Natural Qur’an

As I said on the main post page, I am not a supporter of burning holy books (besides, the air we all breathe should be clean).  On the Recycle Bin page we began the shredding process with the book that is sacred to the “Abrahamic” Religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  I said that we would move on to other “pure papers,” sacred scriptures, and here we face the bound paper known as the Qur’an, the Holy Qur’an, recited to Muhammad in a cave about fourteen centuries ago (seventh century of the “Common Era”).

{By the way, when people today “hear voices” we give them treatment:  counseling and medications.  When Moses or Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Paul, Muhammad or Joseph Smith “hear voices” people call them prophets, saints or gods.  If I said I heard the voice of God right now, would you believe me?  Why not?}

There is much to be admired in this text, not the least of which is the fairly consistent use of the terms “compassionate and merciful” when referring to The God (Allah).  There are gestures of peace and calls for brotherhood; there are instructions to be welcoming and inclusive; there are passages that teach goodness and grace and godliness.  The Qur’an may not be as old as the Bible or most other holy books but it has honorable words that could be respected coming from any book in history.

And, most of us know or have heard that the Qur’an includes calls to rid the world of unbelief and unbelievers (like the bible, preferably through conversion, but also violent coercion), meaning any and all who do not accept Muhammad as Allah’s prophet, Allah as the One True God, or the Qur’an as the Best and Only and Final Word and Words from the mouth of the Eternal (and mouthless, that is, imageless) Creator of the Universe.

It is important to say here that for many years, when I was an interfaith chaplain, I gave out copies of a variety of scriptures and religious materials on a daily basis.  As a jail chaplain for ten years, I regularly visited a local mosque and became acquainted with the imam, bringing him into the jail to meet with muslim inmates.  The imam graciously donated countless copies of the Qur’an that I was happy to hand to hundreds of people in jail.  I used to bring in a prayer rug and other symbols of Islam into the cold and dark parts of the jail and led countless discussions that honored the teachings of Muhammad alongside the wisdom of other historic religious teachers.  I did all this out of respect for each person’s right to practice their faith inside–their Constitutional right–and because this was my style of interfaith work; it made sense and gave great meaning to many, many conversations and counseling times.  Not of least significance, holding discussions with Muslims (of various cultural ethnicities) sitting beside Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Atheists and others was usually a lot of fun and, oddly enough, gave us hope that people in the “free world” could do the same!

To be truly free, we need to consider letting go of whatever divides us, including the books.  So, we must be fair and honest.  If the Bible must be shredded and recycled, so must the Qur’an (and others to follow).  For those who will say this is “disrespectful” and “sacrilegious” and even “blasphemous” all we can say here is that those are your terms and claims.  The highest Respect here must be given to the Truth and the central truth elucidated here:  All scriptures originated from and must ultimately dissolve back into the natural world of which they are (as we are) only a small part; and, The Natural Bible/Qur’an/Scripture of Nature is the grounding (and grinding) Text for everyone, everywhere at all times.  Here we stand.  Here we shred.  Here we recycle.

One more special note: What we are recycling here is not the Qur’an.  According to Mohammed Pickthall (author of The Meaning of the Glorious Koran), “The Koran [sic] cannot be translated.”  This can be confusing for non-muslims since Pickthall himself spent over 400 pages “translating” his Koran into English.  In his introduction he states, “The Book is here rendered almost literally. . .but the result is not the Glorious Koran. . .it is only an attempt to present the meaning of the Koran. . . .  It can never take the place of the Koran in Arabic. . . .”  So, in accordance with Islamic instruction, we only recycle Mr. Pickthall’s imperfect translation, commentary and “meaning.”  This is not the Qur’an.  Are we clear on that?


