“The word koran is derived from the Syriac, keryana, meaning scripture reading or lesson. The average authorities however hold that the term is simply the verbal noun from kara’a means he read or recited. Its other forms are yakra’o (he recites), akra’o (I recite), nakra’o (we recite), etc. The verb kara’a occurs 17 times, and koran 70 times in the Koran.
The Koran is called al-Kitab (2:2) or the writing which is complete in itself; al-Furqan (25:1) or the distinguisher between right and wrong; al-Zikr al-Tazkira (15:9) or the reminder or a source of eminence and glory to man; al-Tanzil (26:192) or the revelation from High; Ahsan al-Hadith (39:23) or the best saying; al-Mau’iza (10:57) or the admonition; al-Hukm (13:37) or the judgment, al-Hikma (17:39) or the wisdom; al-Shifa (10:57) or the healing; al-Huda (72:13) or the guidance; al-Rahma (17:82) or the mercy; al-Khair (3:103) or the goodness; al-Ruh (42:52) or the spirit; al-Bayan (3:137) or the explanation; al-Ni’ma (93:11) or the blessing; al-Burhan (3:137) or the argument; al-Qayyim (18:2) or the maintainer; al-Muhaimin (5:48) or the guardian; al-Haqq (17:81) or the truth.
Besides these it is mentioned by several other names; and there is also a large number of qualifying words applied to it. For instance, it is called Karim (56:77) or honorable; Majid (85:21) or glorious; Hakim (36:2) or wise; Mubarak (21:50) or blessed; Mubin (12:1) or one making thing manifest; Aliyy (43:4) or elevated; Fasl (86:13) or decisive; Azim (39:67) or of great importance; Mukarram or honored, Marfu or exalted, Mutahhara or purified (80:13,14); Mutashabib (39:23) or comformable in its various parts, etc.
Commentators have laid down certain rules by which they say that the Meccan suras can be distinguished from the Medinan suras as under:-
1. What begins by “O ye believers” belongs to the later Medinan suras.
2. What begins with “O ye son of Adam” or “O ye people” belongs to the Meccan suras.
3. Passages in which the “by-gone generations” are referred to Meccan origin.
4. Passages which contain laws and ordinances belong to the later Medinan suras.
About 332 times in the Koran open with the word Qul (Say:), which is an instruction to the Prophet to address the words following this introduction to the people in particular situation, such as in reply to a question that has been raised, or as an assertion of a matter of belief or announcement of a legal ruling etc.
The primary source from which all principles and ordinances of Islam are derived is the Koran. It was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “And (who) believe in what has been revealed to Muhammad, and it is the very truth from their Lord” (47:2). The Koran was revealed piecemeal within a period of 22 years, 2 months and 22 days according to the needs of time. It was revealed in the month of Ramzan on a certain night which thenceforward received the name of Lailat ad-Qadr (the grand night): “The month of Ramzan is that in which the Koran was revealed” (2:185); “We revealed it on a blessed night” (44:3); “Surely We revealed it on the grand night” (97:1).
The Koran was revealed in the Arabic language: “So We have made it easy in thy tongue that they may be mindful” (44:58); “Surely We have made it an Arabic Koran that you may understand” (43:3). It is mentioned in another place (16:103) as “pure Arabic language” (lisanin arabiyyin mubinin) and (26:195) “plain Arabic language” (bi-lisanin arabiyyin mubinin). It was revealed in portions, every portion being written and committed to memory as soon as it was revealed, and the revelation of it was spread over twenty-three years of the Prophet’s life, during which time he was occupied solely with the reformation of a benighted world: “And it is a Koran which We have made distinct so that thou mayest read it to the people by slow degrees, and We have revealed it revealing in portion” (17:106). It was not the Prophet who spoke under the influence of the holy spirit; it was a divine message brought by the holy spirit or Jibrail, and delivered in words to the Prophet who delivered it to mankind: “And surely this is a revelation from the Lord of the worlds, the faithful spirit has come down with it upon they heart, that thou mayest be of the warners, in plain Arabic language” (26:192-195); “Whoever is the enemy of Jibrail, surely he revealed it to thy heart by God’s command” (2:97); “The holy spirit has brought it down from thy Lord with the truth” (16:102).
The Koranic language in its vocabulary, idiom, style and syntax is the language of the Prophet’s milieu, familiar to the pre-Islamic Arabs and understood by them. It also reflects their intellectual, religious, social and material achievements. Although the Koran was addressed to all the Arabs, since its primary discourse was aimed at the Qoraish of Mecca, it reflects the Qoraishi dialect. That dialect had absorbed non-Arabic as well as Arabic words from other dialects. The earliest exegetes recognized freely a large number of non-Arabic words in the Koran. Suyuti (d. 911/1505) gave special attention to these foreign vocabularies, and classified about 118 terms as words belonged to Ethiopic, Persian, Greek, Indian, Syriac, Hebrew, Nabataen, Copic, Turkish, Negro and Berber. The most striking words, for instance are as under:-
al-Qistas (17:35) derived from Greek language
al-Sijil (15:74) derived from Persian language
al-Ghassaq (78:25) derived from Turkish language
al-Tur (2:63) derived from Syriac language
al-Kifl (57:28) derived from Abyssinian language
There are two distant type of the foreign elements in the Koranic vocabulary: 1) words that are purely non-Arabic and cannot possibly be traced to Arabic roots, e.g. istabrak (silk brocade), zanjabil (ginger), firdaus (paradise); and 2) Semitic words that, although their trilateral root is found in Arabic, occur in the Koran in a sense used in another language but not in Arabic, e.g. fatir (creator), sawami (cloisters), darasa (to study), etc. The European scholar, A. Jeffery has however discussed about 275 words that have been regarded foreign words.
