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The Amazing Qur'an

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  1. administrator Islamic Medicine

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    The Amazing Qur'an

    The basic question one must ask oneself is "Could this Qur'an be the words of any other than God." In reaching your conclusions there are a number of factors to bring into your judgment. Firstly we must consider how this object came into existence and how reliable is the description offered of how it came into existence. Then we need to begin our investigation of the object in question. Through doing this we begin to notice certain characteristics about the text and start to study it in detail, noticing certain subtleties. The establishment of general consistency with our knowledge is of primary importance since if we find things in it which contradict what we know, it will immediately be making demands on our credulity rather than challenging our conscience to accept it as true, so that we would feel guilty not accepting it.


    Further investigation shows consistency with current knowledge that is quite amazing. Coincidence also plays an interesting role in discovering curiosities about the Qur'an which show some amazing aspects of the structure. In the process we continually consider whether there is any credible alternative explanation of the origins of the Qur'an and ask ourselves, is it too hard for us to accept any other explanation with a clear conscience that our thinking remains good? What are our doubts about the explanation that this amazing Qur'an comes from other than God? Are these doubts reasonable?

    This section takes you through the above process and the next section will try to tackle some of the important questions about the moral teachings of Islam which amount to doubts that prevent people from accepting Islam. These doubts are usually down to lack of knowledge about the correct teachings of Islam and in answering them I shall try to explain the relevant details of Islamic teachings to clarify the misunderstandings.
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    The Proclaiming of the Qur'an

    The Proclaiming of the Qur'an


    The word Qur'an means a proclamation - something read out. The role of Muhammad (pbuh)*1 in this was that of the messenger. He was commanded to read in the first verse revealed of the Qur'an.

    Proclaim! (or Read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher Who created

    Created man out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood*2

    Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful

    He Who taught (the use of) the Pen

    Taught man that which he knew not.

    A crucial part of understanding the Qur'an is considering the role of Muhammad (pbuh). Who was he? What did he do during his life? Why should Muhammad (pbuh) have been chosen? What was his level of education? What environment did he grow up in? Once these questions are tackled we can keep the answers in mind when reading the pages ahead and consider whether any of these details can offer some credible alternative explanation of the origins of the Qur'an than that it was divinely revealed.

    Muhammad (pbuh) was born 570 years after the birth of Christ (pbuh) a few weeks after his father had died. As was the customary practice in Makkah at the time Muhammad was given to a Bedouin wet-nurse to take care of him for a number of years. His mother died when Muhammad (pbuh) was 6 years old. He was raised by his paternal grandfather 'Abd al Muttalib (Shaybah) until the age of eight and, after his grandfather’s death, by Abu Talib, his paternal uncle. Under the guardianship of Abu Talib, Muhammad (pbuh) began to earn a living as a shepherd, then as a trader. At the age of twelve, he accompanied Abu Talib with a merchant caravan as far as Bosra in Syria. He worked as a trader for several years, gained an excellent reputation for honesty and became known as "al-amin" which means "the trustworthy one". At the age of 25 a rich merchant widow called Khadijah heard of his credentials and proposed marriage to Muhammad through a relative. He accepted despite her being 15 years older than him. Khadijah and Muhammad (pbuh) were the parents of six children - four daughters and two sons, although both the sons died in infancy. Importantly Muhammad was known to be illiterate - he couldn't read nor could he write. He was however, known to be very eloquent in his speech.

    Muhammad was descended from Ishmael who was the first born son of Abraham. Originally built by Abraham and Ishmael, the Ka'bah had become largely corrupted. When it was first built, it was for the worship God alone but now this was known only as a sort of holy centre, for all kinds of pagan beliefs and idolatry. The Ka'bah had at that time 360 idols which the pagans would worship. These were statues of various sorts and even included statues of Jesus (pbuh) and images of Mary. There was still a group of Makkans who tried to follow the true teachings of Abraham. They were known as the Hanafi. The main cultural pursuit of the Arabs was poetry. Competitions would be held and the language blossomed into a deeply expressive form. It became, at that time, a language with a highly sophisticated grammar and great subtlety of expression.

