The Koran As A Miracle?

May 5, 2021 Category: Religion

An Undeniable Case of Shoddy Writing:

The first open critics of the Mohammedan movement were the freethinkers from the 9th century: Abu Isa Muhammad ibn Harun al-Warraq and Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Ishaq al-Rawandi; both from Khorasan (eastern Persia).  The former was known for making an observation about the Koran’s protagonist (regarding the doctrine of pre-destination): “He who orders his slave to do things that he knows him to be incapable of doing, then punishes him, is a fool.”  (For more on “qadar”, see my essay, on “Fiduciary Theology, The Straight Path, And Pre-Destination”.)  The latter composed a tract dubbed “Kitab al-Zumurrud” [Book of the Emerald], in which he brought to light several theological snafus found in Islam’s holy book.

Unsurprisingly, most critical commentary emerged during the Enlightenment.  For Edward Gibbon, the Koran was an “incoherent rhapsody of fable.”  Thomas Carlyle called the book an “insupportable stupidity” and a “wearisome, confused jumble.”  And German scholar Salomon Reinach wrote: “From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit.  Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn.  It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time absorbing it.”

But don’t take THEIR word for it.  The best argument against the Koran’s purported virtues is the Koran itself.  Freethinkers around the world should encourage people—ALL people—to take the time to read the entire Koran (in their own language, using a translation that has widespread approval).  Only when one sees for oneself what is in the book can one truly grasp the (abysmally low) caliber of writing and the slew of glaring mistakes. {1}

German palaeographer, Gerd R. Puin of Saarland states: “The Koran claims for itself that it is ‘mubeen’, or clear.  But if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply does not make sense…  The fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible.  If the Koran is not comprehensible, if it can’t even be understood in Arabic, then it is not translatable into any language…  Since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not, there is a serious contradiction.”

That is an understatement.

Over and over again (e.g. 3:138, 44:58; 54:17, 22, 32, and 40), the Koran tells us that it is crystal clear (“mubeen”) on all matters.  Really?  This is a peculiar claim to make considering the actual contents of the book.  2:118 explains that god’s final message to mankind will be cogent to those who already believe that god’s revelations to MoM were perfectly articulated.  (Funny how that works out.)

So let’s start with the main point: Islam’s holy book is comprised with what can only be described as shoddy writing.  Many passages would be kicked back by any competent editor (or promptly returned to the student by any writing professor worth his salt) covered in red ink with “unacceptable” emblazoned across.

The slew of awkward constructs with which the text is riddled are primarily attributable to the fact that the verses were originally composed in SYRIAC, and were only later translated into Classical Arabic (see my essay on “The Syriac Origins Of Koranic Text”).  Much of the rest is either puerile, inconsistent, or just incoherent.  Indeed, there are over THIRTY ayat of mere SOUNDS (letters) that go completely unexplained–and thus have no discernible meaning.  Behold the opening verse of surahs 2, 3, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 36, etc. {4}

Are we to take seriously the declaration that all things in the Koran are perfectly clear?  One need only take a moment to read, say, Surah 105 to see that this is not the case.  The articulation is often hackneyed; and whenever it is clear, it is maudlin.  In other words, the poorly-written verse is overwrought even when it is intelligible.

The Koran explains EVERYTHING?  Really?  The book is riddled with dated references (e.g. 5:103, 71:23, and 81:8).  It is also riddled with references to inexplicable figures (e.g. Shu’ayb in Surahs 7 and 11, As-Samiri in Surah 20, Dhul-Kifl in Surahs 21 and 38, Luqman in Surah 31, Idris in Surahs 19 and 21, etc.)  Who are these people?  The original audience was obviously expected to know.  The authors assumed that readers 14 centuries later would be familiar with these figures.  Obviously, this is not the case. {5}  The reference to “Dhul-Qarnayn” (one with horns) in Surah 18 likely pertains to Alexander the Great.  But for those listed above, few have any idea.

