I’m starting a new experimental video series wherein I’ll read a few chapters of the Qur’an and post my impressions of that here. Then I’ll get on a Google Hangout with some ex-Muslim apostates or preferably practicing Muslims and maybe others who are familiar with the Hadiths and the way that these scriptures are understood in Islam. I’ll invite them to read one of these blog posts and then discuss whichever one on video with me directly.
I want to do that because I know that if I was raised somewhere that Christianity is considered foreign and unfamiliar that I could read the Bible and never get the impression that the serpent was supposed to be Satan nor that Jesus is believed to be an avatar of himself as his own father. Reading what the Bible actually says, I certainly wouldn’t interpret any prophesies being fulfilled therein either. That’s all in the culturally-imposed traditional interpretation, reading the scriptures “in the spirit”; meaning to read between the lines and sometimes ignore the lines.
When I read the Bhagavad Gita, some Hindus reacted to my critique of it, complaining that I didn’t understand the divine purpose of the Caste system. So I would guess the same thing probably applies to the Qur’an, that it might be assumed to mean things that it doesn’t actually say, or that it wouldn’t make sense to someone coming from my perspective. I don’t want to straw-man anyone’s position. So I would rather have someone who understands these scriptures better than I ever could on my own to explain to me whether I got it right or where I got it wrong. There’s no value in my critique if I don’t do it correctly.
Of course I don’t expect to convert to Islam. Somehow my family thought that even if I’ve already proven the Bible wrong, maybe reading the Book of Mormon (which is based on that failed foundation) might still bring me back into the fold. But let’s be realistic. If we already know that faith is entirely auto-deceptive and that nothing supernatural is even possibly real, then which is the right religion? There obviously isn’t one, nor could be.
Someone recently suggested that I read Quran: A Reformist Translation by Edip Yuksel [et al]. But I just couldn’t make sense of it. I’ve been told that the Qur’an is not written in chronological order. So rather than read the scriptural equivalent of Pulp Fiction, I went to a site that listed each chapter in order of “revelation” [whatever that means]. But the way that book is laid out, it’s hard to jump into the middle and find a specific chapter as they’re not clearly indicated in English. Plus it has so many author’s notes all throughout that it’s hard to just read the scriptures or find the pages I’m looking for.
When I went to Dubai three years ago, a friend there gave me a copy of “The Qur’an, a New Translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem”. (Thanks, Ali.) That book is more straight-forward, much easier to navigate and make sense of without all that author’s commentary. I can look up the chronological order of the chapters on the website in Arabic, then find them in the book translated into English next to the Arabic, and go to the page indicated in a much simpler format. So I’m reading that one by necessity, though there is quite a lot of useful information in the other one that I’ll still reference for comparison.
The first time I tried to read the Qur’an, I started at the beginning, and I wrote a blog post about chapters one and two, Al-Fatiha “The Opening” and Al-Baqara “The Cow”. That old post should become part of this series. So the first video discussion I have on this should be about the two chapters in that post plus the three chapters that I’ll talk about in this one.
According to Tanzil.net, the first chapter that was ever composed is actually Chapter 96, followed by Chapter 68, “except for [Verses] 17-33 and 48-50 from Medina”; then Chapter 73, “except for 10, 11, and 20, from Medina”. I gotta tell ya, just starting out, it’s already not looking good for the notion of the Qur’an being the divinely inspired word of the one true God, not if scholars already commonly recognize that it was cobbled together in pieces and assembled out of order.
Chapter 96, Al-Alaq (The Clinging Form)
A Meccan sura named after the term ‘alaq in verse 2. The ﬁrst ﬁve verses are known to be the ﬁrst revelation of the Qur’an when the Prophet was instructed to read. The second part came later to show that man transgresses when he becomes self-satisﬁed (as exempliﬁed by a speciﬁc individual, Abu Jahl).
In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
Remember that “the Lord of Mercy” is already a contradiction. This is the guy who created Hell and will send you there to be tortured mercilessly forever if you don’t appease his petty vindictive ego.
1Read! In the name of your Lord who created: 2He created manb from a clinging form.
The footnotes say ” ‘Alaq “clinging form” can also mean anything that clings: a clot of blood, a leech, even a lump of mud”. Here in the modern day, we’re supposed to interpret this as an embryo, but back then, whoever wrote the Qur’an thought that humans develop from a blood clot.
3Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One 4who taught by [means of] the pen, 5who taught man what he did not know. 6But man exceeds all bounds 7when he thinks he is self-suﬃcient:
Muhammad was illiterate when he first received the repeated instruction to “read”. If this is the very first chapter of the Qur’an, then none of it yet existed then either. So what was he expected to read?
8[Prophet], all will return to your Lord. 9Have you seen the man who forbids 10[Our] servant to pray? 11Have you seen whether he is rightly guided, 12or encourages true piety? 13Have you seen whether he denies the truth and turns away from it? 14Does he not realize that God sees all? 15No! If he does not stop, We shall drag him by his foreheadc–– 16his lying, sinful forehead. 17Let him summon his comrades; 18We shall summon the guards of Hell. 19No! Do not obey him [Prophet]: bow downd in worship and draw close.
