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Blogging the Qur'an.
January 9, 2008 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Blogging the Qur'an The Guardian's Madeleine Bunting and cultural critic Ziauddin Sardar will blog a different verse or theme of the Qur'an each week. Bunting says its one of the most difficult books she's ever read, which is what a lot of non-muslims tend to think. The idea has been mooted before by those of a very similar political hue. Others are already blogging the the Bible.
posted by MrMerlot (22 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does the Qur'an have its own version of Numbers 31?
posted by mullingitover at 10:29 AM on January 9, 2008


I've never read the Koran properly. But I was randomly flicking through it one time and found the bit (18:65 onwards) where Moses meets a wise servant of Allah, and the wise servant says "You can follow me, but you will have no patience!" and then they go on a boat, and the wise servant scuttles it, and Moses gets annoyed and the wise servant says "Aha! You have no patience! Don't ask me any questions." and Moses says "Sorry boss". Then they go on, and the wise servant slaughters a child, and Moses gets upset, and the wise servant says "Oho! I told you you had no patience!" and Moses says "Yeah, my bad". Then they go to a town and the people there are unfriendly, and then they find a wall that is disrepair and they fix it up, and Moses says "Aren't you going to ask for some payment?" Then the wise servant flips out and says "I'm not putting up with this any more. You wanna know why I scuttled that boat? It's because there was a king in that area who would steal the boat by force! And that kid. You wanna know why I killed that kid? It's because his parents were religious and worried that the boy might be disobedient! So I wanted them to have another kid!! You see? Dumbass. And the wall? It belonged to POOR ORPHANS and there was TREASURE UNDER IT. So, way to go Moses."

I found that part quite moving.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:33 AM on January 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


Precisely, that's why we need it in blog form
posted by MrMerlot at 10:37 AM on January 9, 2008


Here is one of the most difficult books I've ever read. I won't be blogging about it.
posted by DreamerFi at 10:46 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Very interesting. I kind of wish you'd stuck to the first two sentences, because the Guardian blog makes an excellent and sufficient post by itself, but I imagine you were afraid of the "single-link" mob. Since you did tack on the other links, though, I have to ask what the hell you mean by "those of a very similar political hue"? The Guardian is notoriously left-wing, and HotAir is the self-proclaimed "world’s first full-service conservative Internet broadcast network": if you take a look at their About page you'll note that they feature such right-wing pinheads as Michelle Malkin and Allahpundit. Try to keep these things straight.

That said: Ziauddin Sardar seems like a perfect choice to blog it, because he's a believing Muslim who grew up with the Qur'an but is well aware of the problems nonbelievers have with it and is eager to explain it in terms they can understand. Also, I like his choice of versions:

Two or three of you asked about translations. Most people would have their favourite. And my favourite is Muhammad Asad's The Message of the Qur'an. It is out of print, therefore difficult to get hold of, not available in paperback and too bulky to carry around. But I find Asad's brief notes and commentary on various verses most enlightening.


Asad (online here) is my primary version as well; no other comes close to its wide-ranging interpretative notes.

The most useful single statement I've read about the Qur'an is that it's comparable to Finnegans Wake rather than to the Bible; its structure is fractal rather than narrative, each section containing as much of the whole "message" as can be fit in. Any given sura is likely to have bits of history, theology, advice about daily life, and other things mixed in. Once you approach it like that, and lose the expectations that it will be telling you continuous stories, it becomes a lot easier to navigate. Also, start at the end, because (oddly, to our preconceptions) it's arranged by length, with the longest ones at the start (except for the Fatiha, the very first one). The later suras are shorter and easier to assimilate.

Note to mullingitover: Yes, there's plenty of violence in the Qur'an. If you object to religious texts containing such material, you can certainly skip it.
posted by languagehat at 10:52 AM on January 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


From the Hot Air about page:

"These efforts have one thing in common: they are all produced by liberals for liberals."

Sounds a bit like the Guardian who have had there fair share of right wing columnists too.
posted by MrMerlot at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2008


and i was a bit scared of getting booted off for posting a single link
posted by MrMerlot at 11:02 AM on January 9, 2008


languagehat writes "Yes, there's plenty of violence in the Qur'an. If you object to religious texts containing such material, you can certainly skip it."

Meh, that chapter wasn't bad in terms of violence. I was referring to taking only female virgins as prisoner (and how do you tell if a girl is a virgin, anyway?) for God-only-knows, but given the situation it's safe to assume they were all raped. So I was wondering if God is as big of a rapist in the Koran as he is in the Bible.
posted by mullingitover at 11:10 AM on January 9, 2008


can i has a lolcats quran?
posted by bruce at 11:36 AM on January 9, 2008


From the Hot Air about page:
"These efforts have one thing in common: they are all produced by liberals for liberals."


Jeez, talk about ignoring the context! Here's the context:
And politically-oriented video is on the rise:

* Google teamed up with Al Gore’s Current TV network to provide Google Current.
* Amazon.com broadcasts Fishbowl featuring left-wing comedian Bill Maher.
* iTunes offers a discount price for Comedy Central’s liberal Daily Show.
* AOL joined with the Huffington Post to provide Contagious Festival, a collection of conservative-bashing short movies.

These efforts have one thing in common: they are all produced by liberals for liberals.

