The several parallels between the Book of Mormon and the Qur’an have been noted before: the Qur’an serves as proof of Muhammad’s prophethood, an additional (although superseding) witness of the Bible’s God and salvation history, the source of devotional reading and instruction for believers. It is central to the piety of Muslims and commands their highest esteem. For non-believers to glibly dismiss it offends Muslims the same way we take umbrage when the Book of Mormon is described as something any nineteenth-century, Bible-literate yokel could have tossed off between lunch and dinner.
In other ways, though, the Qur’an is simply sui generis, and to understand it only by comparing it with other sacred texts is to sell it short. For one thing, the Qur’an has long been considered the model of literary excellence in Arabic; the inimitability of its style is an article of faith. For all its other merits, the Book of Mormon hasn’t exactly been widely followed as a paragon of style, even by believers. And nothing in the LDS view of scripture quite parallels the Islamic view of the Qur’an as uncreated, co-eternal with the Creator (God “inlibriate” as one scholar has put it).
But those are topics for another time. My hope today is to promote appreciation for three facets of the Qur’an.
(1) The Qur’an is a complex text. It was compiled over a period of more than 20 years, and the diverse content of the various suras (sections) reflects the changing circumstances of the nascent Muslim community. (Be aware, though, that the canonical order of the suras does not reflect chronology but rather inverse order of length.) It contains great stylistic variety: some suras are characterized by a lyrical beauty and others by pithy, legalistic prose. Like any complex text, its message is not reducible to discrete verses or proof texts; some familiarity with the whole is necessary for an understanding of each part. Narratives, for example, are often presented in fragmentary form and must be cobbled together from various passages (the story of Joseph in Egypt in Sura 12 is a notable exception).
Qur’anic language is challenging and sometimes elusive in meaning. Some of this may be attributed to the polysemous nature of Arabic word roots, but some may be inherent in the subject matter. The interpretive challenge of the text gave rise to a rich exegetical tradition with diverse modes of interpretation—linguistic, legalistic, rationalistic, and mystical.
(2) The Qur’an is beautiful. For believers, the aesthetic dimension of the text is inseparable from its spiritual power. Qur’anic language is at once ancient and contemporary. It mixes the cosmic and the intimate in striking ways. Consider this translation (Yusufali) of Sura 93 (“The Morning Light”), a message of comfort given to Muhammad in a moment of distress:
By the Glorious Morning Light
And by the Night when it is still—
Thy Lord hath not forsaken thee, nor is He displeased.
And verily the Hereafter will be better for thee than the present.
And soon will thy Lord give thee that wherewith thou shalt be well-pleased.
Did He not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter and care?
And He found thee wandering, and He gave thee guidance.
And He found thee in need, and made thee independent.
Therefore, treat not the orphan with harshness,
Nor repulse the petitioner unheard;
But the bounty of the Lord—rehearse and proclaim [it]!
In discussing the beauty of the Qur’an, I should also mention the seminal impact the Qur’an has had on the Islamic arts, including the marvelous calligraphy and illumination tradition—in its pen-and-ink varieties, as well as in plastic, architectural ornamentation (as here from the Mosque of Ibn Qalawun in Cairo).
3) “Qur’an” means “recitation.” Much of the impact of the Qur’an comes from experiencing it orally/aurally. The rhyme patterns, the nasalized consonants, the elongated vowels—these are an integral part of the experience. To give you a sense of what I mean, I encourage you to go to one of the sites that allow one to read and listen to passages of the Qur’an. (This one has worked well for me.) Listen to Sura 1 (the “Opening”) and read it in translation. This sura is recited by Muslims every time they perform their ritual prayer. Then do the same for Sura 93 (translated above). Listen for the features of Qur’anic prosody. Select another reciter (from the drop-down menu near the top) and note differences in tone and inflection. Even without a knowledge of Arabic, one can get a taste of how believers experience the text and why this experience is powerful for them.
(Those who are linguistics-minded may enjoy this Qur’an corpus site, which has word-by-word syntactic and morphological analysis. For those interested in reading the entire Qur’an, Arberry’s translation is highly regarded. The more recent Abdel Haleem translation is also quite serviceable and has a useful introduction.)
As Latter-day Saints, we should appreciate the best of other religious traditions—if for no other reason than that we can empathize with the feeling of being misunderstood. In addition, we have an inspiring mandate to seek wisdom out of the “best books” (D&C 88:118). I include the Qur’an in this group.
For all its other merits, the Book of Mormon in English hasn’t exactly been widely followed as a paragon of style, even by believers
There, fixed it for you.
(I know a few Spanish academics who think the style of the Book of Mormon translation is wonderful.)
On a serious note, thanks for this.
Robert, you inspire an appropriate level of righteous envy. Many thanks for this.
That morphological analysis site is way cool! Thanks for the link.
Excellent link! I’ve been looking for something like that for a long time.
In spite of having read it completely in translation, and bits in pieces in Arabic, my view of the Qur’an remains fairly dim on the religious level. On the Arabic level, it’s indeed masterful.
Wonderful post on a wonderful book. Thank you for pointing out the many similarities. There are many, many more between JS and Muhammad:
– Vision from God leading to publication of Holy writ
– Considered “word-for-word” message – Qur’an is considered perfect in Arabic, reports of JS “not being able to go on” before correcting a scribe
– Both men considered illiterate, at least to the point of being able to create such works
– Initially persecuted and had to move cities with their followers
– Both were polygamous
– Both superseded the Bible
– Both stated the Nicean view of Trinity is flawed
– Many, many more
I think we in the Church are far to eager to write off the Muslim religion as “of the devil” or strange. We should remember that our religion and it’s background is likely as strange to the rest of the world at the Muslim one might appear to us. We should be at least as willing to listen to them and respect what they have to say as we would like others to be towards our message.
Thank you again.
Mike S, there are also many un-parallels between the two, and I’d seriously quibble with the implication of your #2, that we should regard the BoM as divinely dictated on the word level.
