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The Quran (English pronunciation: /kɔrˈɑːn/[n 1]kor-AHN; Arabic: القرآنal-qur'ān, IPA: [qurˈʔaːn],[n 2] literally meaning "the recitation"; also romanised Qur'an or Koran) is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God (Arabic: الله‎, Allah).[1] Its scriptural status among a world-spanning religious community, and its major place within world literature generally, has led to a great deal of secondary literature on the Quran.[2] Quranic chapters are called suras and verses are called ayahs.

Muslims believe that the Quran was verbally revealed by God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel (Jibril),[3][4] gradually over a period of approximately 23 years, beginning on 22 December 609 CE,[5] when Muhammad was 40, and concluding in 632 CE, the year of his death.[1][6][7] Muslims regard the Quran as the most important miracle of Muhammad, a proof of his prophethood,[8] and the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with the messages revealed to Adam and ended with Muhammad. They consider the Quran to be the only revealed book that has been protected by God from distortion or corruption.[9]

According to the traditional narrative, several companions of Muhammad served as scribes and were responsible for writing down the revelations.[10] Shortly after Muhammad's death, the Quran was compiled by his companions who wrote down and memorized parts of it.[11] These codices had differences that motivated the Caliph Uthman to establish a standard version now known as Uthman's codex, which is generally considered the archetype of the Quran we have today. However, the existence of variant readings, with mostly minor and some significant variations, and the early unvocalized Arabic script mean the relationship between Uthman's codex to both the text of today's Quran and to the revelations of Muhammad's time is still unclear.[10]

The Quran assumes familiarity with major narratives recounted in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. It summarizes some, dwells at length on others and, in some cases, presents alternative accounts and interpretations of events.[12][13][14] The Quran describes itself as a book of guidance. It sometimes offers detailed accounts of specific historical events, and it often emphasizes the moral significance of an event over its narrative sequence.[15][16] The Quran is used along with the hadith to interpret sharia law.[17] During prayers, the Quran is recited only in Arabic.[18]

Someone who has memorized the entire Quran is called a hafiz. Some Muslims read Quranic ayahs (verses) with elocution, which is often called tajwid. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims typically complete the recitation of the whole Quran during tarawih prayers. In order to extrapolate the meaning of a particular Quranic verse, most Muslims rely on the tafsir.[19]

The word qurʼān appears about 70 times in the Quran itself, assuming various meanings. It is a verbal noun (maṣdar) of the Arabic verb qaraʼa (قرأ), meaning "he read" or "he recited". The Syriac equivalent is (ܩܪܝܢܐ) qeryānā, which refers to "scripture reading" or "lesson".[20] While some Western scholars consider the word to be derived from the Syriac, the majority of Muslim authorities hold the origin of the word is qaraʼa itself.[1] Regardless, it had become an Arabic term by Muhammad's lifetime.[1] An important meaning of the word is the "act of reciting", as reflected in an early Quranic passage: "It is for Us to collect it and to recite it (qurʼānahu)."[21]

In other verses, the word refers to "an individual passage recited [by Muhammad]". Its liturgical context is seen in a number of passages, for example: "So when al-qurʼān is recited, listen to it and keep silent."[22] The word may also assume the meaning of a codified scripture when mentioned with other scriptures such as the Torah and Gospel.[23]

The term also has closely related synonyms that are employed throughout the Quran. Each synonym possesses its own distinct meaning, but its use may converge with that of qurʼān in certain contexts. Such terms include kitāb (book); āyah (sign); and sūrah (scripture). The latter two terms also denote units of revelation. In the large majority of contexts, usually with a definite article (al-), the word is referred to as the "revelation" (waḥy), that which has been "sent down" (tanzīl) at intervals.[24][25] Other related words are: dhikr (remembrance), used to refer to the Quran in the sense of a reminder and warning, and ḥikmah (wisdom), sometimes referring to the revelation or part of it.[1][26]

The Quran describes itself as "the discernment or the criterion between truth and falsehood" (al-furqān), "the mother book" (umm al-kitāb), "the guide" (huda), "the wisdom" (hikmah), "the remembrance" (dhikr) and "the revelation" (tanzīl; something sent down, signifying the descent of an object from a higher place to lower place).[27] Another term is al-kitāb (the book), though it is also used in the Arabic language for other scriptures, such as the Torah and the Gospels. The adjective of "Quran" has multiple transliterations including "quranic," "koranic" and "qur'anic," or capitalised as "Qur'anic," "Koranic" and "Quranic." The term mus'haf ('written work') is often used to refer to particular Quranic manuscripts but is also used in the Quran to identify earlier revealed books.[1] Other transliterations of "Quran" include "al-Coran", "Coran", "Kuran" and "al-Qurʼan".

