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For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
The Qur'an
Skeptics Annotated Quran.jpg
For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Quran article:

The Qur'an or Koran is the primary holy text of the Islamic religion. The Qur'an contains a set of moral rules that are known as sharia law. Apologists argue that the Qur'an is true and it is often interpreted literally. The Qur'an is heavily criticized, especially in the West, for its consideration of women as inferior to men, its advocacy of intolerance towards non-Muslims, and its extremely violent system of punishment for crimes (especially victimless "crimes" such as extramarital sex, homosexuality, blasphemy and apostasy).

Apart from the Qur'an, the vast majority of Muslims also consider haddith literature, the traditional teachings and sayings of Muhammad, as secondary religious scripture.

History and authorship[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
A photograph of a Sana'a manuscript fragment. This shows that variants existed in early Qur'ans but were suppressed by later editors.

Muhammad or his close followers almost certainly authored the Qur'an, which was orally transmitted to everyone else. [1] This was common medium at the time because literacy was rare. The recitations were eventually written down and compiled into the first manuscripts of the Qur'an. Islamic apologists argue that Muhammad did not personally author the Qur'an and it was accurately transmitted from Allah.

According to Islamic doctrine, the Qur'an was dictated by God to Muhammad in Classical Arabic through the angel Gabriel over the course of 23 years. The ultimate author is supposedly Allah. However, the written Qur'an did not exist in a complete form before Muhammad's death in 632 CE (it was largely transmitted orally and recorded by memory!). Mohammed dictated the verses with variations and explicitly approved the different variants. These recitations were recorded in many different written versions of the chapters/surahs. Some fragments of these written variants survived, such as Sana'a manuscript. The variants were gradually amalgamated into a standardised Qur'an over a few hundred years. Variant editions of the Qur'an were suppressed to create the façade of unity. [2] The Qur'an contains internal contradictions and weaknesses. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] Based on radio-carbon dating of manuscripts, some academics believe that the Qur'an reused existing texts to fit a theological agenda. [8]

"It is now evident that the position held by orthodox Muslims concerning the origin of the Qur'an is simply untenable in light of the clear evidence. The view echoed by Ahmad Von Denffer that what is in the Qur'an today is an exact duplicate of the God's tablets in heaven-transmitted to Muhammad via Gabriel is effectively contradicted by modern scholarship and common sense. [5]"

The Qur'an was canonised in the reign of Uthman which lasted 653-656. However, Arabic writing had not fully matured as vowels were not recorded. This lead to ambiguity in the text, since certain words could be confused when written. Over the next few centuries, the script used to express the Qur'an evolved to settle on a particular wording. [6]

"The oldest [complete] manuscripts of the Quran still in existence date from not earlier than about one hundred years after Muhammad's death. [6]"

Even though the Uthman Qur'an was meant to be a definitive version, the Arabic script was not fully developed at the time and still contained minor ambiguities. Abu Bakr b. Mujāhid (died 936) set about to limit official versions to seven basic readings (al-qira'at as-sab'). The differences between the versions are usually just pronunciation and terminology. Several of these are still in print and some are popular in specific countries. The Hafs version is the most widely used.

Some apologists claim that the Qur'an remains exactly as it was revealed to Muhammad, but there never was a single version definitive version, and the process used to produce the official versions is questionable.

While the Qur'an was originally memorized and transmitted orally, the tradition for memorizing the Qur'an continues to the present day. Most Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the infallible word of God, although a minority of Muslims are beginning to question this assumption. [9]

Comprehension, interpretation and style[edit]

Skeptics Annotated Quran.jpg
For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Quran article:

Scholarly comprehension[edit]

Main Article: Scholarly interpretation of the Qur'an

Islamic scholars take many contextual factors into consideration when interpreting the Qur'an and in their eyes rules out the possibility of normal Muslims to correctly interpret it:

"Is the knowledge of Arabic enough? Is the knowledge of History enough? Which verses were abrogated? Which verses were specific? which verses were general? Did you even know that the meaning of the verses also depended on when they were sent down? peace time or war time, day or night, winter or summer, before hijrah or after hijrah? [10]"

Islamic scholars spend years learning the "correct" interpretation of the text but this arguably should be evident from a direct reading of the Qur'an. Much of the scholarship of the Qur'an is likely to be an ad-hoc rationalization fuelled by wishful thinking. If the Qur'an was comprehensible, we would not see the currently observed differences in doctrine between Muslim denominations.

The Qur'an usually is interpreted with the doctrine of abrogation, which requires an understanding of the chronology of writing. Since the chronology is not specified in the Qur'an, the book cannot be interpreted with certainty because it depends on external and fallible texts for interpretation. The use of abrogation seems strange in a supposedly perfect book.

