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Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge

اَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ - لَا إلَهَ إلَّا اللَّهُ وَاَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ وَلِلَّهِ الْحَمْد - اَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ - لَا إلَهَ إلَّا اللَّهُ وَاَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ وَلِلَّهِ الْحَمْد - اَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ - لَا إلَهَ إلَّا اللَّهُ وَاَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ اَللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ وَلِلَّهِ الْحَمْد - اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ كَبِيرًا وَالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ كَثِيرًا وَسُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا
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    Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge (OP)

    Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge: to “Bring Something Like It”

    | Prepared by the Research Committee of IslamToday.net under the supervision of Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî|

    A lot of people misunderstand the Qur’ân’s literary challenge to produce something like it. Many people assume it simply means writing something as “good” as the Qur’ân.

    Because of this, many skeptics point out – and rightly so – that literary value judgments are highly subjective. If someone says that he thinks a certain selection of prose or poetry is better than the Qur’ân, who can argue with him? Isn’t it really a matter of personal judgment and taste? Who is to be the arbiter?

    The Qur’ân’s challenge, however, is not simply to write something of equal literary merit, but rather to produce something like the Qur’ân.

    We can see this in all the verses of challenge:

    Allah says: “Say (O Muhammad) if mankind and jinn were to come together to produce something like this Qur’ân, they would not be able to do so, even if they were to help one another.” [Sûrah al-Isrâ’: 88]

    Allah says: “Or they say: ‘He has forged it.’ Say: ‘Then bring ten forged chapters like it and If then they do not answer you, know that it is sent down with the Knowledge of Allah, besides Whom there is no other God. Will you then be Muslims?” [Sûrah Hûd: 13]

    Allah says: “Or do they say ‘He has forged it.’ Say: ‘Then bring a chapter like it and call and call whoever you can besides Allah if you are truthful’.” [Sûrah Yûnus: 38]

    Allah says: “And if you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call your witnesses besides Allah if you be truthful. If you do not do so – and you will never do so – then fear a fire whose fuel is men and stones prepared for the disbelievers.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 23-24]

    Therefore, it is not simply a matter of quality – it does not even have to be of equal merit! Similarity is all that matters. What is required by the challenge is to achieve at least a comparable degree of the literary beauty, nobility, and sublimity of the Qur’ân while at the same time emulating the Qur’ân’s particular style.

    It is possible to superficially mimic the style of the Qur’ân, and many people have been successful in doing so – but all such attempts from the days of Musaylimah to the present have proven to be silly and absurd, and have often invoked laughter and derision. This is the unanimous consensus of everyone who has ever heard or read those attempts.

    It is, likewise, possible for a person writing in Arabic to reach a great level of literary excellence and, in the most moving of poetry and prose, convey the noblest thoughts and sentiments – but nobody has ever done so using the Qur’ân’s particular style.

    And what an elusive style it has proven to be! The Qur’ân is neither in Arabic prose nor in what is acknowledged as Arabic verse. It is not written in a combination of both prose and poetry, but in neither of those modes. It is unique. At the same time, the Qur’ân is internally consistent in maintaining its unique style.

    Only the Qur’ân achieves the highest level of literary excellence – so much so that it brings people to ecstasy and tears – while maintaining this style.

    This, then, is the acid test: Write something in the exact same style as the Qur’ân and in doing so produce something of arguably similar quality and sublimity.

    Still, one could argue that the evaluation of the results is still grounded in subjective literary tastes. This is agreed. However, the second part of the challenge is to bring witnesses to attest to the quality of that evaluation, not just to stand there and make the claim.

    Throughout history, people have attempted to write in the style of the Qur’ân. The results have always been so laughable that no one would venture to say that he believes the effort equals the Qur’ân in literary merit. The reason why no one would dare do so is not the fear of reprisal – as some skeptics have suggested – but rather the fear of looking like a complete idiot.

