The Qur’an (Arabic: لقرآن al-qur’ān, literally “the recitation”; also sometimes transliterated as Quran,Qur’ān, Koran, Alcoran or Al-Qur’ān) is the centralreligious text of Islam. Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the book of divine guidance and direction for mankind, and consider the original Arabic text to be the final revelation of God.
Islam holds that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad by the angel Jibrīl (Gabriel) over a period of approximately twenty-three years, beginning in 610 CE, when he was forty, and concluding in 632 CE, the year of his death. Followers of Islam further believe that the Qur’an was written down by Muhammad's companions while he was alive, although the primary method of transmission was oral. Muslim tradition agrees that it was fixed in writing shortly after Muhammad's death by order of the caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar, and that their orders began a process of formalization of the orally transmitted text that was completed under their successor Uthman with the standard edition known as the "Uthmanic recension." The present form of the Qur’an is accepted by most scholars as the original version authored or dictated by Muhammad.
Muslims regard the Qur’an as the main miracle of Muhammad, as proof of his prophethood, and as the culmination of a series of divine messages. These started, according to Islamic belief, with the messages revealed to Adam, regarded in Islam as the first prophet, and continued with the Suhuf Ibrahim (Sefer Yetzirah or Scrolls of Abraham), the Tawrat (Torah or Pentateuch), the Zabur (Tehillim or Book of Psalms), and the Injeel (Christian Gospel). The Qur'an assumes familiarity with major narratives recounted in Jewish and Christian scriptures, summarizing some, dwelling at length on others, and, in some cases, presenting alternative accounts and interpretations of events. The Qur'an describes itself as book of guidance. It rarely offers detailed accounts of specific historical events, and often emphasizes the moral significance of an event over its narrative sequence.
The text of the Qur’an consists of 114 chapters of varying lengths, each known as a sura. Chapters are classed as Meccan or Medinan, depending on where the verses were revealed. Chapter titles are derived from a name or quality discussed in the text, or from the first letters or words of the sura. Muslims believe that Muhammad, on God's command, gave the chapters their names. Generally, longer chapters appear earlier in the Qur’an, while the shorter ones appear later. The chapter arrangement is thus not connected to the sequence of revelation. Each sura except the ninth commences with the Basmala, an Arabic phrase meaning (“In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”). There are, however, still 114 occurrences of the basmala in the Qur’an, due to its presence in verse 27:30 as the opening of Solomon's letter to the Queen of Sheba. Each sura is formed from several ayat (verses), which originally means a sign or portent sent by God. The number of ayat differ from sura to sura. An individual ayah may be just a few letters or several lines.
The ayat are unlike the highly refined poetry of the pre-Islamic Arabs in their content and distinctive rhymes and rhythms, being more akin to the prophetic utterances marked by inspired discontinuities found in the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. The actual number of ayat has been a controversial issue among Muslim scholars since Islam's inception, some recognizing 6,000, some 6,204, some 6,219, and some 6,236, although the words in all cases are the same. The most popular edition of the Qur’an, which is based on the Kufa school tradition, contains 6,236 ayat.
There is a crosscutting division into 30 parts, ajza, each containing two units called ahzab, each of which is divided into four parts (rub 'al-ahzab). The Qur’an is also divided into seven stations (manazil). The Qur’anic text seems to have no beginning, middle, or end, its nonlinear structure being akin to a web or net. The textual arrangement is sometimes considered to have lack of continuity, absence of any chronological or thematic order, and presence of repetition.
Fourteen different Arabic letters form 14 different sets of “Qur’anic Initials” (the "Muqatta'at", such as A.L.M. of 2:1) and prefix 29 suras in the Qur’an. The meaning and interpretation of these initials is considered unknown to most Muslims. In 1974, Egyptian biochemist Rashad Khalifa claimed to have discovered a mathematical code based on the number 19, which is mentioned in Sura 74:30 of the Qur’an.
Significance in Islam
Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the book of divine guidance and direction for mankind and consider the text in its original Arabic to be the literal word of God, revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel over a period of twenty-three years and view the Qur’an as God's final revelation to humanity.
Wahy in Islamic and Qur’anic concept means the act of God addressing an individual, conveying a message for a greater number of recipients. The process by which the divine message comes to the heart of a messenger of God is tanzil (to send down) or nuzul (to come down). As the Qur'an says, "With the truth we (God) have sent it down and with the truth it has come down." It designates positive religion, the letter of the revelation dictated by the angel to the prophet. It means to cause this revelation to descend from the higher world. According to hadith, the verses were sent down in special circumstances known as asbab al-nuzul. However, in this view God himself is never the subject of coming down.
