Many people misunderstand the Quran’s literary challenge to produce something like it. Many people assume it simply means writing something as “good” as the Quran.
Because of this, many skeptics point out – and rightly so – that literary value judgments are highly subjective. If someone says that he thinks a certain selection of prose or poetry is better than the Quran, who can argue with him? Isn’t it really a matter of personal judgment and taste? Who is to be the arbiter?
The Quran’s challenge, however, is not simply to write something of equal literary merit, but rather to produce something like the Quran.
We can see this in all the verses of challenge. God says:
“Say (O Muhammad) if mankind and jinn were to come together to produce something like this Quran, they would not be able to do so, even if they were to help one another.” (Quran 17:88)
“Or they say: ‘He has forged it.’ Say: ‘Then bring ten forged chapters like it and If then they do not answer you, know that it is sent down with the Knowledge of God, besides Whom there is no other God. Will you then be Muslims?” (Quran 11:13)
“Or do they say ‘He has forged it.’ Say: ‘Then bring a chapter like it and call whoever you can besides God if you are truthful’.” (Quran 10:38)
“And if you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call your witnesses besides God if you be truthful. If you do not do so – and you will never do so – then fear a fire whose fuel is men and stones prepared for the disbelievers.” (Quran 2:23-24)
Therefore, it is not simply a matter of quality – it does not even have to be of equal merit! Similarity is all that matters. What is required by the challenge is to achieve at least a comparable degree of the literary beauty, nobility, and sublimity of the Quran while at the same time emulating the Quran’s particular style.