The Quran, the holy book of Islam, begins with a short surah (chapter) called the Fātihah, [The Opening]:
Many Muslims recite the Fātiḥah as part of their prayers every day. According to a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, this surah contains the essence of the teachings of the Quran. The word for God in Arabic is “Allah,” which is the same word used by Arabic-speaking Christians to refer to God. Most Muslims understand God to be the Creator and Ruler of the entire universe, the ultimate Judge of all human beings, and to be characterized above all by the qualities of compassion and mercy. God also guides humanity to the path of righteousness through messengers and prophets. According to the Quran, “There is a Messenger for every community” (Quran, 10:47), and legend has is that there have been 124,000 prophets sent to humanity. Some of these have received revelation in the form of a scripture: to David (Dāwūd) was revealed the Zabūr or Psalms; to Moses [Mūsā] was revealed the Tawrāh or Torah, Jesus [‘Isā] received the Injīl or Gospel, and Muhammad received the Quran. For this reason, Muslims refer to Christians and Jews as “People of the Book,” for they received a message that was fundamentally the same as that of the Quran. In certain geographic and cultural contexts some Muslims have also included Zoroastrians and Hindus in this category as they consider them to have also received revelation in the form of scripture.
The word Quran literally means “recitation.” Muslims believe that the words of the Quran were originally revealed by the Angel Gabriel [Jibrīl] to Muhammad in Arabic, and he then recited them to his followers. In this regard the Quran originally functioned as an aural/oral scripture that was meant to be recited, heard and experienced. The recitation of the Quran [tilāwah] is a science, an art, and a form of devotion, governed by tajwīd, the rules of pronunciation, intonation, and approach. Competitions and performances of Quranic recitation are held throughout the world. Many Muslims find the aesthetics of the recitation to be a powerful medium that helps them transcend the material and contemplate the spiritual.
Some years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, the verses of the Quran were compiled into a written text, arranged in 114 surahs, generally in decreasing order of length, with each surah representing a chapter or division of the Book. Readers can find a range of themes in these chapters: prayers and praise of God, a recounting of God’s signs in creation, stories of the messengers before Muhammad, passages about the Day of Judgment, legal matters, and representations of righteous behavior, such as looking after one’s parents, the poor, the sick, the needy, and orphans. Quranic teachings are considered to be the core of the Islamic tradition and hence the text has been the subject of many voluminous commentaries by religious scholars. While it is possible to translate the Arabic text of the Quran into other languages, Muslims generally consider translations to be interpretations and not the Quran itself. It is important to note that no one translation can claim to present the Quran exactly as found in Arabic; translations can change meanings, gloss over complexities that are found in the original, and are unable to transmit the aesthetic dimensions of the text.
 The Qur’an: A new translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 3.
A Quran page showing the first surah, Habib M’henni, Wikimedia Commons.