Originally published in the print edition of TAM in 1992. Professor Irving passed away in 2002.
A miracle must be universal and comprehensive in scope, and addressed to individuals in every walk of life that will be valid under all circumstances. It ought to be available to everyone, and remain operative until the final day in the world. It must necessarily comprise divine knowledge together with spiritual realities.
Suppose a main brings you a Book claiming that it is a source of guidance for all mankind. Will he include news and information about the Unseen, both past and future, and not just in one or two places, but spread throughout a whole list of topics by means of stories and prophecies and concerning events that will take place in the future? What will your judgment be if not a single detail of this is proven to be wrong?
The Qur????n is such a miracle: fikru-hu jayyid??its mode of thinking is excellent. Other miracles have either involved material objects or else some tangible event that is governed by the laws of nature, and has been confined to a certain time and place, and witnessed by only a limited number of persons.
Supposing, for the sake of argument, that a miracle could be observed by all people living in one particular area; it could not be witnessed by individuals in other localities. Supposing then that this miracle might be seen by everyone in the whole wide world, still it could not continue to be seen for ever and ever, so that future generations might observe it. The Qur????n is nonetheless one such miracle.
We Muslims need to use the Qur????n fruitfully, especially by studying it, and being able to explain it to our friends and neighbors here in North America. This country??s social problems that we meet both as Muslims, and also as citizens of this country, demand this of us.
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Islam emphasizes the lasting, not the transient, al-baq???? rather than al-fan????, ??the fleeting??. Islam implies a science of existence, of wuj??d, where we discover exactly where we stand within the Universe, al-CAlam??n. Essentially Islam reveals a secret alchemy of the Self, of each individual soul, and like any chemical reaction, it must be viewed outwardly in order to be experienced totally.
More than this, man forms part of the natural universe that is constantly changing and developing from imperfection to perfection. Is it possible for one mane to talk about each and every topic of human life, so as to offer the world knowledge, laws and wisdom, parables and stories concerning any subject large or small, without any discrepancy surfacing or his statements showing any trace of gradual development? Especially if these talks were not delivered all at one sitting, but offered piecemeal over a period of, let us say, twenty-three years.
Even more important, when certain topics are repeated over and over again, will they bear offshoots that may sprout from a previously planted root? Do they contain the pithy comments and wise sayings that one expects from any work of genius or divine inspiration?
Undoubtedly this is not humanly feasible, because no man remains unchanged throughout his life in his fund of knowledge and his attitudes. Precisely the residual ignorance of the average educated man in our society makes the crucial question of existence so difficult of approach; cursed with a superficial verbal coherence, the educated man feels that he is entitled to expound on matters and express himself ad infinitum. The state of modern man in his polluted environment is mentally disturbing; he must alter his behavior if he is to survive, like any animal in evolutionary history. Yet man, by his very nature, comprehends virtue and understands its categories. Man often feels therefore that he lives at an utter loss: f??khusrin (Eventide 103:2).
The Prophet was rational, and led his people bye offering them guidance and using his mind or Caql to achieve this. Practice is sunna, immemorial ??custom??; how we manage our lives in other words. The Prophet thought clearly in this connection: our Caql or basic ??intelligence??, diving ??Mind?? (of which each one of us possesses a small portion), knows God intimately. Reason and intellect have their rules, which manage our rational faculty. Naq??ba is our ??disposition??, ??temperament?? from the root ?̮qb meaning ??to bore??, or ??pierce??, ??get to the heart of??.
The Qur????n is a comprehensive document that governs all aspects of one??s thinking; it becomes a miracle for every man and sprite, whether he is learned or ignorant, a man or woman, of high rank or from a lower level in life??in short, anyone who has enough intelligence to understand the Qur??anic message, can grasp its message. The Qur????n offers a continuing challenge to the world, which in itself proves that it is a Miracle.
This challenge has been presented in many verses from both the Meccan as well as the Madinese period; they show how this Book is a divine miracle, a supernatural sign granted to mankind. Consider the verse from both the Meccan as well as the Madinese period; they show how this Book is a divine miracle, a supernatural sign granted to mankind. Consider the verse we offer for discussion: ??if you are in any doubt about what We have sent down to Our servant, then bring a chapter like it???? (The Cow 2:23). It is a challenge indeed: let someone like the Prophet produce a chapter like one from the Qur????n; ??Let them bring a report like it if they are so truthful?? (The Mount 52:34).
This assertion does not purport to prove the prophet hood of Muhammad (may God accept his prayers and grant him peace!) directly; nor does it say: ??If you are in any doubt as to what We have revealed to Our servant.?? Every challenge offered in the Qur????n aims to prove that his Book is a supernatural sign given by God Alone. Once this fact has been established, then the prophet hood of the Arabian Prophet will automatically be proved.
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The verses involved in this challenge vary in their scope and generality. The most general one is the verse: ??SAY: ??Even if men and sprites organized to produce something like this Reading, they would never bring anything like it no matter how much assistance they lent one another?? (The Night Journey 17:88). This verse from the Meccan period contains a challenge that is not confined to its eloquence and purity of style; if this were true, it would not include non-Arabs, and would instead be addressed only to those who spoke Arabic, unaffected by any foreign influence. In other words, only Arabs from the days of paganism and Ignorance, or those whose lifespan bridged that of paganism and Islam. However the verse challenges not only mankind, but confronts the sprites or jinn as well.
