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Framing the Issues

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What Comprises the Qur’an?

The Qur’an has many stories common with the Bible: Adam’s sin, Noah and the ark, Abraham binding his son for sacrifice at God’s command, and Moses struggling with the Pharaoh to free the Israelites. Like the Christian New Testament, the Qur’an affirms the miraculous birth of Jesus, his many miracles, and his status as the Messiah.

There are also differences. Many Christians, for example, read the Bible as affirming that Jesus was the Son of God or that he was divine as well as human in nature. The Qur’an emphasizes that God “neither begets nor is begotten” and criticizes the view that “God was Jesus the Messiah.” The Qur’an proclaims itself as the word of God and as the restoration and completion of the earlier divine revelations, the Torah, Psalms, and Gospel. 

The Qur’an sounds forth today from mosques, minarets, cassettes, and the Internet. It is not classified as poetry, but its features are deeply poetic in the wider sense of the term. It is not music but it is rhythmic and, in recitation, deeply melodic. It does not follow the chronological and narrative modes typical of biblical storytelling; rather, passages change suddenly from the legal to the narrative to the mystical, while themes emerge and then disappear only to emerge again later. Muslims learn the Qur’an by learning it in Arabic—even if it is not their native language—and learning a sophisticated set of rules for enunciating each sound.

The Qur’an also impelled one of world’s great calligraphic traditions. Qur’anic calligraphy became a key feature of Islamic architecture and the learning and practice of calligraphy form a contemplative practice viewed in its own right.

Joy in enunciating the sounds and forming the letters of the Qur’an, the word of God in Islam, has been at the heart of Islamic civilization. For most Muslims, the Qur’an is both theologically and practically untranslatable; it truly exists only in its original Arabic and becomes most intimately and powerfully present as it is performed and embodied orally and visually.  

Supporting Links:

“Islamic Calligraphy.” Wikipedia. Link to resourcenew window (accessed February 4, 2010).

“Qur'an Manuscript, A.H. 707/ 1307–8; Ilkhanid period (1206–1353).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Link to resourcenew window (accessed February 5, 2010).

“Recitation of Qur’an al-Karim: The Recitation of Sheikh al-Manshawi.” Link to resourcenew window (accessed February 5, 2010). (Note: click on blue hypertext of verse numbers under each chapter).

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