CHAPTER vi /Anyone to Take up the Challenge ?

Anyone to Take up the Challenge ?

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Some people may acknowledge that no one has ever produced anything like the Qur’an, but that does not mean that such an objective lies beyond human ability. Anyone may simply choose not to do something either because he does not like doing it, or because there is no motivating reason, or because something beyond his own control has diverted his attention or weakened his resolve despite adequate motivation, or it may be that an unexpected event interfered with his means or ability to do it after he had resolved to do so.

The two first situations indicate that people did not produce anything like the Qur’an because they did not care to do so, rather than as a result of their inability. The third situation indicates a disability to complete the task, not because of any excellence that places the Qur’an beyond human ability, but because of the intervention of an external power.

Such an intervention by the Supreme Power [i.e. God] aims to protect the Qur’an from contention and competition. If this barrier were to be removed, people would be able to produce something similar to the Qur’an, or so the argument contends. This view was advanced by al-Niẓām of the Muᶜtazilah school of philosophy.

Although it admits the inimitability of the Qur’an, this argument can only be advanced by a non-Arab or someone who has no literary taste. This explains why even his student, al-Jāḥiẓ, a famous Arab literary figure, did not follow al- Niẓām’s view. Nor did any one conversant with the Arabic language and literature. It is contrary to what the Arabs accept.

None of these situations applies to our present discussion. As for the first situation, we say that the motives for producing something with which to challenge the Qur’an were too strong to ignore.

What motivates an opponent more than your repeated challenge and ridicule, in which you declare that, try as he may, he can in no way produce anything similar to your own work?

Such ridicule is sufficient to motivate even a coward to muster his strength, to rise and defend himself. What effect, then, would it have on a person known for guarding his honour and defending his position? What if you are challenging him over something in which he is particularly adept and in which he takes exceptional pride? What if you couple your challenge by accusing him of following erroneous ideas and false concepts? And what would be his attitude when he realises that your aim behind all this verbal warfare is to demolish his faith and to cause a split between his future and his past?

As for the second situation, we see here that there were strong reasons motivating opponents to the extreme. In fact, the position of Muhammad and the Qur’an he recited was their top preoccupation.

They resorted to every possible method of opposition, whether peaceful or violent. They even sought to appease him so that he would give in a little and reduce his opposition to their religion. Furthermore, they offered him money and the position of a king if only he would stop his message.

On the other hand, they made a solemn pact agreeing to boycott him and his clan until they all perished or until his clan surrendered him to them so that they could kill him.

They tried hard to prevent the voice of the Qur’an when it was recited by Muslims, so that it was not heard by their sons or womenfolk.

They also waged a smear campaign against the Prophet, accusing him of being a sorcerer, or a madman, hoping by so doing to prevent him from influencing any pilgrims that might visit Makkah.

They also plotted to imprison or kill him or to send him into exile, as the Qur’an reports: “The unbelievers were scheming against you, in order to restrain you, or to kill you, or to drive you away.”

(8: 30.)

They even went to war repeatedly against him, risking their lives and putting their families to much hardship.

Was all this a mark of their being preoccupied with something else to the extent that they could not be bothered to produce something as powerful as the Qur’an?

Moreover, why would they go to all this trouble when he had told them time and again that the only way to silence him was to produce something similar to the revelation he brought them? This seems to be the proper and easier way out for them, had they been able to do it.

The fact remains that they resorted to every method except this one.

Sacrificing their lives, risking being taken captive, and suffering poverty and humiliation were much easier for them than the alternative which he had indicated to them. But they found this extremely difficult, indeed impossible. Hence, their total powerlessness.

The whole campaign of opposition was not directed against the Prophet and his Companions in person. There were family and tribal bonds between the two sides, and the high moral standards the Muslims upheld earned them much respect, even among the nonbelievers.

Nor was the campaign launched against the Qur’an when a person learns it by heart and recites it at home. The Quraysh non-believers were prepared to accept that everyone was free to worship their Lord at home as they wished.

Instead, this whole campaign was directed at achieving one single goal, namely preventing the propagation of the Qur’an among the rest of the Arabs.

This is clearly indicated by the Prophet when he approached different tribes requesting them to protect him in his endeavour to make his message known to mankind. He would say to them: “Would you be prepared to take me to your quarters, for the Quraysh have prevented me from conveying the message of my Lord.” [Related by Abu Dāwūd and al-Tirmidhi.]

We must not imagine for a moment that their opposition to publicising the Qur’an was based merely on the fact that it preached a new faith.

There were among them a number of highly endowed poets and speakers who did not indulge in idolatry, such as Quss ibn Sāᶜidah and Umayyah ibn Abi al-Salṭ, who included in their speeches and poems much of the moral values advocated in the Qur’an. But they did not give such advocates of moral values the same attention as they gave the Qur’an.

Nor were they bothered or concerned with their preaching. The fact is quill-pen-2431674_1280that they felt that the Qur’an was different from any other type of speech. Its argument was overpowering. It removed everything that stood in its way and imposed its authority wherever it reached.

They could not even stand up to it in a way they were undoubtedly adept at, which was to produce something of equal merit and power. Since this was the subject matter of the challenge put to them, then the only way to resist it was to suppress it by all means, making any sacrifice required to ensure that.

This was indeed their policy, and it has been the policy of all enemies of the Qur’an ever since.

The third situation supposes that an external cause prevented them from producing what they needed, and had the ability, to produce, i.e. a piece of equal merit. Had this been true, they would not have recognised their inability until they so tried. No one feels unable to do something that he is used to doing as easily as sitting and standing, until he has tried it at least once.

But we know that they did not even try to produce anything similar to the Qur’an. The only ones to even make an attempt were a few individuals who were amongst the least wise of them. This indicated an instinctive recognition that their inability to accomplish this task was total, just like their inability to move mountains, or to reach out to the stars. It is this recognition that was behind their lack of effort.

Had they not been aware, right from the outset, of their inability to produce anything similar to the Qur’an, they would certainly have made a determined effort to meet the challenge. This would have meant that they might initially have felt that it was of the same standard as their own speech.

But after their failure to produce anything similar to the Qur’an, they would have wondered at this incidental inability on their part, how they were held back when they were always otherwise able to meet a challenge.

the Qur’an which is like our normal speech?

Or they would have resorted to their finest literary works produced prior to this unexpected inability, and delivered from them something similar to the Qur’an. But they failed to produce anything, whether old or new.

The Qur’an, itself, was their constant source of wonder and their centre of admiration.

They would even prostrate themselves in submission to God, its author, when they heard it, before they even had had time to reflect. Some of them candidly acknowledged: “This could not have been said by any human being.”

page IV

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A person may say: I accept that people have not managed to come up with anything similar to the Qur’an because they are incapable of doing so.

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