The Qur'an frequently asserts in its text that it is divinely ordained, an assertion that Muslims believe. The Qur'an — often referring to its own textual nature and reflecting constantly on its divine origin — is the most meta-textual, self-referential religious text. The Qur'an refers to a written pre-text which records God's speech even before it was sent down.
The issue of whether the Qur'an is eternal or created was one of the crucial controversies among early Muslim theologians. Mu'tazilis believe it is created while the most widespread varieties of Muslim theologians consider the Qur'an to be eternal and uncreated. Sufi philosophers view the question as artificial or wrongly framed.
Muslims maintain the present wording of the Qur'anic text corresponds exactly to that revealed to Muhammad himself: as the words of God, said to be delivered to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Muslims consider the Qur'an to be a guide, a sign of the prophethood of Muhammad and the truth of the religion. They argue it is not possible for a human to produce a book like the Qur'an, as the Qur'an itself maintains.
Therefore an Islamic philosopher introduces a prophetology to explain how the divine word passes into human expression. This leads to a kind of esoteric hermeneutics which seeks to comprehend the position of the prophet by mediating on the modality of his relationship not with his own time, but with the eternal source from which his message emanates. This view contrasts with historical critique of western scholars who attempt to understand the prophet through his circumstances, education and type of genius.
Main article: Qur'an miracles
Muslims regard as prophets of Islam those non-divine humans chosen by Allah (the standard Arabic-language word for "the God"). Each prophet brought the same basic ideas of Islam, including belief in a single God and the avoidance of idolatry and sin. Each came to preach Islam and told of the coming of the final law-bearing prophet and messenger of God: Muhammad. Each prophet directed a message to a different group and each prophet taught minor variations in sharia (or the practice of religion) to a different target-audience. These variations constitute applications of Islam: mainstream Muslims do not consider them discrete versions of Islam.
Islamic tradition holds that God sent messengers to every nation. Muslims believe that God sent only Muhammad to convey the divine message to the whole world, whereas he sent other messengers (rasuls) to convey their messages to a specific group of people or to an individual nation.
Unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam distinguishes between a direct messenger of God (rasul) and a prophet (nabi). Both function as divinely inspired recipients of God's revelation. However, in addition, rasuls receive a divine message or revelation for a community in book form. Thus the rasul category forms a subset of the nabi category.
Muslims regard Adam as the first prophet and Muhammad as the last prophet; hence Muhammad's title Seal of the Prophets. Islam regards Jesus as a rasul (and sometimes as anabi) because he received wahi (revelation) from God, through which God revealed the Injil (Gospel) to him. Muslims believe that God has sent over 124,000 prophets all over the world, as mentioned in the Sahih Hadith. Five of them (sometimes known as Ulul Azmi or the Imams — literally: "leaders" — of the Rasuls) receive the highest reverence for their perseverance and unusually strong commitment to God in the face of great suffering, namely:
History of Qur’an
Main article: Origin and development of the Qur'an
Welch, a scholar of Islamic studies, states in the Encyclopaedia of Islam that he believes the graphic descriptions of Muhammad's condition at these moments may be regarded as genuine, seeing as he was severely disturbed after these revelations. According to Welch, these seizures would have been seen by those around him as convincing evidence for the superhuman origin of Muhammad's inspirations. Muhammad's critics, however, accused him of being a possessed man, a soothsayer or a magician since his experiences were similar to those claimed by such figures well-known in ancient Arabia. Additionally, Welch states that it remains uncertain whether these experiences occurred before or after Muhammad began to see himself as a prophet.
The Qur’an states that Muhammad was ummi, interpreted as illiterate in Muslim tradition. According to Watt, the meaning of the Qur’anic term ummi is unscriptured rather than illiterate. Watt argues that a certain amount of writing was necessary for Muhammad to perform his commercial duties though it seems certain that he had not read any scriptures.
See also: Mus'haf and Tahrif
After seventy reciters were killed in the Battle of Yamama, the caliph Abu Bakr decided to collect the different chapters and verses into one volume. Thus, a group of reciters, including Zayd ibn Thabit, collected the chapters and verses and produced several hand-written copies of the complete book.
The Qur’an in its present form is generally considered by academic scholars to record the words spoken by Muhammad because the search for variants in Western academia has not yielded any differences of great significance and because, historically, controversy over the content of the Qur’an has never become a main point.
