Is the Quran an unstructured Book?

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured Topics: Quran Views: 15795

One of the long-standing objections leveled against the Quran by its non-Muslim critics is that it appears to have no regular form or structure. It is said that its verses follow one another with little sense of interconnection and its surahs seem to have been arranged in a sequence based on the crude principle of diminishing length, the longest coming first and the shortest going to the end. Almost every surah, it is complained, is riddled with unsettling shifts of scene, address, and subject and one cannot with any amount of certainty predict what is going to come next. It is concluded that the Quran is, at best, a remarkable compilation of unrelated passages, or a book of quotations. That though it is full of pearls, the pearls are lying in a promiscuous heap.

The actual words used by those who have raised this objection are much more stern and caustic. We will not quote them, partly because they may be found in any book written on the Quran by any critic of Islam and partly because their pungency does not add to the gravity of the objection. We shall only note that new as well as old orientalists have made the point often and that for all the difference in their approaches to the Quran , they are all agreed that the Quran completely lacks anything of the kind of orderly arrangement. Some of them have actually tried to rearrange the Quran either chronologically or according to some other self-devised principle.

The response of Muslim scholars to this objection has been, generally, concessive. They grant that the Quran does not have the arrangement of a well-planned book, but then, they say, it was never meant to have one. The revelation of the Quran, they point out, was completed in twenty-three years and during that period the Quran dwelt on such a large number of diverse subjects that no act of compilation could have given it greater unity and coherence than that it now possesses. The Quran, they say, dealt with the lives, activities, and problems of a whole nation for a long span of time and so any objection based on the concept of a research thesis is bound to be misplaced.

This reply, though it has almost always served to satisfy Muslims and at least silence non-Muslim critics, fails to take one very important fact into consideration, that of the arranging of the Quran, by the Holy Prophet . At the same time that it was being revealed, the Quran was being rearranged in a certain form, under direct divine guidance, by the Holy Prophet . The completion of the arrangement of the Quran was conterminous in time with the completion of its revelation. In respect of order and sequence, therefore, the Quran as it was compiled was different from the Quran as it was revealed. In other words, the Quran had two arrangements, one revelatory and the other compilatory. The question is, why was the revelatory arrangement abandoned in favor of a compilatory arrangement. Was the latter adopted without any special reason? If so, why was chronology not considered a sound enough basis for arranging the Quran? And is one today at liberty to discover, if possible, the chronological arrangement of the Quran and recite the Quran according to that arrangement? Or, if chronology was not an acceptable guide, why was not some rule, that for example of dividing the Quran into surahs of about equal length, employed. Nor does the principle of the progressive diminution of the size of surahs go very far because the diminution is not so progressive: We frequently find that long surahs are followed by shorter surahs which are again followed by long surahs and so on. The question continues to stare one in the face: Why a different arrangement ?

Imam Hamid al-din Farahi (India, d: 1930) gives another answer to the objection. He maintains that the Quran has a superb structure. The verses and surahs of the Quran, he says, are arranged in an impeccable order that together form a whole which has remarkable integration and symmetry. And beautiful as that structure is, adds Imam Farahi, it is not merely of incidental value; it is essential to the meaning of the Quran, nay, it is the only key there is to the meaning of the Quran.

The seminal ideas of Imam Farahi have been expounded by his most eminent disciple, Mawlana Amin Ahsan Islahi. Taking his cue from the principles his great teacher had enunciated, Mawlana Islahi has written a commentary (in Urdu) on the Quran in which he has shown how the Quran is the systematic book Imam Farahi claimed it to be. Mawlana Islahi modestly terms his work elaborative, but as anyone can see, it is highly original in any respect. In fact, he is not only the most authentic exponent of Imam Farahi's thought, he can be said to have new-modeled that thought. Below is given a brief statement of his views on the structure of the Quran. These views have been summarized from the 'Introduction' to 'Tadabbur-i-Quran' (Reflection on the Quran), which is the name of his commentary.

1. Each Quranic surah has a dominant idea, called the axis of that surah, around which all the verses of that surah revolve. Thus no verse, or no group of verses, stands alone but has a direct relation with the axis of the surah and is part of the coherent scheme of the surah.

2. The surahs of the Quran exist in pairs, the two surahs of any pair being complementary to each other and, together constituting a unit. There are a few exceptions, however. The first surah, Fatihah, does not have a complement, because it is a kind of a preface to the whole of the Quran. All the other exceptions too are not exceptions in the real sense of the word since each one of them is an appendix to one or the other surah.

