The Koran As A Miracle?

May 5, 2021 Category: Religion

For the sake of argument, try treating the Koran–or any part thereof–as parable.  Then contrast it to OTHER parables.  (I furnish a list in part 2 of my essay “The History Of Literature”.)  When it is held up to some of the greatest literary masterpieces, the juxtaposition should reveal the book’s glaring deficiencies–even when it is read in such a charitable way.

When it comes using a captivating narrative to convey a message, the question must always be posed: Is this propagandistic (as with, say, the “Book of Revelation” by John of Patmos) or is it allegorical (as with, say, “Animal Farm” by George Orwell)?  That is: Is it designed to manipulate us or to edify?

In assessing the caliber of writing, we mustn’t confuse grandiloquence for eloquence. There is nothing new about using poignant imagery to express a view of the world–whether it be lurid (Milton and Blake) or solemn (Donne and Coleridge) or didactic (Byron and Emerson) or sardonic (Molière and Cummings) or romantic (Shakespeare and Keats) or whimsical (Wordsworth and Whitman) or introspective (Thoreau and Frost) or brooding (Lermontov and Percy Bysshe Shelley).

The question arises: Shall we take the tales in Islam’s holy book allegorically?  This would require analogical deduction (“qiyas”), a faculty that would have to exist independently of having read ANY scripture.  Even if we were to take Koranic accounts allegorically (“mutashabih”) rather than literally (“muhkam”), we find ourselves in a quandary—as we must wonder how we can know for certain where the metaphor ends and the literal parts begin (and vice versa).  (There is no clear demarcation; so the heuristic becomes rather arbitrary.)  In any case, the crudely-hewn tales recounted in the book fail to convey any important moral lessons (see my essay on “The Boundary Conditions Of Metaphor”).

A bit of counsel is given here and there; but nothing that would strike a marginally erudite reader as especially revelatory…let alone earth-shattering.  There is not so much as a single clever aphorism in the entire book.

When one is well-read in great literature, there is no way for the Koran—even as parable—to be seen as anything but crudely-fashioned, puerile exposition; with little to offer in the way of edification.  Coming to Islam’s holy book with a sober mind guarantees that reading it will be—at best—a disheartening experience.

It is important to keep in mind that—unlike most other holy books—Islam’s holy book is fashioned as a VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT of god’s speech.  This is literal; not figurative.  Mohammed of Mecca was not offering ideas of his own; he was—so the story goes—merely relaying a series of divine communiques to his worldly audience.  Those communiques are dubbed “N-Z-L” (rendered “tanzil” / “anzal” / “nazal”), and were conveyed via a divine emissary: the arch-angel, Gabriel.

In this sense, the Koran is not analogous to the Hebrew Bible; it is analogous to the snippets of dialogue ascribed to Yahweh WITHIN the Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim (most famously: the Mosaic Decalogue).  Meanwhile, the Koran is not analogous to the Gospels; it is analogous to Jesus of Nazareth himself (insofar as Jesus is considered the Christ; and thus an embodiment of THE WORD).  Interestingly, even the authors of the Koran don’t seem to understand this distinction; as they stipulate that the Koran was “revealed” to Mohammed in the same way that the Torah was “revealed” and the Gospel was “revealed” (3:3).  According to this statement, the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were all “wahy” in the same sense.  But, according to standard Islamic lore, that is not so.

There are other key differences between the various Abrahamic scriptures.  Most sacred text was composed as “scriptura” (that is: as actual text) AB INITIO.  In this scenario, the hands of the various scribes were simply guided AD HOC (by divine inspiration).  By contrast, the Koran was not originally conceived as a text.  Again: the physical BOOK (“kitab”) known as the RECITATIONS (“Al-Qur’an”) is merely a post-hoc transcription of a spoken word that was (purportedly) delivered verbally in real time to a certain person (a Bedouin merchant known as “Mu-H-M-D”) over the course of 23 years.  Hence, the material was meant to be “keryana” (Syriac for “that which is recited”).  This is made clear in the Koran itself—most notably in 75:17.

Another fundamental distinction: The Old and New Testaments are each small libraries of distinct—sometimes disparate—texts from different sources at different times; often in different languages.  By contrast, the Koran is seen as an indivisible collection of verses; from a single source, given to a single person in a set period of time.

