views updated


KORAN (Ar. Qur'ān ), the holy scripture of the Muslims. The name signifies "recital," "recitation." Islamic tradition holds that the Koran was sent down to *Muhammad with the angel Gabriel. Gabriel revealed the book to Muhammad in an ongoing process which lasted 20 years: It began in Mecca when Muhammad was 40, and went on for 10 years till Muhammad's emigration to *Medina, where Gabriel continued the process of revelation till Muhammad's death at the age of 60.

Chronology of Revelation

Muslim tradition is able to tell when each passage of the Koran was revealed, and in present day printed copies of the Koran one finds at the heading of each chapter (in Arabic: sūra) details telling whether the chapter was revealed in Mecca (before the hijra) or in Medina. However, in many "Meccan" chapters, "Medinan" verses are singled out, and vice versa. The overall framework was nevertheless adopted by modern scholars who reconstructed the history of revelation according to Islamic tradition (especially Th. Nöldeke and many of his followers). There have been also more skeptical scholars who rejected the traditional views concerning the authenticity of the Koran as a collection of Muhammad's own prophecies. They were not even sure that the Koran originated in *Arabia and not in *Syria. Some of them suggested that the Koran was created decades after Muhammad, while others held that this scripture contains passages which predate Muhammad (for details see G. Böwering s.v. "Chronology and the Koran," The Encyclopaedia of the Koran (2001). Muslim tradition tells us also how the Koran was written down by companions of the prophet and how the entire canon was compiled decades after Muhammad's death from the different fragments preserved by the companions. Tradition also contains reports about variant readings (in Arabic: qirā'āt) of the Koran prevalent in the different regions of the Islamic world. The standard version today is based on the reading of Ḥafṣ from 'Āṣim (d. 745).

The collection is not arranged according to contents or literary forms, nor according to the time in which the separate parts were revealed. It rather consists of 114 chapters which generally follow one another according to the principle of decreasing length, but with many exceptions to the rule. The whole book is composed in rhymed prose.

The Koran as Scripture among Scriptures

According to koranic terminology, revelation took place in a process of sending down (Arabic: anzala) messages. The sending down of the kitāb, i.e., its revelation, is described as part of a universal process that has included the revelation of other scriptures, namely "the Torah and the Gospel" (Koran 3:3–4). This implies that all monotheistic scriptures are perceived as representing the same divine revelation. All revealed scriptures originate in the pre-existent divine Book in which the pre-ordained Law of God has been recorded. This is, at any rate, how Muslim exegetes explain the locution "Book of God" in Koran 33:6 (also Koran 30:56), which, they hold, is identical with the "Guarded Tablet" (lawḥ maḥfūẓ) mentioned in Koran 85:22. The Koran is said to have formed part of this Tablet (Koran 85:21), so that this revealed scripture is actually a reflection of a celestial universal text. The original celestial version of all scriptures is umm al-kitāb ("mother of the Book") mentioned in Koran 43:4. Because all books come from the same celestial origin, they share the same message, and therefore Muhammad's own revealed scripture (= the Koran) is perceived as "verifying" (muṣaddiq) what was revealed before it (e.g., Koran 3:3–4).

One substantial difference between Muhammad's kitāb and previous ones is the language. Since Muhammad's audience is Arabian, the language of his kitāb must be Arabic, but it remains nonetheless "verifying" with respect to the previous kitābs (Koran 46:12).


The main purpose of Muhammad's prophetic mission is to spread monotheism among the polytheists (Arabic: mushrikūn). The Arab polytheists are accused of worshipping idols whom they consider God's partners, or even His offspring, as is the case with the three Goddesses, Allāt, Manāt, and al-ʿUzzā (Koran 53:19–20). The one God is Allāh who is also named rabb ("Lord"), or raḥmān ("compassionate"). Koranic polemics against polytheism include not only Arabs worshipping idols but also Jews who believe that ʿUzayr (Ezra) was the son of God and Christians who believe that Jesus was His son (Koran 9:30).

