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The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran Paperback – Oct 7 2003
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About the Author
Sheikh Muhammad Sarwar published The Holy Qur’an: The Arabic Text and English Translation in 1981. He is affiliated with the Islamic Institute of New York, where he teaches and is a specialist in Islamic theology and philosophy.
Brandon Toropov is a Boston-based writer who has written a variety of non-fiction titles including The I Ching for Beginners and The Art and Skill of Dealing with People. He has appeared on more than 100 local and national broadcast programs. He is the author of several Complete Idiot’s Guides on religious topics.
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Top Customer Reviews
The Iliad is the best paradigm concerning God that has ever been written, and then even in Odysseus it seems that we find the creeping in of such phrases as "whether it be the will of God, or some man's will...."
Old Testament-The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
New Testament-Do not take for doctrine the commandments of men.
God cannot be objectified. Allahu Akbar. Assalamu Alaikum.
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The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran is not about the Koran per se; it is about Islam. It is impossible to fairly summarize or explain the Koran as a freestanding work to a Western reader without referencing two other sacred texts of Islam: the Hadiths ("Haditha" is Arabic), which are canonical compendiums of the traditions and sayings of Mohammed, and the Sira, which are "official" biographies of Mohammed. That is why most of this CIG book is actually not about the Koran per se, but about the Hadith and Sira. That is problem number one.
Problem number two is that this CIG book is basically written as a lowbrow polemic positing the superiority of Islam over the other Abrahamic (and world) religions. Most Moslems believe that the Koran is a copy of Allah's exact words transmitted to Mohammed via the Angel Gabriel. Unlike mainstream Christians, who believe that the Holy Bible is the inspired word of God, most Muslims believe that the Koran is a verbatim copy of "heavenly tablets" (a la the Ten Commandments) directly written by Allah himself and dictated to Mohammed -- hence "koran" means "recitation" in Arabic.
All of the foregoing is presented as self-evident Truth by the authors, who even go into a disputational textual analysis of the New Testament to prove that it is a "corrupted" text (a Koranic precept). The co-author, Brandon Toropov, a recent Muslim convert from Christianity, has a website that makes the same attacks on the New Testament. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem deconstructing the sacred texts of any religion. In fact, I'm all for it. My beef here is that the authors use the linguistic, historical and other scholarly tools of biblical higher criticism against the New Testament, but when it comes to the Koran, all such inquiry is strictly verboten and beyond the pale. This is the same inverted Islamic logic that allows the leaders and clerics of Saudi Arabia, for example, to defend their "right" to ban all infidel religions and influences, houses of worship, Bibles, crosses, etc., from Arabian territory, while demanding Americans and Europeans (also known as "Crusaders") never question any religious dogma re the Koran or Mohammed.
Scholars of the Koran who attempt to objectively analyze the Koran as literature routinely face death fatwas (death warrants from religious authorities). That is why the few non-Islamic scholars in the field have to use pseudonyms. The authors of this CIG volume do not provide the lay reader one iota of academic non-religious perspective in their summary of the Islamic holy book. Hence, this book really is pure da'wa, a tool of non-violent proselitization (there are two ways to spread Islam, one is Jihad, via warfare, the other is by word-of-mouth persuasion, da'wa). Thus, in the final analysis, I would probably recommend -- with a few notable reservations -- this work as a textbook for junior high-level pupils at English-speaking Sunni-Islamic religious schools.
This book does not deal at all with many all-important issues, such as the 1400-year-old Sunni-Shi'a sectarian divide. This CIG book was written by two normative-Islamic Sunnis, from a purely Sunni perspective. Would it be fair to non-Christian readers to have a CIG introductory book on the Old Testament written by two Catholic clerics with an analysis lifted whole from their catechism? That, in effect, is what the authors have done here.
