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The Text of the Qur’an: Chapter 2, 'Essential Message of Islam'

By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed

  (Published exclusively on New Age Islam with Permission of the authors and publishers)

5 May 2015

 2.1.          Essence of Faith

An unqualified and wholesome belief in the One Almighty God (tawhid), without the slightest association of anything with Him (shirk) distinguishes the Qur’an as the epitome of the purest form of monotheism. The Qur’an repeatedly asserts the transcendence of God and uses a rosary of attributes to convey the multifarious manifestations of His Words (kalimat). It recounts almost a hundred attributes of God such as, the Sustainer (Lord), the Sovereign, the Holy, the (source of) Peace, the Secure, the Preserver (of safety), the Mighty, the Inexorable, the Supreme, the Eternal Source (of everything), the Complete, the Fearless, the Exalted, the Wise, the Permanent, the Merciful, the Independent, the Omnipotent, the Originator of Heaven and Earth etc. The Qur’an however makes it clear that all Words are due to Him:

“Say (O Muhammad!): ‘If the ocean were an inkwell for the Words* of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than my Lord’s Words (kalimat), even if We brought the same to replenish (it)’” (18:109). *[Scholars have connoted the word kalimat in this verse with ‘wisdom’ or ‘knowledge.’ It can also mean manifestations.]

“If all the trees on earth were (made into) pens and the oceans (were ink), with seven oceans for replenishment*, the Words (kalimat) of God will not be exhausted. Indeed God is Almighty, Wise” (31:27). *[Lit., ‘after that’]

The Qur’an calls upon humankind to submit [orient themselves] to God, and to seek His forgiveness. It advocates belief in the ‘unseen:’ what is impenetrable to human perception (the angels, jinn), and affirms the certainty of the Day of Judgment.

2.2.          Reference to past and Biblical Prophets / Scriptures

The Qur’an states that God sent messengers to different communities from time to time (10:47),1  and declares that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets.2

“And there has been a messenger for every community, and when their messenger comes, judgment is passed among them justly, and they are not wronged” (10:47).

It calls upon Muslims to believe in all the prophets and previously revealed scriptures, and to make no distinction between any of the Prophets (4:152),3 and affirms that all the messengers are not mentioned in the Qur’an (40:78).4

“As for those who believe in God and His messengers, and do not make a distinction between any of them – it is they who will be given their rewards, for God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (4:152).

“Certainly We have sent messengers before you (O Muhammad!): Some of them We have mentioned to you, while there are others that We have not mentioned to you…” (40:78).

The Qur'an enjoins the same true religion as the Judeo-Christian prophets had preached (2:136),but it unequivocally rejects the notion of divine incarnation and trinity (Nicene Creed) which describes Jesus as Son of God, and one of  three among a multiple deity (4:171).6

“Say, ‘We believe in God, and in what was revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We do not make a distinction between any of them. To God alone do we submit” (2:136)

“O People of the Book, do not commit excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, the Son of Mary, was a messenger of God, and His Word that He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit from Him. Therefore, believe in God and His messengers, and do not say ‘Trinity’ - it is best for you to refrain (from this). God is one sole deity, too glorified to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth, God is enough of a Patron” (4:171).

The Qur’an mentions twenty-four of the Biblical prophets by name, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, to name the noted ones. However, the Qur’an does not tell the story of its prophets in a linear fashion. With the exception of the story of Joseph (Sura 12), the Qur’anic allusions appear in bits and pieces scattered across its text. Thus for example, Jesus is spoken of some 35 times either by his name Isa, or by some other title (Messiah, the Son of Mary),7 and some aspects of the story of Moses occur in 44 different passages.8

At the time of the Prophet, varying versions of Biblical accounts were held by diverse Christian sects,9 but the Qur’anic references to the missions of Biblical prophets, though fragmentary, are fully consistent. Accordingly many Christian priests and Rabbis saw the truth in the Qur’anic revelation (2:146),10 and listened to it with overwhelming awe, admiration, and devotion (17:107).

“Those to whom We have given the Book, know this (to be true) as they know their own sons…” (2:146)

“Say: ‘Whether you believe in it - or you do not believe, indeed, those who are given knowledge before this (Qur’an), fall down prostrating on their faces when it is recited to them’” (17:107).  

2.3.          Qur’anic guidance is broad based and universal

The Qur'an sets out the highest principles of belief and a framework of moral values and social guidelines. However, its guidance is timeless, designed for universal communities, and is therefore broad based, and not spelled out in any details. For example, it lays great emphasis on good deeds and zakah (traditionally rendered as charity) - but does not define either. Its treatment of social and civil norms, finance etc. is in general terms. It does not give any detailed instructions in civil law or administration of justice, though it touches on the punishment for some of the major prevalent offences and crimes, while emphasizing on justice and equity in general terms. However, the Qur’an is specific when it radically changed what existed at the time. Accordingly, it clearly spells out the various facets of family and inheritance laws, thereby ensuring the rights and privileges of women in different capacities: as an independent person, a wife, a mother, a widow, or as an inheritor of property from the next of kin.

