Monday, January 30, 2012

Thoughtful videos on Qur’aan

Muslim Women Reclaiming Islam - Understanding Quran for

1.      14 Minutes – of conversation on authority on Quraan and women’s role.

2.     My one liners:  Our Authority flows from our responsibility of our actions

3.     It’s absolute shame for men to jump to conclusions that women don’t know, that is idiotic

4.     Shaista, speaks my language at 11th minute

5.     Concealing Allah's wisdom - is Kufr, so many a scholars are Kaffirs

Friday, January 20, 2012

Qur’anic Sharia (laws) on Divorce

Note: Since I began my Journey into finding the truth about life and living, I have found Quraan to be document of  common sense and the broader picture is for the society to coexist in harmony. I would say with the same sincerity that all religions preach the same essence. Prophet Muhammad had reemphasized that Islam is not a new religion, it is the same message delivered in different communities. In the following document, you can see how similar it is to our laws in the United States. - Mike Ghouse

The Qur’anic Sharia (laws) on Divorce. Triple divorce, Temporary Marriage, Halala Stand Forbidden (Haram)
By Muhammad Yunus,
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009

Qur’anic concern on the prevalent customs regarding divorce
In Pre-Islamic Arabia, men could abandon their wives at whim by simply declaring, “You are to me like my mother’s back” (58:2).

Since handing down a divorce was a man’s prerogative, he needed no ground and did not even release his abandoned wife, who preferred to stay in her husband’s home for want of any other place to go. There is a tradition from Aisha reported in Sahih al-Bukhari (Acc. 134/Vol.7) that institutionalizes this custom. It reads:

“… the women whose husband does not want to keep her with him any longer, but wants to divorce her and marry some other lady, so she says to him: `Keep me and do not divorce me, and then marry another woman and you may neither spend on me nor sleep with me.”
The Justinian Code that dominated the thoughts of the era, placed a woman under the ownership of a man. After marriage the husband became her owner and treated her as he wished. Thus, he could divorce his wife by simply declaring ‘I divorce thee triply or thrice.’ 

 A system of temporary co-habitation (muta marriage) was also in vogue that permitted a woman to live with different men when their husbands were away from home on trading or any other mission. The Shi‘itee Ithna ‘Ashari school retains the practice. Thus according to the dictum of the theologian, al-Hurr al Amili, “The believer is only perfect when he has experienced a muta [1], though there can be little doubt that the custom virtually conflates legalized prostitution. While this did not raise any question of divorce, the married women who practiced this were virtually temporarily divorced from their husbands and had no means of livelihood for themselves or their children and therefore took to heterosexual habitation as part of social norm.

The Qur’an with its key agenda “to lift from them (humanity) their burdens and shackles that were upon humanity (before)” (7:157) had to deliver the women from the curse of arbitrary divorce, conjugal oppression and lifelong bondage. At a higher plane, it recognizes the serious emotional and financial implications of a divorce for either or both the spouses, as well as the offspring of a broken marriage. It, therefore, discourages divorce by a set of well-guarded stipulations, but allows it if the alternative was life-long unhappiness for the family.

The Qur’an, however, does not consider divorced women as a social burden. It protects their financial interest and those of the children born to them from their broken marriages, permits them to remarry and treats them practically like any other unmarried women.

Context of the Revelation
In the immediate context of the revelation, the Qur’an abolishes the pre-Islamic custom that permitted a man to abandon his wife indefinitely by an oath, but retain her in wedlock, thus preventing her remarriage or freedom. It therefore declares (2:226):

“Those who vow (to abstain) from their wives must wait for four months. Meanwhile if they go back, (remember,) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (2:226).

The concluding God’s attribute of Forgiveness and Mercy is suggestive of Qur’anic encouragement for reconciliation between the spouses and restoration of an effective marriage tie. However, if a man remains firm in his decision on divorce, and abandons his wife for four consecutive months, he must terminate the marriage at the end of this period and release his wife (2:227).

“However, if they decide on a divorce, (let them remember that) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (2:227)

Legislation of a Time-frame for a divorce to take effect as norm for humanity
In a legally phrased passage (2:228/229) the Qur’an prescribes, among other things, a three-month waiting period for a woman under divorce notice (2:228), and commands a man who initiates the divorce to formally articulating his intention at least twice over the period (2:229), obviously in the presence of witnesses. The time-framing is reiterated in two other verses (2:231, 65:2).

“Divorced women shall wait by themselves for three monthly periods, for it is not lawful for them, if they believe in God and the Last Day, to conceal what God has created in their wombs…. (2:228). (O men, you must) pronounce the divorce over two occasions. Thereafter live together (with your mates) honorably, or part with (tasrihu) them honorably…. (2:229).
“And if you divorce women, and they reach (the end of) their term, then either live together honorably, or part with (sarrihu) them honorably, but do not keep them to injure them, (or) to exceed limits. Anyone who does that merely wrongs his own soul…” (2:231).

“And when they reach (the end of) their term, then either live together honorably, or part with (fariqu) them honorably, calling to witness two just members from among yourselves and uphold the evidence (as) before God. This is to instruct anyone who believes in God and the Last Day. (Remember,) God will find a way out for anyone who heeds Him” (65:2).
Remarriage after divorce.

The Qur’an does not permit the marriage of a divorced woman with her ex-husband after the expiry of the three month-timeframe. She must marry a new spouse, live with him as his wife and should this second marriage fail and her new husband divorces her, she could remarry her first husband after the expiry of the three month waiting/notice period (Iddat) (2:230).
“If he (the husband) divorces her (at the end of the waiting period), she becomes unlawful to him afterwards until she marries another man. If he (her new husband) then divorces her, there is no blame on the (former) couple to reunite - provided they feel that they can keep within the limits set by God. These are the limits set by God, and He clarifies them to a people who have knowledge” (2:230).

This was obviously to allow full freedom to a divorced woman to find a new spouse and marry. The absence of this clause would have led many ex-husbands to prevent their divorced wives from marrying a new spouse out of grudge that normally precedes a divorce. Accordingly, the Qur’an warns men:

“And when you have divorced women (after) they have reached their term, you must not obstruct them from marrying (their would be) spouses (azwaj) if they have mutually agreed in a fair manner. This is instructed to anyone among you, who believes in God and the Last Day. (Remember,) this is more appropriate for you and purer; and God knows, yet you do not know” (2.232).

Any permission to remarry an ex-husband after an irrevocable divorce would have led to the continuation of a pre-Islamic practice of a man divorcing his wife at whim and marrying her back at whim thereby never allowing her a separation. It would have totally frustrated the intent of the divorce: to release a woman from the bondage of a failed marriage.
Maintenance of divorced pregnant wife, and the offspring

In a clearly stated verse (2:233) the Qur’an spells out: i) the social and financial responsibilities of a man divorcing a pregnant wife, ii) the moral responsibility of his divorced wife to disclose her pregnancy, iii) the need for mutual consultation between them if they wished to put the child under the care of a foster-mother, and iv) the responsibility of the heir of the father if a child was born posthumously (2:233).

“Mothers shall nurse their children for two whole years if they wish to complete the nursing.” The father (has to) provide for them, and clothe them reasonably. No soul is to be burdened beyond its capacity. A mother should not be made to suffer for her child, nor a father for his child, while the heir (is liable) likewise. If they both wish to wean the child by mutual consent and consultation - there is no blame on them; so if you wish to give your children out to wet-nurses, there is no blame on you, provided you pay what is reasonably expected from you. Heed God and know that God is Observant of what you do” (2:233).

The Qur’an further commands men folk to supporting a divorced pregnant wife (65:6), and that they should spend according to their means (65:7).

“Accommodate them (the women in Iddat) in the manner you lodge, according to your circumstances, and do not harass them to reduce them (to straits). If they are pregnant, meet their expenses until they bring forth their burden; and if they suckle (the baby) for you, give them their due, and consult together honorably. But if you find it difficult (for her health reason, or she intends to remarry), let another woman nurse (it) on behalf of him (the father) (65:6). (In all these matters) the rich should spend (according to) his abundance, but the one whose means is limited should spend of what God has given him. (Remember,) God does not burden anyone beyond what He has given him. Surely God will grant relief after distress” (65:7).

Settlement of dower if neither marriage is consummated nor dower fixed
The Qur'an directs men to give a reasonable provision to their divorced wives, even if the marriage was not consummated (2:236, 33:49).

“There (will be) no blame on you to divorce women before you have consummated (marriage) with them, or fixed their dower (faridah), but provide for them: the rich according to his means, and the poor according to his means – a reasonable provision, a duty binding (haqq), on the compassionate”(2:236).

“You who believe, when you marry believing women and divorce them before you have consummated (marriage) with them, you do not have to count (the waiting) period for them. So make provision for them, and part with (sarrihu) them in a handsome parting”(33:49).
The verse 2:236 uses the term faridah for marriage dower, while the verse 4:4 calls it saduquat.
“Give women their dower (saduquat), as a gift but if they voluntarily favor you with anything from it, take it and enjoy it in good spirit” (4:4).

