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INIMITABILITY

Muslim dogma to the Qur ) an. No human

speech and particularly no Arabic speech

can match the divine speech, of which the Qur

) an consists in form and content.

The term itself does not occur in the

Qur ) an. But the concept of inimitability

finds its Qur ) anic basis in a number of

verses that challenge and defy the

opponents of the Prophet to produce

something like the Qur ) an, if only a sura

or verse: ‘Say: ‘‘If men and jinn banded

together to produce the like of this

Qur ) an, they would never produce its

like, not though they backed one

another’’’ (17.88). Such verses were called

by Muslim exegesis ‘Verses of Chal-

lenge’ (ayat al-Tahaddi). In some of

these verses, the context is an accusation

by enemies of the Prophet that

Muhammad had invented a text, which

he falsely claimed to be revelation: ‘Or

do they say, ‘‘Why, he has forged it’’?

Say: ‘‘Then produce a sura like it, and call on whom you can, apart from God,

if you speak truly’’’ (10.38). Treatises

written after the third/ninth century

developed a consistent theology of pro-

phetic miracles. All prophets through-

out history had to provide miracles as

divine proof to their audiences that they

were true prophets: Moses, in con-

frontation with the Pharaoh, changed

his staff into a serpent and parted the

Red Sea; Jesus raised the dead. Muhammad’s proof of his prophethood

was the inimitable Qur ) an. The inimit-

ability of the Qur ) an was not only roo-

ted in its pure eloquence, but also

referred to the Qur ) an’s foretelling of

the hidden and the unseen, in other

words, to the prophetic (in the narrow

sense) parts of the Qur ) an. The effect of

Qur ) anic recitation is described by the

Qur ) an itself: ‘God has sent down the