God Almighty has issued forth a challenge to mankind and jinns (spirits) in the Qur’an:
And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant (Muhammad), then produce a chapter the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah , if you should be truthful. But if you do not – and you will never be able to – then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. [Chapter 2, verses 23-24]
Perhaps the greatest miracle of the Qur’an is its inimitability, this divine challenge has stood for over 1,400 years. God Almighty tells us that it is impossible for any human being or jinn to produce just one chapter like the Qur’an, even if we were to all aid one another in the effort:
Say, “If mankind and the jinn gathered in order to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they were to each other assistants.” [Chapter 17, verse 88]
What’s remarkable is that the tools needed to meet this challenge are the finite grammatical rules and the twenty eight letters that comprise the Arabic language; these are independent and objective measures available to all. For argument’s sake, were the origin of the Qur’an not divine in nature, with it merely being the invention of the mind of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), then surely another human being, with equal or greater literary ability, should be able to produce a chapter like it. Many have tried and failed to meet this challenge, and this is in spite of having the very blueprint, i.e. the Qur’an itself, as an example. In addition, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was unlettered and did not have a reputation for poetry. Moreover, this is a challenge that gets harder as time passes by. As we learn more and more about the Qur’an (e.g. recent discoveries of mathematical patterns) the scope of the challenge increases as any new discovery is added to the list of criteria that a challenger must meet.
A challenge only has merit if there are individuals capable of mounting a response. This is why it is crucial to note the historical context in which the Qur’an emerged. The Arabs at the time considered themselves (and are still considered by historians and linguists to this day) to be masters of the Arabic language. The following quotation from Ibn Rashiq illustrates the importance attached to language at the time. He writes:
“Whenever a poet emerged in an Arab tribe, other tribes would come to congratulate, feasts would be prepared, the women would join together on lutes as they do at weddings, and old and young men would all rejoice at the good news. The Arabs used to congratulate each other only on the birth of a child and when a poet rose among them.” 
The 9th century scholar Ibn Qutaiba defined poetry as the Arabs saw it:
“the mine of knowledge of the Arabs, the book of their wisdom the truthful witness on the day of dispute, the final proof at the time of argument.” 
Ibn Khaldun, a notable scholar of the 14th century, remarked on the importance of poetry in Arab life:
“It should be known that Arabs thought highly of poetry as a form of speech. Therefore, they made it the archives of their history, the evidence for what they considered right and wrong, and the principal basis of reference for most of their sciences and wisdom.” 
The failure of those at the peak of their trade – mastery of the Arabic language – to rival the Qur’an which challenged them should make one think. The famous British historian H. A. R. Gibb states:
“Well then, if the Qur’an were his own composition other men could rival it. Let them produce ten verses like it. If they could not (and it is obvious that they could not) then let them accept the Qur’an as an outstanding evidential miracle.” 
A POET CHALLENGES THE QUR’AN
This is an example of the poet Musaylimah attempting (and failing) to bring something ‘like’ the Qur’an :
Before embracing Islam, Amr bin Al-’As went to visit a poet known as Musaylimah.
Upon his arrival, Musaylimah said to him, “What has been revealed to your friend (Muhammad) during this time?”
Amr said, “By time. Verily, man is in loss. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and recommend one another to the truth, and recommend one another to patience.”
So Musaylimah thought for a while. Then he said, “Indeed something similar has also been revealed to me.”
Amr asked him, “What is it?”
He replied, “O hyrax, O hyrax! You are only two ears and a chest, and the rest of you is digging and burrowing.”
Then he said, “What do you think, O Amr?”
So Amr said to him, “By Allah! Verily, you know that I know you are lying.”
By analysing the above attempt to imitate the Qur’an it can be seen that the contemporary of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) just extrapolated verses from the Qur’an, retaining its rhythm whilst lacking the linguistic features of the Qur’an. Amr was not Muslim at that point, and he clearly recognised and openly admitted that this attempt was a poor imitation of the Qur’an.
THE NATURE OF THE CHALLENGE
So then, what exactly does meeting the challenge entail? A lot of people misunderstand the Qur’an’s literary challenge to produce something like it, many assume it simply means writing something as “good” as the Qur’an.
Because of this, many skeptics point out that literary value judgments are highly subjective. This is a fair point to make. If someone says that they think a certain selection of prose or poetry is better than the Qur’an, who can argue with them? After all, isn’t it really just a matter of personal preferance and taste?
The Qur’an’s challenge, however, is not simply to write something of equal literary merit, but rather what is required is to achieve at least a comparable degree of the literary beauty, nobility, and sublimity of the Qur’an while at the same time emulating the Qur’an’s particular style.
It is possible to superficially mimic the style of the Qur’an, as was seen earlier with the poet Musaylamah’s attempt, but all such attempts from the days of Musaylimah to the present have proven to be inadequate.