    One early example was:

    Wa mâ adrâka mal-fîl
    Lahu dhanabun radhîl, wa khurtûmun tawîl
    which translates as:
    The Elephant –
    What is the elephant?
    And what would have you know what the elephant is?
    It has a scraggly tail and a very long trunk.
    We can grant that this is a successful attempt at imitating the superficial style of the Qur’ân. It is clearly modeled after the opening verses of Sûrah al-Qâri`ah or Sûrah al-Hâqqah. However, with such fare on offer, it is no surprise that people are unwilling to stake their reputation on attesting to its literary excellence.

    We should pause to consider: What other literary style can we think of which has produced an indisputably great work of literaure but is at the same time guaranteed to bring the most wretched failure to anyone else who tries his hand at it?

    Generally, it is not a bad idea for a writer to emulate a successful style. However, a challenge to produce a single chapter like the Qur’ân – the shortest chapter being merely three verses of modest length – has proven impossible to meet.

    We should remember that not all Arabic speakers are Muslim. Many are Christians and Jews. Some are atheists. They live all over the world. Among all of these non-Muslim Arabs, there are leading poets and prose writers and important literary critics. None of them claim that they or anyone else has produced a literary work that resembles the Qur’ân in both style and quality.

    For an Arabic speaker, this is an obvious thing. Any Arab who looks at people’s attempts to write in the Qur’ân’s style usually breaks out in laughter at its awkwardness or banality.

    For non-Arabic speakers, though they cannot experience this directly, they can ascertain that no serious literary claim has been made.

    Granted, there is subjectivity in any literary evaluation. This would pose a problem in a challenge with a single judge or a panel of judges, or if there is a biased criterion like “only Muslims scholars can be judges”.

    However, there is no such restriction in the challenge.

    The general consensus of the international Arabic literary community – and the Arab masses – is that nothing exists to meet the challenge. This is an objective yardstick.

    And Allah knows best.

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    Re: Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge

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    Surah At-Tur Verses 33 – 34
    أَمْ يَقُولُونَ تَقَوَّلَهُ بَلْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
    فَلْيَأْتُوا بِحَدِيثٍ مِثْلِهِ إِنْ كَانُوا صَادِقِينَ
    Do they say, “This man himself has forged this Quran?” The fact is that they do not want to believe. Let them then produce a discourse like it, if they are true in what they say. (52: 33 – 34)

    ﴾The fact is that they do not want to believe.﴿ In other words, it means this: The Quraish who say that Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم himself is the author of the Quran know it in their innermost hearts that it cannot be his word, and those others also whose mother tongue is Arabic not only clearly feel that it is far more sublime and superior to human speech but any one of them who knows Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace and blessings) personally cannot ever suspect that this is actually his own word and speech. Therefore, the thing plainly is that those who ascribe the authorship of the Quran to the Holy Prophet (Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon him) do not, in fact, wish to affirm faith. That is why they are inventing false excuses one of which is this excuse.

    ﴾Let them then produce a discourse like it, if they are true in what they say.﴿ That is, “Not only is the Quran not the word of Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم but the truth is that it is not human at all; it is beyond the power of mankind to compose and produce it. If you think it is human, you are challenged to produce the like of it, which should also be human.” This challenge had been given not only to the Quraish but to all the disbelievers of the world first of all in this verse. Then it was repeated thrice in Makkah and then finally in Madinah. (See Surah Yunus, 38; Hud, 13; Bani Israel, 88; Al-Baqarah, 23). But no one could dare meet this challenge of the Quran at that time, nor has anyone else had so far the ability to compose and produce a man-made work like the Quran.

