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What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text and Commentary
 
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What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text and Commentary [Kindle Edition]

Ibn Warraq
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Product Description

Islam has worldwide influence, and even in the United States is experiencing a period of unprecedented growth. Its sacred book, the Koran, is the subject of voluminous commentary, yet it rarely receives the kind of objective critical scrutiny that has been applied to the texts of the Bible for over a century. To correct this neglect of objective scholarship, this author has assembled an excellent collection of critical commentaries on the Koran published by noted scholars from the beginning of the 20th century to recent times. These important studies, as well as his own lengthy introduction, show that little about the text of the Koran can be taken at face value. Among the fascinating topics discussed is evidence that early Muslims did not understand Muhammad's original revelation, that the ninth-century explosion of literary activity was designed to organize and make sense of an often incoherent text, and that much of the traditions surrounding Muhammad's life were fabricated long after his death in an attempt to give meaning to the Koran. Also of interest are suggestions that Coptic and other Christian sources heavily influenced much of the text and that some passages reflect even an Essenian background reaching back to the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This outstanding volume will be a welcome resource to interested lay readers and scholars alike.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 9389 KB
  • Print Length: 600 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (30 Sep 2002)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00403LWJ6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #333,482 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good textual analysis 1 Aug 2009
By Aquinas
Format:Hardcover
This book is a very good companion volume to Ibn Warraq' book on the historical Mohammed. They both however share a common weakness, which is the fact that much of the writings reflected in the books are fairly old, early 20th Century and some 19th Century. I suspect that this simply reflects the difficulties which Scholars face in working in this area. Second, the lack of any contributions by sympathetic Muslim scholars weakens the work but I suspect this is because no Muslims will engage in this area.

Unlike the Bible which has been the subject of textual criticism by Christians and non-Christians for several hundred years, the Koran has not been the subject of textual criticism my muslims in any meaningful sense. The void has been filled in the main by western scholars. This foray of western scholars into muslim territory has not endeared them to muslims and indeed has generated considerable hostility. Perhaps, this is not surprising in the historical context through which Islam is living. There were similar reactions from Christians when historical criticism first begun to deconstruct the text of the Old and New Testaments. Even so, Christianity has not imploded following the advent of historical criticism and indeed many would say that Christians' understanding of the historical roots of their religion has been enriched by the historical research. However, not all Christians would agree and certainly fundamentalists, who have a very similar understanding of the inerrancy of the Bible to the Muslims understanding of the Koran, would not accept the findings of the textual critics.
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
493 of 524 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Hot Potato 8 Nov 2003
By Timothy W. Dunkin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anyone familiar with Ibn Warraq's books readily knows why he is pretty much universally reviled by Muslim polemicists (he has several death fatwas outstanding against him - hence his use of a pseudonym for publishing). This book is no different. In it, Ibn Warraq presents a large collection of articles from scholars who spent their lives investigating the Qur'an and its history. This, in and of itself, will cause most Muslims and "pro-Islam" people in the West to view this book as a "hostile" source. Any collection of articles that deconstruct the Qur'an and which demonstrate flaws, imperfections, and inconsistencies in the Qur'an will be viewed as such.

Bad point: Much of the information in the book is very dated. We're talking about information first presented by the likes of Noldeke, Wellhausen, and Goldziher in the early 20th century.

Good point: Much of this information is still relevant today, if only because of the relative paucity of scholars who are actually willing to critically examine Islam without slavishly seeking to substantiate the Islamic party line. Many of the linguistic arguments still have not been satisfactorily answered by Muslims or Westerners to this day (i.e. rebuttals based on circular reasoning such as relying upon the traditional Islamic view of the Qur'an to SUBSTANTIATE the traditional Islamic view of the Qur'an don't count).

If Muslims think that the essays in Ibn Warraq's book are "hostile", then they should acquaint themselves with the works of more modern researchers from the last thirty years like Crone, Cook, Nevo, Wansbraugh, etc. These and other investigators are even more "hostile" if only because they have a greater base of archaeological, numismatic, epigraphic, etc. data from which to assess the traditional Islamic historiography.

As we can see from some of the previous reviewers, those who don't like this book are generally a bit biased themselves. One from March 20, 2003 (below) barely addresses the actual content of the book, and spends up who-knows how much bandwidth giving us a screed about the "peaceful" aspects of jihad and how the Qur'an really promotes peace, love, harmony, and all that other good stuff. Another review (Edgar Hopida, Nov. 16, 2002) complains about bias in this book, using such objective terminology as "this book represents the one-sided, misleading, and dishonest evidence about the Qur'an, Islam, and its rich history" and "Orientalism, has for centuries attempted to deconstruct Islam, trying to give biased proof that the Occident is superior over the Orient." Would Mr. Hopida care to explain why "Orientalists" have been inclined towards trying to do the exact same thing with the Bible? Perhaps they were trying to give biased proof that the Occident is superior over the *Occident*, too?

