31 May 2011

Book Review: al-Qur’ān

I've been raised as a Christian, pretty much from the very beginning. After 25 years, I decided to call it quits and identify as an atheist. There are plenty of reasons I have for making that decision, but one day, I thought, that those reasons were all due to my reactions against Christianity. So here I am, finding myself rejecting religion, all due to assumptions based on one religion: Christianity. Thus, I felt uncomfortable to reject religion across the board, using only data points from one religion. After all, it's just like saying that I hate seafood when the only seafood I have eaten is shrimp. Thus, I picked the Qur'an. And I read it.

So what is this about?

This, as many people know, is the Holy Book of Islam. It is composed of 114 chapters, called surahs, and each surah has several verses. From a statistical point of view, the opening surahs tend to be longer than the closing ones. The second surah, for example, entitled "The Cow", has 286 verses, while the 110th surah only has three. Each surah opens with In the name of Allah, most benevolent, ever-merciful.

I initially wanted to read the Qur'an because it is believed that the Qur'an is the most spectacular piece of Arabic literature. It also helps perhaps to understand what the cultural references are to novels that I have read in the past, especially those that dealt with Islamic characters. I previously read Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red and Nagīb Maḥfūẓ's Palace Walk, and it would definitely have helped if I had a better idea what were the religious assumptions that the characters held. Now that I have read the Qur'an, it would be easier to see where these characters are coming from.

But another reason I wanted to read the Qur'an is because I wanted to put my thoughts to the test. I identify as an atheist, which means that I rejected the belief of religion in general. But in actuality, I've never known what I was rejecting, at least with respect to Islam. I need to read about it first, before I can be more comfortable in saying that I do not buy it as well. After all, it's the scientific approach, that of experimentation.

So, 114 surahs later, I now have an opinion of what the Qur'an is. I was surprised at how some story lines are parallel to what I know the best, which is the Bible. There are characters that appeared in both, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, even Jesus. The Jews and Christians both appear in the Qur'an, but unlike Christianity, for Muslims, Jesus is just another prophet. Somewhere the stories split, and there are characters that appear in the Qur'an but not in the Bible.

I quite do not appreciate the catechism-like style of writing. There were plenty of repetitions. Several lines of thought were repeated: how Allah is all merciful and most benevolent (repeated before every chapter); how humankind emerged from a drop of holy sperm; how Allah is all-powerful and all-wise; et cetera. I never expected it to be a scientific book, and as the Bible, the writing style is geared toward indoctrination. The perspective is one of infallibility: the Qur'an only tells you that Allah is powerful, wise, and knows what is best for you. But it doesn't tell you WHY he is indeed claimed to be so. All you have to do is believe, and if you don't, you will face eternal destruction. I guess after reading this, I still conclude that Islam is not for me, and my personal conviction still holds ground. I am still an atheist.

One thing though that I have to say regarding the Qur'an, is that many people think that the Qur'an is a violent book and Islam is a violent religion. But after reading it, I think that the violence is just the same as what the Bible has. There is plenty of talk about believers and unbelievers, with the main gist as that the unbelievers will be punished by Allah. But the Bible also says the same thing. Believers will be blessed, while unbelievers will be punished, both in the Qur'an and in the Bible. Thus, to those people who burn Qur'ans because they think it's a violent book, perhaps they might want to read their own Bible too. If the Bible were made as a movie, I am pretty sure it would get an R rating.

I understand that that is not the whole problem. There's the fundamentalists too. But there are fundamentalists in Christianity too. Just check out what's found in Topeka, Kansas and you'll know what I am talking about.

So, as this is a book review, I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars. It's an awesome piece of cultural heritage, but it failed to persuade me to change my beliefs. I ended the book feeling untouched.

See my other book reviews here.


(Rock Walls, from my Ollantaytambo Series)

8 comments:

  1. I have the Koran in French and the Qur’an in English. I wish I could read it in the Arabic because I believe that language is a lot more poetical. I have not read the whole thing though, just like I have only read sections of the Bible. These are books which are hard to judge because for the faithful in their respective religions they are the words of God. But they are books really and should be judged as such. It is not possible to argue or even have a sane conversation with a “true believer” about their holy books. But as you did, I read them to understand the culture of the people who believe in these books. I have also read that some of the translations are wrong, at least in the Bible, but the clergy is afraid to change them now.

    I saw a funny clip from an Australian TV. Two Australian guys came to the US and one started to scream at the other and say horrible things. The other asked the bystanders to stone his brother as it is said in one chapter of the Bible. The bystanders laughed and said they could not do that even if it were written in the Bible. So the Australians ask them why they kept quoting the Bible against homosexuals and the answer was that this was a different matter. What it is I think is that a faithful can get any verse in a holy book and interpret it the way he/she wishes and disregard other meanings. I think also (although I have never attended it) the kids in Sunday school are only taught the good parts of the book and not told about the rest.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Vagabonde,

    I love that clip you mentioned. It's like people take these holy books like a buffet: they take the parts they like and forget about the parts they don't like. It's really very subjective, and I find it hard to reason with people who just blindly take these "holy books" as truth.

    ReplyDelete
  3. How many hours do you believe you took to read this book?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Renan,

      I finished it within two weeks. Yes, I could have read other books, but I felt like I had to read it just to say I did try. After all, I'd rather criticize something I did read than something I didn't.

      Delete
  4. I also like the fact that you didn't give the book the privilege of not being rated through your stars system. Saramago style humor!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Renan,

      Haha, yes. I couldn't imagine not rating it otherwise. Everything gets the same treatment, after all. :)

      Delete