Thanks for this post. My family has had so many positive experiences with the Qur’an, from listening to it chanted by a man in the Cairo subway to reciting it ourselves over some graves at the request of friends in Bishkek who weren’t able to read Arabic themselves.
One of my favorite experiences was with a man in Amman who explained several passages to us from some wall hangings we’d purchased. He read the words, then explained them to us in less formal Arabic. We felt honored to have him take the time to do that, and I think he appreciated the chance to talk about his religion and beliefs.
The Qur’an is a work I know I should read, but I’ve never known what translation I should start with. Thank you for the suggestions.
#6: Ben S
I absolutely agree with your “quibble” personally. However, in order to do this, we must choose to ignore words from our leaders. Just a simple quote from Elder Russell M Nelson, who quotes familiar accounts:
“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)
Emma Smith, who acted as an earlier scribe for Joseph, gave this account in 1856:
“When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made any mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. Even the word Sarah he could not pronounce at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him.
This certainly implies a “word level” translation.
Great post. I agree the Qur’an is a wonderful book.
The quotes in comment #9 sound just like the latest version of Trados Autocomplete!
Actually, it appears that my iPhone is doing more than the seers stones and Liahona put together…although the battery life wouldn’t quite last long enough to use the Flashlight app to light the interior of a submarine for a year…
Shukran Robert. I enjoyed the article and the links are very useful. The more understanding, the better.
Fantastic Robert. First time I’ve ever heard the Qur’an read. Hearing it has certainly changed the way I perceive the book.
This post doesn’t address what I would think is a fundamental question: did the angel Gabriel *actually* reveal this book to Muhammad and are its contents therefore binding revelation on all men? If yes, then the LDS Church is woefully in error and needs to submit to Islam. If no, then the book is a massive lie and should be rejected as leading billions into error. Merely accepting it as stylistically neat and impressive seems to negate any discussion of truth claims, and what could be more important than that?
Regarding the quote, I just went to http://www.lds.org and searched for “translation of Book of Mormon”. It is clipped directly from an article/speech by Elder Nelson. Nothing more “malignant” than that. It was merely meant to point out that if someone doesn’t think the BofM was necessarily revealed on a “word-by-word” basis, they need to reconcile this with the teachings of our leaders. This has a parallel to the Qur’an, as Muslims take it to also be the “word-by-word” revelation from God (as long as it is in Arabic – other translations are seen as “guides”, but the true word of Allah is in Arabic).
I agree that this is the fundamental problem. Did Muhammad really get the Qur’an from the angel Gabriel? If so, what are the implications of that? On the other hand, if we dismiss completely Muhammad’s account as being “made up”, or perhaps him being “deceived” by Satan, how do we know that Joseph Smith doesn’t fall into the same category as their experiences are similar in many ways? There are certainly people who have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the BofM, but there are also 100x more people who have the same testimony of Muhammad and the Qur’an.
Mike, I’m familiar with those citations. There’s more than one way to understand them. Check out Stephen Ricks’ articles on the BoM translation at FARMS (the OP’s father, BTW.)
Sorry for the threadjack.
Thanks, all, for your comments.
#1: “I know a few Spanish academics who think the style of the Book of Mormon translation is wonderful.”
Color me surprised—and intrigued.
Truth claims are clearly important; I don’t dispute that. Two thoughts, though: (1) this post was deliberately not about truth claims. I wanted to promote understanding of the Qur’an in a respectful way. This can be done without taking an explicit position on its provenance and inspiration. It’s the kind of approach that I would welcome from sympathetic (though non-believing) observers of Mormonism. (2) Polemics about truth claims usually feel like so much preaching to the choir. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be able to make one compelling, nor do I have much interest in doing so.
Thanks for those quotes. There has been some intriguing work done regarding the mode of translation for the BoM. Royal Skousen’s research has me persuaded that, for certain name spellings at least, there was an “iron-clad” control operating. Even if we do accept this mode of translation, however, the implications for textual interpretation are not self-evident.
I concur with Ben S that we should only push the parallels between the BoM and Qur’an so far. They are useful in that they can add curiosity and sympathy to our approach (and occasionally lead to genuine insights); they shouldn’t substitute, however, for other methods of analysis. As often as not, superficial similarities mask intriguing dissimilarities. I am quite sure, for example, that Muslims’ sense of a “testimony” is quite different than ours. This doesn’t mean their conviction is any weaker, merely that the language they use to talk about it, and their idea of how it is arrived at, are distinctly not like ours.
I think one reason (to get back on track a bit) recitations of the Qur’an hold so much sway is not only the highly literary and beautiful Arabic, but that God himself spoke those words aloud to Mohammed. In listening or reciting, one is participating in a proxy way in that revelation to Mohammed.
Non-Arabic speaking Muslims sometimes buy Arabic transliterations of the Qur’an so they can recite the same sounds God did, even if they don’t understand the actual language.
I have some mp3 recitations I enjoy listening to because of their sonorous qualities, even though I can’t follow the spoken Arabic very well and am not Muslim.
Interesting that someone would cite the Quran and use the Book of Mormon as some parallel, when the two could not be more diametrically opposed!
If you must use the Book of Mormon to “add curiosity” I suggest you reconsider as the very idea is illformed.
1. The Book of Mormon substantiates the resurrection and divine sonship of Jesus the Christ, the Quran does not.
2. The Book of Mormon warns us against the principles and foundation of Islam, which endorse the methods of Cain.
3. There are some TWENTY witnesses to the divine dictation of the Book of Mormon 15 who saw the record, and four+ who saw an angel and heard God verify its worth.
4. Which book do the opposers of Christ and the believers in the Messiah justify their opposing by? How dare you parallel that book with the Book of Mormon.
5. If there is an adversary, what, pray tell does his/it/their attacks look like?
Consider your aligning.
Thanks for joining the discussion. Please bear in mind that comments at T&S must comply with our comment policy. (See http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/comment-policies/ )
To reply to some specific statements:
“2. The Book of Mormon warns us against the principles and foundation of Islam, which endorse the methods of Cain.”
