The Review of Religions [English], September 1922
Hazrat Chaudhry Fateh Muhammad Sayyalra (1887-1960)
The European critics of the Holy Quran comprise two classes; one who loves truth, labour for truth and try to know it and spread it wherever and whenever it may be found; the other class thinks it their duty to demolish Islam in the name of Jesus, son of Mary, or in the name of so-called European civilization. In this article, my address is only to those who are in search of the reality and are ready to labour for it.
In this first of my articles on this subject I have a mind, if God helps me, to tackle the most important and the most widespread European objections against the style of the Holy Book of Islam. The European student says that he fails to see the beauty and grandeur that Eastern Muslims attribute to the Quran; to him, there is no harmony, no poetry, no order, and no method in the diction of this much praised Book.
That is what Carlyle thinks of it and he bases his opinion on the English translation extant in his day.
If we go to Muslims who understand this noble Book whether Arabs or non-Arabs all of them are unanimous in their verdict that the grandeur, beauty and purity of the style of this divine Book is miraculous and unapproachable by men. This Light, Guidance and Cure is all Divine and has proceeded directly from the Lord of the Universe. Whether they are sincere in this expression of their eulogy can be seen from their faces.
One of them stands up and begins to recite the majestic verses of this noble Book. The reciter soon overcomes his audience, carries the whole assembly with him and sways them at his will. You can almost always tell from the faces of the intelligent audience what the subject of the recital was; of love, of hope, of fear, of command, of beauty, of mercy, of praise, of glory, of promise or of thanksgiving; whatever it may be, it is written on their faces. The emotions are roused to such a pitch that concealment is impossible, faces become radiant and eyes flash intoxicated with the wine of pure delight or weep with tears of heavenly joys. The Holy Quran describes the condition of a Muslim heart in the following words:
اَللّٰهُ نَزَّلَ اَحۡسَنَ الۡحَدِيۡثِ كِتٰبًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ ۖ تَقۡشَعِرُّ مِنۡهُ جُلُوۡدُ الَّذِيۡنَ يَخۡشَوۡنَ رَبَّهُمۡ ۚ ثُمَّ تَلِيۡنُ جُلُوۡدُهُمۡ وَقُلُوۡبُهُمۡ اِلٰي ذِكۡرِ اللّٰهِ ؕ ذٰلِكَ هُدَي اللّٰهِِ
“God hath sent down the most beautiful discourse a book in unison with itself and containing repeated admonitions. A thrill passes through the bodies of those who fear their Lord at the recital of it. Then their skins and hearts get softened to the remembrance of their Lord. This is God’s guidance.” [Surah al-Zumar, Ch.39: V.24]
A poet of great reputation after becoming Muslim ceased to make verses. His friends asked him the reason and the reply was that the poetry of the Holy Quran was enough for him. The same can be said of every Muslim that the Quran is enough for him in weal or woe. This is the reason that Arab Muslims who understood the Quran ceased to employ rhyme or harmony in their battles which as a nation they were so much addicted to before Islam.
But the critic will say that though these people were Arabs, their opinion could not be depended upon, on account of their faith in Muhammad[sa], therefore, their opinion does not finally settle the point under discussion.
So, as we are not to take the opinion of the English writers on account of their being foreign to the tongue and nature of the people, we are not going to accept the Arab opinion because Arabs are Muslims. The only way, then, to settle the matter left to us is to go to Non-Muslim Arabs and accept their opinion as the final word on the merit of the diction of the Quran.
On the one hand, they were competent judges of the language and on the other hand, they were opposing Muhammad[sa] and their opinion was rather biased against him than in his favour. So, if we follow them, there is not the slightest likelihood of our being misled with regard to the excellencies of the Quranic style.
Fortunately, we have ample evidence of what the Arabs at the time of Muhammad[sa] thought of the Quran. Their evidence in the first place is recorded in the Quran itself; secondly, in the traditions and; thirdly, in the authentic Muslim history.
In the Quran, there is ample evidence that the recital of the Quran had great influence over the Arab mind. The Arabs felt in the Quran an almost irresistible force which drew them towards it and its reader. Again and again, it is said that the opponents of the Prophet[sa] of God charged him with being a poet and a magician for the beauty of the language and the poetry of verses and the grandeur and novelty of thought which was expressed in the Quran. They called him a poet for the beauty of the language and a magician for the secret magnetism which was hidden in the powerful word of God. The only remedy which the non-believing Arabs against this powerful influence of the Quran had was not to listen to it.
