In the beginning, the QurŽan was learned by heart as the understandable word of Allah. People at first refrained from explaining the verses. Those who were in favor of this custom said if the QurŽan needed explanation, humans would have to help Allah to make his word understood.

Thus the Arabic QurŽan is being drummed into thousands of children to this day without being explained.

Muhammad's miraculous verses are neither to be thought about nor to be understood, but they are to be preserved. Any critical thought about the QurŽan is unwelcome because it would mean that human intellect would rise above Allah and would try to comprehend him.

Islam, however, means submission, which leaves no room for critical understanding - even in Islamic theology!

- Abd al-Masih


Note: Abd al-Masih is the author from whom I have largely drawn from in the top section to give a brief history of the Qur'an.

A link to his work may be found at the bottom of chapter 6.2.

"Ever since I left radical Islam, I have consistently run into Westerners who are oblivious to the mind-set of radical Islamists, and being on both sides of the fence, I have felt like Captain Spock of Star Trek -- always having to explain to Captain Kirk how the aliens thought.

...[T]hey think that the Muslim world has the same aspirations they do, seeking liberty, equality, modernization, democracy, and the good life... This willful blindness is what threatens to do us in even more than Osama bin Laden and his ilk."

- Walid Shoebat
former PLO terrorist

"As a former member of Jemaah Islamiya, a group led by al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, I know firsthand that the inhumane teaching in Islamist ideology can transform a young, benevolent mind into that of a terrorist.

Without confronting the ideological roots of radical Islam it will be impossible to combat it. While there are many ideological "rootlets" of Islamism, the main tap root has a name--Salafism, or Salafi Islam, a violent, ultra-conservative version of the religion.

It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence. Shariah, for example, allows apostates to be killed, permits beating women to discipline them, seeks to subjugate non-Muslims to Islam as dhimmis and justifies declaring war to do so.

It exhorts good Muslims to exterminate the Jews before the "end of days." The near deafening silence of the Muslim majority against these barbaric practices is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong."

- Tawfik Hamid,
Wall Street Journal 4/3/07


Islam and jihad
6) The Qur'an


"Have patience with what [unbelievers] say and leave them with dignity"

- Qur'an 73:10

"...I will cast dread into the hearts of the unbelievers. Strike off their heads, then, and strike off all of their fingertips."

- Qur'an 8:12

What is the Qur'an, Sunnah and Hadith?

The Qur'an (or Koran) is a collection of Muhammad's sayings; supposedly divine words and visions given to Muhammad from time to time to reveal to his followers. The Qur'an was compiled after Muhammad's death from what a group of his followers had either noted in some way or from what they could remember him saying.

Only limited writings were made prior to his death because Muhammad's Bedouin culture had no written language, and up until then they had little need of written laws. A clan's sheik was its law, and to an extent the law was whatever the sheik stated it to be. The same fluid authority was granted to Muhammad who expanded that authority even further the year he would claim sole authority over all aspects of human life.

The word qur'an means 'recitation' since it is a collection of what Muhammad recited to his followers. Recitation is also a fitting description as the recollection itself was compiled from what Muhammad's followers thought they remembered him saying and could themselves still recite.

Hadith are the oral traditions recounting the ways of Muhammad; and though similar to the Qur'an, they are distinct from it. The Hadith (stories or traditions) are often prefaced by who heard it from whom. These accounts were not finalized in writing until more than a century had passed after Muhammad's death. When this was carried out, the stories were divided by topic and divided between what were thought to be from the most reliable sources and lesser reliable ones. The more reliable ones comprise what is referred to as the Sunnah; the least simply the Hadith.


History of the Qur'an

At the time of Muhammad's death, there were several different manuscripts bearing his sayings. Most of them resided with the handful of disciples that had served as Muhammad's scribes. Also, each of the four "rightly guided Caliphs" - his closest disciples - were believed to have their own collections. At Umar bin al-Khattab's prompting, Caliph Abu Bakr commissioned Zaid bin Thabit to gather and sort all of Muhammad's sayings for the purpose of creating a single master collection.

Zaid did so, putting in writing what he determined were the most accurate sayings Muhammad was remembered to have said. Abu Bakr was murdered just before the work was completed, so Zaid ended up giving the master manuscript to al-Khattab. However, it was very clear that many verses committed to memory around Arabia were not necessarily the same version or versions that made it into Zaid's written collection. Al-Khattab was sensitive to how this might be received and did not want to aggravate his soldiers who at this time were engaged in important expansion campaigns. So he quietly let Zaid's master manuscripts come to rest with his daughter Hafsa.