Huh? I don’t know of any statement in the Book of Mormon to the effect that Islam is following the methods of Cain. Are we reading the same book?
“4. Which book do the opposers of Christ and the believers in the Messiah justify their opposing by? How dare you parallel that book with the Book of Mormon.”
Robert is pretty clear on this, writing that:
“As Latter-day Saints, we should appreciate the best of other religious traditions—if for no other reason than that we can empathize with the feeling of being misunderstood. In addition, we have an inspiring mandate to seek wisdom out of the “best books” (D&C 88:118). I include the Qur’an in this group.”
Anti-Muslim sentiment has a long history in this country, and has historically been linked with anti-Mormonism.
Respect for other religious traditions is a foundational tenet of LDS faith. Respect for and dialog with Islam in particular is growing. For instance, a major Islamic political leader from Indonesia recently spoke at BYU. Her remarks were printed in BYU Studies, along with the personal introduction she received from Elder Boyd K. Packer. (See description at http://bycommonconsent.com/2007/03/29/byu-studies-454-2006/ ) That same volume cites to discussion from BYU academics about parallels between LDS and Islamic religious text (including the work of Daniel Peterson at BYU).
If there is an adversary, it is apparently not all-Muslims-everywhere. You’ll have to find a more nuanced approach. Either that, or ask Elder Packer why he was introducing minions of Satan to speak at BYU.
See also this Ensign article on Islam:
Not to be politically incorrect, the Book of Mormon teaches freedom of religion, which is polar opposite to the Quran.
Yeah, yeah. Take it up with Neal A. Maxwell. Clearly the general authorities I’ve cited, and that nefarious Ensign magazine, are motivated only by political correctness.
(I am glad you’re not trying to be politically incorrect, though. That would be awful. Every time I see someone preface a thought with “not to be politically incorrect,” I think to myself, “wow, what a right-thinking fellow and brave soul.”)
I see your Ensign quotes and raise you a First Presidency Statement Kaimi:
“…The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”
STATEMENT OF THE FIRST PRESIDENCY REGARDING GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL MANKIND
Don’t believe the hype.
For those who are Mormons/Christians, there are at least a couple of factors to be concerned about in regards to the Qur’an.
1- the Qur’an explicitly teaches that God does not beget and that Jesus Christ is not the son of God.
2- Many Qur’anic phrases and verses are loaded with (polemical or highly politicized) meanings that will be unseen to the casual non-Muslim reader. For example, an English translation of the Fatiha might read as follows:
Reading this through, you might think how nice and generic-sounding it is. But in verse seven the phrases “those whose portion is not wrath” is commonly understood (by Muslims) to refer to the Jews and those “who go not astray” is commonly understood to refer to Christians. In other words, the first sura of the Qur’an boils down to a polemic, a prayer to Allah to not be like the Jews and the Christians (but to follow the true religion, Islam). As a Christian, once you realize that kind of thing is going on, as a reader you have to beware of the text. The text is not your friend and it is, in essence, loaded with coded language. However plainly it might seem to read – you won’t understand it without finding a commentary or figuring out the commonly held interpretations that lie behind the words on the page.
3) Keep in mind that reading the Qur’an is like reading the Doctrine and Covenants – but without the subject headings that provided the useful and needed historical context. This doesn’t mean a narrative context doesn’t exist. It does. But you won’t get it just by reading the Qur’an or a translation of the Qur’an. It would probably be more useful for a non-Muslim to read “The Life of Muhammad” (a translation of the Sira) which provides many Qur’anic passages – but places them in the narrative context of the Islamic prophet’s life so that a person can gain a greater sense of how the phrases are actually being used and what they are saying. Reading the Life of Muhammad is much like reading the New Testament. And it actually then makes some sense.
My conclusion: Muslims will tell you that the Qur’an is the most beautiful text in the world and that it is the undiluted perfect word of God as recited by Muhammad and faithful written by scribes. From their perspective, the Qur’an is unparalleled in every way and it is impossible to imagine the text having any problems.
However, when the Qur’an is compared to the Old Testament, the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, it becomes very clear that the Qur’an is highly fragmentary. It refers to the names of many Biblical prophets but does not tell their stories. As I see it, without the Bible that underpins much of what the Qur’an talks about, the Qur’an would be useless and meaningless.
The Qur’an is important because so many people (billions) think it is important – so for that reason we need to know what the Qur’an is about and how it is understood. Sadly, it has a huge influence in the world, arguably as much (or more) than any other book. But as a book of scripture, in regards to its textual merits, standing alone, apart from all other Islamic sources and narratives and commenataries that amplify its meaning, it doesn’t compare well to the scriptures we are familiar with.
Thanks for bringing this subject up. Given the many ugly, racist, bigoted anti-Muslim emails that are floating around the internet these days — too many, I’m sad to say, passed on by otherwise good members of the church — I’m glad to see someone emphasizing something positive. My knowledge of the Qur’an is very limited, but I would like to expand it. You’ve given me a little bit of encouragement.
The Qur’an does not condemn freedom of religion. (One could argue quite the opposite, as a well-known verse says “there is no compulsion in religion.”) Simply because some Muslim nations restrict religious freedom does not mean that the Qur’an teaches this practice. Other factors are at play.
Although I disagree with some of what you write, I appreciate your serious engagement with the issues. Here are a few thoughts:
(1) As I said earlier, this post was not about truth claims. There would be no point in my disputing your #1. Of course the Qur’an does not teach what we believe about Christ; from a Christian perspective, this is one of the most obvious facts about the text. I’m not sure, however, why this has to “concern” us. Clearly at least some of the truth claims between Islam and Christianity (or Mormonism specifically) are not compatible. What is the proper reaction to that fact? Shall we have a truth claims battle of attrition? Is it possible to understand and appreciate what others believe without an ulterior motive (i.e., proving them wrong and us right)?
