The ‘Unsurpassable Eloquence’ of the Qur'an

A closer look at some details

Sam Shamoun

Muslims boast that the Quran is a literary masterpiece, that its eloquence is unsurpassed and unmatchable. Muhammad himself boasted about just how eloquent he was:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "I have been given the keys of eloquent speech and given victory with awe (cast into the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping last night, the keys of the treasures of the earth were brought to me till they were put in my hand." Abu Huraira added: Allah's Apostle left (this world) and now you people are carrying those treasures from place to place. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 127)

Narrated Abu Huraira:

I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "I have been sent with Jawami al-Kalim (i.e., the shortest expression carrying the widest meanings), and I was made victorious with awe (caste into the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the earth were brought to me and were put in my hand." Muhammad said, Jawami al-Kalim means that Allah expresses in one or two statements or thereabouts the numerous matters that used to be written in the books revealed before (the coming of) the Prophet. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 141)

Hence, this claim, if true, implies that the Quran expresses its themes in the clearest manner and contains no grammatical ambiguities. Moreover, this suggests that whenever the Quran makes a point it will do so in the most expressive way which would thereby allow the reader to understand the issue being addressed. The Quran will not leave its audience confused regarding the subject matter or the identity of the speaker in a particular context.

With the foregoing in perspective we will examine specific verses of the Quran to see if whether the Muslim claim regarding the Muslim scripture being inimitable in its expressions and structure has any merit. After all, in light of the lofty and grandiose claims the Muslims have made for the Quran it is incumbent that we analyze its structure to see if it lives up to such praise.

Our analysis begins with the very first chapter of the Quran known as al-Fatihah:

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being, the All-merciful, the All-compassionate, the Master of the Day of Doom. Thee only WE serve; to Thee alone WE pray for succour. Guide US in the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast blessed, not of those against whom Thou art wrathful, nor of those who are astray. S. 1:1-7

Muslims believe that the Quran is the uncreated word or speech of Allah:

(4719) Ibn ‘Abbas: The Prophet (may peace be upon) used to seek refuge in Allah for al-Hasan and al-Husain, saying: I seek refuge for both of you in the perfect words of Allah from every devil and every poisonous thing and from the evil eye which influences. He would then say: Your father sought refuge in Allah by them for Isma‘il and Ishaq.

Abu Dawud said: This is a proof of the fact that the Quran is not created. (Sunan Abu Dawud, English translation with explanatory notes by Prof. Ahmad Hasan [Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters; Lahore, Pakistan, 1984], XXXV. Kitab al-Sunnah [Book of Model Behaviour (of the Prophet)], Chapter 1698: The Qur’an, The Word of Allah, pp. 1325-26)

The translator says in a note that:

4127. The Prophet (may peace be upon him) called the Qur’an the perfect words of Allah. A perfect word cannot be a created thing.

See also:

This means that the above sura has always existed as part of this eternal speech, and yet this is clearly a prayer that is being offered in worship to God. The question that naturally comes to mind is who was offering this specific prayer before creation? Who are the objects of the plural pronouns that appear in the above sura? It can’t be angels or jinn since they didn’t exist before creation, and it definitely wasn’t humans.

The only answer one can logically come up with is that it is Allah who is praying here, that he is glorifying and praising himself … either that or Allah is praising someone else as God! But the latter view would either mean that multiple gods exist or that Allah exists as a plurality of divine persons!

This wouldn’t be the only time that Allah praises and worships himself:

Glory be to Him, who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the Further Mosque the precincts of which We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing. And We gave Moses the Book, and made it a guidance to the Children of Israel: 'Take not unto yourselves any guardian apart from Me.' The seed of those We bore with Noah; he was a thankful servant. And We decreed for the Children of Israel in the Book: 'You shall do corruption in the earth twice, and you shall ascend exceeding high.' So, when the promise of the first of these came to pass, We sent against you servants of Ours, men of great might, and they went through the habitations, and it was a promise performed. Then We gave back to you the turn to prevail over them, and We succoured you with wealth and children, and We made you a greater host. 'If you do good, it is your own souls you do good to, and if you do evil it is to them likewise.' Then, when the promise of the second came to pass, We sent against you Our servants to discountenance you, and to enter the Temple, as they entered it the first time, and to destroy utterly that which they ascended to. Perchance your Lord will have mercy upon you; but if you return, We shall return; and We have made Gehenna a prison for the unbelievers. S. 17:1-8

