My Time with the Koran, April 2016

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My reading the Koran is like a rock-and-roller trying to figure out what in the world that jazz trio is up to. Still, if I will opine that the Koran is right, wrong, or indifferent, I feel I should have at least a basic, first-hand awareness of what it actually says. This, even though people all the time comment on books they haven’t yet gotten around to; the Bible in particular, unread by many Bible-believers.[i]

I bring this up because, like you, I have seen certain Facebook memes and books that “prove” that all Muslims are “really” in a jihad against the West; and that when some (apparently very nice) Muslims claim they are not planning to blow stuff up, well, they are lying, since everyone knows that in Islam it’s cool to lie about not being involved in jihad in order to be more effective in jihad. See my dilemma?

We live in a world where from all directions, especially in the social media, we see quotations taken out of context. I love the new usage of “cherry-picked,” a term that is often applied during election years. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is “When only select evidence is presented in order to persuade the audience to accept a position, and evidence that would go against the position is withheld. The stronger the withheld evidence, the more fallacious the argument.”

Jefferson’s well-known statement that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing” is usually taken out of context; when Lincoln “said” that he was not concerned about slavery, but maintaining the Union, that’s cherry-picking; and when the Lincoln meme tells us “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” that’s just a fake. We run into supposed quotes from George Washington, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Joe Stalin, even George Carlin. A snatch of a phrase from Alexis de Tocqueville or Gibbon’s Rise and Fall, also practically useless unless read in context.

At any rate, I have had on my reading list for some time to go ad fontes (Latin, “back to the sources”) and read books of other faiths, not objectively—which is unattainable for anybody—but directly and unmediated. I have a copy of the Book of Mormon waiting in the wings; a dear Hindu friend gave me a beautiful edition of the Bhagavad-Gita, also on my list; Confucius’s Analects I read long ago, also the Mishnah and the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic literature. On the wackier side, I have read the prophetic quatrains of Nostradamus (meh) and looked over some of the “exposés” of the Catholic Church by Charles Chiniquy (yow!). I read Pope Francis’s Laudato Sii on environmental issues and later on his Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee: the latter in part because I heard somewhere that it promised to send Protestants to the guillotine in a 21st-century Inquisition; turns out, it did not mention decapitation or any bloodshed; who knew?

I also wanted to read the Koran because of a phenomenon that is very obvious from a Google search, that there are Muslims apologists who carefully read the Bible—in order to refute it.[ii]

So, this was my first time through the Koran, and I went cover to cover. I looked up some points to clarify what I was looking at, but tried to avoid the Hadith interpretations or other viewpoints, except for the ones I read afterward about jihad. It was “Back to the Koran” time.

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Let me give some broad observations, from a Christian for Christians, and then address specific topics.

Some general and literary observations

First of all, technically, I did not read the Koran, since officially the Koran (or Quran or Qur’an) is only the Koran when it is in the original Arabic. Translations are frowned on, and when rendered into English it officially ceases to be the Koran. This is why English editions bear oblique titles: The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (Pickthall version, which I own); or Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language (Muhsin).[iii] By contrast, at least in mainstream Christianity, the New American Standard Bible is the Bible, not just the Bible reflected in a glass, darkly. The version I read was the widely-used Penguin edition (1956) by N. J. Dawood. I chose it because it was understandable, and also available as an Audible recorded book, which is how I wanted to “read” it: in the Muslim world, repetition and recitation of the Koran are highly valued, and I wanted to experience it aurally.[iv]

Second, while the Koran is the Scripture of Islam, it functions like any other scriptural matrix does—there are Muslim teachings which cannot be found in the Koran; there are Koranic teachings which are perhaps interpreted away; and a lot depends on one’s construal of the text, not simply the text itself.

The Koran is about 4/5 the size of the New Testament. It is divided into 114 “suras” or books of varying lengths (some are only a few sentences, especially the ones near the conclusion). Scholars can tell you the theories of when and where this sura or that was written; in the Koran itself one just moves from sura to sura. Each has a title; Sura 2 is called “The Calf” or “The Cow”; it deals with the sacrifice of a calf that God commanded to Israel. The suras typically begin with “In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful” and go on from there. My version uses “God,” which translates the Arabic Allah; Arabic and Hebrew are related Semitic languages, and Allah is the equivalent and thus the sound-alike of the generic Hebrew term for God, Elohim. Other versions use “Allah.”

