The word Qur’aan ,” a verbal noun, is equivalent in meaning to “ qiraa’ah,” as both come from the verb “ qara’a” which means “to read.” That is, Qur’aan literally means “a reading or reciting.” However, the term “Qur’aan” has been historically used specifically to refer to the book which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (). The term “Qur’aan” is mentioned in a number of places throughout the book in reference to itself. For example:

“Verily, this Qur’aan guides (humanity) to that which is most just.”

The name Qur’aan is used to refer to both the Qur’aan as a whole, as in the previously quoted verse; as well as to each verse or group of verses, as in the following verse:

“And if the Qur’aan is recited, you should listen to it and be silent, that you may receive mercy.”

The Book has also been referred to by other names; for example, the Furqaan: (The Distinction)

“Blessed is He who revealed the Furqaan to His slave in order that he may be a warner to all the worlds.”

and the Thikr, (The Reminder):

“Verily, I revealed the Thikr and verily I will preserve it.”

The Qur’aan could be defined as Allaah’s words which were revealed in Arabic in a  rhythmical  form  to  Prophet  Muhammad  ().  Its  recitation  is  used  in  acts  of worship and its smallest chapter (soorah) is of a miraculous nature. The Prophet’s divinely inspired statements which were recorded by his followers are generally referred to as hadeeths. For example, the Prophet’s companion (sahaabee), ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab, reported that he once said,

“ Verily, deeds are (judged) by their intentions.”

However,  in  some  of his  statements, the  Prophet  ()  attributed  what  he  said  to Allaah; for example, another sahaabee, Aboo Hurayrah, reported that the Prophet() said,

“ Allaah, Most High, says, ‘I am as My slave thinks of Me and I am with him when he remembers me. So if he remembers Me to himself, I will remember  him to Myself and if he remembers Me in a group, I will remember him in a  better group.’ ”

In order to distinguish this type of hadeeth from the previous type, it  is referred  to as hadeeth qudsee (sacred hadeeth) and the former referred to as hadeeth nabawee (prophetic hadeeth).The Qur’aan, however, is not the same as hadeeth qudsee for a number of reasons. First, the Qur’aan is from Allaah both in its wording and in its meaning, while in the case of hadeeth qudsee, its meaning is from Allaah but its wording was  the  Prophet’s  ().  Second,  Allaah  challenged  the  Arabs  and  mankind  in general to produce even a chapter equivalent to one of the Qur’aan’s chapters, and their inability to do so proves its miraculous nature. This is not so in the case of hadeeth qudsee. Third, the recitation of the Qur’aan is used in salaah and is itself considered a form of worship. The Prophet () said,

“ Whoever reads a letter from the book of Allaah, the Most High, will get a good deed (recorded for him), and each good deed is worth ten times its value. I am not only saying that Alif Laam Meem is a letter, but I am also saying that Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.”

However, the recitation of hadeeth qudsee carries none of these properties.

The Main Theme

Not only is the Qur’aan unique among books today in its origin and purity, but it is also unique in the way it presents its subject matter. It is not a book in the usual sense of the word wherein there is an introduction, explanation of the subject, followed by a conclusion. Neither is it restricted to only a presentation of historical events, problems of philosophy, facts of science or social laws, though all may be found woven together in it without any apparent connection and links. Subjects are introduced without background information, historical events are not presented in chronological order, new topics sometimes crop up in the middle of another for no apparent reason, and the speaker and those spoken to change direction without the slightest forewarning.

The reader who is unaware of the Qur’aan’s uniqueness is  often puzzled when he finds it contrary to his understanding of a book in general and a “religious” book in particular. Hence, the Qur’aan may seem disorganized and haphazard to him. However, to those who understand its subject matter, aim and its central theme, the Qur’aan is exactly the opposite. The subject matter of the Qur’aan is essentially man: man in relation to his Lord and Creator, Allaah; man  in relation to himself; and man in relation to the rest of creation. The aim and object of the revelations is to invite man to the right way of dealing with his Lord, with himself, and with creation. Hence, the main theme that runs throughout the Qur’aan is that God alone deserves worship and, thus, man should submit to  God’s laws in his personal life and in his relationships with creation in general.  Or, in other words, the main theme is a call to the belief in Allaah and the doing  of righteous deeds as defined by Allaah.

If the reader keeps these basic facts in mind, he will find that, from beginning to end, the Qur’aan’s topics are all closely connected to its main theme and that the whole book is a well-reasoned and cohesive argument for its theme. The Qur’aan keeps the same object in view, whether it is describing the creation of man and the universe or events from human history. Since the aim of the Qur’aan is to guide man, it states or discusses things only to the extent relevant to this aim and leaves out unnecessary and irrelevant details. It also repeats its main theme over and over again in the presentation of each new topic.

In the preface of one of the best orientalist translations of the Qur’aan, the translator, Arthur John Arberry, writes: “There is a repertory of familiar themes running through the whole Koran; each Sura elaborates or adumbrates one or more often many of these. Using the language of music, each Sura is a rhapsody composed of whole or fragmentary leitmotivs; the analogy  is reinforced by the subtly varied rhythmical flow of the discourse.”

The following four principles should be kept in mind by the new reader of the Qur’aan if he or she is to avoid unnecessary confusion and disorientation:

  1. The book is the only one of its type in the world.
  2. Its literary style is quite different from all other books.
  3. Its theme is unique.
  4. Preconceived notions of a book are only a hindrance to the understanding of the Qur’aan.