When Moses said to his people 'I observe a fire, and will bring you news of it, or I will bring you a flaming brand, that haply you shall warm yourselves.' So, when he came to it, he was called: 'Blessed is he who is in the fire, and he who is about it. Glory be to God, the Lord of all Being! Moses, behold, it is I, God, the All-mighty, the All-wise. Cast down thy staff.' And when he saw it quivering like a serpent he turned about, retreating, and turned not back. 'Moses, fear not; surely the Envoys do not fear in My presence, save him who has done evil, then; after evil, has changed into good; All-forgiving am I, All-compassionate. Thrust thy hand in thy bosom and it will come forth white without evil-among nine signs to Pharaoh and his people; they are an ungodly people.' But when Our signs came to them visibly, they said, 'This is a manifest sorcery'; and they denied them, though their souls acknowledged them, wrongfully and out of pride. Behold, how was the end of the workers of corruption! S. 27:7-14

Moreover, the above suras demonstrate that the plural pronouns all refer to Allah, that it is Allah who is using first person plural speech to express himself. This provides further support that the one using plural pronouns in sura al-Fatihah is Allah, meaning that Allah is actually praying to and worshiping himself.

The fact that Allah prays is further supported by the following texts:

He it is who prays for you (yusallii alaykum) and His angels too to bring you forth out of the darkness into the light, for He is merciful to the believers. S. 33:43 Palmer

Verily, God and His angels pray for the prophet (yasalluuna alan-Nabiyy). O ye who believe! Pray for him (salluu `alayhi) and salute him with a salutation! S. 33:56 Palmer

The author of the Quran could have avoided all this confusion by simply inserting one simple word at the beginning of the first sura, specifically the Arabic word qul ("say"). This would have indicated that this was a prayer that Allah revealed for his community.

However, there is another question that one could ask: Even if we add the word "say" in front of the sura, … Whom is Allah addressing with "say", when he recites the Quran in eternity to himself? What sense does it make that God in eternity instructs people how to pray to him, when those people do not even exist? In fact, much of the Quran makes little sense "in eternity", but becomes meaningful only after being revealed to creation – though even then, much of it is questionable, but that is a different issue.

The above suras introduce some additional ambiguities and problems. For instance, note that third person pronouns or nouns are mixed in with both first person singular and plural pronouns, all of which are supposed to be referring to the same entity or speaker, namely Allah! Here are some more examples of this change of pronouns:

God took compact with the Children of Israel; and We raised up from among them twelve chieftains. And God said, 'I am with you. Surely, if you perform the prayer, and pay the alms, and believe in My Messengers and succour them, and lend to God a good loan, I will acquit you of your evil deeds, and I will admit you to gardens underneath which rivers flow. So whosoever of you thereafter disbelieves, surely he has gone astray from the right way. S. 5:12

It is He who has appointed for you the stars, that by them you might be guided in the shadows of land and sea. We have distinguished the signs for a people who know. S. 6:97

That is of the tidings of the cities We relate to thee; some of them are standing and some stubble. And We wronged them not, but they wronged themselves; their gods availed them not that they called upon, apart from God, anything, when the command of thy Lord came; and they increased them not, save in destruction. Such is the seizing of thy Lord, when He seizes the cities that are evildoing; surely His seizing is painful, terrible. Surely in that is a sign for him who fears the chastisement in the world to come; that is a day mankind are to be gathered to, a day to witness, and We shall not postpone it, save to a term reckoned; the day it comes, no soul shall speak save by His leave; some of them shall be wretched and some happy. S. 11:100-105

So We made the earth to swallow him and his dwelling and there was no host to help him, apart from God, and he was helpless; S. 28:81

