The following guest-compendium by Thucydides provides a useful resource for intelligent people who want to undertake a systematic examination of the Koran. It is designed to serve as entry-level material for a study group like the one the author describes in his introduction.
The Koran — What I Learned by Reading It
What did this writer learn by reading the Koran?
The purpose of this compendium is to answer that question and to document what was learned in order to enhance understanding of the Koran.
In the recent past, this writer was a participant in an online Koran Study Group led by a professional philosopher. We met weekly to go over all the chapters, reading and discussing them from beginning to end using the Dawood translation. (Translated with Notes by N. J. Dawood. The Koran [Penguin Classics]. New York: Penguin Group, This 50th anniversary edition published with further revisions, 2006. ISBN 13: 978-0-140-44920-4.).
The cover of the Dawood translation looks as follows:
In addition, “Blogging the Qur’an” by Robert Spencer, as supplemental material, was also read, and that helped establish the context in reading the Koran
Note after bringing up the above link: at the end there are links to the Czech, Danish, German and Italian versions.
Feedback received from those who read earlier versions of this compendium as well as conversations with people about topics covered here have raised several issues to discuss as preliminary topics.
First. The issue of scope is now addressed. While there are a number of questions concerning the place of Islam in the world, most of these questions are outside the purview here addressed, but a small number of these questions can be addressed in this compendium. These numerous questions include:
- Is Islam a religion of peace?
- Is Islam just another religion, similar to Judaism or Christianity?
- Is Allah, the Islamic God, the same as the God of Judaism or the God of Christianity?
- What does the Koran say about the equality of men and women?
- What does the Koran say about the equality of those what accept the Koran and those who do not?
- What does the Koran say about homosexuality?
- What are the differences in the Koran between the Meccan verses and Medinan verses?
- What would be the ultimate type of society, the perfect society, if the ideas in the Koran were implemented?
- Would the method of reaching that ultimate society be by persuasion and reason or not? Would the method of reaching that ultimate society be by intimidation and/or force?
- Should Sharia law be part of the legal system of the United States? Even a small part?
- Should a marriage that has been performed according to Syrian law in Syria with a 14-year-old bride and a man of legal age be recognized as valid if the husband belongs to the Sunni religion and the marriage has already been executed?
- What is the theological strategy of war for Islam?
- What should be the relation of Sharia law and the Constitution of the United States of America?
- Can an Islamic state be consistent with pluralism and human rights? With individual rights?
- What are the individual obligations for every good Muslim (one who adheres to Islam)?
- What mutual obligations do Muslim nations have to one another?
- How does Islam view freedom of speech or expression as well as freedom of religion?
- How does Islam view democracy?
- Should an immigrant who actively supports Sharia law that aims to be the supreme law of the land be granted United States citizenship, since that person would have to take the oath that means the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land?
- Should accommodations be made concerning Muslim dress or hairstyles or prayer areas in the workplace, business, military or schools?
- What do the following words or phrases mean: dawah, dhimmi, hijra, jizya, kafir, shaheed, Shariah, takfir, taqiyya, ummah, dar al-Islam, dar al-Harb and Allahu Akhbar?
In order to help answer these myriad of questions, the nature of Islam needs to be addressed and, in turn to help answer that question, the tenets of the Koran need to be addressed. Thus, the present compendium will help form the foundation to aid in addressing these other questions.
To put it another way, hierarchically, underlying these questions is the issue of the nature of Islam, and underlying that issue is what is in the Koran (since the Koran is a foundational document of Islam). Even though my purpose here is to better my own understanding, and even though one comment received was that this can be a summary useful to one starting out to investigate the nature of Islam, how any one individual uses this document is entirely up to him/her, including not doing anything at all with it.
While one may very well hold the position that reading the Koran is very depressing, a viewpoint that is not at all unreasonable, consider the following statement and its recast wording: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Let’s recast this to read as follows: You may not be interested in Islam, but Islam is interested in you. Or even recast as: You may not be interested in the Koran, but the Koran is interested in you.
