The Koran As A Miracle?

May 5, 2021 Category: Religion

FOOTNOTES:

{1  For more on the matter of the Koran’s purported clarity, see Gerd F. Puin’s “Observations On Early Qu’ran Manuscripts In Sana’a”.}

{2  Ali Dashti concluded: “Belief can blunt human reason and common sense, even in learned scholars. What is needed is more impartial study.”  I explore the matter of impartiality at length in part 1 of my series: “On Mohammed”.}

{3  This does not always end well.  There is a disincentive for engaging in frank critical analysis—as the world was reminded when the Turkish critic of Islam, Turan Durson was assassinated in 1990, outside his home in Istanbul.}

{4  “Ha Meem” (used at the beginning of Surahs 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, and 46) may sound cool to some people, but nobody has any idea what the heck it means.  So why do so many surahs begin with the utterance of these two letters?  Nobody knows.  But this inexplicable feature is apparently an integral feature of a perfectly clear book.}

{5  It is surmised that Dhul-Qarnayn [One of two horns] probably referred to Alexander the Great.  Meanwhile, “Dhul-Nun” [One of the fish] and/or “Sahib al-Hut” [Man of the fish] probably referred to Jonah.  Such vague descriptors indicate that the authors were not aware of the proper names of these Biblical figures.}

{6  Apologists refer to this literary glitch as “al-tifat”.  Typically, they rationalize it as some sort of rhetorical device.  In pre-Mohammedan Arabian text, such inconsistency in grammatical structure was not uncommon.  Be that as it may, this is a sign that the Koran is almost certainly not the Word of a divine super-being.  “But back then, Arabians did this…” doesn’t apply when one claims that GOD was the author, and that the Koran has existed since the beginning of time.  (How peculiar that the Creator of the Universe happens to have particular, Iron Age Arabian expository habits!)  The rest of us are more inclined to simply refer to “al-tifat” as “bad writing”.}

{7  Instead, M. Pickthall opts to translate this as: “God fights them!”  Yusuf Ali opts for: “God’s curse be upon them!”  Such attempts to fix this didactic snafu are unsuccessful.  In the former case: Are we to suppose that GOD fights non-Muslims?  (That is: He is literally FIGHTING his followers?)  In the latter case, there is still an imprecation implied: May god curse them.}

{8  Reader beware: This verse is typically re-written as “bestow blessings upon the prophet”, a deliberate mis-translation designed to obfuscate an embarrassing statement.}

{9  Such is the case with Robert Frost’s famous ending: “And miles to go before I sleep; And miles to go before I sleep.”  In song lyrics, epizeuxis is often employed for emphasis and/or to maintain the meter; and may even be required to keep pace with the rhythm of the music.  (Instead of inserting new verbiage, words / phrases are repeated as a kind of “filler”, in order to keep time.)  This phenomenon has no relevance whatsoever to Koranic verse…as there is no pre-established meter / rhythm to which the recitation must adhere.  In sum: The “Recitations” does not warrant the kind of pointless repetitions / redundancies encountered throughout.}

{10  Reading the Koran is best described as a slog; as one finds oneself trudging through boorish text that is stultifyingly redundant and utterly unimaginative.}

{11 Is this assessment committing the sin of “historicism”, by which bygone eras are assessed according to ahistorical benchmarks?  How are we to respond to the protestation that it is unfair to judge the Koran by the standards of the present day?  What, then, about judging The Iliad and the Odyssey–writing that is literally TWICE as old–by today’s standards?  Needless to say, we regularly do so, without qualms; and the virtue of Homer’s achievement remains fully in tact.  Surely, the Creator of the Universe could fare at least as well as Homer were he to compose something specifically intended to accommodate an audience centuries later.  (Meanwhile, taking the “who are we to question the Koran?” approach is no better than an endorsement of authoritarianism: Don’t question; just accept!)  Such an ahistorical assessment is fair because the Koran ITSELF says that it is fair.  In fact, it DEMANDS to be evaluated in such a manner.  To judge the Koran using timeless principles is simply to judge the Koran on the Koran’s own terms.  By doing so, we are honoring the Koran’s authors’ request to treat it as an eternal message, good for all time.  To apologize for the deficiencies of the “Recitations” by temporizing them is to flout the proposition that they have divine origin–conceding that they were, in fact, man-made (i.e. mere reflections of the specific time and place in which they were composed).  Koranic theology insists that we NOT do this.}