It is also originally written in Arabic, which is not very easy to understand for most people and translations are usually considered as inferior.

Non-expert comprehension[edit]

Main Article: What are your qualifications?

In many countries, a literal interpretation of the Qur'an, which de-emphasises the role of context has widespread support. [11] The problem with literal interpretation is that it often teaches violence, intolerance and extremism.

Some Muslims claim that a "full understanding of the Arabic language" or other training is required to interpret the Qur'an correctly:

"First, no one can offer a correct explanation of the Quran except scholars who have mastered all sciences that qualify them to understand its occasions of revelation, linguistic style, structure, and all other imports and aspects. [12]"
"Do not give your own interpretation to Qur'anic verses. You have to ensure that you receive the correct knowledge and understanding of the Qur'an. Look for a reputable translation of the Qur'an and authentic interpretation/explanation, as prepared by the early scholars. Do not rely on your own personal and often corrupted understanding. [13]"

In other words, apologists argue that training is necessary but not sufficient for interpretation of the Qur'an. This is an unjustified position: simply asserting that expertise is necessary for a correct opinion does not make it so. In many other subjects, less skilled practitioners may be correct at least some of the time. Saying the Qur'an is different in this regard is special pleading.

A perfect book should be more comprehensive than any other book (or at least most books). The position that non-experts cannot comprehend the Qur'an is contradicted by the Qur'an, which says the text is clear and easy to understand. Surah 44:58 Bible-icon.png Surah 12:1 Bible-icon.png

Other movements in Qur'anic interpretation include esoteric interpretation, Quranism and personal interpretation of the Quran.


Apologists claim the Qur'an is untranslatable, at least to an extent. [13] Translations are presumably imperfect in comparison but should contain at least some sense of the original. To claim the Qur'an is particularly untranslatable without basis is special pleading. Part of the resistance to translation of the Qur'an is the original Arabic text is largely incomprehensible.

"This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible—if it can’t even be understood in Arabic — then it’s not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not — as even speakers of Arabic will tell you — there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on. [14]"


Apologists argue that the Qur'an is the most eloquent book ever written. As eloquence is a subjective judgement, this is an argument from aesthetic experience. Because the Qur'an was written in classical Arabic, there is an Islamic tradition of learning the original language of the text.

"This is the Qur'an's miraculous eloquence, which originates in its words' beauty, order, and composition; its textual beauty and perfection; its stylistic originality and uniqueness; its explanations' superiority, excellence, and clarity; its meanings' power and truth; and its linguistic purity and fluency. Its eloquence is so extraordinary that its eternal challenge to every individual to produce something like it, even if only a chapter, has yet to be answered. [15]"

The Qur'an claims it is unique and there could be no book like it. It challenges anyone to produce a Sura like it:

"And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto"

Surah 2:23 Bible-icon.png

Despite apologists claim that the eloquence of the Qur'an is "indisputable", the Qur'an is repetitive, vague, boring, ambiguous and uninspiring. [14] The Quran is sometimes cited in lists of the most influential books but rarely in lists of great literature. One Thousand and One Nights is more commonly cited as great literature. [16]

"It is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook, a wearisome, confused jumble, crude, incondite. Nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European through the Koran."

— Thomas Carlyle on George Sale’s translation
"[The Qur'an] is strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content. [14]"
"From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time in absorbing it. [17]"

The challenge that no other text can equal the Qur'an, stated in Surah 17:88 Bible-icon.png, is only possible if one ignores all classic texts in world literature. Many books surpass the Qur'an in style and content; the challenge was met before the Qur'an was written. [14]

Eloquence is a subjective experience and it is inappropriate to call an aesthetic experience "perfect" - tastes differ in aesthetics. It is also impossible for humans to distinguish that something is perfect or almost perfect. We can only perceive and experience finite phenomena. Claiming we know something is perfect (a posteriori) is to make a knowledge claim about something that cannot be known.

No new interpretations[edit]

Why are the schools of interpretation fixed? There used to be hundreds of schools but now only a handful are recognised by Muslim organisations. The main obstacle of having a new interpretation of the Qur'an accepted is merely an appeal to tradition. Orthodox interpreters fear that accepting a new interpretation will call their credibility and that of the Qur'an into question.

Another obstacle is that personal innovation in interpretation is discouraged, giving a virtual monopoly to traditionalist taqlid schools of thought.

