Qais Miracle of the Quran (Tahaddi and Ijaz)
I had posted an article on Tahaddi and Ijaz in SRI.  This is an update.
Comments/suggestions/corrections are welcome.

    Tahaddi (The Quranic Challenge) and Ijaz (Inimitability)

Meccan polytheists accused the Prophet of making up the Quran or that the
Quran contained old fables.  The Quran counterd by challenging the Prophet's 
detractors to produce anything like it (a verse or more one verse, the 
relevant Quranic verses are listed at the end).  The arabic word for this 
Quranic challenge is "tahaddi."

Muslim scholars are unanimous in regarding the Quran as the miracle of
Muhammed's prohethood (mujiza).  Although in earlier centuries, there were 
debates on what makes it miraculous, style or content, Muslims scholars 
generally consider it miraculous in both respects.  Most Muslims believe 
that this challenge has never been taken up successfully, either during the 
Prophet's lifetime or later on.  Mutazzalites believed that the Prophet's 
contemporaries were rendered incapable of imitating the Quran in content 
and style.  The arabic word for this incapacitation is "ijaz."  Later on 
"ijaz" became associated with unsurpassable and sublime style of the Quran 
and its inimitability.

Dashti (Page 47, [3]) attributes this to zealous faith rather than 
impartial study.

Muslim Authors on Ijaz:

Ebrahim on-Nazzam (second/eighth century) believed the Quran is not
miraculous because of its style (and that work of equal or greater
value could be produced by other God-fearing humans) but because it
correctly predicted the events which actually occured.  For this he
was condemned by Qohar al-Baghdadi (fourth/eleventh century).  Nazzam
was later defended by other Mutazzalite scholars who did not see any
contradiction between this belief and the Quran.  Other Mutazzalite
scholars, Amr al-Fuwati (d 218/833) and Abbad b Solayman (d 250/864) 
held a similar view.

During the fourth century of Islam the opinions on ijaz hardened and 
have essentially remained unchanged.
Al-Rummani (386/996, Mutazili author) in his work "al-Nukat fi ijaz 
al Quran" listed seven components of ijaz; however he wrote at length
only on rhetoric and aesthetic effectiveness (balagha).  He lists ten
elements of balagha, gives examples and affirms that the Quran is 
the highest kind of balagha.

Al-Khattabi (388/998, Sunni author) in his "Bayan al-Quran" presented a 
detailed analysis of the verses and wrote that the powerful psychological 
effect of the Quran results from the totality of its rhetoric uniqueness 
and not from imagery as al-Rummani believed.

Al-Baqillani (403/1013, Ashari theologian) in his "Ijaz al-Quran"
contrasts several orations of Muhammad, his companions and others
with the Quranic style to demonstrate unusual character of the 
Quran.  He also presents a detailed critique of Imrul-Qays's 
Muallaqa and of al-Buhturi's lamiya, both considered masterpieces
of literary achievement and points out the defects and weaknesses.
He however believes ijaz does not depend on rhetoric but is enhanced
by it.

Al-Zamakhshari (538/1144), another Mutazili theologian in his al-Kashshaf
presents a verse-by-verse commentary on the Quran, analyzes stylistic
elements that lead to the aesthetic effectiveness and demonstrates
(in his opinion) unmatched excellence of the Quran.  He tried to explain
and justify some irregularities in the Quran.  A moorish author
criticized Al-Zamakhshari for committing this shocking error.  According
to him it is not for humans to make the Quran conform to Arabic grammar 
but to to make Arabic grammar conform to the Quran.

Later medieval authors had little to add to these commentaries on ijaz.

Many Non-Muslim scholars have found numerous grounds for questioning
intelligibility and eloquence of the Quran.  Muslim scholars agree 
that the Quran needs interpretation.  Soyuti devotes one full chapter
to this subject in his Ketaab ol-etqaan (page 47, [3]). 

Dashti (page 48, [3]) writes: "The Qoran contains sentences which are
incomplete and not fully intelligible without aid of the commentaries;
foreign words, unfamiliar Arabic words, and words used with other than
the normal meaning; adjectives and verbs inflected without observance
of the cocords of gender or number; illogically and ungrammatically
applied pronouns which sometimes have no referrant; and predicates
which in rhymed passages are often remote from the subjects. ... The
problem has occupied the minds of devout Moslems."  Dashti gives some
specific examples (page 58, [3]).  He further writes that the Quranic 
style has no precendent in Arabic langauge and that the short Meccan 
surahs are charged with "expressive force" and "persuasive power." 

[as an aside -- the fact that early Muslim scholars tried to explain
these "irregularities" acknowledges their existence, at least implicitly.
If SRI is any indication, I wonder how many Muslims are aware of these.]

Attempts to take the Quranic Challenge:

Issa Boullata comments in a footnote (page 141, [1]): "There are a few
attempts recorded in the Islamic tradition.  What remains of their text,
understandably suppressed by orthodoxy, are snippets of ludicrous parodies
that have a hollow ring to them and that do no credit to their authors."

Rudi Paret (page 215, [2]) believes the challenge was a "rhetorical 
device" and should not be taken seriously.  He further says that the
effect of the belief that the Quran can not be an object of study by
literary historians are felt to this day.  The Egyptian Muhammad Ahmad
Khallaf Allah submitted a dissertation on "The narrative art of the
Koran" to the then Fuad University in Cairo in 1947.  Although he
accepted the doctrine of ijaz, he was forced to resign his post 
as a tutor in the university and become a school teacher. 

Paret notes (pages 212-213) efforts by Musaylimah, a contemporary
of Muhammad, to accept the challenge; he expresses doubts whether
Musaylimah was indeed the source of the sayings attributed to him.
The sayings could be later inventions to brand him as a clumsy
imitator.  He notes the legend of Ibn al-Muqaffa, the prominent Arabic
prose writer, who was put to death in 139/756, is said to have tried
to imitate the Quran.  Abul l-ala al-Marrari (who died in 449/1057)
is also said to have tried to produce an imitation.  Paret seems to
doubt whether Marrari intended his work to be an imitation.  Bab, the
founder of Babi (which survives today as Bahai) believed that
he was called on to replace Muhammad as the prophet and replace
Islam with a new religion.  His work, Bayan is a statement of new faith.
Bab believed that the revelations were from God.  He asserted
that his work Tafsir Surat Yusuf was the same Quran which was revealed
to Muhammad.  He was publicly executed in 1850 after about three years 
of imprisonment.

Recently, Abu Zeidi, a professor of in the department of Arabic 
literature at Cairo University got into trouble for saying certain
Quranic references have to be understood to be metaphors and should 
not be taken literally.


[1] Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Quran,
    Edited by Andrew Rippin, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1988.
    ISBN 0-19-826546-8

[2] Arabic Literature to the end of the Umayyad Period, The Cambridge
    History of Arabic Literature, Edited by A.F.L. Beeston et al,
    Cambridge University Press, 1983.
    ISBN 0-521-24015-8

[3] Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammed, 
    Ali Dashti, (Translated from Persian by F.R.C. Bagley), George Allen 
    and Unwin, 1985, ISBN 0 04 297048 2.

Relevant Quranic verses:

1. Surah 52:33-34 -- challenge to produce a discourse like the Quran.

2. Surah 11:13    -- challenge to bring forth 10 surahs seeking anybody's
                     help except God.

3. Surah 10:38    -- challenge to produce even one Surah.

4. Surah 2:23-24  -- same as item 3 above.

5. Surah 17:88    -- affirmation that even if jinns and humans combined
                     their effort, they would not produce a similar Quran.

-- Milind Saraph 
Comments welcome to

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