The former (faridah) connotes with a binding obligation, while the latter (saduqat), with a gift, or charity. Thus, the Qur'an leaves no ambiguity about the legal position of marriage dower: it is a binding obligation of a man towards his wife, and is performed as a gesture of goodwill or charity (saduquat) that s non-refundable. Thus there can be no question about deferring its disbursement and linking it with any other financial or post divorce transaction.
Settlement of dower if marriage is not consummated, but dower is fixed

The Qur’an states:
“If you divorce them before you have consummated (marriage) with them, but you have fixed their dower (faridah), then (give them) half of what you have fixed, unless they (the women) forgo it, or the one in whose (alladhi) hands is the marriage tie forgoes it. To forgo is nearer to heedfulness (taqwa), and do not forget to be generous between yourselves. (Remember,) God is Observant of what you do” (2:237).

The common gender pronoun alladhi, rendered above as whose, is traditionally identified with a husband, implying that only the husband can terminate a marriage that is yet to be consummated. But this purports to revoke a woman’s Qur’anic privilege to dissolve a marriage unilaterally under compelling circumstances (2:229). Therefore the pronoun alladhi must be interpreted in its common gender form, implying that either of the couple - husband or wife can lawfully dissolve an unconsummated marriage. Based on this, the pronouncements of the verse may be broken down into the following simple tenets:

• If a man initiates a divorce, he has to pay half the dower to the woman, unless she forgoes it.
•  If a woman breaks the marriage from her side, she has to forgo her claim on half the dower that she would have received if the man divorced her.
•  A man, who gives a divorce, has the option to forgo the exempted ‘half' part, and give full contracted dower as a gesture of generosity (fadl).
•   Both the partners of a divorce should be generous to each other, and refrain from exploiting one another.

Maintenance for a divorced woman

The Qur’an declares:
“(There shall be) a reasonable maintenance for divorced women - a duty (haqq) binding on the heedful (muttaqin) (2:241). Thus does God clarify His messages to you, that you may use your reason” (2:242).

The Qur’anic injunction is in broad terms: it does not say whether a man is required to make a one off provision, or give a maintenance allowance to his divorced wife until she remarries. The Qur'an, however, asks the menfolk to use reason. Thus, if a man is required to make a provision, commensurate to his income, to a woman with whom he has only contracted marriage but not yet consummated it (2:236 above), he must be fair and considerate to the woman he is divorcing after living together as a husband and wife. He must therefore arrange spousal maintenance, commensurate to his income, and to the financial need, age, health and circumstances of his spouse. This obviously is a matter for the court to decide, depending upon the merit of the case, the prevalent social conditions and securities, and the relative financial positions of the partners in a divorce case.
The Qur’an forestalls any manipulative interpretation of its commandments
The Qur’anic dictates on divorce as discussed above date from two different periods of its revelation. The passage 2:226-242 dates from early Medinite period, while the passage 65:1-7 from mid Medinite period. The passages, separated chronologically by at least three to four years, complement each other with immaculate consistency and clarity in spelling out a husband’s obligations during a divorce. This Qur'anic repetition is understandably to help avoid (i) any misinterpretation by later generation scholars and (ii) any ambiguity on the subject.

Conclusion: The Qur’an deals with the process of divorce in a balanced and phased manner comprising a three month time frame, so that this most agonizing experience in a person’s life is faced in a balanced, phased and harmonious manner, and there is no bitterness and ill feelings between the erstwhile spouses. The institution of temporary marriage (muta) and triple divorce are in direct contradiction to the Qur’anic message and therefore stand haram. Some local customs such as Halala that allows a man to divorce his wife at the spur of the moment, such as in a state of anger or drunkenness and then force her into marriage and sexual intercourse with a friend and get him to divorce her to marry her back the next day or so totally disregarding the three month time for his divorce and that of his friend to take effect also stands utterly haram and sexually shameful sadistic. These practices that remain part of the Classical Islamic Law have defiled and demonized Islam, no matter how few Muslims practice it, and how the Muslims glorify their faith, and reduced Islam to a medieval misogynist cult in the eyes of a section of Western people as summed up By Newt Gringer the 2012 Presidential candidate from the Republicans in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in July 2010: “I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” It is time for the Islamic doctors of law to treat the Classical Islamic Law as a closed corpus - and draw a Modern Law of Islam based on its divine Sharia (the Qur’an) and not the Classical Islamic Law, which is not a word of God and contradicts the Qur’anic paradigms on many counts as detailed in a recent article:

Final Comment: Muslim Ulema in India are sticking to the personal law that their pre-Islamic ancestors established under the behest of Hanafi law. For the medieval era, when women were grievously oppressed in the non-Muslim word, these brazenly anti-Qur’anic laws held sway. With the liberation and empowerment of women and a quantum change in gender dynamics in the non-Muslim world – much in line with the Qur’anic message (I am not suggesting they copied it from the Qur’an for if that was so, why couldn’t the Ulema do it), it is time for the Muslim Ulema to reform their laws in line with the Qur’anic paradigms.
One wonders why a section of the Muslim Ulema in India pass Fatwas or stick to rulings that patently contradict the Qur’an, are highly misogynistic, grievously violate international human rights and so immensely preposterous (condoning incest, forcing Indian Government to pass a law to limit the maintenance of a woman after more than 30 years of wedlock.) that one finds it hard to make any candid comment lest it could be too unsavory. The least one may say about the practice of Halala is that a time may also come that a Maulvi from some obscure village of India may insist on watching and filming it as hard core evidence?? God save us from that day.
1.         Azaf A.A.Fyzee, Our lines of Mohammedan Law, Oxford University Press, Fifth Edition, 2005, p. 117.

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Quraan Videos

Here is a collection of videos on Quraan by Non-Muslims:

Flexibility of Quran for minds that are not fundamentally inflexible

Quraan Preserved

Personal note - I walked away from Quran and Islam for nearly 30 years, the translations of Quran I was reading did not appeal to me, they were not polished.

 About a dozen years ago,  I read a verse in Bhagvad Gita, "finding the truth is one's own responsibility." 
 I continue to study different religious texts and find that the truth has been revealed to every nation and every tribe. Indeed, that was the turning point in my life to find the truth on my own, and question my own views and what others have said about Quraan. 

Over the years of research, I  found out it was the work of translation, it was a hit and miss thing, most Muslims may not even be aware of the fallacy of Hilali Khan translation that I read.  Then checking several translations it dawned on me that two translations were political one by the  Kings who were Christians and another one by a Muslim who may have wanted to restore the Caliphate, both are historical and political and both versions have injected translations for Jews and Christians to hate Muslims and vice-versa. There is a whole industry built around it.

The culmination of my work came in the form of a Quraan Conference, and a presentation of Scriptural reading at the Parliament of World's religions. It is a very unique approach that is producing results and people are going thru the same process as I did.

Being a pluralist, I read Quraan in the light of creating a cohesive society where every one of the living being feels safe and secure when Justice is the core value of the society, to me Quraan is a pluralistic document. Like any other book, if you just think through while reading, you will enjoy this. I want to make sure you understand this, Quraan and Islam do not negate or denigrate other religions, which are all from God, but simply enhances the truth.  Thank God no one has messed with the Arabic version of Quraan, it is the translations they have played with and even Muhammad Asad's translation needs updating, as Dr. Lailah Bakhtiar has doen extensive research and has corrected the the translation of Q4:34 which was mistranslated by men for nearly 1000 years.

I hope you enjoy the following article, check out the verese, go to the following link and make sure the translator is Muhammad Asad, as there are 3 others in the link:

Mike Ghouse
Committed to build cohesive societies
# # #

The Qur’an was Never Edited and any Effort to Edit the Qur’an will be Self-Contradictory
A pedagogic, rationalist, secular, historic, critical study that can overrule in any ontological argument' secularist international debate and hold itself in the highest secular court of law and shut the mouths of the ignoramuses and the intellectuals skeptical of its integrity
By Muhammad Yunus,

Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009

There are suggestions to ‘edit out the lines (of the Qur’an) that were meant for a different time and are no longer applicable today.’ If this argument were correct, there would have been innumerable editions of the Qur’an down the fourteen centuries since its introduction. In every era and each region of Islam, the scholars would have spotted verses/ passages that were no relevance and dropped or modified them. But that is not the case. Here are the arguments:

1. The Infallibility of its text as a Divine Speech:
The opening statement of the Qur’an declares that beyond any scruple of doubt, it is a divine writ (2:2). Any suggestion to edit the Qur’an will contradict this very fundamental premise and raise the obvious question – what kind of a divine writ is the Qur’an that needs editing by humans.

