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Qur'an or Koran (kōrănˈ, –ränˈ) [Arab.,=reading, recitation], the sacred book of Islam. Revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad in separate revelations over the major portion of the Prophet's life at Mecca and at Medina, the Qur'an was intended as a recited text, and was not compiled as a single volume during the life of the Prophet. The establishment of the canonical text is attributed to the 3d caliph, Uthman, who appointed a committee (651–52) to reconcile the conflicting versions then available, under the direction of Zaid ibn Thabit, one of the Prophet's scribes. The internal organization of the Qur'an is somewhat ad hoc. Revelations consisted of verses (ayat) grouped into 114 chapters (suras). The arrangement of the suras is mechanical: the first, al-Fateha or “the Opening,” is a short prayer exalting God that has become an essential part of all Islamic liturgy and prayer. The rest are graded generally by length, from longest to shortest. It is thus impossible to tell from the book the chronological order of revelations; generally, however, the shorter suras, more electric and fervent than the rest, are the earlier, while many of the longer ones (and all of those revealed at Medina) are later. The Qur'an refers to religious and historical events but seldom provides comprehensive accounts. Its focus is their significance, rather than their narration. God in the Qur'an speaks in the first person. Tafsir, Qur'anic exegesis, initially emerged as a branch of the science of Hadith, in the attempt to gather Muhammad's elucidations of obscure Qur'anic passages, then developed into a separate discipline with the introduction of etymological and literary analysis tools. Being the verbatim Word of God, the text of the Qur'an is valid for religious purposes only in its original Arabic, cannot be modified, and is not translatable, although the necessity for non-Arabic interpretations is recognized. This has made the Qur'an the most read book in its original language and preserved a classical form of Arabic as an Islamic lingua franca and medium of learning.


See A. J. Arberry's translation of the Qu'ran, The Koran Interpreted (2 vol., 1955, repr. in 1 vol., 2008); I. Toshihiko, God and Man in the Koran (1964); R. Bell, Introduction to the Koran (2d ed. 1970); K. Cragg, The Event of the Koran (1971); W. H. Wagner, Opening the Qur'an: Introducing Islam's Holy Book (2008); Z. Sardar, Reading the Qur'an (2011); G. Wills, What the Qur'an Meant and Why It Matters (2017).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Arabic, Qur’an, “reading,” “recitation”), the main sacred book of the Muslims, a collection of sermons, ritual and legal procedures, incantations and prayers, didactic tales, and parables uttered by Muhammad in the form of “prophetic revelations” in Mecca and Medina between A.D. 610 and 632, which laid the foundation for the religious doctrine of Islam.

During Muhammad’s lifetime the text of the Koran was preserved mainly by memory; there is no record of copies having been made by Muhammad’s own hand, but there existed written copies of certain “revelations.” The first transcriptions of the full text of the Koran were made by Muhammad’s closest associates after his death in 632. These transcriptions, which as a whole reproduce an identical text, differed in the order and number of the “revelations,” the titles of certain chapters, and the writing of certain words and expressions. Between 650 and 655, by order of the Caliph Uthman, a special board, using the text of the Koran as written down by one of Muhammad’s associates, while taking account of other transcriptions and the testimony of persons who knew the sermons by heart, prepared a redaction of the Koranic text, which gradually superceded other transcriptions and was later recognized as canonical (the “Uthmanic recension”). The earliest manuscripts of the Koran that have been preserved are from the turn of the eighth century.

The authenticity of the Koranic text and Muhammad’s authorship are accepted by contemporary Islamic scholarship, although certain lines of the Koran are evidently a paraphrase of Muhammad’s words. The external form of the Koranic text underwent significant changes during the evolution of Arabic script. The orthography, rules of pronunciation, and structure of the Koranic text were conclusively canonized by an official edition of the Koran published in Cairo in 1923. The present text of the Koran contains 114 suras (chapters) of varying length. The longer suras are placed at the beginning and the shorter at the end. Suras are divided, according to time and place of origin, into “Meccan” (the 90 suras first pronounced at Mecca from 610 to 622) and “Medinan” (24 suras pronounced at Medina from 622 onward). Many suras consist of “revelations” or fragments thereof, often unconnected thematically and belonging to different periods of prophesizing. “Revelations” are divided by rhythm or meaning into a series of fragments that are usually rhymed, called verses (ayat).

The basic content of the Koran is a condemnation of idolatry and polytheism, preaching concerning the idea of a single god (allah) as the first cause of life and creator of the universe, warnings of Judgment Day, descriptions of hell and heaven, polemics with the heathens, Jews, and Christians, didactic tales about the ruin of peoples who rejected their prophets (based on apocryphal Judeo-Christian legends and ancient Arabian folklore), religious and legal prescriptions defining a way of life and Muslim behavior “pleasing to god,” and some rules and rituals of conducting worship. The basic religious and philosophical ideas of the Koran and the subjects of many of its tales and parables (for example, about the creation of the world, original sin, Adam and Eve, the Egyptian captivity and exodus of the Judeans, the legend of Joseph and his brothers, and Jesus Christ) go back to sectarian forms of Judaism and Christianity then current in Arabia. They are regarded by the Koran as religions preceding and genetically related to Islam; Zoroastrianism and Manichaeanism also exerted a certain influence on the Koran.

The Koran sanctified the social inequality, the institution of private property, and other attributes of an exploitative class society that had developed in Arabia at that time.

