Reginald Bosworth Smith (1839-1908)

A British scholar and author

“By a fortune absolutely unique in history, Mohammed is a threefold founder of a nation, of an empire, and of a religion. Illiterate himself, scarcely able to read or write, he was yet the author of a book which is a poem, a code of laws, a Book of Common Prayer, and a Bible in one, and is reverenced to this day by a sixth of the whole human race as a miracle of purity of style, of wisdom, and of truth. It was the one miracle claimed by Mohammed — his ‘standing miracle ‘ he called it; and a miracle indeed it is.”

Mohammed and Mohammedanism – Lectures at the Royal Institute of Great Britain, R. Bosworth Smith, pg 237; Smith, Elder & Co. London, 1874

Carleton Stevens Coon (1904-1981)

Dr. Coon was an American anthropologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He also taught at Harvard and was the president of the American Association of Physical Anthropology

“The great virtue of the Qur’Án is its beauty of language. Its proper recitation is moving, whether or not one understands the Arabic. It is obviously not suited for translation, and Muslims recite it in the original tongue no matter how little of it they understand. The sequence of sounds has a ritual meaning wholly apart from their literal semantic significance. Many Muslims have committed it to memory. It can be read through, aloud, in a single night, and often is in critical moments such as the watch over the dead.”

Caravan: The Story of the Middle East, Carleton Stevens Coon, pg. 98; Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1958

William Henry Quilliam (Abdullah Quilliam) (1856-1932)

A British solicitor, writer and activist, he converted to Islam in 1885. He is also accredited to have established the first mosque in Britain

“The Koran is universally allowed to be written with the utmost elegance and purity of language, and is confessedly the standard of the Arabic tongue. The style is generally beautiful and fluent, especially where it assumes the prophetic character.

From a literary point of view, apart from its claims to be an inspired volume, the Koran is the most poetical work of the East. The great portion of it is in a rhymed prose, conformably to the taste which has, from the remotest times prevailed in the above portion of the globe. It abounds with splendid imagery and the boldest metaphors.”

The Faith of Islam – An Explanatory Sketch of the Principal Fundamental Tenets of the Moslem Religion, W. H. Quilliam, pg. 49-50; Willmer Brothers & Company, Ltd. Liverpool, 1892

Herbert George Wells (1866-1946)

World famous writer and historian

“The Qur’an is but little read by Europeans; it is ignorantly supposed to contain many things that it does not contain; there is much confusion in people’s minds between its text and the ancient Semitic traditions and usages retained by its followers; in places it may seem formless and barbaric; but what it has chiefly to tell of is the leadership of one individualised militant God who claims the rule of the whole world, who favours neither rank nor race, who would lead men to righteousness.

It is much more free from sacramentalism, from vestiges of the ancient blood sacrifice, and its associated sacerdotalism, than Christianity. The religion that will presently sway mankind can be reached more easily from that starting-point than from the confused mysteries of Trinitarian theology. Islam was never saddled with a creed. With the very name “Islam” (submission to God) there is no quarrel for those who hold the new faith.”

God, The Invisible King, H. G. Wells, pg. 160-161; The Macmillan Company, New York, 1917

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

The highly influential French philosopher and writer, whose thoughts played a pivotal role in the French revolution

Oriental tongues, on the other hand, lose their life and warmth when they are written. The words do not convey half the meaning; all the effectiveness is in the tone of voice. Judging the Orientals from their books is like painting a man’s portrait from his corpse.

For a proper appreciation of their actions, men must be considered in all their relationships: which we simply are not capable of doing. When we put ourselves in the position of others we do not become what they must be, but remain ourselves, modified. And, when we think we are judging them rationally, we merely compare their prejudices to ours.

Thus, if one who read a little Arabic and enjoyed leafing through the Koran were to hear Mohammed personally proclaim in that eloquent, rhythmic tongue, with the sonorous and persuasive voice, seducing first the ears, then the heart, every sentence alive with enthusiasm, he would prostrate himself, crying: Great prophet, messenger of God, lead us to glory, to martyrdom. We will conquer or die for you.

On the Origin of Language, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, pg. 49; University of Chicago Press, 1966

Voltaire – François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778)

The world famous French Enlightenment writer and philosopher

After quoting the first two pages of the Holy QurÁn, Voltaire notes:
“These words are said to have incomparably more energy in Arabic. Indeed, the Koran still passes for the most elegant and most sublime book which has been written in that language.”

In another place he says:

“…we cannot condemn his doctrine of one only God. These words of his 122nd sura, “God is one, eternal, neither begetting nor begotten ; no one is like to him”; these words had more effect than even his sword in subjugating the East … (The Koran is) combined with laws which were very good for the country in which he lived, and all which continue to be followed, without having been changed or weakened, either by Mahometan interpreters or by new decrees.”

“The Alcoran is not an historical book, in which the author has aimed at an imitation of the sacred writings of the Hebrews, and of our holy gospels ; neither is it a book purely containing a body of laws, like those of Deuteronomy and Leviticus; nor is it a collection of psalms and spiritual songs, nor a prophetic vision and allegory, like the apocalypse : It is a mixture of all these several kinds of writing; a body of homilies, in which we meet with some historical facts, some visions, some revelations, and some laws, both civil and religious. The Alcoran is become the code of jurisprudence, as well as of the canonical law, with all the Mahometan nations.”

