Definition: Qur'an
The sacred text of Islam, revealed to Muhammad over a 20-year period by the Angel Gabriel.

The Quran (also transliterated Qur'an or Koran) is the most important book in Islam. It contains the teachings and story of the chief prophet of Islam, Muhammad. The Quran, whose name means "recitation" in Arabic, is the sacred text of Muslims and the highest authority in both religious and legal matters.

Muslims believe the Quran to be a flawless record of the angel Gabriel's revelations to Muhammad from 610 until his death in 632 CE. It is also believed to be a perfect copy of a heavenly Quran that has existed eternally.

The Quran's name is derived from the Gabriel's initial command to Muhammad to "Recite!" Recitation is a fundamental concept associated with the Quran. The first followers of the prophet memorized his recitation in order to recite it to others, following an established Arabic method for preserving poetry.

The revelation was put in writing shortly after Muhammad's death to preserve the content from corruption, but it is still regarded as most authentic when recited aloud. Professional reciters of the Quran (qurra') are held in very high esteem, and have often been influential in deciding matters of doctrine or policy.

Contents of the Quran

The Quran is roughly the length of the Christian New Testament. It is divided into 114 surahs (chapters) of widely varying length, which, with the exception of the opening surah (fatihah), are generally arranged from longest to shortest. As the shortest chapters seem to date from the earlier period of Muhammad's revelation, this arrangement results in a reverse chronological order.

Each surah has a heading, which usually incorporates the following elements:

  • A title (e.g. "The Bee," "The Cow") taken from a prominent word in the Surah, but one that does not usually represent its overall contents.
  • The basmalah, a formula prayer (e.g. "In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate")
  • An indication as to whether it was received at Mecca or Medina
  • The number of verses in the Surah
  • In 29 of the Surahs, fawatih, or "detached letters" of unclear significance. They may be abbreviations, initials of owners of early manuscripts, or have some esoteric meaning.

The verses (ayat, "signs") also vary in length, with the shortest usually found in the earlier surahs. In these verses, the form closely resembles the rhymed prose of the seers (kahins) of Muhammad's time. The later verses are more detailed and less poetic.

Most of the Quran is written in the first person plural, with Allah as the speaker. When Muhammad himself speaks, his words are introduced by "Say," to clarify he is being commanded by Allah to speak.

The vocabulary of the Qur'an is overwhelmingly Arabic, but some terms are borrowed from Hebrew and Syriac, cultures with which Muhammad was familiar. Such words include injil (gospel), taurat (law, Torah), Iblis (Devil), amana (to believe) and salat (prayer).


  • Helmer Ringgren, "Qur'an." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Premium Service. 2004.
  • "Qur'an." Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions.
  • "Qur'an." The Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions.