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