What Is the Quran?
The Quran literally meaning “the recitation”; also romanized Qur’an or Koran is the sacred book on which is founded the religion of the Mohammedans, the followers of the Prophet Mohammed (about AD 570—632). The name comes from the Arabic qu’ran meaning “that should be read”. It is used in public worship and is the chief textbook in Mohammedan schools. Upon the Quran are based the Mohammedan laws and way of life.
This sacred book is the word of Allah (God) revealed in a vision to Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel. Mohammed, who could not write, dictated Gabriel’s words to his friends. These were written on dried palm leaves, bits of leather, whitened shoulder-blades of sheep or whatever was to hand.
Soon after the Prophet’s death, Caliph Abu Bakr (AD 573—634) called a conference of those who had heard Mohammed, and ordered the writing of an authentic Quran. All variations on it were destroyed, because of this, and of the phenomenal verbal memory Arabs are known to possess, it is almost certain that the Quran is indeed composed of the authentic sayings of Prophet Mohammed.
The Quran is about as long as the New Testament. It is written in rhymed prose and is divided into 114 suras or chapters, each of which begins with the words “In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate”. It consists of history, legends, prophecies, moral precepts and laws.
The histories are chiefly about Old Testament characters, and many of the laws are the same as those of Judaism or Christianity. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are named as the greatest prophets, and the Bible is held in great respect. Mohammedans are told to treat “the peoples of the Book” (i.e. Jews and Christians) with kindness.
The most important teaching is the oneness of God—“There is no God but Allah”. Submission to his will (Islam) is the highest virtue. The Last Judgment is stressed. Then everyone shall receive reward or punishment for his deeds. The Mohammedan must pray five times a day, turning towards Mecca, the holy city, which is in Saudi Arabia. He must also make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca, if he can afford it.
Someone who has memorized the entire Quran is called a hafiz. Quranic verse (ayah) is sometimes recited with a special kind of elocution reserved for this purpose, called tajwid. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims typically complete the recitation of the whole Quran during tarawih prayers. In order to extrapolate the meaning of a particular Quranic verse, most Muslims rely on exegesis, or tafsir.
The Quran describes itself as “the discernment” (al-furqān), “the mother book” (umm al-kitāb), “the guide” (huda), “the wisdom” (hikmah), “the remembrance” (dhikr) and “the revelation” (tanzīl; something sent down, signifying the descent of an object from a higher place to lower place).
Another term is al-kitāb (The Book), though it is also used in the Arabic language for other scriptures, such as the Torah and the Gospels. The term mus’haf (‘written work’) is often used to refer to particular Quranic manuscripts but is also used in the Quran to identify earlier revealed books.