The Holy Qur'an

Commentary on a verse of the Holy Quran

COMMGNTARY ON A VGRS6 OF THE HOLY QURAN “And if you are in doubt as to what We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it, and call upon your helpers beside Allah, if you are truthful.” In the present verse God says that if the Quran created doubts and disquietitude in their minds and is not worthy of acceptance, then disbelievers should produce one like it. If they cannot, then this very fact would prove them to be wrong. The subject of the incomparable excellence of the Quran has been dealt with at five different places in the Quran, i.e. in 2:24; 10:39; 11:14; 17:89; & 52:34, 35, and disbelievers have been challenged to produce its equal. In two of these five verses (2:24 & 10:39) the challenge is identical, while in the remaining three verses three separate and different demands have been made from disbelievers. Thus, to begin with the largest demand in 17:89, disbelievers are challenged to produce the like of the whole Quran, and they have been told that even if all jinn and men should join together they would not be able to produce it. In 11:14 the challenge is limited to the production of ten chapters. In 2:24 and 10:39, however, it has been confined to one Sura only; while in 52:34, 35, the condition of even one Sura has been omitted and disbelievers have been given the option of producing even a single piece like any one piece (i.e. announcement) of the Quran. On the face of it, this difference in the form of the challenge at different places seems to be incongruent and to spring from a lack of harmony in the Quran. Some Commentators have endeavoured to explain away this seeming incongruity by saying that it was due to the challenge having been made at different times. At first disbelievers were called upon to produce the like of the whole Quran. When they failed to do so, the challenge was whittled down to the production of the like of any ten chapters. When, however, they were unable to produce even ten chapters, the challenge was further reduced to the production of a single chapter; and, lastly, THE REVIEWOF RELIGIONS disbelievers were asked to produce even a single piece like any piece of the Quran. This explanation, however, does not seem to hold good. The different Suras containing these different challenges were revealed in the following order: (1) 52:34, 35;(2) 17:89;(3) 11:14; (4) 10:39; (5) 2:24 (Rodwell). Now in Sura 52, the first to be reveal- ed, the challenge is not qualified by any condition as regards size, disbelievers having been given the choice of producing even one single piece like any piece of the Quran. It is very strange that, whereas at first the challenge was unqualified and disbelievers were called upon to produce something comparable to any piece of the Quran, later it began to be hedged round by conditions and stipula- tions, first requiring disbelievers to produce the like of the whole book, then reducing the challenge to ten Suras, and last of all reducing it to a single chapter. The order is most unnatural. Moreover, some of the Suras which contain this challenge were revealed on occasions so close to one another that some Commen- tators have found it difficult definitely to fix their order of priority. Hence it is unwise to settle this question on the basis of the chrono- logical order of the Suras containing this challenge. Another point worth considering in this connection is that the verses in question do not mention any historical event but contain only a general challenge which stands for all time. Now the question is, in what form should the challenge be delivered to the world? Should disbelievers be called upon to produce the like of the whole Quran, or to produce ten Suras like any ten Suras of the Quran, or should they be called upon to bring forward the like of one Sura only or the like of any single piece of the Quran? If it is enough to make a demand for the like of a single piece of the Quran, why should a demand for the like of a Sura be made, and if it is enough to make a demand for the like of one Sura, the demand for the production of ten Suras or, for that matter, for the whole of the Quran seems extravagant. The fact is that these ven.es contain certain demands which stand for all time, and there is no need to enter into the question of their chronological order. The challenge can be made even today in all the different forms mentioned in the Quran as it was made at the time of the Holy Prophet. Before explaining the various forms of these challenges it is worth noting that mention of them in the Quran is invariably accom- panied by a reference to wealth and power, except in 2:24, which, as already stated, does not contain a new challenge but only repeats the challenge made in 10:39. From this it may be concluded that THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS there exists a close connection between the question of wealth and power and the challenge for the production of the like of the Quran or a part thereof. This connection lies in the fact that the Quran has been held out to disbelievers as a priceless treasure. When dis- believers demanded material treasures from the Holy Prophet and asked, Wherefore has not a treasure been sent down to him (11:13), they were told in reply that he possessed a matchless treasure in the Quran. The same reply was repeated when disbelievers asked, Where- fore has not an angel come with him? (11:13). They were told in reply that angels did descend upon him; for their function was to bring the word of God, and the divine word had already been vouch- safed to him. Thus both the demand for a treasure and the demand for the descent of angels have been jointly met by offering the Quran as a matchless treasure brought down by angels, and the challenge to produce the like of the Quran has been put forward as a proof