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A Challenge of Quranic Proportions

The Bedouins (nomadic Arabs) of the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) mastered poetry. There was a Shakespeare or Chaucer in every corner in every tribe. They took great pride in composing and refining every word and line of their art.

When Muhammad (PBUH) told these poets about the message of Allah, they asked him for a miracle to prove his prophethood. And Allah answered them in a revelation.

And they say, “Why does he not bring us a sign from his Lord?” Has there not come to them evidence of what was in the former scriptures? (20:133)
And these seasoned poets were in awe of the Arabic recitation that is lost in translation. Those who were enemies of the Prophet (PBUH) and Islam would even hide in places where they could sit and and listen to the Quran. How could Muhammad, an illiterate Arab, in a land of pagans–a man who had never produced poetry or prose of any kind–suddenly produce the most eloquent speech of the Quran?

The answer is he could not and did not. Muhammad (PBUH) did not produce the Quran. The Quran is from God and is in itself the miracle the Arabs asked for. It is a mastery of language that even the most skilled poet from among poets could not approach.

In the Quran, God sets forth a challenge to those who doubted the message and its chosen messenger:

And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a chapter the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful. (2:23)

Or do they say [about the Prophet], “He invented it?” Say, “Then bring forth a chapter like it and call upon [for assistance] whomever you can besides Allah , if you should be truthful. (10:38)

It is important to note that when the Quran is translated into another language, even though we can understand the general meaning, sadly the actual miracle is lost.

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The Arabs who were at the pinnacle of their poetry and prose during the time of revelation of the Quran could not even produce the smallest chapter similar to it (the smallest chapter in the Quran consists of only 3 verses).

Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, who was a notable British translator, said:

“Though several attempts have been made to produce a work equal to it as far as elegant writing is concerned, none has as yet succeeded.”

Even Goethe, a famous German writer, has been quoted as saying that the Quran:

“[…] soon attracts, astounds, and in the end enforces our reverence […] Its style, in accordance with its contents and aim is stern, grand – ever and always, truly sublime – So, this book will go on exercising through all ages a most potent influence.”

Many linguists, poets, thinkers -whatever their faith– speak about the style of the Quran with veneration.

When we read or recite the Quran aloud, it has a hypnotic effect.

This effect became even more clear to me while on a road trip. My husband and I, both American converts, were driving from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama with three of his Christian nieces in the back seat of the car. These young ladies were in their early teens, and all were their usual hyper, talkative, and boisterous selves.

We feared that our small car would not be able to contain the teenage energy until the loudest niece shouted from the middle seat that she had heard my husband praying. She said that she liked the way it sounded and wanted to hear more. So we told them that if we played the Quran for them they would have to be quiet and listen.

They all agreed and within 20 seconds all three of them were sleeping peacefully. My husband and I looked at each other with astonishment. Up to this point we had only heard rumors that they did in fact sleep from time to time.

The Quran – The Source of Guidance

The Quran is the speech of the Creator. No one can bring rest to the hearts of the creation but the one who has created it.

Life is not like  box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump has so famously claimed. To me, life is like a ship sailing on a stormy sea. When we have nothing to guide us we become fearful and stressed. Allah has given us a guide in the Quran, and when we let it lead our lives, those lost in the storm can be at ease.

The challenge of the Quran does not mean that we should not write prose or craft poetry. We should use the creativity and ability to communicate that Allah has given us. The challenge is put forth simply as proof that the Quran is the word of God. It has never been met and will never be met.

Republished from

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.