That Religious Studies Website

Islam: Introduction

World Faith

The Qur'an: Key facts

Information: This section contains a brief summary of the origin, history and beliefs about the The Qur'an.

The Qur'an is the most holy book in Islam, and is believed to be God's final revelation to humanity.

It is said to have been revealed (or given) to the The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by God through a series of revelations via the angel Gabriel, in and around the cities of Makkah and Medina between 610 and 632CE.

The word Qur'an means, 'recited' or 'that which is read'.

The first revelations took place during the month of Ramadan.

The Qur'anic revelations are said to fall into two categories. Those received in Makkah establish the credentials of Muhammad as the Prophet of Islam and talk about past communities and generations, whilst those received in Medina describe the duties and norms of behaviour for Muslims.

Many Muslims believe that Muhammad was illiterate, and that this is evidence for the Divine origin of the Qur'an (their point being that he could not have invented the content of the Qur'an). They also consider Muhammad's ability to receive the Qur'an to be a miracle.

It is widely accepted that the first revelation Muhammad received was Surah 96 ("Clots of Blood"):

Clots of Blood

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Recite thou, in the name of thy Lord who created;

Created man from clots of blood:

Recite thou! For thy Lord is the most Beneficent,

Who hath taught the use of the pen. (Q96:1-5)

The last revelation Muhammad is said to have received was Surah 9 ("Repentance").

Although the Qur'an has been translated into many languages, it was originally revealed to Muhammad in Arabic. As such, Muslims consider a Qur'an written in Arabic to literally be the Word of God.

Copies of the Qur'an written in Arabic are treated as sacred object by Muslims. As such, some of them are unhappy with the idea of non-Muslims touching a Qur'an written in Arabic (as one should be ritually pure (or 'clean') in order to do so). On the other hand, translations of the Qur'an into other languages, although still to be treated with respect, are not so revered and can be held (and read) by anyone; even non-Muslims.

Arabic script on the cover of a copy of the Qur'an

Arabic script on the cover of a copy of the Qur'an

Something to think about: Do you believe that Scriptures written in their original languages should be treated differently to translations of them?

Many Muslims believe that in order to appreciate its beauty, and also understand its true message, the Qur'an needs to be read in Arabic.

Initially the Qur'an was memorised by Muhammad and passed onto his companions by spoken word (something known as oral tradition).

When Muhammad died in 632CE, the Qur'an did not exist in a written book form.

The Qur'an was compiled into the definitive collection of writings we have today by the third Caliph Uthman, a task completed around 650CE.

Caliph means 'leader of the Islamic community'. Writing down and compiling the Qur'anic text was also something undertaken by the first Caliph Abu Bakr, after he realised that Muslims who had memorised it were regularly dying in battle.

Something to think about: Why might the issue of Muslims who had memorised the Qur'an dying in battle, be something that would cause Abu Bakr to want to get the text written down?


The Qur'an is made up of 114 chapters called Surahs.

Apart from Surah 9 ("The Repentance"), every chapter in the Qur'an begins with the words, 'In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful' (a statement also known as the Basmala).

The Basmala also appears twice in Surah 27 ("The Ant").

The shortest Surah in the Qur'an is number 112 ("The Unity"):

The Unity

'In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

SAY: He is God alone:

God the eternal!

He begetteth not, and He is not begotten;

And there is none like unto Him.' (Q112:1-4)

The longest Surah, with 286 verses (also called ayahs), is number 2 ("The Cow").

Surahs have traditionally been left unnumbered, because Muslims typically refer to them by name (i.e. "The Repentance", "The Ant", "The Unity" etc.). The name refers to a phrase or theme in the Surah.

The first Surah in the Qur'an is Al-Fatiha ("The Opening"). When Muslims pray (salah), this Surah will often be recited several times:


In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

PRAISE be to God, Lord of the worlds!

The compassionate, the merciful!

King on the day of reckoning!

Thee only do we worship, and to Thee do we cry for help.

Guide Thou us on the straight path,

The path of those to whom Thou hast been gracious;--with whom thou art not angry, and who go not astray. (Q1:1-7)

To reference Surahs and verses (ayahs) in the Qur'an, one writes 'Q', then the number of the Surah, and then the number of the verse (or verses). For example, Q96:1-5 means one is referring to Surah 96, verses 1 to 5.

Muslims never place the Qur'an on the floor, and many try to ensure it is kept higher than other books (E.g. on the top shelf of a bookcase). This would especially be the case with a copy of the Qur'an written in Arabic.

When the Qur'an is being read it is placed on a stand called a rehal, which is also representative of a chair (or throne). In Arabian cultures, being seated is a mark of authority. Someone who sets the Qur'an on a rehal is showing by their actions that they recognise its holy and sacred status, and also placing themselves under its authority.

A wooden rehal

A wooden rehal

The Qur'an is not so much read as recited; this being a rhythmic and poetic form of speech.

Someone who recites the Qur'an properly is known as a qari. Muhammad was obviously the first qari.

Someone who is able to recite the entire Qur'an from memory is called a Hafiz.

The Qur'an refers to many people and events found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, such as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David and Goliath, Jonah, Mary (Mother of Jesus), and Jesus.

In the Qur'an, Jews and Christians are both addressed as 'People of the Book'.

There are also some differences between the Qur'anic and Biblical version of the same events. For example, in the Gospels it says that Jesus died on the cross, whereas in the Qur'an it suggests he only appeared to die:

The Bible

The Qur'an

'It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.' (Luke 23:44-46)

'And for their saying, "Verily we have slain the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, an Apostle of God." Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness. And they who differed about him were in doubt concerning him: No sure knowledge had they about him, but followed only an opinion, and they did not really slay him, but God took him up to Himself. And God is Mighty, Wise!' (Q:4:157)

Worn out (or well-used) copies of the Qur'an must also be handled carefully and treated with respect, as these are still the Word of God. As such, they must not be thrown away in the rubbish (or even recycled with other paper and books), but should be burned or buried.

Back to top