    Muhammad (pbuh) was born into the leading clan of Mecca who were the "Quraish". His position in society was very well respected. At around the age of 40 he began to take to meditation and prayer in a cave on a mountain overlooking Makkah. He would fast and spend long hours in contemplation and prayer. It was during one of these visits to the cave that he received the first words of revelation from the Archangel Jibril (Gabriel). On this first appearance, Gabriel (as) said to Muhammad: "Iqraa," meaning Read or Recite. Muhammad replied, "I cannot read,". The Angel Gabriel then embraced him until he reached the limit of his endurance and after releasing said: "Iqraa." Muhammad’s answer was the same as before. Gabriel repeated the embrace for the third time, asked him to repeat after him and said the verses that are mentioned above.

    Muhammad (pbuh) was terrified by the whole experience of the revelation and rushed home to his wife. He told his wife to cover him with a blanket. After his shock had calmed down, his wife Khadijah asked him about the reason his distressed state. After hearing his account she reassured him by saying: "Allah will not let you down because you are kind to relatives, you speak only the truth, you help the poor, the orphan and the needy, and you are an honest man." Khadijah then became the first person to accept Islam.

    Initially the Qur'an won converts to Islam through the message being given to friends and family of the prophet. After some time in this phase the message began to be proclaimed publicly. Soon enough the people in power started to oppose this message since it clearly threatened their authority to make law based on the authority of 'the gods' (the idols). The small band of Muslims was severely oppressed and several killed. But they persisted in teaching this new revelation to others. Finally after an economic boycott and the theft of their possessions which reduced the Muslims to near starvation, Muhammad was given the position of a judge in the city of Yathrib partly as a way that the tribes could in that city could find a way out of their feuding, but also largely a result of many people accepting Islam, taught by companions of Muhammad (pbuh). Following the establishment of the Islamic State a number of battles took place between the Muslims and the Makkans who were attempting to eliminate the Muslims and their "dangerous ideas". Eventually the Muslims were able to march into Makkah without any resistance because of their overwhelming forces and announced a general amnesty. Within 100 years the Islamic State had spread into Spain and India defeating both the Persian Empire and the Romans and was the largest 'empire' yet to have been seen on Earth.

    Muhammad's life and example span a whole range of circumstances and therefore the study of his example and his judgements provides a rich and comprehensive precedent which is used in deriving Islamic law.

    Those who wish to reject Muhammad as a prophet have two basic positions. They either assert that he was a liar or that he was mad. The first is flatly contradicted by all the reports of his life and that he was deeply convinced of the message he had to deliver. If he were a liar, would he have risked his life and the life of his dearest companions many times? Would he have been so confident in what he said and did? The next alternative that he was mad is thrown into doubt by the careful planning that he went through in all that he did. Madness shows a lack of grip on reality yet Muhammad was known to be highly realistic in all that he did. We know this, for example, from the councils of war he conducted. Islam made perfect sense to Muhammad as it makes perfect sense today.

    This only captures a few of the alternative, and in the majority wholly unreasonable, perspectives of who Muhammad was. The evidence that the Qur'an is an accurate record of the words he proclaimed as direct revelation from God is however largely beyond dispute. This is the subject of the next chapter.. Nevertheless, some will always come up with the most ludicrous alternative explanations. As they see no need for the moral of good thinking they see nothing wrong in making such suggestions. It is fairly pointless discussing them.

    The crucial question to consider in the following sections is whether it is reasonable to say that Muhammad could have written (or thought up) the Qur'an.

