Qur'an

Etymology

Within Arabic grammar, the word "qur'an" constitutes a masdar (verbal noun) and it's derived from the Arabic verb qara'a ("to read" or "to recite") which is the root. The word Qur’an conveys the meaning of diligent reading. The word Qur'an has been used within the Qur'an in its generic sense of "reading", "recital", as in 75:18 (with -a accusative suffix + -hu 3rd person masculine singular possessive suffix): The word is used in the Qur'an itself as a term for the Qur'an, e.g. 12:2:

Lo! We have revealed it, a Lecture [qur'?n] in Arabic, that ye may understand. (Pickthall's translation)
We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an, in order that ye may learn wisdom. (Yusuf Ali's translation)

And when We read [qara'-] it, follow thou the reading [qur'?n-ahu] (Pickthall)
But when We have promulgated [qara'-] it, follow thou its recital [qur'?n-ahu] (as promulgated) (Yusuf Ali)

However, there is some question as to whether this word was formed within Arabic from this root or borrowed separately from Syriac. The latter hypothesis was first proposed by the German Semitic scholar Theodore Nöldeke who argued in his 1860 Geschichte des Qorâns (History of the Qur'an)[10] that the word qur'?n might be a borrowing from the Syriac noun ????? qery?nâ (whose meanings include "reading" and "lection, lesson"), itself derived from the verb ??? qrâ ("to read, recite; to study"[4]):

"Since a cultural word like "to read" can not be proto-Semitic, we may assume that it has entered Arabia, and probably from the North ... Since Syriac has, next to the verb ????, also the noun qery?n?, meaning both ?ν?γνωσις ("reading, reading out") and ?ν?γνωσμα ("lection, lecture"), and because of the above mentioned, the assumption of probability increases, that the term Qur'an is not an internal Arabic development from the infinitive with the same meaning, but a borrowing from the Syriac word that has been adapted according to the type ful??n."[5]

More recent proponents of this view include Christoph Luxenberg[6] (who takes it as evidence that the Qur'an was itself originally a Syriac lectionary).

Format of the Qur'an

The Qur'an consists of 114 surahs (chapters) with a total of 6236 ayat (verses).

Each surah, or chapter, is generally known by an Arabic name derived from that surah (see List of surah names). The surahs are not arranged in chronological order (in the order in which Islamic scholars believe they were revealed) but in a different order, roughly descending by size.

The Qur'an for reading and recitation

In addition to and largely independent of the division into surahs, there are various ways of dividing the Qur'an into parts of approximately equal length for convenience in reading, recitation and memorization. The seven manazil (stations) and the thirty ajza' (parts) can be used to work through the entire Qur’an in a week or a month, one manzil or one juz' a day, respectively. A juz' is sometimes further divided into two ahzab (groups), and each hizb is in turn subdivided into four quarters. A different structure is provided by the ruku'at, semantical units resembling paragraphs and comprising roughly ten ayat each.

A hafiz is one who has memorized the entire text of the Qur'an, and is able to recite it properly (Tajweed). There are believed to be millions of these worldwide.[citation needed] All Muslims must memorize at least some parts of the Qu'ran, in order to perform their daily prayers.

Qur'an recitation

The very word Qur'an is usually translated as "recital," indicating that it cannot exist as a mere text. It has always been transmitted orally as well as textually.

To even be able to perform salat (prayer), a mandatory obligation in Islam, a Muslim is required to learn at least some suras of the Qur'an (typically starting with the first sura, al-Fatiha, known as the "seven oft-repeated verses," and then moving on to the shorter ones at the end). Until one has learned al-Fatiha, a Muslim can only say phrases like "praise be to God" during the salat.

A person whose recital repertoire encompasses the whole Qur'an is called a qari' (??????) or hafiz (which translate as "reciter" or "protector," respectively). Muhammad is regarded as the first hafiz. Recitation (tilawa ?????) of the Qur'an is a fine art in the Muslim world.

Writing and printing the Qur'an

Most Muslims today use printed editions of the Qur'an. There are many editions, large and small, elaborate or plain, expensive or inexpensive [11]. Bilingual forms with the Arabic on one side and a gloss into a more familiar language on the other are very popular.

Qur'ans are produced in many different sizes, from extremely large Qur'ans [12] [13] for display purposes, to extremely small Qur'ans [14].

Qur'ans were first printed from carved wooden blocks, one block per page. There are existing specimen of pages and blocks dating from the 10th century CE. Mass-produced less expensive versions of the Qur'an were later produced by lithography, a technique for printing illustrations. Qur'ans so printed could reproduce the fine calligraphy of hand-made versions.