In addition, consider the following very strong statement: “ . . . , since September 11, 2001, every American should own a Koran. Every day you can switch on the television or the radio or open a newspaper and hear or read pronouncements about “what Islam is” and “what the Koran says.” Most of it is wrong — very wrong. You owe it to yourself, your family, and all the Americans killed on 9/11 and since to know the truth. Do not take anyone’s word for it. Find out for yourself by reading the actual Koran…” (Dr. Sebastian Gorka. Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War. Washington, D.C: Regnery Publishing, 2016. pp. 150-151.). With all this said, the scope is not here to answer all these other questions, but to report, factually, on what was learned by reading the Koran.
Second. Another preliminary topic is the order of presentation of the items. Feedback from those who read earlier versions made it clear that a reworking of the original order was warranted. This was done by categorizing the items as discussed below and then grouping the substantive items into a conclusion. There is a lot of material here. However, a number of items below do not focus on the essence of Islam, but are more in the nature of nomenclature and history. The items given below are categorized as non-substantive and substantive. The former can be subdivided into items that pertain to nomenclature and history. The substantive items were thus characterized since they directly bear on the essence of Islam. In order to aid in focusing on the conclusions for the substantive items, I have used the technique of using bolded red text for this purpose. There are only three such substantive items. (Endnotes are at the end.)
Thus, instead of complexity, this approach to categorization makes the material much easier to understand. Essence is measured by correspondence with most fundamental philosophical issues; that is, metaphysical and epistemological issues. What is relevant is the official doctrine that is expounded in a foundational document, and the Koran is such a document. Thus ending up with three substantive items, the question can be then asked: Why stop there? Why not group these into a single integration? This is done at the end as a Conclusion.
Third. Why give examples and why compare translations? Feedback from discussions of issues raised in earlier versions indicated there was gross ignorance about the Koran, and thus there was a need to give some examples of actual quotes and also give a comment about the significance of the quotes. In the media, sometimes a quote is given from the Koran; for example, for Sura 4:16 it would read “If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful.” If that is all that one is given, it might not be realized that there are different translations. It might even be assumed that there is only one correct wording. If one checks this Sura in another translation that may be handy, or online, the wording may not be identical. This is a point to be cognizant of: there are different translations, and different translations do not necessarily give the identical wording.
Fourth. Links are provided so that it is known where the information came from and obviates the need to go back at a later time to find the source of the information again. It is suggested that on initial reading following the links be bypassed.
Fifth. What to call this document? This work has been variously called an essay, article, document, research paper, or compendium. One discussant pointed out that “essay” means one’s opinion is included. Indeed, checking one dictionary indicated that this may be the case, but not necessarily so; another dictionary gives “a literary composition on a particular subject” as a definition for “essay”. The use of “essay” is ruled out because of the possibility that this work could be construed as opinion as opposed to the factual reporting that it is. The best characterization is judged to use compendium, a brief summary of essential details of the subject under discussion.
Now, with these preliminary topics out of the way, we turn to the items that were learned from reading the Koran.
|1.||Sura (Nomenclature). In the second sentence of the second paragraph above, the word “chapter” was used. In referring to the Koran, the proper terminology is “sura” (or surah). Suras are further sub-divided into verses, for example, Sura 2 Verse 2 would be written as 2:2.
See the following Wikipedia entry that gives a table that includes one column listing the English title(s).
|2.||Other names (Nomenclature). The title of the Dawood translation uses the word “Koran.” Be cognizant that other names are used, for example, Qur’an (Footnote 1 on page 1 of the Introduction in the Dawood translation reads as follows: “The Arabic name (Qur’an) means ‘The Recital.’”).|
|3.||Other spellings (Nomenclature). While the spelling for the Islamic Prophet used here by Dawood is Muhammad, be cognizant that elsewhere other spellings can be used for the Islamic Prophet, for example, Mohammed.|
|4.||Foundational Document (History). The Koran is one of the three foundational documents of Islam.
