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"Produce a Sura like it!"
Answering the challenge of the Quran Mike Nesbitt
Muslims often claim that the Quran is a literary masterpiece and that its Sura’s are of such literary merit that they are beyond the ability of mere men to compose. This, we are told proves its Divine origin. However, in reality there are many verses by a variety of religious writers that many would claim are equal to the Quran in literary merit and beauty. Before we look at there though, lets look more closely at some of the claims made for the supposedly unique literary merit and beauty of the Quran. "The Quran is the greatest wonder among the wonders of the world. It repeatedly challenged the people of the world to bring a chapter like it, but they failed and the challenge remained unanswered up to this day. The Quran declares: 'And if you are in doubt as to which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it, and call on your helper, besides Allah, if you are truthful.' (Sura 2:23)." "Say: "If men and Jinn should combine together to bring the like of this Quran, they cannot bring the like of it, though some of them help others. And certainly We have made distinct for men every kind of description but majority of men do not consent but denying (sic)". (Sura 17:88). "As the Quran was revealed, no credit is given therefore to the Prophet, but the fact remains that this book is second to none in the world according to the unanimous decision of the learned men in points of diction, style, rhetoric, thoughts and soundness of laws and regulations to shape the destinies of mankind." (Mishkat-ulMasabih, Volume III, pp.664-665). We can add another challenge as found in Sura 10:37-38: "This Quran is not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it and a fuller explanation of the Book - wherein there is no doubt-from the Lord of the Worlds. Or do they say, 'He forged it'? Say: 'Bring a Sura like unto it, and call (to your aid) anyone you can, besides Allah, if it be ye speak the truth!'" However, why anyone would be interested in writing a Sura? Three motives could prompt a man to do so: 1. A man is called upon by God to do so, and is given a message to convey - or a person has imagined this to have happened to him; or 2. A person pretends to have been called by God to give a message to mankind and is a deceiver and liar.
3. Someone receives a message and believes it to be divinely inspired, but it is, in fact, from another source. But there may yet be another consideration. A man writes a book. Anyone taking up his pen to write down thoughts (other than those pertaining to business, either domestic, commercial or public) wants to convey a certain message. This may be purely informative news; it may be the deep thoughts of his heart - a philosophy, or a spiritual conviction - but also the overflow of a filthy mind. By this means the man who wants to convey this message to readers becomes a messenger. He may be a messenger of himself, of some political or philosophical cause; or he may be used by the devil or be used by God. In the latter case he is, to some extent at least, a messenger of God. This must not be confused with the revealed Word of God, however. But, if we accept the Quranic challenge: "Produce a Sura like it!" It will not be out of place to compare (like it!) some Suras (or parts thereof complete in themselves) of the Quran with the written thoughts of certain men of various eras and places in history. Because the tastes of people vary, one may argue about features like diction, style and particularly rhetoric, so we should like you to compare the soundness, beauty and spirituality of thought of each extract rather than the form. For reasons that to us are unaccountable, most Quran translators have an inclination to clothe their works in a style that is rather outdated and studded with words that an average person must look up in a dictionary. This is not because the translations were made hundreds of years ago, but it has been done to give them an appearance of dignity and age, which inspires trustworthiness. We take as an example Yusuf Ali whose Quran translation was first published in 1938, at a time when all translators of the Bible were making an effort to present the original text in the most intelligible and comprehensive way. Take the case of the reader who does not understand Arabic and who is thus dependent on a translation. He is quite unlikely to gain the impression - and for that he must be forgiven that the Quran is second to none in the world in points of diction, style and rhetoric. He is obliged to use other translations, perhaps by a non-Muslim translator, to get the actual message or meaning, which may be very clear and simple in the original. Is it perhaps from motives of expediency that an English that makes the message of the Quran obscure has so often been used? A final remark before we turn to the extracts to be compared. The phrase "second to none" surely does not exclude "previous revelations". Therefore we feel obliged to use some Biblical passages also. We were somewhat tempted to use them exclusively. To our knowledge, the Quran itself does not disqualify the Bible as revelation. There are no references given with the texts. The reason is that you, the reader, may in a reasonably unbiased fashion select the best texts. Then you may find out the source of your choice from the index given - and reach your own conclusion. 1. "To know God is the beginning of joy, To serve God is the continuation of joy, To see God is the consummation of joy." "God weighs more the love
