As this question has generated a great deal of literature, I shall confine my answer to the most pertinent points.
This allegation is made by Orientalists, just as it was by their predecessors: Christian and Jewish writers who deeply resented the spread of Islam. The first people to make it were the Prophet’s own opponents, as we read in the Qur’an: Whenever Our signs are recited to them in a clear way, those who deny say concerning the truth, when it (the truth) comes to them: “This is plain magic.” Or do they say: “He has forged it.” (46:7–8). They were desperate to protect their interests against the rising tide of Islam and hoped, as do their modern counterparts, to spread doubt about the Qur’an’s Divine authorship so that Muslims would start doubting its authority as well.
The Qur’an is unique among Scriptures in two respects, which even its detractors accept. First, the Qur’an exists in Arabic, its original language and one that is still widely spoken today. Second, its text is entirely reliable. It has not been altered, edited, or tampered with since it was revealed.
In contrast, Christianity’s Gospels have not survived in their original language; the language of the earliest surviving version of these Scriptures is a dead language. In addition, and their texts have been shown to be the work of many people over generations, edited and re-edited, altered and interpolated, to promote sectarian interpretations. They have lost their authority as Scriptures, and serve primarily as a national or cultural mythology for groups whose remote ancestors created their particular versions. This is, more or less, the Western scholarly consensus on the status of these once-Divine Books.
For almost 200 years, Western scholars have subjected the Qur’an to the same rigorous scrutiny. However, they have failed to prove that it was subjected to a similar process. They discovered that Muslims, like Christians, sometimes split into disputing factions. But unlike Christians, all Muslim factions sought to justify their position by referring to the same Qur’an. Other versions of the Gospels might be discovered or uncovered. However, all Muslims know only one Qur’an, perfectly preserved in its original words since the Prophet’s death, when Revelation ended.
Muslims also have a record of the Prophet’s teaching in the Sunna, the record of how he implemented Islam in daily life. Many, but certainly not all, of the Prophet’s actions and exact words are preserved in the hadith literature. These two sources could not be more dissimilar in quality of expression or content. All Arabs who heard the Prophet speak, regardless of religious affiliation, found his words to be concise, forceful, and persuasive, but nevertheless like their own normal usage. When they heard the Qur’an, however, they were overwhelmed by feelings of rapture, ecstasy, and awe. One senses in the hadith the presence of an individual addressing other people, a man pondering weighty questions who, when he speaks, does so with an appropriate gravity and in profound awe of the Divine Will. The Qur’an, on the other hand, is perceived immediately as imperative and sublime, having a transcendent, all-compelling majesty of style and content. It defies sense and reason to suppose that Qur’an and hadith have the same origin.
The Qur’an is absolutely different from any human product in the transcendence of its perspective and viewpoint. Occasionally in a few scattered phrases or passages of other Scriptures, readers or listeners may feel that they are in the presence of the Divine Message addressed to humanity. In the Qur’an, every syllable carries this impression of sublime intensity belonging to a message from One who is All-Knowing and All-Merciful.
Furthermore, the Qur’an cannot be contemplated at a distance, or discussed and debated in the abstract. It requires us to understand, act, and amend our lifestyles. It also enables us to do so, for it can touch us in the very depths of our being. It addresses us in our full reality as spiritually and physically competent beings, as creatures of the All-Merciful. It is not addressed to just one human faculty, such as philosophical reasoning, poetic or artistic sensibility, our ability to alter and manage our environment or political and legal affairs, our need for mutual compassion and forgiveness, or our spiritual craving for knowledge and consolation. The Qur’an also is directed to everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, location, or time.
This transcendence and fullness can be felt in every matter that the Qur’an mentions specifically. For example, caring for one’s elderly parents is placed beside belief in God’s Oneness, and providing decently for a divorced wife with reminders to be conscious of the All-Knowing and All-Seeing. While the reasoning behind such placement is God’s alone, His believing servants know and can report its effect: It enables the inner self-reform that makes the steady, cheerful, and humble performance of virtuous actions possible. Thus, the one who does the deed does it gracefully, and its recipient is not oppressed or humiliated by it.