I found the Koran a brisk and engaging read, and if it is repetitive, I could in no way credit Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle’s opinion:[v]

I must say, [the Koran] is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook. A wearisome confused jumble, crude, incondite; endless iterations, long-windedness, entanglement; most crude, incondite;—insupportable stupidity, in short! Nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European through the Koran…

“Incondite”—I had to look it up too—means “poorly-constructed or composed.” One would think that he had been trying to puzzle out the original Arabic, but he read it in “translation,” the George Sale version.[vi] Frankly, I cannot recognize what book Carlyle could be speaking about, and anyway, a writer who uses “incondite” twice in the same sentence has little ground for criticizing the style of another.

It struck me how its genre was much more homogeneous than is the Bible. While the Bible has creation story, narrative, prophetic passages, poetry, wisdom literature, gospel, epistle, an apocalypse, the Koran does not. It refers to the creation but does not have a Genesis account:

Your Lord is God, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then settled over the Throne, governing all things. There is no intercessor except after His permission. Such is God, your Lord-so serve Him. Will you not reflect? Sura 10:3

It comments upon the events of the Old Testament, but it does not recount many narratives. The majority of the Koran is what one might style “prophetic oracle.” Perhaps a biblical parallel would be from Isaiah 1:16-17 –

Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

Literarily the Koran seemed less expressive and poetic than the Bible prophets, more direct in tone. Again, the scholars are able to point out the fine distinctions between this statement and that, but the overall picture was of a book that lacks strict linear progression—as does much of the Bible for that matter—but nevertheless makes a clear overall statement. I will give some typical sections, from a very readable version called The Quran in Today’s English (http://www.clearquran.com/). Here is the entirety of Sura 107, “Assistance”; it gives a feel for the style of the Koran and also of its emphasis on almsgiving (assistance for the poor) and regular prayer:[vii]

In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful.

  1. Have you considered him who denies the religion?
  2. It is he who mistreats the orphan.
  3. And does not encourage the feeding of the poor.
  4. So woe to those who pray.
  5. Those who are heedless of their prayers.
  6. Those who put on the appearance.
  7. And withhold the assistance.

These prophetic oracles follow a rough pattern of “the wicked say or do thusly, but God says different, Muslims follow God’s will and are blessed.” There are warnings about everlasting fires of hell and the eternal bliss; in paradise the righteous will be served (but as far as I can tell, not serviced) by houris, which are idealized, angelic female and (perhaps) male figures. There seems to be a lot of debate about whether there is sex, heterosexual or even homosexual, in paradise; the Koran as such is cagey on the details of the Hereafter. At any rate, the idea that jihadists will have 72 virgins to play around with in the life to come seems to be a later interpretation.

Sura 112, “Monotheism,” states –

In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful.

  1. Say, “He is God, the One.
  2. God, the Absolute.
  3. He begets not, nor was He begotten.
  4. And there is nothing comparable to Him.”

Sura 104, “The Backbiter” –

In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful.

  1. Woe to every slanderer backbiter.
  2. Who gathers wealth and counts it over.
  3. Thinking that his wealth has made him immortal.
  4. By no means. He will be thrown into the Crusher.
  5. And what will make you realize what the Crusher is?
  6. God’s kindled Fire.
  7. That laps to the hearts.
  8. It closes in on them.
  9. In extended columns.

I of course cannot read the Koran without presuppositions, nor can anyone. I must be cognizant that my assumptions are Christian ones, and thus much of what caught my attention was how the Koran compares and contrasts with the Bible. For example, the Koran, more insistently than the Bible, declares itself to be the direct, final, verbal revelation by God to Mohammed: “This is the Book in which there is no doubt, a guide for the righteous.” (Sura 2:2)

The Koran impressed me as being principally a reworking of the Old Testament; you really have to be familiar with the Bible before reading the Koran. The Koran places great emphasis on the creation of the universe and Adam and Eve by God. It recalls the Fall of Adam—and his repentance—, Cain and Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Pharaoh, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah.