with which a man works than the work he does." 2. "Grant me, Almighty God, that I may circumspectly explore your will for my life, that I may truly know it and completely fulfill it. Arrange my life that it may bring honor to you and salvation to me. Add to this, 0 Lord, a free heart, a strong heart, a vigilant heart, an unchangeable heart. Make me modest without presumption, serious without sadness truthful without deceit brave without fear active without being thoughtless. Let my way reach its purpose safely. Let me set my hope on you forever, you the loving God of my life." 3. "It is not important what people think and say to us, but what we are before God. It is not important what we do, but how and why we do it. It is not important that we escape suffering, but that suffering fulfils its purpose. It is not important when we die, but that we are ready to meet God!" 4. "For the covenants (of security and safeguard enjoyed) by the Quraysh, their covenants (covering) journeys by winter and summer, let them adore the Lord of this House, who provides them with food against hunger, and with security against fear (of danger)." 5. "The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." 6. "Is he, then, to whom the evil of his conduct is made alluring, so that he looks upon it as good (equal to one who is rightly guided)? For God leads astray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills. So let not thy soul go out in (vanity) sighing after them." 7. "The Lord is ... not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." "God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?"
"I am the good shepherd ... I lay down my life for my sheep. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." 8. "This is an admonition: whosoever will, let him take a path to his Lord. But you will not, except as God wills ... He will admit to his mercy whom He wills. But the wrongdoers, for them has he prepared a grievous penalty." "If God had willed he would have made you one nation. But He leads astray whom He will and guides whom He will. But you shall certainly be called to account for all your actions." 9. "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me, and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish." 10. "Perish the hands of the `Father of Flame' (nickname of a person G.N) Perish he! No profit to him from all his wealth and all his gains! Burnt soon will he be in a fire of blazing flames! His wife shall carry the (crackling) wood as fuel! A twisted rope of palm leaf fibre round her (own) neck!" 11. "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: that I practice love where I am hated, that I forgive where I am offended, that I heal where there us strife, that I speak truth where there us error, that I bring faith where doubt oppresses, that I rouse hope where despair torments, that I kindle your light where darkness reigns, that I bring joy where sadness is dwelling. Lord, let me not seek to be comforted but that I may comfort others also; not seek to be understood but to understand others also; not seek to be loved but to love others also. For he that gives shall receive, he that forgets himself shall find, he that forgives shall be forgiven, he that dies shall awake to eternal life." 12. "He is surely and truly invincible that clings to God and to whom God is the only good." 13. "You can only live for what is worth dying for." "He does not love truth most that speaks about it but he that endures it." 14. "I renounced for the love of Him everything that was not He, and I live as if there was none but He and I in the world. ... I found no small pain in the exercise and yet I continued it. ... As for what passes in me at present I cannot express it. I have no pain or difficulty about my state because I have no will but that of God which I endeavour to accomplish in all things and to which I am so resigned that I would not
take up a straw from the ground against His order or from any other motive than purely that of Love of Him. ... God has infinite treasure to bestow, and we take up with little sensible devotion which passes in a moment. Blind as we are, we hinder God and stop the current of His grace. But when He finds a soul penetrated with a living faith, He pours into it His grace and favours plentifully. ... We often stop this torrent by the little value we set upon it. But let us stop it no more! ... Let us make way for grace, let us redeem the lost time for perhaps we have but little left. Death follows us close. Let us be well prepared for it. ... I have taken the liberty to impart to you these good sentiments that you may compare them with your own. I will serve to kindle and inflame them. ... I know that for the right practice of it the heart must be empty of all other things because God will possess the heart ALONE and as He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there, and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him ... God knows best what is needful for us and all that He does is for our good. If we knew how much He loves us we should always be ready to receive equally and with indifference from His hand the sweet and the bitter. All would please that came from Him. That sorest afflictions never appear intolerable, except when we see them in the wrong light." 15. "By the sun and his (glorious) splendor. By the moon as she follows him. By the day as it shows up (the sun's) glory. By the night as it conceals it. By the firmament and its wonderful structure. By the earth and its (wide) expanse. By the soul and that which shaped it. And inspired it to wickedness and piety, As to its wrong and its right. Truly he succeeds that purifies it And he fails that corrupts it." 16. "The realization of God without the realization of our misery makes man proud. The realization of our misery without the realization of God leads to despair. The realization of Christ mediates between the two, for in Him we find God and our misery." 17. "Seest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant? Did He not make their treacherous plan go astray? He sent against them flights of birds striking them with stones of baked clay. Then did He make them like an empty field of stalks and straw (of which the corn) has been eaten up." 18. "Say: O ye that reject faith! I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your way, and to me mine."