A Philosophical Dictionary, m. de Voltaire, under “Alcoran”, vol. 1, pg. 34-39 and pg. 136-140; W. Dugdale, London, 1843

The Works of m. de Voltaire, vol 22, pg.38; J. Newbery, R. Baldwin, W. Johnston, S. Crowder, T. Davies, J. Coote, G. Kearsley & B. Collins, London , 1763

Ernest Renan (1823-1892)

Prominent French orientalist, philosopher and author of several books related to Middle Eastern languages and civilization

“The Coran was the sign of a literary revolution, as well as of a revolution in religion; it signalizes among the Arabs the transition from the versified style to prose, from poetry to eloquence, crisis so important in the intellectual life of a people. At the beginning of the seventh century the grand poetic age of Arabia was passing away; traces of fatigue showed themselves in all quarters; the ideas of literary criticism appeared as a sign of ill omen for genius.

Antar, that Arab nature so frank, so unspoiled, begins his Moallakat, very much as a poet of the decadence might, with these words: “What theme have not the poets sung?” An immense astonishment greeted Mahomet when he appeared in the midst of an exhausted literature, with his vivid and earnest recitations. The first time that Otba, son of Rebia, heard this energetic language, sonorous, full of rhythm, though un-versified, he went back to his friends quite astonished. “What is the matter?” they asked.

“By my faith!” he replied, “Mahomet has used towards me speech such as I never heard. It is neither poetry, nor prose, nor the language of the magician, but it is penetrating.” Mahomet did not like the exceedingly refined prosody of Arab poetry; he committed faults of quantity when he quoted verses, and God himself took the responsibility of excusing him from it in the Coran. “We have not taught our prophet versification.” He repeats on all occasions that he is neither a poet nor a magician. The common people, in fact, were continually tempted to confound him with these two classes of men; and it is true that his rhymed and sententious style had some resemblance to that of the magicians.

It is impossible for us, forsooth, to comprehend the charm that the Coran exerted immediately on its appearance. The book seems to us declamatory, monotonous, tedious; the continuous reading of it is almost insupportable; but it must be remembered that Arabia, having never possessed an idea of the plastic- arts, or of high beauties of composition, makes perfection of form consist exclusively in the details of style. Language in its view is something divine; the most precious gift that God has made to the Arab race. The most certain sign of its pre-eminence is the Arab language itself, with its learned grammar, its infinite wealth, its subtle delicacy.

It cannot be doubted that Mahomet owed his chief success to the originality of his language, and to the novel turn he gave to Arab eloquence. The most important conversions, that of the poet Lebid, for example, are wrought through the effect of certain fragments of the Coran; and to those who demanded a “sign ” of him, Mahomet offers no other response than the perfect purity of his Arab speech, and the fascination of the new style of which he had the secret.

Thus, Islamism, with a completeness of which it would be hard to find another example, sums up the ideas, moral, religious, aesthetic, in a word, the spiritual life of one great family of mankind.”

Studies of Religious History and Criticism, Ernest Renan, pg. 279-280; Carleton Publishers, New York, 1864

James Albert Michener (1907-1997)

Much celebrated American writer

“It is an extraordinary book. Not quite so long as the New Testament, it is written in an exalted style. It is neither poetry nor prose, yet it possesses the ability to arouse its hearers to ecstasies of faith. Because of the nature of Muslim worship, the Koran is probably the most often read book in the world, the most often memorized and possibly the most influential in the daily life of the people who believe in it.”

A Michener miscellany: 1950-1970, James Albert Michener, pg. 238; Random House, 1973

Dr. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

World famous German author, philosopher, poet and scientist, was a great admirer of Islam and its holy book

“However often we turn to it, at first disgusting us each time afresh, it soon attracts, astounds, and in the end enforces our reverence …. Its style, in accordance with its contents and aim, is stern, grand, terrible – ever and anon truly sublime … Thus this book will go on exercising through all ages a most potent influence.”

“He (Muhammad) is a prophet and not a poet and therefore his Koran is to be seen as a divine law and not as a book of a human being, made for education or entertainment.”

A Dictionary of Islam, Thomas Patrick Hughes, pg. 526; Scribner, Welford, & Co. New York, 1885

West-östlicher Divan: Noten und Abhandlungen, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, pg. 27; Akademie-Verlag, 1952

Jules Barthélemy Saint Hilaire (1805-1895)

French scholar, orientalist, philosopher and statesman

“Another issue, no less interesting and also one upon which it is not easy to form a personal opinion, is the issue pertaining to the style of the Qur’an. But here, at least, one can accept the popular belief and view that dictates that the Qur’an is an incomparable masterpiece of the Arabic language; although one can distinguish many shades within its text corresponding to the different times within the life of its author. (The Qur’an’s) beauty of form, in the unanimous opinion of all scholars, equals the majesty of its subject, and the perfection of its language never lets the expression fall below the meaning that it seeks to render.

We saw a little earlier, the extreme enthusiasm it inspired within all listeners when Muhammad would recite (its verses), and there is no doubt that this seduction, evidenced by numerous conversions and sources, helped the Prophet in transferring his message to a people so sensitive to the charms of poetry. Muhammad was forbidden to ever write in verse, for fear of being confused with the vulgar poets, and we are not sure if we are to believe a traditional story that states that he knew the exact rules of versification. Nevertheless, the impetuosity of thought, the vividness of images, the sheer power of words and the novelty of beliefs that supplement its irresistible prose, captured the hearts much earlier that the minds could be convinced.

We must admit that this fascination has never been pushed so far by anyone else, and among the founders of religion it is a particular feature found only in Muhammad; a feature which enhances his position and makes him unique. It is a great merit for the Koran to have remained the most beautiful monument of the tongue in which it was written, and I do not find anything like it in all of mankind religious history. We must not lose sight of this consideration, if we are to understand the influence exerted by this book. It was much easier to believe it to be the word of God, for none among the Arabs had ever heard such words.”

Mahomet et Le Coran, J. Barthélemy Saint Hilaire, pg. 187-188; Didier et cie, Paris, 1865

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