The Qur’an also claims to be a book of wisdom (10:1, 31:2, 43:4, 44:4), that is made clear and distinct (12:1, 15:1, 16:64, 26:2, 27:1, 36:69, 43:2, 44:2), with all kinds of illustrations (17:89, 18:54, 30:58, 39:27) and explanations (7:52, 11:1, 41:3), sent as guidance and mercy for the believers in God (7:52, 16:64, 27:77) and doers of good (31:3), and as truth, guidance and message for all humanity (2:185, 10:108, 14:52).

It also claims to be the divine criteria of right and wrong (2:185, 25:1), the balance of justice for humanity (42:17, 57:25) and the verifier of a part of the previous Scripture that clarifies the differences between the Jews and the Christians (5:15, 5:48, 6:92, 27:76).

All these Qur’anic claims will ring hollow if a bench of jurists or a house of parliamentarians were to delete portions from it to adapt it with civilization realities of their era.

The Qur’an’s concern and seriousness to ensuring the integrity of its text is best reflected in the following early passage harshly threatening the Prophet with a fatal consequence, if he were to add anything into or alter the text of the Qur’an:

“If he (Muhammad) attributed to Us any false speech (69:44), We would seize him by the right hand (45), then We would sever his aorta (46) and none of you could prevent it (69:47).

Given that the Prophet’s followers held him in utmost veneration, the gravity of this warning, however symbolic it might have been, must have heightened their spiritual alertness to ensuring the integrity of the revealed passages as they memorized them. The passage also stood out, as it does to this very day, as a loud testimony to the divinity of the Qur’an. Had Muhammad authored it, he could never put in the passage, as no writer can ever claim to stick to a discourse, word for word; he is evolving over a long span of time, as was the case with the revelation.

2. The Qur’anic claim of preserving the integrity of its text.

As the Qur’anic revelation was underway (610-632), the pagans continued to put pressure on the Prophet to alter the wordings of the revelation (10:15, 11:113) such as by accommodating their deities. The Qur’an declares (6:34, 6:115, 15:9, 18:27, 41:42, 85:21/22)

“The Words of your Lord will be fulfilled truthfully and justly: none can change His Words, for He is All-Knowing and Aware” (6:115).

“Surely We have sent down this Reminder, and surely. We will protect (preserve) it” (15:9).
“Nay! This is a Glorious Qur'an (85:21). (Inscribed) in a Tablet (well) guarded (lauh al-mahfuz) (against corruption)” (85:22).

Whatever be the exact meaning of the expression lauh al-mahfuz, rendered as ‘Tablet (well) guarded’ that theologians hotly debated in early centuries of Islam, it denotes a divine commitment to preserve the Qur’an word for word as a cast on stone divine edict that cannot be altered by humans.

These Qur’anic pronouncements serve as irrefutable proof of the integrity of its text. Had there been any alteration of its text in course of the revelation, or any kind of tampering, the Prophet’s enemies as well as the general Arab public would not have embraced Islam during his lifetime as they would seen it contradicting its own claims. And even if, for the sake of argument, they did so under the prevalent historical setting, they would have definitely rejected the Qur’an immediately after the Prophet’s death. However, this did not happen. The Prophet’s immediate successors were as intense in their faith in the Qur’an as their predecessors during the Prophet’s lifetime. The veneration of the Qur’an among the second generation Muslims was so immense that the mere sight of its pages held up on lancer tips brought a raging battle between rival Muslim armies to an immediate halt [1]. Thus, from purely rationalist historical perspective, there can be no iota of doubt that the Qur’an was handed down to the Prophet’s successors and through them to the posterity in its original form.

3. Integrity of the preservation of Qur'an’s original manuscripts (suhuf).

As the diverse indigenous materials (palm leaves, camel hides, white stone, animal bones, hardened clay, wooden tablets etc,) that the Prophet’s scribes had employed to preserve the revelations were compiled into a single book form some 20 years after the Prophet’s death [2], doubts have been cast about deliberate or inadvertent corruption. But human memory, particularly in relation to a rhythmic composition such as the Qur’an, gets indelibly engraved in the brain. It can fade over time but unlike a written record, it cannot lend itself to a partial deletion or corruption without any detection by the memorizer. In the case of the Qur’an, the huffaz (the memorizers) must have been reciting the Qur’an regularly through those 20 years as any hafiz does this very day. Therefore, there is absolutely no likelihood for any of them to corrupt or forget any word or verse of the Qur’an without noticing a disruption in the rhythmic flow.

4. The dread of the Qur’an among its audience.

As the Qur’an was under revelation, it virtually cast a spell on its listeners. As it testifies, the Meccans kept away from it, deterred others from it and asked people to chat and make noise during its recitation, understandably, to foil its magical effect (41:26). They turned away from it in dread as if they were frightened donkeys fleeing a lion (74:49-51). The truth is all the Arabs that entered Islam in Mecca (610-622), where the Prophet was openly rejected and despised were won over by the compelling effect of the Qur’an. Its lyrical intonation from Muhammad’s mouth mesmerized the listener, overwhelmed and crushed his whole personality and compelled it into submission unawares. The Qur’an’s open challenges to match its literary grandeur or even to find a contradiction in it only heightened their awe and admiration of the Qur’an (for had Muhammad been its author or plagiarized it, he could never make these claims.

“If you (O people,) are in doubt concerning what We have revealed to Our Servant, then produce a chapter like it; and call on your witnesses besides God – if indeed you are truthful (2:23). But if you do not do (it) - and you can never do (it), then heed hellfire, whose fuel is human beings and stones - prepared for the disbelievers” (2:24).

“Don’t they ponder over the Qur’an? Had it been from (someone) other than God, they would have surely found in it much contradiction” (4:82).

“Praise be to God who has revealed to His devotee the Book, and did not put any distortion in it” (18:1).
Therefore the Arabs – both the Prophet’s followers and enemies waited in anxiety and apprehension lest a revelation may declare something terrible for them. In sum, the Arabs saw in the Qur’an unalterable commands of God – His threatening, promises, challenges and strategic guidance that served as the final word on all matters they faced including the killing of their next of kin in the battlefield. It is therefore inconceivable that a handful of Arabs will muster courage and conspire to alter its verses.

5. The Qur’an’s defense against any possible doctoring during the revelation (610-632) or the later years until compilation (632-652).

A historical document is doctored either to glorify its architects/ promoters or record the history in a biased manner or to show those on the opposite side in a negative light. Thus, if the Qur’an were doctored following of its enunciations must have gone through an editing process and either deleted or altered.

5.1 Projecting Muhammad as an ordinary human being

•           Muhammad was of humble descent (93:6-93:8).
•           He was a human being like others (18:110, 41:6).
•           He was not a prominent man in the two towns (Mecca and Medina) (43:31).
•           He was unable to harm or benefit himself (10:49) or harm and guide others (72:21).
•           He was not capable to show any miracles (6:37, 11:12, 13:7, 17:90-93, 21:5, 25:7/8, 29:50).
•           He was reproved for ignoring a blind man for his untimely intervention (80:1-10).
•           Muhammad deriding the poets despite their role as the transmitters of news in the absence of any other new media (26:221-226).
•           Muhammad making loud claims about the consistency of the revelation despite its fragmentary references to different themes (18:1, 39:23, 39:28).
•           Muhammad is found helpless in a cave with a companion whose name is not even mentioned (9:40). According to early reports, the other person was his father-in-law and foremost companion, Abu Bakr who later became the first Caliph of Islam.

5.2 Not crediting Muhammad for some of the greatest achievements of his mission or for being the greatest among the Prophets.

•           Reproving rather than glorify Muhammad for taking high value captives at Badr (8:67/68).
•           Placing Muhammad at a spiritual parity with other Prophets (2:136, 2:285, and 4:152).
•           Preventing Muhammad from putting any pressure on his followers to accompany him to the battlefield (at the planes of Uhud) (4:84). This declaration gave a good ground to a faction of his followers who were merely opportunists (known as the Hypocrites) to desert Muhammad on way to the battlefield near Medina where a powerful Meccan army had camped, ready to attack (3:167).
•           The verses 8:10, 3:126 clarifying that God’s promise of sending angels down to the battlefield at Badr (624) and Uhud (625) were merely to reassure them.

•           The verse 33:52 revoking a permission given to Muhammad barely a few years earlier to have any number of wives (33:50) as an exclusive privilege over other believers who were permitted to have up to four wives. Both the verses were revealed when Muhammad was in late 50’s, and the head of a rapidly growing community, but without a male survivor that was highly prized in his society. There can be no second example in the entire history of mankind of a man occupying the position of a king with unlimited power (as was the case with Muhammad) to take a vow of not contracting any further marriage at the zenith of his career at an age that must have promised him many more decades of life and many more issues including sons from further marriages.

