Dec 15, 2007
In 17 September 2007, an article critical of our Reformist Translation was published at www.annaqed.com, a Christian website that claims to have adopted the Biblical maxim "The truth shall set you free!" as their guiding slogan. The article, written by Louis Palme, had a picturesque title containing a question and an exclamation mark: "Islamic Reform? When Camels Fly!" Should I be thankful that he did not pick a Neocon elephant, or a Cross fylfot for the hypothetical flying task? But when the issue directly or indirectly involves FAITH, for a Christian to REASON must be as difficult as for a camel to fly. Since Truth cannot be attained without reasoning, and this article is a response to a Christian (perhaps a Christianist) critic, thus the title of my response!
(The following discussion contains Palme's entire criticism, including subtitles, interspersed with my response. I replaced his footnote reference numbers in brackets with his footnotes.)
LOUIS PALME: Most people are optimists. They believe that, generally, the world is moving toward a better state of affairs and that people can ultimately solve the major problems they confront – including epidemic disease and even global climate change. They believe that there is such a thing as "good" and that it will ultimately prevail over anything that is "evil." And, above all, they believe in change as a positive occurrence.
EDIP YUKSEL: Nice to hear that. I prefer to remain an optimist, since it is the only ethical position, a position that could offer humanity a chance, if there is any, to a better future.
PALME: That is why people are optimistic about Islam. The religion must have some good elements because there are many truly good Muslims. While it is acknowledged that there are a number of problematic issues with Islam – touching on basic human rights, tolerance, and separation of religion from politics -- the optimists of the world are confident that these can ultimately be overcome. After all, these are simply issues that need more attention by people who will seek the "good" and make changes for the better.
YUKSEL: Nice to hear that too.
PALME: Such was the sentiment of Daniel Pipes in a recent article about calls to ban Islam or the Koran: 'My take? I understand the security-based urge to exclude the Koran, Islam, and Muslims, but these efforts are too broad, sweeping up inspirational passages with objectionable ones, reformers with extremists, friends with foes. Also, they ignore the possibility of positive change.' [http://www.danielpipes.org/article/4868]
YUKSEL: What a gracious concession and tolerance from someone who "understands the security-based urge to exclude Koran, Islam, and Muslims"! I do agree with most of Daniel Pipe's criticism of Islamists, but I cannot understand why he feels the need to side with or ignore their counterpart Christianists and Neocons, who are as evil and dangerous as they are, if not more. How come he did not realize that Christianists and Islamists feed each other? Those Christianists and Neocons who have being promoting invasion of the so-called Muslim countries, those who celebrated a super terrorism and destruction called "awe and shock," those who have being promoting the practice of torturing "enemy combatants," are now itching for another world war. Introducing the idea of banning the Quran or Islam an "understandable" urge will only help the agenda of warmongers on both sides. Torture, invasions, state terrorism, destruction of countries, carpet bombing, spying on citizens, and banning books! What a civilized and intelligent combination of solutions! The tactic is clever. Express a bigoted and despotic desire and immediately reject it. Hit two birds with one pebble. Get credit for being gracious and reasonable and then promote a milder version of that "reasonable" urge. At the same time, stealthily qualify such a despotic desire as an unattainable yet reasonable idea! Tomorrow, when the traumatized orphans of the millions of dead Iraqis and other nationalities with dark-skinned populations kill a few hundred or a thousand Americans, then it is time to introduce that "understandable" idea as the only choice!
I will not be surprised to hear from the same cabal that has been caressing the appetite glands of the imperialistic beast "the hard choice of saving the world through the only justified genocide." Knowing how they peddle historically condemned actions by replacing their unpopular names with new ones, such as using "rough interrogation techniques" instead of torture, using "fighting for freedom" instead of "imperialism," using "national interest" instated of "I do not care about any moral rules." They use "islamofacism" only to cover up their Christofascist, Anglofascist, and Jewofascist crusades and atrocities around the world. They had saved many lives in the past by destroying entire cities! They saved the world from Communists by destroying several countries. Somehow, our Superman is supposed to kill millions over millions to save the world from evil!
All for what? Just because a terrorist group killed about 3,000 Americans, those at the top of the food chain? Then, what about banning the Bible and Christianity? It was after all a newborn Christian president produced a series of lies and invaded a country and directly and indirectly caused the killing of more than 4,000 Americans and more than 1,000,000 Iraqis, and more than 2,000,000 displaced population! And many more injured! That president owed his election to the votes of about 30 million Evangelical Christians, and literally uttered the word Crusade to describe the so-called American "war against terror" and he continuously invoked religious symbols and hormones. What about banning the Bible, which contains all kinds of violent and racist instructions? How many towns were destroyed by those who got inspiration from those violent instructions? How many man and women were stoned to death according its instructions (and according to those that burrowed the practice) for not following a particular religious rule?
If banning the Quran is justified for inspiring or inciting insurgents and terrorists to kill a few thousand people, then the banning of the Bible, especially the Old Testament should be justified 666 times more than that. Coupled by the atrocities committed by Israel and Christendom, banning the Old Testament, Judaism, and Christianity should be also considered as an "understandable" urge. Just compare the level of violence in few verses of the Quran, which are taken out of the context, to the Grand Theft Auto level of violence promoted in hundreds of verses of the Old Testament. Just compare the number of civilians killed by Ben Laden to the number killed by Bush! Just compare the number of orphans and injured by Islamists to those of Christianists. Just compare the number of civilians killed by Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.
We will be told by the educated mouthpieces of the imperial propaganda machine that the killing and destructions committed by Bush and Christians are all because of their good intentions. Since they are good guys, they can never have bad intentions. All they want is to free the world from evil. No wonder, some Christians have a new slogan: "The truth shall set you free!" The "truth" here is perhaps their invasions, weapon industry, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, land mines, covert operations, weapon trade, atrocities, crusades, Coca Cola, MacDonald's, and holy lies! Accept their hegemony and exploitation, and then you will be free! Hallelujah! What a freedom!
