Quran Scholar Admits The Quran is Not Miraculously Unique

The  word “miraculous” doesn’t occur in the Quran. The whole notion of “ijaz” just came later.

Can the Quran be considered miraculously unique in terms of its literary qualities  and its  content? Is it incomparable to other texts?

It is unique  but it is not miraculously unique. Every  text is unique. It’s not just because  it’s the Quran. The collection of  poetry by Al-Mutanabbi (famous Arab Poet) is also unique. The Quran is definitely  unique in that there are no  similar texts in terms of content and  style and how it was compiled and  not necessarily the register of Arabic  but just that style. “miraculous” is a very loaded word.

What if we  change the wording from “miraculously  unique” to “superior” or “sublime”? Can the  Quran be considered superior in terms of  literary qualities and content to any  other book out there?

I wouldn’t say superior but I would say  that the Quran stylistically is composed in a very high register  of Arabic. It is used  on the same level  as Arabic poetry. Early Muslims were  not quoting the Quran to prove  scientific phenomena or mathematical  phenomena; they were only using it for  linguistic issues. So the Quran is  written in  high register. Whether it’s superior or not, it’s not  really a clear issue. It took more than 400 years for  Muslim scholars to come up with a framework of what stylistic inimitability is. It took 400  years for someone to come and frame that  in a theory of semantics and philology  etc. You read something and think “This is  miraculous or this is pure.” What’s  miraculous about it? You have to feel it, you have to know  Arabic well. I know Arabic but I  still can’t feel it, it’s very subtle, it’s not  really something you can put your finger  on.

If I were to write a competing  book today considering that the Quran  makes a challenge and it says “If all men and jinn would come together, they could not produce the like of this Quran.” (Surah 17:88) If I were to write a  competing book today,  would it be possible to say that my book is objectively  not equal to or better than the Quran?

No, because you will need 400  years for people to study your book and  then by that time, the Quran  would have 1800 years of people  studying it. It’s not going to happen. There’s a famous Arab  poet and writer who wrote a competing  book in the 10th century. His name is Abu al-Ala al-Maarri, very famous, like Shakespeare in English. He wrote a thick book  imitating the style of the Quran. It’s  published and available, it’s called Al Fusul wa al-Ghayat. It’s very eloquent, excellent masterpiece. They  asked him (they are making fun of him after he wrote it and published it) “So  what happened to your Quran? Why  didn’t it become famous?” He said “It  wasn’t polished in mosques for 400 years.” The point is: issues of  superiority is not going to be an  objective criterion where someone says “Look I produced something.” People will  always poke holes in whatever you write  and there’s no really objective criteria  to say that this verse or this  poem is better than the other poem.

I  find the challenge unreasonable or  incoherent because even  if I did intend to write something down today  that I would think is a competition to  the Quran, no matter how good it is,  people who value the Quran as the  sublime book will always be able to say “No, your book is worse than the Quran  because of this and this” and  there’s an endless supply of reasons to  come up with.

And you will need time, you will need 1000 years of scholarship on your  book to reach  this level. And there are also many problems  with that challenge “produce a book  like it or a chapter like it” but it  doesn’t specify from which perspective.

If you set a challenge  without setting the rules, there is no chance. 

The later narrative is  all about the  miraculous  inimitable nature of the text of the  Quran but this wasn’t the case  early on. In the past 150 years, this argument started  to lose favor because many Muslims can’t read the Quran in Arabic. 95% of  them, even Arabs who can read the Quran, only  understand the simple chapters. Even  educated Arabs can’t read it unless they  really have a decent education in Arabic  to read it and appreciate it. So you  started to to have this shifting  narrative towards other miraculous  issues in the Quran – mathematics, science,  astrology to  support the argument that it’s  miraculous, not just syntax. Early scholarship didn’t pay attention  to that; it was only focusing on syntax  because people had a stronger connection  with the language, with the culture, with  the text. And they were not thinking  about numbers  and  astrology, medicine, all this stuff.