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- Islam, the Quran & Muhammed
How Can the Revelation of the Qur'an be Seen to Contribute to its Status as a Miracle?
What is a Miracle?
A miracle can be defined as any act that defies the laws of nature. Hence miracles are often seen as proof of God, signs of divine intervention.
It was widely held in the religious world that the ability to perform miracles were proof of a prophet's status. Here we begin to realise the importance of seeing the Qur'an as a miracle. Muhammad performed no obvious miracles in his life time so the authenticity of his prophethood , and indeed the religion of Islam can be seen to depend on the Qur'an's status as a miracle.
Most Muslims today accept that the Qur'an is the central miracle of Islam and in order to prove this they point to the way in which it was revealed to Muhammad.
When Muhammad received the first revelation of what was to become the Holy Qur'an he was praying alone in Hira on Mount Nur. It is thought that Muhammad had direct contact with God via the angel Jibrail (Angel Gabriel in Christianity).
Immediately we are told of miraculous events as Muhammad, who was illiterate was suddenly able to read aloud the words written on a scroll held by Jibrail. Muhammad's illiteracy is central to the belief that the Qur'an is a miracle as he wouldn't have been able to:
- Read earlier religious texts and gain inspiration from them;
- The Qur'an make several references to Jewish and Christian scripture- if Muhammad could not read then this supports the belief that there is one true God and that Allah is the god of the Christians and the Jews. It also means that the similarities are evidence of God and the Qur'an's authenticity rather than just something which Muhammad has plagiarized from earlier religions.
- If Muhammad couldn't write he would not have been able to come up with the verses of the Qur'an itself , which are thought to be incredibly beautiful and poetic when read int he original Arabic.
As you would expect, most Muslims hold fast to the idea that Muhammad was illiterate but there are those who are sceptical. They point out that for Muhammad to have had a successful career as a trade manager, as he did before becoming a prophet, he would have had to have been able to read and write.
A further point to make is that a person would not necessarily have to be able to read or write to be able to compose and recite beautiful poetry, especially when we consider how strong the oral tradition was at this time.
The Circumstances Surrounding The Revelation of the Qur'an
We will now move on to look at the circumstances surrounding Muhammad's first revelation of the Qur'an. The fact that Muhammad was in the habit of fasting and meditating when he was first visited by Angel Jibrail leads some sceptics to suggest that maybe he was hallucinating or having some kind of illusory mystical experience rather than a genuine revelation from God.
Others would argue to the contrary that the fact Muhammad was so devout and contemplating the divine lends support to his claim. If Allah were to entrust something as important as delivering his final message to humanity he would surely choose a devout man who cared about society and the world. Muhammad would be the perfect candidate and approaching him when he was alone in prayer and contemplation would be the perfect time.
God or Allah?
You may have noticed that I use 'God' and 'Allah' interchangeably in my hubs relating to Islam. This is deliberate as the term Allah is simply the Arabic term for God. It is also to highlight that Allah is not some 'other' god but the God of Classical Theism we think of when we think of Christianity and Judasim.
Muhammad's Initial Reaction to Prophethood
The way in which Muhammad reacted to being chosen for prophethood also gives gives support to the claim that the Qur'an was indeed a miracle. Muhammad was terrified by the events in Cave HIra and only told his wife and other close relatives. His response was one of a man in genuine awe of the experience he had just undergone, it also is in accordance with reports from other people who have experience a revelation from God.
Muhammad did not go public with his message for approximately another two years. Even then it was only after he had been told to do so by his second revelation from God which commanded in no uncertain terms that Muhammad was to:
"Rise and Warn"
The wait between the first and second revelation, not the exact period of time between them is disputed, again adds weight to the claim that the Qur'an is genuine revelation since it would appear that God was testing Muhammad and waiting to see how he would react. If Muhammad was making the whole thing up himself why would he have delayed for this time?
The Persecution of the First Muslims
Muhammad's very first followers and converts to Islam in Makkah were treated very badly. They were persecuted by Makkan polytheists who felt threatened by Muhammad's preaching of monotheism. The torture and hardships that befell these first Muslims would have made it easy, and indeed more than tempting for Muhammad to give up.
However, Muhammad and his followers refused to give up and they continued to risk their lives for what they believed in. In those first few years Muhammad sacrificed a lot to continue preaching the word of God and his status in Makkah deteriorated. It seems that Muhammad had little to gain personally from continuing with his preaching and yet he did. Some would point to the fact that it was Allah's support and love that gave Muhammad the strength to continue in the face of such adversity.
What Do You Think?
Do You Believe the Qur'an is a Miracle?
The Pattern of Revelation
Muhammad did not receive the Qur'an in one go, or even over a concentrated period of time. Instead they were revealed to him sporadically throughout his career as a prophet and right up until his death in 632 CE.
The continuation of messages and revelations suggests that they really were messages from an omniscient and benevolent God who delivered messages of support and guidance as and when they were required by his people.For instance Allah sent revelations to Muhammad pertaining to past prophets who had been victimised for their work at a time when Muhammad was going through persecution himself.
Timely revelations such as these can be interpreted in one of two ways. Firstly they can be seen as proof of an omniscient and compassionate God. On the other hand they might be works of Muhammad himself, trying to show his tormentors the errors of their ways.