What about banning "nationalism" and "flags"? What about banning the flag of a nation that evaporated two cities with their entire populations and yet to apologize for the greatest acts of terrorism in human history? Nationalism is the cause of the greatest tragedies in modern history. Millions of people in Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Chechnya, Palestine, and many other countries were killed for the idea of "nationalism" and "flags." Sure, to make it more explosive and digestible at the same time, nationalists usually add a few holy mumbo-jumbo in the cocktail of their violence and plunder.
What is the source of this outrageous double standard? Those who "understand" the idea of banning the Quran just because 3,000 Americans lost their lives to the attacks of a gang which was the by-product of western imperial invasions and interference of the Middle East, why do not call for impeachment and punishment of the gang of Neocons who led American people into a war based on a series of lies? Why the lives of about a million Iraqis, the cries of millions of orphans do not tickle the radar of "understanding" of those who are trying their best to concoct another World War? Do they want to create another holocaust, this time against another race and population? The sad irony is that among those racist and religious warmongers are the children of victims of one of the greatest racist and religious tragedies in modern history! I ask: where are the peace-loving Christians? Why do they not oppose their blood-thirsty leaders? Why are they obsessed with a few petty terrorists while ignoring the super-duper terrorists?
PALME: Likewise, in the Muslim world, there are optimists like Irshad Manji who are yearning for a new Islam. She has actually launched "Operation Ijtihad" to open once again the door to independent thought, initially through economic empowerment of women. "When people are indoctrinated to believe that any aspect of the founding moment is sacred, then the faith is destined to become static, brittle, inhumane."[The Trouble With Islam, p. 155] She goes on to say:
"Before democracy can have legs in Arab Muslim countries, these countries need to be exposed to a competition of ideas. As I've been arguing, alternate interpretations of Islam can hold their own against the desert, even on the all-important symbolic level. That's if we can get alternate interpretations disseminated, debated, aired, re-aired – popularized." [ibid., p. 171]
YUKSEL: Irshad Manji is right in her assessment. But, the truth would not be served if the imperialist "leg" which has been tripping the democratic legs in "Arab Muslim countries" is not exposed and eliminated. That long and ugly leg belongs to the USA-Inc and its allies, which primarily serves to the "military industrial complex", oil companies, and the agenda of dark forces that arrogate themselves to dictate their will on others. When Iranian people in 1954 elected Musaddiq as their prime minister and kicked out a corrupt monarch from their countries, without bloodshed, which leg do you think tripped off the democracy there? Which foreign leg kicked in mullahs to power? Which leg do you think gave the Turkish military a leg up in their continuous meddling with the Turkish democracy? Which leg has being leading one of the most repressive and corrupt regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan? Which leg do you think have been running for Israel in its fascist policy against Palestinian population? You might still lay the primary blame on the Muslim population of those countries, but ignoring the crucial role of the USA-Inc and its British ally in the troubles of those countries either indicates utter ignorance or selling one's soul to the global bully!
PALME: In the light of this optimism, how can someone cogently argue that Islamic Reform is little more than a hookah pipe dream? The answer boils down to three issues: the nature of religious reform, the impediments to reform in Islam, and the inability of contemporary reformists to overcome those impediments.
YUKSEL: I was expecting to hear a direct expression of pessimism, and here you did. We will see whether the three issues are sufficient cause for such.
PALME: Whenever one thinks of religious reform, the Protestant Reformation touched off by Martin Luther comes to mind. What drove the young priest to nail his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church in 1517 were the extra-Biblical excesses of the church of the day – including the selling of indulgences (get-out-of-purgatory-free passes) to sinful but well-heeled believers. Luther devoted himself to getting back to the truth of the Bible and making it available to all people, initially via a translation of the Bible into German. Today, the disagreements between Protestantism and Catholicism are not so much over that sacred text as they are about some extra-Biblical "traditions" that are still practiced by the Catholic Church, such as the veneration of Mary and the celibacy of priests.
YUKSEL: Though there are some similarities, the Christian Reform movement has never been an inspiration four our call for Islamic Reform. The inspiration has been the Quran itself and the fulfillment of its great prophecy in 1974. The word reform (Arabic Islah) is much older than the Protestant movement. Let me add a little modern history. Christianity has mutated with time, but it never really gave up from its desire to dominate the world. In modern history, Christian churches are no more selling indulgences or officially hand-to-hand with kings, but through their votes, wealth, organizations, and politically active priests, such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, they exert big influence on the political system, especially in the USA. The Crusader Billy Graham provided "holy" comfort and support for many American presidents and politicians, from Harry Truman to Bush family; presidents who terrorized nations, supported tyrants and crooks, invaded countries, and killed millions of people in unjustified wars for greed and power, all received "spiritual" support from that prominent evangelist!
PALME: When the Protestant Reformation is taken as a model, Islamic Reform would involve a re-emphasis on the sacred text of the Koran along with stripping away any practices or traditions which are not associated with the Koran. In fact, there are today several "Koran Only" movements which would have Muslims abandon the Hadith (the recorded sayings and acts of Muhammad) and Shari'a (the system of laws guiding Muslim activities). These movements include the United Submitters International, the Ahle Qur'an Group, and the Bazm-e-Tolu-e-Islam (Resurgence of Islam) Group. Their critics argue, however, that the Koran is unintelligible without the contextual information found in the hadith. Also, some of the basic practices of Islam including the statement of faith, the pillars of Islam, and the five daily prayers offered by Sunnis and Shiites aren't fully defined in the Koran.
YUKSEL: Fine introduction.
PALME: Even more problematic, with regard to human rights, religious tolerance, and the separation of religion from politics, is the fact that the Koran itself provides the sacred mandates for these issues. Without belaboring this point with an exhaustive list of texts, here are a few examples:[Quotations from the Koran are taken from A.J. Arberrry, The Koran Interpreted, 1955, which is claimed to come closest to conveying the impression made on Muslims by the original Arabic.]