The other two are the Sira (Mohammed’s biography) and Hadith (his Traditions).
For more details see this site. Scroll down to the heading “Hadith”.
Also see the Counterjihad Report.
See Political Islam, under the heading “About” and then scroll down to the heading “Trilogy”.
|5.||Order (History). While the Bible is generally in chronological order, the Koran has a different order, namely, the “Koranological” order. That order is starting with the longest sura and then in decreasing length to the shortest sura.|
|6.||Translation lists (History). There are lists that allow one to go to the chronological order from the order of appearance in the Koran or vice versa.
In the link immediately above, the first column is the Chronological Order and the fifth column is the Traditional Order as in the Koran. Note the column headed “Location of Revelation”.
Since the largest number for a sura is 114 and these tables do not refer to a particular translation, the implication is that any translation has 114 suras.
|7.||Peaceful/Warlike (History). The earliest chronological verses are peaceful ones, the Meccan verses, with the later ones being warlike ones, the Medinan verses, corresponding to the two periods of Muhammad’s life. Thus, if only the earlier, peaceful ones are selected then the claim could be made of a peaceful document. However, that argument is false since it is selective, uses cherry-picking and does not consider the context of the entire document. Thus, the claim that Islam is a ““religion” of peace “is false, since it relies on recognizing only the chronologically earlier peaceful verses and does not recognize the chronologically later warlike verses.|
|8.||Other translations (Non-Substantive). There is no guarantee that the wording of other translations is identical to the wording in the Dawood translation. Another translation is by M. Pickthall (note that both translations have 114 suras).
Start by clicking on “Download PDF” on the right.
Example A. For Sura 2:2
Pickthall has for Sura 2:2:
While Dawood has for Sura 2:2:
Comment: The Koran is not to be doubted.
Example B. For Sura 4:34
Pickthall has for Sura 4:34:
While Dawood has for Sura 4:34:
Comment: Used to justify that women are inferior to men.
Example C. For Sura 5:51
Pickthall has for Sura 5:51:
While Dawood has for Sura 5:51:
Comment: Used to justify not befriending Jews or Christians.
Example D. For Sura 9:5
Pickthall has for Sura 9:5:
While Dawood has for Sura 9:5:
Comment: Used to justify killing non-believers. Also used to justify imposing the jizya tax on non-believers.
Example E. For Sura 8:12
Pickthall has for Sura 8:12:
While Dawood has for Sura 8:12:
Comment: Used to justify beheadings.
Example F. For Sura 2:106
Pickthall has for Sura 2:106:
While Dawood has for Sura 2:106:
Comment: The idea of abrogation. Also, the idea that the Islamic God, Allah, is omnipotent.
Example G. For Sura 4:16
Pickthall has for Sura 4:16:
While Dawood has for Sura 4:16:
Comment: Used to justify killing homosexuals.
Example G. For Sura 4:16 Additional Material
The translation of Yusuf Ali has for Sura 4:16:
Note that in the following two sources discussing Sura 4:16, the first one identifies the source as from Yusuf Ali while the second one does not explicitly state where the translation comes from.
Because the wording is not identical in different translations, it is suggested that whenever giving the English wording of a sura, not only the sura and verse be given, but also what translation it comes from.
|9.||Infallible (Substantive). The second and third sentences of the Introduction on page 1 of the Dawood translation read as follows. “For Muslims it [the Koran] is the infallible Word of God, a transcript of a tablet preserved in heaven, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel. Except in the opening verses and some few passages in which the Prophet or the Angel speaks in the first person, the speaker throughout is God.2” (Footnote 2 reads as follows: “God speaks in the first person plural, which often changes to the first person singular or the third person singular in the course of the same sentence.”)
