Some Points About the Koran…


Date: September 20, 2011

Before beginning any serious examination of the koran, it would be good to understand a few things…

The word “koran” means “recitation”.

According to islamic mythology, the koran is the absolute word of allah [the islamic “god”], as dictated to mohammed by the angel gabriel…

It is alleged to be perfect, in every regard…and unlike the bible, it is not merely “inspired” by the word of “god”…

It’s considered to be absolutely authoritative, above all else except, perhaps, the hadith…which is a companion text, and often considered to be an example, of the koran in action [in the life of mohammed, “the perfect muslim”].

Many [all?] muslims believe, that the authority of it’s words supersede that of all others, and all else [for example, all personal writings, all national constitutions, all judicial and secular laws not following sharia, the bible, etc, etc, etc]. In short, “anything in conflict with the koran, yields to the koran”…

Many muslims consider only the original Koran in Arabic, to be “the” koran…and they dismiss all other translations as “invalid”. There is, however, some dispute as to whether or not even that version, represents the complete collection of mohammed’s mystical revelations…It has been suggested, that some such writings may have been lost.

As a piece of literature, the koran is a collection of writings, each intended to communicate a sort of idea or concept…These writings [surahs] were, seemingly, meant to stand on their own, with regards to context…Or, in other words, there is no surah, which depends on the content of another surah…

As such, the koran is not one long narrative, that flows seamlessly from chapter to chapter…In fact, it is quite disjointed. This has prompted some to observe, that reading the koran is burdensome…and much of what you read, seems unrelated…or jumbled…

In part, because of this…many people frown on referring to surahs as “chapters”…because “chapter” implies, that each section is more intimately intertwined with other sections, and that they are reliant on each other…Such is not really the case, when taking koranic surahs into account.

Lastly…it is accepted that the koran’s writings are separated into, generally, two different time periods. The first period is referred to as “Mecca”…The second period is referred to as “Medina”…This earmarks where mohammed was at, in his own life and journeys, when he wrote down these “revelations”.

A few personal notes:

Because Arabic and English are so different, and because the koran is native Arabic, there is no precisely accurate and correct spelling of it’s name, in English…We spell it in English, based upon phonetic sound…Hence, koran, qoran, quran, curran…any of these [and possibly other] options have been used. I chose “koran” for no particular reason…I just felt that it fit.

I recognise that cultural nuances in language and customs, can lead to a lot of confusion…and a lot of lost context…

The more extreme viewpoint, claims that anyone striving to understand the koran, needs to thoroughly learn the Arabic language, and then proceed to study the koran…

…I find this course of action, to be patently ludicrous…and it falls well outside the scope of my study [I am not converting to islam, after all]…Further, English is the most complex human language, known to have ever existed…It is extremely wide in scope, flexible and encompusing…You wont find a more versatile language, on planet earth.

The whole idea that “English language is not good enough, to accurately represent the content of the koran”, is an absurd notion.

That being said, I still acknowledge that there may be social concepts noted in the koran, for which there are no literal translations in English.

Even if things are not precisely the same in all regards…This should not seriously inhibit any enquiry, as to the general message and demeanor of the koran…Those themes, will still come to the surface, regardless of what language, we are reading the koran in.

I’ve decided to loosely refer to surahs as “chapters”, because this is a format context I am better familiar with…and, I think, most of my readers will likely be, as well…But, I do understand, that surahs are not literal “chapters”.

About surah presentation in the koran…

Surahs of the koran, are not presented in accordance, with the order in which they were written. On the contrary…As far as any timeline is concerned, surahs of the koran jump around, all over the place. The only discernible pattern, is that surahs are generally placed in order, from longest in length to shortest.

The reason behind this is unknown…but, it could be reasoned, that this choice was made in order to cause the koran, to be a bit more on the cryptic side…except for those who’ve studied it deeply, and “unlocked” it’s root meanings.

Finally…What is the relevance of Mecca and Medina?…

Both of these are ancient, Arabic cities. Mecca is said to have been the home city of mohammed. Over his lifetime, mohammed migrated to Medina…which is where he exerted his strongest, most fierce and harsh, of “revelation inspired” power.