Inequality of women: God charges you, concerning your children: to the male the like of the portion of two females. (Surah 4: 11) And call in to witness two witnesses, men; or if the two be not men, then one man and two women, such witnesses as you approve of, that if one of the two women errs the other will remind her. (Surah 2:282)
Physical abuse of women: And those [women] you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them. (Surah 4:34)
Protection of children: O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them when they have reached their period . . . As for your women who have despaired of further menstruating, if you are in doubt, their period shall be three months, and those who have not menstruated as yet. (Emphasis added.) (Surah 65:1 – 4)
Inequality of non-Muslims: Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden – such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book -- until they pay the tribute [jizya] out of hand and have been humbled. (Surah 9:29)
Cruel and abusive punishment: And the thief, male and female: cut off the hands of both, as a recompense for what they have earned, and a punishment exemplary from God. (Surah 5:38)
Beheading captives: When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds. (Surah 47:3)
Taking of hostages and booty: It is not for any Prophet to have prisoners until he make wide slaughter in the land . . . Eat of what you have taken as booty, such as is lawful and good. (Surah 8:70)
Freedom of thought, including religion: [Hypocrites] wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of God; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them. (Surah 4: 89)
Intolerance of other religions: O believers, fight the unbelievers who are near to you, and let them find in you a harshness; and know that God is with the godfearing. (Surah 9:125)
Separation of religion and politics: That which you serve, apart from Him, is nothing but names yourselves have named, you and your fathers; God has sent down no authority touching them. Judgment belongs only to God. (Surah 12:40)
Consequently, any reform movement based simply on going back to the sacred text of the Koran only could lead to a religion which is no less inimical to 21st Century values regarding human rights, multi-culturalism, and the separation of church and state than the Islam currently practiced is such countries as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
YUKSEL: Though it started with a false indictment against the "Koran," this is a good list of issues. We will see whether the Reformist Translation of the Quran addresses these issues and provides solutions.
"Islamic Impediments to Reform"
PALME: The Prophet of Islam told the believers that every word of the Koran is from God and a transcript is kept by God and is inscribed on an imperishable tablet. [See Surahs 43:1 and 85:22] Clearly, any attempt to alter or edit this sacred book would be the height of blasphemy. Beginning in Muhammad's time, however, non believers have suggested that the Koran was compiled by Muhammad himself, that it is full of errors and contradictions, and that it is theologically shallow. [See Surahs 15:91, 16:101, 21:5, 25:4-5, 34:43, 46:7-8, and 74:24-25] When the Koran is subjected to the same types of historical, linguistic, and textual analyses that the Bible and the Torah undergo on a daily basis, Muslims go ballistic. They accuse scholars of being Orientalists, irreverent, Islamophobic, and blasphemous.
YUKSEL: I am not one of those Muslims, and I welcome such a discussion. For instance, I just checked the footnote for those verses that are claimed to be erroneous, contradictory and theologically shallow. I invite the author to let us know the problems with those verses that he lists in his footnotes. From his inclusion of verses 74:24-25, it seems that the problem is not with the Quran, but with his shallow understanding of the Quran. (If you have not ordered the Quran: a Reformist Translation from www.brainbowpress.com or www.amazon.com please download a free PDF version from http://groups.google.com/group/19org )
PALME: A few years ago, Dr. S. Parves Manzoor authored a diatribe against Western studies of the Islam and the Koran titled "Method Against Truth." [http://www.islamonline.net/english/Contemporary/2003/08/article03a.shtml. This article was selected because it is relatively concise, yet it contains arguments similar to those reflected in larger works, such as Edward Said's Orientalism] He accused scholars of "an unholy conspiracy to dislodge the Muslim Scripture from its firmly entrenched position as the epitome of historic authenticity and moral unassailability." While he totally rejected what he called Orientalism, he acknowledged that "sooner or later, authentic Muslim effort will have to approach the Koran from methodological assumptions and parameters that are radically at odds with the ones consecrated by our tradition. . . . The only proper method for the study of the Koran is the one that allows its truth to speak for itself.
What are those methodological assumptions and parameters that are so onerous? First among them, according to Dr. Manzoor's article, is any attempt to put the Koran into chronological order. He writes:
"If the Koran itself may be understood as a chronological sequence of events, then whatever truth that it proclaims cannot be but temporal, and hence fallible. To introduce the category of "secular" time in the "sacred" event of revelation is, thus, to "con-fuse" temporality with eternity. . . Given its ideological commitment, it may not be unfair to assume that the ultimate objective of the Orientalist chronological exercise is not to pronounce any judgment on the "truth" of the Koran, but to spread confusion concerning its temporality and hence confound the unperceptive believer."
YUKSEL: I disagree with Dr. Manzoor's suggestion, and I think his assertion contradicts the numerically proven structure of the Quran. It is also unnecessary and theologically problematic as we have demonstrated in the reformist translation of the Quran.
PALME: In actuality, most translators of the Koran -- including Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall and Muhammad Asad -- provide approximate dating of each surah. The most elementary step taken by anyone trying to understand a set of information (whether it is a jigsaw puzzle or evidence in a crime) is to put the information into some sort of logical order. That the Koran is compiled according to the length of the surahs is a logical order but not a particularly useful one with regard to understanding the "truth" of the message contained within. If the Koran were truly a timeless and eternal holy text, then any sequence of the surahs and their coincidence with historical events in the life of Muhammad would be random and uninteresting. Actually, the opposite is true. This insight leads to two troubling possibilities: 1) that verses in the Koran were created by Muhammad in response to real, instant situations he was facing; 2) that an analysis of contradicting statements would generally lead to discarding the former in favor of the latter.