19. "He is no fool that gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
20. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." 21. "Lord, when I have surrendered my life, spirit, soul and body, to you; when you have all of me - and I have you; then your love for me is not wasted: I will be spiritual and faithful in all I think or speak or do. More: my love for you and for the unloved and unlovable around me will be motivated and constrained by the love, which you have lavished on me. I will have courage to speak the truth, exercise self-control in my moods and actions and will be disciplined in spending my time - in your presence, always!" 22. "The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, - flog each of them with a hundred stripes; let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by God if ye believe in God and the Last Day: and let a party of believers witness their punishment." 23. "And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they said unto him, 'Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?' This they said, tempting him that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.' And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And when they heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, 'Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?' She said, 'No man, Lord.' and Jesus said unto her, 'Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, 'I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall- not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." 24. "If you believe Him for forgiveness, you must believe Him for deliverance. He Who saves us from the guilt of sin can deliver us from the power of sin ... He can cut the chains that bind him to his former master ... He purchases us that He might possess us ... If we want deliverance from the power of indwelling sin, we must rely in simplicity upon His Word, accepting without question what God says to us about it. We must still move in faith ... The aim of the Lord involves two things: the praise of God and the perfecting of the believer, that is to say His glory and our glorification. ... He is prepared, for His glory and our good, to go all lengths with us. In occupying our vision with Christ, He seeks to show us what He desires our likeness to become. In this way, the more we behold Him the more we are prepared to endure that we might be conformed to His beauty ... God puts the believer to the test, but in effect it is Himself He puts on trial. When He proves us, He expects us to prove Him. When a person who believes God is put through harrowing experiences, God waits, as it were, to see whether that person will consider Him worthy of his trust to the bitter end. His glory in that circumstance is linked up with that man's faith. When faith triumphs in the sufficiency of God's grace, then God is glorified in the world ... The entrustment (by God) of trial and discipline is one therefore of highest honour (to us). He dares to expose Himself, to see whether in the darkest hour we will really respond to Him who is invisible, more than all the visible terror about us; to see whether we will love Him more than life and count His joy more to be grasped at than the moment's excitement of an apparent security." 25. "When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant, I was like a beast toward thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou dost hold my right hand. Thou dost guide me with thy counsel, and afterward thou wilt receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For lo, those who are far from thee shall perish; thou dost put an end to those who are false to thee. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all thy works." 26. "To the Thamud people (We sent) Salih one of their own brethren: He said: "O my people! Worship God, ye have no other god but Him. Now hath come unto you a clear (sign) from your Lord! This she-camel of God is a sign unto you so leave her to graze in God's earth and let her come to no harm or ye shall be seized with a grievous punishment. And remember how He made you inheritors after 'Ad people and gave you inhabitations in the Land: ye build for yourselves palaces and castles in (open) plains and carve (sic) out homes in the mountains so bring to remembrance the benefits (ye have received) from God and refrain from evil and mischief on the earth."