{12  Koran fetishists rhapsodize about Koranic verse as if “polysemy” (packing multiple meanings into a single term) were a linguistic phenomenon that was unique to CA.  One need only open a dictionary to ANY page to see that words with only a single meaning are actually quite rare.  (Dare I say: Use words poetically, and a singular meaning doesn’t even exist.)  This brings to mind a ethnocentric bigot who is convinced that a person can achieve X (where X is some desirable state) ONLY by having an ethnic background that–conveniently enough for him–happens to be his own.  Polysemy (dubbed “wujuh al-Qur’an” in Islamic apologia) was a feature of ALL Semitic languages (including Hebrew).  Indeed, the phenomenon (a word exhibiting a range of meanings depending on context) is ubiquitous throughout every one of the world’s vernaculars.  For instance, the Prakrit that serves as the liturgical language for Theravada Buddhism (Pali) reads in such a way that one can’t be certain of a lexeme’s meaning until one has reached the end of the statement.  Pali is fungible to an inordinate degree; yet even there intertextuality assures that meaning is fairly well-attested.  The point is that, in such cases, it is a delimited RANGE, not an entirely open-ended invitation to choose your own meaning, with which exegetes must contend.  To be entranced whenever one encounters this mundane phenomenon is a sure way to incapacitate one’s own mind.  Shall we all be enthralled by the fact that “shishka” in Russian can mean a pine-cone, a powerful boss-man, a bump on the head, OR a large penis?  Gee wiz.}

{13  This is roughly the same has the usage of “knowing” found in the Christian’s locution: to KNOW Jesus.  “Knowing Jesus” is not really a form of knowledge; it is concomitant with religious Faith.}

{14  This point cannot be emphasized enough.  Wisdom is not to be confused with doctrinal fidelity–what the Greeks referred to as “doxa”, and what is dubbed “hidmah” in CA.  This is more a function of piety than wisdom.  That is: It is based more on subservience than on erudition.  There is nothing sagacious about being doctrinaire.  We mustn’t confuse being punctilious (the mark of religious zeal) with being perspicacious (the mark of intellectual rigor).}

{15  Greek thinkers considered “arete” (wisdom) concomitant with “agape” (universal love; what Marx dubbed “species-being”).  In other words, “eudaimonia”, not a regimen of simpering / groveling, was seen as integral to intellectual virtue.  Thus wisdom was taken to be predicated on vitality (what Nietzsche called “saying yes to life”) rather than on a state of obsequiousness and intimidation.}

{16  Also in the 16th century, the pioneering scholar, Giacomo Zabarella of Padua did a groundbreaking work on natural philosophy.}

{17  Also in the 17th century, René Descartes pioneered modern rationalism with his “Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences” and “Meditations on First Philosophy”.  Then came Baruch (cum-Benedict) Spinoza with his “Tractatus Theologico-Politicus”, Isaac Newton with his “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica”, and Robert Boyle with his “A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature”.}

{18  I explore the progress of science over the ages (vis a vis Islam’s contributions) in my essay, “Islam’s Pyrite Age”.}

{19  Even FRUIT is made in pairs (13:3).  And all PLANTS are made in pairs as well (20:53).  Bungling botany at such a basic level is rather embarrassing.  Of course, SOME plants engage in sexual reproduction.  But this is a far cry from every plant being made in pairs; especially considering most flowers have DUAL sexuality—as they have stamens (which produce pollen) as well as carpels (which produce ovules).  Asexual reproduction exists not just in flora, but in some animals as well.}

{20  There is even a Hadith that makes a fumbled attempt at embryology, specifying that after 4 lunar months of gestation, the angel charged with crafting the fetus asks god himself what the gender shall be…at which point god decides.  The angel then makes it so.  Never mind the existence of X and Y chromosomes; or the fact that sex is determined the moment two gametes form a viable zygote.}

{21  When it is explained that what we know dub “shooting stars” (being STARS rather than debris falling into our planet’s atmosphere) are god’s way of protecting Earth from an incursion of evil genies, we know we are not dealing with scientifically literate authors.  (For this, reference Bukhari’s Hadith vol. 65, no. 223 and 322.)  Shooting stars are referred to as “kawkab” in the Koran (as in 6:76 and 24:35).  Suffice to say, meteoroids (which is what “shooting stars” actually are) are not lamps (qua light source).  They briefly illuminate as they burn up in the Earth’s thermosphere.  In the Koran, stars are referred to as “najm” (as in 53:1 and 86:3); and are ALSO referred to as LAMPs (“masabih” / “mis’bah”, as in 24:35; or “siraj”, as in 25:61, 33:46, 71:16, and 78:13).  Of course, shooting stars are NOT stars; nor are they projectiles intended to ward off demons trying to infiltrate the heavenly realm.  And what of actual stars?  Embarrassingly, the Koran explains that these pinpoints of light are–like lamps hung from the ceiling–adornments of the dome over the Earth.}