Other parts of the book are entirely inexplicable.  Surah 97 tells us something about a 1,000-month-long “Night Of Decree”.  No explanation is given for this.

For those who insist the book is exquisitely written–nay, inimitable–, ask them about 22:15, in which the reader is told to commit suicide by hanging himself (if, that is, he really wants to test his Faith).  (Marvelous advice.)

One of the more amusing flubs involves what seems to be a slip of the tongue in 19:81-82–where god himself (implicitly) recognizes other gods.

Awkward phrasing: “It is not for a believer, man or woman, when god and his messenger have decreed upon a matter, that they should have any option in their decision” (33:36).  That is: In the event that the Abrahamic deity and/or MoM have issued an edict, the only option for Muslims is to obey.

Omniscient beings delivering important messages are unlikely to resort to hearsay.  Yet 25:5 reads “And they say…” as if the Creator of the Universe were party to scuttlebutt.

Even as Koran-fetishists chortle about the unsurpassed eloquence (“balagha”) and inimitability (“i’jaz”) of their holy book, we find a veritable salmagundi of shoddy writing.  What might honest MUSLIM scholars say of the Koran’s impeccable articulation?  In his book, “23 Years”, famed Iranian writer Ali Dashti noted:

“The Koran contains sentences which are incomplete and not fully unintelligible without the aid of annotation [commentaries].  [It contains] foreign terms, unfamiliar Arabic terms, and terms used with abnormal meaning.  [It contains] adjectives and verbs inflected without the observance of the concords between gender and number.  [It contains] illogically and ungrammatically applied pronouns, which sometimes have not referent; and predicated which in rhymed passages are often remote from their subjects.  Those and other such aberrations in the language have given broad scope to critics who deny the Koran’s eloquence.” {2}

This is what happens when an honest person, free from the intellectual constraints of iron-clad dogmatic trammels, reads the Koran without bias and actually pays attention to what it says; then have no qualms reporting what they find.  Those who come to Islam’s holy book with open eyes and an open mind will concur with these assessments…assuming, that is, that they have basic reading comprehension skills; and the courage to be forthcoming about what they find. {3}

The hodge-podge of material of which Islam’s holy book is comprised reflects the ad hoc manner in which it was cobbled together.  It is not so much a resplendent medley of brilliant insights as it is a discordant miscellany of puerile musings and half-baked ideas.  Alas, Koran-fetishists crow about the book as if the hackneyed phrasing, the tortured exposition, and the glaring incongruities were marks of unfathomable genius.

In its final form, the “Recitations” is a garbled mess of discordant ideas.  Take, for instance, the dialogue of 7:12-18.  It’s like the script for a bad soap opera.  Or take the blatantly contrived dialogue between god and Jesus in 5:116-117—a transparent attempt to rebuff Christian lore.  Or take the statement to not be disrespectful to one’s parents in 17:24.  The Creator of the Universe admonishes his audience: Whether one or both of [your parents] reach old age with you, say not to them, ‘Uff’.”

We should bear in mind that both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are a kladderadatsch of ancient myths, songs of worship, enumerations of laws, metaphor-infused political propaganda, prophecies, gospel accounts, apocalypses, and a fair amount of mystical mumbo-jumbo.  By contrast, the Koran is first and foremost presented as WARNING, then an INSTRUCTION MANUEL.  In other words, while the Judeo-Christian scriptures can be taken metaphorically, Islam’s holy book is meant to be taken at face value…even when what it says is rather inscrutable.  (To take the Koran figuratively is to disregard the Koran’s demand to be taken literally; and thus to contravene the Koran.)

All this becomes even more confounding once we realize that much of the material had been lifted from pre-existing folklore (see my essay, “Syriac Source-Material For Islam’s Holy Book”).