•           The reference to the killing of some of the banu Qurayzah (not named as such in the Qur’an) and their expulsion from Medina. Had the Qur’an been doctored the reference to the killing of ‘some of them’ (the banu Qurayzah) must have been removed. The alleged massacre would have then remained unrecorded and spared Muhammad the blame of massacring his adversaries. Ibn Ishaq (d. 738) who lived more than a hundred years after his death (d. 632) put the number of execution at 800-900, which has been quoted by his successors - al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa‘d; but the authenticity of this number was challenged by other early scholars - some of them called Ibn Ishaq a devil, a liar [3].

•           Not crediting Muhammad with any military glory for the integration of Mecca and his march to Tabuk – a bordering outpost of the mighty Roman Empire (48:24, 48:26, 110:1-3).

5.3. Omission of the names of all of the Prophet’s close relatives and companions and of any reference to the traumatic moments of his mission.

The Qur’an does not bear the name or the role or contribution of any of the companions or blood relatives – martyred or living, of the Prophet. It also maintains complete equanimity over the most traumatic and saddest events of the Prophet’s life, notably the death of his wife for some 25 years, Khadija three out of his four daughters, his infant son, his protective uncle, and loss of close relatives in battlefields. Had the Qur’an been doctored the most sorrowful moments of his life must have occupied some place in it for history enhances the glory of its great figures by drawing powerful imageries of his sufferings. There is not a word on the anxiety and agony that must have occupied his mind on receiving the first revelation (96:1-5) as he meditated in a cave above Mecca (96:1-5) - except for an oblique reference in the opening word (mudaththir) of the 74th Sura, that connotes one who is lost in thoughts. 

There is no reference to the feelings of depression, elation, suspense and anxiety that failures and successes of his protracted mission must have caused him. A doctored Qur’an would have been far more embellished and personalized than the present impersonal and unemotional original version that described his refuge in a cave while fleeing Mecca in only one terse sentence (9:40):

“If you did not help him (Muhammad), (it does not matter), for God did indeed help him when the disbelievers drove him out, the second of two, when they (Muhammad and Abu Bakr) were in the cave, and he said to his companion (Abu Bakr): ‘Do not despair. Surely God is with us.’ Then God sent down His sakinah (tranquility) upon him, and strengthened him with forces invisible and made the word of disbelievers lowly, and the Word of God uppermost, and God is All-Mighty, All-Wise” (9:40).

5.4. Veneration of the Prophets Jesus and Virgin Mary.

Given the Qur’an’s projection of Muhammad as an ordinary human being as summarily captured under 5.1 above, and its omission of the name of any of his wives and companions (5.3 above), editing of the Qur’an would have straight away removed the verses that venerate the Prophets Jesus and Virgin Mary – one illustrative passage each rendered below:

"The angels said: "O Mary! God gives you the good news of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to God. He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous. She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?" He said: "Even so: God creates what He wills: When He has decreed a plan, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is! "And God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, And (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel, (with this message): "'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I bring the dead to life by God’s leave; and I declare to you what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if you did believe; '(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God, and obey me” (3:45-50).

“(Thus is) Mary mentioned in the Book: When she withdrew from her family to a place in the East, and secluded herself from them, We sent her Our Spirit, and h16-e appeared to her as a man in perfection. She said: ‘I seek refuge in the Benevolent against you, if you do heed (God)’. He said: ‘I am only an emissary from your Lord, and bring you (the news of) a sinless son’. She said: ‘How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, and I have not been wayward’? He said: ‘So be it’: Your Lord says, ‘that is easy for Me; and We shall appoint him as a Sign to humanity and a Mercy from Us.’ Thus is the matter decreed” (19:16-21).

Conclusion: As the foregoing tiers of arguments demonstrate, any editing of the Qur’an post the revelation would have inevitably:

i)          Compromised the acclaimed infallibility of its text as a Divine Speech (1 above), and led to massive exit from the faith of Islam as Muhammad’s companions and the common Arabs with their mastery in Arabic language would have seen Muhammad as a mere imposter, a charlatan.
ii)         Refuted its claim of textual integrity (2 above) with the same consequences as in i) above,
iii)        Created confusion among the huffaz (memorizers) and scribes who preserved the text in their breast and available writing materials (3 above) and created many versions of the Qur’an, and raised serious questions about its infallibility / divine character.
iv)        Terrified the whole Arab community and warned them of an imminent doom given the awe and dread the Qur’an inspired among them (4 above).
v)         Projected Muhammad as an astute politician, a military genius, a chivalrous warrior, an invincible conqueror, a liquidator of the Jews and the pagans, a merciless avenger, an admirer of the opposite sex, a seeker of worldly treasures, pleasure, glory and fame to set an ominously promising precedence for later dynastic rulers (5.1).
vi)        Credited Muhammad for the greatest achievements of his mission or for being the greatest among the Prophets (5.2above),
vii)       Included the names of the Prophet’s close relatives and companions in the Qur’an (5.2 above)
viii)      Punctuated the Qur’an with and references to the traumatic and most melancholy moments of his mission. (5.3)
ix)        Removed the passages venerating of the Prophets Jesus and Virgin Mary.
It is simply impossible to explain why none of these listed alterations occurred – that any cursory reader of the Qur’an can readily verify. It was probably this complete absence of self falsification of the Qur’an that led such illustrious scholars as Geoffrey Parrinder and John Burton to make the following observations:

“Concepts of prophesy, inspiration and revelation must be re-examined in view of the undoubted revelation of God in Muhammad and the Qur’an.” [4]

“The text which has come down to us in the form in which it was organized and approved by the Prophet ….What we have today in our hands, is the mushaf (manuscript) of Muhammad.” [5].

For the seekers of truth, the debate should end here. The Qur’an as we have in our hands is the exact copy of the mashaf (manuscript) that the Prophet approved and that during its advent (610-632) was simply impossible to edit, and once Uthman’s authenticated version was issued some 20 years after the Prophet’s death, any scope for any alteration / editing was closed for ever. Any possibility of tampering during those 20 years was ruled out by the fact that as a lyrically harmonious litany that was recited every day as the most sacred reading, any attempt at tampering would have been immediately spotted and quashed. Only those half baked in the knowledge regarding its collection and preservation can suspect of it being edited in that transitional period or suggest to editing it. The truth is any attempt at editing will falsify the Qur’an and open a floodgate of editing options and create thousands if not hundreds of its version throwing Islam into a sacramental morass from which there will be no coming out and the Word of God will be gone with the wind – and that cannot happen – for indeed the Qur’an is a Word of God. As for those who the Qur’an confuses, they should probe the verses that are clear and unambiguous (3:7) approach it with a pure heart (56:79), probe into its verses (38:29, 47:24), and seek the best meaning in it (39:18, 39:55).


1.         This happened during the encounter between the armies of Caliph Ali and his opponent, Mu‘awiyah, the rebel governor of Syria in the battle of Siffin (657). When Ali’s forces were on the point of victory, Mu‘awiyah’s commander played a ruse. He had his men fasten pages of the Qur’an on tips of spears and raise them up. The sight of the sacred pages brought the fighting to an immediate halt. Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 1937, 10th edition; London 1993, p. 180-181.

2.         Some of the Prophet’s foremost companions compiled their own manuscripts (masahif). Zayd bin Thabit, the foremost among the Prophet’s scribes collated all the original sheets (suhuf) within two to three years of the Prophet's death (632). These were retained originally by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (632-634), then by the second Caliph, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634-644), then by Hafsah bint ‘Umar, one of the Prophet’s widows, and finally authenticated by the special committee set up by the third Caliph, ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan (644-656). The personal manuscripts of the Prophet’s companions showed nominal differences in spelling, arrangement and numbering of chapters (Suras) and synonyms. Uthman's commission cross checked Hafsah's original sheets (suhuf) with each of these manuscripts as well as with the memorized litany, and arrived at a ‘singular' text, which had the concurrence of all the companions of the Prophet, and was declared authentic without doubt (mutawattir). Some of Uthman’s manuscripts are preserved. He made five copies and sent one copy each to Egypt, Syria and other dominions of Islam. Three of the copies have survived, and modern secular research has also established that except for dots and orthographic marks that were introduced later, they are identical to what we have today. Ahmad von Denffer, Ulum al-Qur’an, U.K. 1983/ Malaysia 1991, p. 163.

3.         To quote Rafique Zakaria:
“He (Ibn Ishaq) has been sufficiently meticulous in the collection of facts, but sometimes he does not distinguish between facts and fiction. That is why many of his contemporaries denounced him... Malik, one of the founders of four schools of Muslim theology, who was a contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, called him ‘a devil’. Hisham bin Umara, another prominent theologian of the time said, ‘the rascal lies.’ Imam Hanbal, one of the greatest jurists of Islam refused to rely on the traditions collected by him. There were many other learned men who held similar views about Ibn Ishaq’s works. The same is more or less true of his successors like al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa‘d…” - Muhammad and the Qur’an, London 1992, p. 12.

4.         Jesus in the Qur’an, One world Publications, U.S.A., 196, p.173.
5.         The Collection of the Qur’an, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1977, p.239’240.

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Is the Koran?

Publisher's note at the end of the article.