(2) I strongly disagree with your description of Sura 1 as boiling down to mere polemic. Many classical exegetes do gloss Q 1.7 as referring to Jews and Christians. This does not mean, however, that individual Muslims are obliged to interpret it that way. (Just as Mormons are not obliged to identify the “great and abominable church” as a particular church—or a church at all—simply because some authorities have interpreted it as such.) My Muslim friends find great spiritual solace in the language; they don’t recite the words gloating at the benighted state of non-Muslims. The Fatiha is not the Muslim analog to the Rameumptom prayer.
I also contest your description of the Qur’an as replete with coded language that we have to “beware” of. Frankly, it makes no bones about containing a supersessionist, universal message. This language is not hidden.
(3) I do agree that the Qur’an is dependent on the Old Testament for many of its narratives, for its concept of prophethood, for some of its eschatological language, and probably for much else. Many Muslims may not appreciate that as much as they should. This does not mean, however, that it is merely derivative; there is much that is original and unique. Whether it “compares well” with other scriptures is inevitably a subjective judgment; informed people could certainly come to a different conclusion.
(4) Perhaps I’m reading your comment unfairly, but I sense an insinuation that I’m trying to “pull one over” on readers by talking about what is admirable about the Qur’an rather than what is unacceptable from an LDS doctrinal perspective. I’m not trying to “hype” the Qur’an, merely to promote appreciation and to offer a corrective to some of the rhetoric I see on LDS blogs and elsewhere. It is a work worth understanding not only because of its widespread influence, as you note, but because of its actual merits. Unlike you, I don’t lament the Qur’an’s influence on its readers as malignant.
Here’s a good article on the tie of the Qur’an to the Bible:
Robert, if you would, illuminate for us how Muhammad’s ideas evolved in the Qur’an.
Robert, thanks for your reasoned response. I understand you disagree with me and of course that is fine.
I had some thoughts on the verse that says “there is no compulsion in religion” (la iqraha fi din) but I took them out because my comment was already quite long.
That verse, based on the way it is commonly interpreted, is basically useless if you are a Muslim. It is applied to non-Muslims who are ‘people of the Book’ but not to polytheists or pagans.
According to Islamic teaching – this verse does not apply to Muslims who are mature and sane. They are, in fact, from a doctrinal standpoint – compelled to be Muslims. There is no institutional means or process for a Sunni Muslim to formally and officially dissociate himself/herself from the religion and stay alive. All four of the Sunni madhab (schools) teach that a Muslim who tries to deny God or leave Islam should be killed. Some time ago I looked into this quite a bit and found that there was one of the madhab that varied on this, saying that a woman who tries to apostatize should be imprisoned and beaten until she relents and declares herself a Muslim. But that isn’t very comforting.
Anyway, this whole (widely-held) interpretation completely undermines the idea of there being no compulsion in religion. This verse is commonly cited to mean what it plainly says – but the common exegesis of the verse is usually not provided.
I have spoken directly with Muslim friends and neighbors about the killing of apostates from Islam – whether that was in fact what they believed should happen and multiple sources frankly said that yes, that was the case, that this was what should be done – because it was what God and Muhammad decreed.
In regards to the Fatiha, there are books written on this short sura. It’s very important in Islam. However, that interpretation of the final verse(s) is very commonly held. I’ve found it in many of the classical sources and when I’ve talked to Muslims about it, not a single one has denied that it is referring to Jews and Christians. It’s something that is generally understood and accepted.
When I said “don’t believe the hype” I was referring more to the Islamic hype about the Qur’an than to your post. There are many things stated about the Qur’an that I simply cannot begin to accept. The Qur’an itself describes itself as a book without error, which is nonsense.
One of the things I am trying to say is that a person shouldn’t draw strong conclusions about the Qur’an just by reading a translation for what seems to be the plain meaning, even in the original Arabic. The purpose of the Fatiha example was to point out how even a close reading of what seems to be an apparent meaning would completely miss commonly held Muslim perceptions of the meaning of the text. I provided that particular example because it’s obvious that if a non-Muslim person merely read the English translation (or even the Arabic) they wouldn’t be able to pick up that it is talking about Jews and Christians.
Rob, one other point I would like to raise … the comparisons of similarities between the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon – the comparisons that raise similarities – are basically comparison of process – how the book came forth.
The book was somehow communicated/provided via angelic visions and communications. The book is proof of the truthfulness of the religion. The prophet bringing forth the book is not highly educated or even illiterate. Etc. and etc. These are all similarities when talking about the Book of Mormon and the Qur’an.
But the content of the two books is different. The Book of Mormon’s narrative base is immediately present and obvious and doctrinal teachings are very much embedded into that narrative. As I mentioned earlier, while the Qur’an has a narrative base, that narrative base is not immediately present and obvious in the text itself but is largely extra-textual – found in other sources.
In my opinion, this makes the Book of Mormon SO much more readable than the Qur’an.
One routinely hears in Islamic teachings that the Qur’an is beautiful to read and to hear – that its language is inexpressibly beautiful and poetic – that it made the early Muslims swoon and convert on the spot when they heard it. I guess I’m somewhat excited to hear the Call to Prayer when I’m in Jerusalem because it means that I am in Jerusalem! But in regards to the words and the sounds of the words and the beauty of the words – I’m not really very convinced.
That’s the kind of “hype” I was referring to earlier.
“basically comparison of process – how the book came forth.”
And even those are quite different. Mohammed was married and 40, and spent days on end meditating in the mountainous desert. Joseph was single and young, and spent his days from morning to evening trying to scratch out a living with his parents.
Mohammed received the Qur’an orally. (Highly reminiscent of DSS Isaiah 40:6, Mohammed is told to “recite” qr’. He replies, “what should I recite?” His recitation becomes the Qur’an.)
Joseph Smith had plates he had to translate from, and at first did not receive them.
A better comparison is between the Qur’an and the D&C.