Inconsistencies abound (see my essay on “Genesis Of A Holy Book”).  This also pertains to phraseology.  In many places the Koran is addressed exclusively to MoM (i.e. in the second person) before reverting to the (more standard) first and third person voices.  For example:

  • In passages like 5:67, 38:29, 40:55, and 48:1-2, god directs statements to MoM personally.  In Surah 33, god devotes a lot of time addressing MoM (verses 1, 28, 37, 50, and 59).
  • In verses like 2:186, 3:183-185, 17:89-96, 29:50-55, 33:59, and 72:20-23, god gives MoM special instructions.
  • In passages like 15:49-50, 66:1, and 79:42-45, god asks MoM a question.

Meanwhile, in 68:2-6, god reassures MoM that he is not insane.

This is all rather quizzical.  It is actually a literary trick known as a “raisonneur”.  The voice is effectively that of an “author’s avatar”, strategically (if clandestinely) inserted into the text as a didactic device.  (For more on this peculiar feature, see Appendix 1.)

In Surah 93, god tries to PERSUADE MoM.  This is even MORE odd.  (Did we have to hear this?)

It’s as if the Creator of the Universe wants to ensure that everyone is “in on” the things he said to MoM personally.  (Recall: This has all be written on eternal tablets since the beginning of time.  So such comments are puzzling.)  That is all addressed to MoM in the 2nd person.  But elsewhere, verses refer to MoM in the third person (e.g. 3:68). This is a disjuncture in narrative style that serves no didactic purpose.

In 22:17, the Koran’s protagonist refers to the Zoroastrians as “majusa” (Magians / Magi)—a comment that is clearly not from an omniscient point of view.

Regardless of whether or not one concedes that the hackneyed verse of Islam’s holy book exhibits puerility, we might ask: How could a man possibly have produced such verse?  Well, let’s see how possible it really may have been.  Alexander Pope was publishing his poetry by the time he was 12 years old (e.g. “Ode To Solitude”).  By his 21st birthday, he’d published his first major work, “Pastorals”…even though he’d had a sketchy education (thanks to Roman Catholic precedent) and been ill much of his youth.  Question: How could this possibly be?  Was this some act of god?

In terms of duration of ministry, it is rather odd that the Abrahamic deity accorded to his Last Prophet only two decades (just two years longer than he accorded to Joseph Smith).  Even as Jesus’ ministry only lasted for about three years (give or take a year), the Creator of the Universe saw fit to allow the likes of L. Ron Hubbard to proselytize for over three decades.  MoM’s untimely death makes no sense (a point I explore in part 2 of my essay series “On Mohammed”).

The book’s thematic redundancy is astounding to behold.  The authors (pointlessly) repeat the tales of Noah and the Flood, of Moses and the Pharaoh, and of Joseph and Lot…over and over and over and over.  Why do this?  Surely, one re-telling of each Biblical story is sufficient (if, that is, the re-telling is done well enough).

We might also note the commonplace inconsistency of pronoun usage.  

The Koran’s protagonist has an idiosyncratic way of expressing himself.  Never mind the mere technicality of sometimes referring to himself in the monarchical plural and at other times in the normal singular; what of the Koran referring to god in the first person and then in the third person within the same passage?  A few examples:

  • 6:99 in which HE sends down water from the sky… Then from it, WE bring forth vegetation.
  • 7:182-184, in which “WE (god) lead them… I (god) give them… HE (god) is but a…”
  • 22:66-67, in which “HE (god) is the one… WE (god) have appointed.”
  • 24:55, in which “HE (god) will grant…HE granted… HE will establish…HE will cause… Let them worship ME (god).”

The protagonist of the Koran sometimes even refers to himself in the first person and in the third person WITHIN THE SAME VERSE–as in, say, 3:145.  In other places, god adjures his audience to address god (referring to himself in the third person)—as with 3:26.  This is all rather odd.

The frequent occurrence of anacoluthon (syntactic inconsistency) indicates a disjointed composition–that is: a panoply of disparate authorships.  The clumsily agglomerated nature of the Koran becomes evident upon reading almost any chapter.  It is obvious that the book is the product of an ad hoc process of various people at various times consolidating snippets of text from a wirrwarr of different sources, each of which wrote in a different voice.  This is not to say that the agglomeration was done in a slapdash manner; it is to say that it was done by people who’s literary skills were–shall we say–wanting.