    The writing of the Qur'an

    1. Muslims usually refer to Muhammad, as to all prophets, with a phrase like ‘peace be upon him’ following the mention of his name. This is abbreviated to (pbuh).
    2. the word in Arabic is 'alaq and shall be explained fully in a later section.
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    The Writing of the Qur'an

    The Writing of the Qur'an

    Muhammad recited this Qur'an to others and in his prayers. Others have done the same ever since, some memorising parts of the Qur'an and others memorising the Qur'an in its entirety. This helped the Qur'an to become unrivalled as a work of its time in terms of the care and effort which were employed to ensure that it would be preserved for all mankind.

    Once a part of the Qur'an had been revealed to the prophet (pbuh) he would dictate it to scribes who would make written records of every word recited. These writings would then be read back to the prophet to ensure that they had been correctly recorded. Others around at the time would make their own copies for their private use.

    These fragments of revelation came together and were linked into a specific sequence. The sequence defined what is the current ordering of verses in the Qur'an and the prophet (pbuh) affirmed that it was given to him as part of the revelation he received. This sequence was set out through the recitation of Qur'an during prayers and in particular during the month of Ramadan when the prophet (pbuh) would recite the whole of the Qur'an in its correct order.

    A year after the prophets death, it was entrusted to a main scribe Zaid ibn Thaabit to assemble these scattered documents on which the verses of the Qur'an were written. He was especially qualified since not only was he a scribe, but he had also memorised the Qur'an completely and was present during the final & complete recitation of the Qur'an by the prophet.

    Zaid established and applied a rigorous method of work: he would not accept any writing that was not certified by at least 2 witnesses. The witnesses would have to have seen it being written down, not from memory, but at the very dictation of the prophet (pbuh).

    Having completed this task, the collection was given to Abu Bakr - the immediate successor to Muhammad (pbuh) as head of state.

    After the collection was made, it was kept & guarded by Abu Bakr and then the following head of state Umar. The next head of state, Uthman, decided to publish it so as to have copies available at the now remote frontiers of the Islamic State. He did this by having four copies made. These copies became the standard against which all other fragments which people possessed were checked. At least one of these Uthmanic copies still exists today.

    This compilation of the Qur'an was unanimously recognised as authoritative by the companions of the prophet at the time. It is a strong evidence that for the authenticity of the Qur'an that no other compilation has been used for the 1400+ years since then no matter how implacable certain sections of the Muslims were toward one another.

    Variations do exist however in the readings of the text even though there is no dispute about the basic form of the text. These variations come through slight differences in the words due to the old form of written Arabic where diacritical marks (including for example short vowels) were not marked in the written text. This means that there is more than one reading that can fit the text. The prophet explicitly accepted some of these variations as equally valid and acceptable. The exact reading of the text as well as any differing readings were set through oral transmission of the recitation of the Qur'an and through the choice of readings being obvious from the context. The difference in meaning that these differences in readings have is very slight.

    The question arises of how reliable the historical reports are. This is not a new question by any standards. Islam had a distinct advantage over previous religions in terms of the ability that the Early Muslims had to preserve the original teachings. The Qur'an was completed in an environment that could not be more different from that of the material that now makes up the Bible. Muslims were not a persecuted community but the rulers of a state that was having military successes on all fronts. This made collection of historical data much easier and establishing the authenticity of various texts clearer.

    The laws of the state that emerged from Muhammad's great success as political leader were firmly based on the teachings of Islam. This meant that a great deal of effort went into establishing what the teachings actually were. Indeed this effort was often inspired by a strong religious intention to identify the truth of such matters. This motivation also ensured that clear honesty and objectivity is evident in how the studies were carried out. Whole sciences grew up about which sayings of Muhammad (pbuh) were authentic and which were doubtful. The reports were traced back through the people who narrated them. Some reports were taken form what was written down at the time of Muhammad (pbuh); others proved to be more dubious (the science to identify which were which is called 'uloom ul-hadith). The narrators of the reports of what Muhammad said were investigated to see what their reputation was. For example, it was asked of narrators whether they were ever known to have lied (the study of narrators' reputations is called 'uloom ar-rijaal). Only chains of reporters (isnad) containing just the names of 100% trustworthy narrators were considered reliable enough to use in law making. Hadiths (sayings or narrations) were categorised depending on various criteria including this and many others, which influence the authenticity. Much effort went into this and there is a vast body of literature on the subject.