So persevere in patience; for the Promise of God is true: and whether We show thee (in this life) some part of what We promise them, - or We take thy soul (to Our Mercy) (before that), -(in any case) it is to Us that they shall (all) return. We did aforetime send apostles before thee: of them there are some whose story We have related to thee, and some whose story We have not related to thee. It was not (possible) for any apostle to bring a sign except by the leave of God: but when the Command of God issued, the matter was decided in truth and justice, and there perished, there and then those who stood on Falsehoods… But their professing the Faith when they (actually) saw Our Punishment was not going to profit them. (Such has been) God's Way of dealing with His Servants (from the most ancient times). And even thus did the Rejecters of God perish (utterly)! S. 40:77-78, 85 Y. Ali

Why, were there gods in earth and heaven other than God, they would surely go to ruin; so glory be to God, the Lord of the Throne, above that they describe! He shall not be questioned as to what He does, but they shall he questioned. Or have they taken gods apart from Him? Say: 'Bring your proof! This is the Remembrance of him who is with me, and the Remembrance of those before me. Nay, but the most part of them know not the truth, so therefore they are turning away. And We sent never a Messenger before thee except that We revealed to him, saying, 'There is no god but I; so serve Me.' They say:' 'The All-merciful has taken to Him a son.' Glory be to Him! Nay, but they are honoured servants that outstrip Him not in speech, and perform as He commands. He knows what is before them and behind them, and they intercede not save for him with whom He is well-pleased, and they tremble in awe of Him. If any of them says, 'I am a god apart from Him', such a one We recompense with Gehenna; even so We recompense the evildoers. S. 21:22-29

Surely We have given thee a manifest victory, that God may forgive thee thy former and thy latter sins, and complete His blessing upon thee, and guide thee on a straight path, S. 48:1-2

Indeed, We sent Our Messengers with the clear signs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that men might uphold justice. And We sent down iron, wherein is great might, and many uses for men, and so that God might know who helps Him, and His Messengers, in the Unseen. Surely God is All-strong, All-mighty. S. 57:25

It is He who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that he may uplift it above every religion, though the unbelievers be averse. O believers, shall I direct you to a commerce that shall deliver you from a painful chastisement? You shall believe in God and His Messenger, and struggle in the way of God with your possessions and your selves. That is better for you, did you but know. S. 61:9-11

Amazingly, in certain instances the speaker refers to someone other than himself as God or Lord:

Surely We shall inherit the earth and all that are upon it, and unto Us they shall be returned. And mention in the Book Abraham; surely he was a true man, a Prophet. And mention in the Book Abraham; surely he was a true man, a Prophet… So, when he went apart from them and that they were serving, apart from God, We gave him Isaac and Jacob, and each We made a Prophet; and We gave them of Our mercy, and We appointed unto them a tongue of truthfulness, sublime. And mention in the Book Moses; he was devoted, and he was a Messenger, a Prophet. We called to him from the right side Of the Mount, and We brought him near in communion. And We gave him his brother Aaron, of Our mercy, a Prophet… And mention in the Book Idris; he was a true man, a Prophet. We raised him up to a high place. These are they whom God has blessed among the Prophets of the seed of Adam, and of those We bore with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and of those We guided and chose. When the signs of the All-merciful were recited to them, they fell down prostrate, weeping. Then there succeeded after them a succession who wasted the prayer, and followed lusts; so they shall encounter error save him who repents, and believes, and does a righteous deed; those -- they shall enter Paradise, and they shall not be wronged anything; Gardens of Eden that the All-merciful promised His servants in the Unseen; His promise is ever performed. There they shall hear no idle talk, but only 'Peace.' There they shall have their provision at dawn and evening. That is Paradise which We shall give as an inheritance to those of Our servants who are godfearing. We come not down, save at the commandment of thy Lord. To Him belongs all that is before US, and all that is behind US, and all between that. Not one of you there is, but he shall go down to it; that for thy Lord is a thing decreed, determined. Then We shall deliver those that were godfearing; and the evildoers We shall leave there, hobbling on their knees. When Our signs are recited to them as clear signs, the unbelievers say to the believers, 'Which of the two parties is better in station, fairer in assembly?' And how many a generation We destroyed before them, who were fairer in furnishing and outward show! S. 19:40-42, 50-53, 56-74