Indeed, there are several places where god refers to himself in the third person in one sentence, then in the first person in the very next sentence (e.g. 21:69-70).  This indicates that fragments were cobbled together without consideration for grammatical consistency.  Needless to say, a divine super-being would most likely have thought this through a bit better. {6}

We might be charitable and suppose that verses in which god is referred to in the third person, even as the message is FROM GOD HIMSELF, might be done for rhetorical effect.  Even so, some of the verses in the third person STILL do not make sense–most notably: imprecations TO GOD.  For example, 9:30 reads: “May god destroy them!” (“them” being non-Muslims, of course).  Is god pleading with HIMSELF? {7}

The text often transitions between 3rd person (general declamations) to 1st person (addressing MoM personally, as with, say, 4:60-70).

In 33:56, the Koran’s protagonist and his angels do “salat” for MoM.  In other words: GOD PRAYS. {8}

Never mind the thematic redundancies over the course of the book; there is often even semantic redundancy in a single verse.  This happens in the basic form: “the happy people were filled with happiness” (where a noun is qualified by the same descriptor, first before, then after).  This kind of gratuitous repetition WITHIN THE SAME CLAUSE happens many times throughout the Koran.  Even in Classical Arabic, this is a sign of very poor writing. 

It is sometimes claimed that such redundancy is done for some kind of poetic affectation…or for rhetorical effect (as with, say, epizeuxis); or simply for the sake of rhythm.  When it comes to sacred scripture, such rationalizations ring hollow–unless, that is, one concedes that one is dealing with very bad poetry.  No decent poet would write that “the X people were of X-ness”.  Such wording is fatuous…in ANY language.

To make this indictment stick, it is not necessary to refer to lines like, “punish [the non-Muslim] with a punishment by which no one else has been punished” (5:115)…or even the repetition found in passages like 69:1-3, 74:18-20, and 78:4-5.  All of these instances can be rationalized thus: “The repetition is used poetically–for the sake of rhythm or emphasis.”  That is: It is simply a use of epizeuxis. {9}

These excuses can’t be made without eliciting a snicker.

Nor am I referring to refrains, such as is found at the end of 62:1 and 62:3.  Arguably, in such verses, such redundancy is done for rhetorical effect–and, presumably, sounds somewhat reasonable in Classical Arabic (CA).  I am inclined to give such occurrences the benefit of the doubt.

For this indictment, refer to passages like:

  • 2:121, in which god instructs his audience: Recite [the book] with its true recital.”
  • 7:164, 9:74 and 18:87, in which god will “punish with a terrible punishment.”
  • 8:17, in which god is “testing believers with a good test.”
  • 9:46, in which disbelievers “prepared for it some preparation”; and are told to “remain with those who remain.”
  • 15:85, in which we are told to “forgive with gracious forgiveness.”
  • 17:16 and 25:36, in which god “destroyed with complete destruction.”
  • 22:74, in which non-Muslims have not “appraised god with true appraisal.”
  • 24:1, in which god mentions a passage that he’d “sent down and appointed, and We have sent down in it signs, clear signs, that you will gladly remember.”
  • 25:21, in which people were “insolent with great insolence.” 
  • 28:61, in which god “promised a good promise.” 
  • 33:11, in which believers were “shaken with a severe shaking.” 
  • 33:23, in which Muslims will not “alter with any alteration.” 
  • 33:71, in which MoM “attained a great attainment.” 
  • 34:7, in which those who died “disintegrated in complete disintegration.” 
  • 51:9, in which “deluded away from the Koran is he who is deluded.”
  • 56:35, in which god boasts that he has “created [houri] of special creation.”
  • 69:10, in which god “seized them with a seizure.”
  • 74:45, in which god “plunged with the plungers.”
  • 74:48, in which “the intercession of intercessors” shall have no benefit.
  • 87:8, in which god will “ease you toward ease.”

