A Koran Sampler

  Favorite Uncle

  Profits of Banditry

  Scouted Apes

  Boiling Water

  Playboy Mansion

  Seven Sleepers

  Domestic Violence



  The Name Game

  The Messiah

  Native Tongue

  The Idol Juggernaut

  Born of a Virgin

  Double Predestination

  Old Age

Seven Sleepers, Russian IconFavorite Uncle

They say you should talk about hell with tears in your eyes. Eagerness is unbecoming. The man he's talking about is his uncle:


  • "Let the hands of Abu Lahab perish, and let himself perish!
  • "His wealth and his gains shall avail him not.
  • "Burned shall he be at the fiery flame,
  • "And his wife laden with fire wood, —
  • "On her neck a rope of palm fibre."
  • (Koran Sura 111)

Profits of Banditry

At its highest, the ethics of Mohammed rises near to the level of Jesus' teaching: "When asked to mention one of the most excellent parts of Faith, Mohammed said, 'To love him who loveth God, and hate him who hateth God, and to keep your tongue employed in repeating the name of God.' What else? He said, 'To do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you, and to reject for others what you would reject for yourself.'" (The Sayings of Mohammed, 138, Allama Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy); compare, "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12).

At its worst, Mohammed's ethics call to mind seventh century Arabia: "And know ye, that when ye have taken any booty, a fifth part belongeth to God and to the Apostle, and to the near of kin, and to orphans, and to the poor, and to the wayfarer, if ye believe in God, and in that which we have sent down to our servant on the day of the victory, the day of the meeting of the Hosts. Over all things is God potent." (Sura 8:42).

According to Muslim biographer Ibn Ishaq, Mohammed himself realized raiding caravans is not the done thing for prophets, but he was proud of this distinction:

"Then God reproached him about the prisoners and the taking of booty, no other prophet before him having taken booty from his enemy. Muhammad Abu Ja'far b. 'Ali b. al-Husayn told me that the apostle said: 'I was helped by fear; the earth was made a place to pray, and clean; I was given all-embracing words; booty was made lawful to me as to no prophet before me; and I was given the power to intercede; five privileges accorded to no prophet before me.'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 326).

Scouted Apes

Mohammed expresses concerns about human beings being changed into animals:

"But when they proudly persisted in that which was forbidden, we said to them, 'Become scouted apes;' and then thy Lord declared that until the day of the resurrection, he would surely send against them (the Jews) those who should evil entreat and chastise them: for prompt is thy Lord to punish; and He is Forgiving, Merciful." (Sura 7:166);
"But after this ye turned back, and but for God's grace and mercy towards you, ye had surely been of the lost! Ye know too those of you who transgressed on the Sabbath, and to whom we said, 'Be changed into scouted apes...'" (Sura 2:61).

'Scout' is an archaic word meaning "To treat with disdain and contempt; to reject with scorn." (Webster's International, 1965). Mohammed's concerns resonate with readers of Homer who recall Circe's mischief:

"SAY: Can I announce to you any retribution worse than that which awaiteth them with God? They whom God hath cursed and with whom He hath been angry — some of them hath He changed into apes and swine..." (Sura 5:65).

This rather strange verse is unfortunately popular with anti-semites amongst the faithful. Mohammed's relationship with the Jewish tribes of Medina ranged from friendly at the outset, when he still cherished hopes that they would recognize his prophetic vocation, to poisonous at the end, when he realized the only way to stop them from undermining him was to kill them: "The apostle said, 'Kill any Jew that falls into your power.' Thereupon Muhayyisa b. Mas'ud leapt upon Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant with whom they had social and business relations, and killed him." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 369).

Who exactly does he have in mind who were changed into apes? The Talmud gives us a party of the generation who built the tower of Babel,

"THE GENERATION OF THE DISPERSION HAVE NO PORTION IN THE WORLD TO COME etc. What did they do? — The scholars of R. Shila taught: They said, 'Let us build a tower, ascend to heaven, and cleave it with axes, that its waters might gush forth.' In the West [sc. Palestine academies] they laughed at this: If so, they should have built it on a mountain!

"R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said: They split up into three parties. One said, 'Let us ascend and dwell there;' the second, 'Let us ascend and serve idols;' and the third said, 'Let us ascend and wage war [with God].' The party which proposed, 'Let us ascend, and dwell there' — the Lord scattered them: the one that said, 'Let us ascend and wage war' were turned to apes, spirits, devils, and night-demons; whilst as for the party which said, 'Let us ascend and serve idols' — 'for there the Lord did confound the language of all the earth.'

"It has been taught. R. Nathan said: They were all bent on idolatry. [For] here it is written, let us make us a name; whilst elsewhere it is written, and make no mention of the name of other gods: just as there idolatry is meant, so here too. R. Jonathan said: A third of the tower was burnt, a third sunk [into the earth], and a third is still standing. Rab said: The atmosphere of the tower causes forgetfulness. R. Joseph said: Babylon and Borsif are evil omens for the Torah." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 109a).

If that's the reference, there may be some confusion in chronology. But besides this has nothing to do with the sabbath. Even the trusty Rodwell fails to enlighten in this case.


