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Practioners of Islam, called Muslims, believe that the Quran is the eternal, literal word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of 22 years. The Qur'an consists of 114 suras[?] (chapters) and 6,228 ayats (verses).
Much of the content in the Qur'an makes reference back to parts of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Well-known Biblical characters such as Adam, Moses, Abraham, Noah, Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist are mentioned. Non-Muslims hold that Muhammad was merely taking older religious documents and stories and embellishing them.
Muslims believe that the wording of Qur'anic text that we have today is identical to that spoken by Muhammad himself. Muhammad only delivered the Qur'an in spoken form during his lifetime; the word "Qur'an", in fact, means "the recitation". To ensure they remembered the text thoroughly, the faithful were required to (and many still do) memorize passages perfectly, down to the last syllable, and recite them frequently. Shortly after his death in 632 CE, Muhammad's disciples began recording all the Suras in written form. Thus, two different mechanisms were in place -- oral and written -- to help ensure that no corruption of the text took place over time. There is almost no dispute among Islamic clerics that the text today is as it was when it was first written down. However, translations of the Qur'an from Arabic to other languages are not considered by Muslims to be actual copies of the Qu'ran, but rather are considered to be interpretive translations of the Qu'ran.
Muslims believe that only their scripture is the true word of God. In recent years, a new development of Muslim theology has been to latch onto the findings of modern biblical scholarship. Such scholarship has shown that the extant version of the five books of Moses was not written solely by Moses, as traditional Jews and Christians had believed, but instead was edited together from a number of previous sources; this is known as the Documentary hypothesis. Similar work has been carried out on the New Testament. According to religious Muslims, this is "proof" that Jews and Christians deliberately faked and distorted their own scripture, making it unreliable; in this view one is thus forced to adopt the religion of Islam, as (according to its adherents) its scripture (i.e. the Qur'an) is the only scripture that is the pure and unaltered word of God. (But, see below for the discussion of the origin of the Quran.) This ideology also holds that the Qur'an has no errors nor inconsistencies.
An analogue to Christian Creation Science has recently developed within Islam, in which fundamentalist Muslims attempt to prove that the Qur'an predicts all the accomplishments of modern-day science, including Quantum Physics. Other Muslims reject this position.
Just as higher biblical criticism revolutionzed Judaism and Christianity by calling into question long held assumptions about the origins of the Bible, similar studies have done the same for the Qur'an. Parts of the Qur'an are based on stories of the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible], the New Testament of the Christian Bible and other non-canonical Christian works. Differences of the biblical to the quranic versions indicate that these stories were not taken directly from written texts but seem rather to have been part of the oral traditions of the Arab peninsula at Mohammed's time.
Islamic history records that Uthman collected all variants of the Qur'an and destroyed those that he did not approve of. Beside the known earlier versions from Abdallah Ibn Masud and Ubay Ibn Ka'b, there exist also some dubious reports about a shiite version which was allegedly compiled by Ali, Mohammed's son in law which he gave up in favor of Uthman's collection. Modern researchers assume that the differences between the versions consisted mostly of orthographical and lexicalic variants and differing count of verses.
Since Uthman's version contained no diacritical marks and could be read in various ways, around the year 700 started the development of a vocalized version. Today the Qur'an is published in fully vocalized versions.
The Hadith repesents the authoritative Muslim understanding of the Qur'an and Islamic law. (It is roughly equivalent to Judaism's oral law in the Mishna and Talmuds.) In detail it gives information about which suras are to be regarded as abrogated by later ones, an important question for the Islamic law. It explicitly refers to chapters suras[?] in the Qur'an that are no longer extant. Moreover the Hadith often give an account about the situation when specific sura were revealed, which was also an important aspect for interpretation.
The interpretation of the Qur'an soon developed into its own science, the ilm at-tafsir. Famous commentators were at-Tabari, az-Zamahshari, at-Tirmidhi. While these commentaries mention all common and accepted interpretations, modern fundamentalist commentaries like the one of Sayyed Qutb show tendencies to stick to only on possible interpretation.
Today seven canonical readings of the Qur'an and several uncanonical exist. This sevener-system was laid down by Ibn Mugahid who tried to find the special characteristics of each reading and thus derived common rules by analogical reasoning (qiyas).
The proper rules (laws?) governing the translation and publication of the Qur'an state that when the book is published, it must never simply be entitled "The Qur'an." The title must always include a defining adjective, which is why all available editions of the Qur'an are titled The Glorious Qur'an, The Noble Qur'an, and other similar titles..