Basically, this is a book which the reader will either appreciate for its factual content, or else will despise for its factual content, depending on whether Islamic presuppositions are brought to the table before reading it.
143 of 151 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult But Informative Book 16 May 2006
By Fred W. Hallberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is the most difficult I have as yet attempted to read on the topic of Islam. The introduction by Warraq suggests it will be an exposition about the history and structure of the Koran, like those available for general readers about the Bible. What we get instead from Warraq is the unvarnished conversation of scholars with one another. Only Warraq himself attempts to address the general reader.

The book is organized as an anthology, with many entries that read like scholarly papers written for The Society of Biblical Literature. Some of the material requires an acquaintance with classical Arabic, and makes references to loan words from Hebrew, Syriac, and other aancient Semetic languages.

I would recommend that the general reader approach the book by reading Warraq's "Introduction," first, and then skip over to the critical concluding essay by Ibn Rawandi (Section 8.3). (Ibn Rawandi is the pseudonym of another Islamic dissenter like Ibn Warraq. Both these names are derived from 8th and 9th Century Islamic dissenters described in Chapter 10 of Warraq's "Why I Am Not A Muslim.")

After reading Rawandi's critical essay, one should then go back and read (or re-read) the materials to which Rawandi refers. Only then should the naive reader attempt to follow the arguments concerning loan-words found in the Koran from Syriac, Ebionite-Christianity, and other ancient sources.

Why is this all so hard to unravel? It appears to me that the state of critical scholarship about the Koran is much less well developed than is scholarship about the Bible. The attempt to explain the redundancies and contradictions in the Koran is about as well developed today as was Biblical scholarship in the last quarter of the 19th Century. Why is scholarship about the Koran so much less well developed? One reason may be that Western scholars have simply been more interested in the sources of their own religious canon. But another salient factor is the resistance within Islam itself toward any such critical examination of the Koran. Warraq tells us the Encyclopedia of Islam says the Koran plays a role within Islam, like that played by Christ in Christianity. So Muslims are even more allergic to critical examinations of their canon than Christian fundamentalists are of theirs. As Barry Rubin explains in his "The Long War For Freedom," merely proposing to examine the Koran with the tools of critical scholarship can get one imprisoned or even executed in an Islamic country today.

I can understand, in retrospect, why this book was so difficult to read. Warraq simply could not present his case for the Koran being a document with a history of construction from multiple sources, without first leading us through such a dense thicket of evidence and analysis.
99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book for a scholar, but not for a layman 13 May 2004
By J. Adams - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a compendium of many well researched papers written in the last century and before. It is a very scholarly book, and not something for the casual reader, which makes it far too detailed for someone not familiar with the languages of the Middle East. It is easy to see why Islamists hate this book since it points out that over 20% of the Koran is indecipherable to even most Islamic scholars. It also shows the probable origins of the Koran from other material and writings available before Mohammed heard the voices which made him a prophet in the minds of some. While there are some interesting tidbits, such as Christoph Luxemberg's theory that the Islamic promise of sexual bliss with numerous virgins at every believer's disposal in the afterlife is probably a misinterpretation of the Syriac word for "white raisins" instead of doe-eyed virgins, this is a tedious book for the regular reader. While I'm sure Luxemberg's theory will not diminish the supply of jihaadist lunatics, it does point out that a religion which condemns to death scholars who try to examine the basic document of this faith is a very scary threat to civilization all over the globe. The book also tells the stories of outrageous threats against some of those so condemned. Ibn Warraq (a pseudonym for a former Muslim who has been condemned to death by fatwas issued by mullahs of the "religion of peace" has done a great job of compiling these papers. I also got to learn that his pseudonym means "son of a stationer (or bookseller)"
55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Serious academic exploration... 15 Mar 2006
By J Gabriel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
of an important topic. Warraq begins with an in-depth introduction of over 100 pages of his own analysis that draws on both Islamic and western scholarship. His is a genuine attempt to provide balance to the quest for the genesis (NPI) of the Koran. He begins with a critical analysis of the vagaries of the Arabic(s), Semitic, Aramaic and other languages that pose so many difficulties in the attempt to understand the passages of the Koran. Naturally, this requires that he pose the question of whether or not it developed directly and immediately as the "modern traditionalists" would have us believe, or whether it came about in some other way. The evidence for the traditionalist view is looked for, but absent. On the other hand, first Warraq and then the other contributing authors, present several hundred pages of analysis of the historic record and a tremendous source list to illuminate both the complexities and contradictions of the Koran and its history. I recommend this book for those interested in learning the historical facts surrounding the evolution of Arabic, the contradictions and abrogations of Koranic passages and the late-appearing evidence for the life of Mohammed. However, I would suggest that the modern traditionalist - who simply accepts the theory of the Koran as the direct word of God through a single man - will find the lack of evidence for this puzzling and the evidence to the contrary, perhaps, disturbing. Any serious Muslim interested in learning the history of their faith should be prepared for a scientific discussion, lots of sources and evidence, and the likelihood that they may either reject it all or face some troubling questions.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough textual analysis of the Koran 1 Aug 2009
By Aquinas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is a very good companion volume to Ibn Warraq' book on the historical Mohammed. They both however share a common weakness, which is the fact that much of the writings reflected in the books are fairly old, early 20th Century and some 19th Century. I suspect that this simply reflects the difficulties which Scholars face in working in this area. Second, the lack of any contributions by sympathetic Muslim scholars weakens the work but I suspect this is because no Muslims will engage in this area.