27. "They say: `Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?' Say: `God hath certainly power to send down a sign but most of them understand not ... those who reject our signs are deaf and dumb in the midst of darkness profound: whom God willeth, He leaves to wander, whom He willeth, He placeth on the Way that is straight.' ... Say: `For me I have an obvious sign from my Lord but ye rejected it' ... They swear their strongest oaths by Allah that if a (special) sign came to them, by it they would believe. Say: `Certainly all signs are in the power of God but what He wisheth you to understand is that (even) if a (special) sign comes, they will not believe." 28. "What makes a man great, the wonder of creation pleasing in the eye of God? What makes a man strong, stronger than the world? What makes him weak, weaker than a child? What makes a man hard, harder than a rock and what makes him as soft as wax? It is love. What is older than everything else? Love. What shall survive everything else? Love. What cannot be taken away yet gives it all? Love. What has permanence when all else staggers? Love. What comforts when all other comfort fails? Love. What endures when all else changes? Love. What remains when everything temporal fades away? Love. What witnesses when prophecies cease? Love. What does not pass away when revelations cease? Love. What illuminates when sinister thoughts overwhelm. Love. What blesses the abundance of gifts? Love. What gives utterance of right emphasis? Love. What turns the "Widow's mite" into abundance? Love. What makes wise the speech of the simple? Love. What never changes when all else changes? Love. Only that is love, that never changes!" 29. "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends!" 30. "We have indeed revealed this (message) in the Night of Power: and what will explain to thee what the Nigh of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the spirit by God's permission on every errand; Peace! This until the rise of morn!" 31. "Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day nor hold that forbidden which bath been forbidden by God and His Apostle nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth
(even if they are) of the People of the Book until they pay the poll-tax with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." 32. "Blessed are the poor in spirit (i.e. those who stand empty-handed or humble before God), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven." 33. "O ye who believe! Enter not the prophet's houses, until leave is given you, for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation. but when ye are invited, enter; and when you have taken your meal, disperse, without seeking familiar talk. Such (behaviour) annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you, but God is not ashamed (to tell you) the truth ... God and His Angels send blessings on the Prophet: O ye that believe! Send ye blessings on him and salute him with all respect. Those who annoy God and His Apostle - God has cursed them in this world and in the Hereafter and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment." 34. "Humility and a deep consciousness of our own unworthiness are the true marks of holiness. The nearer we live to Him of Whom the angels chant 'Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, the more we will confess our own sinfulness and rejoice in His Holiness." 35. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord over them and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you, but whosoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be your slave even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many." 36. "By the Break of Day by the Nights twice five by the Even and Odd (contrasted) and by the Night when it passeth away; Is there (not) in these an adjuration (or evidence) for those who understand? Seest thou not how the Lord dealt with the Ad (people) of the (city of) Iram with lofty pillars the like of which were not produced in (all) the land? And with the Thamud (people) who cut out (huge) rocks in the valley? And with Pharaoh Lord of stakes? All these transgressed beyond bounds in the lands and heaped therein mischief (on mischief). Therefore did thy Lord pour on them a scourge of diverse chastisement for thy Lord is (as a guardian) on a watch-tower." 37. "Love may cause pain to its object but only on the supposition that that object needs alteration to become fully loveable. ... Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis -
in itself very bad news - before it can win a hearing for the cure. ... A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of His to be true, though we are part of the world He came to save we are not part of the audience to whom His words are addressed." 38. "God has not abandoned His first purpose. Still He plans that a great host of mankind should come to love and honour Him. His ultimate objective is to bring them to a state in which they please Him entirely and praise Him adequately a state in which He is all in all to them, and He and they rejoice continually in the knowledge of each other's love - men rejoicing in the saving love of God, set upon them from all eternity, and God rejoicing in the responsive love of men, drawn out of them by grace through the Gospel. ... His immediate objectives are to draw individual men and women into a relationship of faith hope and love toward Himself, delivering them from sin and showing forth in their lives the power of His grace; to defend His people against the forces of evil; and to spread throughout the world the Gospel by means of which He saves." 39. "Have we not expanded thy breast? And removed from thee thy burden the which did gall thy back? And raised high the esteem (in which) thou (art held)? So verily with every difficulty there is relief: Verily, with every difficulty there is relief. Therefore when thou art free (from thine immediate task) still labor hard and to thy Lord turn (all) thy attention." 40. "So I lift up my hands to my Redeemer. Who after His coming had been predicted for four thousand years has come to this earth to suffer and die for me at the time and in the manner as it had been prophesied. Through His grace I can await my death in peace resting on the hope of being united with Him forever. Until that time I live content and in gladness of heart, be it with the provisions that He has been pleased to give me or in sufferings which He has sent to promote His salvation and which He has taught me by His example to endure." No doubt the style and content of the above quotations have betrayed the origin of some. Before looking at the sources, try to give an impartial evaluation. Mark the squares at the end of a quotation. If it is, in your honest opinion, a very spiritual message, mark it 1. If it is very poor in its message fill in a 5 or fill in, according to your own discretion and honest opinion of the quality, any number between 1-5. In the second square give your opinion of the diction, style, rhetoric and beauty of the text. Mark them with any letter from A-E. Then look up the source and decide whether some of the given texts are as good as - or superior to - the Quranic texts. If that is so, you will have agreed with us that the argument (that the Quran is "the greatest wonder among the wonders of the world" and that is is "second to none in the world") is without foundation. With that the only Quranic "sign" or evidence that the Quran is the ultimate and final revelation of God replacing the Bible as the Word of God and source of salvation has been disqualified. We need to stress again, however, that your judgement must be impartial, and, as far as possible, unbiased and sober.