In addition to and largely independent of the division into suras, there are various ways of dividing the Qur’an into parts of approximately equal length for convenience in reading, recitation and memorization. The thirty ajza can be used to read through the entire Qur’an in a week or a month. Some of these parts are known by names and these names are the first few words by which the juz'starts. A juz' is sometimes further divided into two ahzab, and each hizb subdivided into four rub 'al-ahzab. A different structure is provided by the ruku'at, semantical units resembling paragraphs and comprising roughly ten ayat each. Some also divide the Qur’an into seven manazil to facilitate complete recitation in a week.
One meaning of Qur’an is "recitation", the Qur’an itself outlining the general method of how it is to be recited: slowly and in rhythmic tones.Tajwid is the term for techniques of recitation, and assessed in terms of how accessible the recitation is to those intent on concentrating on the words.
To perform salat (prayer), a mandatory obligation in Islam, a Muslim is required to learn at least some suar of the Qur’an (typically starting with the first one, al-Fatiha, known as the "seven oft-repeated verses," and then moving on to the shorter ones at the end). Until one has learned al-Fatiha, a Muslim can only say phrases like "praise be to God" during the salat.
A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur’an is called a qari', whereas a memoriser of the Qur’an is called a hafiz (fem. Hafaz) (which translate as "reciter" or "protector," respectively). Muhammad is regarded as the first qari' since he was the first to recite it. Recitation (tilawa تلاوة ) of the Qur’an is a fine art in the Muslim world.
Schools of recitation
Main article: Qira'at
These recitations differ in the vocalization (tashkil) of a few words, which in turn gives a complementary meaning to the word in question according to the rules of Arabic grammar. For example, the vocalization of a verb can change its active and passive voice. It can also change its stem formation, implying intensity for example. Vowels may be elongated or shortened, and glottal stops (hamzas) may be added or dropped, according to the respective rules of the particular recitation. For example, the name of archangel Gabriel is pronounced differently in different recitations: Jibrīl, Jabrīl, Jibra'īl, and Jibra'il. The name "Qur’an" is pronounced without the glottal stop in one recitation, and Abraham's name is pronounced Ibrāhām in another.
The more widely used narrations are those of Hafss (حفص عن عاصم ), Warsh (ورش عن نافع ), Qaloon (قالون عن نافع ) and Al-Duri according to Abu `Amr (الدوري عن أبي عمرو ). Muslims firmly believe that all canonical recitations were recited by Muhammad himself, citing the respective isnad chain of narration, and accept them as valid for worshipping and as a reference for rules of Sharia. The uncanonical recitations are called "explanatory" for their role in giving a different perspective for a given verse or ayah. Today several dozen persons hold the title "Memorizer of the Ten Recitations." This is considered a great accomplishment amongst Muslims.
The presence of these different recitations is attributed to many hadith. Malik Ibn Anas has reported:
Many reports contradict the presence of variant readings:
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi also purports that there is only one recitation of Qur’an, which is called Qira'at of Hafss or in classical scholarship, it is called Qira'at al-'ammah. The Qur'an has also specified that it was revealed in the language of Muhammad's tribe: the Quraysh.
However, the identification of the recitation of Hafss as the Qira'at al-'ammah is somewhat problematic when that was the recitation of the people of Kufa in Iraq, and there is better reason to identify the recitation of the reciters of Madinah as the dominant recitation. The reciter of Madinah was Nafi' and Imam Malik remarked "The recitation of Nafi' is Sunnah." Moreover, the dialect of Arabic spoken by Quraysh and the Arabs of the Hijaz was known to have less use of the letter hamzah, as is the case in the recitation of Nafi', whereas in the Hafs recitation the hamzah is one of the very dominant features.
AZ [however] says that the people of El-Hijaz and Hudhayl, and the people of Makkah and Al-Madinah, to not pronounce hamzah [at all]: and 'Isa Ibn-'Omar says, Tamim pronounce hamzah, and the people of Al-Hijaz, in cases of necessity, [in poetry,] do so.
So the hamzah is of the dialect of the Najd whose people came to comprise the dominant Arabic element in Kufa giving some features of their dialect to their recitation, whereas the recitation of Nafi' and the people of Madinah maintained some features of the dialect of Hijaz and the Quraysh.
Moreover, the un-canonical recitations that are narrated from some of the Companions and which do not conform to the Uthmani copy of the Qur’an are not legitimate for recitation in the prayer, but knowledge of them can legitimately be used in the tafsir of the Qur’an (not as a proof but as a valid argument for an explanation of an ayah).
