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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Or ALCORAN, the Scripture or Bible of the Mahometans, containing the revelations and doctrines of their pretended prophet. 1. Koram, division of the. The Koran is divided into one hundred and fourteen larger portions of very unequal length, which we call chapters, but the Arabians Sowar, in the singular Sura; a word rarely used on any other occasion, and properly signifying a row, or in building, or a rank of soldiers in an army, and is the same in use and import with the Sura, or Tora, of the Jews; who also call the fifty three sections of the Pentateuch Sedarim, a word of the same signification. These chapters are not, in the manuscript copies, distinguished by their numerical order, but by particular titles, which are taken sometimes from a peculiar subject treated of, or person mentioned therein; usually from the first word of note, exactly in the same manner as the Jews have named their Sedarim, though the word from which some chapters are denominated be very distant towards the middle, or perhaps the end, of the chapter; which seems ridiculous. But the occasion of this appears to have been, that the verse or passage wherein such word occurs, was, in point of time, revealed and committed to writing before the other verses of the same chapter which precede it in order, the verse from whence such title was taken did not always happen to begin the chapter. Some chapters have two or more titles, occasioned by the difference of the copies.

Some of them being pretended to have been revealed at Mecca, and others at Medina, the noting this difference makes a part of the title. Every chapter is divided into smaller portions, of very unequal length also, which we customarily call verses; but the Arabic word is Ayat, the same with the Hebrew Ototh, and signifies signs or wonders; such as the secrets of God, his attributes, works, judgments, and ordinances, delivered in those verses; many of which have their particular titles, also, imposed in the same manner as those of the chapters. Besides these unequal divisions, the Mahometans have also divided their Koran into sixty equal portions, which they call Anzab, in the singular Hizb, each subdivided into four equal parts; which is likewise an imitation of the Jews, who have an ancient division of their Mishma into sixty portions, called Massictoth. But the Koran is more usually divided into thirty sections only, named Ajaza, from the singular Joz, each of twice the length of the former, and in like manner subdivided into four parts. These divisions are for the use of the readers of the Koran in the royal temples, or in the adjoining chapels where the emperors and great men are interred; of whom there are thirty belonging to every chapel, and each reads his section every day; so that the whole Koran is read over once a day. Next after the title, at the name of every chapter except only the ninth, is prefixed the following solemn form, by the Mahometans, called the Bismallah.

"In the name of the most merciful God;" which form they constantly place at the beginning of all their hooks and writings in general, as a peculiar mark and distinguishing characteristic of their religion, it being counted a sort of impiety to omit it. the Jews, and eastern Christians, for the same purpose, make use of similar forms. But Mahomet probably took this form from the Persian Magi, who began their books in these words, Benam Yezdam, bakshaishgher dadar; that is, In the name of the most merciful just God. There are twenty-nine chapters of the Koran which have this peculiarity, that they begin with certain letters of the alphabet, some with single ones, others with more. These letters the Mahometans believe to be the peculiar marks of the Koran, and to conceal several profound mysteries; the certain understanding of which, the more intelligent confess, has not been communicated to any mortal, their prophet only excepted: notwithstanding which, some take the liberty of guessing at their meaning by that species of cabala called by the Jews, Notarikon. 2. Koran, general design of the.

The general design of the Koran was to unite the professors of the three different religions, than followed in the populous country of Arabia, (who, for the most part, wandered without guides, the far greater number being idolaters, and the rest Jews and Christians, mostly of erroneous opinion, ) in the knowledge and worship of one God, under the sanction of certain laws and ceremonies, partly of ancient, and partly of novel institution, enforced by the consideration of rewards and punishments both temporal and eternal; and to bring them all to the obedience of Mahomet, as the prophet and ambassador of God; who, after the repeated admonitions, promises, and threats of former ages, was sent at last to establish and propagate God's religion on earth; and to be acknowledged chief pontiff in spiritual matters, as well as supreme prince in temporal. The great doctrine, then, of the Koran is the unity of God, to restore which, Mahomet pretended, was the chief end of his mission; it being laid down by him as a fundamental truth, That there never was, nor ever can be, more than one true orthodox religion: that, though the particular laws or ceremonies are only temporary and subject to alteration, according to the divine direction; yet the substance of it, being eternal truth, is not liable to change, but continues immutably the same; and that, whenever this religion became neglected or corrupted in essentials, God had the goodness to re-inform and re-admonish mankind thereof by several prophets, of whom Moses and Jesus were the most distinguished, till the appearance of Mahomet, who is their seal, and no other to be expected after him.

