Sunday, September 9, 2007
The Koran (Qur'an) - c 590 CE
The Qur'an, commonly spelled Koran in the west, is the Islamic holy book of Allah (God). Practioners of Islam called muslims, believe that it is the eternal, literal word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of 22 years. The Qur'an consists of 114 suras (chapters) and 6,228 ayats (verses). Much of the content in the Qur'an makes reference back to parts of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Well-known Biblical characters such as Abraham, Noah, and Jesus are mentioned. Detractors of the Qur'an and Muhammad have claimed that Muhammad was merely taking older religious documents and stories and embellishing them. Muslims maintain that this could not be the case. They say that modern science has identified many factual errors and internal inconsistencies in the Bible, but that the Qur'an has none and, in cases where Biblical stories reappear in very similar form in the Qur'an, the stories are always changed in such a way that the scientific inaccuracies and inconsistencies are gone. The absence of inaccuracies and inconsistencies are, they claim, proof that it comes from God. Muslims believe that the wording of Qur'anic text that we have today is identical to that spoken by Muhammad himself. Muhammad only delivered the Qur'an in spoken form during his lifetime; the word "Qur'an", in fact, means "the recitation". To ensure they remembered the text thoroughly, the faithful were required (and many still do) to memorize passages perfectly, down to the last syllable, and recite them frequently. Shortly after his death, Muhammad's disciples began recording all the Suras in written form. Thus, two different mechanisms were in place -- oral and written -- to help ensure that no corruption of the text took place over time. There is almost no dispute among Islamic clerics that the text today is as it was when it was first written down.
Contemporary Scholarship and the Qur'an
Islamic scholars, on the other hand, have long shown that this is not quite the case. Just as higher biblical criticism revolutionzed Judaism and Christianity by calling into question long held assumptions about the origins of the Bible, similar studies have done the same for the Qur'an. Scholars of Islamic religious literature now agree that much of the Qur'an is a modified composite based on the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] and the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is recognized that many of the pious claims about its composition and content are not historically supportable.
Islamic history records that Uthman collected all variants of the Qur'an and destroyed those that he did not approve of. There is no evidence that Uthman's choices are necessarily correct. Hard textual evidence reveals that the text of the Qur'an continued to develop after this time. The Hadith claims that the Qur'an is defective; the Hadith is the authoritative Muslim understanding of the Qur'an and Islamic law. (It is roughly equivalent to Judaism's oral law in the Mishna and Talmuds.) The Hadiths say that some of the Qur'an was lost, forgotten, or abrogated. It explicitly refers to chapters [suras] in the Qur'an that are no longer extant. While never discussed in public among religious Muslims, Islamic scholars note that there are a number of variants in modern day versions of the Qur'an.
Robert of Ketton was the first to translate the Qur'an into Latin in 1143. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on the Qur'an (Koran).]
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