Researchers with a variety of academic and theological interests are proposing controversial theories about the Koran and Islamic history, and are striving to reinterpret Islam for the modern world. This is, as one scholar puts it, a "sensitive business"


IN 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of Sana'a, in Yemen, laborers working in a loft between the structure's inner and outer roofs stumbled across a remarkable gravesite, although they did not realize it at the time. Their ignorance was excusable: mosques do not normally house graves, and this site contained no tombstones, no human remains, no funereal jewelry. It contained nothing more, in fact, than an unappealing mash of old parchment and paper documents—damaged books and individual pages of Arabic text, fused together by centuries of rain and dampness, gnawed into over the years by rats and insects. Intent on completing the task at hand, the laborers gathered up the manuscripts, pressed them into some twenty potato sacks, and set them aside on the staircase of one of the mosque's minarets, where they were locked away—and where they would probably have been forgotten once again, were it not for Qadhi Isma'il al-Akwa', then the president of the Yemeni Antiquities Authority, who realized the potential importance of the find.

Studying the Koran

Al-Akwa' sought international assistance in examining and preserving the fragments, and in 1979 managed to interest a visiting German scholar, who in turn persuaded the German government to organize and fund a restoration project. Soon after the project began, it became clear that the hoard was a fabulous example of what is sometimes referred to as a "paper grave"—in this case the resting place for, among other things, tens of thousands of fragments from close to a thousand different parchment codices of the Koran, the Muslim holy scripture. In some pious Muslim circles it is held that worn-out or damaged copies of the Koran must be removed from circulation; hence the idea of a grave, which both preserves the sanctity of the texts being laid to rest and ensures that only complete and unblemished editions of the scripture will be read.
Some of the parchment pages in the Yemeni hoard seemed to date back to the seventh and eighth centuries A.D., or Islam's first two centuries—they were fragments, in other words, of perhaps the oldest Korans in existence. What's more, some of these fragments revealed small but intriguing aberrations from the standard Koranic text. Such aberrations, though not surprising to textual historians, are troublingly at odds with the orthodox Muslim belief that the Koran as it has reached us today is quite simply the perfect, timeless, and unchanging Word of God.
The mainly secular effort to reinterpret the Koran—in part based on textual evidence such as that provided by the Yemeni fragments—is disturbing and offensive to many Muslims, just as attempts to reinterpret the Bible and the life of Jesus are disturbing and offensive to many conservative Christians. Nevertheless, there are scholars, Muslims among them, who feel that such an effort, which amounts essentially to placing the Koran in history, will provide fuel for an Islamic revival of sorts—a reappropriation of tradition, a going forward by looking back. Thus far confined to scholarly argument, this sort of thinking can be nonetheless very powerful and—as the histories of the Renaissance and the Reformation demonstrate—can lead to major social change. The Koran, after all, is currently the world's most ideologically influential text.

Looking at the Fragments

THE first person to spend a significant amount of time examining the Yemeni fragments, in 1981, was Gerd-R. Puin, a specialist in Arabic calligraphy and Koranic paleography based at Saarland University, in Saarbrücken, Germany. Puin, who had been sent by the German government to organize and oversee the restoration project, recognized the antiquity of some of the parchment fragments, and his preliminary inspection also revealed unconventional verse orderings, minor textual variations, and rare styles of orthography and artistic embellishment. Enticing, too, were the sheets of the scripture written in the rare and early Hijazi Arabic script: pieces of the earliest Korans known to exist, they were also palimpsests—versions very clearly written over even earlier, washed-off versions. What the Yemeni Korans seemed to suggest, Puin began to feel, was anevolving text rather than simply the Word of God as revealed in its entirety to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century A.D.

Since the early 1980s more than 15,000 sheets of the Yemeni Korans have painstakingly been flattened, cleaned, treated, sorted, and assembled; they now sit ("preserved for another thousand years," Puin says) in Yemen's House of Manuscripts, awaiting detailed examination. That is something the Yemeni authorities have seemed reluctant to allow, however. "They want to keep this thing low-profile, as we do too, although for different reasons," Puin explains. "They don't want attention drawn to the fact that there are Germans and others working on the Korans. They don't want it made public that there is work being done at all, since the Muslim position is that everything that needs to be said about the Koran's history was said a thousand years ago."

To date just two scholars have been granted extensive access to the Yemeni fragments: Puin and his colleague H.-C. Graf von Bothmer, an Islamic-art historian also based at Saarland University. Puin and Von Bothmer have published only a few tantalizingly brief articles in scholarly publications on what they have discovered in the Yemeni fragments. They have been reluctant to publish partly because until recently they were more concerned with sorting and classifying the fragments than with systematically examining them, and partly because they felt that the Yemeni authorities, if they realized the possible implications of the discovery, might refuse them further access. Von Bothmer, however, in 1997 finished taking more than 35,000 microfilm pictures of the fragments, and has recently brought the pictures back to Germany. This means that soon Von Bothmer, Puin, and other scholars will finally have a chance to scrutinize the texts and to publish their findings freely—a prospect that thrills Puin. "So many Muslims have this belief that everything between the two covers of the Koran is just God's unaltered word," he says. "They like to quote the textual work that shows that the Bible has a history and did not fall straight out of the sky, but until now the Koran has been out of this discussion. The only way to break through this wall is to prove that the Koran has a history too. The Sana'a fragments will help us to do this."

Puin is not alone in his enthusiasm. "The impact of the Yemeni manuscripts is still to be felt," saysAndrew Rippin, a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary, who is at the forefront of Koranic studies today. "Their variant readings and verse orders are all very significant. Everybody agrees on that. These manuscripts say that the early history of the Koranic text is much more of an open question than many have suspected: the text was less stable, and therefore had less authority, than has always been claimed."

Copyediting God

BY the standards of contemporary biblical scholarship, most of the questions being posed by scholars like Puin and Rippin are rather modest; outside an Islamic context, proposing that the Koran has a history and suggesting that it can be interpreted metaphorically are not radical steps. But the Islamic context—and Muslim sensibilities—cannot be ignored. "To historicize the Koran would in effect delegitimize the whole historical experience of the Muslim community," says R. Stephen Humphreys, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The Koran is the charter for the community, the document that called it into existence. And ideally—though obviously not always in reality—Islamic history has been the effort to pursue and work out the commandments of the Koran in human life. If the Koran is a historical document, then the whole Islamic struggle of fourteen centuries is effectively meaningless."

The orthodox Muslim view of the Koran as self-evidently the Word of God, perfect and inimitable in message, language, style, and form, is strikingly similar to the fundamentalist Christian notion of the Bible's "inerrancy" and "verbal inspiration" that is still common in many places today. The notion was given classic expression only a little more than a century ago by the biblical scholar John William Burgon.
The Bible is none other than the voice of Him that sitteth upon the Throne! Every Book of it, every Chapter of it, every Verse of it, every word of it, every syllable of it ... every letter of it, is the direct utterance of the Most High!

Not all the Christians think this way about the Bible, however, and in fact, as the Encyclopaedia of Islam (1981) points out, "the closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Kur'an in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ." If Christ is the Word of God made flesh, the Koran is the Word of God made text, and questioning its sanctity or authority is thus considered an outright attack on Islam—as Salman Rushdie knows all too well.

Oldest Koran

The prospect of a Muslim backlash has not deterred the critical-historical study of the Koran, as the existence of the essays in The Origins of the Koran (1998) demonstrate. Even in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair the work continues: In 1996 the Koranic scholar Günter Lüling wrote in The Journal of Higher Criticism about "the wide extent to which both the text of the Koran and the learned Islamic account of Islamic origins have been distorted, a deformation unsuspectingly accepted by Western Islamicists until now." In 1994 the journal Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islampublished a posthumous study by Yehuda D. Nevo, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, detailing seventh- and eighth-century religious inscriptions on stones in the Negev Desert which, Nevo suggested, pose "considerable problems for the traditional Muslim account of the history of Islam." That same year, and in the same journal, Patricia Crone, a historian of early Islam currently based at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, New Jersey, published an article in which she argued that elucidating problematic passages in the Koranic text is likely to be made possible only by "abandoning the conventional account of how the Qur'an was born." And since 1991 James Bellamy, of the University of Michigan, has proposed in the Journal of the American Oriental Society a series of "emendations to the text of the Koran"—changes that from the orthodox Muslim perspective amount to copyediting God.