The Prophets

Just as the Koran sees itself as a scripture among scriptures, the prophet Muhammad is seen as the final link in the universal line of prophethood ("Seal of the Prophets" (Koran 33:40)). God started sending prophets after humankind became separated, when the initial state of righteousness was replaced by moral corruption. This is at least how the exegetes explain Koran 2:213 in which it is stated: "The people were (united in) one nation (umma wāḥida), then (they became divided, and) God sent the prophets to bear good tidings and to warn…." The prophets represent a divinely chosen pedigree (Koran 3:33–34), and their divine election provides them with abilities not shared by ordinary humans. They possess knowledge of the unseen (Koran 72:26–27; 3:179), and are immune to misbehavior of any kind (3:161). Some prophets possess unique traits that mark their singular status among the rest of the prophets. *Abraham is described in Koran 4:125 as one whom God took as a friend (khalīl). *Moses is described as pure (mukhlaṣ) (Koran 19:51), and as one whom God brought near in communion (najiyyan) (Koran 19:52), and with whom God spoke (kallama) (Koran 4:164). The prophets are sent each to his own nation (Koran 10:47; 16:36), preaching to them in their own language (Koran 14:4). This is an appropriate precedent for Muhammad, the Arabian prophet who has brought to his nation an Arabic Koran (e.g., Koran 12:2). But unlike the previous prophets, Muhammad appears in some other passages as a universal prophet whose mission goes beyond ethnic boundaries and encompasses all humankind (Koran 4:79; 21:107) as well as the jinn (Koran 46:30). Apart from general declarations about the prophets, the Koran provides stories about individual ones. Many of the stories draw on biblical themes. Some stories appear in a condensed form, other stories, such as those of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, are given in elaborate detail and even with subtle revisions of the biblical accounts. Elements unknown in the Bible appear mainly in the Punishment Stories. The Koran itself is aware of the affinity between the stories about the prophets and the biblical literature, for which reason the Jews and the Christians are called upon to confirm the truth of the koranic allusions to the previous prophets. This is at least how Muslim exegetes explain the meaning of Koran 16:43 (see also Koran 21:7) which says: "And We did not send before you any but humans to whom We sent revelation, so ask the People of the Reminder if you do not know." The exegetes say that the "People of the Reminder" (ahl al-dhikr) are scholars well versed in the Torah and the Gospel, which means that they know best about the history of the prophets from their own scriptures. Narratives about the prophets are related to Muhammad "to strengthen your heart therewith" (Koran 11:120), as well as to teach the audience the bitter lesson of disobedience which already led ancient towns to destruction (Koran 7:101; 9:70). But the listeners are not responsive as expected, and they discard the koranic message as "tales of the ancients" (Koran 16:24). The nations to whom prophets have been sent were expected to receive them with consent and obedience, but the prophets were received with anything but obedience. They were mocked (Koran 15:11, etc.) and called liars (e.g., Koran 3:184; 22:42; 23:44; 35:25, etc.), and their message was denied (Koran 11:59), and denounced as "medleys of dreams" (Koran 21:5). The prophets were rejected mainly on account of their being ordinary human beings (bashar) (e.g., Koran 14:10; 17:94; 36:15; 64:6), and were accused of being mere poets, magicians (sāḥir) and madmen (majnūn) (e.g., Koran 21:5; 51:52). Some of them were received with skeptical questions (Koran 2:108), and above all, their audience expressed devotion to the pagan tradition of the ancestors (Koran 43:23). The prophets have also suffered actual persecution, such as the threat of expulsion (e.g., Koran 14:13), and also death at the hand of their own peoples, as was the fate of the Israelite prophets (e.g., Koran 2:61, 91, etc.). Rejection is met with retribution, which is the direct result of the fact that God has promised to protect the prophets (Koran 14:47), and is defined as God's sunna with respect to those who persecute the prophets (Koran 17:76–77). Destruction is never arbitrary or unjust, and is only inflicted on towns that have been warned in advance by their prophets (Koran 17:15; 28:59). The prophets and their close entourage are always saved from the collective disaster (Koran 10:103, etc.). Apart from warnings from the past, the Koran elaborates on the reward awaiting believers and unbelievers in the world to come. Many passages insist on the idea of resurrection which was denied by the infidels, and describe the last Judgment and the fate of believers and unbelievers in paradise and hell, respectively.