It is, likewise, possible for a person writing in Arabic to reach a great level of literary excellence and, in the most moving of poetry and prose, convey the noblest thoughts and sentiments – but nobody has ever done so using the Qur’an’s unique style. The Qur’an is so unique that it created an entirely new genre of Arabic literature whilst at the same time being internally consistent in maintaining its unique style. Respected British Orientalist Arthur J Arberry states:
“For the Koran is neither prose nor poetry, but a unique fusion of both” 
This, then, is the acid test: write something in the exact same style as the Qur’an and in doing so produce something of arguably similar quality and sublimity.
Still, one could argue that the evaluation of the results is grounded in subjective literary tastes. However, the second part of the challenge is to bring witnesses to attest to the quality of that evaluation, and not just make an unattested claim:
“Or do they say ‘He has forged it.’ Say: ‘Then bring a chapter like it and call whoever you can besides Allah if you are truthful’.” [Chapter 10, verse 38]
WHAT SOME NON MUSLIM SCHOLARS HAVE TO SAY
French scholar Paul Casanova marvels at the language of the Qur’an:
“Whenever Muhammad was asked a miracle, as a proof of the authenticity of his mission, he quoted the composition of the Qur’an and its incomparable excellence as proof of its divine origin. And, in fact, even for those who are non-Muslims nothing is more marvellous than its language with such apprehensible plenitude and a grasping sonority… The ampleness of its syllables with a grandiose cadence and with a remarkable rhythm have been of much moment in the conversion of the most hostile and the most sceptic.” 
The fact that it has not been matched since it emerged to this day does not surprise most scholars familiar with the language Arabic, as Professor Palmer explains:
“That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur’an itself is not surprising” 
Coming from a prominent Orientalist and litterateur deeply conversant with Arabic, this excerpt from A.J. Arberry’s translation of the Qur’an highlights its literary excellence:
“In making the present attempt to improve on the performance of predecessors, and to produce something which might be accepted as echoing however faintly the sublime rhetoric of the Arabic Koran, I have been at pain to study the intricate and richly varied rhythms which – apart from the message itself – constitutes the Koran’s undeniable claim to rank amongst the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind.”
Here British linguist and Orientalist Dr.Steingass talks about the wider sociological impact of the Qur’an:
“Here, therefore, its merits as a literary production should perhaps not be measured by some preconceived maxims of subjective and aesthetic taste, but by the effects which it produced in Muhammad’s contemporaries and fellow countrymen. If it spoke so powerfully and convincingly to the hearts of his hearers as to weld hitherto centrifugal and antagonistic elements into one compact and well-organised body, animated by ideas far beyond those which had until now ruled the Arabian mind, then its eloquence was perfect, simply because it created a civilized nation out of savage tribes…” 
Furthermore, the Qur’anic use of rhetoric and eloquence is arguably unparalleled in the Arabic language. The language of the Qur’an is precise and accurate in both meaning and expression; each letter and word has its place while the language is free from fault. The English physician, writer and scholar Henry Stubbe explains:
“The truth is I do not find any understanding author who controverts the elegance of Al Qur’an, it being generally esteemed as the standard of the Arabic language and eloquence.” 
Dawood, an Iraqi Jewish Scholar in his translation of the Qur’an comments describes it as a ‘literary masterpiece’:
“The Koran is the earliest and by far the finest work of Classical Arabic prose… It is acknowledged that the Koran is not only one of the most influential books of prophetic literature but also a literary masterpiece in its own right.” 
The Qur’an reaches, indeed defines, the peak of eloquence in the Arabic language. The Qur’an stakes its claim to divine origin on the matter of its language, by issuing a challenge to rival even its shortest chapter.
How could a man, unable to read or write and without any reputation for being a poet, become the most important author, in terms of literary merits, in the whole of Arabic literature? It is incontestably the standard of the Arabic tongue, inimitable by any human pen. If the Qur’an was written by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), why were not Arab scholars and linguists able to rival it? This renders the position of those that hold him to be the author untenable. The answer to the question of authorship lies in the Qur’an itself:
Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. He was taught by one mighty in Power. [Chapter 53, verses 2-5]
You can download an excellent English translation of the Qur’an here (PDF file):
Alternatively, order your free copy here:
1 – Ibn Rashiq, ‘Umda, vol. 1, p. 65.
2 – Ibn Qutaiba, ‘Uyun al-akhbar, (Cairo, 1964), vol. 2, p. 185.
3 – The Muqaddimah, volume 3, page 374.
4 – H. A. R. Gibb, Islam-A Historical Survey (Oxford University Press: 1980), 28.
5 – Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Surah Asr.
6 – The Koran. Oxford University Press, 1998, p. x.
7 – Paul Casanova, “L’Enseignement de I’Arabe au College de France” (The Arab Teaching at the College of France), Lecon d’overture, 26 April 1909.
8 – Professor E.H. Palmer.1820. Introduction to The Koran.
9 – Dr Steingass quoted in T. P. Hughes – “Dictionary of Islam”, pp 256-257.
10 – Henry Stubbe. 1911. Rise and Progress of Mohammadanism.
11 – N. J. Dawood.1990.The Koran Translated. Doubleday.