Crone is one of the most iconoclastic of these scholars. During the 1970s and 1980s she wrote and collaborated on several books—most notoriously, with Michael Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977)—that made radical arguments about the origins of Islam and the writing of Islamic history. Among Hagarism's controversial claims were suggestions that the text of the Koran came into being later than is now believed ("There is no hard evidence for the existence of the Koran in any form before the last decade of the seventh century"); that Mecca was not the initial Islamic sanctuary ("[the evidence] points unambiguously to a sanctuary in north-west Arabia ... Mecca was secondary"); that the Arab conquests preceded the institutionalization of Islam ("the Jewish messianic fantasy was enacted in the form of an Arab conquest of the Holy Land"); that the idea of the hijra, or the migration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622, may have evolved long after Muhammad died ("No seventh-century source identifies the Arab era as that of the hijra"); and that the term "Muslim" was not commonly used in early Islam ("There is no good reason to suppose that the bearers of this primitive identity called themselves 'Muslims' [but] sources do ... reveal an earlier designation of the community [which] appears in Greek as 'Magaritai' in a papyrus of 642, and in Syriac as 'Mahgre' or 'Mahgraye' from as early as the 640s").

Hagarism came under immediate attack, from Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike, for its heavy reliance on hostile sources. ("This is a book," the authors wrote, "based on what from any Muslim perspective must appear an inordinate regard for the testimony of infidel sources.") Crone and Cook have since backed away from some of its most radical propositions—such as, for example, that the Prophet Muhammad lived two years longer than the Muslim tradition claims he did, and that the historicity of his migration to Medina is questionable. But Crone has continued to challenge both Muslim and Western orthodox views of Islamic history. In Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam(1987) she made a detailed argument challenging the prevailing view among Western (and some Muslim) scholars that Islam arose in response to the Arabian spice trade.

Gerd-R. Puin's current thinking about the Koran's history partakes of this contemporary revisionism. "My idea is that the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad," he says. "Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants."

Patricia Crone defends the goals of this sort of thinking. "The Koran is a scripture with a history like any other—except that we don't know this history and tend to provoke howls of protest when we study it. Nobody would mind the howls if they came from Westerners, but Westerners feel deferential when the howls come from other people: who are you to tamper with their legacy? But we Islamicists are not trying to destroy anyone's faith."

Not everyone agrees with that assessment—especially since Western Koranic scholarship has traditionally taken place in the context of an openly declared hostility between Christianity and Islam. (Indeed, the broad movement in the West over the past two centuries to "explain" the East, often referred to as Orientalism, has in recent years come under fire for exhibiting similar religious and cultural biases.) The Koran has seemed, for Christian and Jewish scholars particularly, to possess an aura of heresy; the nineteenth-century Orientalist William Muir, for example, contended that the Koran was one of "the most stubborn enemies of Civilisation, Liberty, and the Truth which the world has yet known." Early Soviet scholars, too, undertook an ideologically motivated study of Islam's origins, with almost missionary zeal: in the 1920s and in 1930 a Soviet publication titledAteist ran a series of articles explaining the rise of Islam in Marxist-Leninist terms. In Islam and Russia (1956), Ann K.S. Lambton summarized much of this work, and wrote that several Soviet scholars had theorized that "the motive force of the nascent religion was supplied by the mercantile bourgeoisie of Mecca and Medina"; that a certain S.P. Tolstov had held that "Islam was a social-religious movement originating in the slave-owning, not feudal, form of Arab society"; and that N.A. Morozov had argued that "until the Crusades Islam was indistinguishable from Judaism and ... only then did it receive its independent character, while Muhammad and the first Caliphs are mythical figures. "Morozov appears to have been a particularly flamboyant theorist: Lambton wrote that he also argued, in his book Christ (1930), that "in the Middle Ages Islam was merely an off-shoot of Arianism evoked by a meteorological event in the Red Sea area near Mecca."

Not surprisingly, then, given the biases of much non-Islamic critical study of the Koran, Muslims are inclined to dismiss it outright. A particularly eloquent protest came in 1987, in the Muslim World Book Review, in a paper titled "Method Against Truth: Orientalism and Qur'anic Studies," by the Muslim critic S. Parvez Manzoor. Placing the origins of Western Koranic scholarship in "the polemical marshes of medieval Christianity" and describing its contemporary state as a "cul-de-sac of its own making," Manzoor orchestrated a complex and layered assault on the entire Western approach to Islam. He opened his essay in a rage.
The Orientalist enterprise of Qur'anic studies, whatever its other merits and services, was a project born of spite, bred in frustration and nourished by vengeance: the spite of the powerful for the powerless, the frustration of the "rational" towards the "superstitious" and the vengeance of the "orthodox" against the "non-conformist." At the greatest hour of his worldly-triumph, the Western man, coordinating the powers of the State, Church and Academia, launched his most determined assault on the citadel of Muslim faith. All the aberrant streaks of his arrogant personality—its reckless rationalism, its world-domineering phantasy and its sectarian fanaticism—joined in an unholy conspiracy to dislodge the Muslim Scripture from its firmly entrenched position as the epitome of historic authenticity and moral unassailability. The ultimate trophy that the Western man sought by his dare-devil venture was the Muslim mind itself. In order to rid the West forever of the "problem" of Islam, he reasoned, Muslim consciousness must be made to despair of the cognitive certainty of the Divine message revealed to the Prophet. Only a Muslim confounded of the historical authenticity or doctrinal autonomy of the Qur'anic revelation would abdicate his universal mission and hence pose no challenge to the global domination of the West. Such, at least, seems to have been the tacit, if not the explicit, rationale of the Orientalist assault on the Qur'an.

Despite such resistance, Western researchers with a variety of academic and theological interests press on, applying modern techniques of textual and historical criticism to the study of the Koran. That a substantial body of this scholarship now exists is indicated by the recent decision of the European firm Brill Publishers—a long-established publisher of such major works as The Encyclopaedia of Islam and The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition—to commission the first-everEncyclopaedia of the Qur'an. Jane McAuliffe, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Toronto, and the general editor of the encyclopedia, hopes that it will function as a "rough analogue" to biblical encyclopedias and will be "a turn-of-the-millennium summative work for the state of Koranic scholarship." Articles for the first part of the encyclopedia are currently being edited and prepared for publication later this year.
The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an will be a truly collaborative enterprise, carried out by Muslims and non-Muslims, and its articles will present multiple approaches to the interpretation of the Koran, some of which are likely to challenge traditional Islamic views—thus disturbing many in the Islamic world, where the time is decidedly less ripe for a revisionist study of the Koran. The plight of Nasr Abu Zaid, an unassuming Egyptian professor of Arabic who sits on the encyclopedia's advisory board, illustrates the difficulties facing Muslim scholars trying to reinterpret their tradition.

What Is the Koran?

THE Koran is a text, a literary text, and the only way to understand, explain, and analyze it is through a literary approach," Abu Zaid says. "This is an essential theological issue." For expressing views like this in print—in essence, for challenging the idea that the Koran must be read literally as the absolute and unchanging Word of God—Abu Zaid was in 1995 officially branded an apostate, a ruling that in 1996 was upheld by Egypt's highest court. The court then proceeded, on the grounds of an Islamic law forbidding the marriage of an apostate to a Muslim, to order Abu Zaid to divorce his wife, Ibtihal Yunis (a ruling that the shocked and happily married Yunis described at the time as coming "like a blow to the head with a brick").
Abu Zaid steadfastly maintains that he is a pious Muslim, but contends that the Koran's manifest content—for example, the often archaic laws about the treatment of women for which Islam is infamous—is much less important than its complex, regenerative, and spiritually nourishing latent content. The orthodox Islamic view, Abu Zaid claims, is stultifying; it reduces a divine, eternal, and dynamic text to a fixed human interpretation with no more life and meaning than "a trinket ... a talisman ... or an ornament."

Old Koran

For a while Abu Zaid remained in Egypt and sought to refute the charges of apostasy, but in the face of death threats and relentless public harassment he fled with his wife from Cairo to Holland, calling the whole affair "a macabre farce." Sheikh Youssef al-Badri, the cleric whose preachings inspired much of the opposition to Abu Zaid, was exultant. "We are not terrorists; we have not used bullets or machine guns, but we have stopped an enemy of Islam from poking fun at our religion.... No one will even dare to think about harming Islam again."
Abu Zaid seems to have been justified in fearing for his life and fleeing: in 1992 the Egyptian journalist Farag Foda was assassinated by Islamists for his critical writings about Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and in 1994 the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed for writing, among other works, the allegorical Children of Gabalawi (1959)—a novel, structured like the Koran, that presents "heretical" conceptions of God and the Prophet Muhammad.
Deviating from the orthodox interpretation of the Koran, says the Algerian Mohammed Arkoun, a professor emeritus of Islamic thought at the University of Paris, is "a very sensitive business" with major implications. "Millions and millions of people refer to the Koran daily to explain their actions and to justify their aspirations," Arkoun says. "This scale of reference is much larger than it has ever been before."

