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Understanding Islam.
December 6, 2005 6:20 AM   Subscribe

The USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts is a very useful compilation of essays on various topics, searchable versions of the Qur'an (uses three different translations) and hadith (the sayings and traditions of the Prophet), and a glossary (which is how I discovered the site, while trying to find a good reference for a comment on Falconetti's excellent Maniac Muslim post). The first of the Ten Misconceptions About Islam: "Islam is 'the religion of peace' because the Arabic word Islam is derived from the Arabic word Al-Salaam which means peace." Their response:
It might seem strange to think of this as a misconception, but in fact it is. The root word of Islam is al-silm which means "submission" or "surrender." It is understood to mean "submission to Allah." In spite of whatever noble intention has caused many a Muslim to claim that Islam is derived primarily from peace, this is not true.
As you can see, they care about accuracy, not just propaganda.
posted by languagehat (24 comments total)

 
I'll post various multilingual resources later if I can.

Here's something that may be of interest to some:
http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/default.htm

Check out the contentions series by Sh Abdul Hakim Murad (aka Tim Winter). I reckon you'll dig their multilingual nature Mr Hat :)

As an aside, be careful about the hadith translations on the USC-MSA site. I've spotted some errors in the Bukhari and Muslim collections - they seem to come from certain Saudi sources..
posted by Mossy at 6:52 AM on December 6, 2005


[I]t is worthwhile to note that both Judaism and Christianity allow polygamy.

Buh?

It's well-written, but they started to lose me on Misconception 3 (about the treatment of women). Quibbling at great length on the definition of the word "equal," quoting and yet oddly ignoring the "scourge them" bit from the Qur'an, defending the mandate of the veil because pornography is worse...I dunno.
posted by Gator at 6:52 AM on December 6, 2005


The scourge bit isn't in the Qu'ran except as translated by certain non-muslim polemicists. The arabic import is somewhat different, as is the statements in the various tafsir (exegesis) of that particular verse. I'm not sure I agree with some of the positions taken in the misconceptions, but eh, differnet people, different perceptions :)
posted by Mossy at 7:03 AM on December 6, 2005


Quibbling at great length on the definition of the word "equal"

Yeah, I know. But after all, quibbling is a big part of book-based religion, and you have to expect them to be a little sensitive on the topic. I'm also troubled by what Mossy says about "certain Saudi sources" (though it certainly doesn't seem at first glance like a Wahhabi-oriented site). But it's such a handy source for basic information I thought it was worth posting.
posted by languagehat at 7:17 AM on December 6, 2005


FWIW, the "Yusuf Ali" translation included is (like the current print version with his name) not in fact Yusuf Ali's original work, but the same as "improved" by his Saudi publishers ("Allah" for "God," etc.).

It's nothing short of amazing that there is not available in English a translation of the Qur'an with nonsectarian, historical, etc. annotations. An Oxford Annotated Qur'an, for example, (the book-by-scholarly-committee approach) would greatly benefit the English-language reading world.
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:22 AM on December 6, 2005


I just noticed an interesting project : a transliterated Qur'an with morphological tagging, produced at the University of Haifa. (Java applet, qorout.txt.gz). I could imagine a much better web interface, but it might be useful for those with a little Arabic.
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:35 AM on December 6, 2005


Sho' 'nuff, LH. It's a good post and interesting reading, I just find myself questioning the accuracy of the "accuracy, not just propaganda" part.

Mossy, I searched for "scourge" using the Qu'ran search tool that LH linked to, and found that the other two translations of that verse use the less-harsh-sounding phrase "beat them." I just find it a little odd that someone who's trying to correct a misconception that women are inferior to men would quote that particular verse and ignore the apparent contradiction it creates, is all. Of course, as LH said, some quibbling is to be expected in such discussions, but it seems weird to shoot your argument in the foot by quoting such a harsh line to begin with.

I need more coffee.
posted by Gator at 7:37 AM on December 6, 2005


There have been a couple of Oxford/Cambridge based initiatives - I've personally found the Majestic Qu'ran by Tim Winter et al and the translation by M Abdel Haleem to be the best. But then again, I am biased..

The main problem is due to the nature of the arabic, you need to contextualise to provide an english translation: this is inherently based around which sources you (be you sunni, shia or secular) take to be "true" and valid to use.
posted by Mossy at 7:37 AM on December 6, 2005


"...not just propaganda."

But also quite a bit of propoganda.

I suppose the real problem I have with Islam, and with fundamentalism of all stripes, is the idea of an inerrant text from which the answers to all questions may be divined. The social construction that's put forth in the Koran should be recognized as representing the best efforts of a certain culture, several hundred years ago. Further, their arguments about how the sexes are naturally predisposed to one role or another fail if not backed up by the theory of the magic book, and that annoys me. It means that both through honest and perverse interpretations, women suffer needlessly due to cultural/religious adherence to this text. And that seems to contradict the argument that Islam is against oppression, at least for me.
posted by klangklangston at 7:41 AM on December 6, 2005


Thanks for the references, Mossy. I'm not sure I'd noticed last year's new World's Classics Qur'an (though I had in mind something more like this). I'll have to have a look at those recent editions (though the Majestic Quran is out of print, not available used, and hard to borrow: it's not even in the Harvard libraries, and WorldCat has a record of it in only eleven libraries worldwide!).
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:58 AM on December 6, 2005


That's possibly an exaggerated North American perspective: amazon.co.uk claims they can get MQ from the publisher in 4-6 weeks (obviously uncertain), and WorldCat is only exhaustive for American libraries...
posted by Zurishaddai at 8:04 AM on December 6, 2005


At the end of the ten misconceptions, we read: "Anything good in this document is from Allah, while everything bad in it is from us."