The reader should be able to spot the problem with the above passage. Allah is supposed to be the one speaking throughout the Quran and, as we already noted, often uses plural pronouns to communicate his message. Yet, here, the speakers that are using plural pronouns not only state that they commission the prophets, grant believers Paradise, and punish evildoers, they also clearly say that they only come down by the command of Muhammad’s Lord! In other words, these entities speak as if they are God since they use language that only God can use, while referring to some other entity as the Lord who sends them. Talk about confusion!

This isn’t the only place that this phenomenon occurs:

But as for you, and that you serve, you shall not tempt any against Him except him who shall roast in Hell. None of US is there, but has a known station; WE are the rangers, WE are they that give glory. S. 37:161-166

If the Muslims are correct that the Quran is the eternal speech of Allah then this means that Allah is speaking here in the first person plural and claiming that he knows his position, sets the ranks, and hymns the praises of God! In others, Allah is the "We" and the "Us" here who is praising and worshiping himself or some others as God!

Not only that, but Allah actually swears and judges by the Lord!

What, shall I seek after any judge but God? For it is He who sent down to you the Book well-distinguished; and those whom We have given the Book know it is sent down from thy Lord with the truth; so be not thou of the doubters. S. 6:114

What, is every man of them eager to be admitted to a Garden of Bliss? Not so; for We have created them of what they know. No! I swear by the Lord of the Easts and Wests, surely We are able to substitute a better than they; We shall not be outstripped. S. 70:38-41

Notice just how confusing this is. Allah swears by the Lord of the easts and wests, says that he will seek no other judge besides God and that he gave the book that Muhammad’s Lord sent down!

Allah is even said to be a warner sent from God!

So were the People of Noah before them for they wickedly transgressed. With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of pace. And We have spread out the (spacious) earth: How excellently We do spread out! And of every thing We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction. Hasten ye then (at once) to God: I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open! And make not another an object of worship with God: I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open! S. 51:46-51 Y. Ali

This next one is perhaps the most perplexing of them all:

And (as for) those who take guardians besides Him, Allah watches over them, and you have not charge over them. And thus have We revealed to you an Arabic Quran, that you may warn the mother city and those around it, and that you may give warning of the day of gathering together wherein is no doubt; a party shall be in the garden and (another) party in the burning fire. And if Allah had pleased He would surely have made them a single community, but He makes whom He pleases enter into His mercy, and the unjust it is that shall have no guardian or helper. Or have they taken guardians besides Him? But Allah is the Guardian, and He gives life to the dead, and He has power over all things. And in whatever thing you disagree, the judgment thereof is (in) Allah's (hand); that is Allah, MY Lord, on Him do I rely and to Him do I turn time after time. S. 42:6-10 Shakir

The one (We) who revealed the Quran to Muhammad (you) is speaking here, which means that this is Allah who is addressing Muhammad. But, then, the one who revealed the Quran not only refers to Allah in the third person (Allah, Him) but also says that Allah is his Lord whom he relies on and constantly turns to! In other words, Allah is saying that Allah is his Lord and that he depends on Allah! Talk about confusion.

The shift or ambiguous use of pronouns and verbs also has a direct impact on the nature and status of Muhammad, as the following references demonstrate:

Say: 'If the sea were ink for the Words of MY Lord, the sea would be spent before the Words of MY Lord are spent, though We brought replenishment the like of it.' S. 18:109

Muhammad, who is being commanded to speak here, addresses Allah as "my Lord" which means that the first person plural pronoun refers to him, the speaker. After all there is no indication that someone other than the person commanded to speak is interjecting his words here. Thus it is Muhammad who is saying that he will replenish the sea, which means that he is claiming to be God!

If this weren’t bad enough this next text commands people to worship Muhammad!