The more effectually to engage people to hearken to him, great part of the Koran is employed in relating examples of dreadful punishments formerly inflicted by God on those who rejected and abused his messengers; several of which stories, or some circumstances of them, are taken from the Old and New Testaments, but many more from the apocryphal books and traditions of the Jews and Christians of those ages, set up in the Koran as truths, in opposition to the Scriptures, which the Jews and Christians are charged with having altered; and, indeed, few or none of the relations of circumstances in the Koran were invented by Mahomet, as is generally supposed; it being easy to trace the greatest part of them much higher, as the rest might be, were more of these books extant, and were it worth while to make the inquiry. The rest of the Alcoran is taken up in prescribing necessary laws and directions, frequent admonitions to moral and divine virtues, the worship and reverence of the Supreme Being, and resignation to his will. One of their most learned commentators distinguishes the contents of the Alcoran into allegorical and literal: under the former are comprehended all the obscure, parabolical, and enigmatical passages, with such laws as are repealed or abrogated; the latter, such as are clear, and in full force. The most excellent moral in the whole Alcoran, interpreters say, is that in the chapter Al alraf, viz. "Show mercy, do good to all, and dispute not with the ignorant;" or, as Mr. Sale renders it, Use indulgence, command that which is just, and withdraw far from the ignorant.

Mahomet, according to the authors of the Keschaf, having begged of the angel Gabriel a more ample explication of this passage, received it in the following terms: "

Seek him who turns thee out, give to him who takes from thee, pardon him who injures thee; for God will have you plant in your souls the roots of his chief perfections." It is easy to see that this commentary is borrowed from the Gospel. In reality, the necessity of forgiving enemies, though frequently inculcated in the Alcoran, is of a later date among the Mahometans, than among the Christians; among those later than among the heathens; and to be traced originally among the Jews, (

See Exodus 33:4-5 .) But it matters not so much who had it first as who observes it best. The caliph Hassan, son of Hali, being at table, a slave let fall a dish of meat reeking hot, which scalded him severely. The slave fell on his knees, rehearsing these words of the Alcoran; "Paradise is for those who restrain their anger." "I am not angry with thee, " answered the caliph. "And for those who forgive offences against them, " continues the slave, "I forgive thee thine, " replies the caliph. "But, above all, for those who return good for evil, " adds the slave. "I set thee at liberty, " rejoined the caliph; "and I give thee ten dinars"

There are also a great number of occasional passages in the Alcoran relating only to particular emergencies. For this advantage Mahomet had, by his piecemeal method of receiving and delivering his revelations, that, whenever he happened to be perplexed with any thing, he had a certain resource in some new morsel of revelation. It was an admirable contrivance to bring down the whole Alcoran only to the lowest heaven, not to earth; since, had the whole been published at once, innumerable objections would have been made, which it would have been impossible for him to have solved; but as he received it by parcels, as God saw fit they should be published for the conversion and instruction of the people, he had a sure way to answer all emergencies, and to extricate himself with honour from any difficulty which might occur. 3. Koran, history of the. It is the common opinion, that Mahomet, assisted by one Sergius, a monk, composed this book; but the Mussulmans believe it as an article of their faith, that the prophet, who, they say, was an illiterate man, had no concern in inditing it; but that it was given him by God, who, to that end, made use of the ministry of the angel Gabriel; that, however, it was communicated to him by little and little, a verse at a time, and in different places, during the course of 23 years.