The human race human race is steeped in sin and idolatry, but no-one can plead ignorance: God in his mercy has sent many messengers (translated loosely as “apostles” in the Dawood version) to warn people in every place and time, giving them due warning to repent and to submit to him. For those who do, there is the promise of eternal reward; for the rest, eternal torment in hell, being burned by the flames and forced to drink scalding water forever. Their judgment is foreshadowed in history: the expulsion of Adam from paradise; Noah’s flood; the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nineveh is held up as a positive example of repentance, since its inhabitants heeded the preaching of Jonah:[viii]

If only there was one town that believed and benefited by its belief. Except for the people of Jonah. When they believed, We removed from them the suffering of disgrace in the worldly life, and We gave them comfort for a while. Sura 10:98

The Koranic “gospel” is thus an invitation to submit to the one true God. In Arabic, the word for submission is Islam, and the word for “those-who-submit” is Muslim; both Arabic words are based on the Semitic root, S-L-M; as in Hebrew, the Arabic adds M to the beginning of the root to form a participle. The Koran’s message lines up very closely with what I had heard about Islam previously: salvation is “eschatological,” that is, the righteous will be resurrected and saved on Judgment Day. Salvation comes through works; for Sunni Muslims, these are the Five Pillars of Islam: faith (and the confession of the One God), prayer, charity, fasting, pilgrimage.

The Koran mentions a few times Jesus (“Isa”) and John the Baptist (“Yahya”) as two of God’s messengers; likewise, the apostles, but they are not prominent. The Koran was written in part as a defense against Judaism and Christianity, and it repeatedly asserts that Jews and Christians, while possessing the light, have gone astray—this is proven by the fact that they have not accepted Mohammad as the final messenger of God. Yes, Jesus was born of the Virgin and performed miracles, and was the last prophet to Israel; but he was not the Son of God or in any way divine. Nor did Jesus die on the cross, but in his place they crucified Simon of Cyrene—I recognized this from the Gnostic revisionist take on Jesus’s death, which viewpoint the Koran seems to have borrowed.[ix]

I counted 27 prophets, from Adam to Mohammed; apparently there is some intramural discussion about the official number. In addition, the Koran itself says that not all of God’s messengers are mentioned in its pages.

I find that the Koran does teach holy war conducted against unbelievers (I am told that the key word jihad as such does not appear in the Koran, but the concept of holy war is). Some Muslim theologians—with justification, so far as I can tell—argue that jihad is not simply military, but more broadly, the zeal to be thoroughly righteous. Still, the military side of jihad is clear enough in some verses, as sort of a final option, although the topic comes up almost casually, in contexts where warfare is not the main theme. This is the take on jihad taken by the Islamic Supreme Council of America, although they tend to tone down war as something Islam merely “allows”; I could not speak on whether they are representative of Islam generally, but I can see where they might get their viewpoint from the Koran.[x] I hasten to add, that I believe that ISIS is—or has been, until fairly recently—the main Muslim threat to regional and global peace, followed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard; and that both groups believe that they are doing God’s will as shown in the Koran.

Yet, what about my starting point, the meme about jihad that is circulating around the social media, and badly mislabeled as a jihadist’s “Daily Devotional”?

devotional

Yes, these statements are (sort of) in the Koran, but they seem to me to be generally taken out of context, possibly capable of other interpretations, and most definitely cherry-picked. That is, after having read the Koran from cover to cover, I conclude that they do not capture the feel of the book as a whole, nor are they what stuck out in my mind as I read. As someone with only a nodding acquaintance of the Koran, I would have said that the statement “I have read the Koran, and can tell you that all Muslims believe in violent jihad” is interpretation and a judgment call, along the lines of “I have read the Bible, and all Christians believe the earth was created in six 24-hour days” or “and all Christians believe in baptism by immersion.” Fairer to say it with this refinement: “There are those who self-identify as Muslims who believe and participate in violent jihad, and there are those who self-identify as Muslims who reject violent jihad; and both groups can direct you to suras that back them up. And those who reject violent jihad are to be regarded as telling the truth about themselves, until it is proven otherwise.” The news is running a fascinating example of how a man named Jesse Morton (aka Younas Abdullah Muhammad) was “Once a Qaeda Recruiter, Now a Voice Against Jihad.” He once believed that a Muslim must carry out violent terrorism, and now he teaches the opposite.[xi] He apparently used one and the same Koran to prove both positions.[xii]