Surely We have sent thee as a witness, good tidings to bear, and warning, that you may believe in God and His Messenger and succour Him/him, and reverence Him/him, and that you may give Him/him glory at the dawn and in the evening. S. 48:8-9

If the readers look closely they will see that the nearest referent, the closest antecedent of the pronouns, is not Allah but Muhammad! Sunni writer G.F. Haddad acknowledges that the pronouns do refer to Muhammad and that some, if not many, Muslims had no hesitation admitting this:

That ye (mankind) may believe in Allah and His messenger, and may honor h/Him, and may revere h/Him, and may glorify h/Him at early dawn and at the close of day" (48:9). Al-Nawawi said that the scholars of Qur'anic commentary have given this verse two lines of explanation, one group giving the three personal pronouns "HIM" a single referent, namely, either Allah ("Him") OR THE PROPHET ("him"); the other group distinguishing between two referents, namely, the Prophet (SAWS) for the first two ("honor and revere him"), and Allah for the last ("glorify Him"). Those of the first group that said the pronouns ALL REFER TO THE PROPHET (SAWS) explained "glorify him" (tusabbihuhu) here to mean: "declare him devoid of inappropriate attributes and pray for him." (The Prophetic Title "Best of Creation"; source; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The late Christian writer ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi had the following to say about the structure of this verse:

This sentence is disrupted because of a sudden shift from addressing Muhammad to addressing other people. Apart from this, the accusative pronoun in ‘succour Him, and reverence Him’ refers, beyond doubt, to Muhammad, who was mentioned earlier, not to God as the English translator understood it. But ‘give Him glory’ refers to God. The entire verse is chaotic. The reader cannot be expected to understand its true meaning from the arrangement of words. It is kufr (‘unbelief’) to say ‘succour Him, and reverence Him, and that you may give Him glory at the dawn and in the evening’ about Muhammad, since glory should be given to God alone. It is also kufr to make such a statement with reference to God, since God almighty is not in need for succour or help! (Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life, PO Box 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria], pp. 182-183)

Hence, due to the sentence structure of Q. 48:9, Muslims are commanded to revere, praise, and glorify Muhammad!

Concluding Remarks

With the foregoing grammatical ambiguities in the background there are certain issues and questions we would like to raise at this point. If the Quran was truly a literary masterpiece in every way, as Muslims claim, should it not have expressed itself in a much more coherent manner than what we saw above? Instead of constantly shifting nouns and pronouns in midstream, thereby adding to the reader’s confusion, wouldn’t it have been better to simply stick with one mode of speech?

Furthermore, the Muslims boast that the Quran promotes a rather strict monotheism, and yet the verses we quoted provide very little support for this claim since they give the rather strong impression that there is more than one divine entity that is responsible for the composition of the Quran. At the very least, these references indicate that Allah, if he is indeed one, does not exist in singularity but rather as a composite unity, a multiplicity of divine persons coexisting as one.

If this wasn’t bad enough, in at least two passages Muhammad is accorded divine status and prerogatives(1), a clear act of shirk or of associating creatures with Allah which is an unpardonable sin:

God forgives not that aught should be with Him associated; less than that He forgives to whomsoever He will. Whoso associates with God anything, has indeed forged a mighty sin. S. 4:48

God forgives not that aught should be with Him associated; less than that He forgives to whomsoever He will. Whoso associates with God anything, has gone astray into far error. S. 4:116

Since Muslims deny that this is what the Quran intended to say they must therefore contend with the fact that that their scripture is far from being the standard of Arabic eloquence. The Quran fails to effectively communicate its intended meaning in a clear enough manner.

The Muslims may argue that Allah wasn’t the one speaking in some of the above passages, but rather it was either the angels or Muhammad who were communicating on behalf of God. But this argument only reinforces the point being made here, namely, that the Quran is not as eloquent as it could have been since some of the sentences give readers a misleading impression that Allah was speaking even though it wasn’t really him.

