Qur’an: Importance, God, Suras and Muhammad's Revelations

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The Qur’an (also spelled Quran or Koran) is Islam’s holiest book and in simplistic terms is the Islamic equivalent of the Bible. “Qur’an” is generally translated to mean "recitation." Muslims believe it be the word of God revealed to Muhammad through the archangel Gabriel (known to Muslims as Jabraʾil) in bits and pieces over a 23 year period with the first revelations occurring on what is now Ramadan.

The Qu'ran is considered by Muslims to be the exact word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad in Arabic by the Archangel Gabriel beginning in A.D 610 while he was meditating in a cave in Hira near Mecca. Faraz Rabbani wrote for the BBC: “The Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet gradually...The essence of its message is to establish the oneness of God and the spiritual and moral need of man for God. This need is fulfilled through worship and submission, and has ultimate consequences in the Hereafter. The Qur'an is the word of God. Because of its inimitable style and eloquence, and, above all, the guidance and legal provisions it came with, it ensures the worldly and next-worldly welfare of humanity. [Source: Faraz Rabbani, BBC, September 3, 2009|]

The Qur’an is composed in rhymed prose and consists of 114 chapters, called suras, and totals just over 6,200 ayat, or verses. The first sura is a short "opening" chapter. The remaining 113 segments are arranged roughly in order of decreasing length. The short suras at the end of the book are early revelations, each consisting of material revealed on the same occasion. The longer suras toward the beginning of the book are compilations of verses revealed at different times in Muhammad's life. While Western translations of the Qurʾan number the suras, Muslims refer to them by name, such as "The Adoration."[Source: Library of Congress]

Websites and Resources: Islam IslamOnline islamonline.net ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding ispu.org; Islam.com islam.com ; Islamic City islamicity.com ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts web.archive.org ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam britannica.com ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary pbs.org frontline

Qur’an (Quran, Koran) and Hadith: Quran translation in English alahazrat.net ; Quran in Easy English, Urdu, Arabic and 70 other languages qurango.com ; Quran.com quran.com ; Al-Quran.info al-quran.info; Quranic Arabic Corpus, shows syntax and morphology for each word corpus.quran.com ; Word for Word English Translation – emuslim.com emuslim.com/Quran ; Digitised Qurans in the Cambridge University Digital Library cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk ; Sunnah.com sunnah.com ; Hadith – search by keyword and by narrator ahadith.co.uk

Importance of the Qur’an

The Qur'an is Islam's holiest book. It is considered by Muslims to be the written record of the word of God. Qur'anic revelations are regarded by Muslims as the sacred word of God, intended to correct any errors in previous holy books such as the Old and New Testaments. According to the BBC: "The Qur'an is treated with immense respect by Muslims because it is the sacred word of God. While the Qur'an is recited aloud, Muslims should behave with reverence and refrain from speaking, eating or drinking, or making distracting noise.

The Qurʾan contains the core beliefs of Islam. The most prominent is belief in a single supreme God, Allah, who created the heaven and the earth in six periods: "The Adoration" (sura 32) states in part: "Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six periods, and He mounted the throne (of authority)." Further, the Qurʾan requires Muslims to believe in the revealed books of Allah; in Allah's many prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ. [Source: Encyclopedia.com]

page from a 8th or 9th century Qur'an, Sura 39

John L. Esposito wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: For Muslims, Muhammad, who was illiterate, was neither the author nor the editor of the Koran. Rather, he functioned as God's intermediary, reciting the revelations he received. The Koran, therefore, is the eternal, literal word of God, preserved in the Arabic language and in the order in which it was revealed. The recitation of the Koran is central to a Muslim's life, and many Muslims memorize the Koran in its entirety. Recitation reinforces what Muslims see as the miracle of hearing the actual word of God expressed by the human voice. There are many examples throughout history of those who were drawn to, and converted to, Islam upon hearing the Koran recited. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s, Encyclopedia.com]

"The Muslim counterpart of Jesus," wrote historian Daniel Boorstin, "is not Muhammad. Christians believe in the Incarnation, the taking of human form by Jesus, conceived as the son of God. But Muslims believe in liberation, the embodiment of God in a Book. That book is the Qur’an. The reverence and mystery that Christians feel toward Jesus Christ is what Muslims feel toward their Book." [Source: Daniel Boorstin "The Creators", 1992]]

According to the “New Catholic Encyclopedia”: The Koran is considered to be the only scripture which was transmitted reliably and suffered no interpolation, while the Torah and the New Testament had allegedly been tampered willfully by the Jews and the Christians. As a result of these and similar considerations, Muslims are "the best community ever brought forth to mankind" (Koran 3:110), and "Islam is exalted and nothing is exalted above it" (al-Islam yaʿlu wa la yuʿla (al-Bukhari, a i , Kitab al-janaʾiz 80). The idea of Islamic exaltedness has numerous ramifications for the relationship between Islam and other faiths.[Source: J. Kritzeck, C. Wilde, “New Catholic Encyclopedia”, 1990, Encyclopedia.com]

