The Qur'an (also spelled Qur'aan, Koran) is the holy book of Islam, considered by Muslims as the Word of God (Allah) and the final revelaton for humanity.
It was revealed to Prophet Muhammad over a period of about 22 years, beginning in 610 CE. The first verses were:
Read! in the name of your Lord Who created,
Created man from a clinging substance.
Read! and your Lord is the Most Generous,
Who taught by the pen,
Taught man that which he knew not.1
The language of the Qur'an is classical Arabic. The rhythm and richness of expression are largely lost in translation, but the Qur'an has been preserved exactly as it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago.
The Qur'an is primarly a book of guidance.
This is the Book about which there is no doubt,
a guidance for those conscious of Allah.4
This guidance takes the form of commands, warnings, parables, stories of peoples from the past - especially earlier prophets, and descriptions of the unseen, such as things yet to happen.
Many earlier prophets are mentioned, such as Adam (the first human being), Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. Their stories are similar to Biblical equivalents, but have important differences in detail.
The Qur'an presents all the prophets, culminating in Muhammad, as a brotherhood, part of a chain of people chosen by God to convey His guidance to mankind. Their messages were consistent, teaching humanity that their Creator was One God, Whose guidance should be followed, in order to succeed in this life and in the life after death.
The Qur'an has been preserved exactly as it was revealed, without changing even a single word. This was done in two ways: memorising every verse, and writing them down.
The order of the verses in the Qur'an is unlike any other book. It is not arranged either in the order the verses were revealed, nor in subject order. It is divided into 114 chapters (known as 'Surahs'), with the longer chapters towards the front and the shorter chapters at the end. in general, each chapter was revealed not in one go, but over a period of time.
The verses were brought to Muhammad by the angel of revelation, Gabriel. He also instructed Muhammad where each new verse fitted into what had already been revealed. Muhammad would then convey the verses to his companions who were present, and they in turn would tell the others. The verses would be memorised, and some of the companions were given the task of writing the verses (Muhammad could neither read nor write.
After Muhammad's death, the Qur'an was written down in one volume.
The final revelation
The final words of the Qur'an were revealed not long before his death in 632 CE:
This day I have perfected for you your religion5
and completed My favour upon you
and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.6
Here God names His religion7, and informs that it is both perfect and complete. This is why Muhammad is the final messenger of God, and the Qur'an is God's final revelation.
The exemplar of the Qur'an is Muhammad, who showed how to follow it as a way of life. His example is known as the Sunnah.
The Study of the Qur'an
The Qur'an itself is the focus of many Islamic disciplines. The detailed study of each verse of the Qur'an is known as Tafsir. This covers the meaning of each verse, the circumstances of its revelation, and its relation to other verses of the Qur'an and to the Sunnah.
The correct recitation of the Qur'an is governed by the rules of Tajweed. The Qur'an should be recited carefully and in measured tones, with each letter of each word pronounced properly. This has helped to preserve the Qur'an unchanged for fourteen centuries. A person who memories the whole Qur'an is known as a Hafiz.
Much care and attention is given to writing the Qur'an, and the Arabic calligraphy that has developed around the Qur'an has become a form of art. Indeed, as Islam has restrictions on representational forms, a greater emphasis has been placed on decoration using verses of the Qur'an.