Two dozen examples not enough?  Islam’s holy book sometimes even repeats the same statement twice in a row.  94:5 reads: “Surely, with every hardship there is ease.”  The very next verse reads: “Surely, with every hardship there is ease.”  Brilliant.  102:3 reads: “No!  You are going to know.”  The very next verse reads: “No!  You are going to know.”  Is this done for “effect”?  God only knows.  To be so gratuitously repetitive may be some sort of mnemonic strategy—designed for orality amongst simple-minded audiences. {9}

Meanwhile, the (incessantly redundant) praise for the book’s protagonist is utterly inane.  The most widely esteemed of such passages seems to be 2:255…which, alone, hardly qualifies as mediocre poetry…let alone a gem of earth-shattering insight.

The Koran is riddled with oodles of redundancies that occur within the same clause—as in Surah 109.  This is something that is difficult to explain away…short of claiming the author of the Koran was E.E. Cummings or Shel Silverstein.  Any purported mellifluence of such redundancy misses the point here.  A dexterous author would manage to create mellifluence WITHOUT such redundancy, as masterful poets so often do.  The author of such passages was certainly no linguistic maestro.

We could go on and on about the lack of purported “elegance”.  Take, for instance, 19:20, in which Mary (mother of Jesus) asks, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?”  Being chaste MEANS that “no man has touched” her; so the elaboration is gratuitous.  (Imagine her saying: “I’m unmarried and have no husband”.)  Alas, in the Koran, such redundancy is commonplace.

Common rationalizations for such (intra-clause) semantic redundancy include:

  • It is done for emphasis.
  • It is done to maintain rhythm.
  • Such wording makes more sense in CA.
  • Such wording sounds prettier in CA.
  • These problems disappear altogether when the verse is read in CA (due to the unique nature of its grammar / lexicon / orthography).  Thus, only in the translation does the redundancy seem emerge AS SUCH.
  • It is endemic to the syntax of CA, so it can’t be avoided.  But no matter; for it is more melodious that way.  Therefore it is justified.

One does not need to be fluent in CA to see that such rationalizations are hogwash.  If we survey modern Arabic writing (specifically, literature in Arabic that is estimable), we don’t find this problem.  More to the point: This peculiar issue is not encountered in ANY OTHER language (in the event that we translate great literature from around the world, from different eras, into English).

Are we to suppose, then, that this odd idiosyncrasy is unique to CA?  Such special pleading strains credulity.  Those with level heads can’t help but conclude: The phenomenon is not the result of a “glitch” in translation; it is the result of SHODDY WRITING.

The unavoidable fact is that the Koran is not the quintessence of elegance.  On the contrary, it is the polar opposite of elegance.  We don’t need to know that the deniers are in denial or that the wrongdoers are doing wrong…any more than we need it specified that “fat people” are fat.  If I write that I “admire you with admiration”, you might question my writing skills.  Thus, in 11:38, when Noah says, “If you ridicule us, we will ridicule you just as you ridicule us,” we must wonder who the author of the dialogue might be.  Nobody very articulate, to be sure.

Meanwhile, inter-verse repetition is sometimes employed to the point of distraction (presumably for rhetorical effect).  Take, for instance, the exhausting refrain used in 55:13-77.  During the course of this passage, the text repeats “So which of the favors of your lord would you deny?” THIRTY-ONE times (almost every other line).  Such repetition “for effect” is done in other places–such as in Surah 77, in which “Woe, that day, to the deniers” is repeated TEN times in the course of a single page (verses 15-49).  Meanwhile, 75:34-35 proclaims: “Woe to you, and woe!  Then woe to you, and woe!”

Needless to say, this is anything but elegant.  Yet it is well-suited for proselytization–which is precisely why the authors of the Koran composed it in this manner.  (Repetition is a common oratory trick routinely employed by sophists.  Would a divine super-being need to resort to this?)