There is today an English rendering of the Koran in chronological order published by the Center for the Study of Political Islam. Not only are the verses in order and cross-referenced with historical events, but an Abridged Version eliminates the numerous redundant texts, thereby reducing the volume by 50%. [A Simple Koran, Center for the Study of Political Islam, 2006, via www.cspipublishing.com] The point of this particular rendering of the Koran is to demonstrate that Islam is a Political ideology, and the Koran along with the hadith and the histories of the life of Mohammed provide coherent chronology of Mohammed's rise to political power.
YUKSEL: I will pass discussing this point now, since it will involve extensive discussion whether the Quran is divine as it claims, or was a product of Muhammad. I recommend those who are curious about this subject to see the references given at the endnote of verse 4:82 and Appendix 3 and 9 of the Reformist Translation.
PALME: Another concern of Dr. Manzoor has to do with studies tracing the origins of the Koran. Clearly, there is a great deal of Biblical "name dropping" in the Koran, but usually minus the moral messages of the original text. [For example, the Koran says that Jonah was sent with a message (Surah 37:142), but nowhere in the Koran is the reader told what the message was. The message is only found in the Bible, in Jonah 1:2, that the city of Nineveh was to be destroyed because of its wickedness.] To the scholars' conclusion that much of the Koran was borrowed, Dr. Manzoor responds, "Inasmuch as the Koran and the scriptures exhibit overlapping themes and motifs, even of linguistic expressions, it is due to the identity of the Transcendent Source of this knowledge and not attributable to any vagaries of its human recipients." Of course, this explanation would not account for the numerous errors by the Transcendent Source, most notably, confusing Mary with Miriam (who lived 1500 years apart) or Gideon with Saul (who lived 170 years apart). [Compare Surah 3:35-40 with the information in the Bible, Numbers 26:59, regarding Miriam, and Surah 2:249 with the Biblical accounts in Judges, Chapter 7, and I Samuel, Chapter 10, regarding Saul and Gideon.]
YUKSEL: First, let me deal with Palme's "footnote dropping", which he intends to support his "usually minus" remark. To the contrary what Palme asserts in the footnote, the Quran informs us about the "moral message" of all the Biblical prophets it mentions. In fact, their moral message is repeated throughout the Quran. Ironically, the author is perhaps among those who criticize the Quran for containing repetitions, but he carefully picks a verse where the "moral message" of a Jewish prophet is not repeated. To expose the distortion or ignorance in the critic's remark, let me first refute his "nowhere" assertion for Jonah and then give you the verses informing us about the moral messages of Biblical prophets mentioned in the same chapter.
Verse 10:98 mentions Jonah and his people and the following 10:100, mentions the moral of the story: "It is not for a person to acknowledge except by God's leave. He casts the affliction upon those who do not reason." This is one of the many verses of the Quran rejecting "faith" and promoting reason. Perhaps, our Christian critic does not consider reason as a source of morality and like most religious people he accepts "faith" (a euphemism for joining the bandwagon or accepting a particular story conjured about God or idolized people, without questioning) as the source of morality. Either my critic does not appreciate the Quranic emphasis on the importance of REASON, and do not comprehend the fact that the best moral message is inviting people to reject blind faith, or he reads the Quran with a kaleidoscope and cookie-cutter in his hand.
Now, let me deal with his "usually" remark, which is no different than his "nowhere". After referring to 18 messengers, verse 21:92 considers all of them as one nation and their main message is summarized as serving God alone, that is, to be a free man and seeker of truth. In Chapter 37, the Quran mentions Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Elias, Lot and Jonah together with their moral message.
For instance, Noah's message is mentioned while his story is told in 11:25-48 to be monotheism and egalitarianism, since the opposing wealthy leaders discounted his supporters. In verse 26:106-122, we learn that Noah's opponents not only were segregationist but also repressive and intolerant of dissenting ideas. Furthermore, according to the Quran, the flood is not global and other people are not punished for the crimes of Noah's people who were in the Dead Sea region. I will now leave this issue with this example. If the critic still insist on his "nowhere" and "usually," then I will list the names of all the Biblical prophets and their moral message mentioned in the Quran. Furthermore, I will compare them to the message mentioned the Bible. I demand the critic correct those false remarks about the Quran, since his remarks usually go nowhere!
As for the critic's claim of "confusion" in the Quran… Let's check the first comparison… The Miriam in Numbers 26:59 is the daughter of Imran and the sister of Moses and Aaron. According to the Quran, Jesus Mother, Mary, too is Imran's daughter and she is called "Aaron's sister" by people (19:22-40; 3:35-40).
Let's assume for a while that Muhammad was the author of the Quran. We have several explanations for this "confusion." One, Muhammad confused Jesus' Mother with Aaron's sister who lived more than a thousand years before her. Only an idiot can make such an error. But, Muhammad and his supporters, according to history, could not be stupid. To the contrary, the reforms led by Muhammad and his supporters gave birth to one of the greatest civilizations in the history, which is one of the main sources of modern Western civilization. Muhammad was picked as the world's greatest leader by a famous Western historian, Michael Hart, and was considered among the one hundred GENIUSes by Harold Bloom. Thus, the first option is far-fetched. Perhaps he made a simple error? But, couldn't any of his followers notice the error and thereby leading him to correct it? If he was a conjurer imposter he could have easily come up with a holy story to justify his correction! The third option is that the Quran was tempered with by ignorant people. However, the prophetic mathematical structure of the Quran leaves no room for such an option; its error-correcting function is proven to be sensitive to the level of words and even letters! As for the fourth option, it is no brainer! A little knowledge of Jewish tradition and the very reason why Jesus' mother was named Mariam is sufficient to explain the "confusion" which is ironically in the mind of the critic. Aaron was the first in line of priesthood after his brother Moses. Jesus' mother was coming from the same priestly family and was named after Aaron's sister. Her both lineage and name-sake connected her to Aaron's biological sister. By referring her ancestry through the "daughter of Imran" and her name-sake "Aaron's sister," her contemporaries reminded her responsibility to remain moral. In sum, the Jewish tradition, her tribal lineage, her name-sake, and the expected moral standard from her, yes all these explain the Quranic description perfectly.