That being the case, we are met by yet another quandary.  The first words of the first major chapter (after “Al-Fatihah”): “This is the book!”  This is a peculiar thing to say when proffering something that was merely a series of “Recitations”.  (The pronouncement is repeated in the opening passage of chapters 11 and 14.)  What’s even more interesting is that the Koran talks about the Koran throughout the Koran, boasting about itself from cover to cover.  (Meanwhile: Scattered throughout the Koran are threats against those who fail to heed the Koran.  In a sense, the book annotates itself.  Such self-referentiality brings into question its authenticity.)

Not only is the book described as a SOURCE OF wisdom; the book ITSELF is referred to as wise–as in 31:2.  All this comes off as a kind of pleading.  Books that brag about THEMSELVES (touting how wonderful they are) are suspect, to put it mildly.

For devout Muslims, the proof that Mohammed of Mecca was, indeed, the Last messenger of the Abrahamic deity (the Seal of the Abrahamic prophets, delivering THE FINAL revelation to mankind) is that the Koran ITSELF is a miracle.  Whereas JoN performed miracles to prove his divine nature (and so couldn’t possibly have been merely human); the divine nature of the “Recitations” is proven by the fact that what it says—and how it says it—is believed to be MIRACULOUS; and so couldn’t possible have been contrived by humans.

So the question becomes: Were the “Recitations” miraculous?  As we’ll see, the answer is incontrovertible: No; not even close.  In fact, the only thing that’s miraculous about the Koran is that anyone still believes that there is anything miraculous about the Koran.

The supposition that Koranic verse is “i’jaz” (inimitable) is immediately revealed to be absurd the moment any literate person reads a few passages in Islam’s holy book.  Instead of un-matched (and un-matchable) eloquence, one encounters crudely-fashioned exposition.  Instead of exquisite phraseology, one finds only sloppy wording.  Instead of profundity, one finds only puerility.

A key element of Koran fetishism is the fetishization of Classical Arabic: Islam’s liturgical language.  Contrary to the spurious claims of proponents (fetishism involves delusive thinking as well as chronic obsession), Clasical Arabic (CA) is an entirely derivative language—which is to say that it is hardly timeless; and actually an accident of history like any other language (see Appendix 2).

Keep in mind how many people have been stupendously impressed by trash pulp throughout history…to this very day.  Some people think that “Dianetics” is the most brilliant book ever written.  This does nothing to attest to its actual merit.  The same goes for the Torah, the Book Of Revelation, Dianetics, The Purpose Driven Life, The Secret, and countless other blockbuster pieces of pulp trash (see my essay: “The History Of Sacred Texts”).

The galumphing, perfunctory stylization of Koranic verse is surpassed only by the puerility of its contents.  That is, its imagery is cartoonish–managing to be both crude and overwrought at the same time.  In hearing Koran fetishists croon about the (imagined) exquisiteness of the text (enraptured by an eloquence that exists only in their own minds), we might bear in mind that someone accustomed to nothing other than chaff will fail to recognize the culinary poverty of the high-sodium gristle before him in the way that an astute gourmand would.  Not all discernment is equal.

It stands to reason that the authors of the Koran were obviously very impressed with their own writing.  Comically, 72:1 notifies us that even some JINN were mesmerized by the “balagha” [eloquence] of the “Recitations”. Such conceit is unsurprising.  Indeed, the self-praise found in the Koran is typical of sacred texts.  We have seen the same thing with such sanctified drivel as, say, the Book(s) of Mormon.  The authors of such tracts were quite enamored with themselves, and expected their readership to be extremely impressed as well.

The question is: Does the purported virtue of any given text withstand the test of time?  For the Koran, the answer is a resounding “no”.  This infelicitous verdict becomes especially pronounced in the advent of the Enlightenment, when sage exposition became readily available to the common man.

Contrast this with something like Homer’s epic poetry (which is about 16 centuries OLDER than the Koran), for which the answer is a resounding “yes”.  The same goes for, say the “Tao Te Ching” (which is over 13 centuries older).  (I explore more examples in party 1 of my essay: “The History Of Literature”.)

Many have crooned about the aesthetic merits of tajwid.  Even when rendered melodious by the murattil / mujawwid, such “tarteel” only makes the material SOUND pleasing.  Amidst their swooning, those who fetishize the Koran fail to realize that the hypnotic character of sonorous recitation does not magically imbue THAT WHICH IS RECITED with wisdom, or even prove that it has aesthetic value.

The mischaracterization of the Koran is largely attributable to confusing grandiloquence for eloquence.  Confusing nebulousness for sagacity is the mistake adolescents often make; yet it is a mistake routinely made by those who have succumbed to Koran fetishism. {11}

Let us now turn to a critical analysis, which proves—beyond any doubt—that the Koran is not only not an estimable book; it is indubitably deficient.

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