All About Muhammad

THE KORAN

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The Qur'an, or Koran, is for Muslims, Allah’s Holy Word, as revealed to Muhammad, through various supposedly divine revelations. These revelations occurred over a period of 23 years, commencing when Muhammad was 40 and lasting until his death at age 63. For Muslims, the Koran is infallible, as Allah’s direct word, and as such, cannot be interpreted. This is just as well, since for well over a thousand years, not even the most studious and brilliant scholars, of Islam as well as infidels, have agreed as to the exact meanings of many of its passages. In the words of the German scholar, Gerd-R. Puin, "About a fifth of Koranic passages make no sense at all!" He further says, "If the Koran is not comprehensible, not even understood in Arabic, then it isn’t translatable." Today, even the most educated Arab speaking Muslims would need some sort of translation to make any sense of the Koran. However, for Muslims, any attempt at an objective analysis of the Koran is considered as the most heinous heresy, and in numerous instances, has led to the death of the analyst.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of translating the Koran, several are available, and in several languages. A good English translation is "The Meaning of The Holy Qur’an" by ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, published by Amana Publications. Its main quality is the use of extensive footnotes of the translator attempting to justify Muhammad’s numerous crimes through the revelations from Allah. Also recommended is the only modern English translation by N.J. Norwood, published by Penguin Books.

There are several difficulties regarding any serious consideration that the Koran is the clear and immutable voice of God. The first, being the passage of some 150 years after Muhammad’s death before the Koran was codified into its present form. While alive, Muhammad’s revelations were mostly committed to memory by his followers on scraps of parchment, stone, clay tablets, wood, or whatever else happened to be at hand. The Tradition says that, about a year after the Prophet’s death, his closest friend and the First Caliph, Abu Bakr, ordered that the Koran be set down in writing. Then, the Third Caliph, ‘Uthman (644-656), ordered that an official version of the Koran be established, and the book took more or less its present form. He then ordered all other versions to be burned. ‘Uthman was also one of the first Muslim martyrs to the Koran, accused of apostasy, the worst crime for a Muslim.

The Koran is roughly equivalent in length to the New Testament, and divided into 114 sections, or "suras". The present day version of the Koran consists of 28 suras revealed in Medina, and 86 in Mecca. They vary considerably as to length and format, and with no chronological or thematic order as to their placement. In general, the suras are organized according to their length, beginning with the longest first.

The Koran has borrowed extensively from the Talmud and the Christian Bible, and a significantly large part of the Koran re-tells various stories of the Bible, though with some interesting changes. Additionally, besides these appropriations, there are several stories which could only be compared with those of "A Thousand and One Nights". It is not known if Muhammad was literate or not, but he always dictated his revelations. Besides the revelations from Allah, as set forth in the Koran, several thousand sayings, often of a trivial nature, called hadiths, are revered because they were said by Muhammad. Examples are how to entertain guests, keep one’s hair, and conduct marital relations. Secondly, the intricacies of the Arab language, one of the most difficult in the world, can lead to gross interpretations as to the meaning of a word or phrase. Muhammad belonged to the Quraysh clan, whose dialect differed considerably from that of the other nomadic tribesmen of the area. According to Muslims, for the most part the Koran is written in Classical Arabic, the style of language born out of the Quraysh dialect. This, in itself, seems to be erroneous, since most scholars agree that Classical Arabic did not become standardized until between the 8th and 9th centuries. Unfortunately for Arabic speaking Muslims, only a limited number can understand spoken Classical Arabic, and even fewer can read it! Colloquial dialects are spoken in all Arabic speaking countries, and the divergence between these dialects can be considerable. However, Muslim law dictates that the Koran must always be read in Arabic, which is basically Classical Arabic. The result is that the imam, or religious head of a mosque, well knows that most of his congregation will not understand what is read, even if he himself can read Classical Arabic. The result is that an imam leads his congregation in rote memory recitals, in Arabic, of prayers and innocuous passages from the Koran, followed by a homily in the local language. The expression of: "The blind leading the blind" comes to mind!

Another difficulty for Muslims to understand their religion is that most Muslims do not speak Arabic. They reside in non-Arabic speaking countries, including Turkey, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran, the Philippines, and the Muslim countries previously a part of the Soviet Union. And, since they are prohibited from reading the Koran except in Arabic, they remain in abject ignorance of their own religion.

Though Muslims believe the Koran descended from Allah to Muhammad, in its present form, forgetting for the moment the interventions of Caliphs Bakr and ‘Uthman, the discovery of a "grave" in Yemen, in 1972, gives lie to this claim. While restoring the Great Mosque of Sana’a, the workmen discovered a remarkable grave, not of human remains, but of a large cache of parchment fragments of the Koran, seeming to date back to the 8th and 9th centuries, or that is, during the first two centuries of Islam. The president of the Yemeni Antiquities Authority, Qadhi Isma’il al-Akwa’ sought the help of a visiting German scholar. This, in turn led to a project, funded by the German Government, to preserve and study more than 1,000 individual pieces of parchment. Though still an ongoing project, which will take several years to complete, the overwhelming evidence is that the Koran, as Muslims proclaim, is not the timeless, perfect, and unchanging word of God! However, considering the increasing influence of Muslims in Germany, it is extremely doubtful that the abovementioned study will ever be completed


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