"And hence, " say they, "proceed that disorder and confusion visible in the work;" which, in truth, are so great, that all their doctors have never been able to adjust them; for Mahomet, or rather his copyist, having put all the loose verses promiscuously in a book together, it was impossible ever to retrieve the order wherein they were delivered. These 23 years which the angel employed in conveying the Alcoran to Mahomet, are of wonderful service to his followers; inasmuch as they furnish them with an answer to such as tax them with those glaring contradictions of which the book is full, and which they piously father upon God himself; alleging that, in the course of so long a time, he repealed and altered several doctrines and precepts which the prophet had before received of him. M. D'Herbelot thinks it probable, that when the heresies of the Nestorians, Eutychians, &c. had been condemned by aecumenical councils, many bishops, priests, monks, &c. being driven into the deserts of Arabia and Egypt, furnished the impostor with passages, and crude ill-conceived doctrines, out of the Scriptures; and that it was hence that the Alcoran became so full of the wild and erroneous opinions of those heretics. The Jews also, who were very numerous in Arabia, furnished materials, for the Alcoran; nor is it without some reason that they boast twelve of their chief doctors to have been the authors of this work.

The Alcoran, while Mahomet lived, was only kept in loose sheets: his successor, Abubeker, first collected them into a volume, and committed the keeping of it to Haphsa, the widow of Mahomet, in order to be consulted as an original; and there being a good deal of diversity between the several copies already dispersed throughout the provinces, Ottoman, successor of Abubeker, procured a great number of copies to be taken from that of Haphsa, at the same time suppressing all the others not conformable to the original. The chief differences in the present copies of this book consist in the points, which were not in use in the time of Mahomet and his immediate successors; but were added since, to ascertain the reading, after the example of the Massorettes, who added the like points to the Hebrew texts of Scripture. There are seven principal editions of the Alcoran, two at Medina, one at Mecca, one at Cufa, one at Bassora, one in Syria, and the common, or vulgate edition. The first contains 6000 verses, the others surpassing this number by 200 or 236 verses; but the number of words and letters is the same in all; viz. 77, 639 words, and 323, 015 letters. The number of commentaries on the Alcoran is so large, that the bare titles would make a huge volume. Ben Oschair has written the history of them, entitled, Tarikh Ben Oschair. The principal among them are, Reidhaori, Thaalebi, Zamalchschari, and Bacai. The Mahometans have a positive theology built on the Alcoran and tradition, as well as a scholastical one built on reason.

They have likewise their casuists, and a kind of canon law, wherein they distinguish between what is of divine and what of positive right. They have their beneficiaries, too, chaplains, almoners, and canons, who read a chapter every day out of the Alcoran in their mosques, and have prebends annexed to their office. The hatib of the mosque is what we call the parson of the parish; and the schelks are the preachers, who take their texts out of the Alcoran. 4. Koran, Mahometan faith concerning. It is the general belief among the Mahometans that the Koran is of divine original; nay, that it is eternal and uncreated; remaining, as some express it, in the very essence of God: and the first transcript has been from everlasting, by God's throne, written on a table of vast bigness, called the preserved table, in which are also recorded the divine decrees, past and future; that a copy from this table, in one volume upon paper, was by the ministry of the angel Gabriel sent down to the lowest heaven, in the month of Ramadan, on the night of power, from whence Gabriel revealed it to Mahomet in parcels, some at Mecca, and some at Medina, at different times, during the space of twenty-three years, as the exigency of affairs required; giving him, however, the consolation to show him the whole (which they tell us was bound in silk, and adorned with gold and precious stones of paradise) once a year; but in the last year of his life he had the favour to see it twice. They say, that only ten chapters were delivered entire, the rest being revealed piecemeal, and written down from time to time by the prophet's amanuensis, in such a part of such and such a chapter, till they were completed, according to the directions of the angel. The first parcel that was revealed is generally agreed to have been the first five verses of the ninety-sixth chapter. In fine, the book of the Alcoran is held in the highest esteem and reverence among the Mussulmans. They dare not so much as touch the Alcoran without being first washed, or legally purified; to prevent which an inscription is put on the cover or label,

Let none touch but they who are clean. It is read with great care and respect, being never held below the girdle. They swear by it; take omens from it on all weighty occasions; carry it with them to war; write sentences of it on their banners; adorn it with gold and precious stones; and knowingly not suffer it to be in the possession of any of a different religion. Some say that it is punishable even with death, in a Christian, to touch it; others, that the veneration of the Mussulmans leads them to condemn the translating it into any other language, as a profanation: but these seem to be exaggerations. The Mahometans have taken care to have their Scripture translated into the Persian, the Javan, the Malayan, and other languages; though, out of respect to the original, these versions are generally, if not always, interlineated. 5. Koran, success of the, accounted for. The author of the "View of Christianity and Mahometanism" observes, that, "by the advocates of Mahometanism, the Koran has always been held forth as the greatest of miracles, and equally stupendous with the act of raising the dead. The miracles of Moses and Jesus, they say, were transient and temporary: but that of the Koran is permanent and perpetual, and therefore far surpassed all the miraculous events of preceding ages.