Jews and Judaism

The Koran expects the Jews to believe in the concrete Islamic message as represented in the Koran. While a minority of them did believe in Muhammad, most of them rejected him, and the koranic attack on them is shaped according to models encountered in the New Testament. Already in the latter, the Jews are accused of having persecuted and murdered their own prophets (Matthew 5:12, 23:30–1; Luke 11:47). These are said to have foretold the coming of Jesus (Acts 7:52), and the Jews are said to have persecuted Jesus himself, plotting to killhim (John 7:1; 18:12; Acts 9:29). They are also described as stirring up the Gentiles against Jesus' apostles, and as conspiring to kill them too (Acts, 13:50; 14: 2; 20:3; 26:2). The Jews are also accused of not keeping the laws of the Torah which had been given to them (Acts 7:53). The conviction of the Jews that they were God's chosen people is also refuted, and it is stressed that God is not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles (Romans 3:29). On the other hand, a group of Jews who have believed in the message of the apostles is also mentioned (Acts 14:1). All these elements recur in the koranic attack on the Jews. To begin with, the Jewish arrogance stemming from the conviction that the people of Israel were God's chosen nation is reproved in various ways. In Koran 2:111, the Jews, as well as the Christians, are challenged to prove their claim that they alone will enter paradise. In Koran 5:18 the koranic prophet is requested to refute the idea that the Jews and the Christians were no less than "the sons of God and His beloved ones." The koranic prophet is requested to tell them that if this were so, God would not have punished them as He did. The arrogant Jews seem also to be referred to in Koran 4:49, which speaks about people who consider themselves pure, while only God decides whom to purify. Elsewhere (Koran 62:6) it is maintained that if the Jews are really God's favorites, to the exclusion of other people, they had better die soon. This is a sarcastic response to their unfounded conviction that Paradise is in store for them (see also Koran 2:94).The Jews have lost their right to be considered a chosen people mainly because of their insubordination and disbelief. The Koran imputes to them the blame of persecuting and killing their own prophets (Koran 3:181, 183), a sin that is usually mentioned with reference to the Children of Israel (Koran 2:61, 87, 91; 4:155; 5:70). The Christians too share some of the blame, because they have rejected the prophets sent to the Jews. This is implied in Koran 2:113 where the Jews and the Christians reject each other's religion as a false one. This they do in spite of the fact that they read "the Book" which testifies to the relevance of all the prophets sent by God. Likewise, the Koran condemns in Koran 4:150–1 unbelievers (kāfirin) who have only believed in some prophets while rejecting the others. It seems that the rift between Jews and Christians is also referred to in Koran 23:53 (cf. Koran 15:90–1) which condemns those who cut off their religion into sects (zubur).