Elegance (or lack thereof) generally transcends language; as is regularly demonstrated when great literature is translated from one tongue to the next.  There is nothing unique about CA, of all the world’s hundreds of tongues, that exempts it from this fundamental linguistic logic.

Try to make sense of oddly-worded verses like 21:91.  (Good luck.)  When we read 24:61, we are certainly not experiencing the world’s most elegantly-worded edict.  And what of the poor wording of 6:151?  (If read literally: it forbids the good treatment of one’s parents.)  Also take for example the extremely awkward phrasing in verses like 2:195, 16:106, and 53:54.  Those spellbound—or otherwise extremely impressed—by such verses seem not to understand that their own subjective states are not a barometer for objective merit.  They misconstrue their infatuation as discernment…and interpret the ensuing intoxication as some kind of validation of their beliefs.

The inimitability of the Koran is belied by a slew of awkwardly worded passages–as with the entirety of Surah 101.  (Authored by an infinitely wise super-being?  Don’t be silly.)  Holding that there exists spectacular writing in the Koran means the following: One can actually point to a passage that would be at all impressive those of us who know spectacular writing when we see it.  Such a passage has never been cited.

By reading the Koran (again), I learned absolutely nothing (again)…outside of what is contained in the Koran.  This is, to be frank, a strange experience for me–as I typically read a book each week from which I glean a least a small kernel of wisdom.  (Even some of the WORST books sometimes teach me SOMETHING.)  

Muslims do their deity no credit by adamantly insisting that their holy book is his magnum opus.  In fact, they do the Abrahamic deity a grave disservice by treating it as a perfect transcription of his final message to mankind.  Surely, such a super-being could do far better.

I realize some may find my candor jolting.  But the fact remains: Even though it was not my first go-around, I was once more taken aback by how remarkably UN-remarkable the Koran’s prose actually is.  (I’ve encountered higher quality exposition in the New York Post.)  

This is no exaggeration; I literally can not point to a SINGLE LINE in the entire Koran that could be accurately described as either eloquent or remotely insightful.  NOT ONE.  Nor is there a SINGLE LINE that a medieval expositor could not have written.

The only NOTABLE thing to be gleaned from the Koran is: The worship of the Abrahamic deity is an end in itself.  Period.  The corollary: He should therefore be incessantly glorified…and that glorification should be done either for its own sake or to secure admission into a celestial luxury resort after death (whilst averting hellfire).  This proposition is established by fiat; and is proffered with absolutely no cogent argument to back it up (that is: above and beyond the appeal to each audience-member’s own self-interest, via a lurid presentation of cosmic carrots and sticks).

There does not seem to be an attempt to offer ANY reasoning for ANY of the brazen claims made throughout the book.  (Ergo the demand for blind faith.)  In general, propositions in the Koran are simply ASSERTED, then repeated…over and over and over again…ad nauseam (swapping an adjective here and there).  This makes for an exasperatingly tedious (not to mention, painfully unsatisfying) reading experience for those of us accustomed to even the mildest intellectual stimulation. {10} 

There is no schadenfreude to be derived from this unhappy verdict.  I do no gloat.  IF ONLY there were a handful of impressive passages in the Koran to which we might point!  Fighting anti-Islamic bigotry would be so much easier.  Alas.

Indeed, I sincerely wish that the verdict here were different.  But wishing doesn’t make the Koran any better than it actually is.  But take heart: As I have been careful to point out, there need be no dilemma for open-minded Muslims.  Koran 2.0 is always an option.

After browsing a few pages—ANY few pages—in Islam’s holy book, something should become quite clear to any impartial observer: The majority of the exposition is little other than banal rambling.  What can be said about the alleged transcription of the Abrahamic deity’s final message to mankind?  Its contribution to wisdom / progress is essentially zero.  At the end of the day, we should remind ourselves: Delectable drivel is still drivel.  Artificially-flavored hogwash may taste good, but it has no nutritional value.

