Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Koran by the Krapper

I was at Barnes and Noble yesterday picking up some copies of Hamlet for my students, and it just happened to be the first day of their special sale where teachers get 25% off. There wasn't really much that I wanted, as I just bought a book of Norse Mythology a little while ago, and I've barely cracked through that. (Luckily, it has a bunch of short stories, so I can read it in bits and pieces.) Still, I managed to find a copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - a story that I teach every year, although it's only an excerpt, and I have yet to read the poem in its entirety. The other book that I bought was a cheap (and even cheaper with the discount) copy of the Koran. I've been wanting one for some time now, as I do have a few copies of the Bible (King James, New King James, and the absurd New International Translation). I even have a copy of the Book of Mormon. That was given to me by a person who's not a Mormon, but a Mormon gave it to her. She wasn't interested in having it, because Mormonism isn't the one, true faith, which happens to be Catholicism, apparently. She was about to throw it out, but I said that I wanted it. I mean, why not? I don't believe in Odin either (and I sure as hell don't believe in Heimdall!) but I like to read about him, so why not see what this Joseph Smith cat was blathering about?

So, it's pretty much the same deal with The Koran, or The Qu'ran, or The Curr'anne, or Da Koh! Ran. And no, I'm not making any plans to read that thing from cover to cover. I still haven't gotten very far past the first 100 pages of Moby Dick, so I'm not going to go making any rash pronouncements like I did when I said I was going to read that particular book in its entirety. (I'll pick it up again one day! I'm determined to finish it! I'm obsessed with conquering that book, and I wish that there was some sort of handy metaphor that I could use to express it!)

So, what I've decided to do is put it by the toilet and read little bits and pieces here and there. So far, I've already found myself skimming through parts and skipping around a bit. I've gone through the first sura, and I don't think that this book is going to convert me over to Islam anytime soon. After all, it kinda assumes that you already buy into all of that stuff that's in The Bible, which I don't. I think it's one of those books, like The Bible or Battlefield Earth, where it makes a lot of sense if you're already inclined to believe it.

Anyway, it's not a terribly interesting read, which is also true for much of The Bible. Still, there are a lot of good books in The Bible, like the Gospels and my absolute favorite, the poo-cake Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 4:12). Hopefully, there's some better reading ahead. There was that little bit about how Satan wouldn't bow before Adam, which I think is a pretty cool story, and I'm hoping that a later sura will elaborate on that one. Basically all I'm getting so far is a lot of stuff about how God is great and can do whatever he wants and apparently nonbelievers don't believe because He makes them not believe. (Don't get all snooty, Jews and Christians; there's similar stuff in your holy books.)

What about all the killing infidels stuff? Well, I haven't gotten to any of that. So far, everything that I've read regarding Christians and Jews has been pretty tame - even considering them to be believers, although misguided, who will have their reward in the afterlife. I am fully aware that there's stuff that's quite a bit more brutal in some of the other suras, but obviously the stuff I read is what decent Muslims pay more attention.

Basically, I'm just hoping to give myself a general familiarity with it, just as I have with The Bible. I've never read that one cover-to-cover either. I've read quite a bit of it - enough to know that I can't believe it. I'm also hoping to maybe find some stuff that I can teach to my seniors. I already do a thing on The Bible, so it might be a good idea to include a little Koran in there as well.

Still, those Norse myths are calling, and so is Sir Gawain. And one of these days, I'm going to have to read at least a little of The Book of Mormon. Too bad it's not waterproof; otherwise, I could read that one in the shower.


Ingrid said...

I hope that you don't become the target of some misguided moslem. He might set an explosive under your crapper. People have been killed for saying things like that, and mocking the Koran. Just look to Holland and Danmark. I am serious.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

I don't think that I have enough influence for them to bother with me. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who are bigger targets.

If they take out the guy who did the Skeptic's Annotated Koran, then I'll start to worry.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't going to write until I read the first comment. (I am a muslim--and no I am not going to shoot you or blow you up or some such!!!) I have read similar comments on other blogs where people have shown an interest in reading the Quran. So I wanted to set things straight--read and comment any way you want. In the world we live in today--it is important to have compassion, tolerance and respect. And in that spirit--I am trying to read the Torah---like you ---havn't got very far though.

