The Quran: Unique among Scriptures
The Quran is the most-read book in the world. Revealed by Allaah Almighty to Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE, and revered by Muslims as being Allaah’s Final Scripture and Testament, its words have been lovingly recited, memorized and implemented by Muslims of every nationality ever since. The faithful are inspired, consoled and often moved to tears by its eloquence and poetic imagery, especially when recited aloud. And yet, the Quran is unique in being the only Scripture that is free of scientific inaccuracies, whose historical authenticity can be verified, and whose text has been so carefully preserved that just one authorized version (in Arabic) exists.
The Quran is also the only holy book that can be memorized in its entirety by people of all ages and intellectual abilities – including non-Arabic speakers – which Muslims consider to be one of its miracles. We invite you to take a few minutes to learn something about a book that is the foundation of the worldview and culture of almost a quarter of the people on this planet.
A scientific Scripture for a scientific age
One of the most remarkable things about the Quran is that it contains many verses, which accurately describe natural phenomena in various fields such as embryology, meteorology, astronomy, geology and oceanography. Scientists have found its descriptions to be inexplicably valid for a book dating from the 7th century CE; in fact, many of the processes and functions mentioned in the Quran have been discovered only recently. This fact alone has been the cause of a number of distinguished scientists embracing Islam. It also explains why the conflicts that emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages between faith and reason, religion and science, never arose in Islam; the Quran repeatedly encourages people to reflect and use their intelligence, and most Muslim scientists and inventors have also been pious believers.
Some of the Quran’s ‘scientific’ verses include an accurate description of embryonic development during the first forty days of life; an explanation that the roots of mountains are like pegs which help to anchor and stabilize the earth’s crust; that a natural barrier exists wherever two seas meet (each maintains its own salinity, temperature and density); that waves occur in layers in the depths of the ocean; that the heavens and earth were first joined together before being split apart; and that the heavens emerged from ‘smoke’, i.e. the gases and dust that characterize nebul as as stars are forming.
The Quran was never meant to be a ‘science textbook’; whether highlighting the wonders of nature or the lessons of history, its verses direct us to reflect on the glory of Allaah. However, no other ancient book or Scripture is accurate in this way. Muslims believe that this is one of the Quran’s proofs; one of the things that makes it a credible, ‘living revelation’ for a modern age, and allows it to reveal itself afresh with passing time.
The Quran and the development of knowledge
The word ‘Quran’ means ‘recitation’, and the first verse of the Quran revealed by the Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad was a command to recite as in the verse (which means): ‘Read (or recite)! In the name of your Lord…’ This directive to a man who, like most people of the time, could neither read nor write, marked the beginning of a new age in human communication, learning and development. Whereas earlier Scriptures had been written and passed down by elite circles of priests and scribes – usually long after the death of the Prophet – the preservation of the Quran was a community effort from the beginning, and it was completed during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad .
The early followers of the Prophet eagerly memorized and recorded each new revelation as it was revealed; by the time he passed away, thousands had memorized the entire Quran by heart. Within two years after the death of the Prophet the first Caliph, Abu Bakr requested one of the Companions who used to write the revelations for the Prophet, Zayd bin Thaabit to collect all existing copies and fragments of the Quran in one place, in order to compile a standard edition. This manuscript became the basis for the authorized editions that were distributed to each Muslim province during the rule of ‘Uthmaan the third Caliph. Remarkably, a few of those early manuscripts have been preserved and can still be viewed in museums today.
A book with a message and a purpose
Like all books, the Quran is a means to convey a message – in this case, a very special message from the Creator to all humanity. The Quran is an ‘Owner’s manual for the human being’. Whoever wonders about the purpose of life and their own existence will find it to be a guide par excellence. Building on prior revelations, this Final Testament confirms the age-old truths of previous Scriptures, but clarifies points of faith where error or confusion have crept into them over the centuries. Those who have read the Bible will find much that is familiar: descriptions of Allaah’s creation; stories of the Prophets, may Allaah exalt their mention; Satan; Angels and the Day of Judgment; moral and ethical guidelines and spiritual practices like prayer and fasting. Yet the Quran is not just a re-hashing of old stories, its perspective is unique and fresh, and its worldview is eminently suited for people of today.
To give one example, according to the Quran, Allaah held Aadam (Adam) and Eve jointly responsible for eating from the forbidden tree. No special curse was laid on Eve for leading Aadam astray, and no ‘original sin’ came into being, to be inherited for all time by innocent children. Aadam and Eve simply sought His forgiveness and were forgiven, and Aadam is respected in Islam as the first Prophet.
There are other important distinctions between the Quran and the Bible; the Quran asserts that much of the original books of the Bible and other Scriptures have been lost or corrupted over time (whether through warfare, political intrigue, religious schisms or other reasons). One only has to consider the number of different versions of the Bible in use today, the lack of ‘first’ originals, and the late discovery of long-lost Scriptures like the Dead Sea Scrolls to realize that this viewpoint is an objective one.
The Quran rejects the concept of salvation or special privilege based on ethnicity. Allaah does not discriminate on the basis of race or color. It also denies the need for the sacrifice of innocent life – animal or human – in order for people to attain salvation. It states that ‘Eesaa (Jesus) was not crucified as claimed, but that Allaah saved him from his enemies, as one would expect of Allaah’s honored and beloved Messenger ; his life was meant to be an inspiring example. Spiritual salvation is to be achieved solely through humble repentance, coupled by an attempt to make amends for one’s sins and a sincere intention not to repeat one’s mistakes in the future. There is no official priesthood in Islam, and the Imaam (the person who leads the congregational prayer) is no more than a knowledgeable prayer-leader and brother in faith; one’s sins need only be confessed directly to the Creator.
The Quran’s main message is to call people to turn to the Source of all being and the Giver of life, and to serve Him with a pure heart, free of idolatry or superstition. In Islam, ‘One God’ means just that: there is no concept of Trinity or anything else to complicate one’s understanding. Like the single nucleus of a cell or an atom, He Alone is the ‘control center’ behind it all- anything else would lead to chaos and confusion. Allaah is Unique and without partner; He was not born and did not give birth; He is All Compassionate and Merciful, Almighty and Just, and the only One we need to turn to for guidance and help. Anything that we allow to come between ourselves and our Creator – even our own egos – is an idol. Wealth, fame, physical attraction and all the pleasures of this world will someday fade, and we will not be able to take them with us when we die. Only our faith and good deeds will remain, to light our graves and be a beacon for us on the Day of Judgment.