Let’s take a look at some specifics of this meme; first, the one that claims that the Koran (Sura 2:191) tells Muslims to kill all non-Muslims, to “slay all unbelievers wherever you find them.” But is that really what it says, in context? In fact, it commands Muslims to commit no aggression, and to go to war only in those places from which the Muslims had been expelled, and that one should hope that God be merciful, so that peace will come rather than battle. Whether it captures the true essence of Islam or no, the Koran implies that Muslims fight only in order to defend themselves:

  1. And fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression; God does not love the aggressors.
  2. And kill them wherever you overtake them, and expel them from where they had expelled you. Oppression is more serious than murder. But do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque, unless they fight you there. If they fight you, then kill them. Such is the retribution of the disbelievers.
  3. But if they cease, then God is Forgiving and Merciful.
  4. And fight them until there is no oppression, and worship becomes devoted to God alone. But if they cease, then let there be no hostility except against the oppressors. Sura 2:190-193

As for other texts: Sura 8:12 is, in context, spoken to angels, not to Muslims. Sura 47:4 says nothing about “hankering after peace,” nor does it say to behead anyone—it says to strike their necks and then take those same people captive for later release: that is, give them a blow, but don’t behead them. At least in the Koran, violence is to be avoided.

I have no interest in advocating for the Koran, or glossing over acts of jihad, which have historically resulted in the deaths or subjugation of countless Christians; the armies of Islam swept from Arabia to Spain on the west and east as far as Indonesia, without provocation. Christians today are suffering at the hands of Muslims, particularly in Syria and Iraq, but elsewhere too. But I do have an interest in knowing whether the jihadists were obligated by the Koran itself to commit violence.

To pursue another common conception, I would have to agree that, yes, the Koran is very much male-dominated. Righteous women can go to paradise, but this is brought up almost as an afterthought—the Koran is for the most part directed to the men. Sons are regarded as a blessing from God, but daughters not so much. (Although to be sure, many modern Muslims take an interpretation of the Koran that daughters too are a blessing).[xiii]

Some theological observations

For those who believe the Koran is the message of God, its truthfulness is self-evident. Repeated throughout the Koran are assertions that, the Koran is so perfect, that any reasonable person will conclude that it was given directly by God. As someone has written: “On reading the Qur’an one is at once convinced that it is the Word of Allah, for no man can write such perfect guidance on so many subjects.”[xiv] I am sure that for believers in the Koran this sort of exquisite perfection is obvious; I for one did not see it. The Koran speaks with a sort of internal consistency, I agree, although certainly is not as wide-ranging in its teaching as is the Bible. Neither can I comment on the critiques of those who say that Mohammad left the texts of the Koran in an unreadable jumble, and that only the later redacting made it seem more rational; my reading is synchronic (what does the Koran say, now, as a settled text), not diachronic.[xv]

Islam had its roots in Judaism and in Christianity; Mohammad was acquainted with and interacted with both of them. But despite its references to John the Baptist, Jesus, the disciples, and Christianity, the Koran is by far more focused on the Old Testament.

Say, “We believe in God, and in what was revealed to us; and in what was revealed to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses, and Jesus, and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit.” Sura 3:84

Long ago I heard someone say that “Islam is a Jewish heresy”—that is, a transmutation of Judaism—rather than a Christian heresy (such as Gnosticism, Mormonism). This commonplace came back to me again and again while going through the Koran. And more specifically, it is not a straight retelling of the Old Testament story, but a reworking of post-Temple Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the temple in AD 70 had to coalesce around a new paradigm, replacing the animal sacrifices with repentance as a means of atonement. So too, the Koran describes a model in which the Jewish Scriptures and other truths were synthesized to form a monotheistic, anti-idolatrous, repentance-based religion.

As in post-biblical Judaism, more so than in the Old Testament canon, there will be a resurrection of the just and the unjust. In this way too the Koran was a modification of 6th-century Judaism more than Christianity. If Christ did not die on the cross, then neither was he resurrected; nor is he the first-fruit of those who will be raised on judgment day. The eschatology of the Koran is thus closer to that of the rabbis, or to Daniel 12 or the apocalyptic books of the Second Temple than it is to the New Testament.