Unlike the Bible which has been the subject of textual criticism by Christians and non-Christians for several hundred years, the Koran has not been the subject of textual criticism my muslims in any meaningful sense. The void has been filled in the main by western scholars. This foray of western scholars into muslim territory has not endeared them to muslims and indeed has generated considerable hostility. Perhaps, this is not surprising in the historical context through which Islam is living. There were similar reactions from Christians when historical criticism first begun to deconstruct the text of the Old and New Testaments. Even so, Christianity has not imploded following the advent of historical criticism and indeed many would say that Christians' understanding of the historical roots of their religion has been enriched by the historical research. However, not all Christians would agree and certainly fundamentalists, who have a very similar understanding of the inerrancy of the Bible to the Muslims understanding of the Koran, would not accept the findings of the textual critics.

There is a fairly fundamental point which must be stated before considering the details of the book and that is in the West, there has been a constant striving to ensure that faith and reason do not contradict each other. Thus, in his latest encyclical (Caritas in Veritate), Pope Benedict XVI re-emphasises that faith must purify reason but also reason must purify faith. Faith and reason should be constant partners in dialogue. One gets the impression (and indeed it will be obvious from some of the textual analysis below) that in Islam in its current state of development, that faith and reason do not interpenetrate each other but exist in polarities. Thus, in Islam at this moment, muslims will hold that the Koran is perfect even though it is clearly not.

The key points which emerge from this book are as follows:

i) The average middle class Arab would take considerable effort to construct even the simplest sentence. Let alone talk, in the classical Arabic of the Koran (page 25): this means that the Koran has to be translated for everyone including Arabs. This makes an irony of the common criticism of muslims that the Koran is untranslatable and should not be read in a translation. Everyone (Arab and all) has to engage in a translation.

ii) The style of the Koran is difficult, and would be largely incomprehensible without glossaries, indeed entire commentaries. Without them, the Koran is gnomic and elusive (page 26)

iii) The Koran claims for itself that it is "mubeen" or "clear" but if you look at it you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn't make sense and is in fact just incomprehensible (page 38)

iv) Even muslim contemporaries of the messenger appear not to have known what various words and phrases meant and thus guesswork seemed to have played a part in interpreting (page 40)

v) Words appear that can have two opposite meanings , words are unclear, sentences are not clear, passages with interpolations, grammatical errors, sentences that do not fit and general disorder and incoherence (page 41)

vi) Vastly difference Muslim interpretations, each backed up by impeccable isnads (chains of authority), showing that there was no coherent interpretation (page 51)

vii) A preference for rhyming over proper grammer (page 54)

viii) Tortuous and inelegant verses (page 55)

ix) Disorder and incoherence and hopeless confusion over what various pronouns are being referred to(page 56)

x) Interpretation of the Koran rests on Islamic tradition which is difficult to justify if the Koran is indeed "mubeen" or "clear (page 59)

xi) For all muslims, much of the Koran remains incomprehensible without commentaries. (page 59_

xii) And yet Henri Lammens argues that the hadith (commentaries on the Koran) are themselves dependent on the Koran, essentially expanding on obscure texts in the Koran. (page 60)

