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The Qur'an or Koran is the primary holy text of the Islamic religion. The Qur'an contains a set of moral rules that are known as sharia law. Apologists argue that the Qur'an is true and it is often interpreted literally. The Qur'an is heavily criticized, especially in the West, for its consideration of women as inferior to men, its advocacy of intolerance towards non-Muslims, and its extremely violent system of punishment for crimes (especially victimless "crimes" such as extramarital sex, homosexuality, blasphemy and apostasy).

Apart from the Qur'an, the vast majority of Muslims also consider haddith literature, the traditional teachings and sayings of Muhammad, as secondary religious scripture.


History and authorship

According to Islamic doctrine, the Qur'an was dictated by God to Muhammad in Classical Arabic through the angel Gabriel over the course of 23 years. However, the Qur'an did not exist in a complete form before Muhammad's death in 632 CE (it was largely transmitted orally and recorded by memory!). There is evidence of a competing version. There is textual variation in manuscripts. There are no early manuscripts, suggesting they did not exist. The Qur'an evolved over the hundred years after Muhammad's death. The Qur'an contains internal contradictions and weaknesses. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

"It is now evident that the position held by orthodox Muslims concerning the origin of the Qur'an is simply untenable in light of the clear evidence. The view echoed by Ahmad Von Denffer that what is in the Qur'an today is an exact duplicate of the God's tablets in heaven-transmitted to Muhammad via Gabriel is effectively contradicted by modern scholarship and common sense. [3]"

The Qur'an was canonised in the reign of Uthman which lasted 653-656. However, Arabic writing had not fully matured as vowels were not recorded. This lead to ambiguity in the text, since certain words could be confused when written. Over the next few centuries, the script used to express the Qur'an evolved to settle on a particular wording. [4]

"The oldest manuscripts of the Quran still in existence date from not earlier than about one hundred years after Muhammad's death. [4]"

Sana'a manuscript is one of the oldest extant Qur'anic manuscripts (710–715 by calligraphic dating) and contains many variations from the modern Qur'an. While the variations contain no major differences in doctrine, they do undermine the claim that the Qur'an is completely perfect and unchanging. Alternative editions of the Qur'an were suppressed to create the façade of unity.

While the Qur'an was originally memorized and transmitted orally, the tradition for memorizing the Qur'an continues to the present day.

Comprehension, interpretation and style

Expert comprehension

Apologists claim that the Qur'an is not fully comprehensible by humans. However, true meaning (or meanings) exist and are known to God. The existence of an objectively true or divine meaning to any text has not yet been demonstrated.

"The True Meanings of ALLAH'S Quran are beyond human perception. Only ALLAH, The Exalted Knows The True Meanings of The Quran. [6]"
"Even with their near-perfect explanation, we can still safely say that their explanations are not totally perfect; rather, they are subject to error just like the product of any human mind. [7]"

It is unclear how close human experts get to supposed the divine meaning. There is equivocation over the terminology of "correct interpretation", "totally perfect" and "true meaning".

Islamic scholars spend years learning the "correct" interpretation of the text but this arguably should be evident from a direct reading of the Qur'an. Much of the scholarship of the Qur'an is likely to be an ad-hoc rationalization fuelled by wishful thinking. If the Qur'an was comprehensible, we would not see the currently observed differences in doctrine between Muslim denominations.

The Qur'an usually is interpreted with the doctrine of abrogation, which requires an understanding of the chronology of writing. Since the chronology is not specified in the Qur'an, the book cannot be interpreted with certainty because it depends on external and fallible texts for interpretation. The use of abrogation seems strange in a supposedly perfect book.

Non-expert comprehension

Main Article: What are your qualifications?

Some Muslims claim that a "full understanding of the Arabic language" or other training is required to interpret the Qur'an correctly:

"First, no one can offer a correct explanation of the Quran except scholars who have mastered all sciences that qualify them to understand its occasions of revelation, linguistic style, structure, and all other imports and aspects. [7]"
"Do not give your own interpretation to Qur'anic verses. You have to ensure that you receive the correct knowledge and understanding of the Qur'an. Look for a reputable translation of the Qur'an and authentic interpretation/explanation, as prepared by the early scholars. Do not rely on your own personal and often corrupted understanding. [8]"

In other words, apologists argue that training is necessary but not sufficient for interpretation of the Qur'an. This is an unjustified position: simply asserting that expertise is necessary for a correct opinion does not make it so. In many other subjects, less skilled practitioners may be correct at least some of the time. Saying the Qur'an is different in this regard is special pleading.

A perfect book should be more comprehensive than any other book (or at least most books). The position that non-experts cannot comprehend the Qur'an is contradicted by the Qur'an, which says the text is clear and easy to understand. Surah 44:58 Bible-icon.png Surah 12:1 Bible-icon.png


Apologists claim the Qur'an is untranslatable, at least to an extent. [8] Translations are presumably imperfect in comparison but should contain at least some sense of the original. To claim the Qur'an is particularly untranslatable without basis is special pleading. Part of the resistance to translation of the Qur'an is the original Arabic text is largely incomprehensible.

