The first audiences of the Qur’an were the desert-dwellers of Arabia, who were proud of their language skills. Their material possessions were meager, but their language was far in advance of their culture. They earned their livelihood by trading and took many trips abroad to buy and sell goods. Their long journeys across the desert provided them the time to ponder about nature, and the order of the nature of things. They were very meticulous in their choice of words, and very specific in their speech. They adored oratory and diction, and effective communication. They were skillful in the articulation of finer thoughts, and quite adroit in their expression of ideas. Words were their wares, and eloquence was their fetish and forte. Communicating finer thoughts in the finest form was their obsession. Composing poetry and prose was their passion. They vied each other in their ability to be fluent and eloquent. They produced elegant literature of high quality, even though the subjects they chose were mostly petty and profane. They squandered their skills in embellishing the tales of their tryst, their amorous exploits and adventures, the exaggerated and boastful accounts of their valor in warfare, and the virtues of their wine and women. Their written literature was scanty, but they had a prolific memory and committed thousands of quotes, anecdotes and poems to memory. Their literature was passed along to subsequent generations by oral traditions. So proud were they of their diction and eloquence that they declared themselves to be the masters of the language, and others to be deprived of the faculty of speech. Compared to theirs, other languages were merely the crude communications of inarticulate mute men. They referred to all non-Arabs as ‘Ajums’, those suffering from a speech impediment.
When the Arabs first heard the Qur’an, they were awe-struck by its eloquence and listened in amazement. Never before in their life had they heard such a stunning and stately sermon. Their instincts convinced them that such a noble and august discourse could only be a divine diction, not a human creation. It was far more sublime and solemn than all their literature put together. The Qur’an proclaimed that it is not a man-made composition, and challenged its audience to present any composition that matches its style and elegance. It declared that humans would fail to produce a single composition to match its caliber, even if they joined hands and converged and coordinated their efforts. It threw the gauntlet,
And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a Surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful (Qur’an 2:23)
The expert composers of Arabia heard the dare, but could not come up with an answer. Compared to the Qur’an their literary endeavors appeared clumsy and childish. They felt like they were inexperienced novices, the talentless tyros. The distinguished and prolific poets seemed immature and puerile. The vociferous and verbose orators found themselves at a loss for words. They were humbled and humiliated by the heavenly harangue. The masters of the Arabic language failed to find any flaw or lapse in the language of the Qur’an. They acknowledged defeat and expressed their inability to match the matchless. Many were so mesmerized by its message that they embraced Islam right there and then. The internal evidence of the Qur’an is enough to dispel doubts. The conscious mind lauds the excellent and eloquent discourse, while the subconscious is convinced that a human could not have composed it. The choice and arrangement of its words are coded to convey a subtle and subliminal message, “These are not the words of a poet or a mystic, nor are they the words of a sage or a soothsayer. This is the communiqué from the Creator, the Lord and Master of the universe.”
Man is the subject of the Quran. It narrates the story of man as an integral whole, and it describes all the stages of man’s journey to his ultimate destination-- birth, life, death, resurrection, the judgment of his deeds and depending upon the judgment, heaven or hell. In this temporal and physical world, the observation and experience of man is restricted to his birth, the trials and tribulations of his life and his death. His five senses do not enable him to perceive an existence beyond the confines of this physical world. The eyes do not see light emanating from the other world, and the ears do not detect sounds from the other side. The hands cannot feel, the nose cannot smell, and the tongue cannot taste anything that is not of this world. The mind therefore fails to perceive the presence of the world beyond. So scanty is his knowledge about the other world, or the laws that prevail there, that he can barely bring himself to believe in its existence. Yet, intuitively he knows that there does exist the other world. Unless the two worlds are considered together, the purpose of life and the presence of man on earth would remain an enigma. The eloquence of human narration is limited to matters that man can observe in this world. The writers and poets do not create in a vacuum. They benefit from the experiences of others and build upon their imagination and insight. The masterpieces of the previous writers, poets and philosophers inspire others to think further and rise higher. Newcomers ride on the shoulders of the veterans. Regardless of the language he speaks or the culture he belongs to, man will never acquire independent knowledge of the life to come. Forced to rely upon conjectures, he can hardly converse coherently, much less eloquently, about matters past the grave. When it comes to events of the other world, the poets, writers and philosophers do not have any masterpieces of the past to inspire them. Human narration about the other world that can compare with the artistic and masterly eloquence of the Qur’an is nonexistent in any language.
The great beyond lies past the borders of death. Resurrection, the judgment of deeds, and heaven and hell are events scheduled to take place there. Fluently and poignantly, and with an aura of confidence, the Qur’an describes these events in detail. It narrates with the knowledge of certainty. It discusses the events of the other world with the same ease and eloquence as the events of this world. Ever since it was first revealed, the Qur’an has seen fourteen centuries, but not an answer to its challenge. Its diction and eloquence remain unsurpassed, not only in Arabic but also in all languages of the world. The challenge still stands. Man will never be able to match its literary quality. Every passing day increases the validity and the credibility of its claim that the Almighty is its author.
