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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > K > Koran

Koran

The sacred book of the Muslims, by whom it is regarded as the revelation of God. Supplemented by the so-called Hadith, or traditions, it is the foundation of Islam and the final authority in dogma and belief, in jurisprudence, worship, ethics, and in social, family, and individual conduct.

The name Koran, or better Qur'an, from the Arabic stem Qara'a, "to read", "to recite", means the "Reading", the "Recitation", i.e. the "Book", par excellence. It is also called — to select a few of many titles — "Alkitab" (The Book), "Furquan" ("liberation", "deliverance", of the revelation), "Kitab-ul-lah" (Book of God), "Al-tanzil" (The Revelation). It consists of one hundred and fourteen suras or chapters, some being almost as long as the Book of Genesis, others consisting of but two or three sentences. It is smaller than the New Testament, and in its present form has no chronological order or logical sequence.

Contents and analysis

The Koran contains dogma, legends, history, fiction, religion and superstition, social and family laws prayers, threats, liturgy, fanciful descriptions of heaven, hell, the judgment day, resurrection, etc. — a combination of fact and fancy often devoid of force and originality. The most creditable portions are those in which Jewish and Christian influences are clearly discernible. The following analysis is based on Sir William Muir's chronological arrangement (op. cit. infra).

First period

Suras 103, 91, 106, 101, 95, 102,104, 82, 92, 105 — rhapsodies, which may have been composed before Mohammed conceived the idea of a Divine mission, or of a revelation direct from Heaven.

Second period (the opening of Mohammed's ministry)

Sura 96, the command to "recite in the name of the Lord"; sura 113, on the unity and eternity of the Deity; sura 74, the command to preach, the denunciation of one of the chiefs of Mecca who scoffed at the resurrection, unbelievers threatened with hell; sura 111, Abu Lahab (the Prophet's uncle) and his wife are cursed.

Third period (from the beginning of Mohammed's public ministry to the Abyssinian emigration)

Suras 87, 97, 88, 80, 81, 84, 86, 90, 85, 83, 78, 77, 76, 75, 70, 109, 107, 55, 56, descriptions of the resurrection, paradise, and hell, with references to the growing opposition of the Koreish tribe.

Fourth period (from the sixth to the tenth year of Mohammed's ministry)

Suras 67, 53, 32, 39, 73, 79, 54, 34, 31, 69, 68, 41, 71, 52, 50, 45, 44, 37, 30, 26, 15, 51, narratives from the Jewish Scriptures and from rabbinical and Arab legends; the temporary compromise with idolatry is connected with sura 53.

Fifth period (from the tenth year of Mohammed's ministry to the Flight from Mecca)

Suras 46, 72, 35, 36, 19, 18, 27, 42, 40, 38, 25, 20, 43, 12, 11, 10, 14, 6, 64, 28, 22, 21, 17, 16, 13, 29, 7, 113, 114. The suras of this period contain some narratives from the Gospel, enjoin the rites of pilgrimage, refute the cavillings of the Koreish, and contain vivid descriptions of the resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell, with proofs of God's unity, power, and providence. Gradually the suras become longer, some of them filling many pages. In the later suras of the fifth period Medina passages are often interpolated.

Last period (suras revealed at Medina)

This period includes the following suras:

Doctrine

The doctrine of the Koran will be fully discussed in the article on the religion of Islam. It is sufficient to note here that the doctrine may be classified under four categories:

Chronological order and distinctive features of the suras

Various efforts have been made by Muslim writers and European scholars to arrange the suras chronologically, but Noldeke's arrangement is generally considered the most plausible. He divides the suras into Meccan and Medinian, namely those delivered at Mecca before the Flight or Hegira, and those delivered at Medina after the Flight. The Meccan suras are divided into three periods. To the first (from the first to the fifth year of Mohammed's mission) belong the following suras — 96, 74, 111,106, 108, 104, 107, 102, 105, 92, 90, 94, 93, 97, 86, 91, 80, 68, 87, 95, 103, 85, '73, 101, 99, 82, 81, 53, 84,100, 79, 77, 78, 88, 89, 75, 83, 69, 51, 52, 56, 55, 112, 109, ll3, 114, and 1. To the second period (the fifth and sixth year of his mission) are assigned suras 54, 37, 71, 76, 44, 50, 20, 26, 15, 19, 38, 36, 43, 72, 67, 23, 21, 25, 17, 27, and 18. To the third period (from the seventh year to the Flight) belong the following suras: 32, 41 45, 16, 30, 11, 14,12, 40, 28, 39, 29, 31, 42, 10, 34, 35, 7, 46, 6, and 13. The Medina suras are those which remain, in the following order: 2, 98, 64, 62, 8, 47, 3, 61, 57, 4, 65, 59, 33, 63, 24, 58, 22, 48, 66, 60,110, 9, and 5.

The characteristic features of the various suras and of the periods in which they were delivered is described by Mr. Palmer as follows:

In the Meccan Suras Mohammed's one and steady purpose is to bring his hearers to a belief in the one only God; this he does by powerful rhetorical displays rather than logical arguments, by appealing to their feelings rather than their reason; by setting forth the manifestation of God in His works; by calling nature to witness to His presence; and by proclaiming His vengeance against those who associate other gods with Him, or attribute offsprings to Him. The appeal was strengthened by glowing pictures of the happiness in store for those who should believe, and by frightful descriptions of the everlasting torments prepared for the unbelievers. In the earlier chapters, too, the prophetic inspiration, the earnest conviction of the truth of his mission, and the violent emotion which his sense of responsibility caused him are plainly shown. The style is curt, grand, and often almost sublime; the expressions are full of poetical feeling, and the thoughts are earnest and passionate, though sometimes dim and confused, indicating the mental excitement and doubt through which they struggled to light.

