How the Qur’an is Both Concise and Comprehensive?
The Qur’an is a very concise book. You do not find unnecessary or superfluous detail in its verses; the information that it contains always serves and supports the overall purpose of the Qur’an which is guidance for mankind. By contrast the Old Testament provides a lot of unnecessary, and arguably harmful, detail that is of no benefit to those seeking guidance. A good example is Ezekiel 23:20, which describes the genitals and semen of men using obscene language. The New Testament suffers from a lot of repetition, for example the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke contain so much duplicated material between them that it has led many Christian scholars to conclude that their authors used a common source which has since been lost to history.
In fact compared to other Scriptures such as the Old Testament and New Testament, the Qur’an is significantly shorter, around 10 times shorter than the Old Testament and half the length of the New Testament. One of the wisdoms behind making the Qur’an concise is so as to make it easy to remember:
And We have certainly made the Qur’an easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember? [Chapter 54, verse 17]
The Qur’an is indeed easy to remember, the proof being the millions of Muslims alive today who have memorised it from cover to cover in its original Arabic.
NO COMPROMISE ON ITS COMPREHENSIVE GUIDANCE
A truly amazing property of the Qur’an is that it maintains conciseness without compromising on being a comprehensive means of guidance. The Qur’an makes the claim of being a “clarification for all things”, “detailed” and containing “every example”:
…And We have sent down to you the Book as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims. [Chapter 16, verse 89]
Alif, Lam, Ra. [This is] a Book whose verses are perfected and then presented in detail from [one who is] Wise and Acquainted. [Chapter 11, verse 1]
And We have certainly presented for the people in this Qur’an from every [kind of] example – that they might remember. [Chapter 39, verse 27]
How is this possible when in literature these two features, conciseness and comprehensiveness, are mutually at odds? We are going to take a look at some examples of how the Qur’an achieves this momentous feat.
1. OUR ORIGIN AS HUMAN BEINGS
Or were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]? Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Rather, they are not certain. [Chapter 52, verses 35-36]
For everything like man that has a beginning in time, there are only three ways of explaining how it came to be:
a. Either it is caused by nothing at all i.e. it came out of nothing.
b. Or it is the creator of itself.
c. Or it has a creator, cause, or maker, outside of itself.
Notice that the Qur’an does not mention the third option, it only explicitly proposes the first two possibilities. We can’t have been caused by nothing, because from nothing, nothing comes. We can’t have created ourselves because that would require that we were in a state of existence and non-existence simultaneously, an impossibility. So these first two possibilities are so absurd that we are left to conclude that we must have a Creator. In this instance the Qur’an does not waste any space covering what is the only sensible explanation as to the origin of man, God Almighty, because it does not need to. Upon reflection any sensible individual will arrive at this conclusion themselves.
2. BUYING AND SELLING AT THE TIME OF PRAYER
O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew. [Chapter 62, verse 9]
The literal meaning of the word used here for trade is ‘sale’. Although the intent is to ban all activities of buying and selling which may distract people from going to Friday prayer, the verse has mentioned ‘sale’ only, because when one aspect of trading is abandoned, the other aspect would automatically come to an end. If there is no one to sell, there will be no one to buy, because trade is a bilateral transaction. The underlying wisdom is that there may be an uncountable number of customers and buyers, and it would not be possible by any practical means to stop them all. The sellers and shopkeepers, however, are by comparison limited in number and they can be stopped. If they are stopped from selling, the buyers automatically will stop buying. Hence, God Almighty deemed it sufficient to impose the ban on ‘sale’, as any mention of buying would be superfluous.
3. ADDRESSING THE WHOLE OF CHRISTENDOM
There is a huge variety of beliefs among the many Christian sects throughout the world. Is Jesus God? Is God one person or three persons? Do we need works to enter heaven, or are we justified by faith alone? Should Christians observe the Sabbath? Was the Crucifixion of Jesus a payment for mankind’s sins to appease God’s wrath, or was it an act of love towards us by God? Does Hell exist? Out of all these variant beliefs among the Christian sects, God Almighty focuses on refuting the two beliefs that are common to virtually all Christian sects:
And they say, “The Most Merciful has taken [for Himself] a son.” You have done an atrocious thing. The heavens almost rupture therefrom and the earth splits open and the mountains collapse in devastation That they attribute to the Most Merciful a son. And it is not appropriate for the Most Merciful that He should take a son. There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant. [Chapter 19, verses 88 – 93]
And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. [Chapter 4, verse 157]
These two beliefs, the divine Sonship of Jesus and the Crucifixion, are the bedrock of Christianity and common denominator across the Christian sects. Therefore by refuting these the Qur’an is being extremely efficient as it cuts to the core doctrines of Christianity whilst at the same time addressing the maximum number of people. A truly comprehensive rebuttal.
4. TACKLING THE TRINITY IN ALL ITS SHAPES AND FORMS
…And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. [Chapter 4, verse 171]
Now one might wonder to themselves, why is it that God Almighty did not get into the details of the doctrine of the Trinity, why did He only mention a few words, “do not say three”? Since belief in the Trinity is disbelief on the part of Christians, considered the worst of sins in Islam, one might think that the Qur’an should have gone into as much detail as possible in defining the Trinity. Instead the Qur’an tackles the issue in general terms. It simply says, “do not say three”. No matter who the persons of the Trinity are, no matter the relationship between the persons within the Trinity, simply do not say three, no matter how you Christians say it.
Indeed there is great wisdom in taking this approach. If we examine the history of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, then we find that it has been evolving, with Christians at different times and places having had differing beliefs. Today, for example, there are those who believe that God is one God in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Others believe that each of these three persons is a distinct and separate god, representing three gods in total (known as tritheism). So there are different conceptions for the doctrine of the Trinity. The advantage of the Qur’an speaking about the Trinity in only general terms, is that all the Christians who believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, no matter what form or shape, are given guidance by the Qur’an. A question that Christian readers would do well to ponder on is how did the author of the Qur’an have the foresight to tailor it in such a way that it addresses every kind of Trinitarian, including those who came about after its revelation.
5. DEFINING THE NATURE OF GOD
Say, “He is Allah , [who is] One,
Allah , the Eternal Refuge.
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor is there to Him any equivalent.”
There are a multitude of false beliefs about God Almighty throughout the many religious outlooks in the world. Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism are just some examples that are at odds with the pure monotheistic nature of God Almighty. Rather than spending time directly addressing each and every one of these false beliefs individually, God Almighty instead clearly defines who He is and provides the yardstick by which to measure all other deities. Amazingly, there is no other god or goddess that measures up to this yardstick. Allah is the Supreme God against Whom all other deities fall short. In just four short verses, less than 20 words, every other deity that is, and has ever been, worshipped by man is shown to be inferior to Allah and therefore not worthy of worship.
For the Qur’an to maintain conciseness throughout without sacrificing its comprehensive guidance is a feat beyond human capability. Despite being in a world that is constantly evolving, whether technologically, morally or socially, the Qur’an remains remarkably fresh and relevant for every time and place. Even 1,400 years after the revelation of the Qur’an, this is a book whose limited size does nothing to hinder its unlimited scope for guiding mankind:
This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah. [Chapter 2, verse 2]
Those readers interested in learning more about the Qur’an can download an excellent English translation here (PDF file):
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