Comte (Count) Henry de Castries (1850-1927)

A French researcher and author whose works include Les Moralistes populaires de l’Islam, Les sources inédites de l’histoire du Maroc and L’Islam, impressions et etudes

“The Koran is a book that personifies literary glory. This text, declared by Muhammad to be the only miracle produced in support of his divine mission, remains to this day a profound enigma. The only way to resolve this insolvable mystery is to admit that its existence is a result of supernatural intervention. The other path is to adhere to a simplistic explanation that has managed to satisfy our youth and a certain number of Christian apologists. To them the Koran is a “work of an artificial conjuror, fabricated from elements borrowed from Judaism and Christianity. It is a moral code and religion to which he added wonderful stories in order to substantiate his prophetic claims”.

If the problem of the revelation of the Koran is still awaiting a satisfactory solution, we cannot deny however that there existed in Muhammad the manifestation of a prophetic phenomenon. It is incorrect that we simply define a word in a most general manner and thus, by applying it, label a true prophet as a false imposter.

This phenomenon (Muhammad’s prophetic phenomenon) can have two different causes: “it can be a product of supernatural influence; or an excitement of the man’s internal spiritual state”. In either case, we find that both inspiration and sincerity remain intact.

Even if the Koran is not the word of God, and is purely a subjective conception of Muhammad’s mind, we should at least associate this admirable achievement, for the sake of humanity’s honor, to an Arabian Prophet and not to someone vilified as an imposter. However, such was not the opinion of many of those who are called him a false prophet. Our poor vocabulary is partly complicit in this slander, forcing us to blatantly label a perfectly sincere individual as a false prophet.

(Nevertheless, in reply to those who claim that the Koran is a product of Muhammad’s own handiwork, we present this argument) How could the (unlettered) Prophet compose a book written in an exquisite literary language, a language which, like Latin in the Middle-Ages, was exclusively owned and understood by the most cultivated of minds?”

L’Islam, Impressions et Études, Le Comte Henry de Castries, pg. 40-43; Librairie Armand Colin, Paris, 1907

Emile Dermenghem (1892-1971)

A prolific French writer and researcher, he wrote several books on Muslim culture including Vies des saints musulmans and Mahomet et la tradition islamique.

“The Koran is the only miracle performed by Mahomet. Its literary beauty, its irradiation, an enigma even today, have the power of putting those who recite it into a state of fervor, even if they are the least pious. And Mahomet defied either man or jinn to produce anything comparable; this was the proof that he offered of the authenticity of his mission. It is not a question of exceptional literary value. Mahomet despised poets and did not want to be ranked with them. This was altogether another thing; the difference between an inspiration coming from God or from the jinn. There is little doubt that each verse, even though it is related to some insignificant thing in his private life, shook him profoundly to the depths of his soul. Undoubtedly, too, .it is there that one should look for the secret of his influence and his prodigious success.

Today we cannot question his sincerity. His whole life, in spite of his faults (and he did not deny having faults), proves that he believed profoundly in his mission and that he accepted it heroically as a burden of which he was to bear the heaviest portion. His creative ability and the vastness of his genius, his great intelligence, his sense of the practical, his will, his prudence, his self-control and his activity, in short, the life he led makes it impossible to take this inspired mystic for a visionary epileptic”.

The Life of Mahomet, Emile Dermenghem, pg. 249-250; George Routledge & Sons. Ltd. London, 1930

Dr. Henry Stubbe (1632-1676)

An English writer and scholar, his book “An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians”, written in 1671, is considered the first work in English sympathetic to Islam.

“It is written in Arabic Verse, and is not one continued poem, but a collection of sundry Surats or Poems which Mahomet published occasionally: the Language, the Stile, the Numbers are all so exquisite and inimitable, that Mahomet himself doth frequently urge this as the grand authentic Testimony of his Apostleship, that the Alcoran doth surpass all human wit and Fancy, and offered to be accounted an Impostor if any man could but write ten verses equal to any therein.

The Mahometans esteem each line of it as an intire miracle, and say if the Miracles are the credentials of a Prophet and proofs of his mission, that Mahomet brought three thousand demonstrations of his legislative power, that other Miracles(being performed but once and in the sight of a few) lose much of their Evidence and certainty when they are communicated to posterity, who are forced to rely upon the integrity and understanding of those from whom they receive the relations of them or by whom they are attested; but God by Mahomet took a better course in leaving to mankind one lasting miracle, the truth whereof should in all ages be satisfactory and convincing.