Ben, good point. Polar opposites. Other points that make them different:
1. Were there witnesses of the process by M?
2. Is the original manuscript of Q. extant?
Joseph’s wife Emma — who acted as a scribe for portions of the translation — would be very surprised to hear that he was single during the translation process.
Re #33 and #34:
Clearly there are non-parallels between the BoM and the Qur’an. That was made explicit in the post. In addition, in comment #18 above I noted the limited usefulness of parallel-seeking as a method of inquiry: “As often as not, superficial similarities mask intriguing dissimilarities.” As you note, in content and structure, the Qur’an may be more like the D&C.
Thanks for your clarification about what you meant by “hype.” Judgments about the Qur’an’s beauty are inherently subjective, at least on some level, so there’s probably little point in my quibbling with you there (de gustibus, etc.). On the other hand, it can be demonstrated more or less objectively that Qur’anic language has noteworthy literary qualities. For believers, these are part of its appeal and power. I, for one, find much of its language beautiful.
Regarding the Fatiha, I don’t deny that many Muslims do understand the verse that way (similar to the way that many Mormons probably interpret “great and abominable church” as referring to a particular church). My point is that they’re not _obligated_ to interpret it that way. A common interpretation does not mean a binding interpretation. I also have to say “so what?”. Even those who interpret the verse as referring to Jews and Christians do not necessarily do so arrogantly or with malice. Doctrinally, we believe in and are grateful for a restoration from apostate Christianity, right? Is this belief inherently offensive or arrogant? An outsider might well say “yes”; we (or at least I) would contest that. We intend gratitude and humility; someone else sees the Rameumptom.
I do lament, with you, the lack of religious freedom in some Muslim societies and, in particular, the jurisprudence regarding Muslims who apostatize. However, I stand by what I wrote earlier: The Qur’an itself does not prescribe these strictures. The apostasy jurisprudence is derived from the Sunna—which, I recognize, often carries a binding weight in Islamic thought. Reformist and progressive Muslims, however, have argued the need to return to the language of the revelation itself. The ethos of the Qur’an is very much compatible with Western notions of freedom of conscience.
# 34 “2. Is the original manuscript of Q. extant?”
What do you mean by “original manuscript”? The gold plates behind the BOM are not around, and they would be the real original manuscript. For the Qur’an, there is an eternal, infallible book in heaven that is the original manuscript. It was simply relayed to Muhammad in time.
Almost as surprised as when she found out he was multiple.
Rob, you make some good points but trying to separate the Qur’an from the Sunna is probably a futile exercise – mainly because if we only had the Qur’an we wouldn’t know much about Muhammad. The Qur’an only mentions the name of Muhammad maybe four or five times and it’s hard to derive much actual information about Muhammad’s life from the Qur’an.
By comparison, the Old Testament provides information about the life of Moses, the circumstances of his birth, his family life, his experiences in Egypt, how he received the commandments, etc. and etc.
There are other things that are largely missing from the Qur’an. The Islamic method of praying and prayers, for example – is basically missing from the Qur’an.
I’m sure the list could go on and on. My point is, the Qur’an, without the Sunna (and the narrative provided in the Sunna) is basically useless and in many places quite unintelligible.
The reticency being displayed to acknowledge the obvious; the points given; and the fruit of Islam bespeaks a bias we failed to address.
Ricks, do you believe the account of how the Qu’ran came about?
Have you ever testified at any time in your life that the Book of Mormon was from God?
What is your current view of how the Book of Mormon came forth?
If you would address those questions, it would be appreciated.
Joel, “original MANUSCRIPT” means that which was recorded upon by M. Your analogy of the gold plates is wrong. The original dictation from those plates is known, and we are able to see it came forth as Joseph and the witnesses said. Can we do the same with the Qur’an? NO.
“I studied the Quran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction that by and large there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. So far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion more to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.
Muhammad professed to derive from Heaven, and he has inserted in the Koran, not only a body of religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of science. The gospel, on the contrary, only speaks of the general relations of men to God and to each other – beyond which it inculcates and imposes no point of faith. This alone, besides a thousand other reasons, would suffice to prove that the former of these religions will never long predominate in a cultivated and democratic age, whilst the latter is destined to retain its sway at these as at all other periods.” (Alexis de Tocqueville)
Well written article. I agree. I think that it is important for Latter-day Saints to show appreciation for the Quran and for other religious traditions. However, I disagree with many of the negative reactions to this piece, which appear to think that the Quran cannot be appreciated because of how some Muslims interpret it, or because it may not square with LDS teachings.
It should be noted that the interpretations of the Quran and its usage in Islam differ as vastly as the interpretations of the Bible in Christianity. Muslims have been divided for centuries over the question of whether religion and politics should be separate or not, and many are divided over the question of the historicity of the Quran.
Given the vast variance in the Quran’s interpretation, I don’t think that similarities or differences, or compatibility or incompatibility, between it and other religious books/ideas are always readily apparent, nor can they be too hastily declared. The historical relationship between the Quran and the Muslims can best be understood as one in which political and economic circumstance has shaped how the Quran is interpreted and is found relevant on individual and collective levels more than a group of believers trying to adhere to the Quran’s every last word. We should consider for instance the Chishti Sufi order in India, which advocated tolerance towards the Hindu community and in many instances even assimilated their beliefs with those of Hinduism.
Although I am not advocating that we should be heterodoxical in our beliefs, I think that appreciation of other religious texts and traditions does not imply accepting them or agreeing with certain interpretations of it. However, mischaracterization and misrepresentation of other faiths can often breed a dangerous environment of intolerance and tension.
In a purely academic setting, you would be right, we would tolerate, even admire, other faiths, views, and opinions.
Those speaking with indifference to the subject no doubt are taking such an approach.
Myself and others know there is a war, and people like you two (or three), who believe you are ingratiating yourselves with Muslims, are failing to teach, by being taught. (D&C 43:15)
I’m not very comfortable with the way BOMC is addressing this, the questions that BOMC is asking Rob about whether he’s ever testified about the Book of Mormon, etc. That is just ridiculous.