The Qur’an (that is, the translation that is not the Qur’an)

In the Foreward to Pickthall’s translation he makes a curious, but not unexpected statement:  “It may be reasonably claimed that no Holy Scripture can be fairly presented by one who disbelieves its inspiration and its message.”  By this odd twist of logic there can be no objective analysis or rational investigation of a “God Book” by anyone who is not subjectively, in fact devotedly, a believer in the text as the unquestioned and unquestionable Word of (their particular) God.

This is our first order of business with the shredder/recycler:  we must begin by returning this “logic” to the earth as nothing more than the anti-rational, a priori presuppositions that preclude any honest discussion as to the verifiable truth of any book, “holy” or otherwise.

Continuing through Pickthall’s Introduction, he outlines the life of Muhammad and his emergence as The Prophet.  Now please remember that here we are only recycling English words written in the early part of the 20th C.  by one English, Muslim, linguist (and, I would hasten to add, we will present no images of the man excepting those word-images provided to us by the good professor, since this would be “idolatry” though The Prophet was not divine and so could not possibly be an idol of any kind. . .now that we’re clear with that, we can move on. . .). . .

According to Mr. Pickthall (MP), Muhammad was born in Mecca “fifty three years before the Hijrah” (when he was forced to flee Mecca for Medina).  At least there is no mention of angels and shepherds and santa’s elves here.  His father died before he was born (another “looking for a father” kind of story—remember Joseph?).   An older woman employed him in her caravan business and he did such good work that she married the young man.  The religion in town was centered on the Kabah where there were images reminding people of Abraham.  Those who didn’t believe this nonsense were the Hunafa (those who turn away–from idols), one could say they were “righteous heretics.”  MP says “they were the agnostics of their day, each seeking truth by the light of his own inner consciousness.”  That’s quite interesting, since Muhammad became one of these Hanif and went out to meditate in a cave for a month each year.  The rest is, as we say, His Story, because out there one night when he was forty years old the angel Gabriel told him to read.  Muhammad replied, “I cannot read” (he was illiterate at forty).

Muhammad was “in a state of trance” when he was given The Reading. . .in other words, The Qur’an.  Whatever was to be read was inscribed on his heart and when he got back to his wife, she believed him, and then her cousin believed him, but most people in Mecca thought he was “a little mad.”  Three years later he got the message to preach the message so he became the messenger.  People saw him, not only as A prophet but he was THE Prophet.  Time went by (let’s not get stuck in the details here–anyone can read about it) and those who bowed to Muhammad also bowed to God (The God:  Allah) and became a Muslim (surrendered to God through Muhammad).  Politics and Religion joined together and Islam was born.  In 622 he and his followers fled from Mecca and after many battles did not take back Mecca for 8 years when the city was  cleared of idols, Islam was made the state religion and Muhammad was undisputed ruler.  He proclaimed, “Truth has come; darkness has vanished away.”  “Pagan” tribes gathered to take back their holy site but the army of The Prophet prevailed.  In the tenth year of the Hijrah (the beginning of the Islamic calendar), that is 632, The Prophet became ill and died.  His new religion had grown to be “the empire of Arabia.”

The Natural Response: No doubt the man Muhammad of Mecca became a great warrior and political leader.  He was God’s General.  People are offended and some will even kill if Muhammad is idolized.  Strangely, isn’t it fairly clear that the NAME Muhammad has become an idolized image?  (and what of the argument that his followers are afraid someone might—they might—idolize him if they see an image of him?  Faith-based fear is irrationality idolized).  Has a BOOK become the central idol?  These are critical questions.  We apparently have no record of him ever writing anything let alone reading anything.  We only have his “words” and the tradition (hadith) of what he said and taught.  Oral transmission seemed the way God handled these revelations.  The problem with verbal promises (“God told me this and you need to believe that God spoke to me”) is obvious:  Who verifies and How?  MP says that the words dictated to Muhammad have been “very carefully preserved.”  How do we know?  Just believe it, people say.  Sorry, that doesn’t answer anything.  Since the words in the Qur’an “borrow” many names, stories and teachings straight from the Bible it begs the question:  Why another Holy Book?  Why another Prophet?  What is different here?  How is this God’s final word and God’s final prophet and God’s final and true religion?  Just believe it?  From a naturalistic perspective this just doesn’t hold up.  Those who surrender to Allah through Muhammad also surrender their intellect and will to investigate the claims and test for wisdom and truth.  Therefore, like Moses and Buddha and Jesus and Krishna and all Mystics from all traditions, we need to honor what is honorable in the history and respect what is respectable in the person (however legendary the story may be) and move on with courage to see what is really useful and wise in the The Reading he brought from the desert cave.  Those who are not able or willing to take this step into the light, to bring the words out of the cave, will forever be lost in the desert until the light of reason shines on this book.


