Is the Noble Qur’an Pre-eternal or Corporeal?

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Tradition 1

عن الحسين بن خالد، قُلتُ للرّضا عليه‌السلام: يَابنَ رسولِاللّه أخبِرنى عن القرآن أخالقٌ أو مَخلوقٌ؟ فقال: ليس بخالقٍ ولا مخلوقٍ، ولكنّه كلامُ اللّه عزَّوجل.

Al-Tawḥīd, Section (bāb) 30, adīth 1


Ḥusayn ibn Khālid narrated, “I said to al-Riḍā (‘a), ‘O son of the Messenger of Allah! Inform me if the Qur’an is the Creator (khāliq) or something created (makhlūq).’ The Imām (‘a) said, ‘It is neither the Creator nor is it something created; rather, it is the word of Allah, the Honorable and Exalted.’” 

Tradition 2

عن الرَيّان بن الصَّلت، قلت للرضا عليه‌السلام: ما تَقولُ فى القرآنِ؟ فقال: كلامُ اللّه لاتَتجاوَزُوه، ولاتَطلُبوا الهُدى فى غيرِهِ فتَضِلّوا.

Al-Tawḥīd, Section (bāb) 30, adīth 2


Rayyān ibn Ṣalt narrated that he asked al-Riḍā (‘a), “What can you say about the Qur’an?” The Imām (‘a) said, “It is the word of Allah; neither transgress it nor seek guidance from other than it as this will misguide you.”   


Regarding these two noble traditions, there are subjects that must be pointed out:

1. To be the Creator (khāliq) and a created being imply being pre-eternal and corporeal, respectively, and this question is being posed in view of the fact that there are differences of opinion in this regard.

The Karrāmiyyah, the Hanbalīs and the Mu‘tazilīs believe that the word of God, the Exalted, consists of letters and sounds.

Karramiyyah say that the word of God is corporeal (ḥādith) but it exists with His Essence.

The Hanbalīs are of the view that it exists and is as old His Essence.

The Mu‘tazilīs propound that it is corporeal, created and exists in other senses, such as the creation of [the power of] speech in a tree and the like.

The Ash’arīs believe that the word (kalām) is of two types: (1) verbal (lafẓī) which is corporeal, and non-verbal (nafsī) which exists with the Essence and is one of the pre-eternal Attributes of the Essence apart from Knowledge (‘ilm) and Will (irādah).

And this subject is extensively discussed in the books of theology (ilm al-kalām).

2. Kalām means indication and disclosing of that which is inside in whatever means possible—words, sounds, inspiration, creation of the power of speech, or any other way of explanation and expression of intention.

From this perspective, we can see that the existence of Ḥaḍrat al-Masīḥ (Holy Messiah) (‘a) and the revelation (waḥī) as the “word” and “mode of speaking” respectively:

﴿ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ

“Allah gives you the good news of a Word from Him whose name is Messiah.”[1]

﴿ أَن يُكَلِّمَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا وَحْيًا

“…that Allah should speak to him except through revelation.”[2]

In this regard, our subject of discussion is the verbal word and the Noble Qur’an, and not the non-verbal word which is that of the Essential Attributes and ontological word which is something created (makhlūq).

3. Indication and expression of intention: If this is connected to “He” (huwa) and to be understood in the absolute sense, it will be regarded as one of the Essential Attributes, and if it is connected to a particular case and to be understood to be referring to the addressees, it will be considered among the Attributes of Action.

Like the attributes of creation, origination, manifestation, perception and comprehension, if the implications of this attribute are considered by themselves and in absolute sense, then it is one of the Essential Attributes. But if it is meant in relation to external matters, then it is one of the Attributes of Action.

4. On account of the terms, composition of words and other salient features that bespeak of perfectly established knowledge and truths, the Noble Qur’an has been revealed as a miracle par excellence.   

And since it is meant for the use and guidance of people and as a means of addressing the Holy Prophet () and others, it is obviously corporeal although the origin of these words is the Essential Attributes of Knowledge and Will.   

5. Therefore, the Noble Qur’an which is the word of God, the Exalted, cannot be pre-eternal such that it has played a role in the creation and origination of things and be the origin of events. Neither can it be something created or originated like other creatures.

Of course, what is meant by being the “Creator” (khāliq) and “pre-eternal” (qadīm) is that it is one of the Essential Attributes of the Creator and like Knowledge and Power of the very Essence, it is also everlasting. Regarding the “Word,” both the description khāliq and makhlūq are wrong.

6. Thus, since the Noble Qur’an, which is total and perfect manifestation of the verbal word of God, the Exalted, has no independence of its own and has no power, will and authority of its own, it can never be an agent and originator of anything.

On the other hand, since the Noble Word or Qur’an is the instrument of indicating the intention and what the heart contains—that is, it is stage of the expression and appearance of the inner intention—and not the agent of originating a new being in the external world, it be can never be called “creator”. 

7. The conclusion of our discussion is as follows:

a. Kalām means the instrument and indication of the heart’s intention and motive.

b. The Noble Qur’an consists of words, sentences and their subjects.

c. Non-verbal word: If it refers to the Knowledge, Will and Power which are the origin of the expression of a verbal word, it is called “word” (kalām). But if it means to the faculty of indication and expression, then its root is the Attributes of Knowledge, Power and Will.

d. Indication and expression of intention: It is the stage of appearance and manifestation of the intention, and not bringing into existence a new and independent being. e. Since in the emergence of what the heart contains in the form of words does not constitute a distinct being, it follows that the Noble Qur’an which is a manifestation of kalām is neither the Creator nor something created; it is rather a complete manifestation of the word of God, the Exalted.

[1] Sūrat Āl ‘Imrān 3:45.

[2] Sūrat al-Shūrā 42:51.

(An excerpt from ‘Allamah Hasan Mustafawi, “Imam al-Rida’s (‘a) Esoteric Traditions: An Exposition of Selected Traditions from ‘Uyun Akhbar al-Rida,” trans. Mansoor Limba (, 2020), pp. 193-196.)

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