The Qur’an, by Muhammed
I’ve been quite curious about the contents of the Qur’an since it is so often quoted today in issues regarding to dealings with the Muslims. There are many that quote the Qur’an as a book of violence, though I’ve wondered whether those oft-quoted passages were taken out of context and thus mis-interpreted. The only way to give the Qur’an a fair chance would be to read the book through and through, cover to cover, and let the book speak for itself.
Any criticisms that I might have of the Qur’an are not intended to be criticisms of Muslims. I have many friends that are Muslim, and even a few relatives that are Muslim, and find them to be good people. I would never intend to use my comments on the Qur’an to reflect either good or ill of those people. This is solely a book review and not a person review.
The Qur’an is organized into a total of 114 suras, or chapters, and seem to be organized from the longer to the shorter suras, though not in precise order. Each sura has a title given to it, usually taken from a word or phrase found within the sura. The title is a very poor indication as to the prevailing topic within that sura. The suras are all independent, and none of them connect with others, either preceding or following. To discuss the book, it would be easiest to discuss the prevailing themes of the book rather than individual suras.The particular translation of the Qur’an that I read is by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, whom I presume is a devout Muslim as well as a scholar in both the English and Arabic language, and thus competent at the task. This particular translation has very few bad reviews, and mostly excellent reviews on amazon.com where I purchased the book, and thus seems to legitimately reflect the real contents of the Qur’an as found in Arabic.
Style of writing in the Qur’an
Amazon describes the Qur’an as the greatest literary masterpiece in Arabic. The Qur’an was written by only one person in one language, and has only one persistent stylistic form. It is a polemic against the heathen. There is no poetry. There is no prose. There are no systematic discussions. There are historical reiterations of Old Testament themes, mostly from the books of Moses, but they are told in a rambling fashion, providing no historical details as might be found in the Old Testament. Mohammed occasionally refers to contemporary history, but he does not elaborate that history, so that the translator must provide footnotes to explain the situation. Thus, the Qur’an is not a work complete in itself. No sura more than several paragraphs long has a consistent theme, but is a compilation of a flow of ideas. The repetition is intense, as sura after sura seems to say close to the same thing. There is no development of ideas, as might be found in Psalm 119, Ecclesiastes or Romans. Mohammed seems to have been forgetful of what he just wrote, but perhaps he was simply repeating himself to drive home a point. There are frequent inconsistencies in the Qur’an, and though those inconsistencies could be viewed as simple interpretative challenges, for the casual reader, it is often difficult to identify exactly what Mohammed was saying. The entire book is more a rant against anybody opposed to Mohammed, than a thoughtful development and argument for the Muslim faith. There is no delight in serving God reflected in the Qur’an as might be found in the Psalms and other passages of the Christian Bible. As a literary work, the Qur’an does not excel.
What is right about the Qur’an?
There is much right in the Qur’an which orthodox Christians and Jews would agree with. Certainly the word “islam” means “submitted to God” and thus “Muslim” as “one submitted to God”. Christians could all agree that our primary function in life is submission to God. Thus, we would be correct in calling ourselves as Muslims, save that the word now has a very specific connotation. The Qur’an often mentions allah as all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, able to create by his word, and is a moral being. This is consistent with Judeo-Christian belief regarding the nature of God. The Qur’an encourages believers to live in a specified manner, maintaining honesty, being charitable to the poor and orphans, and acting with care toward fellow believer. This is consistent. There is a strong distinction between the believer and unbeliever, the faithful and unfaithful, which is also consistent with Judeo-Christian beliefs.
The consequences of unfaithfulness and immoral behavior will eventually need to held in account, as this life is the only beginning of a life after death, and judgement awaits all people, some destined to the fires of hell, and others to the bliss of paradise. This also is found in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
Prevailing themes and pertinent thoughts
- Paradise and hell
Many often poke fun at Christianity as a fire and brimstone religion, a religion that focuses on nothing but going to heaven or burning in the fires of hell. Yet, many of those same people will offer sympathies for the Muslim religion. It must be assumed that they have never read the Qur’an, since the topic of paradise (heaven) and hell (the fires) are mentioned in nearly every one of the suras, and often to excessive length in the suras. There is far more about the final judgement and afterlife in the Qur’an than in the Scriptures. From the reader’s perspective, the Qur’an is overly excessive in its mention of hell fire. Muhammed’s mind might have been a little hot in the desert.