As for story of Saul and Gideon, the critic assumes either of the following: Saul could not have repeated the same test as Gideon did. Or, if there is contradiction between the story in the Bible and the Quran, the Quran must be the wrong one. In the endnotes of the Reformist Translation, the reader will find extensive comparison between the Bible and the Quran. When there are contradictions between the Quran and the Bible, the Quran makes corrections.
For instance, in the endnote on verse 2:93, I compare two different accounts:
"To describe the mindless obsession of the ex-slave Children of Israel with cow worship, the Quran uses the metaphor 'they consumed the calf inside their hearts.' The more literal translation of this phrase would be: 'the love of calf was sipped into their hearts.' The similar Biblical metaphor using the key word 'sip/drink,' however, has been distorted through revisions, commentaries and translation errors, thereby transforming it into a bizarre story falsely attributed to Moses: 'And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it' (Exodus 32:20)."
PALME: A final general "no go" area regarding the Koran has to do with the meaning of obscure words in the Koran. After all, the source of the Koran says, "We have revealed the Koran in clear verses."[Surah 22:16] Unfortunately, when it was originally compiled after Muhammad's death, there were no vowel markings in the Arabic script. Many consonant combinations could be read differently, as "f_t" could be either fit or fat. Some of the words may have been derived from foreign sources, and so their meanings would be different depending on the original language. A good example of this is the dispute over whether the promise of paradise was 72 virgins or 72 raisins. To contest the "traditional" interpretations, however, is fraught with danger.
YUKSEL: The critic conveniently exaggerates the flexibility provided by the original texts that lacked dots and diatrical marks that acted as vowels. Ironically, he is in agreement with Sunnies and Shiites regarding the ambiguity of the Quran, the impossibility of understanding it without the aid of hearsay collection. Christians like the teachings of hadith and sunna, even more than Sunni and Shiite do, since they provide them with plenty of ammunition to criticize Islam (Please see my discussion with an Evangelical mouthpiece, Ali Sina, available at the "books" section of 19.org).
- Palme is right regarding the word "f_t". But, that word will not usually wink to the critic in the middle of an empty page alone, like a lost penguin on a drifting loose piece of ice. Had he considered the simple fact that normal people usually pick a reading that f_t the context, he would not have made such an assertion. If the word is in a book, it will most likely be the part of a statement, and the statement will be part of a paragraph, and the paragraph will be part of a chapter, and the chapter will be part of the book. For instance, let's try to disambiguate a statement in a Christian children's book titled "A Camel that Tried to Fly": "The f_t camel that was locked in a farm for trying to fly, ate too much shrubs and plants transforming him into a f_t camel." A fair reader with fair eyes will not have difficulty in distinguishing a fit camel from a fat one, a (s)ound critic from a (r)ound one. Below is a relevant note on verse 2:54 from the Reformist Translation:
Ego, the self-exaggerating or self-worshiping self, should be avoided while the realist or appreciative self should be nourished. It is astonishing to see that many translations of the Quran render the phrase uqtulu anfusakum as "kill each other." How could they not notice thirty verses down, that is, the 84th and 85th verses of this very chapter? The Arabic word nafs is a multiple-meaning word and its intended meaning can be inferred by considering its proximate context consistent with the entire text of the scripture. The multiple meanings ascribed to the word nafs (person) suggest that our personhood is a complex program with multiple layers and one part of it, the ego, needs to be controlled with reason and submission to God alone.
However, there is another way. We should be open to read the text of the scripture without being restricted to the traditionally codified readings. We should be able to read the oldest texts that do not contain dots or vowels, in all possible readings, with the condition that they fit the context well and do not create internal or external contradictions within the ayat (signs) of the scripture or the ayat of nature. There is a divine blessing and purpose in such flexibility. For instance, we might read the following verses differently. If the alternative readings change the meaning dramatically, they are exclusive. However, sometimes both alternative readings can co-exist at the same time. One of the following, however, is a linguistic marvel; with its four alternative combinations, it excludes and includes at the same time, depending on the reference of the key word (3:7)! The following is a sample list:
- 2:243 Kharaju or Khuriju (inclusive)
- 3:7 Putting full stop after the word God and/or not stopping after the word God (both exclusive and inclusive!)
- 5:43; 5:6 Arjulakum or Arjulikum (exclusive)
- 11:46 Amalun or Amila (inclusive)
- 21:112 Qala or Qul (exclusive)
- 30:1 Yaglibun or Yughlabun (exclusive)
- 42:52 Nashau or Yashau (inclusive)
- 54:3 Kullu or Kulla (inclusive)
- 74:24 Yuthir or Yuthar (inclusive)
"Attempts and Failures to Reform"
PALME: There have been many attempts to reform Islam going back to Ibn Rushd ("Averroes") in the 12th Century. Often the reformists were banished or killed, their writings destroyed, and their followers dwindled away. In more recent times there have been two reform movements which showed promise -- Mahmoud Mohamed Taha who wrote The Second Message of Islam and an American Islamic Reform movement led by Edip Yuksel who recently published Quran – A Reformist Translation.
The Second Message of Islam is described as a "humane and liberating understanding of Islam as an alternative to the cruel and oppressive interpretation underlying recent events in Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan, and equally negative traditionalist view prevailing in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Muslim world."[The Second Message of Islam, 1987, page 1] What Taha observed is that prevailing Islamic practices, particularly Shari'a law, reflect the harsher mandates of the Medina Surahs in the Koran. (All but the last citation in the sampling of Koranic texts earlier in this essay were from the Medina period.) The portion of the Koran "handed down" in Mecca was much more tolerant, humanitarian, and spiritual. [Compare Surah 25:62-76, "handed down" in Mecca, with Surah 9, one of the last Surahs, "handed down" in Medina.] He concluded that the latter was the true message of Islam, but the people had rejected it. Consequently, Muhammad had to first restore discipline and authority over the people until they reached the level of submission necessary to receive the true message, which was "the Second Message of Islam" and was contained in the Mecca surahs. This ideal Islam was so superior to anything that existed, Taha concluded, that it has never been achieved by any nation to the present time.