Koran fetishists ogle at Koranic text as though it were some feat of literary genius.  One imagines marveling at a child who has clumsily played “Mary Had A Little Lamb” with one finger on a keyboard…as though he has just given a masterful performance of Beethoven’s Hammer-Klavier.  They feign bedazzlement during recitation of a passage, as if they have been plunged into a rapturous reverie; and are being exposed to the most mind-bending insights imaginable.

Supplicants are thus conditioned to swoon over each verse, rhapsodizing about imagined eloquence—as if biting into cardboard and gushing about how exquisite the flavor is.  It’s a sort of self-induced trance; a reflex they have been programmed to have, so as to demonstrate their piety. {12}

The disjunctive tone of the Koran belies claims of “elegance”.  It would seem not to have been composed by its protagonist (as it so adamantly claims to be), as it often refers to him in a manner that does not comport with self-proclamation.  Take, for instance, 3:32, in which we’re told, “Surely, god does not love [non-Muslims].”  Never mind the perniciousness of the message; is this the phrasing god would use when talking about HIMSELF?  The “surely” here is sometimes translated from Classical Arabic as “verily” or “truly”.  But even so, the prompt is gratuitous—more of a rhetorical flourish than a mark of pristine locution.  Indeed, with such a tone, it’s almost as if the Creator of the Universe is pleading his case.

Rule of thumb: If the authors of a book find the need to remind the reader that the protagonist is “merciful” over 120 times, then the protagonist is almost certainly not merciful.  (Memo to the Abrahamic deity: Actions speak louder than words.)  The entire Koran is essentially a gargantuan “but” clause appended to the “god is merciful” pronouncement.  Taken in context, the pronouncement amounts to: “He is merciful BARRING the fact that [insert threats of damnation here]” or “He is merciful, YET he will do [insert vindictive or malicious act here]” or “He is merciful to SOME; however to others he is merciless.”  The upshot: He is merciful only when he feels like it.  (In other words, “He is NOT merciful.”)

And so it goes with other strident declarations in the Koran.  Once one has been notified that the book’s protagonist is “beneficent” FIVE DOZEN times, one might start to wonder about the claim.  (In fact, it should immediately occur to the reader that there are mountains of incontrovertible evidence–all around the world–which conclusively prove otherwise.)  Overwhelming amounts of irrefutable substantiation (on a daily basis, everywhere on the planet) to the contrary, many votaries come away from their reading of the Koran with the impression that the book’s protagonist is beneficent (and “just”, “forgiving”, etc.) simply because the book says so.  The problem of theodicy is thus ameliorated by fiat.

Such specious rationalization is an indication that many supplicants are not actually paying attention to the contents of their holy book.  It seems that they are instead merely highlighting certain snippets in order to validate their own wishful thinking.  By “bracketing” such extracts (which are repeated over and over and over again), one can remain smug in the belief that this deity is GOOD…simply because that’s what a slew of isolated statements affirm.  (“Why would the book repeat this bold assertion so many times if it wasn’t true?!”)  Once the desired proposition has been incessantly pounded into one’s head for long enough, it seems unthinkable to suggest otherwise.  The overwhelming countervailing evidence encountered around the world, day in and day out, is thereby rendered moot.

(“The Merciful” and “The Beneficent” are two of god’s NAMES, for crying out loud.  So he MUST be merciful and beneficent.  Right?”  So goes the thinking of the malleable-minded supplicant.  This is circular reasoning with a radius of zero.)

In the Pickthall translation, “surely” / “verily” / “truly” is used 511 times.  In the Ali translation, it is used 531 times.  This manner of speech would seem unfitting for a perfectly articulate, CONFIDENT super-being.  That such rhetorical flourishes are used so much in the Koran is rather befuddling…until, that is, we realize that the book’s authors were engaged in a project of proselytization.  

The Koran’s eminently human authorship is obvious simply by reading not only WHAT it says, but HOW it says it.  In verse after verse, we encounter anything but optimally elegant diction–regardless of the language in which it is read.

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