This is an edited version of an article written by Mahmoud Ayoub which originally appeared in The Muslim Almanac (Gale Research, Inc. Detroit, MI: 1996, p.355-364, Ed. A. Nanji).
Much has been said and written about the Qur’an – that it is sacred scripture, a forgery, a concoction of disparate ideas, great literature, or a confused piece dreamed by a primitive mind. While the Qur’an has been a source of bewilderment for Western understanding, it has been for Muslims a source of inspiration, solace, and salvation. Ultimately, it is not so much the Qur’an but its impact on Muslim societies that has motivated Western readers to discover some of the Qur’an’s power and beauty.
In the Qur’an, a pious Muslim hears God’s voice guiding and encouraging, consoling and reproaching, promising the righteous mercy and eternal bliss, while threatening the wicked with wrath and eternal torment. For Muslims, the Qur’an is the word of God, which has entered human time to shape history. According to Muslim sources, the Angel Gabriel revealed himself to Prophet Muhammad in 610 CE while he was in prayerful retreat in a cave on Mount Hira, outside Mecca. It is said that in this initial meeting, the Angel Gabriel pressed Muhammad so vehemently that he felt he was being choked. The Qur’an states that the angel then commanded:
Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a blood clot. Recite, for your Lord is most magnanimous – who taught by the pen; taught man that which he did not know. (Qur’an 96:1-5)
Muslims claim that God warned Prophet Muhammad: We shall surely lay upon you weighty speech, and enjoined him to rise up through most of the night in prayer, and remember fervently what he was told to be, “the Lord of the east and the west” (Qur’an 73:5 and 73:8). For Muslims this “weighty speech” marked Prophet Muhammad as the last Messenger of God to humankind; this event was to have a great impact on the course of human history. (…)