{22  Evidently, those who propagated the “Recitations” were fascinated by iron, as they refer to that particular metal as divinely forged in 18:96, 34:10, 57:25 (which refer to has having been “sent down”).  Of course, it was believed that EVERYTHING was made / sent by god; so there is nothing especially striking about this phrasing.  That medieval Bedouins were beguiled by iron was understandable, as it seemed to exhibit magical properties (inordinate heft and strength).  These were—after all—the same people who were still marveling at things like thunder and lightning.  The Koran’s authors were obviously impressed by iron—so heavy, so solid, so tough.  This is reflected in their choice of materials for the collars and chains by which the damned shall be laden (13:5, 34:33, 36:8, 40:71, 76:4, etc.)  People had considered iron to be divinely forged since time immemorial.  The Sumerian word for “iron” literally meant “metal from heaven”.  The Koran’s references to iron are merely an echo of this archaic trope.  While there are plenty of iron-ore deposits in the Earth’s crust, iron–like various other metals–is common in meteors.  It is also found in the Earth’s molten core, which accounts for the magnetic field surrounding the planet.  As with various other elements found on Earth, it was formed by supernovae billions of years ago.  If only the Koran’s authors had explained the unique properties of ALLOYS, there would have been something by which we might be impressed.  Meanwhile, no memos on titanium were forthcoming.}

{23  “All nations” did not include any of the places that had NOT ever received an Abrahamic prophet–namely: the Americas, the Nordic lands, sub-Saharan Africa, the Eurasian Steppes, Siberia, India, China, and southeast Asia.  There was obviously no awareness that there was even a Western hemisphere.  Indeed, there was not even a conception of hemisphere, as the world was not understood to be spherical.  In other words, so far as the authors of the Koran were aware, the entire “world” was the world of the Old Testament.  16:63 declare that, by the time of the LAST prophet (MoM), the Abrahamic deity had sent an Abrahamic prophet to every nation in the world.  The authors were clearly not aware of any lands beyond the Middle East (skirted by the land of the Romans to the west and the Persians to the east).  The scope of the known world (at the time) was considered the ENTIRETY of the world.  This myopic purview was captured in the Greek term, “oikoumene ge” (typically rendered “[o]Ecumene”; which served as the basis for the ecclesiastical term for universality, “ecumenical”).  Such an ideation attests to the conceit of such epistemology–which typically takes the form: All that MATTERS TO US is tantamount to all that exists.  That is: If it isn’t relevant to our delimited scope concern, then it may as well not exist.  The entire universe is that which WE care about is a form of (collective) epistemic narcissism.  Hence the attitude: All we happen to be aware of is all that matters.  (“Anything outside our designated purview is not worth knowing.”)  While its authors seem to have been aware of Mandaeans (as “Sabians”) and Zoroastrianism (in addition to Judaism, Christianity, and the various forms of Arab paganism), the Koran fails to mention Manichaeism, Mithra-ism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism…or any of the many other religions of the world at the time.  Such a myopic purview would have seemed fine insofar as the entire “world” was comprised exclusively of the East Mediterranean (the Apennine Peninsula, the Balkan Peninsula, Anatolia, Egypt, and the Levant)…in addition to Arabia, Abyssinia, Mesopotamia, and Persia.  To complicate matters: 28:46, 32:3, 34:43-44, and 36:2-6 notify us that MoM was the first prophet to be sent to Arabia…even after we are expected to believe that Abraham and his son had erected the Kaaba in Mecca (see my essay: “Mecca And Its Cube”).  Such ignorance is unsurprising, coming as it did from people who thought the world was flat.}

{24  According to verses 25:53, 27:61, and 55:19-20, the world has two seas (one salt water, one fresh water) separated by a “barrier” or “partition” (“barzakh”).  In the discussion of the “two seas” of the world (one fresh, one salt).  55:22 states that coral (along with pearls) comes from both kinds of water.  Wrong.  Coral can only grow in salt water.  (The authors thus manage to bungle both basic world geography and basic marine biology in just two verses.)  Those who engage in eisegesis attempt to spin this (obviously false) proposition as some kind of brilliant description of the (apparent) immiscibility found in what are called “suspensions” in chemistry.  Of course, wherever two bodies of water (which have different salinity / temperature / pressure) interface with one another, each body retains its native features up to the place of interface, where there is a margin that demarcates one body from the other.  But so what?  Salt wedge estuaries occur where fresh water interfaces with saline water (i.e. ocean water) at the mouth of some rivers.  This often happens in a manner that temporarily prevents the water—at any given moment—from mixing.  Sometimes this provides the visual effect of two distinct colors on the surface of the water (as if they were magically separated by a mysterious barrier).  In the end, the ocean remains the ocean (with all its traits) and the river remains the river (with all its traits).  Incidentally, saline water and fresh water are miscible; so this is only a visual effect, not an explanation of how all water behaves.  Oddly, there is no mention of hydro-colloids in the Koran.  Go figure.}

