Our next lesson is on the Koran (Qur'an). The Koran must surely be the world's most famous book that has not been read. How many people do you know who can say "I have read the Koran and understood it"? It turns out that (in a sense) there are two Korans. Once you understand how they differ, you will understand Islamic duality and why Islam always has two stories about any subject.
The word 'Koran' (or "Qur'an") is an Arabic word that means 'recitation.' According to Islam, the Koran is perfect, complete, universal and final. According to the teachings of Islam, the Koran contains not even the slightest error, since it comes directly from Allah, the only God of the universe. It is in his exact words. The Koran was created before the universe was created, and it sits on an emerald table at the right hand of Allah.
The Koran we have today was created, or brought together, by the 3rd caliph, Uthman. It is said that Muslims were beginning to say that there were many versions of the Koran, and there would soon be error. So Uthman, as absolute ruler, called in all of the Korans and turned them over to a secretary. It was the secretary's job to compile the new Koran. After it was put together, Uthman did something that was very telling---he burned all the original source material.
Now, ask yourself a question. Why did he burn the original source material, if the reason that they had put together a new Koran was that there were variations?
As a result of the burning of all the source Korans, Muslims like to boast today that their Koran has no variations, that it was delivered in this exact form from Allah, and the lack of variations shows its perfection. And then they point to variations in Biblical texts as proof of corruption of the texts.
Since Islam means submission, this argument that the Koran is perfect and the New Testament and Old Testament are corrupt and contain variations, is another assertion that demands submission from the Christian and the Jew.
The Koran contains 114 Suras, or chapters. If you pick up a Koran and thumb through it, you will notice very quickly that the long chapters are in the beginning, and the short chapters are all at the end. That is the way that the Koran is arranged, and this leads to one of the major difficulties in understanding it. Imagine: if you took a mystery novel and cut off the spine, and then you rearranged the chapters---you put the longest chapter up front and the shortest chapter at the back; then you rebound this book and handed it to a friend and told him, "This is a great mystery novel! Read this!" Your friend would try to read it and say, "I can't understand this. When I turn the page, I seem to go back in time, or sometimes forward in time. I don't understand---there's no story to this; there's no plot." And that is the way the Koran is arranged. Now, if you take the Koran and put it in the right time order (i.e., chronologically), then it is a much more logical book.
Another thing about the Koran that's confusing is that the stories, in many cases, are not complete. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but most of the stories in the Koran, many times, are as if you walked in halfway through the story. You don't know what the beginning is. This is odd, since the Koran has obviously derived many of its stories from the Hebrew Bible---the Old Testament---and they are wonderfully told in the Christian and Jewish Scriptures; but not so with the Koran. There is not one really complete story in all of the Koran. There's always something missing.
Another thing that's interesting about the Koran is how repetitious it is. This becomes very tiring when you're trying to read it. As an example, the story of Moses and the Pharaoh is repeated, in one fashion or another, 39 times. The repetition is so intense in the Koran that, if you remove all of the repetition, it is cut in half, and that does not leave a very big book, since the Koran is about the same size as the New Testament.
There's another thing that's a little odd about the stories. They fall into two classifications. There is some retelling of old Arabic stories, and then there is the retelling of the Jewish stories: Adam, Noah, Moses...all of these characters appear in the Koran; but, if you're familiar with the stories in the Jewish Bible---the Torah---they're not the same. They merely have the same characters. For instance, in the Koran, it is the purpose of Moses not to free the Jews as slaves, but instead to get the Pharaoh to admit that Moses is the prophet of Allah. The same is true with the story of Noah. The whole story of Noah centers around making the people of the earth admit that Noah is the prophet of Allah, and because they would not admit that Noah was the prophet of Allah and do everything that he said, Allah destroyed the earth. So the stories are similar to the stories in the Old Testament, but they've all been changed so that they proclaim one theme - those who do not recognize the prophets of Allah will be destroyed.