Muhammad in the Cave

MECCA sits in a barren hollow between two ranges of steep hills in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia. To its immediate west lies the flat and sweltering Red Sea coast; to the east stretches the great Rub' al-Khali, or Empty Quarter—the largest continuous body of sand on the planet. The town's setting is uninviting: the earth is dry and dusty, and smolders under a relentless sun; the whole region is scoured by hot, throbbing desert winds. Although sometimes rain does not fall for years, when it does come it can be heavy, creating torrents of water that rush out of the hills and flood the basin in which the city lies. As a backdrop for divine revelation, the area is every bit as fitting as the mountains of Sinai or the wilderness of Judea.
The only real source of historical information about pre-Islamic Mecca and the circumstances of the Koran's revelation is the classical Islamic story about the religion's founding, a distillation of which follows.
In the centuries leading up to the arrival of Islam, Mecca was a local pagan sanctuary of considerable antiquity. Religious rituals revolved around the Ka'ba—a shrine, still central in Islam today, that Muslims believe was originally built by Ibrahim (known to Christians and Jews as Abraham) and his son Isma'il (Ishmael). As Mecca became increasingly prosperous in the sixth century A.D., pagan idols of varying sizes and shapes proliferated. The traditional story has it that by the early seventh century a pantheon of some 360 statues and icons surrounded the Ka'ba (inside which were found renderings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, among other idols).
Such was the background against which the first installments of the Koran are said to have been revealed, in 610, to an affluent but disaffected merchant named Muhammad bin Abdullah. Muhammad had developed the habit of periodically withdrawing from Mecca's pagan squalor to a nearby mountain cave, where he would reflect in solitude. During one of these retreats he was visited by the Angel Gabriel—the very same angel who had announced the coming of Jesus to the Virgin Mary in Nazareth some 600 years earlier. Opening with the command "Recite!," Gabriel made it known to Muhammad that he was to serve as the Messenger of God. Subsequently, until his death, the supposedly illiterate Muhammad received through Gabriel divine revelations in Arabic that were known as qur'an ("recitation") and that announced, initially in a highly poetic and rhetorical style, a new and uncompromising brand of monotheism known as Islam, or "submission" (to God's will). Muhammad reported these revelations verbatim to sympathetic family members and friends, who either memorized them or wrote them down.
Powerful Meccans soon began to persecute Muhammad and his small band of devoted followers, whose new faith rejected the pagan core of Meccan cultural and economic life, and as a result in 622 the group migrated some 200 miles north, to the town of Yathrib, which subsequently became known as Medina (short for Medinat al-Nabi, or City of the Prophet). (This migration, known in Islam as the hijra, is considered to mark the birth of an independent Islamic community, and 622 is thus the first year of the Islamic calendar.) In Medina, Muhammad continued to receive divine revelations, of an increasingly pragmatic and prosaic nature, and by 630 he had developed enough support in the Medinan community to attack and conquer Mecca. He spent the last two years of his life proselytizing, consolidating political power, and continuing to receive revelations.
The Islamic tradition has it that when Muhammad died, in 632, the Koranic revelations had not been gathered into a single book; they were recorded only "on palm leaves and flat stones and in the hearts of men." (This is not surprising: the oral tradition was strong and well established, and the Arabic script, which was written without the vowel markings and consonantal dots used today, served mainly as an aid to memorization.) Nor was the establishment of such a text of primary concern: the Medinan Arabs—an unlikely coalition of ex-merchants, desert nomads, and agriculturalists united in a potent new faith and inspired by the life and sayings of Prophet Muhammad—were at the time pursuing a fantastically successful series of international conquestsin the name of Islam. By the 640s the Arabs possessed most of Syria, Iraq, Persia, and Egypt, and thirty years later they were busy taking over parts of Europe, North Africa, and Central Asia.
In the early decades of the Arab conquests many members of Muhammad's coterie were killed, and with them died valuable knowledge of the Koranic revelations. Muslims at the edges of the empire began arguing over what was Koranic scripture and what was not. An army general returning from Azerbaijan expressed his fears about sectarian controversy to the Caliph 'Uthman (644-656)—the third Islamic ruler to succeed Muhammad—and is said to have entreated him to "overtake this people before they differ over the Koran the way the Jews and Christians differ over their Scripture." 'Uthman convened an editorial committee of sorts that carefully gathered the various pieces of scripture that had been memorized or written down by Muhammad's companions. The result was a standard written version of the Koran. 'Uthman ordered all incomplete and "imperfect" collections of the Koranic scripture destroyed, and the new version was quickly distributed to the major centers of the rapidly burgeoning empire.
During the next few centuries, while Islam solidified as a religious and political entity, a vast body of exegetical and historical literature evolved to explain the Koran and the rise of Islam, the most important elements of which are hadith, or the collected sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad; sunna, or the body of Islamic social and legal custom; sira, or biographies of the Prophet; and tafsir, or Koranic commentary and explication. It is from these traditional sources—compiled in written form mostly from the mid eighth to the mid tenth century—that all accounts of the revelation of the Koran and the early years of Islam are ultimately derived.
"For People Who Understand"
Persian Koran
Roughly equivalent in length to the New Testament, the Koran is divided into 114 sections, known as suras, that vary dramatically in length and form. The book's organizing principle is neither chronological nor thematic—for the most part the suras are arranged from beginning to end in descending order of length. Despite the unusual structure, however, what generally surprises newcomers to the Koran is the degree to which it draws on the same beliefs and stories that appear in the Bible. God (Allah in Arabic) rules supreme: he is the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-merciful Being who has created the world and its creatures; he sends messages and laws through prophets to help guide human existence; and, at a time in the future known only to him, he will bring about the end of the world and the Day of Judgment. Adam, the first man, is expelled from Paradise for eating from the forbidden tree. Noah builds an ark to save a select few from a flood brought on by the wrath of God. Abraham prepares himself to sacrifice his son at God's bidding. Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and receives a revelation on Mount Sinai. Jesus—born of the Virgin Mary and referred to as the Messiah—works miracles, has disciples, and rises to heaven.
The Koran takes great care to stress this common monotheistic heritage, but it works equally hard to distinguish Islam from Judaism and Christianity. For example, it mentions prophets—Hud, Salih, Shu'ayb, Luqman, and others—whose origins seem exclusively Arabian, and it reminds readers that it is "A Koran in Arabic, / For people who understand." Despite its repeated assertions to the contrary, however, the Koran is often extremely difficult for contemporary readers—even highly educated speakers of Arabic—to understand. It sometimes makes dramatic shifts in style, voice, and subject matter from verse to verse, and it assumes a familiarity with language, stories, and events that seem to have been lost even to the earliest of Muslim exegetes (typical of a text that initially evolved in an oral tradition). Its apparent inconsistencies are easy to find: God may be referred to in the first and third person in the same sentence; divergent versions of the same story are repeated at different points in the text; divine rulings occasionally contradict one another. In this last case the Koran anticipates criticism and defends itself by asserting the right to abrogate its own message ("God doth blot out / Or confirm what He pleaseth").

Criticism did come. As Muslims increasingly came into contact with Christians during the eighth century, the wars of conquest were accompanied by theological polemics, in which Christians and others latched on to the confusing literary state of the Koran as proof of its human origins. Muslim scholars themselves were fastidiously cataloguing the problematic aspects of the Koran—unfamiliar vocabulary, seeming omissions of text, grammatical incongruities, deviant readings, and so on. A major theological debate in fact arose within Islam in the late eighth century, pitting those who believed in the Koran as the "uncreated" and eternal Word of God against those who believed in it as created in time, like anything that isn't God himself. Under the Caliph al-Ma'mun (813-833) this latter view briefly became orthodox doctrine. It was supported by several schools of thought, including an influential one known as Mu'tazilism, that developed a complex theology based partly on a metaphorical rather than simply literal understanding of the Koran.
By the end of the tenth century the influence of the Mu'tazili school had waned, for complicated political reasons, and the official doctrine had become that of i'jaz, or the "inimitability" of the Koran. (As a result, the Koran has traditionally not been translated by Muslims for non-Arabic-speaking Muslims. Instead it is read and recited in the original by Muslims worldwide, the majority of whom do not speak Arabic. The translations that do exist are considered to be nothing more than scriptural aids and paraphrases.) The adoption of the doctrine of inimitability was a major turning point in Islamic history, and from the tenth century to this day the mainstream Muslim understanding of the Koran as the literal and uncreated Word of God has remained constant.
Psychopathic Vandalism?