"Muslim scholars and commentator of Qur’an are unanimous on the view that no one has the right to interpret the ayats of Qur’an according to one's personal view and opinion. [18]"

Some highly qualified individuals have also been recognised as ijtihad interpreters that are independent of any traditional school but are still bound by traditional precedence. Despite these obstacles, new interpretation of the Qur'an continues to exists as a minority movement in recent times. [19]

"In the Islam of a millennium ago, ijtihad flourished. It was no coincidence that Islamic civilisation led the world in curiosity, creativity and ingenuity. But then the sun set on Islam’s golden age. Invaders from North Africa pillaged the pluralism of Muslim Spain. From Cordoba to Baghdad, much of the Islamic empire lapsed into defensiveness. Out of 135 schools of Sunni thought, just four survived. The gates of ijtihad narrowed and in some places closed, legitimising rigid readings of the Qur’an. To this day, Muslims still struggle with the idea of independent thought. But a new generation of Muslims are pushing the boundaries. In growing numbers, we are speaking our truths to self-appointed authorities, be they our parents or their imams.[20]"
"I claim that it is the right for every Muslim to read and interpret the Quran for themselves. [21]"

One solution might be for Islamic organisations to encourage personal interpretation or recognise institutions that work on progressive interpretations of the Qur'an.

When Nasr Abu Zaid argued against there being a single precise interpretation of the Qur'an, he caused a national outcry in Egypt during the 1990's and was forced into temporary exile. Kader Abdolah produced a Dutch version of the Qur'an with the text rearranged into chronologically order. [22]

Interpretation without the assumption of perfection[edit]

Most Muslims interpret the Qur'an with the assumption that it is perfect. However, this assumption is difficult to reliably establish without referring to the Qur'an itself, eg. Surah 15:9 Bible-icon.png [23], which is a circular argument. It may then be better for people who do not have this assumption, such as agnostics, to perform the interpretation since mainstream interpretation is biased.

"my understanding is that if you give the Qur'an to a non-Muslim, he can better interpret it because he has not been influenced by anyone. If he is given the full context of the verse, he can present a more accurate and unbiased analysis thereof. [24]"

Continuity with earlier Jewish and Christian Scripture[edit]

The Qur'an claims that the Jewish Torah and "the Gospel" were previously revealed by Allah. Surah 3:3 Bible-icon.png The prophets in these scriptures were incorporated into Islam. Islamic apologists deny that the Qur'an authenticates the Bible, because they consider the claim to refer to the perfect original versions of scripture revealed to Moses and Jesus. [25] Non-Islamic scripture is believed to have been corrupted or written from a limited human perspective[26] while the Qur'an is a revival of the one true religion. Many of the stories of the Torah are retold in the Qur'an, such as Noah's ark. Surah 11:36-48 Bible-icon.png

Spread of Islam by force?[edit]

The Qur'an contains many teachings that appear to promote violence to spread Islam. [27] Apologists claim these verses must be carefully interpreted and argue that they do not call for the violent spread of Islam. Some critics of Islam conclude the Qur'an is a dangerous influence that promotes violence and intolerance.

"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."

Surah 9:5 Bible-icon.png

Other examples include: Surah 2:193 Bible-icon.png, Surah 4:74 Bible-icon.png, Surah 4:89 Bible-icon.png, Surah 22:216 Bible-icon.png and Surah 22:39-41 Bible-icon.png.

"I cannot judge the quality of the Arabic; perhaps it is sublime. But the book's contents are not. On almost every page, the Koran instructs observant Muslims to despise non-believers. On almost every page, it prepares the ground for religious conflict."

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

There are also sections that suggest peaceful conduct. Surah 8:61 Bible-icon.png Surah 2:190 Bible-icon.png Given these apparent contradictions, the most reasonable conclusion is that the Qur'an suggests multiple interpretations. Some commentators claim that the violent verses abrogates or takes precedence over peaceful verses, [28] but this view is controversial.

Jihad means struggle in either a spiritual or military sense. While it is considered a duty by Muslims, what this duty entails has various interpretations.

Mainstream Muslim views[edit]

Most contemporary Muslims believe there is no religious obligation to use force to spread Islam. [29] Some Muslims consider that Muhammed may have had an obligation to spread Islam by force, but this directive only applied to Muhammad and his companions because they were first hand "witnesses of the truth". [30] [31] This sounds like special pleading - Muhammed, and only Muhammed, is exempt from a supposedly perfect law.

Apologists argued that violent sections of the Qur'an refer to the context of Muhammad's life and military career, which were supposedly limited to defensive wars and only in response to his oppression. [32] The Qur'an claimed that Muhammad's enemies were immoral and were his historic oppressors (in other words, he wanted revenge) Surah 9:8-13 Bible-icon.png - however, this is not a valid basis for a defensive war. The claim the wars were defensive overlooks the history of Muhammad, who while in Medina initiated offensive raids on Meccan caravans. This was followed by many conquest, including Mecca in 629 and other military expeditions against nearby tribes that refused to convert to Islam. [29] The idea that the wars were defensive is incompatible with the conquest of these territories and oppression of pagans by Muhammad. Since Muslims often aspire to emulate Muhammad as a role model, his personal example is unhelpful for avoiding war.

