Only the Arabic text is the authentic Word of Allah. Translations of the meaning of the Qur’an have been made in many languages, but no translation can capture the full meaning of the Qur’an. Therefore, to properly understand the teachings of Islam, one must refer to and understand the Arabic text of the Qur’an.
Someone who is familiar with the Bible might expect the Qur’an to be similar, but will be surprised to find that it is not. It is not a narrative or a collection of rules or a hymnal or a science book, yet it contains elements of all these things and more.
The Qur’an speaks of the nature of Allah, man’s relationship with Allah, and man’s relationship with others. The Qur’an has a unique style that moves from one topic to another, interweaving various themes, moving from the specific to the general and back again. For this reason, calling the surahs “chapters” is really a misnomer, for a chapter deals with one theme. The word “surah” is unique to the Qur’an.
The Qur’an contains, among other things, glimpses of the stories of previous prophets but, with the exception of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), does not tell each story in one unbroken narrative. Rather, in various places it relates certain details and asks us to reflect on their significance.
The verses revealed in Makkah during the first 13 years of the Prophet’s mission generally deal with the articles of faith — the Oneness and Uniqueness of Allah, the Day of Judgment, the Angels, Prophets, previous Books, and Divine Decree. The verses revealed in Madinah, where the Muslims had established a nascent Islamic society, generally deal with social relationships between individuals and groups. Often just a few verses came down at a time to deal with a question or situation that had arisen in the Muslim community. Therefore, the study of the “reasons for revelation” — the background of when, where and why a particular verse was revealed — is integral to scholars’ understanding of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an remains the most widely read book in the world. All Muslims memorize some parts of it to recite in their ritual prayers daily. Many others devote a part of each day to reading the Qur’an, and even more so during the month of Ramadan. Further, there are still hundreds of thousands — both Arab and non-Arab — who memorize the entire Qur’an.
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