Writing and printing
Page from a Qur’an ('Umar-i Aqta'). Iran, present-dayAfghanistan, Timurid dynasty, circa 1400. Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper Muqaqqaq script. 170 x 109cm (66 15/16 x 42 15/16in). Historical region: Uzbekistan.
Most Muslims today use printed editions of the Qur’an. There are many editions, large and small, elaborate or plain, expensive or inexpensive. Bilingual forms with the Arabic on one side and a gloss into a more familiar language on the other are very popular.
Qur’ans are produced in many different sizes. Most are of a reasonable book size, but there exist extremely large Qur’ans (usually for display purposes) and very small Qur’ans (sometimes given as gifts).
Qur’ans were first printed from carved wooden blocks, one block per page. There are existing specimen of pages and blocks dating from the 10th century CE. Mass-produced less expensive versions of the Qur’an were later produced by lithography, a technique for printing illustrations. Qur’ans so printed could reproduce the fine calligraphy of hand-made versions.[citations needed]
The oldest surviving Qur’an for which movable type was used was printed in Venice in 1537/1538. It seems to have been prepared for sale in the Ottoman empire. Catherine the Great of Russia sponsored a printing of the Qur’an in 1787. This was followed by editions from Kazan (1828), Persia (1833) and Istanbul (1877).
It is extremely difficult to render the full Qur’an, with all the points, in computer code, such as Unicode. The Internet Sacred Text Archive makes computer files of the Qur’an freely available both as images and in a temporary Unicode version. Various designers and software firms have attempted to develop computer fonts that can adequately render the Qur’an.
Before printing was widely adopted, the Qur’an was transmitted by copyists and calligraphers.[verification needed] Since Muslim tradition felt that directly portraying sacred figures and events might lead to idolatry, it was considered wrong to decorate the Qur’an with pictures (as was often done for Christian texts, for example). Muslims instead lavished love and care upon the sacred text itself. Arabic is written in many scripts, some of which are both complex and beautiful. Arabic calligraphy is a highly honored art, much like Chinese calligraphy. Muslims also decorated their Qur’ans with abstract figures (arabesques), colored inks, and gold leaf. Pages from some of these antique Qur’ans are displayed throughout this article.
Main article: Qur'an translations
Nevertheless, the Qur’an has been translated into most African, Asian and European languages. The first translator of the Qur’an was Salman the Persian, who translated Fatihah into Persian during the 7th century. The first complete translation of Quran was into Persian during the reign of Samanids in the 9th century. Islamic tradition holds that translations were made for Emperor Negus of Abyssinia and Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, as both received letters by Muhammad containing verses from the Qur’an. In early centuries, the permissibility of translations was not an issue, but whether one could use translations in prayer. In 1936, translations in 102 languages were known.
Robert of Ketton was the first person to translate the Qur’an into a Western language, Latin, in 1143. Alexander Ross offered the first English version in 1649. In 1734, George Sale produced the first scholarly translation of the Qur’an into English; another was produced by Richard Bell in 1937, and yet another by Arthur John Arberry in 1955. All these translators were non-Muslims. There have been numerous translations by Muslims; the most popular of these are by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al Hilali, Maulana Muhammad Ali, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, M. H. Shakir, Muhammad Asad, and Marmaduke Pickthall.
The English translators have sometimes favored archaic English words and constructions over their more modern or conventional equivalents; for example, two widely-read translators, A. Yusuf Ali and M. Marmaduke Pickthall, use the plural and singular "ye" and "thou" instead of the more common "you." Another common stylistic decision has been to refrain from translating "Allah" — in Arabic, literally, "The God" — into the common English word "God." These choices may differ in more recent translations. 
Levels of meaning and inward aspects of the Qur’an
Shias and Sufis as well as some Muslim philosophers believe the meaning of the Qur’an is not restricted to the literal aspect. For them, it is an essential idea that the Qur’an also has inward aspects. Henry Corbinnarrates a hadith that goes back to Muhammad:
According to this view, it has also become evident that the inner meaning of the Qur’an does not eradicate or invalidate its outward meaning. Rather, it is like the soul, which gives life to the body.
On this viewpoint, Corbin considers the Qur’an to play a part in Islamic philosophy, because gnosiology itself goes hand in hand with prophetology. However, it is clear that those who don't believe in the divine origin of the Qur’an or any kind of sacred or spiritual existence completely oppose any inward Qur'anic aspect.