3. The 114 surahs of the Quran fall into seven groups. The first group comes to an end at surah 5, the second at surah 9, the third at surah 24, the fourth at surah 33, the fifth at surah 49, the sixth at surah 66, and the seventh at surah 114. Each group contains one or more Makkan surahs followed by one or more Madinan surahs of the same cast. Like individual surahs or each pair of surahs, each group has a central theme which runs through all its surahs, knitting them into a distinct body. In each group, the themes of the other groups also occur but as subsidiary themes.

4. Each group logically leads to the next, and thus all the groups become variations on the basic theme of the Quran, which is: 'Allah's call to man to adopt the right path'.

While speaking of coherence in the structure of the Quran, we must distinguish between connectedness and organic unity. A connection, howsoever weird and far-fetched, can be established between any two objects of the universe. But organic unity implies the presence of a harmonious interrelationship between the components of a body or entity which produces a unified whole, a whole which is over and above the sum total or the components of and has worth and meaning in itself. The verses and surahs of the Quran are not simply linked up with one another, they have their place, each one of them, in the total scheme of the Quran and are related not only to one another but also to that total framework. The Quran is an organism, of which its verses and surahs are organically coherent parts.

Another point to be taken note of is that, as hinted above, the methodical nature of the Quran is not just an incidental matter in the study of the Quran, it is integral to the meaning of the Quran. In plain terms, since the Quran has an organic structure, every verse or group of verses and every surah has a definitive context and interpretation of any portion of the Quran must be based on a correct understanding of that context.

It is unfortunate how some people misuse the Quran. Too often its verses have been torn out of context to prove some particular juristical opinion or sectarian notion. Frequently its terms and phrases have been misconstrued by those who come to it seeking, in some odd verse, support for views they have already formed on other than Quranic grounds. It is indeed a great irony that all heresies have been claimed by their propounders to have their basis in the Quran. And if these heresies looked plausible to many, it was because the context of the verses constituting the so-called 'basis in the Quran' was not properly understood. As Mawlana Islahi has shown, contextualization gives to countless verses a construction different from the one usually placed on them; it throws new light not only on the doctrinal and creedal aspects of the Quranic message but also on the methodological aspects of the message; it lends new significance not only to the moral and legal injunctions of the Quran but also to the stories and parables narrated by the Quran; and it affords a deep insight not only into the continually changing style and tone of the Quran but also into the varied patterns of logic it employs.

Source: Renaissance

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured
  Topics: Quran
Views: 15795

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Older Comments:
One wonders why the Quran is considered by Muslims to be a new divine revelation or supernatural revelation at all. Much of it is derived from apocraphal and biblical stories. Its claim that man is formed from a(menstrual)blood cell ofcourse comes from the erroneous Greek notion about human embyology commonly held in Muhammad's day.

How can any body critics Al Quran for not being organized like books written by human? this is not scientific.
Al Quran from Allah and arranged by the Holy Prophet upon orders from Allah.
How do you expect this Holy book to be arranged or structurd like human books !!

The Analysis of Farahi and Islahi is very profound and indeed once one has been exposed to the seven groups, one can never view the quran in the same way.

Dr. Israr Ahmed has also done a very good job of explaining these divisions in his lectures.


I found the 7 groups the article talks about in another website. here they are:

Group From To Central theme
1 Al-Fatiha [Qur'an 1:1] Al-Ma'ida [Qur'an 5:1] Islamic law
2 Al-An'am [Qur'an 6:1] At-Tawba [Qur'an 9:1] The consequences of denying Muhammad for the polytheists of Mecca
3 Yunus [Qur'an 10:1] An-Nur [Qur'an 24:1] Glad tidings of Muhammad's domination
4 Al-Furqan [Qur'an 25:1] Al-Ahzab [Qur'an 33:1] Arguments on the "prophethood" of Muhammad and the requirements of faith in him
5 Saba [Qur'an 34:1] Al-Hujraat [Qur'an 49:1] Arguments on monotheism and the requirements of faith in it
6 Qaf [Qur'an 50:1] At-Tahrim [Qur'an 66:1] Arguments on afterlife and the requirements of faith in it
7 Al-Mulk [Qur'an 67:1] An-Nas [Qur'an 114:1] Admonition to the Quraysh about their fate in the Herein and the Hereafter if they deny Muhammad

can you please give some examples of the comments you made of it being complementary to each other

A very good research article. Missing is the
mentioning of the ideas of the groups and of the
suras. I would like to know what a wording Imam
Farahi has given to that enities. His theory
extends the DNA-model of the Quran to the
similarity of the galaxy-model, or vice-versa.
Very well done! May Allah bless him and his

I don't know about the 3rd and 4th points, but the first two strikes me as very reflective of nature itself.