The Qur’an remains silent about the physical setting of life, as the latter changes with time, place, and state of civilization. Thus, it refers to man’s eternal need for eating but does not say how to prepare the food. It refers to man’s eternal need for lodging, but does not say a word about the type or nature of his abode. It refers to man’s need for traveling to distant lands, but does not prescribe any mode of communication. It refers to man’s eternal need for harnessing the forces of nature for his use, but does not elaborate on the methodology or the process to accomplish this.  

To put it in a word, the Qur’an is practically silent about the myriad of objects, articles, gadgets, tools, instruments, and equipment that man has been developing with the progress of civilization. Contrary to the once popular notion, the Qur’an does not even condemn music, though of course good Muslims should be cautious as far as certain types of music are concerned (because they neatly go together with drugs, alcohol and prostitution).  

Historically, the orthodox have been suspicious of all new things. Their objection, in the historical perspective, has ranged from the introduction of the handkerchief in the post Prophetic era, to the use of printing machine in late medieval era and photography, microphone and television in more recent times. But the Qur’an does not provide any basis to prevent humans from using the God given faculty of their minds, and to change the physical setting of their life through enterprise, innovation, discovery and invention. 

2.4.          Qur’anic commandments are not gender biased

The Qur'an addresses its believers using a common gender pronoun, aa’manu, but the Qur’an also uses this word to denote the male believer. Therefore, to leave no ambiguity that its commandments are directed to both men and women, the Qur’an states:

“Indeed, for Muslim men and Muslim women, for believing men (mu’minin) and believing women (mu’minat), for devout men and devout women, for truthful men and truthful women, for patient men and patient women, for humble men and humble women, for charitable men and charitable women, for fasting men and fasting women,11 for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who remember God a lot - God has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward” (33:35).

“Anyone, whether a man or a woman, who does good deeds, and is a believer – it is they (who shall) enter the garden and will not be wronged at all” (4:124).

2.5.           The Transformative human language of the Qur’an

Some of the Qur’anic verses regard the manifestations of nature as well as the day-to-day happenings of life as totally dependent on God’s Will or Command. Any simplistic comprehension of such verses, typified below could lead to confusion and misinterpretation.

“…He sends down mountain-masses (of clouds) from the sky with hail in them, and He strikes with it anyone He wills and turns it away from anyone He wills…” (24:43).

 “...God leaves straying anyone He wills and guides anyone He wills...” (14:4, 74:31).

 “…God multiplies things for anyone He wills…” (2:261).

These stipulations seemingly suggest that man need not make any effort to do anything on his own, as everything depends on God’s Will. But such an interpretation is totally out of line with the following Qur’anic assertions appearing in two of its verses:

 “… God does not change the favor which He has bestowed on a people, unless they change themselves*…” (8:53).

“… God does not change the condition of a people, unless they change themselves*…” (13:11).

*[Lit., ‘change that which is in themselves.’]

These Qur’anic assertions point to both a divine law of cause and effect and to the fundamental premise of man’s free will to choosing the right path out of the “two highways shown to him” (90:10/Ch.17.1).

The truth remains, God is above any comparison with any of His creations. Therefore, as Ali al-Tantawi explains, human attributes, such as ‘will’, ‘wish’, etc. when employed to express God’s Might and Power, cannot be interpreted to mean the same as when used in the context of human beings.12

2.6.          Manual handling of the Arabic Qur’an

One of the verses of the Qur’an (56:79) declares: “None but the pure (mutatahhirin) can touch it (the Qur’an).” In the context of the revelation, this probably meant approaching the Qur’an with a pure heart (Note 19/Preface), the Muslims generally regard this as an instruction to attaining purity (tahara) by doing the ritual ablution (wudu) before touching any printed copy of the Qur’an, or a part of its text. The Qur’an however uses the word tahara to denote the various dimensions of purity, such as purity or clarity of mind, spiritual purity, purity in sexual behavior, purity of a drink, etc.13 Therefore, while applying the injunction to non-believers, the Qur’anic word tahara may be understood in its broader sense. Furthermore, the Qur’anic guidance is for all humanity,14 and it is ‘a  reminder for all the worlds.’15 Therefore anyone of any faith, who may not feel obliged to comply with the Qur’anic injunction on ablution, may still touch and read it, and benefit from its guidance. It would therefore follow that the non-Muslims may touch, or read the written text of the Qur’an without undermining its sanctity.

2.7.          The Qur’an’s clue to its mysterious character   

One of the earliest verses of the Qur’an (74:30) refers to the overlooking of hellfire by nineteen angels. The passage is allegorical, but the subsequent verse (74:31) has some clear stipulations that are worth pondering:

“Over it are nineteen (angels) (74:30), and We have made none but the angels the wardens of hellfire; and We have not set their number (at 19), except as a trial for those who deny (this revelation) - so as to convince those who were given the Book, and to strengthen the faith of those who believe; so that those who were given the Book and who have faith (in One God) may not be in doubt, and that those with sickness in their hearts, and the disbelievers may say: ‘What does God mean by this example?’ God leaves straying anyone He wills and guides anyone He wills...” (74:31).