The other thing that becomes apparent when you read the Koran is how much of it is devoted to the kafir---the unbeliever. As a matter of fact, 61% of the Koran is devoted to the kafir. That only leaves 39% to be devoted to being a Muslim. And that 39% is filled with repetition, so it is actually less than 39%. So, the Koran is not a very big book at all, when you get down to what it teaches about being a Muslim. There is not enough information in it to practice the religion of Islam. For a work which claims to be complete, it is remarkably incomplete. Of the Five Pillars of Islam, the Koran does not give enough information on how to perform them. The perfect and complete Koran does not teach how to be a Muslim. That information comes from the Hadith---the Traditions of Mohammed (Muhammad). Mohammed is the one who tells a Muslim how to worship, not Allah.
The other thing that strikes people who press on through and read the Koran, is that it is very contradictory. It says things that are completely opposite. So much so that, in the days of Mohammed, some of the kafirs pointed this out to Mohammed: "You said this earlier; now you're saying that; they're opposite---which is it?"
The Koran says Allah can replace a verse with one which is better. Let's dwell on this a moment. Replacing it with a verse which is better means that the better one comes later. To deal with contradiction, you need to know which verse was written earlier or later. This time order is known to scholars. Although the Koran you buy in the bookstore has it arranged from longest chapter to shortest chapter, since the beginning, Muslims have known what the right order is, in terms of time. This cancellation of one verse by another is called abrogation. But abrogation does not cancel or negate the verse, because if the earlier verse was by Allah, then that verse is true, because Allah, by definition, cannot tell a lie. So this leaves the Koran as a very peculiar book. It is contradictory, but both sides of the contradiction are true.
This turns out to be an insight into the understanding of Islam, because it means that Muslims can hold in their mind two contradictory ideas, and accept both of them as true at the same time. This explains how Muslims, after September 11th, were able to say that Islam is a peaceful religion. A peaceful religion doesn't send out jihadists to kill 3,000 people. That is a contradiction. But if you are a Muslim, you have been trained to accept contradictory facts, and so, as a result, these contradictions do not bother you at all---they don't cause you any mental problem. The Koran is a dualistic document. This dualism runs very deep in the Koran. If you arrange it in the right time order, the Koran written in Mecca is a radically different Koran than the one written in Medina. They are so different that you could take a class of college students, and in one hour's time, teach them how to pick out a verse taken at random, and tell you whether it was written in Mecca or Medina---the two Korans are that different.
The earlier Koran is more religious. There are 147 different references to Hell. Now, there are more than 147 verses about Hell, but taking it topic-by-topic, there are 147 of them. 94% of these say that the reason that the kafir is burning in hell is because he did not believe that Mohammed was the prophet of Allah. The remainder are people in hell for moral charges - that is, theft, greed, hate, etc. What does that tell us about Islamic Hell? It's a political prison for the intellectual dissenters who do not believe that Mohammed is the prophet of Allah, and indeed, the great majority of the Meccan Koran is devoted to that theme. Indeed, the entire Meccan Koran can be summarized in one sentence: 'Mohammed is the prophet of Allah, and if you don't believe it, you're going to suffer.'
Now, the Koran written in Medina continues with the same hatred of the kafir, but it manifests itself in a totally different way. There's not much mention of Hell in Medina, because a new form of suffering for the kafir is introduced. In Mecca, the kafir suffers after he dies. In Medina, he suffers in this lifetime. He can be tortured, beheaded, robbed, and worse. The Medinan Koran has the same kafir hatred, but this time there is jihad, where the kafir suffers and dies in this life. So the Medinan Koran is very political.
The Medinan Koran introduces Mohammed's greatest innovation, and that is jihad. It also introduces dhimmitude, the political subservience of the Christian and the Jew. Now, as soon as someone brings up the violence in the Koran, someone is going to say "Oh, well, the Koran is no different than the Old Testament; the Old Testament has a lot of violence in it, as well." Yes, there is violence in the Old Testament, but it's enormously different from the violence in the Koran. The violence in the Old Testament is local and temporary; it is against a neighboring tribe, and for a certain period of time. This is not true of the violence in the Koran. The violence in the Koran is universal and eternal. The jihad is to go on until the last kafir leaves the face of the earth. There's a great deal of difference between temporary and local violence, and a universal, eternal violence.
Although jihad is called 'Holy War,' it is really better simply described as political war. Why? Because the only reason in the Koran that people are attacked and killed is, they do not agree that Mohammed is the prophet of Allah. That's an intellectual idea, and so jihad is political war against the kafir.