A similar situation can be seen through the infamous Santanic Verses. Here Muhammad received revelations allowing that people could pray to Allah through his three daughters al-Manat, al-Uzza and Allat. These three goddess were all recognised by the Makkan Polytheists and had previously been exposed as false idols by earlier revelations. Muhammad later received a revelation informing Muhammad he had been duped and the passage relating to the three goddesses was in fact from Satan and was thus revoked.
This is the official belief of Muslims regarding the issue but some sceptics claim that Muhammad recognised the advantage of this small concession to Makkan polytheism and said it to gain more followers.For some sceptics then, the continuous nature of revelation points to the fact that Muhammad was just making them all up to suit his particular needs or desires at the time.
The Inimitability of the Qur'an
The fact that the Qur'an was revealed to just one person is important. If the burden had been shared the revelation might have bee less feasible as a miracle. As it is though Muhammad received all the revelations himself and over a twenty year period they are all consistent and of the same style. If the messages were merely the invention of a human it would have been near impossible to keep the style the same over such a period of time.
Here we come to the concept of i'jaz or inimitability, one of the greatest indications that the Qur'an is a miracle.The idea is basically that, because no other text like it can be produced the Qur'an must be the work of a supreme being. The concept was originated in full by the theologian and grammarian al-Rummani who argued on the basis of the Qur'an literary qualities. In opposition to this is the view put forward by the Arab Christian, al-Kindi (not to be confused with the more famous Muslim philosopher of the same name) who cited the mistakes in the Qur'an as evidence of its human origins.
For may people reading the Qur'an in English or translated into some other language they fail to see the supposed beauty of the Qur'an poetry. However, those that can read the Qur'an in its original Arabic claim it is mesmerizingly beautiful and poetic. Indeed some people have been known to convert to Islam in an instance upon hearing the Qur'an being recited.
Listen to this beautiful recitation of the Qur'an
The Content of the Qur'an
If we look at the content of the Qur'an we see that many of the teachings are timeless and universal and can therefore be views as act of the deity. Other messages, however, appear to be very geared owards the Arabic way of life at that time such as comparing judgement to book keeping. If God wanted Islam to be a world religion why would there have been so many references to just one particular lifestyle and culture? This suggests that the Qur'an is the work of Muhammad himself and not a god. In order to refute this argument, it can be argued that God was adapting his message in a way that would be understood by that particular auidence. It is very clear in Islamic history that the Qur'an was seen as the Holy Scripture of the Arab people first and foremost. The jewish people and the Christian people had already being sent a revelation by Allah through the bible and torah. The Qur'an was for the Arabs so of course it would make references to their way of life.
The Qur'an makes references to earlier religions and Muslims believe that their god, Allah is the same god as the Christian and Jewish god- there is only one god. In this respect Muslims recognise Jews and Christians as 'People of the Book' and believe their holy scriptures were originally revelation from God. They do believe however, that the Christian and Jewish scriptures have been distorted and corrupted so they only definitive and reliable word of God is that found in the Qur'an.
The Qur'an is seen as God's final revelation to humanity, as Muhammad is seen as God's final messenger and Seal of the Prophets. The message given to Muhammad is similar to the messages found in Jewish and Christian scripture as it was God's attempt to re-establish the true message. Where the Quran differs or disagrees with Judeo-Christian scripture is where the latter has been corrupted over time.
For many, the fact that the Qur'an makes reference to Judeo-Christian scripture is evidence of its divine authorship. If the Qur'an is the direct word of God, of course he would be aware of his earlier attempts to reveal himself to humanity. For others it suggests that Muhammad would have had to have come into contact and be familiar with Judeo-Christian teaching and or scripture. We do know that Muhammad would have come into contact with Jews and Christians living in the area, as well as hanifs who rejected polytheism and believed in the one true God.
The Effect of the Qur'an
With all religious experiences we can prove their authenticity, or rather go some way to proving it, by looking at the impact it has on others. Let's first look at Muhammad himself. When he was finally accepted as a religious leader Muhammad was in incredibly influential and powerful position. It would have been easy for him to take advantage of his situation, to live like a ing and not practice what he preached. Throughout his life however, Muhammad lived a very modest lifestyle. he lived simply, ate simply and was steadfast in prayer and other religious practices. Muhammad was obviously moved by some kind of force to live as he did.
Secondly we can look at the effect the Qur'an has had on the world in general. It is not often that an individual's religious experience results in very nearly a whole country converting to the religion yet this is what happened with Muhammad and his followers. The speed and rate at which Islam was accepted was near miraculous in itself. Islam is not an easy religion, it demands a lot of its adherents. It asks people to make sacrifices and submit to the will of Allah in all aspects of their life. It asks them to give to charity, to fast, to look after their neighbour, to pray five times a day, every day and so on. As far as marketing itself goes, Islam has comparatively little to offer next to Judaism or Christianity and even less next to the simple and indulgent lifestyle of the main religion of the day, Makkan polytheism. Why were so many people moved to convert to this demanding religion? For many this can be seen as proof of the Qur'an's miracle status and divine authorship in itself.