The Quran issued a challenge not only to the contemporaries of the Prophet but also to men in all ages. In order to demonstrate the incapacity and impotence of people to imitate it, it issued the following universal proclamation: “Were all of mankind to come together and wish to produce the like of the Quran, they would never succeed however much they aided each other.” (17:88). It then modifies the challenge and reduces its scope by saying: “Do people imagine that this Quran is not from Us, and that you, Oh Prophet are falsely attributing it to Us? Tell them that if they are speaking truly they should produce ten surahs resembling the Quran, and that they are free to call on the aid of anyone but God in so doing.” (11:13). Then at a third stage, the scope of the challenge is reduced still further the deniers are called on to produce only a single surah resembling the Quran: Oh people, if you doubt the heavenly origin of this Book which We have sent down to Our servant, the Prophet, produce one surah like it.” (2:23). Since we know that some of the shorter surahs consist only of a few brief sentences, this final challenge constituted a definitive proof of the human being’s inability to imitate the Quran.
It is remarkable that the Prophet who thus challenge the Arabs to a kind of literary contest, despite all their literary resources, was someone who had never in the course of the forty years of his life participated in any of their literary competitions or acquired any superiority in eloquence over this own people. Let us not forget that this challenge was issued to a people whose leaders were threatened by the devastating attacks of the Quran – their lives, their property, their ancient customs, their ancestors, their whole social position. If it had been at all possible for the Arabs to respond to the challenge of the Quran, they would have taken it up immediately, with the unstinting aid of the masters of eloquence that were by no means rare in that age. Thus they would have invalidated the proofs of the Quran and won an everlasting victory. Furthermore, as a matter of general principle, if one consistently follows and studies the style of a certain form of speech, he will ultimately be able to imitate it. But the Quran forms an exception to this rule: however much one tries to practice the use of the Quranic style, he will never be able to create something resembling the Quran. This reveals to us a significant truth: mere learning and study can never give us the capability to imitate the Quran.
History has not a single instance to show in which this particular aspect of the miraculousness of the Quran has been negated; it cannot point to a single book comparable to the Quran. Even among the speeches and sayings of the Prophet, nothing can be found which resembles the Quran from the point of view of style and eloquence. If the forces opposing Islam, with all of their skilled rhetoricians, had been able to create works capable of competing with the Quran, there would have been no need for them to endure losses and casualties by going to war, to suffer hardship and expend material resources. They could have won an easy victory by means of propaganda, a kind of cold war, and put paid to the rise of Islam within itself, its place of origin.They called into play all their resources in an effort to meet the challenge of the Quran, but all their efforts came to naught. They were unable to point even to a single error or defect in the Quran and were obliged to admit that its words were situated on a higher plane than the thought and speech of the human being. The verses of the Quran penetrated the depts. Of human being’s hearts with such unprecedented swiftness that all people of sound mind and heroic disposition eagerly embraced its message. By contrast, the devotees of ignorance and mental stagnation, people who assigned little value to wisdom and thought, and whose lives were spent in the swamp of neglect and lack of awareness, were the principal element in opposing Islam and urging others to do so. In order to conceal from people’s view the miraculous nature of the Quran, they attributed the Quran to the workings of magic, seeking thus to explain the extraordinary attraction exerted by its verses and its unique influence.
Sometimes they would also subject the converts to Islam to harassment and a hail of contempt and ridicule, or through force and coercion they would attempt to prevent the people from thinking freely. Their whole method of struggle against Islam was, in fact, childish, and it betrayed their weakness and utter helplessness. For example, they instructed a group of people to go and make a noise, to whistle and clap their hands, while the Prophet was reciting the verses of the Quran, so that the people would not fall under the influence of its eloquence and power to attract. The methods followed by the leaders of Quraysh and their insistence on preventing the message of the Quran from reaching the ears of the people showed that a deadly serious struggle between truth and falsehood was not indeed underway. The Quran itself unmasks the methods they followed and the negative role that they played: “The polytheists said: ‘Do not listen to the verses of the Quran, and make a noise while they are being recited; perhaps you will thus triumph.” (41:26). But this attempt forcibly to sever the connection between people’s minds and the Quran did not last long.
As soon as the shackles of coercion and fear were loosened from the minds of people, even some of the leaders of the polytheists who were firmly attached to the rites and customs of the Age of Ignorance would conceal themselves behind the coverings of the Ka’bah not far from where the Prophet was sitting, in order to listen to him reciting the verses of the Quran in prayer. This shows how deeply the image the Quran had traced of itself was able to penetrate deep into the souls of the people, so that the polytheists were ultimately unable to accomplish anything effective against the message of the Quran, although it represented a call to battle fatal to their interests. This impotence on the part of the enemies of Islam belongs to the dawn of Islam: the masters of eloquence were unable to imitate or compete with the Quran. Now that we are in the fifteenth century since the Quran first laid down its challenge, a time when the progress of learning has opened up new horizons of thought in front of us, we can appreciate the Divine origin of the Quran and its infinite values by reference to other matters, quite apart from the unique and inimitable structure and eloquence of the Quran. We can perceive the Quran to be an everlasting miracle, because the position of revelation vis-à-vis its deniers remains firmly the same, and the challenge of the Quran still resounds to all of mankind: “If you doubt the heavenly origin of this book, produce one surah like it.” (2:23). Can the person of today take up the challenge of the Quran and produce a surah like it, thereby conquering the stronghold of Islam and invalidating the claims of its Prophet?
Both in past and present times, there have been obstinate and impudent enemies of Islam among the experts on Arabic language and literature. If it had been possible for them to meet the challenge of the Quran, that eternal miracle of harmony and symmetry, and produce a single surah like it, they would certainly have devoted themselves fully to such a destructive undertaking. Islam has proposed then, a very simple challenge to those who oppose it. Why then do the deniers of prophethood choose roundabout ways, avoiding this direct method of confronting and defeating Islam? Is it not because the door is firmly closed on meeting the challenge posed by the Quran?
To be continued