Mahmoud Taha was arrested for apostasy in Omdurman, Sudan, in December, 1984. In a trial that lasted barely two hours, he was condemned to be hanged. After the perfunctory appeals process, he was hanged, and his body was carried off by helicopter to be disposed in an undisclosed location in the desert. A small group of loyal followers continue to preach his ideology, but it has gained little traction in the Muslim community. No one, for example, has compiled a Koran containing only the Mecca surahs.
As a reformed Islam, however, the Second Message of Islam would promote greater tolerance of non-Muslims, more respect for human rights and equality, and peaceful coexistence within a diverse community. But the movement failed to excise the offensive Medina verses from the Koran, and it didn't manage to establish a community (much less, a country) that modeled the true message they espoused. Granted, the Sudan could hardly be called a place of religious or even racial tolerance.
YUKSEL: Though I disagree with Mahmoud Taha regarding his depiction of the portion that was revealed in Medina period, I condemn the punishment, since it contradicts the religious tolerance, the freedom of opinion and expression recognized by the Quran. I would like to share verse 4:140 of the Quran and related endnote, since the issue is very important.
4:140 "It has been sent down to you in the book, that when you hear God's signs being rejected and ridiculed in, then do not sit with them until they move on to a different subject; if not, then you are like them. God will gather the hypocrites and the ingrates in hell all together."
004:140 We are not permitted to kill or punish people for their insults and mockery of God's revelation and signs. Any aggressive behavior against those people is against God's law that recognizes freedom of choice, opinion and their expression (2:256; 4:90; 4:140; 10:99; 18:29; 25:63; 88:21,22. Also see 28:54). In verse 4:140, the Quran recommends us to protest passively those who indulge in mockery of our faith by leaving their presence. Furthermore, it recommends us not to cut our relationship with them; we should turn back in peace and continue our dialogue when they come to their senses and are able to engage in a rational discourse.
Those who react with violence against those who insult the tenets and principles of islam, are not following the very system they claim to defend. The Quran does not recognize the "fighting words" exception recognized by Western jurisprudence. Specific false accusation against a person, however, is not included in expression of opinion, since it is defamation and it can harm a person in many ways. Insult to someone's values or heroes, however, only harms the person who indulges in such an ignorant and arrogant action.
The only unforgivable sin, according the Quran is the sin of associating other partners/idols with God. God allows this biggest sin to be committed in this world. He fulfills his promise to test humans by giving them free choice. He condemns those who deprive others from exercising that freedom of choice. Who then, in the name of the same God, can force others from any expression of their belief or disbelief?
In contrast to what the warmongering Crusaders, Sunnis and Shiites wish to portray, Muhammad was not a man of violence but a man of reason and peace. Numerous verses of the Quran and a critical study of history will reveal that the portrait of Muhammad depicted in Sunni or Shiite hearsay books is fictional; a fiction created by the propagandists of rulers of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties to justify their atrocities and aggression! He and his supporters were threatened and tortured in Mecca for their criticism of their corrupt and unjust theocratic system. They were forced to leave everything behind and emigrate to Yathrib (today's Medina). There they established a peaceful city-state, a federal secular democracy, among its multi-religious diverse citizens. Nevertheless, the Meccan oligarchy did not leave them alone to enjoy peace and freedom; they organized several major war campaigns against the coalition of muslims, Christians, Jews and Pagans united under the leadership of Muhammad. In all the wars, including Uhud, Badr, and Handaq (Trenches), the monotheist reformers fought for self-defense. They even dug trenches around the city to defend themselves from the aggressive religious coalition led by Mecca's theocratic oligarchy. Muhammad's message, which promoted reason, freedom, peace, justice, unity of children of Adam, appreciation of diversity, rights of women and slaves, and social consciousness, soon received acceptance by the masses in the land. Yet, after ten years in exile, when Muhammad and his supporters finally returned to Mecca as victors, he declared amnesty for all those oppressors and warmongers who inflicted on them great suffering, who maimed and murdered many of their comrades, all because the muslims had questioned the teachings and culture they inherited from their parents. However, guided by the teachings of the Quran, Muhammad chose forgiveness and peace; he did not punish any of his bloody enemies. After all, he was one of the many messengers of islam, peace and submission to God alone.
PALME: This year a team led by Edip Yuksel published Quran – A Reformist Translation in the United States. [This book has met with organized opposition and may not be available in bookstores. It can be obtained through the publisher at www.brainbowpress.com or via www.islamicreform.org.] It is described as a progressive translation, resonating powerfully with contemporary notions of gender equality, progressivism, and intellectual independence. Say the authors:
"By presenting a peaceful and unifying message of the Quran, we hope to increase understanding and reduce tensions between the "Muslim World" and people of other religions, especially those whom the Quran calls the People of the Book (Jews and Christians). . . We explicitly reject the right of the clergy to determine the likely meaning of disputed passages. . . [W]e did not refer to books of Hadith and Sunnah, since they are commonly idolized and associated partners with the Quran. Their perceived value is wrongly based on the sanctified names of the narrators and the authority of the collectors, rather than their substance. . . When we assert that God alone is the authority in defining the system of Islam, we mean that no signature and no authority beside God will be considered as justification for the truth-value of a proposition regarding Islam. . . Each of us is responsible for our own understanding." [Pages 11-12]
"Therefore, we promote Islamic reformation in Muslim societies by inviting them to dedicate their religion to God alone by upholding the Quran alone as the only source of their religion." [Page 406]
One of the noteworthy features of this version of the Koran is the extensive use of footnotes cross-referencing the text with the Bible. There are also several Appendices dealing with extra-Koranic sources, definitions of general religious concepts, and topics related to Edip Yuksel's own pet Koranic mystery – the cryptic reference to "nineteen" in Surah 74:30.
