I have a Muslim friend who once told me that the Qur’an is perfect, immutable, beautiful and impossible to reproduce, such that most Arabic speakers/readers are unable to deny its miraculous origins.
This claim in based upon what is written in Surah 2:23 which reads, ‘And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a Surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah , if you should be truthful.’
So the claim is that the Qur’an has miraculous authorship because a human being allegedly cannot reproduce something that could be considered its equal, it is a literary miracle that must be the work of deity.
Muhammad then adds in verse 24 that ‘…if you do not – and you will never be able to – then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.’
So it is presupposed that no-one will ever be able to do this, since the next verse clearly states that we will never be able to and thus you will be welcomed by an eternal fire which you are the fuel for. It’s not totally surprising then that a Muslim would never admit that you may have produced a Surah or piece of literature that is equal to any of the Surah’s in the Qur’an. If this were demonstrated then Islam would be false and Muhammad would be a false prophet.
A miraculous Surah?
Lo! We have given thee Abundance; So pray unto thy Lord, and sacrifice. Lo! it is thy insulter (and not thou) who is without posterity. – Surah 108 Al-Kauther
It’s difficult to see exactly what could be described as miraculous about penning this short Surah. Are we to believe that this is a literary miracle, but Psalm 23 which can be appreciated in any human language is somehow deficient in comparison? After reading Surah 108, I’m a little let down, it does seem a stretch to argue that it would be impossible for a human being to recreate such ‘literary genius’. I’m sure you will agree that Psalm 23 seems vastly superior to Surah 108 by anyone’s standards.
Only miraculous in Arabic
Our Muslim friends will often at this point start arguing that the Qur’an can only be appreciated for the miracle it is in the original Arabic language and script. But I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out that Arabic like other written language will have words followed by other words in a particular order so that it makes sense to the reader. Anyone can put any word after another, there is nothing miraculous (although there is clearly an element of skill in it) about the way it’s done in Arabic compared with any other ancient Semitic language.
Clearly one does not require a miracle to put one Arabic word after another to form a short sentence? We have to ask why Allah could not reveal the Qur’an in a language in which the beauty of the original language could be preserved, and appreciated for the miracle that it allegedly is by people of all languages.
But there are other problems, most people are aware that this is an appeal to aesthetics which are experienced and perceived differently by individuals and are ultimately subjective. Although some things are generally agreed to be aesthetically pleasing, for instance Irina Shayk is regarded by both men and women to be extremely beautiful. However, if someone disagrees with that observation they are welcome to because they are matters of preference and not something that can be tested empirically.
Beauty in the eye of the beholder
I’m married and I think that my wife is beautiful, and to me she is, she is beautiful inside and out. However, it’s well known that those in a relationship rate their spouses’ appearance and personalities higher than those who are not in a relationship with them do. To some degree beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Muslim’s believe that the Qur’an is perfect and beautiful and they cannot believe that anything else can compare or compete with it. It would be sacrilege to even suggest that this could ever be the case.
Trying to argue that the Qur’an isn’t beautiful, immutable, perfect and unreproducible is like trying to persuade a husband that his wife is unattractive. It’s a tough sell and ultimately a circular argument. If you are a believing Muslim it is simply a brute fact (in Surah 2:24 it says you will never be able to produce anything like it) that no other writing can compare to the Qur’an and to admit otherwise would mean you cannot be a Muslim because all Muslim’s know the Qur’an is a miracle. For non-Muslim’s like myself it just isn’t a very persuasive argument.
I want to believe what is true so if I was persuaded that the Qur’an really was miraculous I would believe it, end of. If it’s miraculous origin was so obvious it does seem strange that the threat of being used as fuel for hell was necessary, or maybe that’s just me.