One of the proofs for the prophethood of Muhammed ﷺ is the Quran, which is an inimitable literary miracle of unrivaled eloquence. However, the miraculousness of the Quran is very difficult to realize for someone who is not specialized in Arabic, never mind someone who does not speak Arabic at all! Such a person would not be qualified to judge the literary quality of the Quran, nor be able compare it with other literature in order to determine its inimitability. Fortunately, there are ways around this problem.
One can appreciate the miraculousness of the Quran, even if one does not speak Arabic, by considering the following three facts:
First: the Quran challenges Prophet Muhammed’s opponents (the pagan Arabs) to disprove its miraculousness, by getting together and producing a chapter that rivals the eloquence of any of its chapters:
وَإِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّمَّا نَزَّلْنَا عَلَىٰ عَبْدِنَا فَأْتُوا بِسُورَةٍ مِّن مِّثْلِهِ وَادْعُوا شُهَدَاءَكُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ
And if you doubt about what We have revealed to Our slave, then produce a chapter like it, and call upon your supporters other than Allah, if you are truthful.
Second: The pagan Arabs were expert poets. Likely, the best in the Arabic language in all of history. To this day, Arabic linguists still use pre-Islamic poetry as a template for grammatical and linguistic rules. This is proof that Prophet Muhammed’s opponents were competent, and that it is nomically necessary for them to have been able to meet the Quranic challenge.
Third: Prophet Muhammed’s opponents were heavily invested in destroying Islam, and disproving his prophethood. The pagan Arabs imprisoned, tortured, and killed many of the early Muslims. They even engaged in wars against Prophet Muhammed ﷺ and his community. Wars where those pagans spent much time, much money, and risked their very lives, in order to stop the spread of Islam.
With the above in mind, we argue:
- If the pagans were unable to meet the Quranic challenge, then Muhammed ﷺ is a true prophet.
- The pagans were unable to meet the Quranic challenge.
- Therefore, Muhammed ﷺ is a true prophet.
As for the first premise, this is true because the inability of the pagans to address this challenge would be a negation of normalcy (i.e. a miracle). And as outlined in another article, a claimant to prophethood who is supported with a miracle is a true prophet.
The inability of the pagans to address the challenge is a negation of normalcy, given their expertise in poetry. Not to mention that the Prophet ﷺ was also an unlettered man who could neither read nor write. And it is nomically impossible for one man, especially if unlettered, to present a work that the collective efforts of his community of professional poets cannot rival– let alone surpass.
As for the second premise, it is true given the fact that the pagans were heavily invested in destroying Islam, resorted to taking extreme risks to do so, and yet they failed in their objective. From this we deduce the following: if the pagan Arabs were able to address the Quranic challenge, and given their extreme desire to destroy Islam, they would have spared themselves the time, money, and the risk of death in battle, and they would have simply cooperated with one another in order to produce a text which rivaled the Quran literarily. But they did not, and Islam ultimately prevailed.
Thus, the pagan Arabs were unable to address the Quranic challenge, when it was nomically necessary for them to have been able to do so. And since Muhammed ﷺ was a claimant to prophethood who was aided with this negation of normalcy, then Muhammed ﷺ is a true prophet of God.
To make the above clearer, Imam Al-Baqilani compares the failure of the pagans in addressing the Quranic challenge, to a prophet who challenges his opponents to move their hands, when God prevents them from this act for the timeframe of the prophet’s challenge. This is a negation of nomic necessity for those people, and proof for this prophet’s prophethood. Likewise, God preventing the pagans from being able to address the Quranic challenge, is a negation of nomic necessity for them, and proof for Muhammed’s ﷺ prophethood.
 Quran 2:23.
 As is evident from the religion’s current existence, which would not have been the case had the pagans been able to meet the Quranic challenge. For if the pagans were able to produce a text which rivaled the literary quality of the Quran, Muhammed ﷺ would have lost all his followers.
6 thoughts on “The Miracle of the Quran for non-Arabic Speakers”
You wrote “…the Quran, which is an imitable literary miracle…” at the start, but i think you meant inimitable
Yes. Thank you for the correction.
How would you respond to those who ask how do we know with certainty the authenticity of the content and transmission of pre-Islamic poetry as we have it today?
When assessing a claim about history, you don’t need a single piece of decisive evidence to prove that this claim is true with certainty. Most of the time you have many probabilistic evidences that indicate that this claim is true, and the sheer number of these evidences suffices for one to be certain of the truth of this historical claim.
Take the example of the existence of a famous historical character, like Henry the Eighth; or the occurrence of a well known event like World War II. You don’t even need to have come into contact with any physical evidence for the truth of the aforementioned historical claims, in order to be certain that those claims are true. Actually even if you did come into contact with a piece of physical evidence, one can argue that it is possible for this evidence to have been fabricated/tampered with. Thus, it isn’t any single piece of evidence (physical or otherwise) which leads one to know that those claims (the existence of Henry, or the occurrence of WWII) are true with certainty. Rather, it is the numerous probabilistic evidences for those claims, taken collectively, which leads one to know that they are true with certainty.
Similarly, if you wanted to prove the significance of poetry in pre-Islamic Arabian culture and the competence of Jahili poets, you don’t need to prove that any single piece of poetry decisively goes back to the poet it is attributed to. Sufficient for the opponent are the hundreds of poems orally reported from that time, each of which being probabilistic evidence for the truth of the claim; the fact that this literature is widely quoted by later scholars of the language, who used it to argue for the appropriateness of grammar and rhetorical devices; the fact that no one, except orientalists attacking Islam many centuries later, disputed the truth of this widely believed claim; the fact that the Quran addresses those poets, and directly challenges them; the fact that the competence of the pagan Arabs is attested to in the Sunnah and the Athaar of the Companions; the fact that physical stone inscriptions of poetry exist from that time; amongst other reasons. Even if each of the above is probabilistic evidence from the perspective of the opponent, collectively this evidence is decisive proof for the truth of the claim.
Is the miracle in the literary qualities of the Qur’an itself, or is it in the inability of the pagans to imitate it for that timeframe? The reference to al-Baqallani makes it seem that the miracle is in the pagans being rendered unable to imitate the Qur’an, rather than them being inherently unable to imitate it, just like one is normally able to move their hands, but would have to be rendered unable in the scenario given.
I have been meaning to edit this article to elaborate on this more clearly, and to distinguish it from other material on this site, but have been extremely busy as of late.
To answer your question: there is a difference of opinion amongst the Mutaklimun. Most hold that the Quran’s eloquence is miraculous in of itself. Some of them hold that the eloquence isn’t the miracle, but that Allah ﷻ’s preventing the pagans from meeting the challenge is what is miraculous (similar to Imam Al-Baqilani’s example above). The latter opinion has been attributed to Imam Abu Al-Hassan Al-Ash’ari (the Imam himself, not the school– most Asha’ira maintain the first position).
But all of the Mutaklimun agree that, either way, the inability of the pagan Arabs to meet the challenge is a miracle for the Prophet ﷺ. Whether this inability is due to the miraculousness of the eloquence itself, or due to Allah ﷻ preventing the Prophet’s opponents from meeting the challenge, is a secondary matter that does not impact the fact that the Prophet ﷺ was supported with a miracle. And a claimant to prophethood who was supported with a miracle is a true prophet.