    Some people, because of lack of understanding the real nature of this challenge, say that not to speak of the Quran, no one has the power to write prose or compose poetry in the style of another person. According to them, Homer, Rumi, Shakespeare, Goethe, Ghalib, Tagore, Iqbal all are unique in their styles; it lies in no one’s power to produce poetry like theirs by imitation. Those who give this answer to the challenge of the Quran are, in fact, involved in the misunderstanding that the meaning of “let them then produce a discourse like it,” is a challenge to man to compose and write a book like the Quran, in the style of the Quran, whereas it does not imply any resemblance in literary style but what is implied is as follows: bring a book of the same sublimity and quality and rank, not only in Arabic but in any language of the world, that may be regarded as a match for the Quran in respect of the characteristics for which the Quran is a miracle. The following are in brief some of the main characteristics because of which the Quran has been a miracle before as it is a miracle today:
    1. The Quran is the highest and most perfect model of the literature of the language in which it was revealed. No word and no sentence in the entire Book is substandard. Whatever theme has been presented in it, has been presented in the most appropriate words and in the most suitable style. One and the same theme has been presented over and over again but every time in a new style avoiding the defect of repetition everywhere. The entire Book, from the beginning to the end, is set in the choicest words, like chiseled and polished gems, that cannot be replaced. The discourses are so impressive that no one who knows the language, even if s/he is a disbeliever, can help being moved to ecstasies on hearing them. Even after 1400 years this Book is still the model of Arabic literature and no other Arabic book can approach it in literary excellence not to speak of equaling it. Not only this, but this Book has so controlled the Arabic language that even after the passage of 14 centuries, the standard of this language’s beauty and eloquence is the same that had been set by it; whereas, in such long periods, languages change out of recognition. No other language of the world has remained in the same state in so far as its spelling and diction, idiom, rules of language and usages are concerned. But it is only the power of the Quran that has held the Arabic language in place; each idiom of it is still in use in Arabic literature; its literature is still the standard literature of Arabic; and in writing and speech, still the same language is regarded as good Arabic that had been used in the Quran 1400 years ago. Is there any human-made book in any language of the world that bears the same characteristics?

    2. This is the one single Book in the world, which has so extensively and so universally influenced mankind’s thoughts, morals, civilization and way of life as has no precedent in history. In the first instance, its impact changed one nation; then that nation rose and changed a major part of the world. No other Book has proved to be so revolutionary. This Book has not remained confined to writing on paper but in the practical world each of its words has formed and molded ideas and thoughts and built up a lasting civilization. Its influence has continued being operative for 1400 years and its circle of influence and impact is still expanding every day.

    3. The theme that this Book discusses is the most extensive theme which comprehends the whole Universe, from eternity to eternity. It deals with the reality of the Universe, its beginning and end, its system and law. It tells as to who is the Creator and Controller and Disposer of this Universe, what are His attributes, what are His powers, and what is that essence and basis on which He has established this entire system of the world. It specifies mankind’s position and place which s/he cannot change. It tells what is the right and correct way of thought and action for humans in view of this place and position, which corresponds to the reality, and what are the wrong ways which clash with the reality. Then to prove why the right way is right and the wrong ways are wrong, it presents countless arguments from various phenomena of the earth and heavens, from different aspects of the system of the universe, from human’s own self and existence and from humans’ own history. Besides, it also tells how and for what reasons man adopts the wrong ways, by what means he can find out the right Way, which has always been one and shall remain one, and how he has been guided to it in every age. It does not merely point to the Right way, which contains a detailed and systematic code concerning beliefs, morals, purification of self, worship, social life, civilization, economy, politics, justice, law, and every other aspect of human life. Furthermore, it also tells in full detail what are the results of following this Right Way and of adopting the wrong ways in this world and what consequences of this will appear in the Next World after the present system of the world has come to an end. It depicts fully the coming to an end of the present world and of the establishment of the New World; it gives every detail of the process of change; it portrays the Next World and describes fully how mankind will find a totally new life there, how his deeds from worldly life will be subjected to accountability, what things he will be questioned about, how his complete record, which he will not be able to deny or dispute, will be placed before him, what strong evidence will be produced in proof thereof, why the culprits will be punished and the righteous rewarded, what rewards will be bestowed on the righteous and in what forms will the culprits suffer the evil consequences of their misdeeds. The way this vast theme has been dealt with in this Book is not of the nature of some conclusions that its Author might have reached from some syllogistic premises but its nature is that its Author has the direct knowledge of the Reality.