About sixteen years later in 650, General Hudaifa reported that Muslim armies from Kufa and Damascus were about to war against each other as each insisted only it had committed to memory the true sayings of Muhammad (some say the year was 662). Zaid was again called on, this time by Caliph Uthman bin Affan who had taken for himself the incredible title of "Caliph Allah" or "Successor to God".

Zaid was now to retrieve the previous masterwork and update it in such a way as to prevent an impending civil war. However, controversy abounded as Zaid was accused of including unattested-to verses. It was charged that his original master was not in genuine Arabic and that differences between extant manuscripts were not being properly worked out. Caliph Uthman, hoping to end all this controversy, confiscated all the old original quranic manuscripts known to exist and had them burned. He further declared that any Muslim who did not accept Zaid's collection was an unbeliever.

This bold act may have simplified the issue for new converts, but previous versions of Muhammad's sayings would remain etched in the memory of long-time followers, and those sayings would eventually coalesce into parallel Qur'ans. (Thus the controversy over who had the real Qur'an persisted and continues to persist to this day.)

Not long after Uthman's destruction of the manuscripts, several swords found their way into the Successor to God's chest and he was succeeded by the fourth of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs - Ali bin Abi Talib. (Ali's supporters were known as the party of Ali - the Shi'atu Ali or simply Shi'a.)

Ali magnanimously granted amnesty to his predecessor's killers, unaware that he too would later be succeeded on the throne after a poisoned sword blow to the head. But while he lived, as the late Muhammad's son-in-law he embodied for his Shi'a sect the consolidation of the Umma's spiritual and political leadership. He is remembered by Shi'a followers as the first Imam - "Proof of God on Earth."

(Imams are said to be infallible and sinless, created from eternal light, and "know the secret name of God, and are the only ones who possess the spiritual guidance necessary to reveal the inner truth of the Muslim faith.")


The language of the Qur'an

There are different opinions on the exact nature of the Qur'an, but the prevailing belief is that it contains the exact words of Allah, exactly as they were spoken to Muhammad, exactly how Muhammad recited them to mankind, and in the exact Arabic that Allah spoke (regardless of the aforementioned history). This is why the Qur'an is said to cease being the Qur'an if it is translated from Arabic to any other language. Only in the language Allah speaks, Arabic, is it believed the Qur'an maintains its mystical power.

The words of the Qur'an are not just honored for their content, but each word is believed to possess a beneficial power within itself, and this regardless of whether you know what is being said or not. Reza Aslan explains:

Even today, Muslims of every culture and ethnicity must read the Qur'an in Arabic, whether they understand it or not. The message of the Qur'an is vital to living a proper life as a Muslim, but it is the words themselves - the actual speech of the one and only God - that possess a spiritual power known as baraka.

...The words of the Qur'an...are emblazened on common objects like cups, bowls, and lamps, so that when one eats from a plate adorned with God's Speech, or lights a lamp with a Quranic verse etched into it, one is able to consume baraka, to be illuminated by it... [T]he words of the Qur'an act as a talisman that transmits divine power.

...Another way in which Muslims experience baraka is through the art, or rather the science, of Quranic recitation...with strict rules regulating when one is permitted to stop during a recitation and when it is forbidden to stop, when to prostrate oneself and when to rise, when to breathe and when not to take breath, which consonants to stress and and how long to hold each vowel.

Anyone familiar with the ancient Jewish use of phylacteries may see a curious parallel here. In both cases there is an overemphasis on the superficial (the veritable worship of a collection of alphabetic characters and the process of speaking them) coupled with a dangerous disregard for substance (only secondarily emphasizing what the words were actually meant to communicate).

To paraphrase Bruce Lee from Enter the Dragon, "It's like a finger pointing the way to the moon. Concentrate on the finger, and you miss all the heavenly glory." In other words, become so enamored with the words as objects of reverence, and they become idols whose real purpose is no longer observed. That is exactly the case for many Muslims and the Qur'an today as Abd al-Masih explains:

In the beginning, the QurŽan was learned by heart as the understandable word of Allah. People at first refrained from explaining the verses. Those who were in favor of this custom said if the QurŽan needed explanation, humans would have to help Allah to make his word understood.

Thus the Arabic QurŽan is being drummed into thousands of children to this day without being explained.

Muhammad's miraculous verses are neither to be thought about nor to be understood, but they are to be preserved. Any critical thought about the QurŽan is unwelcome because it would mean that human intellect would rise above Allah and would try to comprehend him.

Islam, however, means submission, which leaves no room for critical understanding - even in Islamic theology!


The fluid nature of the Qur'an

An interesting and important aspect of the Qur'an is the relative or fluid nature of authority that was inherent in Sheik/clan structures, and the identical nature of authority that Muhammad's disciples ascribed to Muhammad's teachings.

