The sacred book
of the Muslims, by whom it is regarded as the revelation of God. Supplemented by
the so-called Hadith, or traditions, it is the foundation of Islam and
the final authority in dogma and belief, in jurisprudence, worship, ethics, and
in social, family, and individual conduct.
Koran, or better Qur'an, from the Arabic stem Qara'a, "to
read", "to recite", means the "Reading", the "Recitation", i.e. the "Book",
par excellence. It is also called -- to select a few of many titles -- "Alkitab"
(The Book), "Furquan" ("liberation", "deliverance", of the revelation), "Kitab-ul-lah"
(Book of God), "Al-tanzil" (The Revelation). It consists of one hundred and
fourteen suras or chapters, some being almost as long as the Book of Genesis,
others consisting of but two or three sentences. It is smaller than the New
Testament, and in its present form has no chronological order or logical
CONTENTS AND ANALYSIS
contains dogma, legends, history, fiction, religion and superstition, social and
family laws, prayers, threats, liturgy, fanciful descriptions of heaven, hell,
the judgment day, resurrection, etc. -- a combination of fact and fancy often
devoid of force and originality. The most creditable portions are those in which
Jewish and Christian influences are clearly discernible. The following analysis
is based on Sir William Muir's chronological arrangement (op. cit. infra).
Suras 103, 91,
106, 101, 95, 102,104, 82, 92, 105, rhapsodies, which may have been composed
before Mohammed conceived the idea of a Divine mission, or of a revelation
direct from Heaven.
(the opening of Mohammed's ministry)
Sura 96, the
command to "recite in the name of the Lord"; sura 113, on the unity and eternity
of the Deity; sura 74, the command to preach, the denunciation of one of the
chiefs of Mecca who scoffed at the resurrection, unbelievers threatened with
hell; sura 111, Abu Lahab (the Prophet's uncle) and his wife are cursed.
(from the beginning of Mohammed's public ministry to the Abyssinian emigration)
Suras 87, 97,
88, 80, 81, 84, 86, 90, 85, 83, 78, 77, 76, 75, 70, 109, 107, 55, 56,
descriptions of the resurrection, paradise, and hell, with references to the
growing opposition of the Koreish tribe.
(from the sixth to the tenth year of Mohammed's ministry)
Suras 67, 53,
32, 39, 73, 79, 54, 34, 31, 69, 68, 41, 71, 52, 50, 45, 44, 37, 30, 26, 15, 51,
narratives from the Jewish Scriptures and from rabbinical and Arab legends; the
temporary compromise with idolatry is connected with sura 53.
(from the tenth year of Mohammed's ministry to the Flight from Mecca)
Suras 46, 72,
35, 36, 19, 18, 27, 42, 40, 38, 25, 20, 43, 12, 11,10,14, 6, 64, 28, 22,
21,17,16, 13, 29, 7, 113, 114. The suras of this period contain some narratives
from the Gospel, enjoin the rites of pilgrimage, refute the cavillings of the
Koreish, and contain vivid descriptions of the resurrection, judgment, heaven,
and hell, with proofs of God's unity, power, and providence. Gradually the suras
become longer, some of them filling many pages. In the later suras of the fifth
period Medina passages are often interpolated.
Last Period (suras
revealed at Medina)
includes the following suras:
Sura 98: on
good and bad Jews and Christians.
Sura 2, the
longest in the Koran, is called the "Sura of the Cow" from the red heifer
described in verse 67 as having been sacrificed by the Israelites at the
direction of Moses. It is a collection of passages on various subjects,
delivered during the first two or three years after the Flight. The greater
portion relates to the Jews, who are sometimes exhorted and sometimes
reprobated. Biblical and rabbinical stories abound. This sura contains the
order to change the Qibla (or direction at prayer) a denunciation of the
disaffected, citizens of Medina, injunctions to fight, permission to bear
arms in the sacred months and much matter of a legislative character
promulgated on first reaching Medina, with passages of a later date
belongs partly to the time immediately after the Battle of Behr. The Jews
are referred to in terms of hostility. The interview with Christian
deputation from Najran (verses 57-63) is of a later date. Passages
pertaining to the farewell pilgrimage are introduced with other (probably)
earlier texts on the rites of pilgrimage.
contains instructions on the division of spoil at Bedr. Some parts are in
the old Meccan style and the Koreish are frequently referred to. In sura 47
war and slaughter are enjoined, and idolaters of Mecca threatened. In sura
62 the Jews are denounced for their ignorance; the Friday service is to take
precedence of secular engagements. In sura 5 the Jews are reviled; the
doctrines of the Christians are controverted; it contains also civil
ordinances and miscellaneous instructions.