    Of course establishing the exact authenticity of any particular hadith is never 100% possible but at some point the sources are judged to be reasonably sound and reliable and to reject a well-authenticated hadith would be judged unreasonable and therefore wrong.

    As for the Qur'an. There has never been any doubt about its authenticity. So many people memorised it by heart and there was from the time of Muhammad a great deal of written material which contained the text of the Qur'an. In all the history of the Qur'an, since Uthman commissioned written copies in the form of Books, there has been one, and only one Qur'an and there have been no changes in it. It is accepted by all Muslims as the exact word of God.

    One of the effects of the Qur'an is that huge efforts were also made to preserve the meanings of the Arabic language so that the sources of Islamic law would not get lost through the evolution of the language. This has meant that the classical Arabic can be studied today and modern Arabic is very close indeed to its classical ancestor. The extent to which the Arabic language has remained unchanged for 1400 years show just how significant the source texts of Islam were to the early Muslim generations. These all contribute to proving beyond reasonable doubt that the Qur'an is the same Qur'an that was revealed to Muhammad and that the accounts of his life and his saying are generally very well authenticated and reliable - to an extent probably unlike the accounts of any other character in history.

    People bent on denying Islam sometimes try to make challenges to this account of events. However, to do so basically means believing that most if not all the Muslims around throughout the history of Islam were liars - is this reasonable?
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    The Consistency of the Qur'an

    The Consistency of the Qur'an

    The Qur'an is truly remarkable in many ways, many of these are in the power, subtlety and clarity of the language itself. However, for someone who doesn't know Arabic these subtleties are not easy to appreciate so I shall concentrate on bringing to light aspects that don't depend on a great knowledge of Arabic. Firstly I shall consider the consistency of the Qur'an:

    Surah 4 Verse 82

    Do they not consider the Qur'an (with care)? Had it been from other than Allah they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.

    There are a number of important aspects of this consistency. Firstly, it is consistent within itself -i.e. it doesn't contradict itself. Secondly it confirms the essential teachings of previous revelation. Thirdly and most impressive is that it is consistent with known scientific facts - including the facts that have only recently been recognised. It would be impressive enough if there were simply no errors considering the facts known at the time because there were many things which people believed and fully accepted as facts which have been proven wrong. That none of these things got into the Qur'an is quite remarkable.

    To demonstrate the internal consistency would require me to go through the whole of the Qur'an and consider all the verses and their relation to one another. This would be too much for the current effort and I leave it up to the reader to do that on their own. The confirmation of previous revelation is also a subject where to demonstrate the case would require a great deal of work in identifying all the basic teachings of previous revelations. This would require a critical analysis of the teachings of previous revelations (including for example a disproof of the teachings of Christianity on Trinity). To show the Qur'an is consistent with known scientific facts is in principle also hard to do since that would require a thorough search through the Qur'an for anything contradicting scientific fact. What can be done however, is to identify a number of passages in the Qur'an where there is surprising consistency with relatively recent scientific discoveries.

    The Qur'an is a book which contains several references to natural phenomena but these references have clear purpose in explaining the deeper meaning to life and existence in general. The Qur'an leaves room for a variety of interpretations but the consistency with recent science within those acceptable interpretations is still astounding.

    The Big Bang

    Surah 21, Verse 30:

    ARE THEN, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then Parted Asunder? - and [that] we made from water every living thing? Will they not then [begin to] believe?

    This verse should be re-read a couple of times. In it we see that the whole of material existence was once as one thing before it was exploded apart. This appears to be a clear reference to the "Big Bang" - the widely accepted theory of the origins of the universe. In the very same verse we see a reference to the origins of life being in water (see also origins of life section). This is also a key finding of science. Both of these points must have been somewhat puzzling to the early readers of the Qur'an. Now these statements are seen in the full light of modern knowledge and are recognised as astonishingly accurate. Moreover, the last question of the verse is now doubly potent.