YUKSEL: Thanks for this nice introduction, with the exception of one word. The critic exposes his allergy for the "nineteen" by sneaking in his "pet" in the middle. If he holds a leash on his "pet," I am ready to engage in a discussion on this prophetic miracle of the Quran.
PALME: While the Reformist Translation contains a wealth of insights into the Koran, Arabic, and the not-so-subtle agendas of the original compliers and commentators of the Koran, it remains an English translation. Other than advocating that Muslims adopt a Koran-only religion, the original Arabic Koran remains intact. As we will see below, some of the softening of the Koran by this reformist translation boils down to selecting milder, and sometimes far-fetched, alternate wording for the text. In other cases, a directive statement is put in the passive voice, changing a command to a mere statement of prophetic fact. [For example, the troubling command in Surah 5:33 'This is the recompense of those who fight against God and His Messenger, and hasten about the earth, to do corruption there: They SHALL BE slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off, or they shall be banished from the land" is changed to 'The recompense for those who fight God and His messenger and seek to corrupt the land is that they WILL BE killed or crucified . . . .' (Emphasis added.)] This approach cannot change the original Arabic, and it is questionable if the methodology could be applied equally to French, German, or Indonesian translations of the Koran.
YUKSEL: I would like to see the examples of the "far-fetched" claim. As for his question regarding the application of the methodology to the translations in other languages, it is a silly speculation. The question is perhaps an overzealous attempt trying to add another point of criticism by any means possible. There is no reason, for why such a simple methodology will work in one language but not in another. For instance, I have already translated the Quran into Turkish and the methodology worked fine. As a result, now there are thousands of Turkish and Kurdish people who have embraced the monotheistic paradigm and have joined the islamic reform movement. The results were so positive, after my three-hour-long live TV debate with two religious scholars, Turkey's Chief of Religious Affairs issued a public statement, warning and urging TV stations not to broadcast controversial and confusing claims.
As for the example Palme provides in the footnote… Our translation reflects the Arabic, since the verbs are in passive form. Palme conveniently skips our reasoning for translating the verse that way. By depriving his readers from our argument, he is leading them to think that we just changed an instruction to a statement of fact on whim. Here is the endnote of verse 5:33-34, supporting our translation:
"The repeated use of the passive voice is not a coincidence; it is to indicate that the acts are not instructions, but statements of fact. In other words, those who roam the earth to promote and commit atrocities and bloodshed are going to get what they promote. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. The Arabic word fasad means destruction, mischief, discord, warmongering or corruption. It is frequently contrasted with islah and its derivatives, which mean reform or promoting peace (7:56,85). Fasad is not mere faith or opinion; it refers to the acts of corruption or aggressive and destructive actions (See 2:30,205,251; 5:64; 10:91; 18:94; 21:22; 22:40; 28:4; 33:71; 89:12; 2:256, and 4:140). The Bible has a similar statement: "those who kill by the sword must die by the sword." See Matthew 26:52; Revelation 13:10. Also see the Quran 9:3-29."
PALME: At the beginning of this essay was a list of passages from the Koran which would be problematic from the point of view of human rights, religious tolerance, and separation of religion from politics. As was previously noted, all but the last citation were from Surahs written during the militant Medina period of the Koran's revelation. The way the Reformist Translation dealt with many of these verses was to find less offensive renderings of the Arabic into English –
Inequality of women -- Surah 4:11 (No change). Surah 2:282 (No change)
Physical abuse of women -- Surah 4:34 "beat" becomes "separate"
Protection of children –- Surah 65:1-4 (Reference to those who have not menstruated as yet is dropped from the reformist rendering.)
Inequality of non-Muslims –- Surah 9:29 (A long footnote explains that the tribute (jizya) was actually reparations paid by two defeated Bedouin clans in the Battle of Hunayn, 629 A.D., and the verse was therefore a command specific to that incident. Not only does this explanation contradict the account in the History of al Tabari (Volume IX, paras. 1654 – 1676) and overlook the fact that the text was specifically about the People of the Book, but it also ignores the 1,400 year tradition of dhimmis paying jizya for protection while living as non-Muslims in Muslim countries.)
YUKSEL: Since Palme is not elaborating on his "inequality of women" charge, I will postpone discussing this issue for now. As for his al-Tabari reference… Good morning! Either he forgot that I do not rely on the so-called history of al-Tabari, which relies on numerous hearsay narrations. The reference of the verse to the People of the Book has no relevancy regarding the meaning of Jizya. If the verse is about an aggression committed by the People of the Book, then the war reparation would be expected from them. As for his statement containing "1400," he has no evidence. I am providing Quranic usage of the word as an evidence for the original meaning of jizya, and argue that decades later during Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties the meaning was changed to mean something else in order to levy extra tax on the People of the Book. Here, my critic repeats exactly the same hearsay sources that I reject as evidence for his position. Repetition of the Sunni claims is disguised as an argument against our strong evidence, that is, the usage of the same word in other verses of the Quran! He wants me to ignore the language of the Quran, just because a book written by a Sunni historian 200 years after the revelation of the Quran tells a different story!
Cruel and abusive punishment – Surah 5:38 "cut off the hands" becomes "mark, cut, or cut off their hands/means"
Beheading captives – Surah 47:3 "So, if you encounter those who have rejected, then strike the control center until you overcome them. Then bind them securely." (Emphasis added.)
Taking of hostages and booty – Surah 8:70 "wide slaughter in the land" becomes "battle"; "booty" becomes "what you have gained"
Freedom of thought, including religion – Surah 4:89 (No change)
YUKSEL: Should I let the critic get away with a misrepresentation repeatedly performed by evangelical Christians? Here he wants the reader think that the verse 4:89 restricts freedom of thought and religion. Let me first quote the translation of the verse together with the EXEPTION clause that is conveniently ignored by some our Christian critics. So, to demonstrate the dishonesty or blunder in the criticism, I will type the word except in capital letters:
4:89 "They hope that you would reject as they rejected, then you would be the same. Do not take any of them as allies until they emigrate in the cause of God. If they turn away, then take them and kill them where you find them; and do not take from them any ally or supporter;"
4:90 "EXCEPT for those who join a people between whom you have a covenant, or those who come to you with reluctance in their chests to fight you or to fight their own people. Had God willed He would have given them strength and they would have fought you. But if they retire from you, and did not fight you, and they offer you peace; then God does not make for you a way against them."