Thus say Beidavi & Ahmed Ben Edris. Alguazel tells us to this purpose, that the Coran is a transcendent miracle, and, which is more, one that is permanent from generation to generation; nor is there any lasting miracle of the Prophet, excepting that whereunto he appealed, challenging all the wits of Arabia, which place did then abound with thousands whose chief study was eloquence and poetry, to make so much as one chapter that might compare therewith, and thereby demonstrated to the most incredulous the truth of his Prophesy. In the Alcoran it is said that if men and angels should combine to write anything like it, they should fail in their enterprise. The truth is, I do not find any understanding author who controverts the elegancy of the Alcoran, it being generally esteemed as the standard of the Arabic language and eloquence…”

An Account of the Rise And Progress Of Mahometanism, Dr. Henry Stubbe, pg. 157-158, London Luzac & Co. 1911

Sir Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb (1895-1971)

Highly celebrated Scottish historian and orientalist, who was also director of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies

“But the Meccans still demanded of him a miracle, and with remarkable boldness and self-confidence Mohammed appealed as the supreme confirmation of his mission to the Koran itself. Like all Arabs they were connoisseurs of language and rhetoric. Well then, if the Koran were his own composition other men could rival it. Let them produce ten verses like it. If they could not (and it is obvious that they could not), then let them accept the Koran as an outstanding evidential miracle.”

“As a literary monument the Koran thus stands by itself, a production unique to the Arabic literature, having neither forerunners nor successors in its own idiom. Muslims of all ages are united in proclaiming the inimitability not only of its contents but also of its style.”

Mohammedanism, An Historical Survey, H. A. R. Gibb, pg. 41-42; Oxford University Press, New York, 1962
Arabic Literature: an Introduction; H. A. R. Gibb, pg. 36; Clarendon Press, 1963

John Davenport (1789-1877)

“In order properly to estimate the merits of the Koran, it should be considered that when the Prophet arose eloquence of expression and purity of diction were much cultivated, and that poetry and oratory were held in the highest estimation.

It was to the Koran so considered as a permanent miracle that Mohammed appealed as the chief confirmation of his mission, publicly challenging the most eloquent men in Arabia, then abounding with persons whose sole study and ambition it was to excel in elegance of style and composition, to produce even one single chapter that might compete therewith.”

An Apology for Mohammed and The Koran, John Davenport, pg. 65-66; Dryden Press, J. Davy & Sons, 1882

Rev. G. Margoliouth (1853-1924)

Renowned British scholar, professor at the University of Cambridge and Keeper of Oriental manuscripts at the British Museum

“The Koran admittedly occupies an important position among the great religious books of the world. Though the youngest of the epoch-making works belonging to this class of literature, it yields to hardly any in the wonderful effect which it has produced on large masses of men. It has created an all but new phase of human thought and a fresh type of character. It first transformed a number of heterogeneous desert tribes of the Arabian Peninsula into a nation of heroes, and then proceeded to create the vast politico-religious organisations of the Muhammedan world which are one of the great forces with which Europe and the East have to reckon today.”

“There is, however, apart from its religious value, a more general view from which the book should be considered. The Koran enjoys the distinction of having been the starting point of a new literary and philosophical movement which has powerfully affected the finest and most cultivated minds among both Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. This general progress of the Muhammedan world has somehow been arrested, but research has shown that what European scholars knew of Greek philosophy, of mathematics, astronomy, and like sciences, for several centuries before the Renaissance, was, roughly speaking, all derived from Latin treatises ultimately based on Arabic originals; and it was the Koran which, though indirectly, gave the first impetus to these studies among the Arabs and their allies. Linguistic investigations, poetry, and other branches of literature, also made their appearance soon after or simultaneously with the publication of the Koran; and the literary movement thus initiated has resulted in some of the finest products of genius and learning.”

The Koran, Translated by Rev. J.M. Rodwell, Introduction by Rev. G. Margoliouth, pg. 6; A Penn State Electronic Classics Series Publication, 2004

Dr. Charles Francis Potter (1885-1962)

Author of numerous books, American theologian

“The Koran seems to us an incoherent jumble of legend and law, but it is much reverenced and constantly read by Moslems. It is read more than any other sacred book in the world. The Christian Bible may be a “best-seller” and the “book nobody reads” in America, but the Koran is the book everybody reads in Islam. Rambling and uninspiring as the Suras seem to us, many of those who have followed their precepts have lived beautiful lives.”

“Almost every Christian home contains the Bible, but it is generally used as a mantelpiece decoration. If it were the custom of the printer to deliver this book with its edges uncut, it would, no doubt, remain so for many years. Charles Francis Potter, D.D., in his book “The Story of Religion” wrote: “The Christian Bible may be `the book nobody knows` in America, but the QurÁn is the book everybody reads in Islam.” Yes, indeed, and it is an advantage to Christianity that the Bible is “the book nobody knows.” The Bible was the first cause in leading me away from Christianity.”

The Story of Religion as told in the lives of its leaders, Charles Francis Potter, pg. 355; Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1929; The Great Religious Leaders, Charles Francis Potter, pg. 288; Washington Square Press, 1962

Alfred Guillaume (1888-1966)

A famous British orientalist, Arabist and Islamic researcher, he was a professor of Arabic and the Head of the Department of the Near and Middle East at the University of London. He also taught at several other prestigious universities in Europe and America

“The Qur’an is one of the world’s classics which cannot be translated without grave loss. It has a rhythm of peculiar beauty and a cadence that charms the ear. Many Christian Arabs speak of its style with warm admiration, and most Arabists acknowledge its excellence. When it is read aloud or recited it has an almost hypnotic effect that makes the listener indifferent to its sometimes strange syntax and it’s sometimes, to us, repellent content. It is this quality it possesses of silencing criticism by the sweet music of its language that has given birth to the dogma of its inimitability; indeed it may be affirmed that within the literature of the Arabs, wide and fecund as it is both in poetry and in elevated prose, there is nothing to compare with it.”

