I still come across people whose only source for the Koran is the paperback Yusuf Ali translation they bought in 1985, unaware that there are many presentations of the accursed book now available online which provide the opportunity to contrast and compare. So this post is intended to be a wander round some of the different online presentations for the benefit of the Luddites among us, ending in a shameless plug for one particular presentation with the admission that I might be biased since I had a hand in creating it.
First stop for the diligent enquirer must be the Muslim site Islam Awakened (lets hope they never find out how helpful they are to our side) which gives the literal word for word translation from the Arabic for each verse, plus fifty scholarly translations. The site shows how widely they differ, allowing readers to select their meaning according to taste. For instance, regarding the disputed concept of jihad, here is verse 47:31.
The word for word translation for the Arabic phrase “almujahideena minkum” is “those who strive among you”.
– Muhsin Khan and Muhammad al-Hilali (aka Hilali-Khan) translate it as “those who strive hard (for the Cause of Allah)”.
– Upping the bellicosity, Ali Quli Qura’i translates it as “those of you who wage jihad”.
– Aisha Bewley makes things plain with “the true fighters among you”.
– But Syed Vickar Ahamed avoids any hint of violence with the very anodyne ”those among you who do their very best”.
Two things we do know are that in the Koran the word “jihad” is overwhelmingly used in the context of war and never in the context of spiritual improvement. That idea of the greater jihad comes solely from a late and disputed hadith.
And here is verse 70:30, about who a Muslim man can have sex with, apart from his wives:
The word for word translation is “what they possess rightfully”.
– The Monotheist Group (2011 edition) translates it as ”those committed to by oath”.
– T B Irving translates it as ”those living under their control”.
– Kamal Omar translates it as ”the women who are given in guardianship of adult males as their wives under a document prepared by the Muslim state)”.
– Mohammed Sarwar, dispensing with the euphemisms, gives us simply ”slave girls”.
– And Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali gives us the familiar and chilling phrase “what their right hand possesses”.
The Hilali-Khan translation is an eye opener for anyone wishing to believe that Islam is just a religion like any other. Also known as the “Wahhabi Koran”, it was commissioned by the Saudi government and is widely disseminated throughout the western world courtesy of all those Saudi funded mosques.
Hilali and Khan make it clear that in their understanding jihad was not restricted to Mohammed’s battles in the Mecca/Medina area circa 630 AD but is very much a duty for Muslims today:
“And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allah does know. And whatever you shall spend in the Cause of Allah shall be repaid unto you, and you shall not be treated unjustly.” (8:60)
And, putting the matter beyond doubt, here is a footnote to verse 2:190 to be found in the paper edition (note the present tense throughout):
”Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah’s Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established. Allah’s Word is made superior, (His Word being La ilaha illaliah which means none has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and His Religion (Islam) is propagated. By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that) Islam is destroyed and the Muslims fall into an inferior position; their honour is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty, or does not in his innermost heart wish to fulfil this duty, dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri’s comically deceptive version. In 2010 he produced a “no ifs or buts” fatwa condemning all terrorism as unIslamic. Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch wondered why there was no attempt in it to explain why the so called terror verses do not mean what they appear to mean.
It turned out that there was no need because Tahir-ul-Qadri was working from his own translation of the Koran in which he simply interpolated comments magically taking the sting out of the jihad verses by making them always defensive. For instance, here is his version of the infamous 9:29:
(O Muslims!) Wage (also a defensive) war against those of the People of the Book (who infringed the peace treaty signed with you, and despite being in exile, provided full support to the disbelieving Meccan invaders who imposed the battle of al-Ahzab [the Confederates] on Medina, and have continued every possible conspiracy against you even now). They do not have faith in Allah and the Last Day…etc”.
Here is the excellent Skeptic’s Annotated Quran. It highlights verses according to 14 categories such as Injustice, Intolerance, Cruelty and Violence, Absurdity etc. It even has a sparsely populated category entitled Good Stuff.
Some commentaries may be helpful too. Here Robert Spencer goes through the Koran highlighting what various mediaeval Islamic commmentators had to say about individual verses. Here is the most famous of those commentaries, the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir (but is is not exactly an easy read).
But to return to the Koran itself, the presentation I turn to first is Koran At A Glance. The translation used is that of Marmaduke Pickthall. Apart from being particularly quick and easy to navigate, Koran At A Glance has several useful features:
1. Four themes are highlighted by colour, Allah, Believers, Unbelievers and Jihad.
2. It is chronologically presented with the front page showing visually how Mohammed turned from being just a warner, as he called himself in Mecca, to a warlord in Medina, predominantly concerned with jihad.
3. All abrogated verses are highlighted, with popups of their abrogating verses.
4. It saves a hell of a lot of time by pointing out the parts which really concern non-Muslims.
Three or four years ago I came across the site of a Dutch blogger called Red Bee. He had two good ideas, firstly colour coding the text and secondly the likely effect on children of reciting the horrific content of the Koran. I suggested working together to produce a full working Koran site incorporating those two elements but we could not agree on how to proceed and went our separate ways. Fortunately I found two other people interested in the project. I produced the colour-coded text and they did the clever stuff producing the thumbnail pictures and putting it all together in a website.
The themes chosen are not arbitrary. Unbelievers and Jihad are relevant to the concerns of non-Muslims but we believe all four are acutely relevant to children learning (ie being indoctrinated) about Islam.
As it says in the About section:
“Other themes could have been drawn out but the ones presented are arguably those likely to have the deepest impact on Muslim children who are made to recite the Koran from an early age. Adults may argue about scholarly interpretations but they mean nothing to a ten year old. Surely, all a child is likely to get out of the Koran is the message of terror of Allah who knows what he or she is thinking and who might decide to torture them forever, the lure of a distinctly sensual paradise, loathing for unbelievers and the requirement to “strive in Allah’s way”. Is this not why we see so many teenagers, particularly the more devout ones, run off to kill and die for ISIS?”
Looking toward the future, perhaps the idea of colour coding different themes could be extended further in more sophisticated presentations than ours, with an indexing system so that all examples of a particular theme could be brought up on screen together. And the idea of popups could be expanded by, for instance, bringing up commentaries for individual verses.
Good luck to anyone who might decide to take up the challenge.