Most of the Koran takes the form of a polemical dialogue between allah, speaking sometimes in the first and sometimes in the third person, and the opponents of Islam or doubters. The Koranic text reflects basic stages in the formation of Muhammad’s world view. This is to some extent the cause of the some-what chaotic exposition, inconsistency, and self-contradiction of the Koran in its treatment of a number of fundamental elements of religious teaching and the unusual style and language of the Koran, reflecting a search for the precise expression of new ideas.

The existence of a large number of unclear and conflicting passages, hints, and unfinished thoughts in the Koran called for elucidation and commentary. The first commentators on the Koran were Muhammad’s original associates and close relatives. Ibn al-Abbas (died 687–688), the prophet’s cousin, is considered the founder of Koranic exegesis (interpretation). Koranic commentaries were written in all the languages of the Muslim East. In Arabic the best-known commentaries are those of Tabari (died 923), Zamakhshari (died 1143), Baydawi (died about 1286), Suyuti (died 1505), and Muhammad Abdo (died 1905). The Koranic commentaries reflect heterogeneous tendencies in the development of Muslim theology; the social, political, and ideological struggle in the Muslim community; and a drive to adapt the content of the Koran to changes in the social, economic, and ideological structure of society.

The Koran exerted a great influence upon the development of the cultures of the Muslim peoples.

Study and interpretation of the Koran laid the foundation for Muslim theology, civil and canonical law, and linguistics and greatly influenced the development of Muslim philosophy, ethics, and historiography. Until recently, Muslim theology rejected the idea of translating the Koran; in fact, however, translations of the Koran had appeared as early as the tenth and 11th centuries in the form of Koranic commentaries in other languages. There exist translations of the Koran in almost all the languages of the Muslim East.

While primarily a religious and legislative monument, the Koran is also one of the major works of world literature. It is the first written monument of Arab prose. The literature of all the peoples of the Muslim East is saturated with quotations from the Koran and with echoes of its motifs and images. The Koran and particularly its commentaries were a source for religious folklore, a popular medieval genre. (For example, the legend of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife was the basis for numerous variants of the tale Joseph and Zulaykha.) As the “word of allah,” the Koran was proclaimed the unattainable ideal of perfection of Arabic language and style. The artistic virtues and content of the Koran were often subjected to criticism by many outstanding medieval scholars and writers, such as al-Maarri. Most modern scholars of Arab literature in Europe and in Oriental countries highly esteem the Koran’s poetical content, especially the short, rhyming “revelations” full of poetical inspiration from the early (Meccan) period. Stylized adaptations of certain Koranic verses and suras and poetic reflections of Koranic themes are found in the works of many Western European and Russian writers (for example, the tragedy Mahomet and West-Easterly Divan by Goethe and Imitations of the Koran by Pushkin).

Scholarly study of the Koran began in Europe in the 19th century. Most of the scholars’ attention was directed at the history of the genesis of the Koran, textual criticism, the definition of the chronological sequence of the “revelations” (work done by the German scholars G. Weil, T. Nöldeke, F. Schwally, the Briton R. Bell, and the Russian K. Kashtaleva), the historical-cultural interpretation of the Koran, and the Koran as the source of material for a biography of Muhammad (the Austrian Orientalists A. Sprenger and F. Buhl, the Hungarian I. Goldziher, the Britons T. Andrae and W. Montgomery Watt, the German H. Grimme, the Soviet V. V. Bartol–d, the Frenchman M. Gaudefroy-Demombynes, and others).

Europeans first became acquainted with the text of the Koran from Latin versions of the 12th to 16th centuries. In 1647 the French translation by Du Ryer appeared. The annotated Latin translation by L. Maracci (Padua, 1698) laid the basis for scholarly translation of the Koran. The best contemporary European translations of the Koran were produced by C. R. Blachére (Paris, 1957–59) and R. Paret (Stuttgart, 1963–66).

In Russia the Arabic text of the Koran was first published in 1787 (St. Petersburg), and the most recent edition was in 1960. The first Russian translations of the Koran were produced by P. Posnikov in St. Petersburg, 1716; anonymous, first quarter of the 18th century; M. Verevkin in St. Petersburg, 1790; A. V. Kolmakov in St. Petersburg, 1792; and K. Nikolaev in Moscow, 1864; all were based upon European translations. The Koran was translated into Russian from the Arabic original by D. Boguslavskii (1871, not published), G. S. Sablukov (published in Kazan, 1878 and other editions), A. E. Krymskii (Moscow, 1905, as Suras of the Earliest Period), and I. lu. Krachkovskii (Moscow, 1963).


Koran. Tashkent, 1960.
Koran. Translated and annotated by I. Iu. Krachkovskii. Moscow, 1963. (Bibliographical appendix.)


Goldziher, I. Lektsii ob islame, ch. 1. St. Petersburg, 1912. (Translated from German.)
Bartol’d, V. V. Soch., vol. 6. Moscow, 1966.
Petrushevskii, I. P. Islam v Irane v VII-XV vekakh. Leningrad, 1966. (Contains a bibliography.)
Noldeke, T. Geschichte des Qorans, 2nd ed., parts 1–3. Leipzig, 1909–38.
Blachère, R. Introduction au Coran, 2nd ed. Paris, 1959.
Paret, R. Der Koran: Kommentar und Konkordanz. Stuttgart, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Koran (Quran)

the sacred book of Islam. [Islam: NCE, 1496]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the sacred book of Islam, believed by Muslims to be the infallible word of God dictated to Mohammed through the medium of the angel Gabriel
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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