The oldest surviving Qur'an for which movable type was used was printed in Venice in 1537/1538. It seems to have been prepared for sale in the Ottoman empire. Catherine the Great of Russia sponsored a printing of the Qur'an in 1787. This was followed by editions from Kazan (1828), Persia (1833) and Istanbul (1877) [15].

It is extremely difficult to render the full Qur'an, with all the points, in computer code, such as Unicode. The Internet Sacred Text Archive makes computer files of the Qur'an freely available both as images [16] and in a temporary Unicode version [17]. Various designers and software firms have attempted to develop computer fonts that can adequately render the Qur'an. See [18] for one such commercial font.

Before printing was widely adopted, the Qur'an was transmitted by copyists and calligraphers. Since Muslim tradition felt that directly portraying sacred figures and events might lead to idolatry, it was considered wrong to decorate the Qur'an with pictures (as was often done for Christian texts, for example). Muslims instead lavished love and care upon the sacred text itself. Arabic is written in many scripts, some of which are both complex and beautiful. Arabic calligraphy is a highly honored art, much like Chinese calligraphy. Muslims also decorated their Qur'ans with abstract figures (arabesques), colored inks, and gold leaf. Pages from some of these beautiful antique Qur'ans are displayed throughout this article.

Some Muslims believe that it is not only acceptable, but commendable to decorate everyday objects with Qur'anic verses, as daily reminders. Other Muslims feel that this is a misuse of Qur'anic verses; those who handle these objects will not have cleansed themselves properly and may use them without respect.

The language of the Qur'an

The Qur'an was one of the first texts written in Arabic. It is written in an early form of classical Arabic known as “Quranic” Arabic. There are few other examples of Arabic from that time. (The Mu'allaqat, or Suspended Odes, are believed by some to be examples of pre-Islamic Arabic; others say that they were created after Muhammad. Only five pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions survive.)

Soon after Muhammad's death in 632 CE, Islam burst out of Arabia and conquered the Middle East, Northern Africa, Central Asia, and parts of Europe. Arab rulers had millions of foreign subjects, with whom they had to communicate. Thus, the language rapidly changed in response to this new situation, losing complexities of case and obscure vocabulary. Several generations after the prophet's death, many words used in the Qur'an had become opaque to ordinary sedentary Arabic-speakers, as Arabic had changed so much, so rapidly. The Bedouin speech changed at a considerably slower rate, however, and early Arabic lexicographers sought out Bedouin to explain difficult words or elucidate points of grammar. Partly in response to the religious need to explain the Qur'an to Muslims who were not familiar with Qur'anic Arabic, Arabic grammar and lexicography soon became important sciences. The model for the Arabic literary language remains to this day the speech used in Qur'anic times, rather than the current spoken dialects.

Translations of the Qur'an

The Qur'an has been translated into many languages; there are several translations for many languages, including English. These translations are considered to be glosses for personal use only, and have no weight in serious religious discussion. Translation is an extremely difficult endeavor, because each translator must consult his or her own opinions and aesthetic sense in trying to replicate shades of meaning in another language; this inevitably changes the original text. Thus a translation is often referred to as an "interpretation," and is not considered a real Qur'an. Just as Jewish and Christian scholars turn to the earliest texts, in Hebrew or Greek, when it is a question of exactly what is meant by a certain passage, so Muslim scholars turn to the Qur'an in Arabic.

The first translator of the Qur'an is Salman the Persian. He was one of the prophet's nearest companions and translated the Qur'an during 7 C.E. - some of the people of Persia asked Salman al-Farisi to write to them something of the Qur'an, and he wrote to them the Fatihah in Persian.[7]

Robert of Ketton was the first person to translate the Qur'an into a Western language, Latin, in 1143.[8] Alexander Ross offered the first English version in 1649. In 1734, George Sale produced the first scholarly translation of the Qur'an into English; another was produced by Richard Bell in 1937, and yet another by Arthur John Arberry in 1955. All these translators were non-Muslims. There have been numerous translation by Muslims; the most popular of these are the translations by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al Hilali, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, M. H. Shakir, Muhammad Asad, and Marmaduke Pickthall.

The English translators have sometimes favored archaic English words and constructions over their more modern or conventional equivalents; thus, for example, two widely-read translators, A. Yusuf Ali and M. Marmaduke Pickthall, use "ye" and "thou" instead of the more common "the" and/or "you." Another common stylistic decision has been to refrain from translating "Allah" — in Arabic, literally, "The God" — into the common English word "God." These choices may differ in more recent translations.