Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 6.djvu/62

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the qurʼân

unto our servant, then bring a chapter like it. . . But if ye do it not, and ye surely shall do it not, &c.,’ is at first sight surprising, but, as Nöldeke[1] has pointed out, this challenge really refers much more to the subject than to the mere style, — to the originality of the conception of the unity of God and of a revelation supposed to be couched in God′s own words. Any attempt at such a work must of necessity have had all the weakness and want of prestige which attaches to an imitation. This idea is by no means foreign to the genius of the old Arabs; thus the learned grammarian and rhetorician ‘Harîrî excuses himself in the preface to his celebrated ‘Assemblies’ for any shortcomings, which might possibly be detected in a composition professedly modelled on that of another, by quoting an ancient poem:

‘′Twas this affected me, that while I lay
Snatching a breath of sleep for drowsiness,
There wept a dove upon the Aikah bough
Trilling her weeping forth with sweetest notes:
Ah, had I wept—ere she began to weep—
For Sâudâ′s love, my soul had found relief!
But ′twas her weeping that excited mine,
And he who comes first must be always best!’

Amongst a people who believed firmly in witchcraft and soothsaying and who, though passionately fond of poetry, believed that every poet had his familiar spirit who inspired his utterances, it was no wonder that the prophet should be taken for ‘a soothsayer,’ for ‘one possessed with an evil spirit,’ or for ‘an infatuated poet[2].’

Each chapter of the Qur′ân is called in Arabic a sûrah, a word which signifies a course of bricks in a wall, and is generally used in the body of the work for any connected or continuous portion complete in itself.

  1. Geschichte des Qorâns, p. 43.
  2. Mohammed may well have repudiated the charge of being a poet, for he is only credited with one verse, and that an involuntary one:

    Ana ′nnabîyu lâ Kadhib;
    Ana ′bnu ‘Abd el Muttalib.
    ‘I am the prophet who lies not;
    I am the son of Abd el Muttalib.’