Sunday, August 15, 2010

Exceeding the Challenge of the Quran

The Quran is a compilation of many of the revelations of Allah To Muhammad during his life.  It has no particular order – the surahs are arranged in the order of the longest to the shortest.  It was not compiled in a chronological order.  This causes a problem for the scholar, since it’s self-contradictory, and by Islamic tradition, the later revelations supercede the earlier ones.  To the rational mind this begs the question of why the omnipotent Allah changed his mind and redacted what he wrote – a problem even more perplexing when you consider that Allah is supposed to have penned the Quran before he created the universe.  Much of the Quran derives from Judeo-Christian writings, including scripture, apocryphal stories, and the midrash.  It makes no distinction between, or even acknowledges the source materials.  The derivation lacks scholarship – it is more like a recital by someone who half remembers something he was taught but never understood.
The Quran was originally delivered in a rhythmic, poetic style unlike anything ever encountered in Arabic culture to that time.  It was delivered in a time when the Arabs were first experimenting with writing, and the Arab language had not been codified into a written language.  The Quran was intended to be memorized by the faithful.  The earliest written Qurans, commissioned during the Uthman caliphate, were written in a primitive Arabic form that lacked vowels and diacritical marks, rendering the text very difficult to decipher even for the native speaker.
Muhammad was quite proud of his creation, and though he specifically denied being able to perform a single miracle, Muslims claim that the Quran is a miracle.  This reminds me of some people I know who, after having read one book in their life, proclaim that book to be the greatest book ever written. 
More people in the west have been studying the Quran in the last decade, and it has consequently come under fire like never before in its history.  The Muslims response to criticism is that we do not understand it because it must be recited in the original Arabic to be appreciated.  This makes no sense at all.  Am I to believe that Allah is the Architect of the Universe, and that the Quran is the ultimate and final revelation by the deity who designed and created Everything, and he couldn’t get his point across in any way except one of the most complex and difficult languages to ever grace the planet?  Is Allah really that incompetent, that his words, his will cannot bear translation?
In the Quran, Allah commanded Muhammad to challenge all of creation to create a book of the stature of the Quran:
“Say: ‘If all mankind and the jinn would come together to produce the like of this Quran, they could not produce its like even though they exerted all and their strength in aiding one another.’” (Quran 17:88)
Next, Allah made the challenge ostensibly easier by asking those who denied its divine origin to imitate even ten chapters of the Quran:
“Or do they say that he has invented it? Say (to them), ‘Bring ten invented chapters like it, and call (for help) on whomever you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.” (Quran 11:13)
This final challenge was to produce even a single chapter to match what is in the Quran, whose shortest chapter, al-Kawthar, consists of only three verses:
“And if you all are in doubt about what I have revealed to My servant, bring a single chapter like it, and call your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful.” (Quran 2:23)
I’ll answer that challenge.  To start:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–
    A time to give birth and a time to die;
         A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
    A time to kill and a time to heal;
         A time to tear down and a time to build up.
    A time to weep and a time to laugh;
         A time to mourn and a time to dance.
    A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
         A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
    A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
         A time to keep and a time to throw away.
    A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
         A time to be silent and a time to speak.
    A time to love and a time to hate;
         A time for war and a time for peace.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
And then:
 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
 - 1 Corinthians 13
Muhammad was a deeply paranoid man, from all accounts.  He reflected the love his sycophantic followers bestowed on him, and condemned all others to hell-fire – a condemnation he frequently backed up through execution and assassination.  Muhammad’s love amounted to lust for material things – wealth and sex.  Indeed, by the account of St. Paul, Muhammad was a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal.  St. Paul also chides Muhammad 500 years in advance in this passage by pointing out that Judeo-Christianity was mature, had grown out of the harsh fire and brimstone early days of the Torah, yet Muhammad sought to take monotheism back 2000 years and recreate a barbaric time when whole populations were to be exterminated to make room for new Gods.
 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are  the  gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are  those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
-The Gospel of Matthew 5:1-19
There you have but three examples among the myriad that far exceed the Quran.  I challenge any Muslims scholar to demonstrate any place in the Quran which has such prose; inciteful, meaningful, philosophical.  The Bible is intended to make the reader think, to examine his own soul and seek to mold himself according to the tenets God lays down.  The Bible challenges us to be bigger than we are, to embrace God’s creation with love.  It does so in a simple, expressive prose, using imagery that’s easy to understand, and words that transcend language.  No matter what language these passages are translated to, their meaning remains clear, the poetry is in the tapestry of ideas that the words create, not in the rhythmic rhyme of a preschooler’s chant.
The Quranic challenge had been met and far surpassed long before Muhammad ever started hearing voices.  This is why the bible is a forbidden book in most Sharia compliant societies today, because the true Word of God puts the mindless, incoherent ramblings of Allah to shame.
My challenge to all Muslims is to put aside your prejudice, and examine the scripture God prepared for you long before Muhammad spoke, and decide for yourself which is the word of God.

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