So please don’t lump me in. I don’t have any kind of personal animus against Rob, whatsoever. If you are feeling attacked personally in any way, that is not what I’m trying to do. I’m raising what I feel are legitimate questions and concerns about the Qur’an – that is it.
I’m also concerned about the accusation (if it is aimed at me) that I’m over-generalizing or mis-characterizing Islam. I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying Islamic texts (admittedly, often in translation, though I have studied Arabic and can work with that too) and I’ve had Muslim friends and neighbors (from Egypt and Jordan) who I have spoken to about a number of things. I’ve been surprised and a little shocked at how they’ve upheld some of the beliefs that we would consider to be radical, extreme, violent, inappropriate … whatever you would want to call it. I think sometimes we believe, because we are in a modern world and because we live in America, that there is no way people could really truly believe certain kinds of things.
I understand that Islam is a religion with more than a billion adherents and of course it would be absurd to say that this is a monolithic group with a single view or interpretation on any subject. But when you are dealing with such a large number of people, almost any percentage of the group becomes a significant number of people. So saying that we can’t generalize about their beliefs does not erase the need for concern. In the case of Islam – if a million or millions or tens of millions of people accept a particular interpretation or perspective, it is cause for interest and concern.
I think we tend to give Islam too easy a pass. It is in our nature as Mormons to be trusting, friendly, faithful, hopeful, optimistic. All of this is good to a certain extent and it is normally the way I see things. I am typically optimistic and friendly and hopeful. I am not actually saying that we should completely extinguish any of these factors in regards to how we perceive Islam and Muslims. However, on the other hand, we should not extinguish inquiry, critical thinking or realities-on-the-ground either. And we should be willing to at least consider the possibility that there are actual malignant factors in Islam and in its texts. I mean, are we willing to consider that this is possible, at all?
I strongly feel that we are too quick to give Islam a pass. We need to make absolutely sure that we approach this problem with our eyes open and that we not ignore factors that are in fact present in the Islamic texts themselves. And if we find these factors in the texts then we should start asking our Muslim friends if in fact they actually believe this stuff or not. You might have some interesting conversations. I sure have.
Islam is a very complex religion and I would even say a very problematic religion – and we can’t merely be positive or merely negative in talking about it. I suppose I’ve been merely negative for many of these comments. That isn’t my whole view and all that I have to say. There are certainly good things about Islam and there are insights I have gained about true principles, from studing Islam. But the things I am concerned about are pretty serious issues and the good in Islam doesn’t make those concerns go away.
It is now apparent that you quite literally support the “truth claims battle of attrition” model I described earlier. I wish that I could change your mind—that I could persuade you, even for a few minutes, to call a truce—but I’m confident you’re immune to my powers of persuasion. Just pretend this is a “purely academic setting”; I’ll pretend you mean it as a compliment.
NB: Any further questioning of the faith of those participating here will not be tolerated. Please refer again to our commenting policies.
“the Qur’an, without the Sunna (and the narrative provided in the Sunna) is basically useless and in many places quite unintelligible”
Unintelligible, perhaps; useless, certainly not. Even the hypothetical excision of the Sunna from Islamic thought would not render the Qur’an useless; it contains all kinds of ethical, legal, and theological teachings that would not suddenly become meaningless.
It’s not as though reconsidering some elements of Sunna-driven jurisprudence (e.g., the apostasy jurisprudence) would require one to discard the sira (biographical literature on Muhammad’s life) or the asbab al-nuzul literature (works describing the context for the various revelations) or really much of anything. The baby doesn’t have to go out with the bathwater. When I said that some have argued for a “return” to the Qur’an, most of the time this means a re-assertion of the primacy of Qur’anic language and the Qur’anic “ethos” over particular interpretations or precedents that are derived from the Sunna. Others have tried to utilize established principles of fiqh (jurisprudence)—such as istihsan (juristic preference) and maslaha (public interest)—to accomplish the same end. The larger point is that the tradition itself is not static (and has never been) and that even now it may have the internal resources needed for reform.
P.S. I’m glossing the Arabic terms for those who are unfamiliar with them, not because I think you aren’t.
Thanks for commenting. You’re right on in much of what you write: the history of interpreting the Qur’an is very far from monolithic, and many extratextual factors have been at play historically. My sense is there hasn’t been much disagreement among Muslims on the “historicity” of the Qur’an, but perhaps you could elaborate on what you mean by that.
I composed #46 without having read your #45. I’ll just say, very briefly, that we probably agree on more than it would seem. I’ve been emphasizing the positive in Islam, for reasons that I hope are clear; you may have been emphasizing the negative, for other reasons that are also legitimate.
Nothing I have written implies that we should accept truth claims that contradict LDS doctrine or that Islam (and/or Muslim societies or even individual Muslims) should be immune from critical analysis and evaluation. My personal approach is to err on the side of sympathy. When we are critical, we must be sure we are being fair to the totality of the evidence. I have found fairness and sympathy rather lacking in public discourse about these topics, including the conversations on LDS blogs.
The only translation of the Quran that I have experience with was Picthall’s. How does that compare with the ones cited above?
Robert, I know I’ve gone on and on already. My experience in the ‘Nacle and in the world in general is that we are too positive and sympathetic in regards to Islam. I think we tend to see the positive (which is there) but ignore the negative. We all have Muslim friends and we see that they are good people with family lives and we honestly don’t have time to dig into these Arabic texts that may or may not support violent Islamic expansionism in the world.
I don’t expect people to do a lot in regards to these materials – as a personal study it’s a bit of a dreary dead end, frankly. Dig enough and you may not like what you see. The material is voluminous (no one can really begin to get to it all) and it’s in a difficult language.
But I think after all that we are seeing in regards to suicide bombings and attacks, in countries all over the world, including our own, that we should be allowed to jettison some of the soft politically correct talk that makes Islam seem so glorious and wonderful.