By many [most?] accounts, by the time mohammed reached his pinnacle in Medina, he was an outright warlord…with a massive following, and the power to ruthlessly crush most who stood in his way…and, according to history, it appears that mohammed was of the mind, to do just that. As such, the tone of his Medina writings are often said to reflect just such an attitude…an attitude of dominance and aggression, towards anyone who did not follow mohammed [or islam].

Mecca, on the other hand, was a time in mohammed’s life, where he was just starting out…and he was essentially, a nobody…He was politically insignificant…He could not get away, with being a public menace…or abusing others, who had different viewpoints and pursuits. To have done such, would have gotten him into a lot of trouble. As such, he understood that he had to tolerate the differences of others, at least until he had secured the upper hand…after which…

…well, after which came Medina…

It has been pointed out by some, that most [if not all] of the more tolerant surahs of the koran, fall squarely into the Mecca period…Where as, the more ruthless, cruel and violent surahs bent on crushing non-muslims, tend to be from the Medina period.

Put another way…According to some, mohammed behaved in a non-threatening way for his own survival and advancement, when he did not have the ability to dominate and rule over others…But, when that power dynamic shifted, mohammed changed his behavior towards others [especially non-muslims], in extreme and cruel ways.

I intend on observing the Mecca and Medina factor, in order to discover if this accusation actually holds true.

There is an additional relevance in this…in that, any case where earlier surahs of the koran contradict later surahs of the koran…the later surahs are considered to have nullified earlier surahs, at least to the extent of any explicit contradiction.

In other words…if Mecca surahs somehow conflict with Medina surahs…it is the Medina surahs, which amend, “allah’s absolute word”…Mohammed’s pauper [Mecca] days, are eclipsed by his warlord [Medina] days, in this regard…

This is one way muslims are able to generally dismiss inconsistencies, in the koran.

Despite being characterised as “allah’s absolute word”…the koran has, quite literally, evolved and changed, within the borders of it’s very own book cover…

…This might make for confusing reading, but…hopefully, understanding everything previously stated here, will give us a better handle on spotting and understanding, both these inconsistencies…and what is supposed to be most relevant.

P.S. – I’d like to say one last thing, regarding my choice in focusing on the M.M. Pickthall translation of the koran…

I will likely also include corresponding passages, from the Palmer and the Rodwell translations, to provide greater variety of perspective…but, I’ll mostly focus on what Pickthall’s version has to say.

Upon doing a bit of reading, I’ve discovered that all three versions [Pickthall, Palmer, and Rodwell], have both pros and cons about them. Pickthall very well orders the verses, making it easier to pick beginning and end points, for passages one wishes to look at [it’s also been recommended, for ease of reading, citation and quotability]. Palmer groups verses together, as [presumably] coherent phrases…Yet, very poorly outlines where one verse ends, and another starts…It does have nice, interesting footnotes, to help add a deeper understanding of the context, however. Rodwell is even worse, with clarifying verse numbers [seemingly, it does not at all], but it also groups them together as phrases…making them fairly more readable…It has many, many, interesting footnotes, also.

I don’t know how deeply I am going to get, into the Palmer or Rodwell translations, but…the footnotes seem like they might add a lot, to any study of these texts…I may quote these footnotes, as both Palmer and Rodwell are entirely in the public domain…but, I make no promises. I just wanted to point these footnotes out, to anyone wanting to take a closer look.

In addition, the Yusuf Ali English translation, also seems to be about as straight forward, as these other versions…No footnotes, though…You might want to take a peek at it. I just thought, the idea of including yet another version, is overkill…and I chose the three that I did, because of their copyright status…The legal status of Pickthall is a bit more murky…but it’s still very old [and in the public domain, in many countries], M.M. Pickthall is still very long dead, and it’s still legal to make quotations, for comment and education purposes…The copyright has ran out, for both Palmer and Rodwell, so…no worries there.


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