of its peerless quality. Let us now take the different verses containing this challenge separately. The greatest demand is that made in 17:89, where dis- believers are required to bring a book like the whole of the Quran in all its manifold qualities. In this verse disbelievers are not required to represent their composition as the word of God. They may bring it forward as their own composition and declare it to be the equal of or, for that matter, better than the Quran. As, however, it was necessary to define in what respect the work to be produced was to resemble the Quran, the Quran says in the next verse, And of a truth We have (herein) set forth for mankind in various ways, all kinds of similitudes, but most of men would reject everything but disbelief (17:90), hinting thereby that if disbelievers reject the divine origin of the Quran and believe it to be the work of the Prophet himself, then let them produce a book which, like the Quran, should possess the following excellences: (a) it should throw light on every essential subject pertaining to religion; (£>) its discussion of these subjects should be exhaustive, offering detailed guidance on every question; (c) it .should be free from all harm and contain nothing but good; and (d) it should aim not at the good of any particular people or community but at the well-being of all mankind, contain- ing guidance for all temperaments and dispositions as well as for all circumstances and conditions. But as at the time when this challenge was made the whole of the Quran had not yet been revealed, dis- believers were not required to produce the like of the Quran there and then; and the challenge thus implied a prophecy that they would not be able to produce the like of it, neither in the form in which it then was nor when it became complete. Again, the challenge was not THE REVIEWOF RELIGIONS confined to the disbelievers of the Prophet’s time alone, but extend- ed to doubters and critics of all times. The second verse which contains a challenge is 11:14. In this verse the disbelievers’ objection that the Prophet had not come with a treasure, nor had an angel come to him, has been met by calling upon them to bring similar Suras which they should represent as the word of God. The latter demand, i.e., the pertaining to the representation of the required production as the word of God, has a reference to the objection of the disbelievers that no angel has come down to the Prophet. They are told that if no angel has really come to him and his claim to receive divine revelation through the medium of angels is false, then let them also produce the Suras, claiming, like him, that they have been brought down to them by angels, and then see what their end would be. If they had not the courage to forge a lie against God, how could they think that the Prophet could be guilty of such fabrication or, if he had dared to commit this forgery, why had he remained secure from God’s punishment? The reason why the disbelievers in this verse have been called upon to produce ten Suras and not the whole Quran is that the question here did not relate to the perfection of the Quran in all respects, but to that of only a portion of it. The disbelievers had objected to some parts of it being defective, as is evident from the words: They imagine that thou art now perhaps going to abandon part of that which has been revealed to thee ( 1 1 : 13). Hence, they have not been required here to bring a complete book like the whole Quran, but only ten Suras in place of those parts of the Quran which they deem to be defective, in order that the truth of their assertion may be tested. As for the selection of the specific number 10 for this purpose, it should be noted that in Arabic 10 represents a complete number. As the object was to refute the assertion of the disbelievers that certain portions of the Quran were defective, therefore the disbelie- vers were given the option of making as many as ten efforts to sub- stantiate their claim. They were thus asked to produce ten Suras not because they could produce less than that number but because the best way to refute their objection was to afford them several oppor- tunities to substantiate the truth of their assertion. In short, since in 17:89 the whole Quran was claimed to be a perfect Book, its opponents were called upon to produce the like of the whole Quran; but since in 11:14 the point was that certain portions of it were objected to, so they were asked to choose ten such portions as THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS appeared to them to be most defective and then produce a composi- tion even like those portions. The third verse where the Quran has been declared to be match- less is 10:39. Here disbelievers have been called upon to produce the like of only one Sura of the Quran. This is so because, unlike the above-mentioned two verses, the challenge made in this verse is in support of a claim made by the Quran itself and not in refutation of any objection on the part of disbelievers. In the verses preceding 10:39, it was claimed that God possessed full authority over all things (see 10:32-36), and as a proof of this, in 10:38 the Quran was put forward as possessing the following excellences: (a) it contains teachings which could not be devised by man; (b) it has come in fulfilment of the prophecies contained in the previous scriptures; (c) in it the imperfect teachings of the previous scriptures have been perfected; (d) the word of God embodied in it has been made secure from being interpolated or tampered with by man; and (c) its teachings are meant for all men and all time. In support of this claim, verse 10:39 throws out a challenge to those who deny or doubt it to produce a single chapter containing these excellences in the same perfect form in which they are contained in this chapter i.e. ch. 10. The