A little unnerving, that. To me, at least.

Interesting read, though.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:40 AM on December 6, 2005


A little unnerving, that.

Isn't it pretty much like the standard line in acknowledgments: "I'd like to thank X, Y, and Z for saving me from many errors and turning this into a readable book; all remaining mistakes are mine"? Just your basic humility, seems to me.

It's nothing short of amazing that there is not available in English a translation of the Qur'an with nonsectarian, historical, etc. annotations.

Yeah, that would be great. Meanwhile, I make do with The message of the Qur'an by Muhammad Asad, which includes copious notes taken from the traditional commentaries; Mossy, do you have any thoughts on it? (Badly scanned version online here: e.g., rahīm becomes "rahrm").
posted by languagehat at 9:45 AM on December 6, 2005


I think it may be harder to find good annotated translations of the Koran due to the nature of the work. As it was explained to me by a professor, the Koran is held to be more valid than the Torah or both testaments of the Bible because the latter works have undergone translation, and therefore the meanings have been diluted due to the influence of men. The Koran is believed to be definitive because God spoke to Mohammed in Arabic, and he transcribed the document in the language it was received, therefore no translation errors. (Hence: anything good in this document is from Allah, everything bad is from us) If you put it into another language, it ceases to be "the Koran" and becomes a translation of the Koran.

(Thank you Professor Bachrach wherever you are. Great class.)
posted by FYKshun at 9:51 AM on December 6, 2005


In brief: it doesn't really sync with the traditional commentaries in a number of areas. It works more from the works of Abduh than anyone else..

I suppose it's one of the most accesible to the Western mindset though as a result.

Gator: thanks for the link, I didn't know that the pickthall translation used scourge (never finished it, didn't like it at all..). I can talk about the actual arabic if you like and the differing interpretations of it (jus relaying, my arabic isn't too hot).

I think it's the historical aspect thats a toughie to get right - nabbing a copy of various tafsirs from different groups and good lexicographies/dictionaries (eg lane, al qamoos etc) would probably give you the best view if you decided to go hardcore on the topic. Maariful Qu'ran has just been finished for the Hanafi Sunni viewpoint and the translation is quite good it seems: http://www.azharacademy.com/scripts/prodView.asp?idProduct=1324 (I don't have it).
posted by Mossy at 10:00 AM on December 6, 2005


If you put it into another language, it ceases to be "the Koran" and becomes a translation of the Koran.

Or even "an interpretation of the meaning of the Qu'ran" as is found on the subtitle of most "translations".
posted by Mossy at 10:01 AM on December 6, 2005


good stuff, thanks L-Hat
posted by matteo at 10:13 AM on December 6, 2005


Well Mossy, it isn't so much the specific word that bugs, as the concept -- the verse seems to be saying, specifically, that it's okay for men to strike their wives if they fear she might rebel against them. I was just trying to say that it's very weird to set yourself up as debunking a misconception (and I mean the writers of that site, not you), only to include a rather inflammatory verse from your scriptures that seems to contradict what you're trying to say.

For example, it would be incongruous for a Christian to state, in one breath, that their faith teaches compassion even for homosexuals, and then in the next breath quote Leviticus 20:13 ("If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives"). It's like, if you're trying to convince me that your religion isn't as bad as people think it is, why are you quoting such an inflammatory line from your scripture?

I hope I'm making sense. I have not had nearly the amount of caffeine I ought to have had by this time of the day.
posted by Gator at 10:29 AM on December 6, 2005


Looking at what they wrote again, I agree with you :)

I didn't have any caffeine today - kicking the habit. Go Mossy. Grr.
posted by Mossy at 10:38 AM on December 6, 2005


Isn't it pretty much like the standard line in acknowledgments: "I'd like to thank X, Y, and Z for saving me from many errors and turning this into a readable book; all remaining mistakes are mine"? Just your basic humility, seems to me.

Much like, yes, and fair enough. What unnerves me is that the author is disavowing credit for anything of worth here.

Submission indeed.

Again, interesting post and I will explore more later and thanks.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:04 PM on December 6, 2005


(I do see how it can be taken benignly, by the way, but I feel the same disconnect when I hear an athlete attribute victory in a football game to God, or faith in God, rather than to a good offensive line.)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:13 PM on December 6, 2005


Bookmarked. Thank, LH.
posted by jokeefe at 2:13 PM on December 6, 2005


(I do see how it can be taken benignly, by the way, but I feel the same disconnect when I hear an athlete attribute victory in a football game to God, or faith in God, rather than to a good offensive line.)

A good offensive line IS a gift from God.

Go State!
posted by ozomatli at 3:54 PM on December 6, 2005


Can't care much about football if He's backing State....
posted by IndigoJones at 4:51 AM on December 7, 2005


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