Boiling Water

Mohammed's catalog of the torments of Hell includes on the menu:

"And thereupon shall ye drink boiling water,
And ye shall drink as the thirsty camel drinketh.
This shall be their repast in the day of reckoning!" (Koran Sura 56:54-56)
"And SAY: the truth is from your Lord: let him then who will, believe; and let him who will, be an infidel. But for the offenders we have got ready the fire whose smoke shall enwrap them: and if they implore help, helped shall they be with water like molten brass which shall scald their faces. Wretched the drink! and an unhappy couch!" (Sura 18:28).
"Is this like the lot of those who must dwell for ever in the fire: and shall have draughts of boiling water forced on them which will rend their bowels asunder?" (Sura 47: 17).

As often as their skin is consumed by the fire, it will be replaced:

"Those who disbelieve our signs we will in the end cast into the fire: so oft as their skins shall be well burnt, we will change them for fresh skins, that they may taste the torment. Verily God is Mighty, Wise!" (Sura 4:59).

Mohammed's lurid descriptions of hell so terrified his listeners that battle-scarred Bedouins visibly trembled. What is less clear is how he hoped his listeners would avoid this destination, because in Islam, no one bore our sins. No one nailed the indictment against us to the cross at Calvary. In Islam, no one was crucified at all, except in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Since no one bore our iniquities, one must assume they remain in our possession. Mohammed could warn, but he could not save.

Need a Koran?

Playboy Mansion

Some readers of the Koran spiritualize these depictions of hell-fire, along with those descriptions of the joys of the blessed which sound like Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion:

"These are they who shall be brought nigh to God,
In gardens of delight;
A crowd of the former
And few of the latter generations;
On inwrought couches
Reclining on them face to face;
Aye-blooming youths go round about to them
With goblets and ewers and a cup of flowing wine;
Their brows ache not from it, nor fails the sense:
And with such fruits as shall please them best,
And with flesh of such birds, as they shall long for:
And theirs shall be the Houris, with large dark eyes, like pearls hidden in their shells,
In recompense of their labors past....
Of a rare creation have we created the Houris,
And we have made them ever virgins,
Dear to their spouses, of equal age with them,
For the people of the right hand,
A crowd of the former,
And a crowd of the latter generations." (Sura 56:11-39)

Seven Sleepers

Somehow or other, the Christian folk-tale of the Seven Sleepers made the cut into the Koran:

"And thou wouldst have deemed them awake, though they were sleeping: and we turned them to the right and to the left. And in the entry lay their dog with paws outstretched." (Sura 18:17).

This Christian legend describes youths who took refuge from Decius' persecution of the church in a cave and awoke many years later, like Rip van Winkle. These Christian young people were, of course, staunch monotheists, just as Mohammed describes them: "They were youths who had believed in their Lord, and in guidance had we increased them; and we had made them stout of heart, when they stood up and said, 'Our Lord is Lord of the Heavens and of the Earth: we will call on on other God than him; for in that case we had said a thing outrageous.'" (Sura 18:12-13).

  • "So we awaked them that they might question one another. Said one of them, 'How long have ye tarried here?' They said, 'We have tarried a day or part of a day.' They said, 'Your Lord knoweth best how long ye have tarried: Send now one of you with this your coin into the city, and let him mark who therein hath purest food, and from him let him bring you a supply: and let him be courteous,  and not discover you to any one.
  • "For they, if they find you out, will stone you or turn you back to their faith, and in that case it will fare ill with you for ever."
  • (Koran Sura 18:18-19)

Seven Sleepers, Russian IconCan it be made any clearer than it is in this story that believing Christians are saved? One must wonder why Muslims trouble themselves to deny it, when the Seven Sleepers are numbered among the righteous by their own holy book. I want to be where they are; or I would, if they actually existed.

Where did Mohammed get his information? So much of the material in the Koran is recycled. Mohammed's stories are not original but long familiar from other sources. There is little point denying it, the resemblances are so striking. It borrows of course from Christian and Jewish sources, but more often than not these sources are not the Bible, revered by all, but apocryphal works whose contents were opened to Mohammed by his informants, though he never held them in his hands, nor suspected that they were viewed with disdain by orthodox believers:

Fiery Furnace In the Cradle
They are All Dead Abraham's Apologetic
Hatchet Job Falling Rocks
Seven Portals of Hell Moses in the Bulrushes
Satan's Fall Solomon's Throne
Air Mail Quoth the Raven
Seven Sleepers In the Sanctuary
Life-Giving Rain

There is a weird echo of the Seven Sleepers in the Twelver fable of the hidden imam:

"Adherents of this stream of thought [Twelver Shia Islam], Twelvers, believe that there was a dynasty of twelve imams that began with 'Ali, who led the Shiites for generations. They believe the eleventh imam was Hasan ibn 'Ali Muhammad, known as al-Askari. After al-Askari's death in the year 874 CE, the role of imam is said to have passed to his son, Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdi, who was only five-years-old at the time. Shiites believe that the boy, after being ordained, went into a cave where he spent sixty years, and from the cave sent his divine knowledge out into the world through his followers. This period of time is known in Shia as 'the small absence.' After sixty years, it is believed that Muhammad left the cave and disappeared — what is known in Shia as 'the big absence.' The Shiites, therefore, call him the 'disappeared imam.' They believe, however, that he did not die but is stil alive and is choosing to not be seen and will appear again when he manfests himself as the messiah. . .It's said that when he reappears he will lead the Shiites to victory in a war in which most of the human race will be killed." (Inside the Middle East, Avi Melamed, p. 87).