If we ponder over the number 19, as the verse (74:31) apparently invites us to, we find some easily verifiable clues that point to a mysterious bearing of this odd prime number in the formatting and composition of the Qur’anic text. Thus for example:

The Qur’an’s opening benediction, Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim [In the name of God, the Benevolent, the Merciful] has 19 letters.

The Qur’an has 114 chapters (Suras) - the number is a multiple of 19.   

The Qur’an’s first revealed passage (96:1-5/Ch. 1.2) contains 19 words, 76 or 19X4 letters, and is located in the chapter (96) - which stands 19th from the end (counting 114 as 1, 113 as 2…) and contains 19verses, and 304 or 19X16 letters.

The number of Qafs in the 50th chapter, Surah Qaf, which begins with the letter Qaf as a Qur’anic Initial (maqta)*, is 57, or 19X3.

*[muqattat, (pl. form of maqta) are letters of unknown meaning which appear at the beginning of some of the Qur’anic chapters, as Qur’anic Initials.]

The number of Qafs in the 42nd chapter, Surah al-Shura, which is the only other chapter beginning with a Qur’anic Initial containing a Qaf (42:2), is 57, or 19X3.

The 42nd and 50th Qur’anic chapters having a Qaf in the Initial have 53 and 45 verses respectively, and the sum of the chapter as well as verse number in each case (42+53, 50+45) is 95, or 19X5.

14 Arabic letters appear in 14 different combinations in 29 chapters as Qur’anic Initials, and the sum of these numbers is 57 (14+14+29), or 19X3.

Though the 9th Qur’anic chapter (Surah al-Tawbah) does not begin with Bismillah…, there is an extra Bismillah…in the text of Chapter 27, giving a total of 114, or 19X6 Bismillahs…in the Qur’an.

The 27th chapter (which has an extra Bismillah…) counts 19th from the 9th chapter, which does not begin with a Bismillah…  

The number of Qafs in the first 19 verses of the first Qur’anic chapter having at least 19 verses (Surah al-Baqarah, 2) is 19.

Given the innate incapability of human mind to comprehend a sentence or a passage with a predetermined arithmetical order to have a mathematical consistency of a completed work, it is just not possible to have the cited 15 easily verifiable examples as a mere coincidence.16


1.       13:38, 15:10, 23:44, 30:47, 35:24, 43:6, 57:25.

2.       33:40.

3.       2:177, 2:285, 57:19.

4.       4:164.

5.       3:3, 3:84, 42:13.

6.       5:73.

7.       Geoffery Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, Oxford 1996 reprint, p. 18.

8.       Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd edition, Oregon 2007, p. 15.

9.       Geoffery Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, Oxford 1996 reprint, Chap. 3.

10.     6:20, 28:52, 28:53, 26:197.

11.     The underlined expression represents the traditional rendering of the words sa’imin and sa’imat, based on the Qur’anic usage of the word siam for fasting in the month of Ramadan. However, the Qur’an also connotes this word with abstinence (19:26), and if this meaning is applied, then the underlined expression will read: “for men and women who abstain (from greed and vices).” - Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 33, Note 38.

12.     Ali al-Tantawi, General Introduction to Islam, English translation, Makkah 1994, p. 88.

13.     List of different derivatives of the word tahara used in the Qur’an:

-        mutahhir, tahhar:  God purified Jesus (3:55) and Mary (3:42).

-        tahhir, tahhar: purifying one’s thoughts (74:4) sanctifying the House (for worship) (2:125, 22:26).  

-        athar: a pure mental state that is conducive to one’s treating his divorced wife with honor and generosity (2:232), to give out in charity (58:12), and to overcome sexual desire (33:53); purer sexual relationship between man and woman as against homosexuality (11:78).

-        mutahhra: the pure and sacred contents of the revelation (80:14, 98:2); pure companions (2:25).

-        yatatahhru: purity in sexual behavior (7:82, 27:56); spiritual purity of people attending the mosque (9:108).

-        tahura: pure rain water (25:48); a most pure drink (76:21).

-        yutahhir: God purifies the faithful (5:6); He does not purify the pagans (5:41); the charity offered to the Prophet purified the faithful (9:103); God purified the Prophet’s wives (33:33).

-        tatahhr: women’s physically pure state outside their monthly courses (2:222).

14.     2:185, 10:108, 14:52 [Same as footnote 15, Preface]

15.     38:87, 68:52.

16.     The statistical chance of such a repeated occurrence of 19 as a factor in all the above noted 15 instances is 1 in 1915 (15,000,000,000,000,000). In other words, if one was to go through more than fifteen million billion books, statistically he will find only one meeting the above arithmetical logic. It is indeed quite mysterious.

[16 references]

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.