As far as the voice of Muhammad[sa] reached, the area was considered the charmed circle. So, the Arab chiefs consulted among themselves and finally decided that nobody should be allowed to go near Muhammad[sa]; if anybody had to pass by that way by chance or of necessity, he should continue making loud and confused noises in order to avoid the effect of the word of charm.
وَقَالَ الَّذِيۡنَ كَفَرُوۡا لَا تَسۡمَعُوۡا لِهٰذَا الۡقُرۡاٰنِ وَالۡغَوۡا فِيۡهِ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَغۡلِبُوۡنَ
“And they had nothing but to say do not listen to this recital and continue making void noise perchance you may overcome the voice of the reader.” [Surah Ha Mim al-Sajdah, Ch.41: V.27]
Once when the Prophet[sa] of God was reciting to the Meccans the chapter al-Najam, which means the stars bear witness, at the end of the discourse the whole of the assembly followed the Prophet[sa] in his prostrations, and when they were asked if they had become Muslims their answer was in the negative and they said that prostration was simply due to the beauty and elegance of the language.
The stories of the conversions of most of the early and important converts to the faith of Muhammad[sa] bear eloquent evidence of the same fact:
“Omar[ra], […] the son of the Khattab, notorious for the persecution of the Moslems was hitherto a violent opponent of Islam and the bitterest adversary of the Prophet[sa]. His conversion is said to have been worked by the magic effect on his mind of a chapter of the Quran which he heard being recited in his sister’s house, where he had gone in a furious rage and with murderous intent.
“Struck with the words which he had heard, he went straight to the Prophet[sa] with the naked sword in his hand with which he had meant to slay Muhammad[sa] and his disciples causing considerable consternation among the assembly of the faithful listening to the Preacher. He kissed the master’s hand and then demanded to be taken into the fold of God.” (The Spirit of Islam, pp. 37-38)
The Najashi asked for a sample of the message which had wrought such wonders. Jafar[ra] read him a Surah from the Holy Quran, not to our ideas one of the most remarkable, but the effect was such that all present burst into tears and the Najashi exclaimed, his tears gushing down over his board and those of all the bishops upon their books, ‘I will never deliver you up’ and the Quraish’s messengers returned to Mecca discomfited.
No wonder that Labeed, the greatest poet of his time forbore to enter the poetic lists with Muhammad[sa] when he recited to him the description of the infidel in the 2nd Surah:
مَثَلُهُمۡ كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي اسۡتَوۡقَدَ نَارًا ۚ فَلَمَّاۤ اَضَآءَتۡ مَا حَوۡلَهٗ ذَهَبَ اللّٰهُ بِنُوۡرِهِمۡ وَتَرَكَهُمۡ فِيۡ ظُلُمٰتٍ لَّا يُبۡصِرُوۡنَ۔صُمٌّ بُكۡمٌ عُمۡيٌ فَهُمۡ لَا يَرۡجِعُوۡنَ۔اَوۡ كَصَيِّبٍ مِّنَ السَّمَآءِ فِيۡهِ ظُلُمٰتٌ وَّرَعۡدٌ وَّبَرۡقٌ ۚ يَجۡعَلُوۡنَ اَصَابِعَهُمۡ فِيۡۤ اٰذَانِهِمۡ مِّنَ الصَّوَاعِقِ حَذَرَ الۡمَوۡتِ ؕ وَاللّٰهُ مُحِيۡطٌ بِالۡكٰفِرِيۡنَ۔يَكَادُ الۡبَرۡقُ يَخۡطَفُ اَبۡصَارَهُمۡ ؕ كُلَّمَاۤ اَضَآءَ لَهُمۡ مَّشَوۡا فِيۡهِ ۙ وَاِذَاۤ اَظۡلَمَ عَلَيۡهِمۡ قَامُوۡا ؕ وَلَوۡ شَآءَ اللّٰهُ لَذَهَبَ بِسَمۡعِهِمۡ وَاَبۡصَارِهِمۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلٰي كُلِّ شَيۡءٍ قَدِيۡرٌ۔
“They are like one who kindles a fire and when it hath thrown all its light all around him God taketh away the light and leaveth him in darkness and they cannot see. Deaf, dumb, blind, therefore they shall not retrace their steps. They are like those who when there cometh a storm-cloud out of heaven big with darkness, thunder and lightning thrust their fingers into their ears because of the thunderclap for fear of death. God is round about the infidel. The lightning almost snatches away their eyes, so oft as it gleameth on them, they walk on in it, but when darkness closeth upon them they stop and if God pleased, of their ears and of their eyes would surely deprive them, verily God is Almighty.” [Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.18-21]
(Transcribed and revised by Al Hakam from the original published in The Review of Religions, September 1922)