Some of the Christian websites I have visited reflect a yearning to find that one “Gotcha!” verse from the Koran, the one that will easily and obviously overturn Islam for any objective person.[xvi] Those Christians ought to carefully consider how convinced they would be if a Muslim did the same with some difficult verse from the Bible, taken out of context, and capable of alternative interpretations. How about this gory statement: “But God will strike the heads of his enemies, the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways…that you [the righteous ones] may strike your feet in their blood, that the tongues of your dogs may have their portion from the foe.” (Psalm 68:21, 23) No, no, no, you would say, and so would I, one must take this in historical context, in the developing redemptive history, one must read it in the light of the cross, etc.—and we would be warranted in doing so, because like everyone else, we “interpret” our Scriptures; this is the first day’s lesson of Hermeneutics 101.

Now, I hardly believe that there is a moral equivalence between the message of the Bible and that of the Koran; I do insist that what we claim for our team the right to play—the Hermeneutics Card—we allow to other groups with their Scriptures.

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I challenge those Christians who are teaching about Islam to avoid the memes or resources with titles like THE TRUTH ABOUT ISLAM!!!; to actually read part or all of the Koran; to appreciate that there is variety within Islam, as is there is variety within any faith. In the world we live in, anyone who is going to interact with Muslims should do the hard work, more, surely, than I have done here, with love, care, and exactitude, if we are to prove ourselves worthy of the task.[xvii]

Some final thoughts as a Christian reading the Koran

The Koran has consciously anti-Christian elements in it. Although it affirms that “Isa” was the last prophet to Israel, it repeatedly and unequivocally denies that he is the Son of God or divine in any sense:

Originator of the heavens and the earth—how can He have a son when He never had a companion [wife, consort]? He created all things, and He has knowledge of all things. Such is God, your Lord. There is no god except He, the Creator of all things; so worship Him. He is responsible for everything. Sura 6:101-102

God has never begotten a son, nor is there any god besides Him. Otherwise, each god would have taken away what it has created, and some of them would have gained supremacy over others. Glory be to God, far beyond what they [the Christians] describe. Sura 23:91

Mohammad is the key messenger, and now that that last prophet has come, it is Islam as such, not the earlier, dimmer “ways of salvation,” that is the only faith that matters:

While those who believe, and work righteousness, and believe in what was sent down to Muhammad—and it is the truth from their Lord—He remits their sins, and relieves their concerns. Sura 47:2

And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him and he will be one of the losers in the Hereafter. Sura 3:85

From the perspective of the gospel, then, the Koran is an example of what in Johannine language is the Spirit of Against-Christ (1 John 4:3; 2 John 7); it does not replace Christ with Mohammad, but it denies that the Son of God is eternally-begotten and incarnate as man. Thus, my interest in Islamic scriptures cannot arise from an intellectual curiosity in Comparative Religion but from a desire to scope out where the lines of the spiritual truth are drawn in our day.

I believe in dialogue, tolerance, and goodwill among Christians and Muslims, but it does no good to anyone, this platitude that “Christianity and Islam and the other religions are basically the same thing, the Bible and the Koran teach the same message. On the whole.” This is grossly unfair to the Muslim and to the Christian, who if they are even minimally informed, know well the difference between their holy books.[xviii]

The Koranic God is merciful, and even loving; but the basis of its religion is earning God’s favor by the works of repentance and obedience. Abraham is God’s friend because Abraham is a “submitter,” in Arabic, a Muslim—so submit first, and God will then respond to you in love (Sura 2:125). The basic dynamic is: you are a sinner, God has sent you a messenger to tell you how and why to repent; anyone can repent, but most will not; your eternal state is based on the authenticity of your submission to God’s will. People are constitutionally able to respond to God’s call: with its exclusion of “original sin,” Islam’s Scripture agrees with Judaism against much of Christianity; it will remind us of Pelagianism. The Koran promises joy in the age to come, but in this life there is little emphasis on love, joy, peace, or the rest of what we Christians call the “fruit of the Spirit.” There is no Holy Spirit to transform us; no regeneration; no redemption. There is much generosity to the poor, but little by way of mutual love.

In the Koran, God, in his mercy, sends plenty of messengers. But only in the Christian gospel does God send messengers and then come himself, personally, as a man. This is the epitome of God’s grace toward humanity, but it is a missing piece in the Koran and its absence cannot be compensated for, not even with a thousand affirmations of God’s mercy.