"This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible—if it can’t even be understood in Arabic — then it’s not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not — as even speakers of Arabic will tell you — there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on. [9]"


Apologists argue that the Qur'an is the most eloquent book ever written. As eloquence is a subjective judgement, this is an argument from aesthetic experience. Because the Qur'an was written in classical Arabic, there is an Islamic tradition of learning the original language of the text.

"This is the Qur'an's miraculous eloquence, which originates in its words' beauty, order, and composition; its textual beauty and perfection; its stylistic originality and uniqueness; its explanations' superiority, excellence, and clarity; its meanings' power and truth; and its linguistic purity and fluency. Its eloquence is so extraordinary that its eternal challenge to every individual to produce something like it, even if only a chapter, has yet to be answered. [10]"

The Qur'an claims it is unique and there could be no book like it, which is an argument from uniqueness:

"And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto"

Surah 2:23 Bible-icon.png

Despite apologists claim that the eloquence of the Qur'an is "indisputable", the Qur'an is repetitive, vague, boring, ambiguous and uninspiring. [9] The Quran is sometimes cited in lists of the most influential books but rarely in lists of great literature. One Thousand and One Nights is more commonly cited as great literature. [11]

"It is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook, a wearisome, confused jumble, crude, incondite. Nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European through the Koran."

— Thomas Carlyle on George Sale’s translation
"[The Qur'an] is strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content. [9]"
"From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time in absorbing it. [12]"

The challenge that no other text can equal the Qur'an, stated in Surah 17:88 Bible-icon.png, is only possible if one ignores all classic texts in world literature. Many books surpass the Qur'an in style and content; the challenge was met before the Qur'an was written. [9]

Eloquence is a subjective experience and it is inappropriate to call an aesthetic experience "perfect" - tastes differ in aesthetics. It is also impossible for humans to distinguish that something is perfect or almost perfect. We can only perceive and experience finite phenomena. Claiming we know something is perfect (a posteriori) is to make a knowledge claim about something that cannot be known.

Spread of Islam by force?

The Qur'an contains many teachings that appear to promote violence to spread Islam. [13] Apologists claim these verses must be carefully interpreted and argue that they do not call for the violent spread of Islam. Some critics of Islam conclude the Qur'an is a dangerous influence that promotes violence and intolerance (e.g. Sam Harris).

"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."

Surah 9:5 Bible-icon.png

Other examples include: Surah 2:193 Bible-icon.png, Surah 4:74 Bible-icon.png, Surah 4:89 Bible-icon.png, Surah 22:216 Bible-icon.png and Surah 22:39-41 Bible-icon.png.

There are also sections that suggest peaceful conduct. Surah 8:61 Bible-icon.png Surah 2:190 Bible-icon.png Given these apparent contradictions, the most reasonable conclusion is that the Qur'an suggests multiple interpretations. Some commentators claim that the violent verses abrogates or takes precedence over peaceful verses, [14] but this view is controversial.

Jihad means struggle in either a spiritual or military sense. While it is considered a duty by Muslims, what this duty entails has various interpretations.

Mainstream Muslim views

Most contemporary Muslims believe there is no religious obligation to use force to spread Islam. [15] Some Muslims consider that Muhammed may have had an obligation to spread Islam by force, but this directive only applied to Muhammad and his companions because they were first hand "witnesses of the truth". [16] [17] This sounds like special pleading - Muhammed, and only Muhammed, is exempt from a supposedly perfect law.

Apologists argued that violent sections of the Qur'an refer to the context of Muhammad's life and military career, which were supposedly limited to defensive wars and only in response to his oppression. [18] The Qur'an claimed that Muhammad's enemies were immoral and were his historic oppressors (in other words, he wanted revenge) Surah 9:8-13 Bible-icon.png - however, this is not a valid basis for a defensive war. The claim the wars were defensive overlooks the history of Muhammad, who while in Medina initiated offensive raids on Meccan caravans. This was followed by many conquest, including Mecca in 629 and other military expeditions against nearby tribes that refused to convert to Islam. [15] The idea that the wars were defensive is incompatible with the conquest of these territories and oppression of pagans by Muhammad. Since Muslims often aspire to emulate Muhammad as a role model, his personal example is unhelpful for avoiding war.

Muhammad is argued to have regulated warfare, which was an improvement with contemporary practices. Hadiths record him forbidding the killing of women and children in warfare. [19] However, he was still ruthless in his actions and falls short of what is considered acceptable behaviour in wartime based on current practices.