The two broad divisions into which modern Islam is parted, the Sunnis and the less numerous Shiites, differ in their view of the modality of legitimate transfer of authority, which is Shia Islam follows from physical descent. Though far from an expert in Shia Islam, what strikes me on its face is the readiness of this stream of Islamic thought to borrow material from religious currents coursing through those regions long before Islam was ever proclaimed. Fables about people living in a cave for a prolonged period of time are scarcely original; there's one in the Koran, the Seven Sleepers. When you watch on TV modern-day people wailing and flagellating themselves over the sorrows of Hussein or Ali, you realize with a start they've been doing exactly that for millenia, only he used to be called 'Baal' or 'Adonis' or 'Tammuz.' The names have been changed, that's all. A similar phenomenon cropped up in the Caribbean when Africans were transported across the Atlantic. On the new shores, their masters prohibited them from calling on their ancestral gods. So they changed the names, resulting in syncretistic mash-ups like Santeria, whose ancient gods have been placed in the witness protection program and given new identities as various Catholic saints.

Domestic Violence

"Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them. Virtuous women are obedient, careful, during the husband's absence, because God hath of them been careful. But chide those for whose refractoriness ye have cause to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourge them: but if they are obedient to you, seek not occasion against them: verily God is High, Great!" (Koran, Sura 4:38).

Those looking for justice for both sexes must look elsewhere than in Islam, and not only in cases of wife-beating. The news-paper reader is affronted by headlines from the Muslim world of rape victims sentenced to be lashed and other similar miscarriages of justice. These atrocities go back to the founder of the religion, who does not seem to have been aiming at justice or fairness:

"Narrated Abu Huraira and Zaid bin Khalid Al-Juhani:

"A bedouin came and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Judge between us according to Allah's Laws." His opponent got up and said, "He is right. Judge between us according to Allah's Laws." The bedouin said, "My son was a laborer working for this man, and he committed illegal sexual intercourse with his wife. The people told me that my son should be stoned to death; so, in lieu of that, I paid a ransom of one hundred sheep and a slave girl to save my son. Then I asked the learned scholars who said, "Your son has to be lashed one-hundred lashes and has to be exiled for one year." The Prophet said, "No doubt I will judge between you according to Allah's Laws. The slave-girl and the sheep are to go back to you, and your son will get a hundred lashes and one year exile." He then addressed somebody, "O Unais! go to the wife of this (man) and stone her to death." So, Unais went and stoned her to death." (Hadith Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 49, Number 860.)

Provided only the woman is punished, that is considered a good outcome, it would seem. He and she did the same, it takes two to tango, but he received a hundred lashes, she was stoned to death. Mohammed did not learn this from Jesus, who did not so direct. He did not learn this from Moses, who treated both equally. Mohammed just did not think much of women. There is already enough confusion in 'Islamic justice' without introducing evident bias against one half of humanity.

A committed misogynist, Mohammed ibn Abdallah claimed that Hell was populated mostly with women:

 "Ibn Abbas reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: I had a chance to look into the Paradise and I found that majority of the people was poor and I looked into the Fire and there I found the majority constituted by women." (Hadith, Sahih Muslim, Book 036, Number 6597.)

Unfortunately millions of women in the world today bear the burden of living under a legal system designed (if such can be said of the messy, disorganized condition of Islamic jurisprudence) by a man who held them in contempt.


The Koran reports a pre-mundane interview between God and the children of Adam:

"And when thy Lord took from the Children of Adam,
from their loins, their seed, and made them testify
touching themselves, 'Am I not your Lord?'
They said, 'Yes, we testify' -- lest you should say
on the Day of Resurrection, 'As for us, we were heedless of this,'
or lest you say, 'Our fathers were idolaters
aforetime, and we were seed after them.
What, wilt Thou then destroy us for the deeds of the vain-doers?'" (Koran Sura 7:172, Arberry).

It appears some Muslims take this interview literally: "Responsibility comes from the word 'response,' and one might say, in the Islamic context, that all of our responsibilities issue from that original response to God, when, according to the Quran, before the creation of the world God addressed all the children of Adam asking them, 'Am I not your Lord?' and they said, 'Yes' (7:172)." (The Heart of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, pp. 277-278.) Platonic philosophy as well as various eastern religions teach the pre-existence of the soul also.

Jean-Leon Gerome, Day of the Last Judgment


Heavy or light? The Koran says heavy is good: "The weighing on that day, with justice! and they whose balances shall be heavy, these are they who shall be happy." (Sura 7:7).

This makes sense in its own way, but then you look at pictures like this, and you'd think heavy is bad, as tending downwards toward Hell:

Rogier van der Weyden, The Archangel Michael

This Christian author agrees heavy is bad, light good. Could he possibly be so daring as to mean Mohammed ibn Abdallah by the 'stupid man'?:

"In the 1220s, Solomon of Basra responded wearily to the painful literalism with which many lesser thinkers read biblical metaphors:
'The things which certain stupid men invent, who indulge their fancy, and give bodily form to the punishment of sinners and the reward of the just and righteous, and say that there is at the resurrection a reckoning and a pair of scales, the Church does not receive; but each one of us carries his light and his fire within him, and his heaviness and his lightness is found in his own nature. Just as stone and iron naturally possess the property of falling to the earth, and as the air naturally ascends upward on account of its rarity and its lightness; so also in the resurrection, he that is heavy and lying in sins, his sins will bring him down; and he that is free from the rust of sin, his purity will make him rise in the scale.'"
(Jenkins, John Philip (2008-10-16). The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died (p. 89). HarperCollins.)