Sura 59, on
the siege and expulsion of the Banu Nadhir.
entitled "women", from the large portion devoted to the treatment of wives
and relation of sexes. There are also ordinances on the law of inheritance
and general precepts, social and political. Idolatrous Meccans are to be
shunned, and there are animadversions against the Jews. The "disaffected"
are blamed for taking the part of the Jews.
Sura 65: on
divorce and kindred subjects, with some religious observations.
menances against 'Abdallah ibn Obey for his treasonable language on the
expedition against the Banu Mustalick.
vindication of 'Ayisha, with the law of evidence for conjugal
unfaithfulness, and miscellaneous precepts.
composed of portions covering the year A. H. 5. The marriage of the Prophet
with Zeinab, wife of his adopted son, is sanctioned. There are various
passages on the conjugal relations of Mohammed, the siege of Medina, and the
fall of the Banu Qoreitza.
injunctions to fight and contribute towards the expenses of war. The
disaffected are warned. Christians are mentioned in kindly terms.
Sura 61: on
war; speedy victory is promised. -- The remaining auras belong exclusively
to the last five years of the Prophet's life.
refers to the truce of Hodeibia, and the prospect of victory and spoil to be
Sura 60: on
the treatment of the women who, after the truce, came over from Mecca;
idolaters of Mecca to be shunned.
Sura 66: on
the affair of Mohammed and the Coptic maid.
blaming the profession of the Bedouin Arabs as insincere, chiding the
deputation which called out rudely at Mohammed's door, and exhorting
believers against distrust and uncharitableness among themselves.
treats of the campaign to Tebuk (A. H.. 9). It opens with the "release"
promulgated at the pilgrimage of the same year and declares the antagonism
of Islam to all other religions. All but Muslims are excluded from Mecca and
the rites of pilgrimage. Idolaters are threatened with slaughter and
slavery. War is declared against Jews and Christians until they are humbled
and pay tribute. This aura is called "the crusade chapter", and in the early
campaigns was often read on the field before battle.
The doctrine of
the Koran will be fully discussed in the article on the religion of Islam. It is
sufficient to note here that the doctrine may be classified under four
what to believe;
what to do and what to avoid;
historical, and legendary lessons taken from the canonical, but mostly
apocryphal, Christian and Jewish Scriptures, and from contemporary and
ancient Arabian heathenism.
CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER AND DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF THE SURAS
have been made by Muslim writers and European scholars to arrange the suras
chronologically, but Noldeke's arrangement is generally considered the most
plausible. He divides the suras into Meccan and Medinian, namely those delivered
at Mecca before the Flight or Hegira, and those delivered at Medina after the
Flight. The Meccan suras are divided into three periods. To the first (from the
first to the fifth year of Mohammed's mission) belong the following suras - 96,
74, 111,106, 108, 104, 107, 102, 105, 92, 90, 94, 93, 97, 86, 91, 80, 68, 87,
95, 103, 85, '73, 101, 99, 82, 81, 53, 84,100, 79, 77, 78, 88, 89, 75, 83, 69,
5l, 52, 56, 55, 112, 109, ll3, 114, and 1. To the second period (the fifth and
sixth year of his mission) are assigned suras 54, 37, 7l, 76, 44, 50, 20, 26,
15, 19, 38, 36, 43, 72, 67, 23, 21, 25, 17, 27, and 18. To the third period
(from the seventh year to the Flight) belong the following suras: 32, 41 45, 16,
30, 11, 14,12, 40, 28, 39, 29, 31, 42, 10, 34, 35, 7, 46, 6, and 13. The Medina
suras are those which remain, in the following order: 2, 98, 64, 62, 8, 47, 3,
61, 57, 4, 65, 59, 33, 63, 24, 58, 22, 48, 66, 60,110, 9, and 5.