Other qualities that are found in the Qur????n are its exposition of spiritual realities and high moral tone, the comprehensive and fair legal code expounded therein, information concerning things Unseen (al-Ghayb) as well as other topics which men had not even thought of when the Qur????n was first revealed. They are of such a nature that only a select few and not every man alive today, can appreciate them. However this challenge is general and covers elite groups, the ordinary man, and sprites or jinn. In this light it is clearly not confined to any one group: we are challenged to bring a book like this with all of its combined qualities in one volume.
The problem of mass morality is another matter that religion must approve and solve. The word for ??religion?? in Arabic is D??n, which means ??repayment?? in the sense that this is used in the Opening chapter: M??lik yawm ad-D??n????Master of the day for Repayment?? (1:4). ??Religion?? comes from a Latin root that means what ??binds one back?? to God; D??n implies what one ??owes?? God, for the countless favors that He has provided us with. Both meanings carry a sense of obligation for divine blessings that we have received.
This means we must all face a final Reckoning with God, al-His??b or ??the Sum?? total that we owe to reality and our Creator as the price we pay for being placed here to live in this Universe. This idea of a final or eventual Return to settle a reckoning is a dynamic concept that reinforces our sense of morality or responsibility: only in the spiritual sense or plane, can this eventually be contemplated.
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The Qur????n is thus a miracle: a man of eloquence finds this aspect in its spell-binding sublimity and style; a wise man, in its inner wisdom; a scholar, in its command of knowledge; a sociologist, in the social system that it recommends; a lawmaker, in its grasp of legislation; a politician, in its mastery of politics; a ruler, in its keen sense of justice or qist; and for the whole world; its prophecies of coming events, the freedom from discrepancy that is found in its rules of conduct; in short, its comprehensive knowledge and gift of sublime expression.
Each one of us should look into whatever excellence he or any other person may possess; then compare that excellence or virtue with what the Qur????n comprises of the same. Next he should decide, in all honesty and fairness, whether it is within human power to bring something comparable to place alongside the Qur????n. Is it possible for the average man to conjure up divine knowledge that is so well-reasoned, as is contained in the Qur????n? Is it within human power to build such character, based on such a firm foundation of reality, as may honestly be compared with Qur??anic teaching for its purity and excellence?
Can human beings legislate perfect laws governing all human activities without blundering into some discrepancies? The spirit of pure monotheism or Tawhid and the word of piety, or taqw??, both permeate every order and every implication, while such simplicity and integrity nourishes its root and branches. Could such all-inclusiveness come from the mind of an unlettered man, man who was born and raised among a people whose only share of virtue was sustained by raids, plundering and war? The pagan Arabs buried their unwanted daughters alive, and killed their children in fear of want; they boasted about their fathers?? deeds, yet married their own mothers. Debauchery gave them their source of pride, as we see in many circles today.
The Arabs of J??hiliyya period despised knowledge, and boasted of their ignorance, which they raised to a virtue. IN spite of this presumption, they were preyed upon by every hunter and formed an easy target for anyone who wished to conquer them: one day they fell under Yamani rule; the next they were ordered around by Ethiopians; at still another time, Byzantine emperors or East Romans lorded it over them; then it became the Persians?? turn to humiliate them. Such is the picture of the pagan Arabs before Islam. We wonder why the Qur????n was brought to such a God-forsaken environment by the Prophet of Islam. Yet it was, and it has endured, not only in Arabia itself, but through the Umma al-Aswat or ??Middle Nation?? that stretches from Morocco through Indonesia, and now on other continents across the seas.
When a man ponders these facts about the Qur????n, which contains the above-mentioned distinctions plus many more, no doubt whatever can be entertained as to its divine mission; he feels certain that it lies beyond the scope of any human power, over and above any natural or material causes. If one is not in a position to understand this fact clearly, then he should follow the dictates of his own conscience.
Why was the Qur??anic challenge not restricted to the elite? Why was the general public included in this Call? After all, any ordinary man is easily influence by such claims, and gladly accepts pretensions from every fellow claimant.
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This was the only method available to keep the Miracle all-inclusive, the only possible way of discerning the excellence of a quality that had so many facets. People possess different degrees of understanding, just as virtues differ as to their perfection.
Any person who enjoys a high level of understanding and keen perception can appreciate the quality of a splendid work of art. Those with less understanding should turn to them for their opinion; such are the dictates of nature and the demands of the human psyche. When we deny the Unseen, the factor of al-Ghayb that constantly puzzles us in this world, it leads to mental illness, because our stubborn refusal to recognize this ??Unseen?? part that exists within ourselves, repressing its energies so that the invisible yet nonetheless pain-inducing mind runs out of control.
It should be clear therefore from this that not everyone who says he is a Muslim necessarily is one; but if he adheres to our basic practices, he finds the risk and possibility of changing his behavior open to him. For this reason, God chose this literary and spiritual miracle, al-Qur????n al-Kar??m or ??the Noble Reading?? as it means in English, so the Prophet of Islam (may God accept his prayers and grant him peace!) might offer its challenge to all mankind, as our living Miracle in all places and through every generation. The Qur????n lucidly sets forth the rules for our life and for our manner of living. The Qur????n tells us the way we should live in a comprehensive manner.
Thus the Miracle continues, defying every person, every season, in every area and period in history. The Qur????n is uncreated, eternal: its thought does not change; it is comprehensive, covering everything completely, and having wider understanding than any possible layout or proof of another nature.
We offered the trust to Heaven and Earth,
and to the mountains too,
yet they refused to carry it,
and shrank back from it.
However man accepted it:
he has been unfair [to himself], ignorant!
(The Coalition 33:72)
Professor Irving passed away in 2002.