As to Gerome's estimation, is it a fair picture? On the one side, the butcher's bill: who can count them all? On the other, good intentions, at least at the beginning. Some account should be made, these untold myriads did not deserve to die.

The Name Game

In the Koran, God teaches Adam the names of the all things:

"And when thy Lord said to the angels,
'I am setting in the earth a viceroy.'
They said, 'What, wilt Thou set therein one
who will do corruption there, and shed blood,
while We proclaim Thy praise and call Thee Holy?'
He said, 'Assuredly I know that you know not.'
And He taught Adam the names, all of them;
then He presented them unto the angels
and said, 'Now tell Me the names of these, if you speak truly.'
They said, 'Glory be to Thee! We know not
save what Thou hast taught us. Surely Thou art the All-knowing, the All-wise.'
He said, 'Adam, tell them their names.'" (Sura 2:27-32 Arberry)

In the Bible, famously, God gives this task to Adam:

"Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name." (Genesis 2:19).

The Messiah in the Old Testament

Mohammed admitted that Jesus of the Nazareth was the Messiah: "Remember when the angel said, ‘O Mary! Verily God announceth to thee the Word from Him: His name shall be, Messiah Jesus the son of Mary [El-Mesich Isa ben Mariam], illustrious in this world, and in the next, and one of those who have near access to God...’" (Sura 3:40). Yet he oddly denies that He died upon the cross. Not only the New Testament, but the Old as well, testifies to the suffering of the Messiah:

  • "He was taken from prison and from judgment,
    And who will declare His generation?
    For He was cut off from the land of the living;
    For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
    And they made His grave with the wicked—
    But with the rich at His death,
    Because He had done no violence,
    Nor was any deceit in His mouth." (Isaiah 53:8-9).
  • “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd,
    Against the Man who is My Companion,
    Says the LORD of hosts.
    Strike the Shepherd,
    And the sheep will be scattered;
    Then I will turn My hand against the little ones.”
    (Zechariah 13:7).
  • “The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was caught in their pits, of whom we said, 'Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.'”
    (Lamentations 4:20).

One sometimes hears Muslims deny that the Old Testament ascribes deity to the Messiah:

"Modern Christians may consider Jesus to be God incarnate, but such a conception of the messiah is anathema to five thousand years of Jewish scripture, thought, and theology." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 156).

Is that so? Quite to the contrary, God, in the Old Testament, says that they will look upon "Me" whom they have pierced:

  • “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”
    (Zechariah 12:10).

Perhaps this modern Muslim author should leave the Old Testament alone and go back to munching on human remains. Again, one hears from Muslims that the Hebrew Bible knows nothing of a king who will die:

"In the entirety of the Hebrew Bible there is not a single passage of scripture or prophecy about the promised messiah that even hints of his ignominious death, let alone his bodily resurrection." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 181).

But how can the Messiah make His grave with the wicked, as prophesied:

"And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth." (Isaiah 53:9).

. . .without dying? Or be brought to the dust of death:

"My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death." (Psalm 22:15).

. . .alive?

Born at Bethlehem Pierced
O God His Bones
Cast Lots Born of a Virgin
Mother's Children Lifted Up
Stretched Out My Hands On a Donkey
Weeks The Grave
Thirty Pieces of Silver Light to the Gentiles
Out of Egypt House of David
House of My Friends With the Transgressors
Eyes of the Blind With the Rich
I thirst Darkness over the Land
Gall and Vinegar Shame and Spitting
Familiar Friend Son of Man
Den of Thieves Afar Off
E'er the Sun

"David" was a king who lived and died three millenia ago; as the apostle Peter points out, his grave was at hand: "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day." (Acts 2:29). But believers understand "David" is also the Anointed King to come, because the Bible itself makes this identification: "David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them." (Ezekiel 37:24); "Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days." (Hosea 3:5); "But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them." (Jeremiah 30:9). This understanding opens the book of Psalms as a testimony to the sufferings of Christ:

  • “The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.
    They pierced My hands and My feet...”
    (Psalm 22:16).
  • “See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.”
    (Isaiah 52:13 NRSV).

Reserved for Sedition Conspiracy Theory
Reimarus Name That Zealot
The Messiah Mythology
Ancient Literacy Prophecy Impossible
Apollonius of Tyana Sic et Non
Judge Judy The Census
The Vineyard The Third Day
Contradictions: Bible vs. Koran
Temptation in the Wilderness

Native Tongue

The Koran awards itself high praise because it is written in its hearers' own tongue, a language they can understand, clear and perspicuous, not an unfamiliar and unintelligible foreign tongue:

  • “We have made it an Arabic Koran that ye may understand. . .”
  • (Koran Sura 43:2).