In the endnote on verse 4:89, I provide the following references: "The apostates cannot be harmed unless they participate in a war against muslims (2:256). For the basic principles of war see 8:19; 60:8,9, and 9:29."
Intolerance of other religions – Surah 9:125 "unbelievers" becomes "ingrates"; "harshness" becomes "strength"
Separation of religion and politics – Surah 12:40 (No change)
YUKSEL: Let me quote the verse 12:40, so that the reader will decide on their own, whether the verse is about promotion of theocracy or just the opposite:
12:40 "What you serve besides Him are nothing but names which you have fabricated you and your fathers. God did not send down any authority for such. The judgment is for none but God. He ordered that none be served but He. That is the true system, but most of the people do not know."
PALME: From this brief sampling of problematic verses, it can be seen that the Reformist Translation has attempted to alleviate some of them, at least by finding less offensive English renderings of the original Arabic. (The continuing practice publicly beheading criminals, severing the hands of thieves, and beating wives with impunity in Saudi Arabia indicates that there is no confusion there about the real meaning of the Arabic texts.)
YUKSEL: The critic somehow ignores our theological position. He ignores that we reject volumes of hadith and sectarian books as the Saudis do. And we reject them with good reason, as I have summarized in Manifesto for Islamic Reform. Or, perhaps he knows our position, but he cannot find any other way to refute our arguments. Instead of dealing with our arguments against the Sunni or Shiite rendering of the Quran, he mentions some of the appalling, though not as common as propagated, Sunni and Shiite practices as the counter argument! Should I ask him what is the source of beheadings, stoning-to-death punishment that is still practiced and hoped-to-be practiced by millions of Sunni and Shiite religious people? The Quran, or the distorted verses of Bible and Hadiths? This should be his pet research topic!
PALME: So in this sense, the Reformist Translation is no more than a cosmetic change, and it can't be considered substantive reform. Perhaps the best one can hope for as an outcome of this huge undertaking by Mr. Yuksel and his colleagues is that it will promote more conversations and dialogues about disregarding the hadith and other extra-Koranic texts used by Muslims. To gain momentum, however, this reformist movement will have to overcome over a millennium of these texts being an integral part of Islam. Further, the movement will have to deal with the well-funded opposition of countries like Saudi Arabia who have a vested interest in maintaining all the practices and rituals of Islam which are sustained by the hadith and the Shari'a. Nevertheless, this new reformist translation of the Koran may be the catalyst which will break the logjam that has kept Islam mired in the 7th Century. Even that would be a change for the better.
YUKSEL: Thanks to Mr. Palme and www.annaqed.com for providing a chance to make some clarification, and I congratulate him for finishing his article with a positive note. However, I would like to correct the number 7 with number 9, since today's Sunni and Shiite dogmas and practices mired in religious teachings concocted about two centuries after Prophet Muhammad. This said, here I would like to remind the reader a major impediment against Islamic Reform movement, which is somehow missed by the critic.
I have being promoting Islamic Reform since 1986. I found refuge in the USA, which I am grateful. Yet to my disappointment, I found that the USA-Inc and its stooges to be a major obstacle against our movement. The dominant powers that "manufacture of consent" in American politics are trying hard to create another monster after the demise of Communism. Those who gain power and make great profits from fear-mongering and wars, found great opportunity in the rise of Islamist movement, and they have done everything to exaggerate their power, to create a positive environment for their propaganda and recruitment efforts. It is no more secret to people of reason to see that there are groups and countries who have vested interest in the -continuation of "war against terror."
The root of modern Islamists goes back to Muslims' reaction in the early of 20th century to three events following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, Balfour Declaration, and the British invasion of Egypt. The reaction against Western imperialism was unfortunately based on a reactionary ideology, which was no more than a nostalgic utopia, mimicking the era of prophet Muhammad and his comrades through following idolized hearsay fabricators and collectors two and three centuries afterwards. This ideology continued its appeal with the invasion and massacres of Westernized Israeli government against Palestinian natives, gained momentum with the Iranian revolution against American political interference and economic exploitation, and received guerilla training with Jihadies fighting against Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The invasions and atrocities committed by French against Algerians, Serbs against Muslim, Russians against Chechens, Americans against Muslim Iraqis, Israel against Lebanon and Palestinians, etc, added more fuel to the cause of the reactionary extremists. In sum, it is the bloody hand and teeth of the so-called civilized Christendom that is in the root of "Islamic radicalism" or "Islamist terrorism." The unholy quartet of Western civilization (Capitalists, Communists, Christianists and Zionists) have helped the violent and reactionary ideas and organizations incubate, spread, and get new recruits through their imperialistic interferences, covert operations, invasions, massacres, wars and destruction.
Thus, when we talk about Islamic Reform, we do not only deal with the theological distortions, clergymen, and Islamists, but we also deal with Western Imperialism and Christianists that are planting and incubating violence in Muslim world. The Western societies cannot continue longer invading and committing atrocities against the rest of the world, and they will not be able to continue their wasteful and reckless consumerist life-style against planet earth. If we, both the West and East do not set ourselves free from our idols (Ego, Flags, Race, Dogmas, Jesus, Pope, Muhammad, etc), if we do not peacefully submit ourselves to God/Truth alone through reason, we will suffer the consequences. If we do not reform ourselves, we will perish. Those who live by bombs will die by bombs. Those who live by blind faith will never acknowledge the truth. God's system about nations and individuals will never change.
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