Beholding The Quran: What is the Quran?

The Quran is the Speech of Allah. This final revelation is recited by believers devotionally, but it isn’t simply guidance ‘from’ Allah. This is the first in a series of articles on Beholding the Quran: Appreciating Beauty & Means of Connecting.

The opening of the Quran and the closing of the Quran encapsulate the guidance, purpose, significance and reality of the Quran.

The scholars describe the Quran in a number of ways. “Quran” comes from the root qaf-ra-‘ayn (to recite). “Quran” has the sense of repetition, so in that sense: that which is much recited.

Sacred Book

What do we recite? The written book. In some of the narrations regarding the first revelation, when the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was in the cave (this is how revelation began), the angel Gabriel came to him. What did he say to him? Recite. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “I’m not a reciter.”

What was he telling him to recite? Some of the narrations mentioned there was a parchment on which there was writing. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not read. Those meanings were placed in his noble heart. That is what revelation is from Allah 

The Quran refers directly in Arabic to the much recited, but there is a direct reference because what you recite is the written book, the Quran. Allah says:

ذَ ٰلِكَ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبُ لَا رَیۡبَۛ فِیهِۛ 

“This, no less, is the Sacred Book; No doubt is in it” [Quran 2:2, tr; Keller, Quran Beheld]

There is no distinction between the book and the Quran. It is one. Allah has preserved the Quran. He preserved its meanings and understanding. The Quran is the much recited but that necessarily connects to the book that is much recited.

A Definition

The scholars of jurisprudence say that it is the revelation granted to the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). It contains commands related to the actions of those morally responsible. They say the other elements of the description are not relevant insofar as it is a book of legal ruling, of guidance.

There are elements to the Quran like it being inimitable. Scholars of jurisprudence say even if it was not inimitable or incomparable, it is still the Book of Allah and you still have to follow it. 

The rhetoricians focused on the eloquence much more. The grammarians would focus on other grammar. Whereas the scholars of Hadith define the Quran insofar as how it is transmitted to us. However, a comprehensive definition of the Quran is important to be aware of. 

Divine Revelation

Firstly, the Quran is divine revelation given to the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) through the angel Gabriel (upon him be peace) as guidance. 

It being divine revelation is very important. This is the first pillar of what the Quran is and it is very important with respect to prophethood. What makes a prophet a prophet? Revelation. What makes a man a prophet is not a shared experience. No one but a prophet receives revelation for revelation is an absolutely distinct experience that is decisive in nature.

It is a direct and decisive divine address of guidance. It is inimitable. And it is only granted to a Prophet (Messengers being, according to the majority position, a subset of prophets). The prophets make a truth claim of receiving direct communication from the Divine. Containing a message of guidance.


The second element of the definition is it is inimitable in its style, content, and teaching. In Arabic this is al-mu‘jiz. The truth claim of the Quran is intrinsic. 

The Quraysh challenged the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). He recited it to them and some believed immediately that this could not be from other than Allah.  There are other supports to the truth claim of the Quran.

Recitation and Worship

The third element of the definition is “whose recitation is an act of worship.” This is a great gift from Allah to His creation.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) tells us that Allah Most High says, “Whoever is busy by my remembrance or reciting My book from asking me I grant them the best of what I grant those who ask of Me.”

The superiority of the Quran over all their speech is like Allah’s superiority over His creation. It is His speech. One of the practical things is sometimes if one is in difficulty and distress and you do not know what to ask for recite the Book of Allah or make remembrance (Dhikr). Sometimes, that is the best way of turning to Allah and seeking His favor. 

Its recitation is an act of worship of turning to Allah, both in the recitation of the words, and the recitation with the meaning. Reflection is a greater act of worship. It is light upon light.


The Quran is preserved fully by divine promise. Allah Most High revealed books to Prophets (upon them be peace) before, but He did not take it upon Himself to preserve them. He left its preservation to the people.

Allah tells us:

إِنَّا نَحۡنُ نَزَّلۡنَا ٱلذِّكۡرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُۥ لَحَـٰفِظُونَ

“Verily We Ourselves have sent down the Remindance; And verily it We shall ever preserve.” [Quran, 15:9; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

The primary preservation of the Quran was oral, not written. The Quran spread within the lifetime of the companions all the way to China. We have narrations about the Sahaba being in Azerbaijan during the time of our master Umar Ibn Al-Khattab. They reached Northwest Africa and deep into eastern and southeastern Africa and other parts. Primarily through recitation, that is a primary mode of memorization, but also through writing. 

With all that spread and through generations, do we have the Chinese Quran versus the Moroccan Quran? You have someone who has learned the Quran in the depths of the desert of Mauritania. Someone else who learned the Quran on one of the islands of Indonesia. Are they reciting the same thing? Exactly the same thing, with the same rules of tajwid.

Seven Variants

In addition to the marvel of the preservation, Allah revealed the Quran in seven dialects and those are recorded variants. They are preserved as well from the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) tells us that it was revealed with seven variants. Those minor differences facilitate their recitation and they are preserved also. That is amazing. 

And if someone objects that a manuscript exists with a couple of differences? Try to write out 600 pages. Might you make one or two mistakes? There is no divine promise that every scribe’s pen is protected by Allah Most High. 

There is an important book by called The History of the Quranic Text by Dr. Muhammad Mustafa Azami. It looks at the history of the preservation of the Quranic text. It is a very important work.