Quantitatively speaking, beliefs occupy by far the larger part of the Koran. Moral comes next, followed by rituals, and lastly the legal provisions. Thus, only 100 verses deal with ritual practices. Personal affairs take up 70 verses, civil laws 70, penal laws 30, judicial matters and testimony 20 verses.
The Prophet said, “The Koran has an outer meaning, an inner meaning, a prescriptive meaning, and a spiritual meaning” (al-Safi fi Tafsir, p. 30). According to Mirat al-Anwar (Tehran, 1954, p. 4), “The Koran has esoteric dimensions, the verses are susceptible of tawil, and that meaning of the Koran is not restricted to only one era, but continues at all times for all people.” Imam Jafar Sadik also said, “God did not make the Koran for one time to the exclusion of others, or for one people to the exclusion of others. Thus it is new for each time, and fresh for each succeeding generation till the day of judgment” (Kitab al-Burhan, Tehran, 1956, 1:21).
During the second year after the Prophet’s death (12/633) and following the battle of Yamama, in which a number of those who knew the Koran by heart died, it was feared that, with the gradual passing away of such men, there was a danger of some Koranic material being lost. Therefore the first caliph, Abu Bakr ordered that the Koran should be collected in one written copy, which was kept with him. The copy remained locked away until the time of Uthman, the third caliph, when a problem arose. The urgency is summarized in the appeal of Hudhayfa bin al-Yamen, who demanded of caliph Uthman, on returning from battles in Azerbaijan (25/645), “Quick! Help the Muslims before they differ about the text of the Koran as the Christians and Jews differed about their scriptures.” Hudhayfa had become perturbed when he saw Muslim soldiers from different parts of Syria and Iraq meeting together and differing in their readings of the Koran, each considering his reading to be the correct one. The only full official written copy had been kept first with caliph Abu Bakr, then with caliph Umar, and after his death with his daughter Hafsa. Responding to the urgent demand for help, caliph Uthman sent word to Hafsa, asking for the copy in her possession to be sent to him. He ordered that a number of copies be made and distributed to different parts of the Muslim world as the official copy of the Koran. This prevented the possibility of different versions evolving in time, as Hudhayfa had originally feared. The Uthmanic codex has remained as the only canonical text of the Koran that exists, recognized by Sunnis and Shi’ites alike throughout the Muslim world for the last fourteen centuries.
The word i’jaz is an infinitive or a verbal noun, derived from a’jaza, means to be incapable, to make powerless, to be impossible or to be inimitable. It occurs with its derivatives 26 times in the Koran. In technical term, i’jaz denotes the inimitable and unique nature of the Koran, which leaves its opponents powerless or incapable of meeting the challenge, which the revelation poses to them. The Koran says, “And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to our servant, then produce a chapter like it, and call on your helpers besides God if you are truthful. But if you do it not and you can never do it then be on your guard against the fire whose fuel is men and stone, it is prepared for the disbelievers”(2:23). The challenge is further extended to include the jinn along with the human beings: “Say, if men and jinn should combine together to bring the like of this Koran, they could not bring the like of it, though some of them were aiders of others” (17:88). The Koran strongly refutes that its message is a forgery in 11:13 as well as in 10:38: “…Or do they say, “He (the Prophet) forged it?” Say: “Bring then a chapter like unto it and call (to your aid) anyone you besides God, if it be you speak the truth.”
The Koran is the comprehensive miracle of the Prophet for all time to come. Suyuti quotes the Prophet as saying, “Every Prophet was given miracles, because of which people believed, but what I have been given is Divine inspiration, which God has revealed to me, so I hope that my followers will outnumber the followers of other Prophets.” The miracle of the Koran is an intellectual miracle of a very particular kind, and therefore, it is not only considered as a miracle in the lifetime of the Prophet, but also after his death upto the day of resurrection; since the Koran will for all time be preserved against all attempts to destroy it and from every kind of corruption: “Surely, We revealed the Reminder (Koran) and surely We are its Guardian” (15:9). The miraculous style of the Koran is such that it speaks to human beings in the language of life, vividly and melodiously. Its sparkling cadence invigorates the mind and its impassioned notes stir the soul as if a storm is waging in the heart. Paul Casanova writes in L’Enseignement de L’Arabe that, “Whenever Muhammad was asked a miracle as a proof of the authenticity of his mission, he quoted the composition of the Koran and its incomparable excellence as proof of its Divine origin. And in fact, even for those who are non-Muslims, nothing is more marvelous than its language, which with such a prehensile plenitude and a grasping sonority with its simple audition ravished with admiration those primitive peoples so fond of eloquence.” Najmuddin Daya Razi writes in The Path of God’s Bondsman (tr. Hamid Algar, 1980, p. 160) that, “The miracle of each prophet is confined to his own age, but the special property of the religion of Muhammad is that one of his miracles, namely the Koran, has survived him and will remain until the end of the world.”