was produced in the fourth/tenth century.
The first translations of the Qur’an into European languages were produced by Christian monks and priests for apologetical purposes. The first complete Latin translation dates back to the twelfth century CE.
The Arabic text of the Qur’an was printed in Italy for the first time in 1543, but all the copies were collected and destroyed by the order of Pope. Next time, Qur’an was printed in 1692 and 1696 in Europe. The first time the Qur’an was printed by Muslims was in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1200/1785-86. The first Muslim country to print copies of the Qur’an was Iran in 1243/1827-28. In the subsequent years, other Muslim countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq too published various printed copies of the Qur’an.
In Cairo, in 1342/1923-24, an accurate and beautiful print of the Qur’an was made under supervision of al-Azhar University. This Qur’an was published based on the recitation of Hafs from ‘Asim’s recitation, and the Islamic world greatly welcomed it. This print in Cairo was decided to be the reference for writing of the famous Syrian calligrapher ‘Uthman Taha and his handwritten version was published and distributed in different sizes in many copies in Syria. Today this version is printed in most Islamic countries. Its main feature is arrangement of verses in pages and division of hizbs and juz’s.
Today, publishing the Qur’an in Muslim countries, such as Iran, is supervised by certain organizations and has special laws and regulations.
The Qur’an has 114 suras and nearly six-thousand verses. The Qur’an is divided into thirty parts (juz’) and 120 segments (hizb).
Sura is the Arabic name for a Quranic chapter. All suras, except Sura al-Tawba (Qur’an 9), begin with the formula “In the name of God, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful.” Quranic suras are divided, based on their place of revelation, into two categories: Meccan and Medinan. The Meccan suras are the suras that were revealed to the Prophet (s) prior to his migration to Medina, and the Medinan suras are the ones that were revealed after that.
A verse (ayah) is a word, phrase, sentence, or sentences in the Qur’an that, together with some other verses, form a sura. Every sura has a specific number of verses. Quranic verses are different from each other in terms of their length.
In terms of the clarity of their meanings, Quranic verses are divided into muhkam and mutashabih. Muhkam verses are the ones that are clear in their meanings, whereas mutashabih verses are ambiguous and can have divergent meanings. This categorization is suggested by the Qur’an itself.
A further categorization is that related to nasikh and mansukh (abrogating and abrogated) verses; the former are the verses that abrogate a temporary ruling stated in the verses of the latter verses.
The Qur’an is currently divided into thirty juz’s (parts) and 120 hizbs (segments). A juz’ is roughly one-thirtieth of the Qur’an, and each juz’ is itself divided into four hizbs. It seems that Muslims invented these divisions for the purposes of memorization and daily recitation of the Qur’an. It is reported that during the time of the Prophet (s) the Qur’an was divided into seven hizbs, each containing several suras. In some other times, the Qur’an was divided into two or ten juz’s.
The Qur’an speaks of various themes such as the unity of God, resurrection, moral virtues and vices, religious laws, stories of the past, incidents of the time of the Prophet (s), demoting polytheism and hypocrisy.
The integrity of the Qur’an means that no words have been added or omitted from the Qur’an. According to al-Khoei, all Muslims agree that there have been no additions to the Qur’an, but there is disagreement as to whether there have been any omissions. According to him, the mainstream Shiite view is that nothing has been omitted from the Qur’an.
In several verses of the Qur’an, the disbelievers are challenged to produce a book, ten suras, or even one sura similar to the Qur’an or its suras. This is called the tahaddi (challenge) of the Qur’an. The word was first used in the theological works of the third/ninth century. Muslims believe that no one can meet the challenge of the Qur’an and that this shows the miraculous nature of the Qur’an and therefore the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (s). The Qur’an itself emphasizes that it has been revealed by God and that no one can produce even one sura similar to its suras.
The Qur’an has inspired the development of several disciplines and branches of knowledge, such as tafsir (exegesis) and Quranic sciences.
Tafsir (exegesis) is the discipline concerned with explaining and interpreting the Qur’an. It started at the time of the Prophet (s) and by himself. Imam Ali (a), Ibn Abbas, Abd Allah b. Mas’ud, and Ubayy b. Ka’b were among the first interpreters and commentators of the Qur’an after the Prophet (s).
The Qur’an has been interpreted with different approaches and methodologies, including thematic, sequential, Qur’an-based, hadith-based, scientific, jurisprudential, philosophical, and mystical.
Quranic sciences are the disciplines that study different aspects of the Qur’an such as its history, jurisprudential verses, lexicography, grammar, eloquence, occasions of revelation, stories, miraculous nature, recitations, Meccan and Medinan verses, clear and ambiguous verses, and abrogating and abrogated verses.
Some of the important sources of Quranic sciences are the following:
The Qur’an has a significant place in Muslim congregational rituals. Muslims gather in mosques, the shrines of the Imams (a) and their descendants, and homes to recite the Qur’an together. On the Nights of Decree, Shiite Muslims hold the Qur’an above their heads and ask God for forgiveness. (See: Holding the Qur’an on the Head)
The Qur’an is also recited in the beginning of many Muslim social gatherings and ceremonies.
The Qur’an has immensely influenced Muslim art. The most significant manifestations of this influence can be seen in calligraphies, illuminated manuscripts, cover designs, literature, and architecture. Since the Qur’an used to be published and preserved in handwritten copies, the art of calligraphy greatly developed among Muslims, and the Qur’an was written in different styles of calligraphy such as naskh, kufi, thuluth, cursive, and nasta’liq.
The verses of the Qur’an have significantly influenced Muslim literature; for instance, one can find many Quranic expressions and themes in Arabic and Farsi poems.
The art of Islamic architecture has also been vastly inspired by Quranic verses. In most historical buildings, including mosques and palaces, Quranic verses are inscribed. Quranic themes, such as the descriptions of Paradise and Hell, have also been used in the design of buildings. The interesting inscriptions of the Dome of the Rock, built-in 71/691, contain statements of Islamic beliefs and parts of the Qur’an 4, Qur’an 3, and Qur’an 19.