  • “Verily we have made this Koran easy and in thine own tongue, that thou mayest announce glad tidings by it to the God-fearing, and that thou mayest warn the contentious by it.”
  • (Koran Sura 19:97).

  • “Had we made it a Koran in a foreign tongue, they had surely said, 'Unless its signs be made clear. . .' What! in a foreign tongue? And the people Arabian?”
  • (Koran Sura 41:44).

How bizarre indeed it would have been to address the Arabian people in a foreign tongue! How could they have understood?:

"So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. . .What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.  Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?" (1 Corinthians 14:9-16).

Yet, in spite of the Koran's own concern with its clarity and intelligibility, very many of those who recite this work do not understand the words they are saying. Most of this world's one billion plus Muslims are not native Arabic speakers. Yet, except for the Turks, who thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk can read the Koran (with a 'K') in their own tongue, the world's Muslims pray in what to most of them is a foreign tongue, and recite their sacred scripture in a foreign tongue. In addition to the mandatory prayers which are recited in Arabic, whether the speakers understand it or not, they also offer voluntary prayers in their own language. What is the recitation of unknown, meaningless words but empty ritual?

What is the rationale for this practice? Does God not understand English, or Turkish, or Indonesian? Will He not hear prayers which are meaningful to those who speak them, but only those which are not? This demand that non-Arabic speakers speak Arabic began as nothing more than a control mechanism: originally the community of the faithful was co-extensive with the Arab empire. It remains as a way for the clergy to monopolize power over against the people.

When Muslims offer formulaic prayers in a recondite foreign language not known to them, does any inward mental act accompany and inform this recitation? Recall that Jesus scolded the people for their belief that repetition pleased God:

"And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words." (Matthew 6:7).

This habit of repeating empty, formal phrases, perhaps even phrases in an unknown foreign tongue which are strictly speaking meaningless to the speaker, is something of which Islam must be cleansed. If tomorrow the Muslims vowed to employ good, i.e. economical, language, how much of their religion would that in and of itself eliminate? Many pagan practices were incorporated wholesale into Islam, for example the circumambulation of the Kabah, a shrine containing a meteorite the pagans revered as a fetish. The heathen worship stones, as for instance is mentioned in Eusebius' commentary: “But he replied, 'I tell you, if these are silent, the stones will cry out.' Again too Eusebius: He is calling the gentiles stones, because they worship the stones as divine.” (Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions, Coptic Fragments, p. 377). Muslim sources confirm this practice by the people in their times of ignorance:

"Narrated Abu Raja Al-Utaridi: We used to worship stones, and when we found a better stone than the first one, we would throw the first one and take the latter, but if we could not get a stone then we would collect some earth (i.e. soil) and then bring a sheep and milk that sheep over it, and perform the Tawaf around it." (Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 661).

Meteorites made the people of antiquity marvel. Were they not communication from a realm beyond? The wise men of the European 'Enlightenment' discovered that no such thing is possible: "Eighteenth-century English and French scientists rejected the ample testimony as to the reality of meteorites, as we reject stories of alien abduction. On 13 September 1768 a large meteorite, weighing seven and a half pounds, fell at Luce, Pays de la Loire. Numerous people (all of them peasants) saw it fall. Three members of the Royal Academy of Sciences (including the young Lavoisier) were sent to investigate. They concluded that lightning had struck a lump of sandstone on the ground; the idea of rocks falling from outer space was simply ridiculous." (The Invention of Science, David Wootton, p. 355). Except that, from time to time, rocks do fall from heaven! They are, however, just rocks. It was pagan naivete to make them into objects of worship, and for the Muslims, who claim to be enlightened and post-pagan, to continue the tradition is laughable.

There is more continuity here than might be supposed by a religion which defines itself in opposition to paganism. 'Vain repetition' is another pagan practice it would be wholesome to abandon, especially vain repetition in a language unknown to the speaker. Some Muslim communities, for example the Somalis, have not been able to achieve universal literacy even in their own tongue. What likelihood is there that they will succeed in teaching the people a difficult foreign tongue, classical Arabic, any time soon? The only solution is to translate the prayers and the Qur'an into the vernacular. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, and within the Catholic communion to a more limited extent prior to Vatican II, Latin was used as a control mechanism similar to the modern use of Arabic. Only some people knew Latin, most did not, and knowledge is power. Translating the Bible into the vernacular turned the people from passive spectators of the religious scene into free men and women.

The best thing that ever happened to the German language was Martin Luther's translating the Bible into that barbarous tongue. The welfare of the languages actually spoken by the world's Muslims would be best served by translating the Arabic Qur'an and daily prayers into them. This would benefit both the speakers and these under-valued languages themselves. The speakers would benefit by, at long last, understanding what they are saying to God. Who would sign a contract if he were not sure what it said? So why should we petition God with only a vague, second-hand notion of what we are saying? Plus, the languages would be given a new lease on life. How many languages did Arabic eradicate, when the Muslims conquered ancient civilizations and replaced the native languages with their own? It is the Christian Copts who have kept Coptic alive, not the Muslims, who confuse Arab imperialism with salvation.

