Is Holy Book (The Quran) Word Of God?
Let us begin by affirming that the Holy Book is unique among scriptures in two very important respects which even the Holy Book’s opponents are obliged to acknowledge.
Firstly, we have the Holy Book in its original language and this language is still in living use. The text of the Holy Book is entirely reliable. It has been as it is; unaltered, unedited, not tampered with in any way, since the time of its revelation. By contrast, other scriptures-the Christians’ Gospels for example have not survived in their original language, nor is the language of the earliest surviving version of these scriptures a language still in living use. Furthermore, their texts have been conclusively shown to be the work of many human hands over many generations, edited and re-edited, altered and interpolated, to promote the interpretations of particular sects. They are rightly said to have lost their authority as scriptures; they serve primarily as a national or cultural mythology’ for the groups whose remote ancestors created their particular versions of them. That is, more or less, the Western scholarly consensus on the status of these once Divine Books. For almost two centuries, Western scholars have subjected the Holy Book to the same rigorous scrutiny. However, they have failed to prove, as they expected, that the Holy Book too is the work of many hands over many generations. Certainly they found, as happened among Christians, that the Muslims split into disputing factions but, unlike the Christians, the warring Muslim factions sought to justify their position by reference to one and the same Holy Book. It is still possible that other versions of the Gospels remain to be discovered or uncovered from where they were lost or hidden. By contrast, all Muslims know but the one Holy Book, perfectly preserved in its original words, just as at the time of the death of the Messenger when revelation ended, with no variations of the least significance.
As well as the Holy Book, Muslims also have a record of the Messenger’s teaching, in the form of practical example and precept (the Sunna) which is extensively (though, of course, not fully) preserved in the Hadith (the Tradition). It is in the Hadith that the Messenger’s own words are recorded. These two sources, Holy Book and Hadith, could not be more dissimilar in quality of expression or content. The Arabs who heard the Messenger speak, whether they were believers or not, found his words to be concise, forceful, persuasive, but nevertheless like their own normal usage. By contrast, when they heard the Holy Book, they were overwhelmed by feelings of rapture, ecstasy, and awe. One senses in the Tradition the presence of an individual human being addressing his fellow human beings, a man pondering weighty questions who, when he speaks, speaks with an appropriate gravity and in profound awe of the Divine Will. The Holy Book on the other hand is immediately perceived as imperative, sublime, with a transcendent, all-compelling majesty of style and content. It defies sense and reason to suppose that Holy Book and Hadith are works of the same or a single origin.
The Holy Book differs absolutely from any human artifact (whether literary or otherwise) in the absolute transcendence of its perspective and viewpoint. Occasionally in other scriptures, in a few scattered phrases or passages, the reader or listener feels that he is indeed in the presence of the Divine Message addressed to mankind from their Creator. In the Holy Book, every syllable carries this impression of sublime intensity of communication from One who is All Knowing and All Merciful. Furthermore, the Holy Book cannot, as can merely human works, be contemplated at a distance; it cannot be discussed and debated in the abstract. The Holy Book requires us to understand and to act, to amend our lifestyles; by God, it also enables us to do so because it can touch us in the very depths of our being. It addresses us in our full reality as spiritually and physically competent beings. It addresses our whole being as the creatures of the All Merciful. It is not addressed to just one or other of our faculties. The Holy Book is not a message that engages only our capacity for philosophical reasoning, or only our poetic, artistic sensibility, or only our power to alter and manage the natural environment, or to alter and manage our political and legal affairs, or only our need for mutual compassion and forgiveness, or only our spiritual craving for knowledge and consolation. Nor is the Holy Book a message addressed to one man only or one tribe or one nation, nor is it addressed only to men and not to women, or only to the oppressed and weak and not to the wealthy and powerful, or only to the sinful and self-indulgent and not to the virtuous and self-disciplined. The Qur’an addresses the whole of mankind and, by God, its message is relevant (as it is also preserved) for all time.
This transcendence and fullness of the Holy Book‘s perspective can be felt in every individual matter, which it particularly mentions. For example, the Qur’an sets side by side caring for one’s parents in their old age with belief in the Oneness of God; it sets the command to provide decently for a divorced wife side by side with the reminder to fear the All Knowing and All Seeing. God knows best the full implications of such juxtapositions. But His believing servants do know, and can report, their effect: they enable the inward self-reform which is necessary if the virtuous actions are to be performed steadily, cheerfully, and with the degree of humility which makes a virtuous action also a graceful one and prevents it from becoming a burden upon the mind of the person who is supposed to be benefited by it.