    He sees everything happening from eternity to eternity. All the realities are manifest for Him and the entire Universe is like an open book before Him. He sees the entire life of mankind, from its origin to its end, even beyond the present life into the second life simultaneously, and He is guiding man not on the basis of conjecture and speculation but on the basis of knowledge. Not a single truth that He presents as knowledge has been proved to be wrong so far. The concept of the universe and Man that He presents fully explains all the phenomena and events and can become the basis of research in every branch of knowledge. His Word contains the answers to all the ultimate problems of philosophy and natural and social sciences, and they are so coherent and consistent logically that a perfect, consistent, and comprehensive system of thought can be built on their basis. Then from the practical aspect the guidance that He has given to mankind about various spheres of life is not only highly rational and pure but countless human beings have been living according to it in actual fact in different parts of the earth for 1,400 years and have found it by experience to be the only valid way. Is there any manmade book of this unique quality present in the world, or has ever been, which may be produced to match this Book?

    4. The Book was not composed and written all at once and presented before the world, but a reformatory movement was started with some basic and initial instructions and then for 23 years as the movement passed through different stages of its development, its parts were presented by the tongue of the leader, sometimes as lengthy discourses and sometimes as brief sentences, as the conditions and requirements of the occasion demanded. Then, when the Mission was brought to completion, these parts that had been issued at different times were compiled in the form of a complete Book which has been known by the name of the “Quran.” The leader of the movement states that these discourses and sentences are not his original work but were sent down to him by the Lord of all Creation. If a person asserts that they are the original work of the leader himself, he should produce a precedent from history to prove his contention. He should show whether it is possible that the speeches made and the instructions given by a man at different times while leading a powerful collective movement for years continuously by himself in different capacities, sometimes as a preacher and teacher of morals, sometimes as a leader of an oppressed class, sometimes as the ruler of a state, sometimes as the commander of a fighting army, sometimes as a victor, sometimes a law-giver and legislator, could form a complete and consistent and comprehensive system of thought and action, which should be free from every contradiction and inconsistency, which should appear to be dominated by the same central idea and pattern of thought, which should show that the leader has been building up a universal system of belief and action on the basis of the same foundation of his message with which he had started his work, and which should be a system each element and part of which is in perfect harmony and consistency with the other parts. Then the one who reads this collection of discourses with a discerning eye cannot help realizing that the founder of the movement at the outset had a full plan of the movement in view till the last stage, and it never happened that a new idea might have struck him at some later stage, which was unknown to him before, or which he had to change later. If ever there has been a man of this caliber, his name should be made known to the world.

    5. The leader who had been made to give these discourses and speak these sentences did not suddenly emerge from a hidden place to present these before the people nor would disappear after he had done so. He had lived his full life in full view of society before he started his movement as well as continued to live in the same society after that till his last breath. The people were well aware of the language and style of his conversation and speech. Hadith still presents a major part of it and by going through it the people who know Arabic can easily find out even today what was the leader’s own style of speech and conversation. His contemporaries who spoke his language felt then and those who know Arabic feel today that the language and the style of this Book is very different from the language and style of that leader. So much so that whenever in the midst of a sermon delivered by the leader there occurs a sentence or two of this Book, the distinction between the two becomes all too obvious. The question is: has a man in the world ever had the power, or can he have the capability, that he should go on conversing in two absolutely different styles consistently for years at a stretch and it should never become known that the two separate styles are, in fact, of one and the same person? It is possible that one may succeed in such affectation temporarily but it is not at all possible that for twenty-three years continuously a person should have a different diction and style when he recites the Revelations from Allah and a wholly different diction and style when he speaks in his personal capacity.