Latin was long in use as a medium for communication with God, not so much owing to the unique suitability of this one amongst the tongues of men and angels to the task, but only to erect a fence around the clerical establishment. Some people knew Latin, most did not. It was a blow struck for human freedom when the Bible was translated into the vernacular. Opening this book tore that fence down. God did not erect the fence, man did. Arabic functions much the same way as Latin once did. Some want to play 'keep-away' with a book which ought to be open to scrutiny, both from believers and outsiders. Perhaps they are afraid some things cannot stand up to scrutiny.

The believers' uncomprehending rote recitation, if it is accompanied by any mental act at all, is not likely accompanied by the same kind of mental act as occurs when a speaker spills out his heart in spontaneous words. Jesus discouraged the one and encouraged the other when he instructed the people in Matthew 6:7. Even a coherent, structured human language might as well be gibberish to one who knows it not. Though Ergun Caner, the President of Liberty Seminary and, some say, make-believe Arabic speaker, was recorded speaking gibberish in place of Arabic, the people who heard him thought he was speaking Arabic; how would they know? Those who pray in Arabic without knowing the language are speaking in gibberish to their own hearing. The way to ensure a hearer will understand is to speak the hearer's own language. Our own language is as transparent as air, we recognize the meaning immediately, not as one painstakingly recalling memorized instructions. The Koran advertises itself as perspicuous because offered in a language the people understand, not in some unknown foreign tongue. But if by chance they don't know Arabic, should it not be translated to conserve that characteristic?

"It turns out now that the Arabs were the most successful imperialists of all time, since to be conquered by them (and then to be like them) is still, in the minds of the faithful, to be saved." (V. S. Naipaul, Among the Believers, p. 142).

Many third-world inhabitants of the present day complain about English taking over the world, but long before English was in any position to take over anything, Arabic did take over a considerable chunk of the world. People whose ancestors spoke Punic or Coptic forgot those languages, so completely that eventually they would call themselves 'Arabs' and define their politics in terms of 'Arab nationalism.' They forgot what their fathers were. Who can look back without sorrow and shame at the cultures and languages Arabic obliterated? It is the Christian Copts who have conserved Coptic, the Syrian Christians who have conserved Aramaic, not the Arab imperialists, i.e. Muslims. Some people can see, with sharp-eyed clarity, what was wrong with 19th century European imperialism, but their vision becomes blurry when they look back at Arab imperialism. Once the Arabs conquered, to speak Arabic was to rule; the imperialists' Arabic religious speech flooded and drowned the indigenous vernacular. Surely if it's a loss today when Coca-Cola culture overspreads the third world, it was also a loss when the conquering Arab armies imposed cultural conformity on a very wide swath of the globe.

What business had the King of Morocco with Spain?: "The King's heart of Morocco 'gainst the Cid was full of rage: 'By force the man hath entered into my heritage, and giveth thanks to no one save Jesus Christ therefor.' And the King of Morocco gathered his hosts of war. With fifty times a thousand under arms, good men and stark, they put to sea." (The Poem of the Cid, Chapter LXXVIII, p. 47). Shouldn't Spain be for the Spaniards? Fortunately the Spaniards were able to liberate themselves, though not in the Cid's day. It beggars belief that, in the 1960's, a wave of anti-colonialism swept through the Third World, rejecting as inauthentic the things that came from British and French imperialism, even when these were good things like democracy, but clinging to everything the foreign Arab hordes had imposed, by force, on their great-great-grand-parents, as if any of that had ever been their choice! No power on earth has ever been as arrogantly and successfully imperialist as the Muslims; the people whose languages and cultures they swept away, can't stop singing their praises, ever thanking them for that original heedless act of civilizational erasure! And just look at the riches they swept away, and the uniform poverty they put in its place!

The remedy is Reformation. Put power in the hands of the people; translate the Koran into the vernacular, let people talk to God in words which are meaningful to them. Will this be the prelude to collapse? Perhaps freed of incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo, the believers will see the Wizard of Oz for what he is and will recoil from the emptiness and poverty now clearly visible without the trappings of mystification. But surely those who believe in this religion should not be afraid to try.

Flat Earth

Some of the world's great literature, such as Homer's epic poem The Iliad, reflects a conviction that the earth is flat. Does the Koran fall into this category, or a different one?


Miry Fount Like a Carpet
Level Earth Solid Heavens
Tent-Stakes The Sky is Falling
Hadith Prostration
Bed-Time Astronomy

The Idol Juggernaut

The Idol Juggernaut

Much that's in the Koran is familiar to Christian readers. Mohammed hymns the majesty of God, His sovereignty, His uniqueness, and warns of judgment to come. To all of this Christians can say a hearty, 'Amen!' But there's one idea which is utterly novel. It did not waft down from the heavenlies, but up from more fiendish quarters. This is the idea that those who fall in battle fighting in Mohammed's wars fly straight up to heaven:

"And say not of those who are slain on God’s path that they are Dead; nay, they are Living! But ye understand not." (Sura 2:149)

Several centuries ago, as the cart carrying the idol Juggernaut would lumber through Indian streets, its devotees would throw themselves beneath its wheels, seeking a blessed immortality. They had heard that this was so. Can they apply to their tutors to get their lives back, should they discover otherwise?

To watch this colossal swindle ensnaring victims down through the centuries, read:

Washington Irving
Mohammed and His

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation

Born of a Virgin

The Koran teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. It is especially shameful that these unbelievers, lost and deserted by God, are yet willing to heed more of His revelation than purported Christians such as Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong:

"And remember when the angels said, ‘O Mary! verily hath God chosen thee, and purified thee, and chosen thee above the women of the worlds!