The Holy Book reiterates in several verses a challenge to any whom doubt its authenticity to bring or produce a chapter that can equal it. No one has ever met, or can ever meet, this challenge. For the reasons we have explained, none but God could assume the Quran’s all-transcendent and all-compassionate perspective. The thoughts and aspirations of even the best of human beings are affected (and conditioned) by the circumstances within which, by God, their lives begin and end-that is an inevitable consequence of their being creatures. That is why, sooner or later, all merely human works fail or fade in influence and force: their style drifts out of fashion, or their subject-matter is no longer relevant; they are too general and lack a sufficient attachment to the reality of human experience, or they are too attached to some particular circumstance and so lacking in generality and applicability. For any number of reasons, and irrespective of good or bad intentions, the works of human minds and human hands are of only limited value. That is why to this day the challenge stands unanswered: riot even if all mankind, using all known resources, collaborated together, or if the jinn joined in to help them, assuring they could, would they be able to produce even a part of the Holy Book. In the Holy Book’s own words:
“Say: if all of mankind and the jinn were to gather together to produce the like of this Holy Book, they could not produce the like of it, even if they backed each other with help and support (17.88).”
The Holy Book is the Word of the All Knowing and All Seeing, who knows His creation inside as well as outside, forward as well as backward in time. The Holy Book therefore comprehends the human beings it addresses, it tests them as it teaches-indeed, if we may so put it, and the Holy Book ‘reads’ its readers. For believers, the consciousness of being before the Divine Message can, in the words of the Holy Book, make their skins shiver, so suddenly and fully does the atmosphere around them, the climate within them, change, like an abrupt alteration in body temperature.
Thus far, I have discussed only the general fact of the Qur’an, and its general perspective, in order to explain that it can only be of Divine authorship. But the substance of the Holy Book is no less compelling an argument. Those’ who, with good or bad intentions, allege that it is a work of human authorship cannot sustain their allegation. Other scriptures than the Holy Book, precisely because (as above mentioned) they have been tampered with by human hands, make claims that we know to be untrue. For example, in these scriptures a particular account is given of the creation of the world, or of a natural phenomenon (for example, of the great flood), which we know, from modern investigation of the stars or, on the earth, from investigation of fossil records, to be false. Human beings altered those scriptures to suit their own understanding and so, as science has progressed, it has made their understanding and their now corrupted scriptures irrelevant and (for the most part) obsolete. The Holy Book by contrast is preserved by Divine Decree against any consequence of human neglect or human misunderstanding.
How, except on account of its Divine authorship, is it possible for the Holy Book to be literally true on matters of which people had not the least inkling at the time when the Holy Book was revealed?
“Do not the unbelievers see (realize) that the heavens and the earth were one unit of creation before we split them asunder? (21.20).”
It is only in the last few years that we have been able to contemplate this verse about the first moment of the universe in its literal meaning. Similarly, when we now read-God is
“He who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then He established Himself on the throne [of authority]. He has subjected the sun and moon [to a law ]; each runs its course for a term appointed. He does regulate all affairs, explaining the signs in detail, that you may believe certainly in the meeting with your Lord (13.2).”
We can understand the invisible pillars, without elaborate exposition, as the vast centrifugal and centripetal forces which maintain the balance amid the heavenly bodies; we can understand from this and related verses (55.5; 21.33, 38, 39; 36.40) that the sun and moon are stars with a fixed life-span, that their force of light has or will fade, that they follow a track in the heavens determined with the most minute exactness. The literal understanding of these verses does not diminish the responsibility that comes with understanding-that you may believe certainly in the meeting with your Lord. In other words, the purpose of the verses has not changed, only the circumstance of our knowledge of the phenomenal world has changed. In the case of the former scriptures, the advance of the sciences has meant that the inaccuracy of those scriptures has become ever more visible, with growing irrelevance of the beliefs associated with them. In the case of the Holy Book, by contrast, the advance of knowledge about the phenomenal world has not made even a single verse harder to believe or to understand; on the contrary many verses are now understood more fully and more clearly.
Yet there are people who still allege that the authorship of the Holy Book belongs not to God but to an inspired Messenger Muhammad. While asserting that they are on the side of sense and reason, these people allege what is humanly impossible. How could a man utter, some fourteen hundred years ago, what have since been recognized, by a different route, as scientifically established truths? How is that humanly possible? How is it on the side of reason and sense to claim such a thing? By what means did the Messenger discover, with an anatomical and biological accuracy only recently confirmed, how milk is produced in mammal tissues? How did he discover how rain clouds and hailstones form; or determine so correctly the fertilizing quality of the winds; or explain how land-masses shift and continents form and deform? With what giant telescopes from what observatory did he find out about the physical expansion of the universe? By what equivalent of X-ray vision was he able to describe in the most careful, unmistakable details the different stages of an embryo’s evolution within the uterus?
