The Qu'ran (sometimes spelt as Koran in older texts) is the primary religious text of Islam. In Islamic theology it is regarded as the unadulterated words of the God of Abraham, recited to Muhammed by the Archangel Gabriel in blocks over the course of his life, often having a direct relevance to political, religious or social events affecting the nascent Islamic community at that specific time. Islamic tradition holds that Muhammed was illiterate, and so repeated what he heard to his closest followers, who wrote them down individually. Following Muhammed's death, the texts were collated to form the Qu'ran.
Organisation of the Texts
The text of the Qu'ran is arranged into 30 Juz', 60 Hizb and 114 Sūrah by Islamic scholars, though most readers of the text will only be aware of the Sūrahs (equivalent to chapters in a secular text, or book of the Bible), and the Juz' and Hizb are not marked in many common copies of the text, nor referred to in common usage. They are sometimes used by Imams to select blocks of text to use in a sermon.
A Sūrah consists of one single "revelation" to Muhammed, so it usually covers one topic or event. Within the Qu'ran they are arranged, unusually for a religious text, by order of length (longest to shortest) rather than chronologically or thematically, making the text confusing when read in a linear manner. The only exception to this length based order is the opening Sūrah, al-Fatiha, which contains the declaration of faith recited by Muslims at the start of every prayer.
In addition to this, each Sūrah is classified as being either Makkan and Madinan, refering to the place in which it was first received by Muhammed, Makkah or Madinah.
Versions and Translations
Unlike the Bible, only a single version of the Qu'ran is widely accepted by Muslims. Due to the religion being incorporated into a powerful political system very early in its existence (the Caliphate), and a strong literary tradition within Arabic culture, there is a remarkable continuity in the text. Early surviving copies from the text dating to the late 7th and early 8th centuries AD are essentially the same as modern manuscripts. Another reason for this is the spread of the Arabic language alongside the Islamic religion. When Islam spread to a new territory, the Arabic language was imported, in whole or in part, alongside it. A central tenet of Islam is that only the Classical Arabic version of the Qu'ran is valid. Prayers and recitations of the Qu'ran are always conducted in Arabic, even in areas where the language is not in daily use, such as Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, though this has been disputed historically.
It is only recently that translations of the Qu'ran have become widespread, and are used primarily for scholarship and for teaching Muslim children in non-Arabic speaking societies. The Arabic text is always printed alongside, with the page divided in two columns. In the case of teaching children, they are almost always literally taught to read and recite the Arabic text as well (otherwise prayers are not valid), even if they may not actually know the Arabic language.
In recent years the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has heavily subsidised production, publication and distributions of the Qu'ran in various languages, including English. Whilst this had led to a widespread availability of the text to western audiences, many have accused the Saudi Arabian government of slanting the translations toward Salafi schools of thought, and "flooding" schools, universities and libraries with their translations, to the detriment of other translations, such as that of Muhammed Asad, whose translation is regarded by many as superior to those sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government.
Muslims, like Christians, believe their holy book to be divinely authored, and thus inerrant. However, like all ancient texts that discuss issues relating to the sciences,[Fact?] the Qur'an contains scientific and chronological errors, as well as internal contradictions and repetitions, alongside more mundane copying errors. Also, although to a lesser degree than Judeo-Christian texts, it contains supernatural or miraculous accounts which appear to break scientific laws, such as the ’Isrā’ wal-Mi‘rāğ journey of Muhammed to the Seventh Heaven on the Burāq animal, which most Islamic scholars believe should be taken literally.
Due to the prohibition on depicting human and animal forms in Islam, calligraphy is one of the most revered artistic traditions in Islamic civilization, and one that had deep roots within pre-Islamic Arabia. Many mosques are decorated with rich calligraphy in mosaic, bas and sunk relief, wood carving, metal work and painting. It also furthered ink brush calligraphy, to which the Arabic script is well suited.
The text of the Qu'ran is essentially rhythmical, and it is often recited in song and poetic manner, including prayer. This also makes it possible for large blocks of the text to be committed to memory, and it is a mark of honour amongst Islamic scholars to commit the entire text to memory.