"O Mary! be devout towards thy Lord, and prostrate thyself, and bow down with those who bow.’

"This is one of the announcements of things unseen by thee: To thee, O Muhammad! do we reveal it; for thou wast not with them when they cast lots with reeds which of them should rear Mary; nor wast thou with them when they disputed about it.

"Remember when the angel said, ‘O Mary! Verily God announceth to thee the Word from Him: His name shall be, Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, illustrious in this world, and in the next, and one of those who have near access to God;

"And He shall speak to men alike when in the cradle and when grown up; And he shall be one of the just.’

"She said, ‘How, O my Lord! shall I have a son, when man hath not touched me?’ He said, ‘Thus: God will create what He will; When He decreeth a thing, He only saith, “Be,” and it is.’" (Sura 3:37-42).

Double Predestination

There is a theory traced out by Mohammed ibn Abdallah, very much like that developed centuries later by John Calvin of Geneva, only decidedly more extreme. That is to say, the initiative, and the execution, of salvation, is strictly and entirely God's: ". . .whom he pleaseth will He forgive, and whom He pleaseth will He punish; for God is All-powerful." (Sura 2:284):

  • “And whom God shall please to guide, that man’s breast will He open to Islam; but whom He shall please to mislead, strait and narrow will He make his breast, as though he were mounting up into the very Heavens! Thus doth God inflict dire punishment on those who believe not.”
  • (Koran Sura 6:125).

  • “And Moses chose seventy men of his people for a meeting appointed by us. And when the earthquake overtook them, he said, ‘O my Lord! if it had been thy pleasure, thou hadst destroyed them and me ere this! wilt thou destroy us for what our foolish ones have done? It is nought but thy trial: thou wilt mislead by it whom thou wilt, and guide whom thou wilt. Our guardian, thou!”
  • (Koran Sura 7:154).

  • "Verily they against whom the decree of thy Lord is pronounced, shall not believe, even though every kind of sign come unto them, till they behold the dolorous torment!. . .No soul can believe but by the permission of God: and he shall lay his wrath on those who will not understand." (Koran Sura 10:96-100).

  • “And in order that He might speak plainly to them, we have not sent any Apostle, save with the speech of his own people; but God misleadeth whom He will, and whom He will he guideth: and He is the mighty, the Wise.”
  • (Koran Sura 14:4)

  • “Those who believe shall God stablish by his steadfast word both in this life and in that which is to come: but the wicked shall He cause to err: God doth his pleasure.”
  • Koran Sura 15:32).

  • “Or like the darkness on the deep sea when covered by billows riding upon billows, above which are clouds: darkness upon darkness. When a man reacheth forth his hand, he cannot nearly see it! He to whom God shall not give light, no light at all hath he!” (Sura 24:40).

  • “(Had we pleased we had certainly given to every soul its guidance. But true shall be the word which hath gone forth from me — I will surely fill hell with Djinn and men together.)”
  • (Koran Sura 32:13).

  • “This truly is a warning: and whoso willeth, taketh the way to his Lord; but will it ye shall not, unless God will it, for God is Knowing, Wise. He causeth whom He will to enter into his mercy. But for the evil doers, He hath made ready an afflictive chastisement.” (Sura 76:29-31).

  • “Verily, this is no other than a warning to all creatures; to him among you who willeth to walk in a straight path; but will it ye shall not, unless as God willeth it, the Lord of the worlds.” (Sura 81:27-28).

Some of these references might be understood similarly to the Biblical theme, that God hardens the hearts of those who have already set themselves against Him: "God shall turn their hearts aside, because they are a people devoid of understanding." (Sura 9:128). But in some Koranic verses, it is clear the unbelievers never had a chance, nor were ever intended to; they were created expressly for hell: "He whom God guideth is the guided, and they whom he misleadeth shall be the lost. Many, moreover, of the Djinn and men have we created for Hell." (Sura 7:177-178). "Had we pleased we had certainly given to every soul its guidance. But true shall be the word which hath gone forth from me — I will surely fill hell with Djinn and men together." (Koran Sura 33:13). Whichever the outcome, the initiative is God's entirely: "Verily God misleadeth whom He will and guideth whom He will." (Koran Sura 35:9). In order to guard against any possibility of these doomed ones hearing the warning and repenting, God has sealed up their hearts:

"As to the infidels, alike is it to them whether thou warn them or warn them not — they will not believe: Their hearts and their ears hath God sealed up; and over their eyes is a covering. For them, a severe chastisement!" (Koran Sura 2:5-6).

The information is kept from them: "When thou recitest the Koran we place between thee and those who believe not in the life to come, a dark veil; And we put coverings over their hearts lest they should understand it, and in their ears a heaviness. . ." (Koran Sura 17:47-48). The impetus for this hardening of hearts lies with God, not man:

"Some among them hearken unto thee: but we have cast veils over their hearts that they should not understand the Koran, and a weight into their ears: and though they should see all kinds of signs, they will refuse all faith in them, until when they come to thee, to dispute with thee, the infidels say, ‘Verily, this is nothing but fables of the ancients.’" (Koran Sura 6:25).