- The present life on earth
The Qur’an has a very dim view of life on earth. It is a sub-life, a temporary period of trial for the eventual welcome into paradise. Current life is pictured as a lesser existence, and that our presence here is for testing only. This is contrast to the Judeo-Christian view of life as a good and complete, though fallen existence. Life may be hard and oftentimes seemingly meaningless, but the emphasis is the God created us to enjoy His creation, and gave us good things to help us accomplish that end. Our first duty is to praise God with a joyful heart, something not seen in the context of the Muslim faith.
- The believer vs unbeliever
Similar to all faiths, great contrast is drawn between the believer and unbeliever. The Qur’an suggests a somewhat unique approach for the believer to the unbeliever. The descriptions of the relationship of believers to unbelievers in complex and difficult to sort out. Friendship with unbelievers is highly discouraged, as it could lead to loss of faith. Migration to an unbelieving country is strongly discouraged as is betrays trust in allah. Whenever the Qur’an encourages friendship with others, it specifically refers to friendship with other “believers”, i.e., friendship with other Muslims. There is never a call to charity or help to the unbeliever. Muslims have frequently been very friendly to me, and I can only assume that that friendship is in defiance of the Qur’an.
The Islam view of God is drastically different from the Christian view of God. Mohammed is very careful to emphasize that god never begat a son, and that the concept of Jesus as God is a polytheism or perversion. Thus, he fails to understand the Christian notion of the Trinity, as no Christian would consider the Trinity as a trio of three gods. Mohammed fails to understand that this nature of God defies human explanation or understanding. To fail to comprehend a complex issue does not make it false; it simply means that the complexity of God is only fitting for a “real” god. The Muslim god is a non-complex god. God is all-powerful, but he never escapes having a human-like character in the Qur’an. His size and power ultimately defines his holiness and goodness, and thus are the only things that differentiate allah from man. Allah is gracious and merciful, yet it is a mercy of a human type. Allah would never die to save his enemy, which is exactly what the Christian God did. The pronoun for allah is frequently pleural in the Qur’an (we, us) yet there is no explanation as to why the pleural is used, especially since the Muslim doctrine adamantly states that allah is “one”. The Muslim approach to god seems much different than found in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, especially referring to the Psalms. There is no reflection on the joy of being under God’s protection. There is no joy reflected in the worship of God. In the Muslim Scriptures, allah calls the believer to prayer at certain times, and those calls must be slavishly obeyed. Allah is definitely a different “god” from Jehovah.
- Battle against the unbelievers
Much ado is made about the Qur’an call for Jihad, or battle against the unbeliever. I frequently see quotes from the Qur’an calling for the death of infidels and those outside the Muslim faith. In fairness, there are occasional passages, but also passages warning against taking undo violence to those outside the faith. Certainly, terrorism is NEVER called for within the Qur’an, and one could assume that terrorists are acting outside of the stipulations of their own Scripture.
- Reiteration of Old Testament Stories
There are many Old Testament stories re-told in the Qur’an, including that of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Lot, Moses, Jonah, and others. The New Testament is occasionally quoted, though the NT stories are not told. The stories as told in the Qur’an are always different from the OT stories, and often different enough as to be impossible to be simultaneously true with the OT account. This would mean that the differences could not simply be accounted for as differing points of view. Which calls into question as to which account is the correct on (assuming that at least one account reflects a true event that actually happened). This issue leads to a deeper problem for Muslims, in that it is known that the Qur’an in its infancy had many forms. How will the Muslim know that his “Scriptures” are really accurate? He can’t know, assuming that even carefully protected text of the Old Testament “failed” to survive and needed “correction” and reinterpretation by Muhammed.
- Statements against the Jewish and Christian faith
While I’d like to assume that the Qur’an has a neutral stance regarding the Judeo-Christian faith, I fear that it is not neutral. There are many condemnations regarding Christian belief. I mentioned above the Old Testament stories. Considering how carefully the OT was transcribed from century to century, it is unlikely that significant textual degeneration occurred in the OT. Muhammed is very confused as to the doctrine of the Trinity, and completely fuddles up the notion of God having a wife and a son (Jesus). The Qur’an issues frequent proclamations that believers in the Trinity will be going to hell. There are no subtleties or hidden suggestions here; it is very overt. In essence, either the Judeo-Christian Bible or the Qur’an is true, but not both.