Uncreated Qur’an

Muslims believe the Qur’an is "uncreated" and "co-existent with God" and has "existed from eternity." Shortly after Muhammad died this concept created a great debate among Islamic theologians. The arguments that arose were a bit like those that try to ascertain the beginning of universe. If the Qur’an was uncreated, it was reasoned, that meant that Allah didn't create it and therefore a being greater than God must have done it. Others declared that Allah was all powerful and if he said the Qur’an was "uncreated" then that was that. Men where tortured and bodies of the dead were exhumed and displayed if their stand on this issue contradicted the view that prevailed at the time. By contrast the Torah and the Bible are regarded not as the word of God but the words of divinely-inspired humans. Among early Christians there were bitter debates over whether Jesus was divine or human or both. [Source: Daniel Boorstin, "The Creators"]

Majd Arbil wrote in IslamiCity: “According to Muslim tradition the complete Quran was revealed over a period of 22 years in segments during the life of the Prophet. The order and sequence of the Quran was Divinely inspired and was instructed to the Prophet by God through archangel Gabriel. Whenever the Prophet recited a revelation to his companions, he would also mention in which chapter and after which verse the new revelation belonged. [Source: Majd Arbil IslamiCity Oct 26, 2007]

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Muhammad receiving revelation from the angel Gabriel
“It is recorded that the verses were written on separate pieces of different material, scrapes of leather, thin flat stones, leaflets, palm branches, shoulder blades, etc. After the demise of the prophet, Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam ordered that the Quran be copied from the various materials on to a common material which was in the shape of sheets. At the same time several companions of the Prophet had memorized the complete Quran.”

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: The Koran confirms the Torah and the Gospels as revelations from God, but Muslims believe that, after the deaths of the prophets, extraneous, nonbiblical beliefs infiltrated the Torah and the Gospels, altering the original, pure revelation. For example, the Koran declares an absolute monotheism, which means that associating anyone or anything with God is the one unforgivable sin of idolatry, or associationism. Muslims therefore do not believe in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons), and although Muslims recognize Jesus as a prophet, they do not recognize him as God's son. Thus, Muslims believe that the Koran was sent as a correction, not as a nullification, or abrogation, of the Torah and the Gospels, and they see Islam as the oldest of the monotheistic faiths, since it represents both the original and the final revelation of God. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s, Encyclopedia.com]

Muhammad and the Qur’an

The Qur’an was not written by Muhammad. It is regarded as the word of God revealed to Muhammad through exhausting religion experiences over a 20 year period from A.D. 610 to 630, with the last revelation occurring two years before Muhammad's death. The Qur’an was revealed in two stages — first in Mecca for 13 years and then in Medina, where the Prophet established Islamic rule in city filled with Jews, Christians and pagans.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art : In the year 610 A.D., the Prophet frequently visited a mountain cave called Hira', located outside of Mecca, to meditate and pray. On one such visit, Gabriel asked him to recite the first five verses of the Qur'an. He commanded: "Read in the name of your Lord who created; Created man from an embryo; Read, for your Lord is most beneficent; Who taught by the pen; Taught man what he did not know" (Sura 96). The divine revelations continued over the course of the next twenty years, first in Mecca, and then in Medina following the migration (hijra) of Muhammad and his followers in 622 A.D. (equivalent to the first year of the hijri calendar). [Source: Maryam Ekhtiar, Julia Cohen, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Paul Halsall of Fordham University wrote: “The Qur'an [or Qur’an], is a collection of the speeches made by Muhammad, remembered by his followers, and collected, written down and edited after his death. For Muslims Muhammad is in no way the author of the Qur'an, which is understood as the direct word of God given to Muhammad. The message of Muhammad, however, was not difficult to grasp - stark and absolute monotheism, the evil of sin, the revelation of God in the Qur'an and through Muhammad, and the creation of a new Muslim community. This message is repeated throughout the Qur'an. [Source: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]

Muhammad's Vision

Koran revealed to Muhammad

In A.D. 610, when he was 40, Muhammad experienced his first vision while mediating in a dark cave in Mt. Hira near Mecca for a message from the true god. He had been contemplating the injustice of idols desecrating the house of Abraham and was sleeping when a bright light appeared and a voice suddenly commanded him to read the words that appeared on a brocaded coverlet. He responded, "But I can not read." This was not surprising. In Muhammad's time written Arabic was used only as an aid for memorization.

