Someone may say at this point that we have addressed one type of doubt but opened another. He may even go back to what we have said about how literary styles differ a great deal, and how people may achieve varying degrees of excellence in their modes of expression.
His argument may run in the following fashion. Since literary expression varies among people, then literary excellence is accessible to all people, and we find it in all sorts of writings and speech, as we find it in the Qur’an. Indeed, every speaker and writer puts into his style something of his mind and conscience, in the form his talent chooses.
Since people have different talents and experiences, their styles differ when they express their thoughts.
In fact, we can count as many forms of Arabic speech as there are Arabic native speakers. It is impossible to find two writers or speakers using exactly identical styles. Every one has his or her own method of expression. A bedouin is unlike a city dweller, an intelligent person is unlike a man of poor intelligence.
A rash or an ill person has a different style from that of a wise or healthy person. One of inferior talent cannot rise to a high standard, and one who enjoys a superior talent cannot reach a level well beneath him.
Indeed, two people may have very similar modes and natures, and an identical education, yet they may have the same experience but use totally different styles of expression. How do you challenge them to produce something similar to the Qur’an when they cannot produce each other’s styles? How do you consider this inability a proof of its Divine source when you do not attribute their inability to imitate each other as indicative of any Divine intervention that gives the speaker no say in what he utters?
Indeed, this analogy tells us that the Qur’an is the word of a human being and, in this respect, it is not different from what human beings say or produce. It simply reflects certain characteristics that are applicable to the one who said it in the same way as every literary piece reflects the characteristics of its author.
In reply to the person advancing such an argument we acknowledge that whatever a person says is a product that is influenced by his nature and talents which, as they differ from one person to another, are reflected in different styles and standards. Yet even when such natures and talents are closely similar among a group of people, dictating similar types of speech, still their final products are widely different.
All this we readily accept, but it takes nothing away from our own argument. When we challenge people to produce something similar to the Qur’an, we do not ask them to come up with exactly the same mode and style.
This is something we know to be well beyond anyone’s reach. What we challenge them to produce is a speech that may take any form or style, in which the speaker, by mode and nature, feels at ease with, provided that such a speech has literary merits that are similar or close to that of the Qur’an. The challenge is concerned with literary merit, which is the field in which men and women of letters compete, attain similar or widely different standards. This is a different issue from that of methods and figures of speech that vary from one speaker to another.
If anyone finds it hard to understand how comparability can be achieved with such difference, we cite the example of athletes running along a track, and each one of them sticking to his lane so that he does not step over the toes of his competitor.
They are all following parallel lines, aiming to reach the same point. Yet we find among them one who comes top, and others who follow in rank until we have the last who trails them all.
Some may run neck and neck. Yet while each maintains his lane, similarity and excellence are easily identified among them, according to how fast they approach their common finishing line.
The same applies to those who compete in literary expression. Each one of them selects the route he wants to follow and the format he wishes to work with in order to achieve the goal he has set for himself. They will show themselves, then, to be either of the same standard or of different standards in as much as they fulfil the requirements of fine literary writings.
Let us suppose that those who are called upon to produce something like the Qur’an include some who are equal to the Prophet, who received the message of the Qur’an, in their native Arabic literary talent, or perhaps some of them have a superior talent.
Or let us suppose that they are all of lesser standard than him. Those whose talent is superior should be able to produce something better than what he recited to them, and those who are equal should come up with something similar to it, while the rest should not find it impossible to compose something that has some similarity to it. Anything of any of these three degrees would have been sufficient to refute the argument of the uniqueness of the Qur’an and defeat the challenge posed. Yet the first one is not even mentioned in the Qur’an because the impossibility of the task is taken for granted.
It may be said that it is better to accept that the Arabs, with all their varying talents, could not rise to the standard of Muhammad’s superb literary ability. Let us also accept that their recognised inability to come up with something similar to his own speech generally caused them to fall short of trying to imitate the Qur’an.
Yet this cannot be used as argument in support of the claim that the Qur’anic style is Divine, just as it has not been used to claim any Divinity for the Prophet’s own style.
In reply we say that Muhammad was certainly the most eloquent of all Arabs. His was the top place among them all in literary excellence. This is a fact universally accepted among all who know Arabic and its literary standards. But the question that should be asked here is about the degree of his superiority: is it of the type that is usually seen between human beings in different areas? Or is it totally supernatural?
If it is of the type we normally recognise between a fine style and one that is even finer, or between degrees of beauty, we say that such distinction as he enjoyed would not have precluded them from composing a single piece like it.
Even if they found it impossible to achieve the same degree of excellence, they could have achieved a comparable degree. It would have been acceptable for them to produce something similar to the Qur’an, in whole or in part, whether long or short, exactly similar or showing only some aspects of similarity. Nevertheless, their inability to do so has been total.
And if it is said that the difference between Muhammad and all talented experts of fine speech was such that put him on a sublime level to which none can ever rise, because of his unique nature which is totally unlike that of all others, then that is akin to saying that some human beings are super-human. Indeed, it constitutes an admission that what such a person produces is not the work of any human being. The fact is that all human beings share in what we term generally as human nature.
Within that, personal natures exhibit similarities that reveal themselves time after time, in one person after another, at least over different periods, if not during the same period of time. This applies at least to some, if not all aspects of expression.
Many are those who have similar thoughts and views, and they express them in similar styles and, at times, use identical phrases and expressions.
A reader may even think that the products of such writers have the same feel and aura. This is particularly seen in the works of those who imitate earlier literary figures who had highly distinctive styles.
Had the Qur’an been the work of the human being who conveyed it to us, producing something similar to it would not have been difficult for one who is akin to that person in mood and character, sharing the same values and conducting himself according to his guidance, or to one who is closely related to him and who learnt much from him.
Indeed, it would have been appropriate for Muhammad’s Companions who learnt the Qur’an directly form him, appreciated its excellence, understood and implemented its message and conducted their life in accordance with its guidance to try to make their own styles similar to that of the Qur’an.
This would have been the natural response to man’s instinctive desire to imitate what he considers to be superior.
But nothing of this was attempted. The most that such literary figures tried was to copy an expression here or there to add to the power of their argument or the beauty of their style. The same is done by the best literary talents in our own modern times.
The Prophet’s Superior Literary Style
Had the Qur’anic style been a reflection of Muhammad’s own nature, that reflection should have shown itself, following the above argument...GO TO page Vi