CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 4, 2015 — The Koran is a perfect example of why it is so difficult for the West to negotiate with the Middle East.
The Islamic holy book is often compared to the Bible, but other than the fact that they are both divided into two sections that are further divided into numbered verses, and that they are the primary sources of authority and moral teaching for two of the world’s great religions, there is little to compare.
The word Koran means “recital.” It was created by Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, who was illiterate. The word Islam means “to submit,” and those two words by themselves tell us much about the tenets of the faith.
The Koran contains 114 chapters or “suras,” some of which were written down when Mohammad began his ministry in Mecca. The others followed after his hijran, or migration, to Medina.
The Bible is divided into Old and New Testaments, with the separation coming with the teachings of Jesus Christ. It contains history, poetry, laws, stories, genealogies, sayings and the recorded words of Christ, and it is compiled from numerous sources by dozens of writers over hundreds of years. The Koran has a single source during a very short period of time; it is entirely the words of Muhammad, which are said to be the revealed words of Allah through his prophet on earth.
Though the Islamic text contains chapters from both Mecca and Medina, they are not arranged chronologically or to form a narrative; the book is arranged with the chapters in descending order of length. The Exordium (Al-Fatihah) is the longest and Men (Al-Nas) the shortest. It is here that the confusion for scholars begins because the chapters from Mecca are mixed with those from Medina.
In most cases, the Meccan suras are the chapters in the Koran that are peaceful, while the Medinian suras were written after Mohammad became a warrior. These are the chapters where the violence and hatred overwhelm the earlier writings from Mecca.
One of the key factors that is often either overlooked or ignored when experts cite the Koran is the concept of “abrogation,” which is a major element in interpreting its meanings. “Abrogate” means to abolish or repeal by formal means, and there are countless examples of this process in the Koran. Often when the prophet realized his so-called “peaceful” teachings from Mecca needed to be overridden by a “better” interpretation to suit his immediate needs, he would have a revelation that allowed him to justify his upcoming actions.
For the most part, these revelations of convenience comprise the most violent aspects of Muhammad’s ministry. It is these messages that Islamic extremists say grant them permission to kill, behead, maim, rape and perform other acts of terror throughout the world. In that sense, jihadists are merely following the teachings of their prophet to the letter.
Muslims claim the Koran is perfect and that it can only be interpreted, not translated. According to Islamic scholars, the true essence of the words of the Koran exist in the beauty of the poetry of its native Arabic. So magnificent are these Arabic words that no other language can do them justice.
While this statement might be true, it could also be interpreted to mean that only Arabic-speaking Islamic scholars can understand the true implications of Muhammad’s words. Therefore, an Arabic-speaking Islamic scholar is able to interpret the messages in any manner he chooses to satisfy whatever point he is making, and his interpretation trumps that of anyone who does not speak Arabic.
The Koran is filled with discrepancies that make it impossible to accept as “perfect.” A great example comes in the creation story, which is mentioned multiple times in the book.
Sura 10:3: “Yet your lord is God, who in six days created the heavens and the earth and then ascended to the throne …”
Sura 40:9: “Do you believe Him who created the earth in two days?”
Some Islamic scholars claim the earth itself was created in two days, but the Koran states that the mountains, oceans, deserts et al. took four more days, which equals six.
The Koran adds that it took two more days to complete the firmament, which adds up to eight.
There are dozens of other examples of Koranic errors, but this provides a simple insght into how difficult it is to obtain straightforward information when dealing with Islamic cultures.
Arabic itself is a rambling language with little punctuation; its utterances combine heavily into what other tongues call “run-on” sentences. Attempting to read the Koran from a Western perspective is a confusing undertaking, which only adds to the contention that it must be read in Arabic.
In most cases, the Koran has little resemblance to the Bible. Before it can indeed be as perfect as Muslims claim it to be, it is badly in need of some serious editing.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News. Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod.