The Quran is the holy book of Islam and is viewed by Muslims as the direct word of God, the culmination of a series of revelations that included the Torah and the Bible. The Quran is significant not only because of its history, but also because of its continual daily use in Muslim worship. The significance of the Quran has extended into cultural impacts, including on the Islamic arts.
Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of approximately 23 years by the angel Gabriel, who relayed to Muhammad the direct words of God. Muhammad's initial revelation came as he was meditating in a cave outside the city of Mecca nearly 1400 years ago. Soon after, the Profit Muhammad founded Islam and sought to spread the new religion using the words of the Quran.
Unlike other holy books including the Bible and the torah, the Quran is believed to be the direct word of God by people who follow the Muslim faith. Because it is the direct word of God and was revealed in Arabic, Muslims believe that the Quran only truly exists in Arabic. However, translations of the meaning of the holy book are available in a variety of languages to help even those who don't speak Arabic understand the message of the Quran.
Muhammad, however, was not literate and thus did not write down the revelation; instead, he memorized and recited it. After his death, the new ruler of the Islamic Empire, Abu Bakr, sought to preserve the Quran and ordered the compilation of a written version. Under his guidance, the fragments that had been written down were combined with the knowledge of others who had likewise memorized the revelation to produce the written Quran that Muslims use today.
Muslims use the Quran in almost all Islamic rituals. Muslim prayer consists of reciting various verses from the Quran, the most important being the first chapter, or sura, of the Quran, called al-Fatihah (Arabic for “the opener”). This chapter, similar in content to the Christian Lord's Prayer, opens each unit of prayer and is the most commonly recited chapter of the Quran. Verses from the Quran are also recited during Ramadan, the Friday sermon and other rituals throughout a Muslim's day.
The Quran has also had a significant cultural influence on Islamic art. Because Islam forbids the depiction of individuals such as the Prophet Muhammad in religious art, Islamic art is rooted in the calligraphy of the Quran. Today many Qurans are prized for the beautiful, flowing Arabic script, and verses from the Quran are reproduced on buildings, flags and other places as public symbols. The words themselves, in lieu of images, have become the fundamental feature of Islamic art.