Pickthall says of the transmission and preservation of The Qur’an:  “All the surahs [chapters] of the Koran had been recorded in writing before the Prophet’s death, and many Muslims had committed the whole Koran to memory.”   We begin with the first of 114 surahs.


Surah 1: known as the Fatihah or “the opening” this first chapter has also been called, problematically, the Muslim Lord’s Prayer.  First time we hear the opening “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”  Three lines into the seven verses this merciful creator is called “Owner of the Day of Judgment.”  Not a very inviting invitation.  Not exactly good news.  Ends with a warning for “those who go astray.”  Enter:  Fear.  Believe or else.  Troubling that a book claiming to be revealed, dictated to a man in a cave, has God saying “Thee alone we worship; Thee alone we ask for help.”  Does God worship God?  Does God ask God for help?

If I handed you a book, that I had not written, but was “revealed” to me, and I said “Here, this is a message from The God to you.”  What would you think, say, do?

Pickthall offers a masterful understatement about this surah:  “The date of revelation is uncertain.”

As an opener, this chapter is disappointing.  Who wants to turn the page and hear more of this “divine message?”  How would you feel if you were Allah and had to listen to these seven verses billions and billions of times each day, month, year?

Surah 2: (we jump from 7 verses to 286 verses).  Apparently called “The Cow” because there are bovine references.  Moses tells the people God wants a cow sacrificed and they make a golden cow (at least in the biblical account).  And the people whine:  Are you nuts?!   They demand to know which cow (of their precious herd) this God wants dead–what color, how old, etc.   Moses pretty much says, stop complaining and just do it!

Back at the beginning of the chapter we get the opening lines:  “This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt. . .”  Puzzling.  Words are whispered to a caravan driver in a desert cave and someone else has to write them down.  And, “there is no doubt”?   Immediately the world is divided into believers and disbelievers.  Astoundingly disbelievers are on God’s bad side right off the bat though “Allah has sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering.”   God covers their ears and eyes and tells them they are doomed.  Doesn’t seem too fair.  Where is the compassion and mercy?  Easy:  just believe.

Then we get a re-telling of the Adam and Eve in the Garden story and a flash version of the Pharaoh story.  The point of it all?  Once again, believe or be doomed.  Remember, this is the First Chapter of the Greatest Book on Earth.  Either you believe and believe correctly (and believe that the one telling you to believe is Believable) or “such are the rightful owners of the Fire” (yes, Hell-fire).  Nice.  The most profound thing a Loving God can tell Humanity is that He is Loving and if you don’t accept that, well, you die, tortured, burned to a crisp.  Sorry.  Ouch.  Things are warming up, and we’re only a few pages into the most magnificent revelation ever given to humanity.

And here we get the first “ecumenical/interfaith” moment.  Very touching.  Jews and Christians and Pagan-types will all get their reward with the Lord.  Yes.  They are all included in the sandy oasis in the sky.  How can this be?!  Simple.  Very simple.  You can be whatever religion you want, really you can, as long as you believe in Allah and the “Last Day” and do right and believe in what was revealed to Muhammad—the Qur’an, this book you’re reading).  See, I said it was simple.