The voice insisted that Muhammad "Recite" and grabbed Muhammad by the throat and shook and choked him. Muhammad said, “Recite what?” “Recite in the name of your Lord who has created, created man from a drop of blood. Recite, for your Lord is most generous...Who taught man what he did not know.”

Out of fear Muhammad ran from the cave. The voice belonged to the archangel Gabriel, who was the same angel who delivered the news to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Halfway down the mountain, Gabriel appeared and told Muhammad "thou art the messenger of God" and insisted it was his duty was to "arise and warn" his people that there was only one God: Allah. The event is celebrated during Ramadan.

The experience was so overwhelming it brought Muhammad to his knees. When he got home he was so shaken up he hid under a blanket and had to be comforted by his wife who told him: “Allah will not let you down, because you are kind to relatives, you speak only the truth, you help the poor, the orphaned and needy, and you are an honest man.”

Qur’an on the Qur’an

The Qur’an reads: “This is the Book. In it is guidance sure, without doubt to those who fear Allah, who believe in the unseen, are steadfast in prayer and spend out of what we have provided for them, and who believe in the revelation sent to you, and sent before your time and in their hearts have the assurance of the hereafter. They are on true guidance from the Lord, and it is these who will prosper. [Source: BBC, July 14, 2011 |::|]

The Qur’an reads: “These are verses of the Wise Book, a guide and a mercy to the doers of good, those who establish regular prayer, and give regular charity, and have in their hearts the assurance of the hereafter. |These are on true guidance from their Lord: and these are the ones who will prosper. |::|

The Qur’an reads: “The revelation of this book is from Allah, exalted in power, full of knowledge, who forgives sin, accepts repentance, is strict in punishment, and has a long reach in all things. There is no God but he: to him is the final goal. |::|


Suras (often written as surah or surrah) are chapters of the Qur’an. According to Encyclopedia.com: They are arranged roughly according to size rather than chronological order . The longest ones tend to appear early in the Qurʾan, while the shortest ones, some consisting of just a handful of lines, appear at the end. Muslims also distinguish between two groups of suras. One group is called the Meccan suras because they were written in the city of Mecca. These "Meccan revelations" were the earliest ones. Their main theme was Muhammad's opposition to idolatry and superstition (a belief or fear based on the unknown), as well as the suffering and hardships endured by past prophets.

These suras were recorded in the earliest years of Islam, before Muhammad and his followers fled Mecca for Medina. Later suras, called the "Medinan revelations," focus on how to build an Islamic society. These contain laws pertaining not only to religious doctrine (set of beliefs), philosophy (thought), and morality (good behavior) but also to inheritance, marriage and divorce, criminal punishments, statecraft, and numerous other topics. The Meccan verses are addressed, though Muhammad, to humanity in general, and are filled with ideas of freedom and equality. The Medina verses are filled with rules, coercions and threats including orders for jihad. The Qur’anic verses used to justify sharia come mostly from the Medina verses.

1: 1. In the name of ALLAH, the Gracious, the Merciful.
1: 2. All praise is due to ALLAH alone, Lord of all the worlds.
1: 3. The Gracious, the Merciful.
1: 4. Master of the Day of Judgment.
1: 5. THEE alone do we worship and THEE alone do we implore for help.
1: 6. Guide us in the straight path,
1: 7. The path of those on whom THOU hast bestowed THY favours, those who have not incurred THY displeasure and those who have not gone astray. [Source: translated by Maulvi Sher Ali, edited by Malik Ghulam Farid]

Sura 47

47: 1. In the name of ALLAH, the Gracious, the Merciful.
47: 2. Those who disbelieve and hinder men from the way of ALLAH - HE renders their works vain.
47: 3. But as for those who believe and do righteous deeds and believe in that which has been revealed to Muhammad - and it is the truth from their Lord - HE removes from them their sins and sets right their affairs.
47: 4. That is because those who disbelieve follow falsehood while those who believe follow the truth from their Lord. Thus does ALLAH set forth for men their lessons by similitudes.
47: 5. And when you meet in regular battle those who disbelieve, smite their necks; and, when you have overcome them, by causing great slaughter among them, bind fast the fetters - then afterwards either release them as a favour or by taking ransom - until the war lays down its burdens. That is the ordinance. And if ALLAH had so pleased, HE could have punished them Himself, but HE has willed that HE may try some of you by others. And those who are killed in the way of ALLAH - HE will never render their works vain. [Source: translated by Maulvi Sher Ali, edited by Malik Ghulam Farid]

47: 6. HE will guide them to success and will improve their condition.
47: 7. And will admit them into the Garden which HE has made known to them.
47: 8. O ye who believe ! if you help the cause of ALLAH, HE will help you and will make your steps firm.
47: 9. But those who disbelieve, perdition is their lot; and HE will make their works vain.
47: 10. That is because they hate what ALLAH has revealed; so HE has made their works vain.

