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Koran

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A 7th Century book of Monotheistic Arabic Mysticism which Muslims believe was dictated to Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel. It borrows heavily from Christian and Jewish traditions but without the "Love thy Neighbour" and "Turn the other cheek" bits.

Rather like a bad Quentin Tarantino film, the Koran is arranged in no meaningful order. It contains 114 Suras, the first of which is, logically enough, called "The Opening". The other 113 are ranged not in any meaningful chronological order, in which they have to be interpreted, but in decreasing order of length.

But why is the order so important? Well, Mohammed, I mean God, liked to change his mind. These changes of mind, properly called " abrogations", conveniently happened whenever Mohammed was having problems with things he, I mean God, had previously decreed. For instance, Mohammed, I mean God, decreed that believers could have four wives. But our Mo wanted a few more, so there is a sudden revelation that Mohammed can have more, indeed as many as he liked. But of course this revelation explicitly only provides Mohammed with the exception, and not the rest of the believers.

Alcohol is another case in point - 16:67 accepts it, then 4:43 prohibits turning up to worship drunk, and finally 5:90 prohibits it. Perhaps the most relevant abrogation today relates to attitudes towards nonbelievers (including the "people of the book") - the so-called Verse of the Sword, 9:5, aggregates and therefore cancels out no fewer than 124 more peaceful and tolerant verses, including the famous "there is no compulsion in religion" (which appears chronologically earlier). The vast majority of Islamic scholars agree that Sura 9 was chronologically the last to be "revealed", and - shock horror - an awful lot of the really nasty stuff appears in this sura and cancels out anything it contradicts!

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The Suras are coarsely grouped into three Meccan periods, and the Medinan period.

Mainstream Muslim opinion views the Koran in much the same way as extremist Christian opinion views the Bible -- that it is the unabridged and absolutely final Word of God, end of debate. The fact that "Koran" itself means "recitation", and that it was initially an oral tradition written down later seems to have passed them by entirely.

The mainstream view is also that the Koran should only be read in the original classical Arabic, and that translations into modern languages are merely "interpretations" with no validity. This has the unfortunate consequence that many Muslims have never actually read the Koran, since they are not provided it in a language they can understand, much like the Latin Bible in medieval Catholicism. Oh, and according to a related view, only Muslims can understand it anyway, so there's no point in you reading it, infidel.

Even in the best translations, the language of the Koran is turgid. Imagine the most impenetrable parts of the King James Bible, and extend that to the whole book. There is incessant repetition (Mohammed, I mean God, couldn't always remember whether he had said something already), and extremely mangled versions of Bible stories, which are also sometimes repeated.

Indeed, some of these mangled Bible stories have a distinctly Arabian touch - Mary, for instance, gives birth under a palm tree, and the baby Jesus immediately speaks. God, I mean Mohammed, was trying somehow to link his religion in continuity with the two major monotheistic religions of the past, to claim legitimacy from them, and convince their followers to convert - an idea they weren't wholly chuffed with, the fact of which explains Mohammed's, I mean God's, bile towards Jews and Christians in the Medinan period Suras.

Unlike in the Bible, there are no miracles in the Koran. The "proofs" and "signs" are the recycled Bible stories, and the words of the Koran themselves. These mere words are deemed to be proof enough, and questioning their divine providence is a dangerous thing to do in a country governed by Islamic law. Another contrast with the Bible is that the content of the Koran is meant to contain all the knowledge required ever, and that it is complete and perfect.

As a result, the standard of proof of a contention in Islamic scholarship is not whether the contention stands up to analysis, but whether it is supported by a Koranic quote. This includes the contention of the Koran's divine origin. The fact that this is a complete tautology is deemed totally irrelevant. This accounts largely for the lack of technical progress in countries dominated politically by Islam.

A further contrast with the New Testament of the Bible is that, instead of discussing moral questions with analogy, anecdote, and parable, God, I mean Mohammed, just plainly lays down the law. This law includes dress codes, conduct codes, prohibitions, permissions, and even standard responses for believers to say when faced with specific questions. Mohammed would have felt quite at home as an EU bureaucrat churning out thousands of pages of regulations outlining people's lives for them in the most intimate details.

In fact, in the later Suras, God, I mean Mohammed, gets quite brazen and dictates laws which are awfully convenient to Mohammed's personal and political problems, needs, and wants of the moment. Mohammed gets 20% of all war booty, for instance, and an unlimited number of wives, as well as being able to shag his slave girls . When getting stiffed on loan interest payments, he outlaws usury. Many of the laws reflect Mohammed's own personal preferences, prejudices, and indeed perversions (for instance the obsession with menstruation [admittedly certain elements of this appear in other societies around this time] and sex, amongst others). He essentially gets to act as legislature (although "officially" that's God), executive, Judge, and jury - Tony Bliar's wet dream.

This author's verdict? An extremely dull book written (or rather spoken) by a medieval Arab to further his own wealth, standing, skirt quota, and power. An extremely clever political operator, no doubt, but a total charlatan nonetheless.

Not to be confused with Kerrang - a Heavy Metal/Rock magazine. Much self-flagellation and issuing of fatwahs has occurred due to the similarity of the phonetic pronunciation. Motley Crüe does not sound too good over the speakers at prayer time.

A Koran also makes the ideal Christmas present for your friends and loved ones.