Those who make that allegation about the authorship of the Holy Book have abandoned their reason when they do so, and they place their souls in the greatest danger. The Being of God is One, and there are no sharers in it, none, in any degree. The Messenger, was the best of men, the ideal, and yet never more than a man. As a result of some private matter related to his household the Messenger undertook to never again use honey, never again drink a honey-based sherbet; the Holy Book admonished him:
“O Messenger! Why do you hold to be forbidden what God has made lawful to you? You seek to please your wives. But God is the Oft Forgiving, the Most Merciful (66.1).”
In other verses also, when the higher duties and responsibilities of the Messenger, upon him be peace, are brought into clear focus in the Holy Book, the limits of his authority are clearly pronounced. There is a clear space between the Messenger and the Message revealed to him, as clear as between man and his Creator.
Why do the orientalists and their supporters allege, in the face of all the evidence that the authorship of the Holy Book belongs to the Messenger? The reason is their fear of Islam. There are many miracles associated with the Holy Book-we could not mention them all here-one of the most striking of which is that by the Holy Book was established, in an astonishingly short time, a civilization which has proved both distinctive and enduring. The Holy Book was the constitution, the all-providing, all-generous framework for that civilization. The Holy Book required the administrative, legal and fiscal reforms necessary to sustain a vast state of different cultural communities and several religions. The Holy Book inspired a genuinely scientific curiosity to study nature, to travel and study different peoples and cultures. The Holy Book urged people to lend money for commercial ventures and to eradicate fully the institution of interest, so that while wealth grew (which it did) it would circulate among the whole community. The Holy Book inspired the first ever public literacy and public hygiene programs (so that the believers could read the Book and prepare for worship). The Holy Book commanded the organized redistribution of surplus wealth to the poor and needy, to widows and orphans, for the relief of captives and debtors, the emancipation of slaves, and for the support of new converts to Islam. One could expand this list considerably; the important point is that only the Holy Book has ever achieved what many world-famous but human works have longed, and completely failed, to achieve. Do we not, each of us, know at least one human account of how to establish or run an ideal society, at least one system or ‘formula’ for solving equitably the problems of social or cultural or political differences between people? And which of these ever succeeded, even in part, even for a short time?
Those who allege that the Messenger is the author of the Holy Book, fear the Holy Book, fear its power and authority for Muslims, fear that the Muslims might again obey its command and restore the civilization of Islam. They would prefer it if the leading people in Islamic countries believed their allegation and so came to believe that the Holy Book is a human work from a certain past century and is, therefore, no longer relevant. Then indeed the dream of those who hate and fear Islam would come true. Muslims would hold to their religion just as the majority of Christians do in secular Western societies-that is, as a tender memory of something long gone.
They would have us believe that the Holy Book belongs to the seventh century. They will admit, in order to beguile the believers, that the Holy Book was very advanced for its time. But now, they say, it is they who are advanced, they who offer a lifestyle of intellectual and cultural freedom, they who are civilized, while the Holy Book and Islam are backward! But the truth is that, just as advances in the physical sciences have established the accuracy of the Holy Book on questions to do with the merely phenomenal world, and provided the knowledge to enable us to understand the Holy Book more fully, so also improvements in our understanding of human relationships and human psychology will establish the truth of the Holy Book on these questions also.
It may seem that we have digressed widely from our subject, the authorship of the Holy Book. But indeed we have not lost sight of it. The allegation that the Holy Book is a work of human inspiration is but an instance, and image, of the failure to reflect with sincerity and due humility upon the reality of our being as indebted creatures to whom everything is given. We do not create ourselves. Rather, we are given our lives; we are given our powers of contemplation, comprehension, and compassion; and we are given this extraordinarily subtle, varied and renewable world in which to exercise those powers. So also the miracle of the Holy Book is a gift of mercy to us; mankind could not have originated it any more than mankind could have originated themselves. God says in the Holy Book that even if all mankind banded together and got the jinn to help them, they could not so much as create a fly; and likewise, He says, we could not create a likeness of even a part of the Holy Book.
We affirm therefore that the Holy Book is the Word of God, and we affirm that that belief is consonant with reason and experience. We affirm that it is the constitution and bedrock upon which the lives of Muslims, individually and collectively, should be based, and because the Holy Book is a mercy to mankind from the All-Merciful, it will be relevant always, an ever-living guidance which will lead to virtue and happiness, here and hereafter, provided only that we are equal to the quality of worship and obedience it asks of us.
By Bediuzzaman Said Nursi