The Qur’an challenges its detractors to compose a chapter that can equal it. No one has successfully met this challenge. In fact, such an achievement is impossible, for only God can assume the Qur’an’s all-transcendent and all-compassionate perspective. Our thoughts and aspirations are affected and conditioned by surrounding circumstances. That is why, sooner or later, all human works fail or fade away into obsolescence, and why they are too general to have any real influence or too specific to do much good beyond the specific area they address. Whatever we produce is of limited value for just these reasons. As stated in the Qur’an: Say: if all of humanity and the jinn were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they backed each other with help and support (17:88).
The Qur’an is the Word of the All-Knowing and All-Seeing, who knows everything about His creation. It therefore comprehends and tests its audiences as it teaches. For believers, the consciousness of being before the Divine Message can make their skins shiver, in the words of the Qur’an, so suddenly and fully does the atmosphere around and within them change.
The Qur’an’s substance also is a compelling argument for its Divine authorship. Those who allege that someone wrote it provide no proof to support their assertion. Other Scriptures, due to human intervention, make claims that we know to be untrue. For example, they give a particular account of creation or of a natural phenomenon (e.g., the Flood), which we know from modern scientific facts, such as fossils or astronomic discoveries, to be false. People altered those Scriptures to suit their own understanding, with the result that the progress of science has rendered their understanding and their now-corrupted Scriptures largely irrelevant and obsolete. However, the Qur’an has not been subject to such mistreatment.
If someone wrote the Qur’an, how could it be literally true on matters that were completely unknown at the time of its revelation? Do not the unbelievers realize that the Heavens and the Earth were one unit of creation before we split them asunder? (21:30). Only in the last few years have we been able to contemplate this verse about the first moment of the universe in its literal meaning.
Similarly, when we now read: God raised the Heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then He established Himself on the throne [of authority]. He has subjected the sun and moon [to a law]; each runs its course for a term appointed. He regulate all affairs, explaining the signs in detail, that you may believe certainly in the meeting with your Lord (13:2), now we can understand the invisible pillars as the vast centrifugal and centripetal forces maintaining the balance amid the heavenly bodies. We also understand from this and related verses (e.g., 55:5; 21:33, 38, 39; and 36:40) that the sun and moon are stars with a fixed life-span, that their force of light has or will fade away, and that they follow an orbit that has been determined with the most minute exactness.
A literal understanding of these verses does not diminish the responsibility that comes with understanding—that you may believe certainly in the meeting with your Lord. The purpose of the verses has not changed; only our knowledge of the phenomenal world has changed. In the case of former Scriptures, scientific progress has made their inaccuracies ever more visible and their associated beliefs ever more irrelevant. Just the opposite is true with the Qur’an—scientific progress has not made even a single verse harder to believe or to understand. On the contrary, such progress had made many verses more understandable.
Yet some people still allege that the Prophet wrote the Qur’an. While asserting that they are on the side of sense and reason, they allege what is humanly impossible. How could a seventh-century man know things that only recently have been accepted as scientifically established truths? How is that humanly possible? How is it on the side of reason and sense to claim such a thing? How did the Prophet discover, with an anatomical and biological accuracy only recently confirmed, that milk is produced in mammal tissues? How did he discover how rain clouds and hailstones form, or determine a wind’s fertilizing quality, or explain how landmasses shift and continents form and reform? With what giant telescope did he learn of the universe’s ongoing physical expansion? By what equivalent of X-ray vision was he able to describe in such great detail the different stages of an embryo’s evolution within the uterus?