CONCLUSION: The essential point is that the Koran is the infallible Word of Allah.
|10.||Submission (Substantive). From page 2 of the Introduction of the Dawood translation. “Muhammad, who disclaimed power to perform miracles, firmly believed that he was the messenger of God, sent forth to confirm previous scriptures. God had revealed His will to the Jews and the Christians through chosen apostles, but they disobeyed God’s commandments and divided themselves into sects. The Koran accuses the Jews of corrupting the Scriptures and the Christians of worshipping Jesus as the son of God, although He had expressly commanded them to worship none but Him. Having thus gone astray, they must be brought back to the right path, to the true religion preached by Abraham. This was Islam — absolute submission or resignation to the will of God.”
CONCLUSION: The essential point is absolute submission. Submission of what to what? Submission of one’s mind, one’s rational faculty, one’s thinking. Then, submission to what? Submission to Allah, to Muhammad, the Koran.
|11.||Abrogation (Substantive). The concept of abrogation means that for the same issue an earlier sura chronologically is superseded by a later sura chronologically. This means that a warlike sura supersedes a peaceful sura.
See the heading of THE PROBLEM OF ABROGATION at Answering Islam.
Here is part of the quote under that heading (In order to maintain the integrity of the quote, internal punctuation and font information have not been changed, altered or corrected):
CONCLUSION: The essential point is a Muslim is a slave to Allah. In fact, that entire paragraph is very important. This point, that a Muslim is a slave to Allah, is a rewording of the Conclusion with a red font in item 10.
First. Man has the faculty of reason. This is so important that as a result man is defined as the rational animal. The question then arises of the status of reason in the Koran and, therefore, in Islam. What is evident is the abdication of reason and instead the use of faith and force are primary. The result is a total absence of reason. In other words, a total negation of reason and of man’s distinctive mode of operating.
Second. A caution. While Dawood uses God, it is important to note that the Islamic God is usually referred to as Allah. This is preferable — no, it is essential — so as not to imply that the Islamic God is the same as God in other religions such as the Jewish G-d or the Christian God.
Third. Here is another point that this writer learned as a result of reading the Koran, and also connects with the comment immediately above. Do not assume that the meaning or understanding that you have for a word has that same meaning or understanding in Islamic thought. For example, “peace” in Islam does not mean the same that is generally understood by that word: “The Islamic concept of peace, meaning making the whole world Muslim . . . “
This quote appears near the end of this article from Answering Islam.
Fourth. Being in a study group and having a regular schedule is advantageous in that these help to maintain motivation. In addition, the supplemental material by Robert Spencer gives context to the readings in the Koran.
Fifth. In retrospect, it would have been helpful to have had the non-substantive items of a historical or nomenclature nature as here categorized discussed at the beginning of the Koran Study Group sessions, at least their essence, and later to cycle back to discuss them in more detail as appropriate in later sessions.
The essence of Islam: a faith-based ideology that govern all aspects of life requiring absolute submission to Allah with the Koran as the infallible Word of Allah.
|1.||The three Conclusions with a red font collapse into two, one metaphysical and one epistemological as further explained in Endnote 2 below.|
|2.||The hierarchy of philosophy starting with the most foundationally important is metaphysics (nature of reality), epistemology (how we know), ethics, politics and aesthetics, the five branches of philosophy. Questions under metaphysics include: Is there only one reality, this one? Is there another, higher reality? Questions under epistemology include: What is the source of knowledge? How is knowledge attained? What are percepts? What are concepts? To what do concepts refer? What are the laws of logic? Once reference is made to the word of Allah (remember Allah is the Islamic God; comment with a red font at the end of item 9), the reference to Allah means that there is recognition of another dimension, and hence from this context is metaphysical. Once reference is made to the submission to the will of Allah (comment with a red font at the end of item 10 and at the end of item 11), it means that that submission to the will of Allah is the source of knowledge, and hence from that context is epistemological.