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PATHEOS LIBRARY OF

World Faiths & Religions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Quran?

The Quran (which means 'the Recitation' in Arabic) is the sacred scripture of Muslims, who believe that it is the literal word of God revealed in Arabic to Muhammad. The Quran was revealed piecemeal over a period of twenty-three years from 610 - 632 CE through the angel Gabriel, who would bring revelations to Muhammad, often dealing with specific questions asked him or challenges facing the Muslims. Muhammad would dictate these revelations to his scribes. Muhammad arranged these revelations into 114 suras (chapters), arranged for the most part from longest to shortest as opposed to chronologically or according to obvious themes. The book is about the length of the New Testament. The Quran is a non-linear compilation - it does not have a narrative beginning or end, and even within any one sura the book reads like a stream of consciousness rather than a story. Only one sura (#12) is continuous narrative (the story of Joseph). In the decades after Muhammad's death his followers made slight changes to this ordering and gave the chapters names. There was no official compilation of the Quran during Muhammad's life - his followers had their own collections of his revelations which they mostly memorized by heart. Muhammad's successor Abu Bakr ordered an authoritative copy of the Quran produced, and this was later reworked into an official version which was promulgated amongst all Muslims in about 650 CE. There are some differences in readings of the Quran based on different Arabic dialects and the ambiguities of the Arabic script. Aside from these dialectical variations, the Quran has remained unchanged since approximately 650. The Quran is central to Islamic belief and worship. It is seen as the ultimate source of dogma and law, although most of the details of both come from Muhammad's teachings supplementing the Quran. Muslims recite parts of the Quran in their daily prayers, and many Muslims around the world memorize large parts of the book or even the whole Quran by heart. When Muslims recite the Quran, they feel as though they are repeated the actual words of God.