{25  This Hijaz-centric view of the world is telling.  The word for “barrier” in the Koran is “barzakh”.  As it just so happens, “Hijaz” means “barrier” as well.  Not coincidentally, “Hijaz” was the label given—by the pre-Islam Arabs—to the area of southwestern Arabia that separates the (salty) Red Sea and Dead Sea from (fresh) water bodies like the Jordan River in the north and the aquatic accumulation in the various “wadis” (riverbeds) after rainfall further inland.  That is likely to have been the “barrier” to which the Koran’s Bedouin authors were referring.  The upshot: “That which separates the bodies of salt water from the bodies of fresh water” was the land on which they dwelt (see footnote 26 below).  The separation of the waters of the world into salt and fresh goes back to the Sumerian legend of Tiamat (representing ocean waters) and Abzu (representing fresh waters) in the Enuma Elish.}

{26  Where, one might ask, did this daffy superstition come from?  As it turns out, the notion of mountains as foundational fixtures, used by the gods to hold down the Earth, came from the Sumerians.  The moniker “E-Temen-Anki” indicates the mountain serving as the main buttress for the world.  “Temen” refers to an axis mundi (the basis for the Greek “temenos”).  “Anki” was the basis for “An” (god of the heavens) and “Ki” (Earth goddess).}

{27  Those who devote their time to memorizing verses almost certainly do not qualify for aptitude in the Koran’s ACTUAL contents.  This is especially so for the so-called “hafiz”.  Though the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, rote memorization (of memorized sounds) is typically incommensurate with reading comprehension.  Those who seek to glean an understanding of a texts content rarely strive to MEMORIZE the text itself, as one undertaking has absolutely nothing to do with the other.  More to the point: Pro-forma regurgitation of scripture can’t be described as anything other than a colossal waste of time.  If one can recite by memory large swaths of a text, it is a sure sign that one has not procured an understanding of the words coming out of one’s mouth.  And one has most certainly not subjected the material to critical scrutiny.  The exercise is–at best–a gross misallocation of time and mental resources.  Here’s the key: This would be the case EVEN IF the book was brimming with ingenious insights.  There, indeed, no reason to memorize ANYTHING by rote.  Ever.}

{28  This is not to say that the Koran’s authors got this idea from the Chinese.  It is merely to point out that such motifs were not uncommon in the ancient world.  (Similar accounts of abiogenesis can be found in various Native American myths as well.)  In fact, there is NOTHING revelatory in Islam’s holy book (or the Hadith) regarding non-theological matters.  And, as is discussed throughout the present book, even the majority of theological claims were cribbed from extant lore–from heaven and hell to a Great Flood and impending Judgement Day.}

{29  Though we sometimes use the idiomatic expression “face of the Earth”, it is not meant literally; as it is a locution for the SURFACE of a planet, even as it is understood to be spherical.  Al-Khwarizmi had in mind a flat surface; as “sur”, the Persian lexeme he employed, means “wall”.  Walls have FLAT surfaces.}

{30  Some apologists try to obfuscate this embarrassing description by a bit of legerdemain.  To tweak the interpretation, the trick is to pretend that the Koran’s authors meant to write “duhiya” here–a lexeme that may have been used to refer to the place where an ostrich lays its eggs in the sand.  This is rationalized by the fact that “duhiya” and “dahaha” share the same root: “dahawa”.  One must then construe “place where an ostrich lays its eggs in the sand” as “egg-like”…and then take that as a poetic way of saying “round”.  This absurd bit of clumsy exegetical acrobatics ends up being more embarrassing than the Koranic text that it aims to re-interpret.  Of course, if the Koran REALLY HAD meant “round like an egg”, it would not have described the heavens as a DOME; it would have been described as a SPHERE..or perhaps as an ENCLOSED SHELL or a CARAPACE.  Moreover, there would have been nothing miraculous about the heavens being somehow SUSPENDED ABOVE (without pillars), as it would have been seen as SURROUNDING the world.}