That’s it. The paragraph above is the entire first chapter. Here we are told that unsupported speculation asserted as fact is regarded as truth and that anyone demanding that truth be verifiably accurate is a liar; that if someone demands accountability, they’ll be dragged through Hell by his “forelock”, the hair just above his forehead. Already we see the problem with this religion and indeed all religions. They get really upset whenever someone else doesn’t believe in their magic imaginary friend, and they threaten violence if you don’t respect their authoritah.
Chapter 68, Al-Qalam “The Pen”
In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
I think every chapter begins with this contradiction. I’m not going to include it anymore.
By the pen! By all they write!
The footnote for this says it “could refer to the angels and what they write down of people’s deeds or to the generic pen and what people write, thus swearing by the ability to write with which God endowed human beings”.
Where can I find one of the books angels wrote? Why didn’t they write this one? If God wrote this book, then we wouldn’t need footnotes trying to explain what this or that passage might or might not have been talking about. And in this case, we can’t even be sure what book it’s talking about, as this is only the second chapter.
2Your Lord’s grace does not make you [Prophet] a madman:
Here the footnote says “the accusation of madness …occurs countless times with reference to various prophets in the Quran”. Do tell. I wonder why.
3you will have a never-ending reward–– 4truly you have a strong character––5and soon you will see, as will they, 6which of you is aﬄicted with madness. 7Your Lord knows best who strays from His path and who is rightly guided.
This reminds me of when the Bible says that the wise become fools and only the fools are wise: seems a common theme in Abrahamic religion, where critical analysis is always prohibited under pain of death or worse.
8So do not yield to those who deny the truth––
The truth is what the facts are, what we can show to be true, not the indefensible impossibilities that believers merely assert to be true on faith in lieu of evidence. If you have no way to show that it’s true, then you can’t know if it’s true. So how can you honestly call it truth?
9they want you to compromise with them and then they will compromise with you––10do not yield to any contemptible swearer, 11to any backbiter, slander-monger, 12or hinderer of good, to anyone who is sinful, aggressive, 13coarse, and on top of all that, an imposter. [opponent of the Prophet]. 14Just because he has wealth and sons, 15when our revelations are recited to him, he says, ‘These are just ancient fables.’ 16We shall brand him on the snout!
These ARE just ancient fables! So I guess someone’s gonna brand me on the snout now? This must be divine wisdom from a merciful god of peace and love, right? I’d rather believe in a god that provided evidence and didn’t require faith. Only lies require faith.
Verses 17 to 30 are a very simple fable with a moral telling us to make-believe in God or you’ll be sorry. But at least it promotes some notion of charity for the poor. The Bible does that too, but Christians nowadays typically ignore that part, especially in America.
The next verses raise an interesting question:
35Should We treat those who submit to Us as We treat those who do evil? 36What is the matter with you? On what basis do you judge? 37Do you have a Scripture that tells you 38that you will be granted whatever you choose? 39Have you received from Us solemn oaths, binding to the Day of Resurrection, that you will get whatever you yourselves decide?
If you don’t have a scripture promising whatever you want after you die, can’t you just write one and say your version of god inspired you to do it? Maybe he did. How would you know? Then if they believe that, you can write another one allowing whatever you want in this life too, including more and younger wives. That’s what Joseph Smith did after he founded the Church of Latter Day Saints. I think that’s what Muhammad did too.
When I do the video on this chapter, I must remember to have someone explain to me what this “day of resurrection” is. Aren’t believers supposed to go to Heaven or Hell on the day they die? Do they really have to rot in the ground for centuries until this day of resurrection? And what condition would they “resurrect” in? I’m having flashbacks to Beetlejuice now.
I think religions were invented with the idea that everyone would just come back to life in this world, and that eventually they made up another imperceptible realm as an excuse for why thousands of years had passed without fulfilling their prophesies.
42On the Day when matters become dire, they will be invited to prostrate themselves but will be prevented from doing so, 43and their eyes will be downcast and they will be overwhelmed with shame: they were invited to prostrate themselves when they were safe [but refused].
No god worthy of worship would ever require such a show of petty subservient submission, which is what “Islam” reportedly means. Such a demand of obeisance denotes weakness in the face of a potential threat. How could we be a threat to God?
This passage continues talking about people being punished for rejecting revelation, but they’re rejecting someone else’s “revelation”, as well we all should. If there really was a god, we wouldn’t need prophets, as he could just as easily “reveal” himself to everyone at once at all times, and no one would ever be expected to prostrate themselves with our hands clasped like slaves to show that we’re not threatening. They only do that to show submission to the MEN running the religions. They’re the ones facing a potential threat of being exposed as frauds.
