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Al’Qura~n: The Ultimate Open-Source Code

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I still remember the very first time I read the user’s manual of my first personal computer, which was a gift from my family following a knee surgery that I underwent at King Khaled [’Kaalid] University Hospital in Riyadh [Riyaa’d], Saudi Arabia. That computer was a Commodore AT machine with a math-coprocessor, which was installed therein because I was taking computer-based engineering drafting classes.

I read the user’s manual for the first time in bed at the hospital. I understood nothing. I read it again at home after being released from the hospital while recuperating. Once again, I understood nothing. For some reason, that manual was devoid of tutorials and examples.

I only started understanding how the system works when I started reading and applying examples. The very first command I learnt was the ‘format c:’ command. The expression on my brother’s face was priceless when I asked him to check if I was executing the command appropriately before hitting ‘return’.

The most valuable lesson I learnt from that experience was the absolute necessity of illustrative teaching, i.e., showing by way of an example how to reproduce an existing text, drawing, or a code (code refers to a multitude of lines written in a specific programming language for the purpose of performing a calculation, producing a graphic interface, or writing software; to name a few examples). I also learnt that the more complex and intricate the final product is, the more difficult it is to emulate.

A person skilled in the art of painting, for example, would not find it difficult to produce a facsimile of the Mona Lisa. This person must be very talented, adequately schooled, and should have accumulated vast experience. He would necessarily be of the same caliber as Leonardo da Vinci in order for the facsimile Mona Lisa to be identical to the original Mona Lisa.

But we have noticed over the centuries that, albeit many facsimiles of the Mona Lisa, no painting genius bothered to produce facsimiles of the Mona Lisa or of the frescoes adorning the famous Sistine Chapel. Genius painters paint their own masterpieces, genius musicians compose their own masterpieces, and genius physicists theorize and prove their own masterpieces; they all strive to do better and to go further.

Beethoven’s ninth symphony was so powerfully beautiful, but Mozart’s Requiem was, for many, more captivating. The General Relativity theory of Einstein with all its awe could not help but welcome the arrival of the Super Strings theory of Feynman.

For every first place prize, there are many contenders. It almost always suffices to announce the challenge in order for those who are true contenders, and even some who are not; to take on the challenge seriously without even bothering with the trophy. Beating the challenge is, for many, is in itself its biggest trophy.

Therefore, I wonder.
I wonder why was it then so impossibly difficult to respond to a very simple challenge put fourth more than fourteen hundred years ago to anyone fluent in Arabic?

“Or do they say [about the Prophet, peace be upon him], ‘He invented it?’ Say, ‘Then bring forth a Soorah (chapter) like it (Al’qura~n) and call upon [for assistance] whomever you can besides Allaah, if you should be truthful.” (The Holy ’Qura~n, chapter of Yoonus, verse 38)

The challenge is to come up with one Soorah (chapter) similar to what is found in the ’Qura~n; the language is Arabic; the style is prose; metrical sometimes but definitely not poetic; and the shortest Soorah therein is made up of only ten words.

Wow! This can’t be serious.
Or…Can it?

Arabs and others who excelled in the Arabic language have had ample chances to take a stab at responding to this challenge; after all, it has been around for more than one thousand four hundred years. Not only that, but the essence of the Soorah, any Soorah, is a composition of words that everybody knows and the Arabic style in which they, i.e., any and every Soorah, are worded is also known.

Let me reword this challenge: Here is the Arabic language that you, Arabs, master and speak so eloquently, and are so proud of that you held annual literary fairs and Olympics; the winners of which were made immortal heroes. And here is a text in Arabic; a claim the text itself makes: “In a clear Arabic language.” (The Holy ’Qura~n, chapter of Ashshu‘araa-, verse 195)
 So, produce one Soorah the like of which is found in Al’ qura~n.

The words are the same words used by Arabs and the style is no different than their styles. The challenge does not stop at that: Those who are challenged to produce one Soorah are given more examples and more examples and yet more examples. One Soorah is made up of only ten words, while another is made up of more than one thousand. Easy examples were given and more difficult ones were given.

The challenge remains standing: “Then bring forth a Soorah like it...” Al’qura~n (The Holy ’Qura~n, chapter of Yoonus, verse 38)

If no human can muster an answer to this challenge, then it is logical to assume that the text that forms the basis for this challenge is miraculous. It is collectively a miracle.

But, what a strange and extraordinary miracle this one is!

Miracles involve three types of action. The first type is fundamentally and logically impossible to humans, such as changing Moses’ rod into a living serpent, i.e., bringing life to what is fundamentally lifeless.

The second action is beyond human ability of the contemporary people of the prophet who performed the miracle, but may be, logically arguing, feasible in the future. Parting the Red Sea is, theoretically, possible by applying an appropriately strong electric field to repel the water where the parting is desired.

The energy required for such a gigantic electric field would, seemingly, be unavailable to humans unless they can plug their power supply into the sun directly. Put differently, the second type of action is logically possible but practically impossible or close, especially to the people to whom miracles that involved this second type of action were produced. One could, in principle, walk on water with suitably chosen magnetic levitation devices, but the technology to do that was, and still is, very far off.

The third type of miraculous action was within human capacity at the time of the prophet and thereafter, and it is this particular type of action that makes its miracle so unique. The only example of the last type is Al’qura~n.

The miracle that became the legacy of the Prophet of Islam is made up of simple building blocks with known assembly instructions. Many of the chronicles found therein were previously known and some were new. The length of text that formed distinct chapters of Al’qura~n varied considerably to make it diverse enough for any serious attempt at emulating; had emulation been possible.

That uniqueness, that impressive and strange uniqueness of this miracle; should give anyone reflecting carefully on this matter some serious goose bumps. On one hand, all previous miracles were mysteries to the observers; they knew not how they were produced. People watched in awe and, some, in reverence. On the other hand, there is one sole miracle that stands alone in its openness and lack of mysteries behind it.

Not too many IT specialists know how to write the code of Windows XP due to its closed nature, but any IT specialist who wishes to learn and expand Linux could. The latter is an open-source code. You can produce one like it, or even a better one.

You cannot do the same with the Ultimate Open-Source Code that makes up Al’qura~n.

The challenge stands; it makes the fabric of the final and eternal miracle.

Ibrahim Babelli -

Ibrahim Babelli [Ibraaheem Baabilly] is a research scientist working for Schlumberger Dhahran Carbonate Research Center. He did his undergraduate work in Saudi Arabia and his graduate work in the USA.Read More >>

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Last Updated on Sunday, 23 August 2009 23:29  

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