    The Story of Creation

    There are several places where the Qur'an describes aspects of the creation.

    The Bible describes the creation as having taken place in six days followed by a day of rest. In the Bible a 'day' is explicitly the interval between two successive sunrises or sunsets. There can be no question that this story is wrong. The very mechanism of the Earth rotating around its axis was not fixed in the earliest stages of creation as were described in the Bible.

    In contrast to this the Qur'an while also describing creation as taking place in 6 'days' never connects this word with a set period. In fact, in the Qur'an a day in the sight of Allah (in this instance judgement day) is described as 50,000 human years. (Surah 70: Verse 4) The use of the word yawm in Arabic can equally well 'mean period of time' as it can mean 'day'.

    A significant passage of the Qur'an is Surah 41, Verses 9 to 12:

    (Muhammad Asad translation)

    "Say: Would you indeed deny Him who has created the earth in two aeons? And do you claim that there is any power that could rival Him, The Sustainer of all the worlds?"

    For He [it is who after creating the earth,] placed firm Mountains on it [towering] above its surface, and bestowed [so many] blessings on it, and equitably apportioned its means of subsistence to all who would seek it: [and all this He created] in four aeons.

    And He [it is who] applied His design to the skies, which were [yet but] smoke; and He [it is who] said to them and to the earth, "come willingly or unwillingly!" - to which both responded, We do come in obedience."

    To me this is obviously a reference to the fact that we are in the second cycle of solar evolution. The earth is made up of material that resulted from the first life cycle of a sun and our sun is a 'second generation' sun- two periods. The last of the verses quoted above confirms this point by referring to the what the sky and earth was made from - smoke. A simple but absolutely accurate description of the remains of the burnt out first generation sun! This description of the coming together of matter in forming the solar system is a very fundamental part of the concept of the current understanding of how it actually happened.

    The expansion of the universe

    Surah 51, Verse 47:

    And it is We who have built the universe with [Our creative] power; and verily, it is We who are expanding it.

    The expansion of the universe was only discovered in the last few decades and the theories that describe the universe in cosmology only began to be developed after Einstein discovered General Relativity Early in the 20th century. This verse is from a book that was completed 1400 years ago. How could Muhammad have known this if he wasn't receiving revelation from the All-Knowing?

    The origins of life

    Are, then, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then Parted Asunder? - and [that] we made from water every living thing? Will they not then [begin to] believe?

    (see Also Big Bang section)This quote clearly says that all life comes from water. There are two possible meanings to this and both agree exactly with scientific knowledge. One is that every living thing is made from Water (as its essential ingredient) and the other that all life originates from Water. The first meaning is true since in all living cells water is the major component. The latter is true since all life known about had its origins in water.

    The exploration of space

    Surah 55, Verse 33

    O assembly of Jinns and Men, if you can penetrate regions of the heavens and the earth then penetrate them! You will not penetrate them save with a power.

    This verse needs a little explanation. In Arabic, there are different words for 'if'. One expresses the possibility, another expresses an achievable hypothesis and another expresses an unachievable hypothesis. In this case the 'if' is for an achievable hypothesis. Man will penetrate through into the heavens 'if' he has the power to do so!

    Descriptions of the foetus

    This is one of the most remarkable areas of description in the Qur'an. The development of the foetus is spoken of in the Qur'an in some detail. The early stages of which could not have been known at the time of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) because the size of the foetus at these stages is too small to see with the naked eye, rather a microscope is needed.

    Surah 71 Verses 13-14

    What is the matter with you, that ye are not conscious of Allah's majesty, Seeing that it is He who has created you in successive stages?

