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  1. mirax says

    I have heard this so many times from muslims- the out of the world literary quality of the quran is offered as a primary proof of its authencity. Obviously about the 90% of muslims who dont know any classical Arabic have to take that on faith but the quran does sound very lyrical and haunting when recited so I am guessing that many people get that mixed up with its purported perfection.

  2. says

    Love this comic.

    I’ve heard this argument about the Qur’an being a literary masterpiece before. I cannot read Arabic, and am therefore basing my opinion on the translation(s), but I remain unconvinced. It’s actually rather unorganized. It’s like someone wrote a rant but then the pages got shuffled and mixed up. If someone points out any flaws, one of the main counter-arguments is that it’s due to translation, but it would take a whole lot of translation error to account for all the horrible content.

    (Incidentally, I just finished reading Hector Avalos’s “The End of Biblical Studies” and he addressed the topic of biblical studies people trying to focus on structural aspects of the Bible in order to defend its worth while ignoring the actual content of what it says.)

  3. says

    #2 Yes, the Quran is very impressive when sung, and no doubt that is largely the reason why people have an easy time swallowing the claim that it’s a miracle of some sort.

    #3 That response to the difficulties always makes me laugh, because in fact the textual difficulties of the Quran often don’t make their way INTO the translations. You have far less reason to believe this claim if you know Arabic than if you don’t. Translations don’t preserve the Rhyme scheme so you don’t notice where it’s unimpressive or randomly breaks. Grammatically odd sentences get smoothed in translation. A particular interpretation is given to incomprehensible words, and even the content difficulties are sometimes smoothed over (like the infamous (lightly) added to the word ‘hit’ in 4:34).

  4. says

    I find it odd that this trope of the quran as great literature beyond human authors persists even in cultures which have produced clearly superior works such as those of Omar Khayyam, Jelaluddin Rumi, or Hafiz Shirazi. And even when writers from the muslim world are acknowledged, it’s often with the tag “Islamic Literature”, a bit like calling literature from the European Renaissance “Christian Literature”. Somehow I think Shakespeare, Dante, Hafiz, and Khayyam would have managed to produce literature even if the local clergy had been zoroastrian or seventh day adventist.

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    mirax: but the quran does sound very lyrical and haunting when recited

    Do you understand Arabic? Because this reminds me of an anecdote.

    In 1986, Paul Simon released an album, Graceland, which featured African musicians. This led to a burst of popularity of some of those musicians in the U.S., as well as growth of interest in the genre of “World Music.” Subsequent to this, one of the musical groups, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, toured the U.S. and I saw them on a TV show. First they sang a song in their native language; it was profound and moving. Lyrical and haunting, you might say. Of course I didn’t understand a word. And then, they wanted to show off their skills in English, which they had been studying. They sang the same song, interpreted. It went something like “Ooo baby baby I want to make love to you.” Somehow it sounded much less profound.

  6. mirax says

    Reginald,

    No I dont speak arabic but I know exactly what you mean. My mother tongue is Tamil and tamil poetry is ancient and exquisite but it is simply not possible to convey even an iota of its beauty in another language. My first name is a actually an exceedingly obscure phrase from a medieval poem and a rather beautiful one referencing jasmine blooms, pearlwhite teeth, jewels and pretty smiles (yes all that in four syllables)but it would sound pretty strange if I tried to translate it.

    Daniel, the trope persists because even the literary greats paid obeisance to the quran’s pre-eminent magnificence. There has been no dispute over the centuries over that and even non-islamic quranic scholars have bought into the myth at various times.

  7. Stephen Turner says

    The claim that to appreciate the Koran, you need to understand classical Arabic sufficiently well, is mere bait-and-switch, and tends to belie the claim that it contains an eternal message for all mankind.

    In the English translation I read it came across as tedious and confused.

  8. says

    I guess the trope is clearly one of those emperor’s-new-clothes sort of situations, as long as people keep repeating it they can keep pretending it’s true. It has historically been difficult to challenge without facing serious consequences.

    I don’t know arabic, but I’ve found it helpful to look at multiple translations of the quran in parallel, such as the parallel quran here:

    http://www.clay.smith.name/Parallel_Quran.htm

    It helps to factor out the particular choices of one translator.

    Though, you have to watch out for the translation labeled “Rashad”. It’s by Rashad Khalifa who, among other things, tried to clean up the scientific problems in the text. I’ve seen the “science in the quran” types quoting the Rashad translation, not particularly caring that they are quoting the translation of a man considered a heretic by mainstream islam.

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