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Introduction to the Quran

May 31, 2012

It’s funny with religious texts, how you hardly ever have to buy them. Last time we rearranged our library, my husband grumbled that we have more shelfdecimeters of Bibles than of philosophy texts*, to which I retorted that only one of them I have bought, all the rest were given to me as presents**. We also possess a copy of the Quran, in German translation. That, too, was given to us for free, and accepted in the spirit of why not. Could be interesting to know what it actually says, right?

I have not yet gotten around to reading it. I did get started on the introduction, thinking that since I am rather unfamiliar with Islam, it could be good to get a general overview first. Well, if that’s what I want, I will have to search elsewhere for it. The introduction in my free copy of the Quran seems mostly good for amusement. It’s been written by a (group of) fanatic(s), you see.

My longtime association with church have taught me a few things about Christian fanatics. First, there are always fanatics around. Second, fanatics are a very small minority, even within the minority of church members that actually attend services every Sunday. Third, the group of fanatics is by no means uniform. They differ both in how far they are willing to go for their goal, and in what that goal actually is – a theocracy? Bringing the word of God to everybody? Reforming church? And fourth, nobody considers his- or herself fanatic. Everybody thinks s/he has a proper level of devotion, or that it’s too low. Those showing less devotion are not considered to be proper Christians, those showing a little more are admired, those showing a lot more are considered fanatic. I’ve got both relatives that consider me hopelessly fallen, and relatives that consider me fanatic. And really, since the word “fanatic” is defined to mean “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal”, how could it be other than dependent on what level of enthusiasm the speaker considers proper?

The point of this little excursion was to establish that when I call the writers of the introduction to my Quran copy as fanatics, I don’t condemn all Muslims as fanatics. I don’t suppose that the person or people who wrote the introduction are the kind of fanatic to blow something up, and I’m certain that most Muslims aren’t. When I mock the introduction, I don’t intend to mock the religion of Islam, only this particular presentation of it. And I am sorry for the climate of debate that made this lengthy disclaimer necessary. I sincerely wish the day will come when the presence of Muslims in our society is taken as no stranger than the presence of Christians. That one day, we shall all live in peace and equality…

…and everybody will be free to mock everything they find stupid without it carrying such a darned lot of baggage.

It is absolutely out of the question that the prophet Muhammad wrote the Quran himself, my introduction claims. Then follows a weird mix of perfectly reasonable and perfectly unreasonable arguments for that view.

1. Before recieving his revelation, Muhammad was well known as a man of justice and integrity. Everybody who knew him, confirmed him to be faithful to truth and always trustworthy.

So? This is only half of an argument. I am guessing that the authors wanted to imply something like “Therefore, when he claims not to have made this text up, but to have recieved it from the Archangel Gabriel, we ought not to assume that he is lying, despite the claim being unlikely”. Stating that would have made it a whole, and rather decent, argument. I can’t think why they didn’t.

2. As was well known, Muhammad was an analphabet.

…which is then confirmed using a Quran quote. Ah, how many times have I not seen Christian missionaries fall into this trap? Circular logic abounds in religious circles (pun unintended, I swear!). Anyway, assuming Muhammad the prophet couldn’t read or write still doesn’t prove that he didn’t make the whole thing up. He might have dictated it to somebody who was able to write it down. Not saying that he did, mind you, only that he could have. Even if other sources should confirm his being an unlearned man, this argument still has a big drafty hole in it.

3. There are verses in the Quran, where Mohammad is reprimanded. (Example quoted.) How could a leader condemn himself and mention his own fault in a book that he gives his followers to read?

How indeed? I guess Augustine of Hippo must have gotten his Confessions from an Archangel too, and so must Rousseau, and everybody else who ever published a book less than totally flattering towards themselves.

4. The Quran contains no details on Muhammad’s life, it is not his biography. In contrast, Jesus and his mother Mary are mentioned far more often and in greater detail, Mary even gets a full chapter.

Honestly now. First you want me to believe that if a book contains a rebuke of a person, that person can’t be the author. And now you’re trying to tell me that if a book gives more attention to somebody else than the supposed author, that throws doubt upon the authorship too. If we were to accept these two argument, I guess every single book I’ve ever read must be of divine origin. Except for “Thus Spoke Zarathustra“, if we assume that Zarathustra is an author avatar. That book is only concerned with Zarathustra, how everything he does and says is perfect, and how everybody else is flawed and unworthy, so Nietsche might actually have written it. All other books ever must come directly from God. Rrright.

5. In the Quran there are many truths and realities such that they could only come from the creator of Heaven and Earth.

What, no examples for that one? Here, a few quotes would have been higly relevant and very appreciated. But no. I guess I’ll have to skip this argument until I’ve read the whole thing, then.

6. It is absurd to assume that Muhammad should have gotten the Quran from his companions, because they were mostly analphabets too, and had he plagiarized it, he would have been confronted with the true author immediately.

A fair argument, though I don’t find the thought of one friend taking credit for another friend’s work quite as absurd as my introduction writers seem to do. Particularly if it’s a controversial work, and starting a new religion is practically always controversial. Maybe the friend, or collective of friends, were rather happy with Muhammad taking the risk associated with being a mouthpiece for new ideas? Again, it doesn’t have to have occured like that, but I don’t find the scenario absurd.

7. The prophet Muhammed never met any Jews or Christians*** for an extended time. Therefore he cannot have gotten the Quran from the Bible or the Talmud. Furthermore, the Quran is full of falsifications of Bible and Talmud, rendering even weaker the argument that it should be derived from these texts.

Muhammad’s wife’s cousin was a Christian priest and a Bible scholar, before becoming one of Muhammad’s first followers. No extended contact with any Christians and no way to know about the Bible or the Talmud – yeah right.

We are also appearently to assume that no derivative work ever departs from the original work in any way. There is only total plagiarism and total originality. Jesus can’t possibly have been influenced by Judaism, he contradicts it all the time!

Y’know, I think the first argument is the only one that really carries weight. If Muhammad was known as a man of honour, and claimed to have recieved the Quran as a word-for-word revelation from God, he probably believed that he did.

* 7,5 dm Bibles, Bible paraphrases and Bible commentaries, versus 6 dm philosophy textbooks and philosophical original texts.

** I must, however, confess that I have occasionally encouraged these gifts.

*** The German expression used, “jede mögliche Person”, is ambiguous. It can mean both that he never met anyone, and that he never met everyone. I’m fairly convinced the first meaning was intended, but wish they had thought to express themselves clearer.

One Comment
  1. totally beside the point but: a short time ago i debated with somebody on wether i can say that i “know that there is something that we could call a spiritual world” because i’ve had experiences that has proven it to me (i’m an atheist and not a muslim, so i’m not writing to give you a bad conscience for questioning the divine origin of the quran). the other person claimed that i have to write that “i believe” there’s a spiritual world because “i can’t prove it”.

    but i guess spiritual questions are part of that sphere where there is absolutely no commonly accepted guidelines for how to objectively falsify any claims, so “knowing” isn’t something you have to prove by refering to the tests that can be done to show wether you’re wrong or not. “knowing” (as in muhammad “knew that he received the quran from allah”) in spiritual questions is just a measure of how sure you are of your experiences/feelings/faith. the poor fellows who tried to give proofs for this belief where actually just wasting their time. or on the other hand, perhaps somebody was convinced by them…

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