Koran, Or Alkoran(Arab. quran, the reading, or that which ought to be read; hence, " the book "), the sacred book of the Mohammedans. It is their chief authority not only in matters of faith, but in all others, whether political, military, or ethical. Among its numerous designations, Furqan, that which distinguishes (between good and evil), Al-kitab, the book, Al-Moshaf, the volume, and Al-D'ikr, the admonisher, are of most frequent occurrence. It consists of 114 surds or chapters, each bearing a title which either affords a key to the contents, or is merely a word contained in it used as a heading. Thus the second sura is headed "Cow," which word occurs only in the 63d verse, where it is said that Moses commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a cow. Twenty-nine suras commence with letters of the alphabet believed to bear a mystical signification. With the exception of the ninth, each sura begins with the formula Bism-illahi er-rahmani er-rahimi, "In the name of the God of pity and mercy." The first sura, or the sentences that open the Koran, is the model prayer of the Mohammedans, and bears several titles, such as the Fatihat (exordium), " The Mother of the Koran," "The Pearl," "The All-sufficient." The words are these: "Praise be to God, the lord of the world, the pitying and merciful, the sovereign judge in the day of retribution ! Thou art he whom we adore ! Thou art he whom we implore to help us! Lead us in the straight way; in the way which thou hast strewn with benefits, and which lead-eth not into error! " The other suras are arranged almost entirely according to the number of verses they contain, the longest being the second, and the shortest the last.
The suras are divided into ayats or verses. For the purpose of recitation in the mosques, the Koran is divided into 30 adjzas or parts, and GO asabs or sections, each of four portions. As Mohammed continued his revelations during 23 years amid many vicissitudes, there is often but little connection between the suras, or the verses of each sura. According to the various occasions on which they were delivered, some portions contain dogmas, others conversations with God, rules of conduct, arguments in defence of doctrines, threats and promises, etc. It is generally believed that Mohammed was wholly unacquainted with writing, and dictated the passages of the Koran to amanuenses. The arrangement of the chapters and verses was made, according to the tradition of Ibn Abbas, during the lifetime of the prophet, and many Mohammedans believe that the other divisions were also made under his supervision. The style of the Koran is rather rhetorical than poetic, and its contents are to a large extent drawn from the ancient traditions of the Arabs, the Hebrew Bible, the Christian New Testament, the Talmud and Midrash of the later Jews, the tenets of the Magi, and many apocryphal writings, the so-called protevange-lia. These materials, of course, suffered many changes and perversions. - The Mohammedans believe that the revelations delivered to Mohammed from time to time were of two kinds: first, those wherein were given the words delivered by the prophet; and secondly, those in which was given the sense of what he afterward communicated in his own words.
Mohammed's revelation, according to the Koran, resulted from his being transported in a vision from Mecca to Jerusalem, and thence to heaven, where he " really beheld some of the greatest signs of his Lord." This is all that the Mohammedan is bound to believe concerning the revelation of the Koran; but the liadi-ses, or traditions, which contain long and wondrous details of this vision, are also believed in by many; and these consider Mohammed's journey to heaven as real, or as having been performed by the prophet in the body. These traditions are known as " the splitting or opening of the chest," and the "night journey." Leaving the minor variations of the story unnoticed, the hadises narrate that on the night of the celestial journey the roof of Mohammed's house in the city of Mecca was suddenly removed; the angel Gabriel descended and touched the heels of the prophet, who was lying on his back; when he awoke, the angel cut open his breast to below his navel; then a white animal, somewhat between a mule and an ass, called borak, was brought, and they rode to Jerusalem, where they performed certain rites; they ascended thereupon through the heavens, meeting Adam in the first, Jesus and John in the second, Joseph in the third, Aaron in the fourth, Edres in the fifth, Moses in the sixth, and Abraham in the seventh; then they were taken up to the "boundary tree," and then to God, who "revealed to me what he revealed." After they had passed from that place a heavenly herald proclaimed aloud, " I have established my commandments and made them easy to my servants." The tradition related by Omar represents Mohammed as declaring that when he returned from the heavens he alighted in the house of Khadijah, his wife, so soon that she had not even turned herself from one side to the other.