48Wait patiently [Prophet] for your Lord’s judgement: do not be like the man in the whale who called out in distress: 49if his Lord’s grace had not reached him, he would have been left, abandoned and blameworthy, on the barren shore, 50but his Lord chose him and made him one of the Righteous.
Note that this passage is actually telling someone not to pray! Not even when the situation is most desperate. That’s a pretty strange statement from any religion, but especially from one that famously requires everyone to pray in unison five times a day.
Chapter 73, Al-Muzzammil “Enfolded”
(other translations say, “enwrapped” or “the cloaked one”, “the One Wrapped in Garment”)
“1You [Prophet], enfolded in your cloak! 2Stay up throughout the night, all but a small part of it, 3half, or a little less, 4or a little more; recite the Qur’an slowly and distinctly:
Someone made a mistake in the placement of this chapter. My source says this is chronologically only the 3rd chapter to be written. But if it was, then at that time, the Qur’an consisted of only the previous two chapters we just talked about, and together they amount to only 800 words or so.
But you gotta love how God, or the angel Moroni, or Gabriel, or whoever it is talks in such vague and uncertain, even contradictory terms. “Stay up all night. Well not all of it; all but a small part of it. You know, half, or a little less, or a little more. I mean whatever Man”. This is what you get when Muhammad’s messenger is the angel Lebowsky, otherwise known as The Dude.
5We shall send a momentous message down to you. 6Night prayer makes a deeper impression and sharpens words––7you are kept busy for long periods of the day–– 8so celebrate the name of your Lord and devote yourself wholeheartedly to Him.
Again, I sense a common theme; not just with Abrahamic religions, but with all of them. Because this line reads so much like some Hindu scriptures:
“Of those who are endowed with firm faith of a special kind beyond material conceptions; fixing the minds on Me, always engaged exclusively worshiping Me. They are considered by me the most superior of all. ….Concentrate the mind upon Me, apply spiritual intelligence for Me; verily you will reside with Me after this existence without a doubt.” –Lord Krsna, The Path of Devotion, Bhagavad Gita; 12:2 & 8
Apparently, no matter who your imaginary friend is, you must obsess over them or they’ll vanish in evanescence, leaving only reality to contend with.
Continuing with the Qur’an:
9He is Lord of the east and west, there is no god but Him, so take Him as your Protector, 10patiently endure what they say, ignore them politely, 11and leave to Me those who deny the truth and live in luxury. Bear with them for a little while; 12We have fetters, a blazing ﬁre, 13food that chokes, and agonizing torment in store for them 14on the Day when the earth and the mountains will shake.
Here’s an interesting notion of Hell. Not only do you still have a physical body being physically tortured, but you have to eat and they’re feeding you poison. Why? Because you weren’t gullible enough to believe impossible absurdities for no good reason.
Notice also how every religion in their early stages seem to be charitable and renunciate, praising poverty and criticizing those with “wealth and sons”; until that religion gets big enough to demand all manner of material and political power tax-free.
“The mountains will become a heap of loose sand. 15We have sent a messenger to you [people] to be your witness, just as We sent a messenger to Pharaoh, 16but Pharaoh disobeyed the messenger and so We inﬂicted a heavy punishment on him.”
But I thought Pharaoh disobeyed because God hardened his heart? That’s the problem with being the only god there is: you end up playing games against yourself from both sides of the board.
“17So if you disbelieve, how can you guard yourselves against a Day that will turn children’s hair grey, 18a Day when the sky will be torn apart? God’s promise will certainly be fulﬁlled.”
Except that it’s not really God’s promise, and it will “certainly” NOT be fulfilled. These are the empty threats of wanna believers who cannot back up any of their own baseless and indefensible assertions. The only way to defend an irrational belief is with an irrational reaction, and that’s where we get all these threats about what’s gonna happen when God is as angry as the increasingly desperate believer is.
The last paragraph of this chapter tells the faithful to keep chanting the mantras of make-believe, just like it says in the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, except that it includes a pitch of prosperity gospel too.
“keep up the prayer, pay the prescribed alms, and make God a good loan. Whatever good you store up for yourselves will be improved and increased for you.”
I like the way the Church of the Subgenius puts it better: “Eternal salvation or triple your money back!”
Anyone reading the beliefs of an unfamiliar faith is likely to wonder “how could they believe such obvious insanity?” But of course that applies to the faith you were raised in too. Hindus reading Christian scriptures often get a laugh out of it, and Muslims wonder why Christians believe the Bible when it has been so obviously corrupted by human editors. But if you were raised with it, then you’re conditioned to it. It’s normalized and must be acceptable because you see it being commonly accepted, at least when it is read reverently and interpreted faithfully.
I have read the descriptions of ex-Muslims saying that the way they lost their faith was by reading the Qur’an in an unfamiliar way: that no matter how many times they read it in poetic Arabic verse, they somehow didn’t realize what it actually said until they read it in English, and they didn’t understand how absurd it was until they heard it paraphrased in prose.
Let the experiment begin.
I edited this post to include the video link here.