I am not a big fan of the Quran. Nearly all of my friends, neighbors, and co-workers respond to this simple statement with some level of shock and horror. Of course, the next question is always, “Have you actually read the Quran?” More shock and dismay when I respond, “I have. Three times, in three different English translations, all recommended by Muslims” (Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, and Saheeh International) To this the next statement invariably will be: “It doesn’t really count unless you can read it in Arabic.” Once or twice, I have turned around and caught someone with, “Can you read the Quran in Arabic?” Not many of my Turkish friends can answer that affirmatively. The fact is, I can’t read Arabic, neither can 95% of the world’s population (at least) and any “holy” scripture that is only meant to be read and understood in one obscure language is clearly the scripture of a religion that has no place on the global stage.
One thing it took me a long time to truly understand is that the Quran is not viewed the same way we Christians view the Bible. For the Christian, Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” (Hebrews 1:3) It is Jesus who shows us what God is like and it is the Bible that reveals to us who Jesus is.
One major misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims is that both make a mental parallel between Jesus and the Bible and Muhammad and the Quran. In reality, this should be reversed. What Jesus is to the Christian, the Quran is to the Bible. And what the Bible is to the Christian, Muhammad (as seen through his life and the Hadiths) is to the Muslim.
This year I will be reading through the Quran for my fourth time. I have no plans of pulling any punches. It is a critique. But at the same time, I will do my best to quote various Hadith’s or major Muslim websites when presenting my commentary. I will do this as much as possible so as to avoid the common complaint “You are misrepresenting Islam,” or “That is not really what Islam teaches.” Even still, I welcome any comments or corrections. As much as I do not believe Islam, I do want to know what Islam truly believes. The Quran is without question one of the most influential books on the planet and I do not believe any book should be able to thrive in ignorance.
So here we go…
Surah Al Fatiha (the opening)
- In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
- All praise is due to God, the Lord of the Worlds
- The Beneficent, The Merciful
- Master of the Day of Judgment
- You do we serve, and You do we beseech for help
- Keep us on the straight path
- The path of those whom You have favored, not the path of those who earn Your anger nor of those who go astray.
This is the first Surah (chapter) in the Quran but scholars say it was the fifth Surah to be revealed. It actually does a good job of outlining what you will consistently see throughout the Quran. I am using the English word “God” rather than “Allah” simply because it is what the Arabic word means. For the modern mind, Allah has come to be the title or name of one specific belief of who God is. This understanding is very different from YHWH in the Tanakh or the revelation of Jesus in the New Testament, but people who don’t know better often think they are all one and the same.
According to the Hadiths and Muslim teaching, there are 99 names for God. You have two of these names of God each repeated twice in this Surah. One thing that strikes me is how these names are tossed around very often in a context that is implying the exact opposite of what I would expect. Here, Allah seems to be beneficent and merciful only to one of three groups of people. Those who “go astray” and those who “earn God’s anger” seem to be out of luck. This dichotomy between the “in” group and the “out” group is one of the most common themes throughout the Quran. Another common theme is how angry God seems to be. I promised myself that if I were to read through the Quran again, I would keep track of how many Surahs talk about how angry God is. Well, so far we are 1 for 1.
One last thing. Although, this isn’t the first Surah supposedly revealed to Muhammad by Gabriel, I felt it might be a good time to mention how the angel first introduced himself and kicked off the creation of the Quran. According to Sahih al-Bukhari 1:3 (a strong hadith)
Muhammad was in a cave where he used to go to get away from his family and worship God. One day an angel showed up and told him to read. Muhammad said, “I can’t.” The angel choked him until he almost passed out and commanded again, read. Muhammad again, “I can’t.” A second and then a third time the angel chokes him. After the third time, Gabriel said, “Read in the name of your Lord, who has created (all that exists) has created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous.”
This command from the “Lord Most Generous” was too much for Muhammad. He left the cave in a panic, rushed home, and hid under the blankets. Once his panic was over Muhammad explained it all to his wife. She talked him out of his fear that he had been demon possessed and his desire to commit suicide in part by bringing him to her cousin Waraqa. This old man (who dies a very, very short time later) was very knowledgeable in Christianity. He could write the gospels in perfect Hebrew (not Koine Greek?) and told Muhammad that the angel he saw was Gabriel, the very same angel who God sent to Moses. (Say what?)
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. I might have worded it a little differently but those two paragraphs are considered straight fact by Muslims and come from their most ancient venerable sources. Their prophet began his career by getting choked out by an angel of light three times, believing he was demon possessed, and trying multiple times to throw himself off high cliffs. I’m sorry, but that isn’t the most auspicious start for some people’s claims that Islam is a religion of peace and love. Maybe things will get a bit better as we move further along. (Spoiler alert… nope)