Moreover, what would this view do to the claim that the Quran is Allah’s eternal speech which was dictated to Muhammad? Are we to assume that even the speeches of angels and Muhammad form part of this uncreated word of Allah, and if so does that mean that some aspects of their nature are uncreated also? Or should this be taken to mean that Allah had already predestined what the angels and Muhammad would say which further implies that the situations and circumstances that these words addressed were also predetermined to happen even before their creation?

Thus, a Muslim that uses this reasoning would only be admitting (albeit indirectly) that the author(s) of the Quran failed to express himself/herself/themselves in a clear enough manner so as to prevent misunderstanding. This assertion, if pressed to its logical conclusion, basically means that the author(s) intended to say something other than what ended up on the page, i.e. s/he/they meant to say one thing but when it came time to express those thoughts s/he/they communicated something entirely different.

Interestingly, there are some scholars who have concluded on the basis of such passages that not all of the Quran is from Allah. They believe that the shift in pronouns and verbs may reflect the fact that these parts actually came from Muhammad and reflect his view of things.

One such scholar was the late Iranian Ali Dashti who wrote in reference to sura al-Fatihah that:

These words cannot be God’s words. From their content it is clear that they are the Prophet Mohammad’s words, because they consist of praise to God, homage to God, and supplication for God’s help. God himself would not say "praise to God, the Lord of the Worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Master of the Judgement Day." This difficulty would not have arisen if the Surat ol-Fateha had been introduced with the word "say" (Arabic qol) in the same way as many suras and verses, for example sura 112, verse 1, "Say ‘He is God alone’"; sura 109, verse 1, "Say ‘O unbelievers’"; sura 18, verse 110, "Say ‘I am only a human like you’". It is logically untenable, however, that God should say "Guide us to the straight path, the path of those on whom You have bestowed bounty, not of those with whom You are angry and who have gone astray."

Since Surat ol-Fateha cannot consist of God’s words when its whole content is praise and supplication to God, it must be deemed to consist of the Prophet Mohammad’s words and to be a prayer which he composed. For this reason ‘Abdollah b. Mas‘ud, who was one of the scribes who wrote down the revelations and the Qor’an by heart and later became a respected transmitter of Hadiths, considered that the Surat ol-Fateha and also suras 113 (ol-Falaq) and 114 (on-Nas), both of which contain the words "I take refuge with the Lord", are not part of the Qor’an… In some Qor’anic verses the verb is in the first person, and in others it is in the third person. Evidently God speaks first, and the Prophet Mohammad then speaks on God’s behalf. In sura 53 (on-Najm), the first speaker is God, who confirms Mohammad’s prophethood with the words "Your comrade is not lost, not astray, and he does not speak at will. It is nothing but revelation being revealed." In verses 21-28, however, the speaker is evidently Mohammad… (Dashti, Twenty-Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad, translated from Persian by F.R.C. Bagley [Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, CA 1994], pp. 148-149)


The Qor’an contains many instances of confusion between the two speakers, God and Mohammad, in the same verse… Among these many passages are some, like the above, which can be easily explained, but also others which present great difficulty… The presence of confusions between God and the Prophet in the Qor’an cannot objectively be disputed. Sometimes God speaks, giving to the Prophet the command "say" (i.e. to the people). Sometimes the sentence structure proves that it is the Prophet who speaks, expressing devotion to God. The impression conveyed by the Qor’an is that a hidden voice in Mohammad’s soul or subconscious mind was continually impelling him to guide the people, restraining him from lapses, and providing him with solutions to problems. (pp. 150-151)

Confusion between God’s and Mohammad’s words is again apparent in two verses of sura 10 (Yunos). "And if your Lord so wished, all the dwellers on the earth would believe together. Are you going to compel the people to be believers?" (verse 99). "It is only (possible) for a soul to believe with God’s permission. And He inflicts vileness on those who are intelligent" (verse 100). In verse 99 the words are from God and addressed to the Prophet, but in verse 100 the words appear to be Mohammad’s, a sort of self-consolation followed by an explanation of the obduracy of the polytheists who would not heed his teaching. (152)

It didn’t dawn on Dashti that the change in verbs and pronouns may not have signified that Muhammad was speaking, but that other divine beings were responsible for the composition of the Quran, which refutes the Muslim position that the Quran is strictly monotheistic. (Note: We want to make it clear that we do not believe that the Quran is a revelation from the true God, but are simply adopting this position for argument’s sake in order to highlight the problems and dilemma that the Muslims are faced with due to the constant shifting in pronouns, verbs etc.)(2)

Whatever the case maybe, this point is clear: The Quran is not an Arabic masterpiece nor is it the epitome of eloquence. There are many places in the Quran where the author(s) could have expressed himself/herself/themselves in a better, more coherent manner.