The net result of this divine blinding is that individuals spend eternity in hell:

"Had God pleased, He could have made you one people: but He causeth whom He will to err, and whom He will He guideth: and ye shall assuredly be called to account for your doings." (Sura 16:95).

"They who gainsay our signs are deaf, and dumb, in darkness: God will mislead whom He pleaseth, and whom He pleaseth He will place upon the straight path." (Koran Sura 6:39).

The Hadith confirm this stark vision:

"When God resolved to create the human race, he took into his hand a mass of earth, the same whence all mankind was formed, and in which they after a manner pre-existed, and having divided the clod into two equal portions, He threw one half into hell, saying, 'These to eternal fire, and I care not,' and projected the other half into heaven, adding, 'And these to Paradise, I care not.' (Kisasul-Anbiya 21; see also Abu-Dawood 2203; Al-Timidhi 38; Mishkat al-Misabih 3.112-13, quoted, Understanding the Koran, by Mateen Elass, Kindle location 1192).

Muslim biographer Ibn Ishaq confirms that this was a theme of Mohammed's preaching:

"Then the apostle preached on another occasion as follows: Praise belongs to God whom I praise and whose aid I implore. We take refuge in God from our own sins and from the evil of our acts. He whom God guides none can lead astray; and whom He leads astray none can guide. I testify that there is no God but He alone, He is without companion. . .Out of everything that God creates He chooses and selects. . .the people He chooses He calls mustafa. . ." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 231).

The resemblance between these two world views has been noticed even by adherents: "The striking similarity between the Biblical and the Koranic doctrines of Predestination has been noticed by many writers. . .'Islam is indeed in many respects the Calvinism of the Orient.'" (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 475). Are these shared views indeed Biblical? This author goes on to find divergences: "In Islam it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that God is the author of sin. . .God is represented as having arbitrarily created one group of people for paradise and another group for hell, and the events of every person's life are so ordered that little place is left for moral responsibility and guilt. . .The attribute of love is absent from Allah. The ideas that God should love us or that we should love God are strange ideas to Islam. . ." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp. 481-482). Are these not rather convergences?:

"Rather, Allah — the High — created both the ability and those who are able, and created both the choice and those who choose." (Abu Hamid al Ghazali, The Foundations of Islamic Belief, p. 149).

Thus: "Neither a twinkling of an eye nor a stray thought, or the glancing of an onlooker ever occur, either in the visible or the invisible world except through His Decree and Ability, His Will and His Determination.

"From Him is good and evil, benefit and harm, Islam and disbelief, gratefulness and ingratitude, winning and losing, righteousness and error, obedience and disobedience, Oneness and polytheism.
"There is none that rescinds His commands, none that audits His Decrees. He leads astray whom He wishes and guides whom He wishes." (Abu Hamid al Ghazali, The Foundations of Islamic Belief, p. 151).

Although there is a striking similarity between these two things, it is difficult to trace any relation of dependence. Up until Augustine, Christian authors championed free will; however, these same authors show little inclination to come to grips with Paul's teaching of salvation by faith. Augustine's influence is imperceptible in the Koran. Taking it from the other side, John Calvin of Geneva, who defined Christian fatalism, shows no special interest in Islam. By contrast, Thomas Aquinas, a medieval predestinarian, recovered the works of the pagan philosopher Aristotle through Muslim sources, and often quotes Muslim commentators. Could this be an avenue of influence?

A poetic expression of the guiding thought, from secular Muslim literature, runs like so:

"God writes for eternity, this is not given to men;
But even He cannot rewrite it again,
And we walk in the wake of His pen.
We have followed the tracing of the letters of God, my friend,
The outline was not ours to mar or to mend;
Sit quiet and wait for the end."
(One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Kindle location 1134).

Free Will

Alzheimer's Disease

Mohammed ibn Abdallah takes a decidedly pessimistic view of old age:

  • "O men! if ye doubt as to the resurrection, yet, of a truth, have We created you of dust, then of the moist germs of life, then of clots of blood, then of pieces of flesh shapen and unshapen, that We might give you proofs of our power! And We cause one sex or the other, at our pleasure, to abide in the womb until the appointed time; then We bring you forth infants; then permit you to reach your age of strength; and one of you dieth, and another of you liveth on to an age so abject that all his former knowledge is clean forgotten!"
  • (Koran Sura 22:5)

  • And God hath created you; by and bye will he take you to himself; and some among you will he carry on to abject old age, when all that once was known is known no longer. Aye, God is Knowing, Powerful."
  • (Sura 16:72).

The words of Sura 22 are literally, 'so that after knowledge he knoweth not aught.' This seems to suggest the rate of cognitive decline in older people is 100%, which is far from accurate. Compare this with the pagan Cicero's boundless optimism: "But, it is said, memory dwindles. No doubt, unless you keep it in practice, or if you happen to be somewhat dull by nature. Themistocles had the names of all his fellow-citizens by heart. . .Old men retain their intellects well enough, if only they keep their minds active and fully employed." (Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Old Age, The Complete Works of Cicero, Delphi, Kindle location 72574). Certainly it's good advice to keep your mind active, though the success rate of this strategy,— its likelihood of securing a good outcome,— is far from 100%. The truth falls somewhere between Mohammed's pessimism and Cicero's optimism.

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