What, Indeed, Is the Quran?

Jan 9, 2018 by

Most people know that the Quran (Qur’an, Koran) is the holy book of the Muslim religion, hence of about a fifth of the world’s population. But knowing this much, we still must grasp the peculiar nature of this famous book, if, indeed, because of its origins, it can be called precisely a “book.” If we ask just when this book was written, or even, who exactly wrote it, we soon run into difficult issues.

First, we have to ask: “What do Muslims think the book is?” Then we have to ask: “What does it look like considering the empirical and historical analyses of its origins and content?” The effort to understand what the Quran is becomes doubly difficult because Muslims themselves will not allow any investigation into, or questioning of, its original sources if it contradicts what the religion insists that it is, namely, a direct revelation from Allah, the Muslim name for what it calls “God.” Any significant divergence from the classic Quranic text will be met with the accusation of blasphemy, which can result in serious legal and even penal repercussions.

“As for the way in which Islam considers itself, two consequences follow,” the French historian Rémi Brague has written:

(1) No religion preceded Islam, which is the religion of Abraham, of Noah, and even of Adam. Islam has therefore inherited nothing and owes nothing to anyone. (2) … The holy books of the other religions (the Torah, the Gospels) are not the prefigurations of the Quran, but, on the contrary, they are distorted versions of an original message that essentially coincides with it.

The only way Islamic scholars could account for the obvious antiquity of the Old Testament—whose stories are constantly rewritten into the Quran—was to claim that the Quran was already written by Allah before the writing of the Old Testament. Indeed, it was “written” in the mind of Allah before creation itself. With no evidence to support such claims, however, the Old and New Testaments in Islamic thought were presumed to have been mysteriously rewritten by Jews and Christians to exclude Muhammad’s name and teachings that were said to be in the original text from Allah.

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