And ...since I am writing anyway---I would like to comment on Iblis (satan) story. A 10/11th century scholar/philosopher--Al-Gazzali-- had an interesting take on the story. He calls it "Satanic Logic". Iblis is a previous creation to mankind formed out of "smokeless fire" and like mankind---has free-will. The reason that Iblis refuses to bow down to (Prophet) Adam (pbuh) is because he reasons that he, being made out of "smokeless fire", is created of a higher material than Man who is made out of clay. He thus concludes he is "superior" to Man and refuses to bow down. Al-Gazzali argues that such a conclusion was based on false value of assumed superiority and so was flawed. Therefore--any person who claims superiority over another is using "Satanic Logic" because the assumptions the premise is based on will be flawed.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Hey, thanks for the comment and insight. And thanks for not shooting me! (I'm REALLY not too worried about it.) As-Salamu Alaykum!

Gary Fouse said...

Keep in mind, Lance, that the Koran was written over a period of years by the Prophet Mohammed. If there are contradictions, the later writing takes precedence. It is called the Rule of Abrogation as I understand it. So later writings were done in the period when Mohammed was a warrior, thus tend to be more violent, shall we say. The other thing is that the longer suras are written first in the Koran with the shorter ones later in order of length.

That is my understanding. Perhaps, the Muslim who commented might further elighten us or correct me if I am mistaken.

Gary Fouse

Lance Christian Johnson said...

I've heard some Muslims who would disagree with what takes precedence. I saw this one guy debating with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and he was saying that everything in The Koran has to be looked at in its proper historical context. While I'm obviously not reaching the exact same conclusion as him (as he was a Muslim,) I think that it's fine when looked at in that way.

I like the bit about Satan and Adam, as that's a true story in the sense that it speaks to a deeper, non-literal truth about humility. That's how all of these books need to be looked at, in my opinion. After all, there are truths in The Iliad as well, which isn't to put down any of them - they just need to be seen for what they are.

Anonymous said...

Gary,Lance --Asalaamalykum.
Thankyou for giving me a chance to clear up another misunderstanding. Much to the dismay of those who want to abuse religion--It is extremely difficult to make changes in the Quran. The only way to do it is through "tafsir" these are the interpretations/commentary of the Quran. (such as the story of Iblis I mentioned). Thus--people will say all sorts of things --and they have a right to their opinions.
The Quran makes it clear how it is to be read and interpreted. In regards to abrogation -- this is what it says-Surah 2 --verse 106--None of our revelations do we abrogate or cause to be forgotten but we substitute something better or similar: Know you not that God has power over all things?"
This is not limited to the verses of the Quran --- The Quran maintains that both the Torah and Bible (Injil) are previous revelations of God.(but corrupted over time) Thus some "Laws" of the Torah have been substituted with something better in the Quran. (If you are familiar with the Torah--you will find many of its "Laws" in the Quran)
There are other "rules" on reading the Quran as the text itself tells us--When we come across a verse we do not quite understand--we should interpret the "best" meaning (In accordance with the phrase "In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate" that is said before each surah). Verses of the Quran should not be broken up "for profit"--which means to win an argument or point of view--they should be looked at as a whole --all the verses(concepts and ideas) are connected to each other and the surahs are connected to each other making it whole. (this is very difficult to do---as you noticed above--I did take a verse out of the Quran to make a point on abrogation). The Quran also states that some verses are clear and their meaning straightforward --there are others which may not be clear and one needs to pursue knowledge to understand them.(Which led to a mad rush to pursue all kinds of knowledge between the 8th and 12th centuries--in Math, Medicine, Science, philosophy etc) even today, muslims are comfortable using modern science to interpret/understand many of the concepts of the Quran.--However, I do want to emphasise that Lance is absolutely correct that the Quran is about "guidance" for the betterment of our souls (Nafs in arabic, Nefesh in Hebrew)--and that is how it should be read.

Other than that, Gary is correct that the Quran was revealed over a 22/23 year period. The Surahs are more or less longer in the front shorter in the back. There are 114 surahs. The Quran can be read from back to front or front to back. The placement of surahs and verses is according to the instructions of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Hey, considering that the title of this entry was "The Koran by the Krapper," I really appreciate you adding some serious, thoughtful input. Any chance you could post next time with a name? (It doesn't need to be your actual name - just something where I can differentiate you from some other "anonymous" person who might post in the future.)

Have you read No God but God by Resa Aslan? I found it to be pretty interesting, and I was really intrigued as to how he referred to the stories of Muhammad as myths - not in the sense that they are falsehoods, but that myths are simply stories of the supernatural and aren't meant to be taken literally in the first place, as they have a deeper lesson to offer.

kat said...

I'm the anonymous. I apologise for the over-enthusiasm of my previous post---I guess I was frustrated.

No God but God.--No, did not have a chance to read it--but did get to see some parts of it on the net.

Myths--Yes, in our "tradition" we have many stories, legends, myths about many things.--I would agree with Aslan. If we bother to use our intelligence--it should not be too difficult to figure out what should or should not be taken literally.