We will not detract from the real merits of the Koran; we allow it to be generally elegant and often sublime; but at the same time we reject with disdain its arrogant pretence to any thing supernatural, all the real excellence of the work being easily referable to natural and visible causes. In the language of Arabia, a language extremely loved and diligently cultivated by the people to whom it was vernacular, Mahomet found advantages which were never enjoyed by any former or succeeding impostor. It requires not the eye of a philosopher to discover in every soil and country a principle of national pride: and if we look back for many ages on the history of the Arabians, we shall easily perceive that pride among them invariably to have consisted in the knowledge and improvement of their native language. The Arabic, which has been justly esteemed the most copious of the eastern tongues, which had existed from the remotest antiquity, which had been embellished by numberless poets, and refined by the constant exercise of the natives, was the most successful instrument which Mahomet employed in planting his new religion among them. Admirably adapted by its unrivalled harmony, and by its endless variety, to add painting to expression, and to pursue the imagination in its unbounded flight, it became in the hands of Mahomet an irresistible charm to blind the judgment and to captivate the fancy of his followers. Of that description of men who first composed the adherents of Mahomet, and to whom the Koran was addressed, few, probably, were able to pass a very accurate judgment on the propriety of the sentiments, or on the beauty of the diction: but all could judge of the military abilities of their leader; and in the midst of their admiration, it is not difficult to conceive that they would ascribe to his compositions every imaginary beauty of inspired language.

The shepherd and the soldier, though awake to the charms of those wild but beautiful compositions in which were celebrated their favourite occupations of love or war, were yet little able to criticise any other works than those which were addressed to their imagination or their heart. To abstract reasonings on the attributes and the dispensations of the Deity, to the comparative excellencies of rival religions, to the consistency of any one religious system in all its parts, and to the force of its various proofs, they were quite inattentive. In such a situation, the appearance of a work which possessed something like wisdom and consistence; which prescribed the rules and illustrated the duties of life; and which contained the principles of a new and comparatively sublime theology, independently of its real and permanent merit, was likely to excite their astonishment, and to become the standard of future composition. In the first periods of the literature of every country, something of this kind has happened. The father of Grecian poetry very obviously influenced the taste and imitation of his country. The modern nations of Europe all possess some original author, who, rising from the darkness of former ages, has begun the career of composition, and tinctured with the character of his own imagination the stream which has flowed through his posterity. But the prophet of Arabia had in this respect advantages peculiar to himself.

His compositions were not to his followers the works of man, but the genuine language of Heaven which had sent him. They were not confined, therefore, to that admiration which is so liberally bestowed on the earliest productions of genius, or to that fond attachment with which men every where regard the original compositions of their country; but with their admiration they blended their piety. To know and to feel the beauties of the Koran, was in some respect to share in the temper of heaven; and he who was most affected with admiration in the perusal of its beauties, seemed fitly the object of that mercy which had given it to ignorant man. The Koran, therefore, became naturally and necessarily the standard of taste. With a language thus hallowed in their imaginations, they were too well satisfied either to dispute its elegance, or improve its structure. In succeeding ages, the additional sanction of antiquity or prescription, was given to those compositions which their fathers had admired; and while the belief of its divine original continues, that admiration which has thus become the test and the duty of the faithful, can neither be altered nor diminished. When, therefore, we consider these peculiar advantages of the Koran, we have no reason to be surprised at the admiration in which it is held. But, if descending to a more minute investigation of it, we consider its perpetual inconsistence and absurdity, we shall indeed have cause for astonishment at that weakness of humanity which could ever have received such compositions as the work of the Deity." 6. Koran, style and merits of the, examined.

