The departure point of the Islamic religion, the central article of faith from which all else flows, may be stated as follows: God (the only God there is: al-Ilāh, Allah in Arabic; El, Elohim, Jahweh in Hebrew; Khudā or Yazdān in Persian, Tanri in Turkish, ὁ Θεός in Greek, Deus in Latin, God in plain English) has spoken to man in the Qur’ān.
This divine communication is seen as the final stage in a long series of divine communications conducted through the prophets. It began with Adam, the first man, who was also the first prophet, because he was the first to whom God revealed Himself.
After Adam, God continued to address men through prophets, to warn them that their happiness lay in worshiping Him and submitting themselves to Him, and to tell them of the terrible consequences of disobedience. In each case, however, the message was changed and deformed by perverse men. Finally, in His mercy, God sent down His final revelation through the seal of His prophets, Muhammad, in a definitive form which would not be lost.
The Qur’ān, then, is the Word of God, for Muslims. While controversies have raged among them as to the sense in which this is true--whether it is the created or uncreated Word, whether it is true of every Arabic letter or only of the message as a whole, that it is true has never been questioned by them.
The Qur’ān was revealed in Arabic. It is a matter of faith in Islam that since it is of Divine origin it is inimitable, and since to translate is always to betray, Muslims have always deprecated and at times prohibited any attempt to render it in another language. Anyone who has read it in the original is forced to admit that this caution seems justified; no translation, however faithful to the meaning, has ever been fully successful. Arabic when expertly used is a remarkably terse, rich and forceful language, and the Arabic of the Qur’ān is by turns striking, soaring, vivid, terrible, tender and breathtaking. As Professor Gibb has put it, "No man in fifteen hundred years has ever played on that deeptoned instrument with such power, such boldness, and such range of emotional effect." 1 It is meaningless to apply adjectives such as "beautiful" or "persuasive" to the Qur’ān; its flashing images and inexorable measures go directly to the brain and intoxicate it.
It is not surprising, then, that a skilled reciter of the Qur’ān can reduce an Arabic-speaking audience to helpless tears, that for thirteen centuries it has been ceaselessly meditated upon, or that for great portions of the human race, the "High-speech" of seventh-century Arabia has become the true accents of the Eternal.
The selections which follow here have been taken from Professor Arberry's translation, the only one in English which has succeeded in suggesting the extraordinary qualities of the original. 2
16:1 p. 243 H. A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism (2nd Ed.; New York, 1953), p. 37.
16:2 A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (New York, 1955).