Intolerant teachings

The Qur'an contains many teachings that appear to promote intolerance. [20] Apologists claim that some or all of these teachings are misinterpretations. The divine law that is expressed in the Qur'an, called sharia law, contains oppression of minority groups, misogyny and inhuman punishments. Many Muslims are (sensibly) selective on what teachings they follow in the Qur'an, or interpret it in a different manner.

Antisemitism is a problem in many countries, particularly in the Muslim world. This attitude is sometimes supported by the generally negative view of Jews as described in the Qur'an.

"And you will surely find them [the Jews] the most greedy of people for life - [even] more than those who associate others with Allah."

Surah 2:96 Bible-icon.png

See also Surah 2:65 Bible-icon.png, Surah 5:60 Bible-icon.png, Surah 5:51 Bible-icon.png.

Abrogation and progressive revelation

The doctrine of Naskh, commonly translated as abrogation, is the principle that surahs that were revealed more recently take precedence over early verses. Confusingly, the Qur'an was not "revealed" in order, making interpretation extremely difficult. Since abrogation is usually relevant to divine law, a lawful action could become unlawful, and vise-versa. [21] For instance, Surah 2:115 Bible-icon.png, which says God is in all directions (and implies prayer may be in any direction) is abrogated by Surah 2:144 Bible-icon.png which calls for player towards Mecca. [22] Another example is the acceptance of gambling and drinking alcohol Surah 2:219 Bible-icon.png, followed by it being forbidden Surah 5:93 Bible-icon.png. [23] The use of abrogation suggests that the Qur'an was written to address immediate concerns of the early Islamic community, rather than a timeless plan.

"I struggled with the question of how an eternal revelation of Allah could have such time-bound revelation in it. It seemed at odds with the nature of Allah – the all-knowing, all-wise, creator and sustainer of the universe; the eternal, self-existent one. As a Muslim this was one of the bigger challenges I faced with regard to the Quran. Although the Quran is said to be an eternal and universal scripture, I found it to be time-bound. [23]"

One might expect a book that is dictated by a God and recorded faithfully would have been totally correct without need for later revision (or "progressive revelation"). Some minority groups in Islam reject the doctrine on the basis that the Qur'an could not contain contradictions.

Satanic verses

Muhammad had an early revelation that said polytheism was true. This was probably motivated by political expediency. He later claimed they were inspired by Satan and are therefore referred to as the Satanic verses. [24] [25] Rather than being abrogated in the normal manner, they were expunged from the Qur'an. [26] This does raise the question that any other religious revelation might have been inspired by Satan. This incident was accepted by most early Muslims and by modern academics. However, most modern Muslim scholars reject the Satanic verses and consider the alleged incident as fictitious and blasphemous.


Main Article: Argument from scriptural miracles

Miracles are relatively rare in the Qur'an, compared to other holy books.

  • The main example is said to be the scriptural inerrancy of the Qur'an.
  • The eloquence of the Qur'an is also said to be a miracle. [10]
  • Some interpretations suggest Muhammad split the moon in two. (Surah 54:1-2 Bible-icon.png) [27]


Main Article: Argument from prophecy

The Qur'an claims to have recorded prophesies that were later fulfilled. At one time, Mohammed and his followers were denied the ability to perform pilgrimage to Mecca. Mohammed received a vision that they would be able to make the pilgrimage in the future (Surah 48:27 Bible-icon.png). This was fulfilled soon after. [28] This was arguably a self-fulfilling prophesy. Other prophecies cited include Surah 30:1-6 Bible-icon.png Surah 48:1 Bible-icon.png and Surah 61:13 Bible-icon.png [29]

See also


  1. Harald Motzki, The Collection of the Qur’ān. A Reconsideration of Western Views in Light of Recent Methodological Developments, Der Islam, Volume 78, Issue 1 (Jan 2001)
  2. Keith E. Small, Textual Criticism and Qur'an Manuscripts, Lexington Books, 22 Apr 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 Harold C. Felder, The Qur'an: Heavenly or Human?
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 History of the Quran, Wikipedia
  5. Myth #1 The Qur‘an is Preserved and Unchanged Revelation from Allah
  6. [1]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ahmad Saad, Abrogation and the Validity of the Quran, 2014/06/23
  8. 8.0 8.1 [2]
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Guido Khaldun, [3]
  10. 10.0 10.1 The Koran: a Literary Masterpiece Unequalled and a Miracle?, July 30, 2014
  11. [4]
  12. Reinach 1932:176
  13. [5]
  14. [6]
  15. 15.0 15.1 [7]
  16. [8]
  17. [9]
  18. Hesham A. Hassaballa, What the Qur'an Really Says About Violence
  19. [10]
  20. [11]
  21. [12]
  22. Mahmoud Hussein, Understanding the Qur'an Today, 2013
  23. 23.0 23.1 [13]
  24. [14]
  25. [15]
  26. [16]
  27. Islam and Miracles
  28. [17]
  29. [18]

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