verses 52:34, 35 contain the smallest of all demands. In these verses disbelievers are challenged to produce a single piece or a single announcement like any piece or announcement of the Quran. This demand also has been made in support of a claim made by the Quran itself and not in refutation of any objection on the part of disbelievers. Hence the smallness of the demand. The claim in question is made in the opening verses of chapter 52 i.e. Sura Al-Tur to the effect that the Quranic revelation which was promised to mankind through Moses on Mount Sinai, will continue to be written, read and published throughout the world and that its followers will continue to multiply and will comprise not only common men but persons of great spiritual and temporal eminence, and that the fountain of the new faith wi l l continue to provide the water of eternal life to all the countries of the world so that the fulfilment of these prophecies will constitute a proof of the fact that there is a Day of Judgement. Thereafter the Quran proceeds in 52:34, 35 to’challenge disbelievers that, if they look upon th revelation of the Quran to be a fabrication, then they should come forward and make a prophecy like the one made above. This challenge is unconditional and without qualification. Disbelievers are not required to represent what they produce as the word of God, nor is it laid down as a THE REVIEWOF RELIGIONS condition that their prophecy should be of their own devising. They may as they like either make a prophecy of their own devising or borrow it from any other scripture. Again, disbelievers are not asked to bring forward as many prophecies as there are in the Quran —and these are legion —but to bring forward only one single prophecy similar to any one of the prophecies made in the beginning of the Sura. They are told that they will not be able to fulfil this demand, for such a prophecy could be made only by the Being Who is the Creator and Owner of the heavens and the earth, along with their treasures, and Who not only knows, but possesses mastery of, the unseen. This challenge also stands for all time. The fifth challenge to produce a like of the Quran is contained in the verse under comment (2:24) and here also, as in 10:39, disbelievers have been called upon to bring a Sura like that of the Quran, not in refutation of any of their objections, but in support of a claim made by the Quran itself. In the case of the verse under comment this claim is stated in the beginning of the Sura in 2:3 which says: This is a perfect Book; there is no doubt in it; it is a guidance for the righteous. Similarly, 10:39 is also preceded with the words: there is no doubt about it (10:38). This shows that the challenge to produce a chapter like one of the Quran has special reference to the peculiarity which is described by the words, there is no doubt about it. The challenge given in the present Sura is preced- ed by the claim that the Quran is guidance for those who fear God (2:3), which means that it guides the righteous to the highest stages of spiritual progress. Hence in the above challenge it has been declared that if disbelievers are in doubt as to the divine origin of th Quran, then they should bring forward a Sura that may be com- parable to the Quran in the spiritual influence it exercises over its followers. One of the characteristics of the Quran is that, whatever chapter of it we may read, it casts a subtle and sublime spiritual influence over our minds. Thus, instead of creating doubts it dispels them and takes men to a stage where no doubt can possibly survive, which is the stage of communion with God. This stage can be attained only by the study of the Quran; no other Book can compare with it in this respect. The above explanation will show that all these challenges calling upon disbelievers to produce the like of the Quran are quite distinct and separate one from another, and all of them stand for all time, none of them superseding or cancelling any other. The misconception that these challenges are one and the same seems to THE REVIEWOF RELIGIONS have arisen from the wrong notion that in all of them it is the elegance of the Quranic style and diction this has been held out as unique and incomparable and that it is such elegance of Arabic diction that disbelievers have been called upon to produce. But this is not the case. The challenges made in the five Suras referred to above are not one or identical nor do they make the same demand; each has a distinct and separate demand of its own and it is in keeping with the nature of these demands that disbelievers have been called upon to produce the like of the whole Quran or a part of i t . The question now remains whether these demands also include a challenge to produce a work comparable to the Quran in elegance of style and diction. The answer is that they certainly do so, but only in an indirect way and not as a direct and fundamental demand, for sublime ideas can only be expressed in sublime language. As the Quran comprises sublime and lofty ideas, it was inevitable that the most beautiful diction and the chastest style should have been employed as the vehicle for the expression of those ideas; otherwise the subject matter was liable to remain obscure and doubtful and the perfect beauty of the Quran would have become marred. Thus, in whatever form and in whatever respect disbelievers have been challenged to produce a composition like the Quran, the demand for beauty of style and elegance of diction, comparable to those of the Quran also forms a part of the challenge. God has given me the good tidings that my followers will always triumph over others through their reasoning in support of the truth, and that they and their progeny will be greatly honoured in the world, so that they should see that he who comes to God never suffers loss. (The Promised Messiah)