    6. The leader, while leading and guiding the movement met with different sorts of conditions. Sometimes he became the target of ridicule, humiliation and severe persecution of his fellow-countrymen and the people of his own tribe and clan; sometimes his companions were so harshly treated that they were compelled to emigrate from the country; sometimes the enemies plotted against his life; sometimes he himself had to leave his home and city; sometimes he had to fight wars successively in which he suffered defeats as well as won victories; sometimes he overcame the enemies and the same enemies who had persecuted him, came before him humbled; sometimes he achieved such power which few people in the world have been able to achieve. Under all such conditions a person’s feelings obviously cannot remain the same. When on these different occasions the leader spoke in his personal capacity, his words and speeches carried the clear impression of his personal feelings, which naturally arise in the heart of a man on such occasions. But the discourses that were heard from him as Allah’s Revelations in these different conditions are wholly devoid of human feelings. At no place can even an acute observer and critic point out the play of human feelings in them.

    7. The vast and comprehensive knowledge that is contained in this Book, is not possessed even by any of the distinguished learned people of this 20th century, not to speak of the people of Arabia and Rome and Greece and Iran of those days. The condition today is that after a man has spent his whole lifetime studying a branch of philosophy or a natural or social science, he comes to know what ultimate problems of his field of study are, but when he studies the Quran seriously, he comes to know that this Book contains a clear answer to those problems. This thing is not confined to any one branch of knowledge but holds good in respect of all those sciences which have anything to do with the Universe and man. How can one believe that 1,400 years ago an unlettered man in the Arabian Desert possessed such deep insight into every branch of knowledge, and he had thought over every basic problem and thought out an absolute and final answer to it?

    Although there are several other aspects also of the Quran being a miracle, if a man ponders over these few aspects alone he will realize that the Quran’s being a miracle is far more evident today than it was at the time when it was revealed and if Allah so wills, it will go on becoming more and more evident and manifest as time passes till the Day of Resurrection.
    Commentary from Tafheem Ul Quran

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  4. #22
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    Re: Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge

    Muslims all over the world take great interest in obtaining Quran education enthusiastically. Several of the people learn Quran education by learning Quran, thoughtful and follow the teaching and knowledge of Allah Almighty and obey them also.

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    Re: Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge

    Not to forget the Memorization part. Words of Allah can be memorized but even a quarter of humans word 's book or the NT or the OT could not be memorized. That's a miracle too.

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    Re: Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge


    There are several things about this famous challenge that I have never understood. Here's one of them:

    Allah says: “And if you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call your witnesses besides Allah if you be truthful. If you do not do so – and you will never do so – then fear a fire whose fuel is men and stones prepared for the disbelievers.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 23-24] [My emphasis]

    Since Allah has said at the outset that nobody will ever succeed, what is the point of anyone even trying? Doesn't this nullify the challenge instantly?


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    Re: Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge

    Revelation from Allah - guidance towards justice and good conduct on a deep level.
    Revelation from shaytaan - misguidance from justice and good conduct - besides the fact that it involves sorcery.

    Here's an example of an attempt to emulate the Quran:
    Oh frog
    Oh two frogs
    Croak as you croak
    Half of you is in the water
    And half in the dry land /mud
    You neither drink
    Nor prevent from being drunk.

    From Musailamah the $@#^^ of &/#@$& to Muhammad the messenger of God.
    Half of the land is for you, and half is for me.
    And the Quraysh are unjust.

    From Muhammad the messenger of Allah to Musailamah the liar.
    Indeed the land is Allah's, He bequeaths it unto whom He pleases,
    And the final (victory) is for the muttaqeen (those who fear Allah, heed to, and obey Allah in sincerity and truth).

    I'm sure it's not just about rhyming prose or mirroring reality with falsehood, but rather a complete assertion of truth and justice which heals the heart with depth in order to completely change a person's outlook on life and bring it from darkness to light.

    KEEP IT (deen) REAL.
    Last edited by Abz2000; 06-21-2017 at 05:02 PM.
    Understanding the Qur’an’s Literary Challenge

    Long ago has hope perished, as have our men of honor

    The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress

    Frederick Douglas

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