The Art of the Qur’an
As the Word of God for Muslims, the Qur’an is first and foremost an oral tradition. It was revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel from about 610 until the Prophet’s death in 632. The Qur’an embodies the totality of the Revelation, and it has not changed to this day.
Several important characteristics distinguish the Qur’an from other monotheistic scriptures. For one, the text does not represent a sequential coherent whole but consists of 114 independent chapters (suras). These units are generally arranged according to length, with the longer chapters at the beginning and the shorter ones at the end of the text. Rather than offering overarching narratives, the Qur’an combines stories, teachings, and warnings. These messages are repeated intermittently throughout the text, each time from a slightly different perspective, as a way to amplify and reinforce the underlying message.
A unique characteristic of the Qur’an is its self-referential nature. With God at its center, the Divine Message explicates its truthfulness, purity, and role in guiding humankind. While regarded as an oral revelation, the Qur’an also persistently presents itself as a book (kitab), emphasizing its dual nature. It also self-consciously defines its position in relation to earlier Abrahamic traditions as the final Revelation and as “a Scripture making things clear” (sura 5:15).
The Qur’an unequivocally acknowledges a single, omnipotent God. He is the creator and sustainer of the world and the one who offers guidance to men and women through the Revelation.
Heir to God’s earlier messengers, Muhammad continued the Abrahamic tradition and is considered the last and the “seal” of the prophets. Through its message, the Qur’an stresses some of the central doctrines of Islam, such as trust in the one, all-knowing God, the centrality of the Divine Message for Muslims, the role of the prophets as guides to moral and ethical conduct, and the inevitability of Judgment Day.
In addition to these core articles of belief (iman), the Qur’an offers certain guidelines, ranging from inheritance laws to daily rituals and dietary restrictions, that help establish a community of believers (umma).