General Overview of the Koran

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History, Its Organization, etc

All successful religions possess three things:

  1. A doctrinal statement(s) – usually written down – which explains: where humankind came from, what future man can anticipate after death and guidelines for proper behavior in this life.
  2. A set of ritual practices, that raise the believer’s focus to things beyond their immediate concerns and promote bonding between and among believers. It is primarily through “ritual practices” that young people learn the “faith of their fathers”.
  3. A priesthood that:
    a) Interprets and explicates the doctrinal statement to the faithful,
    b) Sets forth the details of and history of the ritual practices, and
    c) Attempts to encourage or enforce orthodoxy among the faithful.

The Koran is the most important doctrinal statement in Islam.

ABOUT THE KORAN 

(Note: A chapter in the Koran is referred to as a surah.)

The organization of this book is not chronological, it is not by subject, but it is generally organized by length of the surah. The Koran sounds very melodic in Arabic particularly the older surahs (i.e. the first surahs written), but it translates poorly – there is little logic “sentence to sentence”, “verse to verse” or “surah to surah”. The table at the end of this essay shows for each surah: its number, its length (number of verses in the surah), Mohammad’s location when the Surah was revealed, and its chronological position compared to other Surahs.

Those Muslims, who study the Koran, tend to read one verse and then think about its content before reading another. However, it should be noted that few Muslims read or study the true Koran. Muslims are supposed to read the Koran in the original Arabic, and most Muslims don’t know Arabic other than to recite specific prayers that they have memorized in Arabic. (So much of what most Muslims know of their religion comes from the preaching they hear at their mosque. More studious Muslims tend to study commentaries on the various surahs and especially the “recollections” of those who knew the Prophet, Mohammad, during his life.)

Mohammad himself was illiterate. So the creation of the Koran was a convoluted process.

The Koran was written between 610 and 634 by scribes who received dictation from Mohammed who in turn had received what he dictated from the angel Gabriel who visited Mohammed in his dreams which were set in Jerusalem. Gabriel, of course, had received these revelations from God. Therefore, Muslims believe that what was dictated to the scribes was word-for-word from God through Gabriel and Mohammed. (Note: Following Mohammad’s death it became apparent that different Muslims had different versions of the Koran, so the third caliph (which means “successor”) had a standardized Koran created and all other version confiscated and destroyed.)

The period from 610 to 634 is divided into two smaller periods, the first was when Mohammed lived in Mecca (610 to 622) and the second was when Mohammed lived in Medina (622 to 634).

The first portion of the Koran is very spiritual, focused on salvation, talks about man’s relationship to God, descriptions of Paradise, etc. There are 86 surahs from this period. The short Surah that leads off the entire Koran is from this period and is very beautiful particularly when sung in Arabic.

The second period is 622 to 634. There are 28 surahs from this period. These surahs are less spiritual and more prescriptive and proscriptive. These surahs tell each Muslim how to behave in this life, who they should fight, who they may deceive, what to eat, who they may have sexual relations with, how to divorce their wife, etc. There is some backtracking and alterations from the first part of the Koran to the second part. To accommodate these differences, the Koran teaches the concept of abrogation 2-106 under which the newer instruction supersedes the older instruction.

For instance, Jihad is a concept that evolved from:

1) an internal struggle within each person’ heart as he/she struggles to resist evil-doing to

2) the outward struggle against the pagans, the Jews and the Christians who have not yet agreed to live under the political control of Islam.

Note: Jews and Christians who agree to live under Islam, while retaining their beliefs, must pay a special tax as an acknowledgment of their submission. Pagans who fail to convert to Islam must leave or be killed.

The Islamic calendar is dated from the year Mohammad moved from Mecca to Medina. (622 in the western calendar). This is the same year the revelations became less spiritual and more worldly; it is also the year Mohammed lost his wife, a wealthy widow, and migrated to Medina where political fragmentation had created an opportunity for him to gain political power and began organizing his followers into fighting units.

KORAN’s VIEW of Man who was originally created from a clot of blood. There was a tree in Paradise but it was a tree of knowledge (not a tree of the knowledge of good and evil) which Adam (not Eve) wrongly approached and so they were banished 2 – 30, but they did not suffer shame. In Islam, Man is good (i.e. does not possess a fallen nature), and he is supposed to:

1) honor God, 2) follow God’s Koranic commands, and 3) help poor Muslims of God

112-1, 76-31 – God is all powerful and the creator of all things. God is so powerful he is able to be illogical. For example 1) God can make laws and then abrogate those same laws, 2) scientific exploration is suspect because it implies that man has the right to explore for knowledge beyond that which God has revealed. Since the Koran is directly from God, it is perfect and it necessarily contains all the truth that God wants a man to have. and of Man’s relationship with God here is their God will judge weighing the good a person has done as compared to the evil he has done. In life, God is said to sometimes show mercy, but at the time of the final judgment the process will be very mathematical (i.e. “a plus for a good work” versus “a minus for an evil act” type of calculation) Surah 56

HANDLING THE KORAN

As mentioned earlier, only a Koran written in Arabic is a true Koran. A translation is not really a Koran although translations are widely used because so few people know Arabic.

Since the Koran is the exact word of God, its storage and handling are very important. The Koran is to be stored in a special place at the top of the believer’s bookshelf or other places of honor. Ideally, when picked up the Koran should be kissed three times. It is always to be carried above the waistline, never placed on the ground, only handled by a person who is ritually clean, never carried into a bathroom, etc. When studied it is to be put in a book holder or that failing on a clean white cloth. The Koran is never to be left open when not in use. If a Koran has to handled by a non-believer or an unclean person gloves should be worn.

A DIVE INTO A FEW SURAHS

Particularly the opening surah and from both the early and late group of surahs. – 1-1 (listen and read), 9-5; 5-51; 47-3; 2-106; 56-1+; 112-1; 76-31; 29-31; 2-30+ to get a flavor for this book’s content.

Note: To see several pages of support material for the four essays on this page about the Koran gen_18b_koran_support