Another proof of the Qur’an’s Divine origin is that what it predicts eventually comes true. For example, the Companions considered the Treaty of Hudaibiyya a defeat; the Revelation stated that they would enter the Sacred Mosque in full security and that Islam would prevail over all other religions (48:27-28). It also promised that the Romans [Byzantines] would vanquish the Persians several years after their utter defeat in 615, and that the Muslims would destroy both of these current superpowers (30:2-5), at a time when there were scarcely 40 believers, all of whom were being persecuted by the Makkan chiefs.
Although the Prophet was the ideal man, he could make mistakes on matters not related to Islam or Revelation. For example:
• When he exempted certain hypocrites from jihad, he was criticized: God forgive you! Why did you let them stay behind before it became clear which of them were truthful and which were liars? (9:43).
• After the Battle of Badr, he was rebuked: You (the believers) merely seek the gains of the world whereas God desires [for you the good] of the Hereafter. God is All-Mighty, All-Wise. Had there not been a previous decree from God, a stern punishment would have afflicted you for what you have taken…(8:67–68).
• Once he said he would do something the next day and did not say “if God wills.” He was warned: Nor say of anything, I shall be sure to do so-and-so tomorrow, without adding “if God wills.” Call your Lord to mind when you forget, and say: “I hope that my Lord will guide me ever closer than this to the right way” (18:23–24), and You feared the people, but God has a better right that you should fear Him (33:37).
• When he swore that he would never again use honey or drink a honey-based sherbet, he was admonished: O Prophet. Why do you hold to be forbidden what God has made lawful to you? You seek to please your wives. But God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (66:1).
In other verses, when the Prophet’s higher duties and responsibilities are brought into clear focus, the limits to his authority are made known. There is a clear space between the Messenger and the Message revealed to him, as clear as between a person and his or her Creator.
Orientalists deny the Divine authorship out of fear of Islam. Many miracles are associated with the Qur’an. One of the clearest is how quickly it established a distinctive and enduring civilization by serving as its constitution and framework. It mandated the administrative, legal, and fiscal reforms necessary to sustain a vast state of different cultural communities and religions. The Qur’an inspired a genuinely scientific curiosity to study nature and travel in order to study different peoples and cultures. By urging people to lend money for commercial ventures and to abandon interest, it made sure that the community’s growing wealth would circulate. It inspired the first-ever public literacy and public hygiene programs, as both were necessary for worship. The Qur’an also commanded the organized redistribution of surplus wealth to the poor and needy, to widows and orphans, for the relief of captives and debtors, the freeing of slaves, and for the support of new Muslims.
One could expand this list considerably, for only the Qur’an has ever achieved what many people have desired. Do we not know of at least one human idea of how to establish or run an ideal society, at least one system or formula for solving equitably social, cultural, or political problems? Have any of them ever worked or lasted?
Those who deny the Qur’an’s Divine authorship also fear its power and authority, and that some day Muslims might obey its commands and restore their civilization. They would prefer that the Muslim elite, as well as other Muslims, believe that the Qur’an is a human work belonging to a certain time and place, and therefore no longer relevant. Such a belief would relegate Islam to Christianity’s current status: a tender memory of something long gone.
Such people want Muslims to believe that the Qur’an belongs to the seventh century. They admit, in order to beguile Muslims, that the Qur’an was very advanced for its time. However, now they are the ones who are advanced, who offer a lifestyle of intellectual and cultural freedom, and who are civilized, whereas the Qur’an and Islam are backward. But, scientific progress proves the Qur’an’s accuracy on questions related to the phenomenal world and helps us to better understand the Qur’an, just as improvements in our understanding of human relationships and human psychology will establish its truth in these areas.
Claiming that a person wrote the Qur’an only reflects the failure to understand that all individuals are indebted to God, Who has given us everything. We do not create ourselves, for our lives are given to us, as are our abilities to contemplate, comprehend, and feel compassion. We are given this extraordinarily subtle, varied, and renewable world to exercise these abilities. In addition, the Qur’an is a gift of mercy, for there is no way it could have had a human author.
- October 27, 2013
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