One other question that routinely occurs to me is why are there so many countries with Islamic super-majorities? If Islam is so tolerant of other religious groups, as is often stated, why are there so many countries that are 80 percent Muslim or 90 percent Muslim? We know that historically many of these countries had a lot more non-Muslims.
Maybe we should ask whether there is any country in the world, any country with an Islamic super-majority, where another non-Muslim group is growing in numbers. Does that happen? Are we sufficiently sympathetic to Christian groups who live in these countries? What is happening to Christians in Palestine? What is happening to Christians in Iraq? What is happening to Christians in Nigeria? What is happening to Christians in Sudan? Etc. How much to these populations have to be careful and circumspect about what they do religiously? Do they feel completely safe? I don’t think they do. How often are they attacked? My impression, from what I read about them, is that they are gradually being eroded by the Muslim super-majority.
Here’s an article about the last Jew in Afghanistan. It’s kind of an odd thing and yet something to think about. There are forces that led up to this. It’s not hard to realize how it got to that point.
Should it be brought up that in those countries you named, Christians colonized them for some time (maybe with the exception of Sudan, I’m just not familiar enough with its history, whether or not it was part of the British Empire, or some other Christian nation). There might be a reason why Christians might feel somewhat slighted in those countries you named.
“But I think after all that we are seeing in regards to suicide bombings and attacks, in countries all over the world, including our own, that we should be allowed to jettison some of the soft politically correct talk that makes Islam seem so glorious and wonderful.”
I don’t think that Rob is saying that Islam is “so glorious and wonderful.” Rather, it’s a religion, which, like most religions, has positive aspects and negative aspects. Like many religions, it has been linked to various political groups as well, and those have both positive and negative acts.
It’s absolutely correct that there are branches of Islam which are extremely violent and intolerant of other belief. Wahbabism in particular is an extremely intolerant and often violent branch of Islam. I don’t think Rob would dispute that.
I think that he would definitely dispute the idea that Islam is uniquely violent as a religion. You ask why it is that so many countries are super-majority Islam, and whether that is a sign of violent intolerance. Take a look at European history, bro. You’ll see slaughter after slaughter in the name of Christian sects. The current largely tolerant stance of many Christian sects is a massive historical aberration. Purges of Protestants, the first two sacks of Constantinople, the massacre of the Latins, the various slaughters of Muslims (such as in the 1800s in Greece), the freaking _Crusades_ — Christian history is definitely not pristine. Just a few decades ago, Protestants and Catholics were *still* killing each other wholesale in Northern Ireland. Christianity was used to justify opposition to Civil Rights, repeatedly, and most anti-Black hate groups in the U.S. still tie their beliefs to Christian theology. Christians of all groups should be awfully careful before attributing political actions of a religious sect back to a foundational holy book.
Rob isn’t suggesting that we adopt the violent beliefs of Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. He’s talking about finding an appreciation for the foundational text which inspired leaders who were extremely tolerant for centuries in southern Spain and in Jerusalem. (Both of which environments fell to religious monoculture and massacre after Christian armies decided to expel the Muslims.)
Rob has suggested that the Quran can be a source of spiritual growth. I don’t think that anything in today’s political environment changes that view — any more than the Protestant-Catholic wars change the fact that the Sermon on the Mount can be a source of spiritual growth for people of all religious persuasions.
My comment # 43 was indeed broad, but that is only because I simply believe that it is important to recognize the basic fact that Islam and Quranic interpretations are diverse, and that we should take that into consideration before making generalizations about Islam.
As for what I mean by the debate about the historicity of the Quran, you are correct in saying that there is generally little question on the part of religious Muslims as to whether the Qur’an comes from God or whether it was socially constructed. I think that we would be hard pressed to find believing Muslims who were equivalent of Grant Palmer, the author of “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins,” in the LDS church: in other words, a ‘believer’ who doubts the religious texts’ divine origins. However, the historicity debate that I refer to is that over the Quran’s ‘createdness’ or ‘eternality,’ which continues to be a source of significant controversy.
To mention some examples: Egyptian Quranic scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd argues that the Quran was largely allegorical, and as a result was declared a heretic by an Egyptian Court, and received numerous death threats. Mohammad Asad (a Ukranian Jewish convert to Islam) Abdolkarim Soroush (an Iranian philosopher) and Amina Wudud, are other examples of liberal Muslim thinkers who argued in favor of a more ‘socially constructed’ and allegorical Quran.
Kaimi, it is true that Christians committed numerous atrocities – even under the name of Christianity. No doubt about it. But bringing up that point does not in any way help us to deal in a practical manner with the problems and threats we are confronted with today, in regards to Islam. In some ways, if our shame over what Christians did in the past causes us to downplay or ignore current day threats posed by another religion, then the tragedy of those heinous acts is only multiplied.
Also, Kaimi, the atrocities committed by Christians have very little basis in New Testament teaching. They truly subvert and pervert what Jesus Christ taught.
While this doesn’t contravert what Robert says about the Qur’an, the Sunna (the hadith collections) actively promote Muslim holy war against non-Muslims. So textually, the Muslim scriptures are more of an actual problem if they are acted out.
The Bible contains enough statements that one can read it as a brief for war just as easily, perhaps more so, than as a brief for peace.
We choose to ignore some statements and prioritize others. That doesn’t mean that prior actions were against the Bible; they were emphasizing parts of the Bible which we choose to downplay.
You don’t have to go that far back in the past to find out why Islamic fundamentalists are so angry at Christian societies. Just look at the 20th century.
From Robert’s 47:
“Nothing I have written implies that we should accept truth claims that contradict LDS doctrine or that Islam (and/or Muslim societies or even individual Muslims) should be immune from critical analysis and evaluation. My personal approach is to err on the side of sympathy. When we are critical, we must be sure we are being fair to the totality of the evidence. I have found fairness and sympathy rather lacking in public discourse about these topics, including the conversations on LDS blogs.”