{31  Throughout the Koran, “wajadah[a]” is never used to mean “shubbiha”.  Moreover, Alexander is said to have ALSO found (using the same term, “wajadah[a]”) a people at this location; so are we to suppose that they were an illusion as well?}

{32  Tellingly, the term for “sea” (“bahri” / “bahra”) was not used.  Rather, the term used for the pool of water is “ayn”, which is typically translated as “spring”.  The term used for “muddy” is “hami’ah”.  We might note that no spring exists that is sufficiently large that it stretches across the horizon such that the setting sun might appear to be setting INTO it.}

{33  The verb “to reach” is “balagha”…which can either pertain to arriving spatially or temporally (to reach a geographic location OR to reach a point in time).  In the passages here, describing Alexander traveling on roads to REACH various places, “balagha” is consistently used in the former sense–as is 18:89-90 (reaching the place where the sun rises on dark-skinned people) and 18:92-93 (reaching the place between two mountains where people spoke a foreign tongue).}

{34  The Roman Catholic Church was vehemently anti-intellectual–as a matter of course.  The Vatican stifled intellectual activity in Europe for over a thousand years.  The odious legacy began with the execution of Hypatia of Alexandria in 415, followed by the execution of Boëthius in 524.  The programatic censure of scholarly activity continued on through the Renaissance.  Behold: the persecution of Peter Abelard in 1140-42, the Condemnations of 1277, the excommunication of William of Ockham in 1328, the execution of Jan Hus in 1415, Tomas de Torquemada’s reign of terror in the 1480’s and 90’s, the exile of Tycho Brahe from Denmark in 1597, the burning of Giordano Bruno in 1600, the house arrest of Galileo in 1633, etc.  When Spinoza noted that the only sensical conception of “god” was the god of nature, religious fundamentalists across Europe had aneurisms.}

{35  Not knowing that semen is made in the scrotum was odd enough.  Even more oddly, 32:8 and 77:20 notify us that man is created from a “disdainful fluid” [“nutfa”] in 22:5 and 40:67.  What’s going on here?  Why would the impresario of the natural world choose to have his most prized creation derive from something that he disdained?  More to the point: Would the Creator of the Universe really harbor DISDAIN for SEMEN?}

{36  The Hadith isn’t any better.  Hadith tout an approach to sustenance–citing the “sons of Adam” who consumed one third food, one third drink, and one third air.  Wait.  What?  Apparently the authors were under the impression that digestion and respiration shared the same anatomical reservoir.  Presumably, then, if one eats / drinks more, one breaths less.  Another Hadith prescribes the drinking of camel urine to treat ailments.  And the most daffy passage proposes that flies carry diseases on only one of their wings…while carrying the cure on the other.  So take heed: If a fly happens to land in your drink, make sure to dunk BOTH sides of the insect so as to prevent the liquid from being contaminated.  One wing cancels the other out, you see.}

APPENDIX 1:

In Classical Arabic, unless otherwise specified, when the singular “you” is used, the Koran is addressing MoM; whereas when the plural “you” is used, it is addressing the general audience (i.e. men).  The distinction is not always evident in an English translation–as both are simply rendered “you”.

Because such things tend not to come through in English, any given translator is required to specify the distinction via annotation [typically, in brackets].  Textual context also provides a clue: When MoM is the addressee, the Koran is generally in the 1st person.  When the general audience is the addressee, the Koran is generally in the 2nd person.  And when “you” occurs in a quote during the recounting (or prognostication) of an event, the Koran is generally in the 3rd person (note, for example, what god says to the damned on Judgement Day; and then once they’ve arrived in hell).

And so it goes: There are a plethora of passages in which the Koran addresses itself exclusively to YOU, meaning MoM (rather than “you” the general reader).  Ergo the conundrum: Why would god compose his final message–purportedly TO and FOR all mankind–in this manner?

Would instructions / memos to the Final Messenger ABOUT the final message need to be broadcast to everyone IN the final message?  This peculiarity becomes even stranger when we consider passages like 19:54/56, where instructions to MoM about what to mention in the Koran are THEMSELVES part of the Koran.

Taking into account passages like 22:72 (in which the Koran refers to itself in a rather gratuitous manner), we must wonder in who’s voice the book was supposed to be presented (and, more to the point, from which perspective it was allegedly composed).  The fact that the book (purportedly) exists on an “eternal tablet”, as asserted in 85:22, makes this issue all the more confounding.

Those who pretend NOT to be perplexed by this expositional oddity are simply not paying attention.  The explanation, though, is actually quite straight-forward…once we consider how the book was actually composed: from a concatenation of disparate sources.  I explore this at length in my essay: “Genesis Of A Holy Book”.

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