Internally, the sūrahs are subdivided into verses called āyāt (singular āyah), a word that literally means “sign” and is also used in the Qurʾān to designate manifestations of God’s power and grace, such as miscellaneous aspects of the natural world (e.g., God’s sending down of rain) or the punishments that God is said to have inflicted on sinful peoples of the past. Qurʾānic verse borders are normally defined by the presence of a verse-final rhyme, even though the Islamic tradition transmits conflicting systems of subdividing the Qurʾān into individual verses. The subdivision that is now predominant counts a total of 6,236 verses. These display extreme divergences in length, ranging from only a few words to entire paragraphs of text, but it should be noted that verse length across a given sūrah is tangibly more uniform than across the entire corpus. Unlike classical Arabic poetry, whose beginnings stretch back to pre-Islamic times,
Qurʾānic verses do not adhere to a quantitative metre; i.e., they do not conform to fixed patterns of long and short syllables. In this sense, it is correct to insist, with the Islamic tradition, on a principled distinction between Qurʾānic and poetic verses. Many parts of the Qurʾān are highly formulaic, and longer verses often conclude with certain set phrases, such as “God is forgiving, compassionate” or “God is knowing, wise.”
The Qurʾān generally styles itself as divine speech by employing the first person singular or plural (“I” or “we”) in statements that clearly refer to the Deity. However, this divine voice alternates with third-person statements about God. Utterances by Muhammad are normally introduced by the command “Say:…,” thus emphasizing that the Prophet is speaking on divine injunction only. Prophetic statements often respond to objections or denials ascribed to Muhammad’s opponents, which cast doubt on Qurʾānic doctrines such as the belief in a universal resurrection of the dead or in the existence of only one God. This can result in an extended to-and-fro that endows parts of the Qurʾān with a decidedly polemical and disputatious quality.
Whether or not the Qurʾān was divinely revealed is a question of religious belief that is not amenable to historical or philological confirmation or falsification. What does admit of scholarly scrutiny, however, is the text’s likely appearance in place and time.