Apart from persecuting the prophets, the Jews are blamed for failing to keep the laws of their own Torah. In Koran 62:5, those who have been given the Torah but do not carry it out are likened to an ass carrying books. The Torah, it is said elsewhere, contains guidance and light by which the prophets and the rabbis judged the Jews, but those who do not judge by what God has revealed are unbelievers (Koran 5:44). Elsewhere they are said to have believed only in parts of the Book and to have disbelieved in its other parts (Koran 2:85). The Christians too are suspect of ignoring their own law, as is implied in Koran 5:68, in which the People of the Book are warned against failing to observe the Torah and the Gospel (Injīl). In fact, a party of the People of the Book is accused of deliberate rejection of the scriptures given to them by their prophets. They have cast them behind their backs, yet they expect to be praised for their assumed devotion to the Torah (Koran 2:101; 3:187–8). The Koran is also aware of the wrath of God, which resulted in various hardships that the Jews suffered in the course of their history. Their rigid dietary laws, for example, which the Koran adopts in a passage mentioned above, are interpreted elsewhere in the Koran as a punishment from God inflicted on the Jews for oppressing the poor and for taking usury (Koran 4:160–1; 6:146; 16:118). The Koran further claims that these restrictions were not yet prescribed in the Torah, in which all kinds of food were still permitted except for that which Jacob prohibited (Koran 3:93). Apart from the dietary restrictions, the state of internal friction and discord which divided the Jews into sects was also seen as the sign of God's vengeance (Koran 5:64). God has also punished some Jews who have violated the Sabbath by transforming them into apes (Koran 2:65; 7:163–66). The sins committed by the Jews with respect to their own scriptures have continued into Islamic times, and bear serious anti-Islamic implications. These come out in passages imputing to the Jews the distortion (taḥrīf) of the original text of their own sacred scriptures (Koran 4:46; 5:13, 41–3. Cf. Koran 2:75). This seems to be dealt with indirectly also in Koran 2:79, which denounces those "who write the Book with their own hands claiming that it is of God, in order to sell it at a small price…." It is probably implied here that the Jews sold to the believers forged copies of their scriptures. In one verse (Koran 3:78), the act of forging is oral. It is performed by people who "twist" the Book with their tongues, claiming that this is the true form of the Book, although it is not. In this context, the Jews are also accused of playing with (Hebrew?) words that bear a mischievous sense (Koran 4:46. Cf. Koran 2:104). All this is designed to mislead and offend the Muslims and their prophet.

The distortion of the Torah goes hand in hand with the Jewish sin of rejecting those rulings of the koranic prophet which corresponded to their own laws. They refused to follow his verdict, after having made him a judge, and the Koran blames them for preferring the legal advice of others (Koran 5:41–3). The Jews are also said to have plotted to conceal from the Muslim believers what God has revealed to them, so as not to give the believers arguments which they might use against them (Koran 2:76. Cf. Koran 4:37; 2:42). The sin of concealment is imputed mainly to the People of the Book (Koran 2:146; 3:71). They are said to have made their scriptures into separate writings (qarāṭīs) of which they concealed much (Koran 6:91). The message of the koranic prophet is said to have reintroduced those parts of the previous scriptures, which the People of the Book attempted to conceal (Koran 5:15). The Koran promises the sinners guilty of concealment a severe curse from God (Koran 2:159), which is the fire of hell (Koran 2:174). It seems that when accusing the Jews of concealing the Torah, the Koran refers to those parts in their scriptures which foretold the emergence of Muhammad. This is supported by koranic verses asserting that the description of the Islamic prophet was recorded in the Torah and the Gospel as the "Gentile" (ummī) Prophet (Koran 7:157), and that Jesus knew him as Aḥmad (Koran 61:6). The Jews, or rather the People of the Book, are also accused of rejecting the authenticity of the Koran as the true Word of God. On one occasion, they demand that the Prophet produce a book from heaven (Koran 4:153), and they seem to have in mind the written Torah of Moses. Their demand seems to be designed to annoy the Prophet who only receives sporadic oral revelations. It implies that the People of the Book do not believe he is a true prophet. This goes hand in hand with the accusation that Muhammad learned the Koran from a non-Arab (Koran 16:103). The gravest aspect of the Jewish anti-Islamic sin is the hostility towards the Muslim believers. In this respect, the Koran differentiates between them and the Christians. This comes out in Koran 5:82, which states that the Jews as well as the polytheists bear the strongest enmity against the believers, while the Christian priests and hermits are the closest in love to the believers. In some passages the Koran offers a concrete substitute for the Jewish evil ways, namely, the religion of Abraham (e.g., Koran 2:135). The latter is said to have been a ḥanīf, i.e., a non-Jewish and a non-Christian monotheist. The particularistic insistence on Abraham's non-Jewish and non-Christian identity comes out in explicit statements, as, for example, in Koran 2:140, where Abraham, as well as Ishmael, Jacob and the Tribes (i.e., Jacob's sons) are said to have been neither Jews nor Christians (Koran 2:140). But elsewhere the non-Jewish/Christian identity is stated concerning Abraham in particular, with the assertion that the Torah and the Gospel were only revealed after his time (Q 3:65). This statement is addressed to the People of the Book, probably with the intention of refuting their own aspirations concerning Abraham, whose religious heritage they were probably claiming to have preserved. In other words, the image of Abraham has been appropriated from the Jews and the Christians and was turned into the prototype of the non-Jewish and non-Christian model of Islam. This is also the context of Koran 3:67–8, which asserts that the people nearest to Abraham are the Muslim believers. Some passages refer to military clashes between Muhammad and the Jews. In one passage (Koran 5:64) it is stated that whenever the Jews light the fire of war, God puts it out. But in other passages, the Jews are the party that comes under the Islamic military pressure, and their military weaknesses are exposed. In Koran 59:14, for example, it is observed that the People of the Book never fight the believers in one solid formation, but only in sporadic groups, hiding behind the walls of their fortresses. They are divided among themselves and fight each other vehemently. The People of the Book have suffered actual defeat, which is mentioned in Koran 59:1–4. Here they are driven out of their houses, although they thought that their fortresses would defend them against God. Apart from the military defeat of the People of the Book, the Koran also refers very briefly to their social status under Islamic domination. They must be killed unless they pay the tribute called *jizya, but even then, they remain socially inferior to the believers (Koran 9:29).