In the second period of the Meccan Suras, Mohammed appears to have conceived the idea of still further severing himself from the idolatry of his compatriots, and of giving to the supreme deity Allah another title, Ar-Rahman, "the merciful one". The Meccans, however, seem to have taken these for the names of separate deities, and the name is abandoned in the later chapters.

In the Suras of the second Meccan period we first find the long stories of the prophets of olden times, especial stress being laid upon the punishment which fell upon their contemporaries for disbelief, the moral is always the same, namely, that Mohammed came under precisely similar circumstances, and that a denial of the truth of his mission would bring on his fellow-citizens the self-same retribution. They also show the transition stage between the intense and poetical enthusiasm of the early Meccan chapters and the calm teaching of the later Medinah ones. This change is gradual, and even in the later and most prosaic we find occasionally passages in which the old prophetic fire flashes out once more. The three periods are again marked by the oaths which occur throughout the Koran. In the first period they are all frequent and often long, the whole powers of nature being invoked to bear witness to the unity of God and the mission of His Apostle; in the second period they are shorter and of rarer occurrence; in the last period they are absent altogether.

To understand the Medinah Suras we must bear in mind Mohammed's position with respect to the various parties in that city. In Mecca he had been a prophet with little honour in his own country, looked on by some as a madman, and by others as an impostor, both equally grievous to him, while his following consisted of the poorest and meanest of his fellow townsmen. His own clansmen, for the reason that they were his clansmen and for no other, resented the affronts against him. In Medinah he appears as a military leader and a prince, though as yet possessing far from absolute authority. Around in the city were, first, the true believers who had fled with him El Muhagerin; next, the inhabitants of Yathrib, who had joined him and who were called El Ansar, "the helpers"; and lastly, a large class who are spoken of by the uncomplimentary name of Munafiqun or "hypocrites", consisting of those who went over to his side from fear or compulsion, and lastly those "in whose heart is sickness", who, though believing in him, were prevented by tribal or family ties from going over to him openly. Abdallah ibn Ubai was a chief whose influence operated strongly against Mohammed, and the latter was obliged to treat him for a long time almost as an equal, even after he had lost his political power.

The other party at Medinah was composed of the Jewish tribes settled in and around the city of Yathrib. The Jews were at first looked to as the most natural and likely supporters of the new religion, which was to confirm their own. These various parties together with the pagan Arabs of Mecca and the Christians are the persons with whom the Medinah Suras chiefly deal. The style of the Medinah Suras resembles that of the third period of the Meccan revelations, the more matter-of-fact nature of the incidents related or the precepts given amounting in a great measure for the more prosaic language in which they are expressed.

The other party at Ivledinah was composed of the Jewish tribes settled in and around the city of Tathrib. The Jews were at first looked to as the most natural and likely supporters of the new religion, which was to confirm their own. These various parties together with the pagan Arabs of Mecca and the Christians are the persons with whom the Medinah Suras chiefly deal. The style of the Medinah Suras resembles that of the third period of the Meccan revelations, the more matter-of-fact nature of the incidents related or the precepts given accounting in a great measure for the more prosaic language in which they are expressed. In the Medinah Suras the prophet is no longer trying to convert his hearers by examples, promises, and warnings; he addresses them as their prince in general, praising them or blaming them for their conduct, and giving them laws and precepts as occasion required. (The Qur'an in "Sacred Books of the East", I, Oxford, 1880, pp. LXI, LXII, and LXIII).

Sources

The sources of the Koran be reduced to six:

Authorship, compilation

It is generally admitted that the Koran is substantially the work of Mohammed. According to the traditionalists, it contains the pure revelation he could neither read nor write, but that immediately afterwards he could do both; others believe that even before the revelation he could read and write; while others, again, deny that he could ever do so. Thus it is uncertain whether any of the suras were written down by the Prophet himself or all delivered by him orally and afterwards writen down by others from memory.

The Koran is written in Arabic, in rhymed prose, the style differing considerably in the various suras, according to the various periods of the Prophet's life. The language is universally acknowledged to be the most perfect form of Arab speech, and soon became the standard by which other Arabic literary compositions had to be judged — grammarians, lexirographers, and rhetoricians presuming that the Koran, being the word of God, could not be wrong or imperfect.

Mohammed's hearers began by trusting their memories to retain the words of the revelation they had received from him. Later, those who could write traced them in ancient characters on palm leaves, tanned hides, or dry bones. After the Prophet's death all these fragments were collected. Zaid ibn Thabit, Mohammed's disciple, was charged by Abu Bekr, the caliph, to collect all that could be discovered of the sacred text in one volume. The chapters were then arranged according to their length and without regard to historical sequence. The revision made twenty years later affected details of language of the text.

The best and most accessible edition of the Koran is that of Flugel, "Al-Qoran: Corani textus Arabicus" (Leipzig, 1834 and since). Maracci's famous Latin translation of the Koran, with a refutation and commentary, is still unique and useful: "Alcorani textus universus" (Padua, 1698). The standard English versions are those of Sale (London, 1734) with a still useful introductory essay; Rodwel (London, 1861), arranged in chronological order; and Palmer in "Sacred Books of the East" (Oxford, 1880).

About this page

APA citation. Oussani, G. (1910). Koran. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08692a.htm

MLA citation. Oussani, Gabriel. "Koran." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08692a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph P. Thomas.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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