Commentaries dealing with the zahir (outward aspects) of the text are called tafsir, and hermeneutic and esoteric commentaries dealing with the batin are called ta'wil (“interpretation” or “explanation”), which involves taking the text back to its beginning. Esoteric commentators believe that the ultimate meaning of the Qur’an is known only to God.
In contrast, Qur'anic literalism, followed by Salafis and Zahiris, is the belief that the Qur'an should be taken at its apparent meaning, rather than employing any sort of interpretation. This includes, for example, the belief that Allah has appendages such as hands as stated in the Qur’an; this is generally explained by the concept of bi-la kaifa, the claim that the literal meanings should be accepted without asking how or why.
Main article: Tafsir
Tafsir is one of the earliest academic activities of Muslims. According to the Qur’an, Muhammad was the first person who described the meanings of verses for early Muslims. Other early exegetes included a fewCompanions of Muhammad, like Ali ibn Abi Talib, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abdullah ibn Umar and Ubayy ibn Kab. Exegesis in those days was confined to the explanation of literary aspects of the verse, the background of its revelation and, occasionally, interpretation of one verse with the help of the other. If the verse was about a historical event, then sometimes a few traditions (hadith) of Muhammad were narrated to make its meaning clear.
Because the Qur’an is spoken in classical Arabic, many of the later converts to Islam (mostly non-Arabs) did not always understand the Qur’anic Arabic, they did not catch allusions that were clear to early Muslims fluent in Arabic and they were concerned with reconciling apparent conflict of themes in the Qur’an. Commentators erudite in Arabic explained the allusions, and perhaps most importantly, explained which Qur’anic verses had been revealed early in Muhammad's prophetic career, as being appropriate to the very earliest Muslim community, and which had been revealed later, canceling out or "abrogating" (nāsikh) the earlier text (mansukh). Memories of the occasions of revelation (asbāb al-nuzūl), the circumstances under which Muhammad had spoken as he did, were also collected, as they were believed to explain some apparent obscurities.
Main article: Esoteric interpretation of the Qur'an
However Shia and Sufism (on the one hand) and Sunni (on the other) have completely different positions on the legitimacy of ta'wil. A verse in the Qur’an addresses this issue, but Shia and Sunni disagree on how it should be read. According to Shia, those who are firmly rooted in knowledge like the Prophet and the imams know the secrets of the Qur’an, while Sunnis believe that only God knows. According to Allameh Tabataba'I, the statement "none knows its interpretation except Allah" remains valid, without any opposing or qualifying clause. Therefore, so far as this verse is concerned, the knowledge of the Qur’an's interpretation is reserved for Allah. But Tabataba'I uses other verses and concludes that those who are purified by God know the interpretation of the Qur’an to a certain extent.
The most ancient spiritual commentary on the Qur'an consists of the teachings which the Shia Imams propounded in the course of their conversations with their disciples. It was the principles of their spiritual hermeneutics that were subsequently brought together by the Sufis. These texts are narrated by Imam Ali and Ja'far al-Sadiq, Shia and Sunni Sufis.
As Corbin narrates from Shia sources, Ali himself gives this testimony:
According to Allameh Tabataba'I, there are acceptable and unacceptable esoteric interpretations. Acceptable ta'wil refers to the meaning of a verse beyond its literal meaning; rather the implicit meaning, which ultimately is known only to God and can't be comprehended directly through human thought alone. The verses in question here are those which refer to the human qualities of coming, going, sitting, satisfaction, anger, and sorrow, which are apparently attributed to God. Unacceptable ta'wil is where one "transfers" the apparent meaning of a verse to a different meaning by means of a proof; this method is not without obvious inconsistencies. Although this unacceptable ta'wil has gained considerable acceptance, it is incorrect and cannot be applied to the Qur’anic verses. The correct interpretation is that reality to which a verse refers. It is found in all verses, the decisive and the ambiguous alike; it is not a sort of a meaning of the word; it is a real fact that is too sublime for words. Allah has dressed them with words so as to bring them a bit nearer to our minds; in this respect they are like proverbs that are used to create a picture in the mind, and thus help the hearer to clearly grasp the intended idea.
Therefore Sufi spiritual interpretations are usually accepted by Islamic scholars as authentic interpretations, as long as certain conditions are met. In Sufi history, these interpretations were sometimes considered religious innovations (bid'ah), as Salafis believe today. However, ta'wil is extremely controversial even amongst Shia. For example, when Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the leader of Islamic revolution, gave some lectures about Surat al-Fatiha in December 1979 and January 1980, protests forced him to suspend them before he could proceed beyond the first two verses of the surah.