xiii) The Koran itself can be the subject of many variant readings depending on how the dots and pointings are interpreted (vowels etc), dots were hardly used in the first 2 centuries. Thus the Koran itself had to be interpreted i.e. someone had to decide what vowels were to be attributed to the text (page 64)

xiv) The range of verse abrogations range from 5 to 500. Muslims need to have this law of abrogation to justify the apparent contradictions i.e. allowing and not allowing alcohol and peaceful versus violent attitudes towards the infidel (page 68)

xv) The lack of clarity and incoherence of the Koranic text should be embarrassing for Muslims given that it was/is a constant refrain of the messenger and muslims that the Jews and Christians cannot agree over their text and thus the Koran is revealed to explain clearly what is required to be faithful to God. And, yet 20% of the Koran is incomprehensible. (page 80)

xvi) We have no muslim literature including biographies of the messenger, no commentaries, no law books, no hadiths until the beginning of the third Islamic Century (page 69). This is a big gap. Compare with the Christian scriptures (earliest letters of St Paul date from 20-30 years after the death of Christ, the earliest gospels date from say 40 years after Christ) whereas the Mulsim literature only begins to develop circa 200 years. This highlights some oddities. The Koran states (written 600 years after the death of Christ) that there was no crucifixion of Christ (and yet we have the Christain writings, the writings of the Jewish historian, the writings of Tacitus and other Roman sources evidencing that the Christ was crucified. And, curiously the Muslims position of the historical details of the messenger date from circa 200 years after the end of his career.) Thus, there is significantly more evidence for the death of Christ than for the existence of the Messenger.

xvii) For Muslims, the Koran is the word of God made text just as for Christians the Christ is the Word made Flesh. This explains why Muslims are reluctant to expose their text to historical criticism. (page 111)
xviii) Neither the messenger himself nor any muhammadan formulae appear in any inscriptions dated before 691 AD. (page 133)

xix) Almost all the religious terms found in the Koran are derived from Syriac whilst the Jewish influence on the religious vocabulary in the Koran is indeed negligible (page 178/179)

xx) There is interesting text in Sura XXXVIII where in Satan refuses to fall prostrate before man whose origin appears not to be jewish. But, a Coptic origin has been identified (the Messenger had a wife who was a copt) (page 291)

xxi) Corruptions in individual words in the Koran are such that instead of the sense to be expected, the words give the very opposite of the expected meaning (page 400)

xxii) According to the mental habit, the messenger passes abruptly from one subject to another and occasionally returns again suddenly to a theme that he had previously discussed and seemingly finished. This give a certain choppiness to the text (page 468)

xxiii) Certain texts are clearly in the wrong place and are thus out of place and inexplicable (page 470/471) Presumably this is because of mis-editing.

xxiv) The messenger uses some stock phrases but some of them are incomprehensible, such as: "Woe that day to those who count false! (Syra LXXVII) (page 527)

xxv) The Koran is disjointed. Only very seldom do we find in it evidence of sustained unified composition at any great length (page 528)

xxvi) The style is disjointed, formless, excited, unpremeditated, rhapsodical, but Bell argues that this is because of a failure to discern the natural divisions into which the suras fall (page 530).

xxvii) A critical reader will detect modifications from some unevenness in the style and a certain roughness . Sometimes apparently contradictory statements appear side by side and passages of different dates stand together. (page 539)

xxviii) Luling's theory that some of the Suras are based on heretical Christian arian texts about Christ is an interesting one but does not appear to be proven (page 654)

xxix) It is interesting that the foundational Suras from which muslims derive the belief that the Angle Gabriel appeared to the Messenger do not in fact appear in the text but is solely an Islamic tradition (page 699)

xxx) Concerning Sura XCVI which is very difficult to follow, it is noted (perhaps too harshly): "It should be obvious to everyone that this text is, for the most part incoherent nonsence and makes a mockery of the Koran's description of itself as "of clear Arabic language". Indeed what little coherence this text has in the translation is only achieved by, supplying numerous words that are not in the original language (page 671).

A possible problem with the text is that it is the work of one man with his limitations and frailties (note, this is not what the muslims believe) and with his own style of communicating. Whilst there is a big difference between the earlier and later suras, that difference is not so sufficient as to remove the monochrome nature of the work. There is a metaphor, the Oneness of God is so absolute in Islam that He gives his message through One man in One historical context. In the Bible, God is One but he is also constituted in relationships of community, thus He gives his message through many persons in a multiplicity of literal forms (history/facts/mythic tories/love poetry/prayers/gospels/letters/apocalyptic literature/wisdom literature) in different historical conditions and finally reveals Himself in his Son. In other words, the Bible is a work immersed in relationships.
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