Muhammad is argued to have regulated warfare, which was an improvement with contemporary practices. Hadiths record him forbidding the killing of women and children in warfare. [33] However, he was still ruthless in his actions and falls short of what is considered acceptable behaviour in wartime based on current practices.

Ideas promoted by mainstream Islam may leave people susceptible to radicalization.

Intolerant teachings[edit]

The Qur'an contains many teachings that appear to promote intolerance. [34] Apologists claim that some or all of these teachings are misinterpretations. The divine law that is expressed in the Qur'an, called sharia law, contains oppression of minority groups, misogyny and inhuman punishments. Many Muslims are (sensibly) selective on what teachings they follow in the Qur'an, or interpret it in a different manner.

Antisemitism is a problem in many countries, particularly in the Muslim world. This attitude is sometimes supported by the generally negative view of Jews as described in the Qur'an.

"And you will surely find them [the Jews] the most greedy of people for life - [even] more than those who associate others with Allah."

Surah 2:96 Bible-icon.png

See also Surah 2:65 Bible-icon.png, Surah 5:60 Bible-icon.png, Surah 5:51 Bible-icon.png.

"The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter."

Surah 5:33 Bible-icon.png

Abrogation and progressive revelation[edit]

Skeptics Annotated Quran.jpg

The doctrine of Naskh, commonly translated as abrogation, is the principle that surahs that were revealed more recently take precedence over early verses. Confusingly, the Qur'an was not "revealed" in order, making interpretation extremely difficult. Since abrogation is usually relevant to divine law, a lawful action could become unlawful, and vise-versa. [35] For instance, Surah 2:115 Bible-icon.png, which says God is in all directions (and implies prayer may be in any direction) is abrogated by Surah 2:144 Bible-icon.png which calls for player towards Mecca. [36] Another example is the acceptance of gambling and drinking alcohol Surah 2:219 Bible-icon.png, followed by it being forbidden Surah 5:93 Bible-icon.png. [37] The use of abrogation suggests that the Qur'an was written to address immediate concerns of the early Islamic community, rather than a timeless plan.

"I struggled with the question of how an eternal revelation of Allah could have such time-bound revelation in it. It seemed at odds with the nature of Allah – the all-knowing, all-wise, creator and sustainer of the universe; the eternal, self-existent one. As a Muslim this was one of the bigger challenges I faced with regard to the Quran. Although the Quran is said to be an eternal and universal scripture, I found it to be time-bound. [37]"

One might expect a book that is dictated by a God and recorded faithfully would have been totally correct without need for later revision (or "progressive revelation"). Some minority groups in Islam reject the doctrine on the basis that the Qur'an could not contain contradictions. [38]

Satanic verses[edit]

Muhammad had an early revelation that said polytheism was true. This was probably motivated by political expediency. He later claimed they were inspired by Satan and are therefore referred to as the Satanic verses. [39] [40] Rather than being abrogated in the normal manner, they were expunged from the Qur'an. [41] This does raise the question that any other religious revelation might have been inspired by Satan. This incident was accepted by most early Muslims and by modern academics. However, most modern Muslim scholars reject the Satanic verses and consider the alleged incident as fictitious and blasphemous.

"Never did We send a messenger or a prophet before thee, but, when he framed a desire, Satan threw some (vanity) into his desire [...]"

Surah 22:52 Bible-icon.png


Main Article: Argument from scriptural miracles

Miracles are relatively rare in the Qur'an, compared to other holy books.

  • The main example is said to be the scriptural inerrancy of the Qur'an.
  • The eloquence of the Qur'an is also said to be a miracle. [15]
  • Some interpretations suggest Muhammad split the moon in two. (Surah 54:1-2 Bible-icon.png) [42]


Main Article: Argument from prophecy

The Qur'an claims to have recorded prophesies that were later fulfilled. At one time, Mohammed and his followers were denied the ability to perform pilgrimage to Mecca. Mohammed received a vision that they would be able to make the pilgrimage in the future (Surah 48:27 Bible-icon.png). This was fulfilled soon after. [43] This was arguably a self-fulfilling prophesy. Other prophecies cited include Surah 30:1-6 Bible-icon.png Surah 48:1 Bible-icon.png and Surah 61:13 Bible-icon.png [44]

See also[edit]


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