Qur'an

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Qur'an

Qur'an or Koran (kōrăn´, –rän´) [Arab.,=reading, recitation], the sacred book of Islam. Revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad in separate revelations over the major portion of the Prophet's life at Mecca and at Medina, the Qur'an was intended as a recited text, and was not compiled as a single volume during the life of the Prophet. The establishment of the canonical text is attributed to the 3d caliph, Uthman, who appointed a committee (651–52) to reconcile the conflicting versions then available, under the direction of Zaid ibn Thabit, one of the Prophet's scribes. The internal organization of the Qur'an is somewhat ad hoc. Revelations consisted of verses (ayat) grouped into 114 chapters (suras). The arrangement of the suras is mechanical: the first, al-Fateha or "the Opening," is a short prayer exalting God that has become an essential part of all Islamic liturgy and prayer. The rest are graded generally by length, from longest to shortest. It is thus impossible to tell from the book the chronological order of revelations; generally, however, the shorter suras, more electric and fervent than the rest, are the earlier, while many of the longer ones (and all of those revealed at Medina) are later. The Qur'an refers to religious and historical events but seldom provides comprehensive accounts. Its focus is their significance, rather than their narration. God in the Qur'an speaks in the first person. Tafsir, Qur'anic exegesis, initially emerged as a branch of the science of Hadith, in the attempt to gather Muhammad's elucidations of obscure Qur'anic passages, then developed into a separate discipline with the introduction of etymological and literary analysis tools. Being the verbatim Word of God, the text of the Qur'an is valid for religious purposes only in its original Arabic, cannot be modified, and is not translatable, although the necessity for non-Arabic interpretations is recognized. This has made the Qur'an the most read book in its original language and preserved a classical form of Arabic as an Islamic lingua franca and medium of learning.

See A. J. Arberry's translation of the Qu'ran, The Koran Interpreted (2 vol., 1955, repr. in 1 vol., 2008); I. Toshihiko, God and Man in the Koran (1964); R. Bell, Introduction to the Koran (2d ed. 1970); K. Cragg, The Event of the Koran (1971); W. H. Wagner, Opening the Qur'an: Introducing Islam's Holy Book (2008); Z. Sardar, Reading the Qur'an (2011).

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