The Qur'an and Qur'anic Interpretation (tafsir)
Table of ContentsThe Qur'an: Introduction, including a glossary of terms used in the Qur'anic sciences.
The History of the Compilation of the Qur'an
Critique of the Prevailing View of the Qur'an's Compilation and Rebuttal
Searchable Arabic Qur'an and Tafsirs, Searchable Translations, and Indices of the Qur'an in English and Arabic
Online Recitations of the Qur'an, including the science of Qur'anic recitation (tajwid)
Free Qur'ans in Print
Tafsir, commentary on the Qur'an
Downloadable Arabic Research Library
Cave of Hira located on the Mountain of Light (Jabal al-nur)(also known as Mt. Hira), which is in the outskirts of Mecca.
The Qur'an is distinct from hadith, which are the sayings of Muhammad. It is agreed that Muhammad clearly distinguished between his own utterances (hadith) and God's words, the Qur'an.
Muslims and most Western scholars of Islam believe that the Arabic Qur'an that exists today contains substantially the same Arabic that was transmitted by Muhammad. This often surprises scholars of the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity who in many cases assume that the Qur'an has substantially evolved over time (which is what scholars of the Bible --but not many believing Christians or Orthodox Jews-- generally agree on concerning the Bible).
In other words, while scholars of the Bible in the West have largely succeeded in convincing the community of scholars that the Bible we have today was not the very same "Word of God" that was revealed through the prophets and which was spoken by Jesus, scholars of Islam have generally not come to similar conclusions about the Qur'an.
This is not to say that the text of the Qur'an is written just as it was written during the time of Muhammad. On the contrary, it is a historical fact, accepted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that the writing of the text (but not the text itself) of the Qur'an has substantially evolved. One such major evolutionary difference is that originally the text was written without diacritical points--which distinguish some letters from others-- but early in the history of the writing of Qur'an, diacritical points were added.
The upshot of this is the vast majority of Muslims rest assured that they are reading the exact words of revelation received by Muhammad (even though the manner of writing those words has indeed changed over time).
Since Muslims believe that words themselves are those revealed by God, the act of reciting or reading the Qur'an is believed to be a means of receiving blessings (baraka) from God. Hence it is not uncommon that Muslims will learn how to read Arabic and the Qur'an without understanding it. Also, even those who cannot read the Arabic letters of the Qur'an believe that they can nevertheless benefit from hearing the evocative quality and blessedness of the original Arabic.
An excellent introduction to the Qur'an is the article titled The Koran, (link fixed 26 February 2006) by Professors Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick of State University of New York, Stonybrook. This is an excerpt from their book Vision of Islam (Amazon.com) which is largely based on the Qur'an itself. This article will help readers to understand and get beyond certain problems inherent in any translation of the Qur'an.
Glossary of the Terms Used in the Qur'anic Sciences in both Arabic and English. This is an excellent teaching tool for students.
Bukhari on the Collection of the Qur'an The traditional Muslim understanding of the history of the Qur'an is found in the following article, excerpted from a speech by the 20th century Muslim revivalist, Syed Abul 'Aala Maudoodi, History of Qur'an Site (link fixed 26 February 2006) and The Preservation and Transmission of Qur'an (link fixed 22 December 2005). The major events in traditional accounts of the process that lead up to the production of the Qur'an as we know it are noted at the site A brief History of the Compilation of the Qur'an. For a detailed recounting of the traditional Muslim view of the early transmission of the Qur'an see Transmission of the Qur'anic Revelation, which is chapter two in Ahmad von Denffer's book 'Ulum al-Qur'an. See also chapter three in the same work, The Qur'an in Manuscript and Print, for a discussion of early Qur'an manuscripts. A recent online article that discusses early Qur'an manuscripts and includes numerous images of these is titled The Qur'an Manuscripts and was compiled by the Muslim scholars of Islamic-Awareness.Org, which is a website designed to educate Muslims about the issues often raised by Christian missionaries.
A minority of Western scholars (often called orientalists) assert that Muslim accounts of the compilation of the Qur'an are pious fictions and that the Qur'an substantially evolved after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. This viewpoint is presented in a recent article (on-line and in print) written for a popular audience in Atlantic Monthly, What is the Koran? (Link fixed January 14, 2008) Nevertheless, concerning the completeness of the Qur'an and the final arrangement of the surahs (chapters), it must be stressed --as Professor A. Jones of Oxford asserts-- that "the varying views of orientalists [on the the completeness and order of the Qur'an] are a mixture of prejudice and speculation" and consequently have not been generally accepted as being true (Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period p. 240). For a rebuttal of the Atlantic Monthlyarticle's main contentions see a A Response to the article "What is the Koran?" written by a Jeffrey Lang, a Muslim professor of Mathematics at the University of Kansas. (Fixed 8 January, 2005) In addition, see the critique written by Azizah al-Hibri, professor of Law at the University of Richmond. (Link fixed 22 December 2005.) And note as well, the comments on the Atlantic Monthly article derived from a statement by Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (link fixed 24 November 2001) a highly esteemed scholar of Islam and religion in general.