Unless stated otherwise, all the Quranic verses were taken from the Arthur J. Arberry version.

Further Reading


(1) Muhammad isn’t the only prophet accorded divine status, it seems, since we find two others referred to as God or as one of his angels. For example, notice how this particular Sura conflates the words of the angels with that of Jesus:

When the angels said: O Mary, surely Allah gives you good news with a Word from Him (of one) whose name is the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, worthy of regard in this world and the hereafter and of those who are made near (to Allah). And he shall speak to the people when in the cradle and when of old age, and (he shall be) one of the good ones. She said: My Lord! when shall there be a son (born) to I me, and man has not touched me? He said: Even so, Allah creates what He pleases; when He has decreed a matter, He only says to it, Be, and it is. And He will teach him the Book and the wisdom and the Taurat and the Injeel. And an apostle to the children of Israel, that I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah's permission and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah's permission and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses; most surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers. And a verifier of that which is before me of the Taurat and that I may allow you part of that which has been forbidden to you, and I have come to you with a sign from your Lord therefore be careful of (your duty to) Allah and obey me. S. 3:45-50

There is no indication anywhere that the speakers have changed, nothing to suggest that the speech of the angels have ended and that Jesus has begun speaking. The text jumps from the angels announcing Jesus’ birth right into Jesus’ adult ministry! This gives the impression that Jesus was that very angel or Lord who spoke to Mary, which implies that either Allah chose Mary to conceive the human nature of one of his angels, or that he himself is the Lord who became the Messiah! Thus, we either have God or one of his angels becoming the man Christ Jesus!

If this weren’t confusing enough, this next Sura has an otherwise unknown wise man named Luqman speaking as if he is Allah:

And certainly We gave wisdom to Luqman, saying: Be grateful to Allah. And whoever is grateful, he is only grateful for his own soul; and whoever is ungrateful, then surely Allah is Self-sufficient, Praised. And when Luqman said to his son while he admonished him: O my son! do not associate aught with Allah; most surely polytheism is a grievous iniquity. And we have enjoined man in respect of his parents – his mother bears him with faintings upon faintings and his weaning takes two years – saying: Be grateful to me and to both your parents; to me is the eventual coming. And if they contend with you that you should associate with me what you have no knowledge of, do not obey them, and keep company with them in this world kindly, and follow the way of him who turns to me, then to me is your return, then will I inform you of what you did. O my son! surely if it is the very weight of the grain of a mustard-seed, even though it is in (the heart of) rock, or (high above) in the heaven or (deep down) in the earth, Allah will bring it (to light); surely Allah is Knower of subtleties, Aware; O my son! keep up prayer and enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and bear patiently that which befalls you; surely these acts require courage; And do not turn your face away from people in contempt, nor go about in the land exulting overmuch; surely Allah does not love any self-conceited boaster; And pursue the right course in your going about and lower your voice; surely the most hateful of voices is braying of the asses. S. 31:12-19

Luqman’s words have been mixed in with the words of Allah, giving the impression that it is actually Luqman who is God! And this is the very book which Muslims want to pass off to non-believers as being the very standard of excellence in Arabic literature and eloquence!

(2) Dashti also wrote that:

To sum up, more than one hundred Qor'anic aberrations from the normal rules and structure of Arabic have been noted. Needless to say, the commentators strove to find explanations and justifications for these irregularities.