When the authors deal with hot-button issues, such as women's rights (basically -- by contemporary Western standards -- females are second-class subjects by divine fiat) or the rights of apostates (none whatsoever), the authors' points and arguments devolve into pure twaddle. For example, under normative Shari'a (Islamic law, based on the Koran and Hadiths) penal law, an apostate must be put to death. Thus, it is perfectly okay to convert to Islam, but one leaves Islam on pain of death, as was recently illustrated in Afganistan. How do the authors justify this? They have the chutzpah to compare apostasy from Islam to being a traitor to one's country, a crime worthy of capital punishment even in the U.S.! In other words, even the authors admit in so many words that they do not consider Islam a religion of personal conscience, as almost all non-Muslims -- whether Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, pagans, polytheists, atheists, panthiests, or agnosic (in other words, everyone but Muslims) -- nowadays beleive.
As to women's rights, the Wikipedia entry under "Stoning" notes that the criminal law statutes of Iran, which are in turn totally based on the Shari'a, prescribe the exact size of stones to be thrown at adultresses during lapidation (death by stoning) -- they can't be too big, because the condemned sex-criminal will die too quickly, and they can't be too small, because death may take too long.
Yup, the devil is in the details of Koranic-Shari'a law, details completely airbrushed out from the Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran.
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If you want more than pabalum, more than sugar-coated Islamic propaganda, order A Simple Koran: Readable and Understandable, recently published by the Center for the Study of Islam (CSPI), WHICH CONTAINS EVERY WORD OF THE KORAN, translated into modern, middlebrow/"newspaper" English, along with a reader-friendly chronological ordering of the chapters, context provided by commentary, and references to the Hadiths and Sira to give meaning and perspective to the Koranic text. Alternatively, An Abridged Koran: Readable and Understandable, by CSPI, is likewise available from Amazon.com.
Like the Bible, the Koran has some weird parts. Where the Bible has things like Noah having kids when he's 800 years old and a guy's daughters sleeping with their dad because they feel bad about his being widowed, the Koran says stuff like beating women and killing converts. The guys writing the book don't duck this point, they just say it's got to be taken into context rather than literally. But wait!! How can they have me interpret words in the Koran after telling me that the words in the Koran are direct from God and can't be interpreted? That's where I kind of fell out of step with the book.
That and little details like Shari's Law and Apostasy. Apostasy is the rule that if a Muslim (which I guess means born to a Muslim family because Muslims don't have common tribal ancestry like the Jewish people for example), decides that being Catholic or Buddhist is more fitting for him or her, he or she should be killed. That part is pretty clear and the book doesn't dance around it. Which is not to say that the Koran doesn't have a lot of good in it for securing social order, but.......................
I think these books, like The Koran, The Bible and even the Torah had their place. Before social systems were established and people started acting more civilized toward each other, budding civilizations had books with a divine imprimatur to codify civilizing behaviors and answer imponderables. But that was then. This book, the Idiot's Guide, wasn't particularly helpful and seemed more contradictory than explanatory. So I guess that means a Fatwa for me, eh?
What I found is that much of the book is evangelistic propoganda. While it seems to do a good job of describing the basic beliefs of Islam, its comparisons to Christianity and Judaism misinterpreted or misrepresented basic Christian and Jewish beliefs, and took statements from their respective sacred books out of context.
I felt that this book tended to shy-away from seriously discussing some of the more controversial aspects of the faith, other than blanket dismissals of claims by many non-muslims on issues such as promotion of violence, for instance. However, I would need to research additional sources for more information on the Koran and Islam (and the history of Islam) to verify this is really the case.
While I have serious reservations about the presentation of the material, especially its one-sided nature, the book did help me better understand the Koran, its unique qualities, and its importance to Islam. Therefore, I would recommend it as a basic introduction to the Koran, but the prospective reader needs to be aware that it does a very poor job of comparing and contrasting Islam and the Koran with other faiths and their sacred texts.
The authors' love of Islam and the Koran pervade the book and it is the most endearing part. Unfortunately they deal too much in generalities. And they don't provide some basics. For example the Koran's suras (chapters) are printed in order by descending length. The authors didn't think to provide a more useful order to read the Koran. This is something routinely provided for people studying the Bible.
As others have mentioned, the book spends too much time defending Islam. The authors lapse into lengthy defenses of the Koran's sections that permit wife-beating and amputating the hands of thieves.