GERD-R. Puin speaks with disdain about the traditional willingness, on the part of Muslim and Western scholars, to accept the conventional understanding of the Koran. "The Koran claims for itself that it is 'mubeen,' or 'clear,'" he says. "But if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn't make sense. Many Muslims—and Orientalists—will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible—if it can't even be understood in Arabic—then it's not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not—as even speakers of Arabic will tell you—there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on."
Trying to figure out that "something else" really began only in this century. "Until quite recently," Patricia Crone, the historian of early Islam, says, "everyone took it for granted that everything the Muslims claim to remember about the origin and meaning of the Koran is correct. If you drop that assumption, you have to start afresh." This is no mean feat, of course; the Koran has come down to us tightly swathed in a historical tradition that is extremely resistant to criticism and analysis. As Crone put it in Slaves on Horses,
The Biblical redactors offer us sections of the Israelite tradition at different stages of crystallization, and their testimonies can accordingly be profitably compared and weighed against each other. But the Muslim tradition was the outcome, not of a slow crystallization, but of an explosion; the first compilers were not redactors, but collectors of debris whose works are strikingly devoid of overall unity; and no particular illuminations ensue from their comparison.
Not surprisingly, given the explosive expansion of early Islam and the passage of time between the religion's birth and the first systematic documenting of its history, Muhammad's world and the worlds of the historians who subsequently wrote about him were dramatically different. During Islam's first century alone a provincial band of pagan desert tribesmen became the guardians of a vast international empire of institutional monotheism that teemed with unprecedented literary and scientific activity. Many contemporary historians argue that one cannot expect Islam's stories about its own origins—particularly given the oral tradition of the early centuries—to have survived this tremendous social transformation intact. Nor can one expect a Muslim historian writing in ninth- or tenth-century Iraq to have discarded his social and intellectual background (and theological convictions) in order accurately to describe a deeply unfamiliar seventh-century Arabian context. R. Stephen Humphreys, writing in Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry(1988), concisely summed up the issue that historians confront in studying early Islam.
If our goal is to comprehend the way in which Muslims of the late 2nd/8th and 3rd/9th centuries [Islamic calendar / Christian calendar] understood the origins of their society, then we are very well off indeed. But if our aim is to find out "what really happened," in terms of reliably documented answers to modern questions about the earliest decades of Islamic society, then we are in trouble.
The person who more than anyone else has shaken up Koranic studies in the past few decades is John Wansbrough, formerly of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. Puin is "re-reading him now" as he prepares to analyze the Yemeni fragments. Patricia Crone says that she and Michael Cook "did not say much about the Koran in Hagarism that was not based on Wansbrough." Other scholars are less admiring, referring to Wansbrough's work as "drastically wrongheaded," "ferociously opaque," and a "colossal self-deception." But like it or not, anybody engaged in the critical study of the Koran today must contend with Wansbrough's two main works—Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (1977) and The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History (1978).

Wansbrough applied an entire arsenal of what he called the "instruments and techniques" of biblical criticism—form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism, and much more—to the Koranic text. He concluded that the Koran evolved only gradually in the seventh and eighth centuries, during a long period of oral transmission when Jewish and Christian sects were arguing volubly with one another well to the north of Mecca and Medina, in what are now parts of Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq. The reason that no Islamic source material from the first century or so of Islam has survived, Wansbrough concluded, is that it never existed.

To Wansbrough, the Islamic tradition is an example of what is known to biblical scholars as a "salvation history": a theologically and evangelically motivated story of a religion's origins invented late in the day and projected back in time. In other words, as Wansbrough put it in Quranic Studies,the canonization of the Koran—and the Islamic traditions that arose to explain it—involved the
attribution of several, partially overlapping, collections of logia (exhibiting a distinctly Mosaic imprint) to the image of a Biblical prophet (modified by the material of the Muhammadanevangelium into an Arabian man of God) with a traditional message of salvation (modified by the influence of Rabbinic Judaism into the unmediated and finally immutable word of God).
Wansbrough's arcane theories have been contagious in certain scholarly circles, but many Muslims understandably have found them deeply offensive. S. Parvez Manzoor, for example, has described the Koranic studies of Wansbrough and others as "a naked discourse of power" and "an outburst of psychopathic vandalism." But not even Manzoor argues for a retreat from the critical enterprise of Koranic studies; instead he urges Muslims to defeat the Western revisionists on the "epistemological battlefield," admitting that "sooner or later [we Muslims] will have to approach the Koran from methodological assumptions and parameters that are radically at odds with the ones consecrated by our tradition."

Revisionism Inside the Islamic World

INDEED, for more than a century there have been public figures in the Islamic world who have attempted the revisionist study of the Koran and Islamic history—the exiled Egyptian professor Nasr Abu Zaid is not unique. Perhaps Abu Zaid's most famous predecessor was the prominent Egyptian government minister, university professor, and writer Taha Hussein. A determined modernist, Hussein in the early 1920s devoted himself to the study of pre-Islamic Arabian poetry and ended up concluding that much of that body of work had been fabricated well after the establishment of Islam in order to lend outside support to Koranic mythology. A more recent example is the Iranian journalist and diplomat Ali Dashti, who in his Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammed (1985) repeatedly took his fellow Muslims to task for not questioning the traditional accounts of Muhammad's life, much of which he called "myth-making and miracle-mongering."

Abu Zaid also cites the enormously influential Muhammad 'Abduh as a precursor. The nineteenth-century father of Egyptian modernism, 'Abduh saw the potential for a new Islamic theology in the theories of the ninth-century Mu'tazilis. The ideas of the Mu'tazilis gained popularity in some Muslim circles early in this century (leading the important Egyptian writer and intellectual Ahmad Amin to remark in 1936 that "the demise of Mu'tazilism was the greatest misfortune to have afflicted Muslims; they have committed a crime against themselves"). The late Pakistani scholar Fazlur Rahman carried the Mu'tazilite torch well into the present era; he spent the later years of his life, from the 1960s until his death in 1988, living and teaching in the United States, where he trained many students of Islam—both Muslims and non-Muslims—in the Mu'tazilite tradition.

Such work has not come without cost, however: Taha Hussein, like Nasr Abu Zaid, was declared an apostate in Egypt; Ali Dashti died mysteriously just after the 1979 Iranian revolution; and Fazlur Rahman was forced to leave Pakistan in the 1960s. Muslims interested in challenging orthodox doctrine must tread carefully. "I would like to get the Koran out of this prison," Abu Zaid has said of the prevailing Islamic hostility to reinterpreting the Koran for the modern age, "so that once more it becomes productive for the essence of our culture and the arts, which are being strangled in our society." Despite his many enemies in Egypt, Abu Zaid may well be making progress toward this goal: there are indications that his work is being widely, if quietly, read with interest in the Arab world. Abu Zaid says, for example, that his The Concept of the Text (1990)—the book largely responsible for his exile from Egypt—has gone through at least eight underground printings in Cairo and Beirut.

Another scholar with a wide readership who is committed to re-examining the Koran is Mohammed Arkoun, the Algerian professor at the University of Paris. Arkoun argued in Lectures du Coran(1982), for example, that "it is time [for Islam] to assume, along with all of the great cultural traditions, the modern risks of scientific knowledge," and suggested that "the problem of the divine authenticity of the Koran can serve to reactivate Islamic thought and engage it in the major debates of our age." Arkoun regrets the fact that most Muslims are unaware that a different conception of the Koran exists within their own historical tradition. What a re-examination of Islamic history offers Muslims, Arkoun and others argue, is an opportunity to challenge the Muslim orthodoxy from within, rather than having to rely on "hostile" outside sources. Arkoun, Abu Zaid, and others hope that this challenge might ultimately lead to nothing less than an Islamic renaissance.

THE gulf between such academic theories and the daily practice of Islam around the world is huge, of course—the majority of Muslims today are unlikely to question the orthodox understanding of the Koran and Islamic history. Yet Islam became one of the world's great religions in part because of its openness to social change and new ideas. (Centuries ago, when Europe was mired in its feudal Dark Ages, the sages of a flourishing Islamic civilization opened an era of great scientific and philosophical discovery. The ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans might never have been introduced to Europe were it not for the Islamic historians and philosophers who rediscovered and revived them.) Islam's own history shows that the prevailing conception of the Koran is not the only one ever to have existed, and the recent history of biblical scholarship shows that not all critical-historical studies of a holy scripture are antagonistic. They can instead be carried out with the aim of spiritual and cultural regeneration. They can, as Mohammed Arkoun puts it, demystify the text while reaffirming "the relevance of its larger intuitions."
Increasingly diverse interpretations of the Koran and Islamic history will inevitably be proposed in the coming decades, as traditional cultural distinctions between East, West, North, and South continue to dissolve, as the population of the Muslim world continues to grow, as early historical sources continue to be scrutinized, and as feminism meets the Koran. With the diversity of interpretations will surely come increased fractiousness, perhaps intensified by the fact that Islam now exists in such a great variety of social and intellectual settings—Bosnia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United States, and so on. More than ever before, anybody wishing to understand global affairs will need to understand Islamic civilization, in all its permutations. Surely the best way to start is with the study of the Koran—which promises in the years ahead to be at least as contentious, fascinating, and important as the study of the Bible has been in this century.

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Note: You have a choice to read the critical evaluation of Quraan, if you don't feel the need to read, please don't.  I believe finding the truth is one's own responsibility. As a Muslim who walked away from Islam and then came back to it after 30 years, I have full faith in Quraan being the right guidance to its followers.  You may consider visiting about the conference we held in Dallas in 2010. No one is denigrating or decimating Islam, it is all in the minds of the frightened ones. Studying Quraan critically is the right thing to do for the wisdom of the words in creating cohesive societies.

 Mike Ghouse