The Koran is an Arabic document. More than once, it refers to its Arabic nature. That's very clear. Since the Koran was written before the creation and in the Arabic language, that implies that Allah is an Arab. This is a very important part of the Arabic hegemony [the political, economic, ideological or cultural power exerted by a dominant group over other groups]---that is, the Arab culture must dominate all other world cultures.
When you bring up something negative about the Koran, a Muslim quickly responds with, "Oh, but did you read it in the Arabic?" And then he will say, "Well, you can't really understand the Koran unless you read it in Arabic." Now let's stop and think about this statement for a moment. The Koran claims to be universal. That is, it applies to all people. But since only a small portion of the world reads Arabic, that means these ideas must be understandable in the languages other than Arabic, or they would not be universal. So which is it? Can the ideas be understood in any other language or not? Because, if the ideas in the Koran cannot be understood in other languages, then the Koran is not universal.
The other weakness to the argument, "Oh but you don't understand Arabic," is this: the great majority of Muslims today don't speak Arabic, so the Koran has been translated into their language, and they're fully practicing Muslims. In fact, fewer than 20% of Muslims in the world speak Arabic.
Now, many Muslims recite the Koran in classical Arabic, but the classical Arabic is not the Arabic language of today. Languages change over time, and a modern Arab cannot pick up a random Koran verse and read it and understand it. It's as if you were to study Chaucer. Chaucer wrote in the English of his day, but that English is very difficult for us to understand. It is the same with a native Arab speaker picking up the Koran and reading it. He, too, is not fully aware of what it means. He, too, has to have the classical Arabic translated into modern Arabic. The fact is that Arabic is really not a barrier to understanding the Koran. It's been translated into many languages.
In the end, the Koran is a document about the kafir. 61% of it is about hating the kafir and how the kafir must be subdued; therefore, the Koran is primarily a political document---not a religious document.
Now, what does the Koran bring to the table that is new? It brings two new ideas: that Mohammed is the prophet of Allah, and that jihad can be practiced against those who do not believe that is true. Everything else in the Koran is derivative. There are old Arabic stories, stories from the Old Testament that have been reworked, ideas from the Zoroastrian religion, and ideas from the local Arabic religion at the time of Mohammed. It is interesting that the Koran claims to be the work of a universal God, but the horizon of the Koran goes no further than Mohammed's eyes.
Until recently, the Koran has been a document that was difficult to read. That is no longer true. The work of scholars has now produced a book called "A Simple Koran," which has all the verses in the right order; and they've all been grouped, so you eliminate most of the repetition; Mohammed's life has been woven through "A Simple Koran," so the reader can see that, although the Koran claims to be a complete document, there are many, many things in the Koran that cannot be understood unless one knows the life of Mohammed. For instance: Which verse comes earlier? Which verse comes later? If you know Mohammed's life, it is easy to tell which one is earlier and which one is later. It is Mohammed's life that gives meaning to the Koran. The Koran does not make any sense without Mohammed's life. The Koran cannot be understood on its own. And yet, it claims to be complete.
Here's a small example: In the Koran, there is a remark about the destruction of the palm trees. The verse just comes out of nowhere. If you weave Mohammed's life into the Koran, then you know what it means. Mohammed was given authority to burn the palm trees, because it was only a few days earlier that he had attacked the Jews. They had a date palm plantation which he burned, contrary to the rules of war. The Arabs condemned him for violating the rules of war. Hence, the Koran declares that it was good to burn the palm trees.
This is an example of how Mohammed's life gives meaning to the Koran, and indeed, when Mohammed's life is woven into the Koran, the Koran becomes an epic story. It depicts Mohammed's rise to power from being an orphan and a businessman, to the supreme ruler of all of Arabia, with a goal of becoming the supreme ruler of all of the world. So the Koran is a great epic story. You should read it and understand it.
The Koran has been made to seem complicated. It is actually a simple text that contains only two new ideas: Mohammed is the final prophet, and jihad may be used to harm kafirs. The main idea in the Koran is the division of humanity into 'believer' and 'kafir,' and the triumph of Islam over all kafirs.
The above text is taken from the website Political Islam.