characteristic features of the various suras and of the periods in which they
were delivered is described by Mr. Palmer as follows:
Meccan Suras Mohammed's one and steady purpose is to bring his hearers to a
belief in the one only God; this he does by powerful rhetorical displays
rather than logical arguments, by appealing to their feelings rather than
their reason; by setting forth the manifestation of God in His works; by
calling nature to witness to His presence; and by proclaiming His vengeance
against those who associate other gods with Him, or attribute offsprings to
Him. The appeal was strengthened by glowing pictures of the happiness in
store for those who should believe, and by frightful descriptions of the
everlasting, torments prepared for the unbelievers. In the earlier chapters,
too, the prophetic inspiration the earnest conviction of the truth of his
mission, and the violent emotion which his sense of responsibility caused
him are plainly shown. The style is curt, grand, and often almost sublime;
the expressions are full of poetical feeling, and the thoughts are earnest
and passionate, though sometimes dim and confused, indicating the mental
excitement and doubt through which they struggled to light.
second period of the Meccan Suras, Mohammed appears to have conceived the
idea of still further severing himself from the idolatry of his compatriots,
and of giving to the supreme deity Allah another title, Ar-Rahman, "the
merciful one". The Meccans, however, seem to have taken these for the names
of separate deities, and the name is abandoned in the later chapters.
In the Suras
of the second Meccan period we first find the long stories of the prophets
of olden times, especial stress being laid upon the punishment which fell
upon their contemporaries for disbelief, the moral is always the same,
namely, that Mohammed came under precisely similar circumstances, and that a
denial of the truth of his mission would bring on his fellow-citizens the
self-same retribution. They also show the transition stage between the
intense and poetical enthusiasm of the early Meccan chapters and the calm
teaching of the later Medinah ones. This change is gradual, and even in the
later and most prosaic we find occasionally passages in which the old
prophetic fire flashes out once more. The three periods are again marked by
the oaths which occur throughout the Koran. In the first period they are all
frequent and often long, the whole powers of nature being invoked to bear
witness to the unity of God and the mission of His Apostle; in the second
period they are shorter and of rarer occurrence; in the last period they are
understand the Medinah Suras we must bear in mind Mohammed's position with
respect to the various parties in that city. In Mecca he had been a prophet
with little honour in his own country, looked on by some as a madman, and by
others as an impostor, both equally grievous to him, while his following
consisted of the poorest and meanest of his fellowtownsmen. His own
clansmen, for the reason that they were his clansmen and for no other,
resented the affronts against him. In Medinah he appears as a military
leader and a prince, though as yet possessing far from absolute authority.
Around in the city were, first, the true believers who had fled with him El
Muhagerin; next, the inhabitants of Yathrib, who had joined him and who were
called El Ansar, "the helpers"; and lastly, a large class who are spoken of
by the uncomplimentary name of Munafiqun or "hypocrltes", consisting of
those who went over to his side from fear or compulsion, and lastly those
"in whose heart is sickness", who, though believing in him, were prevented
by tribal or family ties from going over to him openly. Abdallah ibn Ubai
was a chief whose influence operated strongly against Mohammed, and the
hatter was obliged to treat him for a long time almost as an equal, even
after he had lost his political power. The other party at Medinah was
composed of the Jewish tribes settled in and around the city of Yathrib. The
Jews were at first looked to as the most natural and likely supporters of
the new religion, which was to confirm their own. These various parties
together with the pagan Arabs of Mecca and the Christans are the persons
with whom the Medinah Suras chiefly deal. The style of the Medinah Suras
resembles that of the third period of the Meccan revelations, the more
matter-of-fact nature of the incidents related or the precepts given
amounting in a great measure for the more prosaic language in which they are
expressed. The other party at Ivledinah was composed of the Jewish tribes
settled in and around the city of Tathrib. The Jews were at first looked to
as the most natural and likely supporters of the new religion, which was to
confirm their own. These various parties together with the pagan Arabs of
Mecca and the
Christians are the
persons with whom the Medinah Suras chiefly deal. The style of the Medinah
Suras resembles that of the third period of the Meccan revelations, the more
matter-of-fact nature of the incidents related or the precepts given
accounting in a great measure for the more prosaic language in which they
are expressed. In the Medinah Suras the prophet is no longer trying to
convert his hearers by examples, promises, and warnings; he addresses them
as their prince in general, praising them or blaming them for their conduct,
and giving them laws and precepts as occasion required. (The Qur'an in
"Sacred Books of the East", I, Oxford, 1880, pp. LXI, LXII, and LXIII).
The sources of
the Koran be reduced to six:
Testament (canonical and apocryphal) and the hybrid Judaism of the late
rabbinical schools. During Mohammed's time the Jews were numerous in many
parts of Arabia, especially around Medina. Familiarity's with them is
undoubtly responsible for many Old Testament stories alluded to in Koran.
Later Judaism and Rabbinism are equally well represented (Geiger, "Was hat
Mohammed aus dem Judenthum aufgenommen?", Wiesbaden, 1833; tr. Judaism and
islam", Madras, 1898).
Testament (canonical and apocryphal) and various heretical doctrines. On his
journeys between Syria, Hijaz, and Yemen, Mohammed had every opportunity to
come in close touch with Yemenite, Abyssinian, Ghassanite, and Syrian
Christians, especially heretic. Hence, while the influence of orthodox
Christianity upon the Koran has been slight, apocryphal and heretical
Christian legends, on the other hand, are one of the original sources of
Koranic faith. (See Muir, op. cit. infra, 66-239; Tisdall, "The Original
Sources of the Qur'an", London, 1905, 55-211.)
combination of Judaism, Manicheism, and old disfigured Babylonian
Zoroastrianism. On account of Persia's political influence in the
north-eastern part of Arabia, it is natural to find Zoroastrian elements in
the adherents of which, called Hanifs, must have been considerable in number
and influence, as it is known from contemporary Arabian sources that twelve
of Mohammed's followers were members of this sect.
ancient and contemporary Arabian heathen beliefs and practices. Wellhausen
has collected in his "Reste des arabischen Heidentums" (Berlin, 1897) all
that is known of pre-Islamic Arabian heathen belief, traditions, customs,
and superstitions, many of which are either alluded to or accepted and
incorporated in the Koran. From the various sects and creeds, and Abul-Fida,
the well-known historian and geographer of the twelfth century, it is clear
that religious beliefs and practices of the Arabs of Mohammed's day form one
of the many sources of Islam. From this heathen source Islam derived the
practices of polygamy and slavery, which Mohammed sanctioned by adopting
It is generally
admitted that the Koran is substantially the work of Mohammed. According to the
traditionalists, it contains the pure revelation he could neither read nor
write, but that immediately afterwards he could do both; others believe that
even before the revelation he could read and write; while others, again, deny
that he could ever do so. Thus it is uncertain whether any of the suras were
written down by the Prophet himself or all delivered by him orally and
afterwards writen down by others from memory.
The Koran is
written in Arabic, in rhymed prose, the style differing considerably in the
various suras, according to the various periods of the Prophet's life. The
language is universally acknowledged to be the most perfect form of Arab speech,
and soon became the standard by which other Arabic literary
compositions had to be judged, grammarians, lexirographers, and rhetoricians
presuming that the Koran, being the word of God, could not be wrong or
hearers began by trusting their memories to retain the words of the revelation
they had received from him. Later, those who could write traced them in ancient
characters on palm leaves, tanned hides, or dry bones. After the Prophet's death
all these fragments were collected. Zaid ibn Thabit, Mohammed's disciple, was
charged by Abu Bekr, the caliph, to collect all that could be discovered of the
sacred text in one volume. The chapters were then arranged according to their
length and without regard to historical sequence. The revision made twenty years
later affected details of language of the text.
The best and
most accessible edition of the Koran is that of Flugel, "Al-Qoran: Corani textus
Arabicus" (Leipzig, 1834 and since). Maracci's famous Latin translation of the
Koran, with a refutation and commentary, is still unique and useful: "Alcorani
textus universus" (Padua, 1698). The standard English versions are those of Sale
(London, 1734) with a still useful introductory essay; Rodwel (London, 1861),
arranged in chronological order; and Palmer in "Sacred Books of the East"