But wait, this cow is starting to mooove.   “Woe be unto those write the Scripture with their hands and then say, ‘This is from Allah’.”  Whoops.  This is supposed to be a criticism upon those who are fake believers, but what if it applies to the Qur’an?!  God forbid!  THEY can’t write something and say it’s from Allah!  Hell no!  We can, we did, and you’re doomed to a Hot Place if you don’t accept OUR book! (Jews and Christians—sound familiar?).

A Muslim is “surrendered” to all the Prophets from Abraham to Jesus to the last and greatest Prophet Muhammad.

And now we have the setting for the whole “blessed” book:  It’s all about Believers Versus Disbelievers.  And the last line sums it so handsomely:  “Pardon us, absolve us and have mercy on us!  Thou, our Protector, and give us victory over the disbelieving folk.”  (Disbelievers, do I hear an Amen to that?  Well, maybe you better go read something else.  This is not going to be your camel ride).

{To Be Continued}

8 responses to “Natural Qur’an

  • naturechaplain

    Clarification: Muslim women and men who are reading this blog. I am not a believer in any religion (I am a former Christian Minister). I am critical of every religion, including Islam. Muslims I know personally are fine, peaceful, intelligent people. Islam is no worse or better than any other faith. And every faith should be open to criticism, questioning and even ridicule for the most irrational elements. This is my opinion, like everything on this blog. In fact, it is the purpose of this blog. Not to disrespect respectable persons, or ancient wisdom that may have something to teach the world in our day. . .like peace, non-violence, justice, concern for the poor and such. Most of the rest is open to criticism–in fact, invites honest critique and sometimes cartoon or other “offensive” things. I support free expression. If something bothers me, or offends me, I choose not to look at it, or read it, or watch it. That’s freedom of choice. I choose not to respect irrational beliefs or behavior.
    As for the violence in “Muslim countries” from Egypt to Libya, Yemen and beyond. . .it is understandable but unacceptable. Most of it arises from young men who feel powerless, have suffered from the oppression of their own societies, economics, war and the messy foreign policy of America and other wealthy nations. And, in my opinion, these folks suffer from ignorance and irrational beliefs about the divine and the rest of the world, taught by misguided and meanspirited imams. I do not support everything the United States has done or continues to do in “Muslim” countries. Sometimes I wish we would just get out and leave nations to their own decisions and destiny. But the world is interconnected now; it’s probably not wise or even possible to try to run a government or society without any contact or relationship with other, non-Muslim countries.
    As for the current violence, supposedly a reaction to a ridiculous video no one had heard of before the riots, it’s a sad shame. Violence invites more violence. America will respond; conflicts turn into endless wars; economies will suffer more; the common people will suffer more, and what is left? More living in deeper poverty, oppression and anger at “the West.”
    IF “God is Great” then maybe the God of Muslims, Jews, Christians and the Universe can take care of himself, can bring peace, can bring people together to build up rather than tear down. Maybe you who are Muslim could even work with unbelievers like me to somehow think of a better, healthier, more creative way forward. Don’t we at least owe that to our children?
    I’m open to real discussion on this, if you wish.

  • Mukhusin

    We suppose to know that jesus(Hissa) is a prophet sended by ALLAH for Israel people and Muhammed is also a profet of Alla

    • naturechaplain

      Mukhusin, thank you for visiting and commenting. I understand that Jesus and Muhammad are believed by millions to be “prophets.” What I have difficulty understanding is why do we need prophets and if there is such a need, who are the prophets in our day, in our world? If prophets are only “sent” to cause more faith and make more believers, I don’t see the point. If growing one’s religion is all important, that seems sad and does not really make our world better. If the purpose of a prophet is to remind us to love others, be more compassionate and work together for human rights and justice, maybe they serve a purpose. If this is true, we have some of these prophetic voices in many countries today. I think it honors Muhammad and Jesus more to live their message of peace than to try to make everyone else believe in my faith, my way, my God. What do you think?

  • mukhusin siraji

    mansha Allah

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