Outside of the OT stories in the Qur’an, the Qur’an has no stories, and thus women are mentioned only as a societal element. It is clear that the women of Muhammed are lesser people. One could argue that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures also hold women in a lesser state than men, yet to say so confuses status with hierarchical authority. In the Qur’an, I do not see women elevated to a status of worth equivalent to men. In terms of relations, Muhammed does protect women in the area of divorce by making sure that they are provided for, but never calls to question the issue of divorce itself, and does not give grounds for or against divorce. Thus, the Qur’an pictures women as important but of less value than men.
- What the Qur’an doesn’t mention
I’ve read through the Qur’an only once, and have no intention of reading it through again. I was specifically looking for certain things that are often are associated with the Muslim faith, but that I did not find in the Qur’an. I can think of a few examples. A) Full Burquas are not called for. Women are instructed to dress modestly, but no where does it call for the covering of everything including the eyes. B) 70 virgins are not promised in paradise. Generally, only one maiden is assured of the faithful men. C) Terrorism is prohibited and not condoned by the Qur’an. It is mentioned that to slay another Muslim means condemnation to the fires of hell, yet terrorist self-sacrifice is doing exactly that. Terrorism is never mentioned as a means of absolving all prior sins and gaining favor with allah. D) The touching of pigs is not prohibited but just the eating of pigs, and even then, if pig is eaten out of the desperation for survival, it is promised that allah would be understanding and merciful. E) Strong intoxicating drink is prohibited, but alcohol specifically is not prohibited. F) The mandatory use of only Arabic in the legitimate reading of the Qur’an is hinted at but never explicitly mentioned. G) The call to prayer is not specifically mentioned, and call to prayer five times a day not mentioned. In all, this suggests that much Muslim practice and beliefs are not based strictly on the Qur’an. I realize that Muslims have other writings that they rely on, but how they view those writings in relation with the Qur’an is uncertain to me.
The dear reader of this review might argue that I inappropriately read the Qur’an with a Christian bias. That is totally correct. The Qur’an makes truth claims, and it is the responsibility of the writer (Muhammed) to add legitimacy to those truth claims. In the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, truth claims were also accompanied by miracles to substantiate the truth of the prophet. Muhammed is very quick and repetitive in defending the absence of miracles in his time on earth, yet he offers no other valid reason for accepting his truth claims. I have no reason to believe Mohammed over any other person claiming to offer prophecy and truth claims that supplement the Judeo-Christian Bible. The Mormons are a perfect example, and I would be very interested in seeing how a follower of Mohammed might challenge the claims of Joseph Smith, save that Joseph Smith was a polytheist, and thus “clearly” wrong. The Qur’an is not a supplement to the Christian or Jewish faith, but in direct opposition to it. Because it would be inappropriate in this book review, I did not elaborate on the differences in doctrines of the Muslim and Judeo-Christian faith. The most notable difference is that the Qur’an repeatedly calls allah merciful, yet that mercy must be earned. In Judeo-Christian doctrine (which I think is adequately maintained throughout the entirety of the Old and New Testaments), mercy is not something to be earned but is granted to undeserving sinners. Thus, the real meaning of grace in Judeo-Christian thinking is never found in the Qur’an.
There is a high amount of concurrence between Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinking, including the belief in only one God, a belief that God is a moral God, and a belief in an ultimate judgement. Many of the ethical statements are in accord. So, what do we make of the Muslim faith? Historically, the Muslim faith is an offshoot of Christianity. Like so many of the Judeo-Christian heresies, from gnosticism to Arianism to present day Mormonism, Muhammedism is sufficiently deviant from the Judeo-Christian faith both in its description of God and it’s belief system as to warrant the term “heresy”. It remains a heresy of the Judeo-Christian faith since retains much of the skeleton of its original Christian origin.
I am left in great confusion as to the behavior of Muslims based on the Qur’an. They claim to be “people of the book”, yet much of their practice is completely outside of what is mentioned in the Qur’an. My reading of the Qur’an does not draw the illustration of the present day Muslim. Perhaps they might be better known as “people of an Arabic tradition”. I am also confused as to why they don’t stand up against their fellow Muslims that choose to engage in terrorism, being that the Qur’an forbids terrorism. Muslims seem to not really believe their own Scriptures.
I am glad to have read the Qur’an in its entirety, and perhaps multiple readings might soften (or perhaps harden) my position. The question still remains… what is true? Is it the Qur’an? The Bible? Neither? If either the Bible or the Qur’an are true, then there is an eternity of implications for that. It behooves the reader to make than decision.