Pillars of Islam and the Koran


The declaration that there is no God but Allāh and that Muhammad is His messenger does not appear in the Koran as an independent unit, but separate elements of it are found in several passages. The declaration about God is found, for example, in Koran 40:65, and the one about Muḥammad is found in Koran 48:29.


Prayer is a basic element of Islamic ritual, and the believers are urged to pray day and night, although the exact times are not specified. Perhaps the most specific formulation is provided in Koran 30:17–18: "Therefore glory be to God when you enter upon the time of the evening and when you enter upon the time of the morning, and to Him belongs praise in the heavens and the earth, and at nightfall and when you are at midday." Muslim exegetes have read into this passage the idea of the five daily prayers. The direction of prayer (qibla) is the sacred Mosque (in Mecca) (Koran 2:144), but Islamic tradition knows of an earlier direction which was abandoned: Jerusalem. Ritual ablution before prayer is prescribed in Koran 5:6.

Friday prayer is prescribed in Koran 62:9–10.

zakĀt (alms giving)

In many verses, prayer goes hand in hand with alms giving (e.g., Koran 2:43. etc.). The collection of the latter is prescribed in Koran 9:103, and the criteria for its distribution among the needy are provided in Koran 9:60.


Fasting during the month of Ramadān is prescribed in Koran 2:183–87 and replaces previous rulings (according to the exegetes: Jewish ones) of fasting during a few days only. Ramaḍān is said in these verses to have been the month during which the Koran started to be sent down from heaven, and some exegetes say that Laylat al-Qadr, which according to another verse marked the beginning of the koranic revelation (Koran 97:1), occurred in Ramaḍān.


The koranic duty of pilgrimage is closely associated with Abraham. According to Koran 22:27, God commanded Abraham to proclaim the duty of pilgrimage to Mecca. It was Abraham and Ishmael who have raised the foundations of the "house," i.e., the Ka'ba (Koran 2: 127), and they purified it for the pilgrims (Koran 2:125). The obligation to keep the sanctity of the sacred months during which pilgrimage takes place is ordained in Koran 5:2. The lesser pilgrimage, i.e., the u'umra, is mentioned in Koran 2:196.

holy war (*jihĀd)

Holy war was regarded by some scholars as the sixth pillar of Islam. In the Koran (9:5) it is called by the exegetes: "the sword verse," and it declares total war against the infidels. Many exegetes hold that this verse repeals any other verse implying tolerance towards the unbelievers.

among the ritual commandments, those pertaining to drinking of wine are said to have been given by degrees

While the most explicit condemnation of wine drinking is given in Koran 5:90 (together with gambling and other pagan activities), other verses give the impression that intoxication is still not entirely prohibited (Koran 16:67; 4:43). Eating of carrion, blood, flesh of swine, and that which was sacrificed to idols, is prohibited in Koran 2:173. Regulations of marriage, divorce and inheritance are provided in various chapters, especially in Sura 2 and 4. Moral commandments, such as prohibition of extramarital sexual intercourse, the commandment to honor one's parents, the condemnation of bribery, false measurements, damaging lies, are provided in various chapters.

