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The Quran – An Unmet Challenge

Initially, the Makkan unbelievers said Muhammad is the author of the Quran. God responded to them:

Or do they say, ‘He himself has composed this [message]’?  No, but they are not willing to believe!  But then, [if they deem it the work of a mere mortal,] let them produce another discourse like it – if what they say be true!  [Or do they deny the existence of God implicitly by denying the fact of His revelation?]  Have they themselves been created without anything – or were they, perchance, their own creators? (Quran 52:33-35)

First, God challenged them to produce ten chapters like the Quran. But, when they were unable to meet the challenge of ten chapters, God reduced it to a single chapter.

Finally, God foretold their eternal failure to meet the divine challenge:

Say: ‘If all mankind and all jinn would come together to produce the like of this Quran, they could not produce its like even though they were to exert all their strength in aiding one another!’ (Quran 17:88)

The Prophet of Islam said:

Every Prophet was given ‘signs’ because of which people believed in him.  Indeed, I have been given the Divine Revelation that God has revealed to me.  So, I hope to have the most followers of all the prophets on the Day of Resurrection. (Al-Bukhari)

The physical miracles performed by the prophets were time-specific, valid only for those who witnessed them, whereas the like of the continuing miracle of our Prophet, the Noble Quran, was not granted to any other prophet.  Its linguistic superiority, style, clarity of message, strength of argument, quality of rhetoric, and the human inability to match even its shortest chapter till the end of time grant it an exquisite uniqueness.

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Those who witnessed the revelation and those who came after, all can drink from its fountain of wisdom.  That is why the Prophet of Mercy hoped he will have the most followers of all the prophets, and prophesized that he would at a time when Muslims were few, but then they began to embrace Islam in floods.  Thus, this prophecy came true.

Explanation of Quran’s Inimitability

State of the Prophet Muhammad

He was an ordinary human being.

He was illiterate.  He could neither read nor write.

He was more than forty years old when he received the first revelation.  Until then he was not known to be an orator, poet, or a man of letters; he was just a merchant.  He did not compose a single poem or deliver even one sermon before he was chosen to be a prophet.

He brought a book attributing it to God, and all Arabs of his time were in agreement it was inimitable.

The Challenge of the Quran

The Quran puts a challenge out to anyone who opposes the Prophet. The challenge is to produce a chapter (surah) similar to it, even if it were to be a cooperative effort.  A person may summon all the help he can from the physical and spiritual realms.

Why this Challenge?

First, Arabs were poets.  Poetry was their supreme ornament and their most representative form of discourse.  Arabic poetry was rooted in the oral; it was a voice before it acquired an alphabet.  Poets could compose intricate poems spontaneously and commit thousands of lines to memory.

Arabs had a complex system of evaluating a poet and the poetry to meet rigid standards.  Annual competition selected the ‘idols’ of poetry, and they were engraved in gold and hung inside the Ka’bah, alongside their idols of worship.  The most skilled served as judges.  Poets could ignite wars and bring truce between warring tribes.  They described women, wine, and war like no one else.

Second, the opponents of the Prophet Muhammad were strongly determined to quash his mission in any way possible.  God gave them a non-violent approach to disprove Muhammad.

Inability to Meet the Challenge and its Consequences

History is a witness that the pre-Islamic Arabs could not produce a single chapter to meet the challenge of the Quran. Instead of meeting the challenge, they chose violence and waged war against him.  They, of all people, had the ability and the motive to meet the Quranic challenge, but could not do so.

Had they done so, the Quran would have proven false, and the man who brought it would have been exposed as a false prophet.  The fact that the ancient Arabs did not and could not meet this challenge is proof of Quran’s inimitability.  Their example is of a thirsty man next to a well, the only reason he dies of thirst as if he was unable to reach the water!

Furthermore, the inability of previous Arabs to meet the challenge of the Quran implies later Arabs are less competent to meet the challenge, due to their lack the mastery of classical Arabic that the previous, ‘classical’ Arabs had.  According to linguists of the Arabic language, the Arabs before and during the time of the Prophet, in exclusion to subsequent generations, had the most complete mastery of the Arabic language, its rules, meters, and rhymes.  Later Arabs did not match the mastery of classical Arabs.

Lastly, the challenge is for Arabs and non-Arabs alike.  If the Arabs cannot meet the challenge, the non-speakers of Arabic cannot claim to meet the challenge either.  Hence, the inimitability of the Quran is established for non-Arabs as well.