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April Books 30) The Koran

The Koran is a tough read. It is of course meant to be read in the original Arabic - and meant to be read out loud, recited, memorised, so that every detail of the text sinks into the memory; it helps also if you are familiar with the career of the Prophet and thus able to relate particular passages to particular issues face by him and his followers during the two decades of his ministry. But even then, I think it is a tough read.

The 114 Suras are arranged roughly in decreasing order of length, which means that there is no internal progression of ideas, and certainly no chronological sequencing (the most we get is that some are tagged as written in Medina and others in Mecca). Sura 2, the longest, covers thirty pages and addresses many subjects including the creation of Adam, the observance of Ramadan, and the witnessing of debts. There is little variation of style: this is a series of revelations to a single individual, and is therefore in a single prophetic voice throughout (unlike, say, the Bible which was written by dozens of authors over a period of several centuries, and includes straight history, poetry and allegorical fable).

I notice that gardens are often mentioned, particularly as a metaphor for paradise, and I find that rather moving - I have not been to the desert myself but I can imagine how our primeval attraction to garden landscapes must be intensified by living in conditions of extreme aridity. I was interested to come across familiar (and less familiar) narratives from the Bible and from Christian tradition, proclaimed from a rather different direction; a useful reminder that these stories all began as living, breathing texts. Since I'm not likely to put in the years of study necessary to fuly grasp the text, I find it difficult to really make an assessment of the Koran as a whole. But I am glad that I have at least read it from cover to cover.


May. 8th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
One thing with the Koran is the individual suras were often revealed to the Prophet in response to particular crises that were occurring in the religious community. I have often thought that it would be worth bringing out an edition of the book that gave the suras in chronological order, with footnotes as to what was going on when they emerged.

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