"The first praise of all the productions of genius (continues this author) is invention; that quality of the mind, which, by the extent and quickness of its views, is capable of the largest conceptions, and of forming new combinations of objects the most distant and unusual. But the Koran bears little impression of this transcendant character. Its materials are wholly borrowed from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, from the Talmudical legends and apocryphal gospels than current in the east, and from the traditions and fables which abounded in Arabia. The materials collected from these several sources are here heaped together with perpetual and heedless repetitions, without any settled principle or visible connection. When a great part of the life of Mahomet had been spent in preparatory meditation on the system he was about to establish, its chapters were dealt out slowly and separately during the long period of twenty-three years. Yet, thus defective in its structure, and no less objectionable in its doctrines, was the work which Mahomet delivered to his followers as the oracles of God. The most prominent feature of the Koran, that point of excellence in which the partiality of its admirers has ever delighted to view it, is the sublime notion it generally impresses of the nature and attributes of God.

If its author had really derived these just conceptions from the inspiration of that Being whom they attempt to describe, they would not have been surrounded, as they now are on every side, with error and absurdity. But it might be easily proved, that whatever it justly defines of the divine attributes was borrowed from our Holy Scripture; which even from its first promulgation, but especially from the completion of the New Testament, has extended the views and enlightened the understandings of mankind: and thus furnished them to arms which have too often been effectually turned against itself by its ungenerous enemies. In this instance, particularly, the copy is far below the great original, both in the propriety of its images and the force of its descriptions." 7. Koran, the sublimity of the, contrasted. "Our Holy Scriptures are the only compositions that can enable the dim sight of mortality to penetrate into the invisible world, and to behold a glimpse of the divine perfections. Accordingly, when they would represent to us the happiness of heaven, they describe it, not by any thing minute and particular, but by something general and great; something that, without descending to any determinate object, may at once by its beauty and immensity excite our wishes, and elevate our affections. Though in the prophetical and evangelical writings, the joys that shall attend us in a divine state, are often mentioned with ardent admiration, they are expressed rather by allusion than by similitude; rather by indefinite and figurative terms, than by any thing fixed and determinate.

'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him, ' 1 Corinthians 2:9 . What a reverence and astonishment does this passage excite in every hearer of taste and piety! What energy, and at the same time what simplicity in the expression! How sublime, and at the same time how obscure, is the imagery! Different was the conduct of Mahomet in his descriptions of heaven and paradise. Unassisted by the necessary influence of virtuous intentions and divine inspiration, he was neither desirous, nor indeed able to exalt the minds of men to sublime conceptions, or to rational expections. By attempting to explain what is inconceivable, to describe what is ineffable, and to materialize what in itself is spiritual, he absurdly and impiously aimed to sensualize the purity of the divine essence. Thus he fabricated a system of incoherence, a religion of depravity, totally repugnant to the nature of that Being, who, as he pretended, was its object; but therefore more likely to accord with the appetites and conceptions of a corrupt and sensual age. That we may not appear to exalt our Scriptures thus far above the Koran by an unreasonable preference, we shall produce a part of the second chapter of the latter, which is deservedly admired by the Mahometans, who wear it engraved on their ornaments, and recite it in their prayers. "God! there is no God but he; the living, the self-subsisting; neither slumber nor sleep seizeth him: to him belongeth whatsoever is in heaven, and on earth.

Who is he that can intercede with him but through his good pleasure? He knoweth that which is past, and that which is to come. His throne is extended over heaven and earth, and the preservation of both is to him no burden. He is the high, the mighty.' Sale's Koran, vol. 2: p. 30. To this description who can refuse the praise of magnificence? Part of that magnificence, however, is to be referred to that verse of the psalmist whence it was borrowed: 'He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep, ' Psalms 121:4 . But if we compare it with that other passage of the inspired psalmist, (Psalms 102:24-27 .) all its boasted grandeur is at once obscured, and lost in the blaze of a greater light! 'O, my god, take me not away in the midst of my days; thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.' The Koran, therefore, upon a fair examination, far from supporting its arrogant claim to a supernatural work, sinks below the level of many compositions confessedly of human original; and still lower does it fall in our estimation, when compared with that pure and perfect pattern which we justly admire in the Scriptures of truth. It is, therefore, abundantly apparent, that no miracle was either externally performed for the support, or is internally involved in the composition of the Mahometan revelation."

See Sale's Koran; Prideaux's Life of Mahomet; White's Sermons of Bampton Lectures; and article MAHOMETANISM.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Koran'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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