Islam and the word of god

© 2004 Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia

Muslims believe that the Holy Qur'an was revealed by God (Allah) to the Prophet Muhammad through the intermediary the angel Gabriel. The Prophet began to receive the revelations in a cave outside Makka (Mecca) in present-day Saudi Arabia and continued in Madina (Medina) where Muhammad had emigrated with his followers in AD 622 (the first year of the Islamic calendar). During Muhammad's lifetime and after his death in 632 his followers memorized the revelation and passed it on to members of the Islamic community orally, as Arabs had done for centuries with their poetry. But the fear that the revelation could be lost or corrupted prompted them to commit the Qur'an to writing. Beautiful scripts were subsequently developed for this purpose.

The Qur'an is divided into 114 chapters (suras), each of which is composed of a number of verses (ayas). After the opening (the fatiha), it is arranged by length of sura, beginning with 'The Cow' which has 286 verses. The last chapter al-Nas ('Mankind') has six verses. Traditionally, children learn the Qur'an by heart in special schools. As part of their worship, Muslims recite its verses both in private and publicly in mosques.

Illustration: Page from a bound Qur'an from the Ottoman Empire, AD 1824.