NOTES:

[i] Take a look at Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer, and his breezy and off-putting: “I read the Koran so you don’t have to.” The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran (Washington: Regnery, 2009), 17. Any author who makes that claim has lost my attention. Would a Christian or Jew be filled with confidence if, let’s say, some Buddhist wrote a Buddhist guide to the Bible and told his Buddhist readers that the Bible is execrable literature, but don’t worry, “I read the Bible so you don’t have to!”? This is the same claim we have from Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, 2007. And no, I haven’t read it.

[ii] The Economist ran a very interesting article in 2007 on how Christians and Muslims distribute their holy books: http://www.economist.com/node/10311317

[iii] Versions of the Koran: to read the Pickthall version, go here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/pick/. For the Muhsin version, here http://www.gph.gov.sa/qurantrans/files/6_PDFDownloadLinkFull.pdf. The Dawood version from Amazon https://www.amazon.com/The-Koran/dp/B0037TSEN6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1467487121&sr=8-2&keywords=koran+audible

[iv] There is an ongoing debate over the nature of Koranic Arabic. The Koran was written in Classical Arabic. According to some scholars, it is therefore barely understandable to speakers of Modern Standard Arabic (known as MSA); according to others, they are basically the same language; according to some, the idea that they are different is anti-Koranic propaganda. It is clear, however, that many memorize Koranic texts without much understanding of their meaning: only about 20% of the world’s Muslims speak even Modern Standard Arabic. There exists among some the common but dubious notion that one language or another is the perfect or superlative medium for the transmission of divine truth, for example: “Arabic is the most efficient language, especially when it comes to the precise statement of laws. Since the Quran is a Statute Book, it was crucial that such laws must be clearly stated. Allah chose Arabic for the Qu”ran because of the obvious reason that it is the most suitable language for that purpose. Arabic is unique in its efficiency and accuracy.” Senkadi Abdelkader, “The Western Translations of the Qu’ran: Betraying the Message of Allah,” Revue académique des études humaines et sociales (12 June 2014): 3-8, http://www.univ-chlef.dz/ratsh/RATSH_AR/la_revue_N_12/Article_Revue_Academique_N_12_2014/Lettre_philosophie/article_07.pdf

[v] From “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History,” in The Selected Works of Thomas Carlyle (Lulu, 2014), 135. On the other end of the spectrum, he said of the book of Job: “there is nothing written, I think, in the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit.” (Selected Works, 124)

[vi] The Sales version seems readable enough. It is available here: https://ia800500.us.archive.org/32/items/TheKoranTranslatedByGeorgeSale/GSale-Quran.pdf. This is the version that Thomas Jefferson bought in 1765 and later spent time studying. See Denise A. Spellberg, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders (New York: Knopf, 2013), 29.

[vii] “4. So woe to those who pray” in context is not a condemnation of the act of prayer, but of “those who pray while at the same time hypocritically withhold assistance.”

[viii] Notice that God or Allah refers to himself in the plural, “We”—this is not the Trinity, nor is it Allah plus the angels. The “We” seems more like the royal “we” in English.

[ix] See Irenaeus, Against heresies 1.24.4 (AD 180). According to the 2nd-century Gnostic Basilides, “[Jesus] did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him, that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified, through ignorance and error, while Jesus himself received the form of Simon, and, standing by, laughed at them.”

[x] “If there is no peaceful alternative, Islam also allows the use of force, but there are strict rules of engagement. Innocents—such as women, children, or invalids—must never be harmed, and any peaceful overtures from the enemy must be accepted.” (http://islamicsupremecouncil.org/understanding-islam/legal-rulings/5-jihad-a-misunderstood-concept-from-islam.html?start=9). The ISCA condemns terrorism in clear terms (http://www.islamicsupremecouncil.org/media-center/domestic-extremism/12-cair-and-terrorism.html).

[xi] Some doubt that Morton has repented of his evil ways, and even suggest he is trying to do terrorism by working on the inside; those who are closest to him believe that he is genuine, and I see little reason to doubt his rejection of terrorism, not at this point. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/30/us/al-qaeda-islamic-state-jihad-fbi.html Needless to say, I do not find Glenn Beck’s “caliphate” theory to be convincing, nor Alex Jones’s wacky idea that Obama is planning on cancelling the 2016 election and setting up an ISIS “caliphate” in the US (with the help of UFOs?).