Among them was the great commentator and philologist Mahmud oz-Zamakhshari (467/1075-538/1144), of whom a Moorish author wrote: "This grammar-obsessed pedant has committed a shocking error. Our task is not to make the readings conform to Arabic grammar, but to take the whole of the Qor'an as it is and make the Arabic grammar conform to the Qor'an."

Up to a point this argument is justifiable. A nation's great speakers and writers respect the rules of its language in so far as they avoid modes of expression which are not generally understood and popularly accepted, though they may occasionally find themselves obliged to take liberties. Among the pre-Islamic Arabs, rhetoric and poetry were well developed and grammatical conventions were already established. The Qor'an, being in the belief of Moslems superior to all previous products of the rhetorical genius, must contain the fewest irregularities.

Yet the Moorish author's censure of Zamakhshari is open to criticism on the ground that it reverses the usual argument. This is that the Qor'an is God's word because it has a sublime eloquence which no human being can match, and that the man who uttered it was therefore a prophet. The Moorish author maintained that the Qor'an is faultless because it is God's word and that the problem of the grammatical errors in it must be solved by changing the rules of Arabic grammar. In other words, while most Moslems answer deniers by citing the Qor'an's eloquence as proof of Mohammad's prophethood, the Moorish author, having taken the Qor'an's divine origin and Mohammad's prophethood for granted, held all discussion of the Qor'an's wording and contents to be inadmissible. (Pp. 50-51)

Dashti wasn't the only one to admit that the Quran has problems. Even some modern Muslim writers admit that the Quran's grammatical structure has caused many an exegete and scholar tremendous difficulties in understanding and interpreting the text. Farid Esack is such a Muslim who candidly admits that:

... This poses difficulties for those engaged in critical scholarship and these texts have been invoked in support of the notion that the Qur'an is not entirely the product if [sic] a single entity. There are also several cases where the speaker alternates between singular and plural forms adding to the notion that the Qur'an was compiled in an incoherent manner... Besides God, though, numerous ayat suggest that the Angels or the Prophet himself are the direct speakers and it is only the interpolations of translators or the comments of the exegetes that suggest otherwise. Ayat such as 19:64-65, for example, if read without interpolation of the translator, clearly suggest that the Angels are the speakers... In a few ayat, such as 27:91, the obvious speaker seem to be the Prophet and then a sudden switch occurs when he becomes the one being addressed... The fact that these ayat are often characterized by a later addition of "say" (qul) suggests that the entire section may have been [in other words, pure conjecture] preceded by the unarticulated instruction "say". Muslims have always understood it in this manner. In other words, the fact that they are the direct words of the Prophet or of the Angels does not detract from the other-worldliness of the Qur'an. They were merely repeating words that in the first instance came from God. (The Qur'an - A Short Introduction [Oneworld Publications, Oxford 2002] pp. 74-75; statements within brackets ours)

Interestingly, some Islamists like Richard Bell and W. M. Watt view the chaotic structure of the Quran as evidence that it has been altered:

There are indeed many roughnesses of this kind, and these, it is here claimed, are fundamental evidence for revision. Besides the points already noticed – hidden rhymes, and rhyme-phrases not woven into the texture of the passage – there are the following: abrupt changes of rhyme; repetition of the same rhyme word or rhyme phrase in adjoining verses; the intrusion of an extraneous subject into a passage otherwise homogeneous; a differing treatment of the same subject in neighboring verses, often with repetition of words and phrases; breaks in grammatical construction which raise difficulties in exegesis; abrupt changes in the length of verses; sudden changes of the dramatic situation, with changes of pronoun from singular to plural, from second to third person, and so on; the juxtaposition of apparently contradictory statements; the juxtaposition of passages of different date, with the intrusion of late phrases into early verses. In many cases a passage has alternative continuations which follow one another in the present text. The second of the alternatives is marked by a break in sense and by a break in grammatical construction, since the connection is not with what immediately precedes, but with what stands some distance back. (Bell & Watt, Introduction to the Quran [Edinburgh, 1977], p. 93 - as cited in Ibn Warraq's Why I am not a Muslim [Prometheus Books; Amherst NY, 1995], pp. 112-113)

Is the Qur'an miraculous?
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