History and Sources

How big is the Qur’an and how is it organized?

The sacred scripture contains about 6,200 verses, roughly equivalent in length to the New Testament, arranged in 114 sections called suras (pronounced SUrah). Muhammad’s earliest revelations tend to be short, rhetorically potent utterances in an ancient form of rhymed prose used by pre-Islamic seers and soothsayers. Later suras tend to be lengthier and more prosaic, and often take up more practical concerns. Suras are arranged in more or less descending order of length, so that many of the earlier sections are actually in the latter part of the book now. The heading of each sura contains the title, number of verses, and an indication as to whether it was revealed at Mecca or Medina. Interpreters consider it very important to place each text historically, for the “circumstances of the revelation” are critical in unwrapping its original meaning. Tradition has identified the suras, or portions of them where it is clear that a single sura is actually a composite—as early, middle, or late Meccan (610-622) or Medinan (622-632). Muslims believe the Qur’an is the direct, literal word of God unmodified in any way by the Prophet who uttered them at God’s bidding.


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