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Muhammad’s Humanity

Early accounts of Muhammad contain some stories that describe supernatural events such as his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his subsequent ascent to heaven on the back of a supernatural winged horse. Despite such stories, the primary focus of the biographies, as well as Islamic doctrine in general, is on the humanity of Muhammad.

Like all prophets before him, Muhammad was a mortal man, commissioned by God to deliver a message to his people and to humanity. Like other prophets, Muhammad was distinguished from ordinary people by certain powers and faculties. For example, Muslims believe that the distinction of being sinless was granted to Muhammad by God to support his career as a prophet. Thus Muhammad is portrayed in the Qur’an as a person who makes mistakes but who does not sin against God. However, God corrected Muhammad’s mistakes or errors in judgment, so that his life serves as an example for future Muslims to follow. This emphasis on Muhammad's humanity serves as a reminder that other humans can reasonably aspire to lead a good life as he did.

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THE QUR’AN

As with other prophets and messengers, God supported Muhammad by allowing him to work miracles and thus prove that he was a genuine prophet. The singular miracle of Muhammad and the ultimate proof of the truthfulness of Islam is the Qur’an. In accordance with the words of the scripture itself, Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the timeless word of God, “the like of which no human can produce.” This trait of the scripture, called inimitability (i'jaz), is based on belief in the divine authorship of the Qur’an. Unlike earlier religions, the miracle of Islam is a literary miracle, and Muhammad's other supernatural acts are subordinate to it.

 

This belief in the unique nature of the Qur’an has led Muslims to devote great intellectual energies to the study of its contents and form. In addition to interpreting the scripture and deriving doctrines and laws from it, many disciplines within Qur’anic studies seek to understand its linguistic and literary qualities as an expression of its divine origins.

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The Format of the Holy Book

The Qur’an is made up of 114 chapters, called suras, which appear, from the second chapter onward, roughly in order of length, beginning with the longest and ending with the shortest chapters. The first chapter, al-Fatiha (“the Opening”), is a short chapter that is recited during each of the five daily prayers and in many other ritual prayers. All but one chapter begin with the formula "in the name of God, the Merciful Lord of Mercy" (bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim). Each chapter is divided into verses called ayat (singular aya, meaning “sign” or “proof”). With few exceptions the verses are randomly organized without a coherent narrative thread.

A typical chapter of the Qur’an may address any combination of the following themes: God and creation, prophets and messengers from Adam to Jesus, Muhammad as a preacher and as a ruler, Islam as a faith and as a code of life, disbelief, human responsibility and judgment, and society and law. Later Muslim scholars have argued that the text’s timelessness and universality explain the lack of narrative coherence and the randomness of the topics. In other words, the multiple meanings of the Qur’an transcend linear narrative as they transcend any particular historical moment.

 

 

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