Hebrew Translations of the Koran

Early Hebrew translations of the Koran have been preserved in unpublished manuscripts. One in Oxford (Bodleian, MS Michael 113 [Ol. 50]), from the 17th century, and the other in the British Library (Or. 6636), probably written in India in the 18th century. They both contain a translation done in the 17th century by Jacob b. Israel Halevi. He used an Italian translation of the Koran published in Venice in 1547. The latter was done from a Latin version. A third manuscript is found in the Library of Congress, based on a Dutch version of the Koran (see Myron M. Weinstein, "A Hebrew Qur'ān Manuscript," in Thomas A. Timberg, Jews in India (1986), 205–47). Hebrew translations of the Koran done directly from the Arabic are by Z.H. Reckendorf (1857), J.J. Rivlin (1933–36), A. Ben Shemesh (1971), and U. Rubin (2005).


J. Horovitz, "Das koranische Paradies," in: Scripta Universitatis atque Bibliothecae Hierosolymitanarum (1923), 53–73; R. Paret, "Der Koran als Geschichtsquelle," in: Der Islam, 37 (1961), 24–42; H. Speyer, Die biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran (repr. 1961); A.J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (1964); K. Wagtendonk, Fasting in the Koran (1968); J. Wansbrough, Quranic Studies (1977); W. Madelung, "The Origins of the Controversy Concerning the Creation of the Koran," in: Orientalia Hispanica sive studia F.M. Pareja octogenario dicata, ed. J.M. Barral, vol. 1:1 (1974), 504–25; M.S Seale. Qur'an and Bible: Studies in Interpretation and Dialogue (1978); R. Firestone. "Abraham's Son as the Intended Sacrifice (al-Dhabīh, Qur'ān 37:99–113): Issues in Qur'ānic Exegesis," in: Journal of Semitic Studies, 34 (1989), 95–131; idem, "Conceptions of Holy War in Biblical and Qur'ānic Tradition," in: The Journal of Religious Ethics, 24 (1996), 99–123; Ibn Warraq (ed.), The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book (1998); H.C. Graf Von Bothmer, Karl-Heinz Ohlig, and Gerd-Rüdiger Puin, "Neue Wege der Koranforschung," in: Magazin Forschung, 1 (1999), 33–46; Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān (2001); R. Tottoli, Biblical Prophets in the Qurʾān and Muslim Literature (2002).

[Uri Rubin (2nd ed.)]


views updated

Koran (Qur'an) Sacred book of Islam. According to Muslim belief, the Koran contains the actual word of God (Allah) as revealed by the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad is said to have received these revelations over two decades beginning (c.ad 610) on the Night of Power (commemorated at Ramadan) and ending in 632, the year of his death. The 114 suras (chapters) of the Koran are the source of Islamic belief and a guide for the whole life of the community. The central teachings of the Koran are that there is no God but Allah and all must submit to Him, that Muhammad is the last of His many messengers (which have included Abraham, Moses, and Jesus), and that there will come a day of judgment. In addition to these teachings, the Koran contains rules that a Muslim must follow in everyday life.


views updated

Ko·ran / kəˈrän; kô-; ˈkôrän/ (also Qu·r'an or Qu·ran) • n. the Islamic sacred book, believed to be the word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in Arabic. The Koran consists of 114 units of varying lengths, known as suras.DERIVATIVES: Ko·ran·ic / -ˈränik/ adj.


views updated

Koran the Islamic sacred book, believed to be the word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in Arabic. The Koran consists of 114 units of varying lengths, known as suras; the first sura is said as part of the ritual prayer. These touch upon all aspects of human existence, including matters of doctrine, social organization, and legislation. The Koran was traditionally held by Muslims to be untranslatable, although versions or interpretations in other languages are available.


views updated

koran sacred book of Islam. XVIII (currawn). — Arab. ḳur'ān recitation, f. ḳara'a read.


views updated