47: 11. Have they not traveled in the earth and seen what was the end of those who were before them ? ALLAH utterly destroyed them, and for the disbelievers there will be the like thereof.
47: 12. That is because ALLAH is the Protector of those who believe, and the disbelievers have no protector.
47: 13. Verily, ALLAH will cause those who believe and do good works to enter the Gardens underneath which streams flow; While those who disbelieve enjoy themselves and eat even as the cattle eat, and the Fire will be their last resort.
47: 14. And how many a township, mightier than thy town which has driven thee out, have WE destroyed, and they had no helper.
47: 15. Then, is he who takes his stand upon a clear proof from his Lord like those to whom the evil of their deeds is made to look attractive and who follow their low desires ?

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First Surah of Qur’an (fragment)
47: 16. A description of the Garden promised to the righteous: Therein are streams of water which corrupts not; and streams of milk of which the taste changes not; and streams of wine, a delight to those who drink; and streams of clarified honey. And in it they will have all kinds of fruit, and forgiveness from their Lord. Can those who enjoy such bliss be like those who abide in the Fire and who are given boiling water to drink so that it tears their bowels ?

47: 17. And among them are some who seems to listen to thee till, when they go forth from thy presence, they say to those who have been given knowledge, 'What has he been talking about just now ?' These are they upon whose hearts ALLAH has set a seal, and who follow their own evil desires.
47: 18. But as for those who follow guidance, HE adds to their guidance, and bestows on them righteousness suited to their condition.
47: 19. The disbelievers wait not but for the Hour, that it should come upon them suddenly. The Signs thereof have already come. But of what avail will their admonition be to them when it has actually come upon them.
47: 20. Know, therefore, that there is no god other than ALLAH, and ask protection for thy human frailties, and for believing men and believing women. And ALLAH knows the place where you move about and the place where you stay.

47: 21. And those who believe say, "Why is not a Surah revealed ?' But when a decisive Surah is revealed and fighting is mentioned therein, thou seest those in whose hearts is a disease, looking towards thee like the look of one who is fainting on account of approaching death. So woe to them !
47: 22. Their attitude should have been one of obedience and of calling people to good. And when the matter was determined upon, it was good for them if they were true to ALLAH.
47: 23. Would you not then, if you are placed in authority, create disorder in the land and sever your ties of kinship ?
47: 24. It is these whom ALLAH has cursed, so that HE has made them deaf and has made their eyes blind.
47: 25. Will they not, then, ponder over the Qur'an, or, is it that there are locks on their hearts ?
47: 26. Surely, those who turn their backs after guidance has become manifest to them, Satan has seduced them and holds out false hopes to them.
47: 27. That is because they said to those who hate what ALLAH has revealed, 'We will obey you in some matters, and ALLAH knows their secrets.
47: 28. But how will they fare when the angels will cause them to die, smiting their faces and their backs ?
47: 29. That is because they followed that which displeased ALLAH, and disliked the seeking of HIS pleasure. So HE rendered their works vain.
47: 30. Do those in whose hearts is a disease suppose that ALLAH will not bring to light their malice ?

Sura 47

47: 31. And if WE pleased, WE could show them to thee so that thou shouldst know them by their marks. And thou shalt, surely, recognize them by the tone of their speech. And ALLAH knows your deeds.
47: 32. And WE will, surely, try you, until WE make manifest those among you who strive for the cause of ALLAH and those who are steadfast. And WE will make known the true facts about you.
47: 33. Those, who disbelieve and hinder men from the way of ALLAH and oppose the Messenger after guidance has become manifest to them, shall not harm ALLAH in the least; and HE will make their works fruitless.
47: 34. O ye who believe ! obey ALLAH and obey the Messenger and make not your works vain.
47: 35. Verily, those who disbelieve and hinder people from the way of ALLAH, and then die while they are disbelievers - ALLAH certainly, will not forgive them.
47: 36. So be not slack and sue not for peace, for you will, certainly, have the upper hand. And ALLAH is with you, and HE will not deprive you of the reward of your actions.
47: 37. The life of this world is but a sport and a pastime, and if you believe and be righteous, HE will give you your rewards, and will not ask of you your wealth.
47: 38. Were HE to ask it of you and press you, you would be niggardly, and HE would bring to light your malice.
47: 39. Behold ! You are those who are called upon to spend in the way of ALLAH; but of you there are some who are niggardly. And whoso is niggardly, is niggardly only against his own soul. And ALLAH is Self-Sufficient, and it is you who are needy. And if you turn your backs, HE will bring in your place another people; then they will not be like you.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Qarawiyyin library, CNN

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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