Islamic tradition relates that Muhammad received his first revelation in the Cave of Hira during one of his isolated retreats to the mountains. Thereafter, he received revelations over a period of 23 years. According to hadith and Muslim history, after Muhammad emigrated to Medina and formed an independent Muslim community, he ordered many of his companions to recite the Quran and to learn and teach the laws, which were revealed daily. It is related that some of the Quraysh who were taken prisoners at the battle of Badr regained their freedom after they had taught some of the Muslims the simple writing of the time. Thus a group of Muslims gradually became literate. As it was initially spoken, the Quran was recorded on tablets, bones, and the wide, flat ends of date palm fronds. Most suras were in use amongst early Muslims since they are mentioned in numerous sayings by both Sunni and Shia sources, relating Muhammad's use of the Quran as a call to Islam, the making of prayer and the manner of recitation. However, the Quran did not exist in book form at the time of Muhammad's death in 632 CE.[28][29][30] There is agreement among scholars that Muhammad himself did not write down the revelation.[31]

Sahih al-Bukhari narrates Muhammad describing the revelations as, "Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell" and Aisha reported, "I saw the Prophet being inspired Divinely on a very cold day and noticed the sweat dropping from his forehead (as the Inspiration was over)."[32] Muhammad's first revelation, according to the Quran, was accompanied with a vision. The agent of revelation is mentioned as the "one mighty in power",[33] the one who "grew clear to view when he was on the uppermost horizon. Then he drew nigh and came down till he was (distant) two bows' length or even nearer."[29][34] The Islamic studies scholar Welch states in the Encyclopaedia of Islam that he believes the graphic descriptions of Muhammad's condition at these moments may be regarded as genuine, because he was severely disturbed after these revelations. According to Welch, these seizures would have been seen by those around him as convincing evidence for the superhuman origin of Muhammad's inspirations. However, Muhammad's critics accused him of being a possessed man, a soothsayer or a magician since his experiences were similar to those claimed by such figures well known in ancient Arabia. Welch additionally states that it remains uncertain whether these experiences occurred before or after Muhammad's initial claim of prophethood.[35]

The Quran describes Muhammad as "ummi",[36] which is traditionally interpreted as "illiterate," but the meaning is rather more complex. The medieval commentators such as Al-Tabari maintained that the term induced two meanings: first, the inability to read or write in general; second, the inexperience or ignorance of the previous books or scriptures (but they gave priority to the first meaning). Besides, Muhammad's illiteracy was taken as a sign of the genuineness of his prophethood. For example, according to Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, if Muhammad had mastered writing and reading he possibly would have been suspected of having studied the books of the ancestors. Some scholars such as Watt prefer the second meaning.[29][37]

Based on earlier transmitted reports, in the year 632 CE, after Muhammad died and a number of his companions who knew the Quran by heart were killed in a battle by Musaylimah, the first caliph Abu Bakr (d. 634CE) decided to collect the book in one volume so that it could be preserved. Zayd ibn Thabit (d. 655CE) was the person to collect the Quran since "he used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle". Thus, a group of scribes, most importantly Zayd, collected the verses and produced a hand-written manuscript of the complete book. The manuscript according to Zayd remained with Abu Bakr until he died. Zayd's reaction to the task and the difficulties in collecting the Quranic material from parchments, palm-leaf stalks, thin stones and from men who knew it by heart is recorded in earlier narratives. After Abu Bakr, Hafsa bint Umar, Muhammad's widow, was entrusted with the manuscript. In about 650 CE, the third Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (d. 656CE) began noticing slight differences in pronunciation of the Quran as Islam expanded beyond the Arabian peninsula into Persia, the Levant, and North Africa. In order to preserve the sanctity of the text, he ordered a committee headed by Zayd to use Abu Bakr's copy and prepare a standard copy of the Quran.[28][38] Thus, within 20 years of Muhammad's death, the Quran was committed to written form. That text became the model from which copies were made and promulgated throughout the urban centers of the Muslim world, and other versions are believed to have been destroyed.[28][39][40][41] The present form of the Quran text is accepted by Muslim scholars to be the original version compiled by Abu Bakr.[29][30][42]

According to Shia and some Sunni scholars, Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661CE) compiled a complete version of the Quran shortly after Muhammad's death. The order of this text differed from that gathered later during Uthman's era in that this version had been collected in chronological order. Despite this, he made no objection against the standardized Quran and accepted the Quran in circulation. Other personal copies of the Quran might have existed including Ibn Mas'ud's and Ubay ibn Ka'b's codex, none of which exist today.[1][28][43]

The Quran most likely existed in scattered written form during Muhammad's lifetime. Several sources indicate that during Muhammad's lifetime a large number of his companions had memorized the revelations. Early commentaries and Islamic historical sources support the above-mentioned understanding of the Quran's early development.[11] The Quran in its present form is generally considered by academic scholars to record the words spoken by Muhammad because the search for variants has not yielded any differences of great significance.[44] Although most variant readings of the text of the Quran have ceased to be transmitted, some still are. There has been no critical text produced on which a scholarly reconstruction of the Quranic text could be based.[45] Historically, controversy over the Quran's content has rarely become an issue, although debates continue on the subject.[46][47]

In 1972, in a mosque in the city of Sana'a, Yemen, manuscripts were discovered that were later proved to be the most ancient Quranic text known to exist. The Sana'a manuscripts contain palimpsests, a manuscript page from which the text has been washed off to make the parchment reusable again—a practice which was common in ancient times due to scarcity of writing material. However, the faint washed-off underlying text (scriptio inferior) is still barely visible and believed to be "pre-Uthmanic" Quranic content, while the text written on top (scriptio superior) is believed to belong to Uthmanic time.[48] Studies using radiocarbon dating indicate that the parchments are dated to the period before 671 AD with a 99 percent probability.[49][50]

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