[xii] One has to be very careful at this juncture about falling into the “No true Scotsman” fallacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman). If a Christian says that “All Muslims believe in violent jihad,” and is then presented with Muslims who claim they do not, it is an ad hoc fallacy for him to object, “Well, no true Muslim disbelieves in jihad.” Likewise, if a moderate Muslim says that no true Muslim aids and abets terrorism, logically he or she is in the same bind. Christians too have to keep from falling into the “No true Christian” fallacy; that’s a topic for another day.

[xiii] See https://www.alquranclasses.com/beloved-daughters-are-a-blessings-not-burden/

[xiv] See https://www.al-islam.org/articles/facts-about-quran-ma-shakir

[xv] The so-called Birmingham Koran manuscript, not to be confused with the slightly less ancient San’a manuscript, was dated last year and is as old as the 6th century; that is, it is roughly contemporary with Mohammad himself. This is an incredible find, about which Muslim scholars are justifiably excited. It conceivably pre-dates Mohammad, although the range of dating shows it is more likely contemporary with him. One explanation is that it’s very close to the autograph, or is the autograph. Another is that Mohamed plagiarized an earlier text. See http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/cadbury/quran-manuscript/index.aspx

[xvi] This strikes me as one example, where people try to prove that the Koran affirms the apostle Paul as a true messenger of God, and that therefore Muslims should turn to Christianity, right now! (see http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/quran_affirms_paul.htm). Muslims, as should have been predictable from the beginning, answer back that that’s not what that verse means. As for me, I as a Christian don’t regard the claim about Paul as convincing, and would regard it as sketchy exegesis if it were done on the Bible; I do not see how an informed Muslim would find the argument compelling.

[xvii] I know little about Jesus-Islam.org, A Website for Christian-Muslim discussion and apologetics, but what I have read seemed well-researched and cordially presented.

[xviii] It was only a matter of time before some wag stopped people on the street to ask them what they think of “these awful verses from the Koran,” while in fact reading them statements from the Bible. See “The Holy Qumran Experiment,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEnWw_lH4tQ

“My Time with the Koran – April, 2016,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] I have written a full blog entry on my impressions of the Koran, inexpert though they be, which I read through for the first time in April (the Penguin edition is […]

  2. […] [xi] Algunos dudan que Morton se haya arrepentido de sus malos caminos, e incluso sugieren que él está tratando de hacer terrorismo trabajando desde adentro; aquellos que están más cerca de él creen que él es genuino, y veo poca razón para dudar de su rechazo al terrorismo, no en este punto. Véase http://www.enlacejudio.com/2016/08/31/terrorista-a-experto-en-la-universidad/ o http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/30/us/al-qaeda-islamic-state-jihad-fbi.html. No hace falta decir, que yo no encuentro la teoría del “califato” convincente, ni la loca idea de que Obama esté planeando y establecer un “califato” de ISIS en los EUA. […]

  3. Hi Gary

    Thanks for your perspective – very good. (I always appreciate your articles/insights! 🙂 )

    My friend Ibrahim (meet him fortnightly), has recommended this book to me, and it may be of interest to you:
    ————
    Reading the Qur’an in the twenty-first century: A contextualist approach
    by Saeed, Abdullah
    Professor Saeed also writes a lot about reforming Islam.
    Cheers
    Ibrahim
    ————

    • Thanks so much, Graeme, I will look it up; and will you please send Ibrahim my greetings. Gary

  4. A fascinating look at the Koran. I tried reading it myself a year or so back but was working with a translation out of Damascus which was much more inflammatory. I got into the Sura 50s but never finished it. So this was very helpful. Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  5. We know Muslims personally. Students we have met at Valparaiso University. They are not all ready to blow us up! Though I admit it would be hard to trust them. We still love them and ask for discernment.

    • Thanks, Loralei!

      • 🙂 Just speaking the truth…in love! 😉

      • Also, some are scared for relatives living in countries like Syria that can’t get out! Just like we would be if it were us!

  6. Do you have the link for the article you wrote on the different versions of the Bible. I would like to share it with a friend. Thanks! Loralei


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