What is the Qur'an?

For traditional Islam, the Qur’an is the word of Allah with a divine message and guidance for those who submit. Qur’an (القرآن) means “the recitation”. It contains the messages that have been given to Muhammad over a period of 23 years. Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel gave the messages as revelation in Arabic language to Muhammad and that the words as holy book of the Muslims are not just inspired by Allah, but are the direct words of the Supreme Being [1]. Therefore it is the foundation of the religion of Islam. This can be observed in the way most Muslims treat the Qur’an books with high respect and why they memorize many or all verses.

Origin and compilation

Muslims believe that in the month of Ramadan in 610, Muhammad received his first messages in a cave on Mount Hirah (now Mount Jabal al-Noor) (96:1-5). He memorized the messages of the Qur’an and gave instructions to scribes to write it down. The scribes were companions of Muhammad and learned the Qur’an. Muhammad gave his approval or disapproval when they recited the Qur’an in front of him. First verses of the Qur'an had been received by Muhammad in Mecca and have a more poetic style than later verses. In early verses Jews and Christians were called “People of the Book”, but later recognized as adherents of different religions [2]. The verses in Mecca also support freedom and equality. Later verses have been revealed in Medina in which the Muslims were superior against their enemies and show less tolerance. The Qur’an had been written on paper, stones, palm-leaves, bones and leather. After Muhammad’s death in 632, the Qur’an became a collection of manuscripts. Abu Baker became a caliph, the leader of Islam. He gave orders to put all Muhammad’s messages in one book for safety reasons. Uthman Ibin Affan as the third caliph discovered that the new convert were made mistakes in reading the Qur’an because of small differences in the Arabic dialect. So he arranged a Qur’an text to be set as the standard dialect. This was the Quraish dialect known as Fus’ha, the modern standard Arabic. He ordered that all other text than this version be burnt. The outcome of Uthman’s work is the standard version of the Qur’an.


1. Day of Judgment

The Qur'an mentions an end of the world and a final evaluation of every person at the end of times (3:30, 35:33-37). Those who do not good deeds will go to hell (7:8-9, 21:47). Some verses say that Jews and Christians also will go to Paradise (2:62, 5:69, 48:29). Some verses indicate that the judgment will occur very soon, such as 70:6–7, others verses are more open as in 72:25.

2. Monotheism

In the Qur’an is only one Supreme God (5:73, 112:1-4), there is oneness of God (51:51, 73:9). This is the message about the God of Abraham as a continuity of the message of the Previous Scriptures. Muhammad's opponents are described in the Qur'an as believers in a variety of gods or idols (such as 25:42). This angered Muhammad because then all exclusive dependence on Allah is avoided.

3. Obedience to the law

The Qur'an calls to live live according to God’s revealed Law. It forbids to follow any law other than the law of God (6:114).

4. Support for Islam

There is focus with detailed legal regulations in the Qur'an that Muslims will be committed to engage in militant striving on behalf of God. This can be inner struggle, but in some verses it can be striven against unbelievers and associators, like the pagan Meccans (2:191, 8:34).

5. Prophets

Muhammad is warner whom God has sent to guide his people (32:3) and who has no responsibility outside the delivery of God’s message (6:107, 11:57). However, there are also commands for believers to obey Muhammad and charge him to make decisions for them (e.g., 4:59–70). There is even a verse to have Muhammad as an example for believers (33:21). But Muhammad is not the only prophet and he is mentioned only 4 times. Most mentioned prophets are: Musa - Moses, mentioned 136 times and Ibrahim – Abraham (69), while the name Jesus occurs with 25 times more than Muhammad. Qur’an as holy book from Allah has many references to praise, believe and follow in the Previous Scriptures: the Scroll (revealed to Abraham), Torah (revealed to Moses), Zabur – also called Psalms (revealed to David) and Injil – also called Gospel (revealed to Jesus Christ). The Qur’an praises Jesus and the Gospel (3:50, 5:46, 5:110-111).


  1. Gerhard Böwering, God and his attributes, in: Jane Dammen McAuliffe (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, Volume Two, E-I, Brill, Leiden, 2002, 318.
  2. Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian environment, The Gunning Lectures, London, 1926, 147.