Q. The classical scholars, theologians, and today's 'ulama' and jurisconsults are unanimous in their conclusion that the sacred "Qur'an is a Miracle." I regard the Qur'an as coming from a divine source, that is Allah, the same as the universe around us, such as the wind, clouds, oceans, mountains, etc. Hence, I view the Qur'anic text as sacred. But I do not see it as being particularly "miraculous" because Allah has promised to send divine scriptures for our guidance, when needed, as He has done in the past.

I treat anything from Allah as being sacred. But if we say that the Qur'an is a miracle, then it stands to reason that the other sacred texts, now distorted and defunct, were also "miracles" -- having been brought forth from the same source, i.e., Allah.

What I have found to be "miraculous" (if I can describe it as such), however, was that the Companions were able to collect and piece together a complete mushaf (from scattered and divergent sources), a few years after the Prophet's death, from the primitive Arabic script of 632 C.E., when compared with the one we have today. What are your thoughts on this matter?

A. Regarding the miracle of the Qur'an, the wording actually is a mistranslation. This stems from the fact that the root is the same word used for miracle. A (with an ain) JiZa -- to be impossible or such -- from which we have the word Mu'jiza -- that which is impossible, is beyond human capability or natural occurrence. But the scholars do not use the term Mu'jiza, rather I'jaaz -- inimitability. (See Fazlur Rahman's Islam, p.37-41). I believe Fazlur Rahman's translation of inimitability for I'jaaz is the soundest. This is from verse Q2:23 and it's where Allah dares the unbelievers to come forth with a sura the like thereof. He has "ajjazahum" -- rendered them incapable, or shown their inability by daring them to do the impossible. So the Qur'an cannot be imitated and this is its miracle, as shown by the fact that the early scholars showed the verses of Aswad al Ansi and Tulaiha etc. to be poor comparisons. These false prophets sought to bring verses to show they were like the Qur'an.

On the aspect of the Qur'an being a miracle, one could argue that it is a necessary deduction from the above, but there is a difference; namely that one cannot prove the Qur'an is a miracle, and it is rather a belief held by faith rather than by investigation, a fact that it would seem the early Muslims realized. Hence the i'jaaz claim -- easily provable because the challenge is there from now until the hour -- to produce a sura like it. The statements about it having the earth as being round, etc., and containing scientific truths that Muhammad's contemporaries could not have known are, while admirable, open to debate, since we are unaware of what they did or did not know scientifically during that period. One may make an argument that the Qur'an has not been proven wrong on any issue, but an unbeliever would challenge this. Mohamed Arkoun tells us that as our vocabulary increases, and our knowledge increases, so too do our interpretations. Is that a miracle? One could make that claim, but I would, as Devil's advocate, say that this is not a miracle qua miracle, but rather a simple truism with any revealed book, your contention about all other scriptures seeming to me to be quite logical.

So having said all this, it comes back to the word being not mu'jiza, but i'jaaz, not miracle, but inimitable. Note that I did not comment on some of the other issues you mentioned, because these are all based on faith constructs, not unbiased analysis. A truth is only, for debate purposes, a truth when it is equally obvious and indubitable to all. As far as the collection of the Qur'an goes, you may be familiar with the debate on the issue, including the arrangement of its verses, etc. Allah has promised us to protect the Qur'an, as He has not done with any other scripture, since obviously they were to be supplanted for the most part by the Qur'an. Yet this simply makes the Qur'an unique, and not a miracle, for an action of Allah in this context is to be seen as naturally protecting that which is His, and not miraculous. This is why theologians insist on a thorough knowledge of Arabic, since you can perceive the semantic acrobatics that I am attempting while trying to make myself understood. May Allah grant us the vision that is reserved for those who truly seek and gain His divine bounty and guidance.

Posted February 10, 2000