Sheiks were the central authority over their clan and the law was what the Sheik said it was. If the law changed from time to time, that's just how it was. Muhammad was ascribed equal and even greater authority, and he too communicated instructions that were occasionally contrary to something he had instructed previously. This was accepted with the same pragmatic flexibility allowed the sheiks; an aspect they viewed as a strength - the ability to change the law as circumstances warranted. As the Qur'an states, "Whenever we abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, we exchange it with a better or similar one; don't you know God can do anything?" (2:106)

However, Muhammad's death introduced an unforeseen problem, causing one of several splits which have occurred within Islam. This split was over the nature of Allah's will and its either continued flexibility with regard to continually changing circumstances, or its newfound rigidity once Allah's special mediator Muhammad was dead and gone. This split is what translates into liberal versus conservative Islam today.

The liberal sects of Islam believe that Islamic law is intended to change with the times just as Muhammad changed it on occasion. In doing so, Muhammad was following the time honored tradition of the Sheiks. Conservative Islam disagrees and believes that whatever Muhammad said last is the vein in which Allah now intends Islam to forever continue.

Departing from Muslim concerns for a moment, the problem this dilemma poses for the non-Islamic world is critical. The directives in place at the time Muhammad died were ones hostile to non-Muslims. Most of his last twelve years on earth were spent purging the Arab regions of people unwilling to accept him as Allah's special prophet and opposing his Arabian empire. Liberal Muslims interpret these circumstances as merely relative to the establishment of his initial kingdom; circumstances which no longer apply and thus believe Muslims should return to Muhammad's initial instructions to tolerate other faiths and non-believers.

Conservative Muslims, however, view Muhammad's purging of nonbelievers as the final solution to the problem of unbelievers worldwide. They believe Muhammad's earlier tolerance of other faiths was merely temporary - a time of grace that has long since expired. Conservative Muslims believe Islam must continue Muhammad's mission that was interrupted with his death; a mission permanently fixed on the belief that it is Allah's will all non-Muslims be killed or physically conquered.

Which Islamic school of thought will win out? I wager the liberal one, but the conservative one is pushing toward global nuclear religious war as hard as it can. The cost of losing such a war is the only thing more unthinkable than the cost of what it may take to win it.


The Qur'an and the Umm al-Kitab

Previously I have mentioned what Muslims believe the Qur'an's relationship to the Bible to be which I'll partly repeat here. Muhammad sometimes referred to Christians and Jews as "People of the Book", but this was not in reference to the Bible or Torah. He spoke in reference to a book believed to exist in heaven called the Umm al-Kitab or "Mother of Books."

Muhammad believed that from the Umm al-Kitab, the first third was revealed to the Jews (the Old Testament essentially); the second third was revealed to the Christians (the New Testament and the apocryphal writings), and the last third was being revealed to himself via the words that came into his mind. Muhammad believed they all taught the same, singular story of mankind.

There are, of course, real differences of theology between the Judeo-Christian texts and Muhammad's revelations, as he was at least partly aware, but he explained these as corruptions which must have crept into the Torah and Bible.


About the Qur'an

You will find the Qur'an laid out topically into "suras" or chapters, not chronologically. The Qur'an, along with the Sunnah and Hadith, occasionally read as historical narratives like the Bible; but more often read as short statements on life and conduct, not unlike the Book of Proverbs.

In Islamic thinking, the Qur'an doesn't deny the existence of the Bible, but instead claims to overrule it. The Qur'an's "predecessors such as the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels have all been superseded. It is an obligation - and blessing - for all [to] hear of the Qur'an...". According to

[Islam] is a rapidly spreading religion because of its cultural and political appeal and its universal message of peace, temperance and the brotherhood of man.

The nature of its "peace" and exact degree of its "temperance" is best judged by history and by a closer look at its own teachings and practitioners. We shall continue to do so beginning with a study of Nasikh wa Mansukh, or the doctrine of abrogation, without which one cannot properly interpret Islam's texts or apply their sayings (a must-read before you conclude you know the nature of the Qur'an).



(top of page)

NEXT: The doctrine of abrogation


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The world has seen global riots, protests, and murders over the alleged mishandling of the book known as the Qur'an.

Unbelievers may not touch it with ungloved hands, it must never be held by only one hand, and on and on.

For all those lives that have been brutalized or extinguished for its so-called honor, it begs a closer look to see why some think the book was worth it, and see how exactly it floated down from Paradise.

1. The Qur'an, Sunnah & Hadith
2. History of the Qur'an
3. Language of the Qur'an
4. Fluid nature of the Qur'an
5. Umm al-Katib
6. About the Qur'an