A wide variety of criticisms of Muslim beliefs in the Qur'an are explained and refuted in a generally scholarly manner at the many pages of the site Issues Concerning the Qur'an. See especially the subpages Textual Integrity of the Qur'an and The Sources of the Qur'an.
What follows are three critical scholarly reviews of a recent attempt by Christoph Luxenberg (pseudonym) to argue that at the basis of the Qur'an is a Christian Syriac text. Subsequently I have added a link to the book itself and a variety of other reviews:
Translations--however inspired they may be--are only shadows of the original. They should always be read with a healthy dose of skepticism concerning the degree to which they reflect the original. The gulf between the original and the translation is an important reason why Muslims must recite the Qur'an only in Arabic for the required daily prayers. A translation of the Qur'an is not the Qur'an; it is simply one person's interpretation of the Qur'an. To a limited extent, however, translations can shed light on the meaning of the Qur'an.
By comparing a few Qur'an translations verse by verse, one can often get a fuller sense of the Arabic original. The following Translations of the Qur'an site uses side by side translations of Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, and Shakir. You can search these Qur'an translations as well.
Qur'an Translation Search Engine (No longer online.) Developed by Richard Goerwitz, then at Brown University, this search engine searched the Pickthall, Yusufali, Shakir, and Sher Ali translations of the Qur'an. This engine is more powerful than the previous engines, but in order to see all of the translations side by side, first search for a word, phrase, or particular verse in one of the translations (eg. Pickthall, which is the default). Then click on one of results in the "passage list" and beneath the full passage, among the various options click on "all." -->
The M. H. Shakir translation can be searched by this powerful search engine at the University of Michigan. It can perform three types of searches: a simple search for a word or phrase throughout the Qur'an; a search for two or three words or phrases in close proximity to one another; a Boolean search for the occurence of two or three words in any verse. One of the virtues of this engine is that the results are displayed in the context of the aya (s) in which the word or words are found.
The Message of the Qur'an by Muhammad Asad is an excellent translation and commentary on the Qur'an. His commentary is drawn largely from traditional and 19th century commentaries. (Updated January 7, 2012. Allow a few seconds for it to load. Originally it was located on the web at www.geocities.com/masad02/ .) Another archived copy in one large html text file is at The Message of the Qur'an. See also a searchable pdf of The Message of the Qur'an.
Subject Index of the Qur'an (fixed 22 December 2005) This subject index is hyperlinked with the Qur'an, so that after choosing a particular subject, the reader can simply click on the various Qur'anic verse (ayah)numbers, which will then lead to the text of that verse in which the chosen subject is found.
Introductions to Each Qur'anic Sura, by Mawdudi
The Qur'an: Arabic text and recitation (Link fixed 22 December 2005) The recitation is by Shaykh Khalil al-Husari (one of the finest Qur'an reciters) and is considered to be ideal for learning the proper pronunciation of the Qur'an. Real Audio is needed in order to hear this. If you do not have it, you can download it for free by clicking on this Real Audio link. (Changed to free audio links Sept. 24, 2003.)
The Qur'an: Arabic recitation by Shaykh al-Minshawi (one of the finest Qur'an reciters). (Changed to free audio link, Sept. 24, 2003.)
Surat al-Fatiha, the opening surah of the Qur'an, is recited here by Shaykh Khalil al-Husari. (Real Audio)
Rules for Reciting the Arabic Text of the Qur'an Qur'anic recitation (tajwid) is regarded as one the Qur'anic sciences. Some of these rules are indicated in the Arabic text of the Qur'an by means of Arabic abbreviations. The article here discusses such abbreviations as well as the other rules, providing clear examples to illustrate the rules.A Free Qur'an can be obtained from the Islamic Affairs Division of the Saudi Arabian embassy. In the box that says select the requested items, click on and hold down the arrowhead on the right and choose Qur'an -- With English translation: Yousef Ali.
Free Qur'an either send Free Qur'an.org your address by email or simply call toll free 1-800-747-8726 (1-800-74QURAN).
A Free Qur'an is offered as a service at this website.
Obtain A Free Qu'ran (link fixed 17 August 2005) The Online Islamic Bookstore offers free Qur'ans to any interested non-Muslim who is willing to pay the $3.00 shipping cost. (No longer offered, Oct. 26, 2002.)
In addition to the hadith collections, one can also download various Arabic tafsirs such as Tafsir Jalalayn,Suyuti's al-Durr al-manthur (which uses hadith to clarify and expand on the meaning of the Qur'an), and an abridged version of the Tafsir al-Qurtubi.
The library includes as well a number of important general dictionaries such as Ibn Manzur's Lisan al-'Arab and Fayruzabadi's al-Qamus al-muhit; Ibn al-Athir's dictionary of rare words used in hadith, al-Nihayah fi gharib al-hadith; Asfahani's dictionary of the Qur'an, Mufradat alfaz al-Qur'an; and even an Arabic-English and English-Arabic dictionary.
A PC running Arabic Windows95 is necessary in order to read the texts, although Arabic Windows98 is recommended.