    Surah 23 Verses 12-14

    We did create human beings out of the essence of clay, and thereafter We cause him to remain as a drop of sperm in [the womb's] firm keeping. Thereafter we fashioned the sperm into something that clings (Alaqah), which we then fashioned into a chewed lump (Modgha). The chewed lump is then fashioned into bones that are then covered with flesh. Then we nurse him unto another act of creation. Blessed is God, the best of artisans.

    The use of 'essence of clay' here is to say in other words that what we are made of comes from the earth. The word used for semen here literally means a 'small drop'.

    The description of the next stage as 'something that clings' accurately represents the stage where the fertilised cell attaches itself to the inner most layer of the uterus by hair-like projections. Another meaning for the word alaqah is 'leech like'. This describes the process of implantation in the first few days entirely correctly and is so concise as to use just one word.

    The word "Alaqa" has been translated as ‘something that clings’. This only identifies part of the descriptive accuracy of this word. The word has a number of meanings, which I shall now elaborate. It's root meaning is from the verb 'aliqa which means "to hang, be suspended, dangle; to stick, cling, cleave adhere to; to catch, get caught or stuck; to be attached, affixed, subjoined" Other forms of the verb have related meanings such as to be affectionately attached to someone. (dictionary definitions from Hans Wehr )

    The meanings apply ideally to the process through which the fertilised ovum becomes lodged in the womb.

    If we look at the noun 'alaqa we find this meanings of "medical leech" and "blood clot". The leech is an interesting little creature. The creature is a parasite, which lives on blood, which it sucks out of the body of, it's host. Not only is this a similar process to what happens to an embryo in the earliest stages, but also a leech looks remarkably like the earliest stages of the embryo. The meaning of a clinging thing can easily be seen in this use of the verbal noun. As for blood clot it is first necessary to point out that it is the process of clotting or coagulating which brings the idea of clinging to this word and not blood. There is a quite different word for blood in Arabic 'damm' and this is not meant. When blood coagulates the material is primarily known to be sticky which explains the use of 'alaqa for this material. What we have is also a living fluid half way to becoming a soft solid which is an accurate description of the embryo as the cells which have multiplied until they form a fluid now begin to form tissue structures.

    The description of the chewed flesh implies something like teeth marks. This accurately describes the Somite development. The Somites as Hamilton Boyd and Mossman say " are conspicuous features of embryos in the period under consideration and are readily seen in the surface contour. They are bases from which the greater part of the axial skeleton and musculature are developed". The age of the embryo is referred to by the number of these Somites since "they form one of its characteristic external features" these features along with the pharyngeal arches which also appear at this period (4 weeks) give the embryo the clear appearance of a chewed lump in which the indentations of teeth are present.

    The structure of the embryo as it develops and gains its form is primarily skeletal at and before 5 weeks. That is - what you see in pictures of embryos this age is the bones and a number of semi-translucent organs. The bones at this stage have structure and form and are easily the most marked and visible feature of the embryo but they are of course not fully calcified (many bones are still in the final calcifying stage through into adulthood). Over the next couple of weeks a quite definite change takes place in the way that an embryo looks. Instead of seeing bones and organs, all that can be seen now, is (the flesh of) a naked body. The embryo begins to look much more human. It is a reference to this, which to me seems most fitting with the general tone and meaning of (this part of) the verse: "we clothed the bone with flesh "

    Other bits for you to investigate ...

    Geology of mountains (78:6-7, 31:10++) The gender of worker bees (16:68) Near death experiences (50:19) The nerves being in the skin (4:56) Life on other planets? (42:29) The Water Cycle (23:18-19, 15:22, 35:9, 30:48) ++ more which depend on specialist knowledge.

    This gives a number of key indications which, together with a more thorough investigation establishing the consistency of all statements in the Qur'an, show that the Qur'an is a remarkably accurate book when it comes to describing reality. In the next section on structure of the Qur'an I consider some evidence where the whole of the Qur'an is discussed and therefore the evidence is doubly clear since there is no excuse of saying "but somewhere in the Qur'an there might be a verse that says ..."
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