I formed Hot Air Network, LLC, to bring ideological diversity—because we all love diversity–to the videoblogging world.
See what's going on there? "Politically-oriented video is on the rise," but it's all liberal, so we're bringing our extreme right-wing viewpoint for "ideological diversity"! Trust me, there are no liberals on that site. And while the Grauniad may have the occasional right-winger for contrast, Ms. Bunting certainly isn't one of them:
In 2005 she won a Race in the Media award for a Guardian special report following the British Muslim Youth Forum, in which the Guardian brought together more than 100 Muslims to debate their faith, nationality and future. In 2006 she was awarded a degree by the Archbishop of Canterbury for her journalism, particularly for her work in the area of Islam, and was a recipient of the Muslim news award for excellence in 2002.
So no, your statement was completely off-base. Not trying to pick a fight, I like the post, I just found (and still find) it a very weird thing to say.

So I was wondering if God is as big of a rapist in the Koran as he is in the Bible.

Ah, gotcha. No, no He's not. Glad I could clear that up.
posted by languagehat at 11:57 AM on January 9, 2008


To read the Quran properly I think you need 2 english translations (so you can flip back when you don't get something, which often times can make you even more confused but still helps), plus you need Thomas Cleary's translation.

The Cleary is not a direct translation but more of an attempt to extract the poetry of the language and put it into English. It's very well done.
posted by cell divide at 12:11 PM on January 9, 2008


One clarification, I meant Cleary's "essential quran". It seems that now he has extended that into a full translation.
posted by cell divide at 12:12 PM on January 9, 2008


Nice link - serendipitous timing for me, as I just picked up a copy of Yusuf Ali's translation yesterday. The Qur'an was the only major religious text missing from my library, and I've been meaning to take it for a spin for quite some time. I think I'll try & read along with Mr. Sadar for a while and see how that goes.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 12:28 PM on January 9, 2008


Mohammed and Jesus aren't posthumously abiding by the Writers' Guild strike? Fuggin' scabs. I'm gonna go picket a church.
posted by jamstigator at 1:56 PM on January 9, 2008



So I was wondering if God is as big of a rapist in the Koran as he is in the Bible.


Chapter 33 verse 50 of the Koran:
"O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesseth of those whom Allah hath given thee as spoils of war"

So, no. He delegates.
posted by Sparx at 2:57 PM on January 9, 2008


The most useful single statement I've read about the Qur'an is that it's comparable to Finnegans Wake rather than to the Bible; its structure is fractal rather than narrative, each section containing as much of the whole "message" as can be fit in.

In short... gobbledygook.
posted by Faze at 6:18 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe the terrorists have already won, but I am too spooked out even to joke about the Koran.
posted by Slap Factory at 9:55 PM on January 9, 2008


languagehat: sorry mate, but i failed to read the about page correctly. Thanks for pointing that out.
posted by MrMerlot at 11:00 PM on January 9, 2008


Seconding cell divide on the benefit of having multiple translations on hand. Yusuf Ali and Asad (which is not out of print and easy to find btw) balance each other pretty well, Asad being terse, clear, direct but a bit dry and "modernickal" as I heard it put once; Yusuf Ali being more flowery and prone to wordy footnotes on the spiritual subtleties of various verses. (The early editions of Yusuf Ali even had his own (awful) original poetry as interludes between chapters and sections. That was wisely dropped from later editions.) Together they cover a pretty wide range on the exegetical spectrum while still remaining within the mainstream tradition.

A newer translation that is on my wish list is The Majestic Quran by a committee including TJ Winters and Mostafa Al-Badawi, both translators who have published with the Islamic Texts Society. I haven't held it yet myself so I can't really vouch for it, but having read a number of other books translated by Al-Badawi, I expect it to be fantastic.

LH, Regarding the arrangement of verses, it would be better to say they tend to be longer in front and shorter at the back. Length was certainly not the criterion by which the chapters were arranged, and there are many many chapters that are "out of order" by length.
posted by BinGregory at 10:38 PM on January 10, 2008


BinGregory: Needless to say, I defer to your greater knowledge, but I've always read that they are arranged by length, and a look through the book seems to substantiate that. Googling turns up: "each surah is arranged according to length, the longest coming first," "the surahs are arranged in decreasing order of length. more or less (except for the brief introductory Surah 1)," "the suras of the Qur'an are arranged in order of length," "arranged in order of length from the longest to the shortest, except for a short opening prayer in Chapter 1," etc.

Length was certainly not the criterion by which the chapters were arranged

Are you saying it's a coincidence that they're very largely in that order? That's a little hard to believe.
posted by languagehat at 5:52 AM on January 11, 2008


Don't take my word for it, whip out your Asad Quran. Counting Fatihah as chapter 1, chapter 6 is longer than chapter 5, Ch. 7 longer than 6, the shortest chapter is seven or so chapters from the end, etc. Your original point about the Quran's arrangement going against our expectations of how a holy book should be organized - chronological historical narrative - is a very good one, and it's not wrong to say the Quran is mostly longer in the front and mostly shorter in the back. It clearly is. It's just not a hard and fast rule. Another useful generality you hear a lot is that the longer, more legalistic chapters are from the Medinan period and the shorter, more spiritual chapters are from the Meccan period. That's also true up to a point, but some chapters are actually composed of verses revealed in different times and places, and the contents of chapters are rarely as thematically uniform as the Meccan/Medinan generality would suggest - nuggets of spirituality are nestled within drier topics, verses with legal ramifications can be found in Meccan period verses etc. So no, I'm not saying anything is coincidental about the arrangement of the Quran; I'm just saying the ultimate order and arrangement of the book was received from the Prophet by his companions, and chronology or length was evidently not the ultimate criterion. It's more complicated than that.
posted by BinGregory at 7:02 AM on January 11, 2008


Fair enough, and thanks for the specific examples. I am now more educated than I was.
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on January 11, 2008


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