Islam, Alfred Guillaume, pp. 73-74; Penguin Books, 1990

Professor Arthur John Arberry (1905-1969)

Celebrated British orientalist and prolific writer. He was Chair of Persian at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Later on he became a professor at the Cambridge University

“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. If this diagnosis of the literary structure of the Koran may be accepted as true — and it accords with what we know of the poetical instinct, indeed the whole aesthetic impulse, of the Arabs — it follows that those notorious incongruities and irrelevancies, even those ‘wearisome repetitions’, which have proved such stumbling-blocks in the way of our Western appreciation will vanish in the light of a clearer understanding of the nature of the Muslim scriptures. A new vista opens up; following this hitherto unsuspected and unexplored path, the eager interpreter hurries forward upon an exciting journey of discovery, and is impatient to report his findings to a largely indifferent and incredulous public.

During the long months, the dark and light months, of labouring at this interpretation, eclectic where the ancient commentators differ in their understanding of a word or a phrase, unannotated because notes in plenty are to be found in other versions, and the radiant beauty of the original is not clouded by such vexing interpolations — all through this welcome task I have been reliving those Ramadan nights of long ago, when I would sit on the veranda of my Gezira house and listen entranced to the old, white-bearded Sheykh who chanted the Koran for the pious delectation of my neighbour. He had the misfortune, my neighbour, to be a prominent politician, and so in the fullness of his destiny, but not the fullness of his years, he fell to an assassin’s bullet; I like to think that the merit of those holy recitations may have eased the way for him into a world free of the tumult and turbulence that attended his earthly career. It was then that I, the infidel, learnt to understand and react to the thrilling rhythms of the Koran, only to be apprehended when listened to at such a time and in such a place. In humble thankfulness I dedicate this all too imperfect essay in imitation to the memory of those magical Egyptian nights.”

“This task (the translation of the Koran) was undertaken, not lightly, and carried to its conclusion at a time of great personal distress, through which it comforted and sustained the writer in a manner for which he will always be grateful. He therefore acknowledges his gratitude to whatever power or Power inspired the man and Prophet who first recited these scriptures. I pray that this interpretation, poor echo though it is of the glorious original, may instruct, please, and in some degree inspire those who read it.”


The Koran Interpreted, Arthur John Arberry, vol. 1, pg 28; Allen and Unwin 1963
The Koran Interpreted, Arthur John Arberry, pg. xii; Oxford University Press, 1998

George Sale (1697-1736)

British orientalist Best known for his translation of the Holy QurÁn first published in 1734, which won great praise from various European luminaries such as Voltaire

“The Qur’an is universally allowed to be written with the utmost elegance and purity of language, in the dialect of the tribe of Quraish, the most noble and polite of all the Arabians, but with some mixture, though very rarely, of other dialects. It is confessedly the standard of the Arabic tongue and as the more orthodox believe, and are taught by the book itself, inimitable by any human pen (though some sectaries have been of another opinion), and therefore insisted on as a permanent miracle, greater than that of raising the dead,” and alone sufficient to convince the world of its divine original.

The style of the Qur’an is generally beautiful and fluent especially where it imitates the prophetic manner and Scripture phrases. It is concise and often obscure, adorned with bold figures after the Eastern taste, enlivened with florid and sententious expressions, and in many places, especially where the majesty and attributes of God are described, sublime and magnificent; of which the reader cannot but observe several instances, though he must not imagine the translation comes up to the original, notwithstanding my endeavours to do it justice.

Though it be written in prose, yet the sentences generally conclude in a long continued rhyme, for the sake of which the sense is often interrupted, and unnecessary repetitions too frequently made, which appear still more ridiculous in a translation, where the ornament, such as it is, for whose sake they were made, cannot be perceived. However, the Arabians are so mightily delighted with this jingling, that they employ it in their most elaborate compositions, which they also embellish with frequent passages of, and allusions to, the Qur’an, so that it is next to impossible to understand them without being well versed in this book.

It is probable the harmony of expression which the Arabians find in the QurÁn might contribute not a little to make them relish the doctrine therein taught, and give an efficacy to arguments which, had they been nakedly proposed without this rhetorical dress, might not have so easily prevailed. Very extraordinary effects are related of the power of words well chosen and artfully placed, which are no less powerful either to ravish or amaze than music itself; wherefore as much has been ascribed by the best orators to this part of rhetoric as to any other. He must have a very bad ear who is not uncommonly moved with the very cadence of a well-turned sentence…”

A Comprehensive Commentary on the Quran, Rev. E. M. Wherry, Comprising Sale’s Translation and Preliminary Discourse, vol. 1, pg. 102-104; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd. 1896

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