The traditions that the Koran was brought down from heaven by the angel Gabriel, that it was written on the skin of the ram which Abraham sacrificed instead of his son Isaac, that it was bound in silk and ornamented with gold and pearls, and similar ones, are believed in by very few, and form no part of the Mohammedan religion. - The compilation of the fragments of the Koran was not undertaken until after the death of Mohammed. Portions of it were scattered among his disciples, either written on parchment, bones, stones, and palm leaves, or merely committed to memory; and when in the ensuing contests with the rebellious people of Yemamah many of the Moslems were slain who knew large portions of the Koran by heart, it was feared that much of it might be lost, and Omar caused the caliph Abu Bekr to collect all he could. Said ibn Said was intrusted with this work, and the copy of his compilation remained in the possession of Abu Bekr. At the death of the latter the Koran was handed to Omar, who bequeathed it to his daughter Hafsah, a widow of the prophet.
The Moslems continued to read and recite their Koran as they could until about ten years later, when the caliph Othman employed the same Said ibn Said and several other Koreishites to write a number of copies of Hafsah's Koran, revising it, and making additions to it wherever needed. These copies were to constitute the final authority for the reading of the text, and in order to avoid all further disputes Othman ordered the destruction of all other copies except Hafsah's; but hers was subsequently also destroyed by the caliph of Medina. While thus a great injury was inflicted upon theological criticism, it was, politically speaking, a wise procedure to reduce the Koran, which had to serve also as a civil and criminal code, to a single reading. This revised text is the Koran which has descended to our day. - Criticism has been greatly concerned in discovering wherein this last revision consisted. A careful reading of the present Koran shows that many passages are mere fragments, which were added without careful selection to other portions of it. It is not believed that the revisers excluded anything that belonged to the Koran except what was not sufficiently authenticated as forming a part of it.
It is also not likely that they attempted a systematic arrangement of the suras, because each of them treats of a great number of subjects. A chronological order was also impossible, because accurate accounts of the older pieces were already wanting, and also because fragments of different periods had already been placed in permanent connection with other portions of the Koran. For a proper understanding of the Koran a restoration to chronological order would be necessary, and this is apparently impossible. The Moslem traditions in regard to the time when Mohammed revealed a particular sura have to be admitted with great caution; and besides being frequently contradictory among themselves, they throw but little light on the suras which were given out before Mohammed's flight to Medina. The difference of the position which the prophet held before and after this event could not fail to become apparent in the general character of his sayings. The suras of the earlier epoch may be recognized by their intense enthusiasm; they are generally short: Mohammed has visions of angels, of the day of retribution, and of God, and his animadversions on his enemies are replete with passion and anger.
The later suras still contain some of the old fire, but their general tenor is calm and prosaic, and most of them seem to be little else than general army orders and portions of a civil and criminal code. A necessary consequence of the fragmentary composition of the Koran was frequent contradictions. Mohammedan divines have, however, surmounted the difficulties arising from these. When there are two contradictory laws on one and the same subject, they explain the one as being munsukh, and the other as nasikh. They say that such commandments were given under different circumstances, and that when one of the circumstances was wanting the commandment relating thereto was void, or munsukh; and that then the commandment became in force, or nasikh, which was intended to meet the altered circumstances. (For theological and sectarian interpretations of the text, see Mohammedanism. For the dialect in which the Koran is written, and the native literature to which it has given rise, see Arabic Language and Literature.) - It is common in the Orient to ascribe every ancient manuscript of the Koran to the time and even the hand of one of the first caliphs, and several libraries boast of possessing the earliest copy written by Othman himself, while it is very doubtful whether he was personally engaged in the revision of the text.
Thus it is said that there are manuscript Korans of the age of Othman and Ali at Constantinople, Damascus, and Cairo. It is believed that some portions of it now preserved at Copenhagen date from the first century of the hegira. Printed editions have been prepared by Pagninus Brixiensis (Venice, 1509 or 1518, burnt by order of Clement VIII.); Hinkelmann (Hamburg, 1694), the oldest now known; Mollah Usman Ismael (St. Petersburg, 1787), with valuable marginal notes; and G. Flugel (Leipsic, 1834), revised by Red-slob (1887, 1842, and 1858). The following are editions of the original with versions: Muzih-i Koran, with a Hindustani interlinear version and notes, by Maulana Shah Abdel Kader, Calcutta, 1829-'32; with an English version, Serampore, 1833, and Persian commentaries, Calcutta, 1837. There are English translations by Alexander Ross (London, 1649; new ed., 1871), G. Sale (2 vols., London, 1734), and Rodwell (London, 1861). The history of the Koran is given by Noldeke, Geschichte des Qorans (Gottingen, 1860), and by Sprenger in his valuable work, Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammed (3 vols., Berlin, 1868). The essays " On the Holy Koran," "On the Mohammedan Traditions," and "On the Mohammedan Theological Literature," by Syed Ahmed Khan Bahadoor (London, 1870), are interesting as the opinions of a learned Mussulman.