You may hold it against the extracts that the selection of the portions from the Quran has been unfavourable in contrast to the other quotations. To a certain extent this is true. But does it not say, "Produce a chapter like it"? A chapter would mean any chapter, no doubt. It is not unfair to select the very best of the pen of a spiritual man to "produce a chapter like it." This was obviously not possible. We have utilised only extracts from books at hand in our home and have indeed picked both the book and their extracts without doing very much selection. We also did not systematically go through the Quran to pick those Suras or parts thereof, which from our point of view were best to quote. So we deem this test to be fair. We are aware also that this test could be reversed. Biblical texts could be taken and opposed in similar fashion. This has been done but unfortunately the opposition has never taken into consideration that many statements and events described in the Bible are historical records, including quotations uttered by opponents of God, and which do not necessarily reflect the consent, thought and will of God. Taken out of context such tests may be abused to support just about anything. One must always bear in mind that the Islamic concept of "nazil" is not the Biblical concept of revelation, a fact that must be respected. In the above quotations we were careful not to quote a portion out of its context. That is why we chose several short, but complete Suras. Most quotations have been translated from one language into another, often twice (for example from Latin to German to English, or even English to German to English again etc.). This obviously must have a negative effect on the expression and beauty thereof, which the reader will no doubt confirm. Sources: 1. Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471 A.D.) (German) 2. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) (Italian) 3. Eva von Thiele-Winkler (German) 4. Sura 106 5. O.T. (Old Testament or Torah) I Samuel 16:7 6. Sura 35:8 7. N.T. (New Testament or Gospel) I Timothy 2:4, Luke 15:3-4, John 10:14,18 8. Sura 76:29-30 and Sura 16:93 9. N.T. John 10:27-28 10. Sura 111 11. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226 A.D) (Italian) 12. St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) (North Africa) 13. A. de Saint-Excupery (reported missing in 1944 at a reconnaissance flight over the Sahara Desert (French) 14. Brother Lawrence around 1666 (quote from "The Practice of the Presence of God" (French) 15. Sura 91 16. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) (French mathematician) 17. Sura 105 18. Sura 109 19. Jim Elliot (martyr for the Gospel in Amazon Jungle 1956) (American) 20. O.T. Psalm 23 21. Unknown
22. Sura 24:2 23. N.T. John 8:3-12 24. Geoffrey Bull (from "God holds the Key", thoughts during his time of imprisonment in a Chinese Communist Camp) (English) 25. O.T Psalm 73:21-28 26. Sura 7:73-74 27. Sura 6:37,39,57,109 28. Soren Kirkegaard (1815-1855) (Danish), see also Mark 12:42 (Bible) 29. N.T. I Corinthians 13:4-7 30. Sura 97 31. Sura 9:29 32. N.T. Matthew 5:3-12 33. Sura 33:53,56-57 34. Jim Elliot (American) 35. N.T. Matthew 20:25-28 36. Sura 89:1-14 37. C.S. Lewis (from "The Problem of Pain") (English) 38. J.I. Packer (from "Knowing God") (English) 39. Sura 94 40. Blaise Pascal (French) QUESTION: Does one need a longer list of writings to show that the claim of uniqueness in beauty and content of the Quran is not justified?
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