Poetry owes its lure and luster to lies and fiction. The poet lets his imagination run wild, and roams about unbridled beyond the realm of reality. The more he indulges his imagination, the prettier is his poem. The further he flies into the land of fancy, the more fanciful and fabulous is his fiction. Truth is an early casualty of his excursion into the land of fantasy. Phrases are his toys and fiction is his field of play. Words are his tools, and his workshop is the beauty parlor, where simple becomes sensual and sensational, and plain facts are dressed up to appear pretty and presentable. Beautiful and befitting words are his profession, and he aims to spark and kindle the imagination of his audience. He plans to plunge his listeners into an arena of illusion, the unreal and ethereal world.
Exaggeration is the specialty of the poet, his special calling. Even a simple simile for a poet is a flight of fancy. He stretches the truth to a fault, till it becomes a lie. With a little embellishment, he turns a bland and blase event into a tantalizing and titillating tale. If the truth is not to his liking, he proceeds to dilute and dampen the effect of the fact. If the fact does not fit his fancy, he mixes it with a lavish measure of myth, and throws the fact out of focus. With words, he can knit a shield to deflect the fact. Thus, he trivializes the truth. He will twist and turn the words, and tug at the truth till it yields the meaning he desires. He covers the truth with layers of interpretations, until the truth becomes a stranger. With deft and adept use of words, he can baptize a fiction as well as fictionalize a fact. He circulates lies by wrapping them with layers of known and irrefutable facts. He lends credence and respect to baseless assumptions by surrounding them with accepted and respected facts. Falsehood thus becomes fortified and unassailable. Poetic text is the priority of a poet and his talent consists of fanciful phrases, not truth. Poetry pleases the aesthetic and tickles the intellect, but truth it is not. About the poets, the Qur’an says:
And the poets - [only] the deviators follow them; Do you not see that in every valley they roam And that they say what they do not do? - (Qur’an 26: 224-226)
And We did not give Prophet Muhammad, knowledge of poetry, nor is it befitting for him. It is not but a message and a clear Qur'an. (Qur’an 36: 69)
[That] indeed, the Qur'an is the word of a noble Messenger. And it is not the word of a poet; little do you believe. Nor the word of a soothsayer; little do you remember. [It is] a revelation from the Lord of the worlds. (Qur’an 69: 40-43)
The Quran did not excel over all other literature just because its author was better and it was adjudged the best of the masterpieces. It was not because other classics were good, while it was better. The difference between it and the work of the poets, writers and philosophers is not only that of degree or quality, but also that of character and class. It did not stop down to the earthy model of distortion and dishonesty. Rather, it aggrandized and sanitized the standards of literature, and introduced it to a new height. It imposed a tougher requirement for literary standard and demanded absolute honesty and accuracy. It refused to espouse fiction and the art of fictionalizing facts, and spurned exaggeration. It did not win by using the ways and means of the other literary works.
The literary giants know the rules of grammar and diction. Yet, they cannot comply with the rule laid down by the Qur’an. They are handicapped because their expertise is of no avail without falsehood and fiction. If exaggeration was to be edited out of their work, they would not be left with much of their work. They cannot imagine poetry without a modicum of lies and embellishment. Thus the Qur’an unfettered the facts and liberated the truth from the clutches of its captors - the poets, the writers and the philosophers of the past, present and the future. It exposed their craftiness. When it comes to matters pertaining to this world, they do know the facts but do not always choose to be honest and accurate. However, when it comes to matters past the grave, they are actually the charlatans relying on guesses and conjectures.
And most of them follow not except assumption. Indeed, assumption avails not against the truth at all. Indeed, Allah is Knowing of what they do. (Qur’an 10: 36)
And if you obey most of those upon the earth, they will mislead you from the way of Allah. They follow not except assumption, and they are not but falsifying. (Qur’an 6: 116)
The Qur’an defied the accepted norms of literature and achieved eloquence and eminence without resorting to exaggeration of any sort. Because of that, every literary classic created in any period of history and in any language of the world, would fall in a class lower than that of the Qur’an. It has a unique character all its own. It lays down facts plainly, and meticulously adheres to accurate narration. Even when it quotes a parable, the comparison is never misleading and it does not twist or bend the truth. The words and phrases it uses bring out the unadulterated truth. It is sworn to tell nothing but the truth. Precision is its priority, and all of its text can be accepted literally. Scientific treatise should be that exact. Its adherence to accuracy when it comes to matters pertaining to this world infuses faith and confidence into its believers. They become convinced that the events scheduled to occur beyond death are also depicted with the same accuracy and precision, and without exaggeration. The reason the Qur’an has remained matchless in substance and style is because it is the absolute truth. About itself, it says:
These are the verses of Allah which We recite to you, [O Muhammad], in truth. And indeed, you are from among the messengers (Qur’an 2:252)
He has sent down upon you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming what was before it. And He revealed the Torah and the Gospel. (Qur’an 3:3)
Alif, Lam, Meem, Ra. These are the verses of the Book; and what has been revealed to you from your Lord is the truth, but most of the people do not believe. (Qur’an 13:1)