Don’t we hope that non-Mormons will similarly “err on the side of sympathy,” even if we can’t persuade them to accept Mormonism’s truth claims or if they choose to not regard the Church as immune to criticism? It seems like if we want to demand this kind of treatment for our own religious, it would be nothing short of hypocritical to refuse to extend the same courtesy to Islam.
Ricks: “When we are critical, we must be sure we are being fair to the totality of the evidence. I have found fairness and sympathy rather lacking in public discourse about these topics, including the conversations on LDS blogs.”
Plenty of quotes by LDS GA’s were given early on of a purely sympathetic nature. Where’s the critic voice going to come from if not the blogs. (Your character assassination of me was out of line. You appear unable to cite evil, counterfeits, or attacks by the adversary against Jesus or the Messiah. Who are you aligning with in your attempts to placate the enemy?)
“The Bible contains enough statements that one can read it as a brief for war just as easily, perhaps more so, than as a brief for peace.
We choose to ignore some statements and prioritize others. That doesn’t mean that prior actions were against the Bible; they were emphasizing parts of the Bible which we choose to downplay.”
You’re picking things apart as if there was not a progression of ideas in either the Qur’an or the Bible. Compare of the final ideas of the Bible and the Koran.
BOMC, your comments here are incoherent, and your comments #40 and #58 are utterly out of line. Kaimi can keep engaging you if he wants, or he might decide to just delete everything you’ve said so far. Or I might, just for my own amusement. If you can’t keep your comments respectful, just check out of the discussion.
“BOMC, your comments here are incoherent,”
I’m sorry, I’d be happy to make clear any point that is not IYO.
You have it figured out, BOC, Rob is consciously trying to *align with the enemy.* (Cue maniacal laughter.)
I suggest you give him some space. You wouldn’t want him to send his legions of ninja assassins after you.
“You have it figured out, BOC, Rob is consciously trying to *align with the enemy.* (Cue maniacal laughter.) ”
What is funny is obvious, neither of you have spent any real time among Muslims.
You wouldn’t want him to send his legions of ninja assassins after you.
Someone requires our services?
Uh oh, BOMC, sounds like it’s too late.
Ms. Jack Meyers said:
“I never say on these blogs, “Man, this guy sounds like he needs to get laid.” It’s crass, it’s rude, and hey, who am I to take shots at someone’s sex life like that.” (http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2007/07/29/jesus-was-a-polygamist/)
Forgot the best part:
“But I sure do think it sometimes.”
BOMC 62 writes:
“What is funny is obvious, neither of you have spent any real time among Muslims.”
Wow. Epic fail. EPIC.
Take a look at Rob’s bio (conveniently available at the “Authors” link on the top of the page), and you’ll read:
“He studied Arabic for a year in Cairo, Egypt, before embarking on his graduate studies in Arabic at Georgetown University. This past academic year, Robert put his studies on hold to teach at BYU, and he is currently in Amman, Jordan as a co-director of BYU’s intensive Arabic Study Abroad Program.”
That’s pretty much game-set-match, no? Unless you’ve got any other guesses about what is obvious . . .
BOMC, if Rob did CASA in Egypt, as is indicated, you may as well bow down in abject humiliation and just back off.
Kaimi Wenger and danithew, thus my insertion of “real.” I say again to Ricks:
1. Do you believe the account of how the Qur’an was given?
2. Do you believe the account of how the Book of Mormon was given?
3. Have you at any time testified that the Book of Mormon was from God?
(You two catching on yet?)
Err, I give up, you’re clearly right. All Egyptians and Jordanians are false Muslims.
And as for your desire to PPI Rob over the internet, insinuate heresy, or whatever else you’re trying to do here.
1. Go away.
2. and don’t let the door hit you
3. On your way out.
#65 & #66 BOMC ~ Yes, I did say that. And your point in bringing it up is . . . ?
If you’re that fond of the comment and you’d like to nominate it for a Niblet, the thread is here, but I already have one nomination for Best Comment and I’m not sure I really need two.
In regards to scriptures and war – one point that might interest you. The Muslim scriptures have whatever advantages/disadvantages that arise from coming after the Old Testament and the New Testament. What this means is that while the Old Testament and New Testament don’t have the opportunity to say much about Islam (since Islam didn’t exist at that time – and I’m not aware of prophecies in them that describe Islam very specifically) – there isn’t any special categorization for them. On the other hand, the Muslim scriptures have the ability to categorize the groups who existed previously, to put them into a hierarchical order – which directly determines how these groups are treated in war and peacetime.
Here are the groups that I can remember being discussed in the ahadith:
believing Muslims (muamineen) – these are the true believers, the sincere believers, who share in what Muhammad suffers as well as in his triumph. Particular groups of prestige among them are the Ansar (helpers) and the Muhajirun (emigrants) who were among Muhammad’s first converts.
the Hypocrites (al-Mashrikun) – people who claim to believe in Islam but are lying. They are hard to distinguish at times and may share in the benefits with the sincere Muslims – but are ultimately destined for hell.
Jews and Christians (Ahl al-Kitab) – sometimes they are spoken of as a single group and sometimes Jews and Christians receive individual treatments and descriptions.
the pagans/polytheists (Al-Mushrikun)
the apostates (Al-murtadeen) – those who take on the faith and then renounce it.
The Sunna deal with each of these groups differently but the point of the jihad is to see to it that all groups are under the political rule of Islam. Since Islam is considered to be the true religion, this is the proper order of things and from there every other group will be put in its rightful place or extinguished. In this system, obviously Muslims can enjoy special advantages while other groups restrictions placed on them.
Yes, the Bible talks quite a bit about war – particularly the Old Testament. But nothing that I know of in the Bible systematizes war and identifies its adversaries in quite the same categorized and developed way as the Sunna. The battles in the Old Testament are described as regional conflicts and sometimes God or miraculous events take part – but there isn’t, that I know of, much description of what heavenly benefits an Israelite soldier will gain if he dies in battle.