TED | Lesley Hazleton: On Reading The Koran

Posted on January 24, 2011



  • The Koran describes “Paradise” 36 times as “gardens watered by running streams.”

How come this is news to so many people?

  • The reason why so many don’t read the Koran is precisely why it is so easily quoted; or rather, misquoted. Snippets and phrases taken out of context, in what I call a “highlighter” version, is the favorite of fundamentalists and Islam-a-phobes.
  • I knew enough that I would be a “tourist” to the Koran, an outsider. So, I read slowly.
  • The Koran declares that it comes to renew the message of the Torah and the Gospels. 1/3 of it reprises the Biblical stories (Abraham, Moses, Jesus)

Why is the Koran said to only be the Koran only in Arabic?

  • The Arabic has an incantatory almost hypnotic quality that begs to be heard rather than to be read — felt rather than analyzed.
  • The Koran in English is almost a shadow of itself.

But not all is lost in translation.

  • Where the Bible is addressed exclusively to men, the Koran includes women.
  • Take the infamous verse of killing the unbelievers: anticipated conquest where fighting is forbidden, and the permissions comes enmeshed in qualifiers. You are allowed to, BUT only after a grace period, only after there is no other [pattern?] in place, and only if they attack you first, and even then, God is merciful, forgiveness is supreme, so, essentially, better if you don’t.
  • This is the biggest surprise; how flexible the Koran is. Some verses are definite, others ambiguous.
  • The perverse of heart will seek out the ambiguities to pin down meanings of their own. Only God knows the true meaning.
  • The phrase, “God is subtle,” appears again and again.

Regarding the 72 virgins…

  • There is an ambiguity to the word used.
  • The Koran is clear that you will be a new creation in Paradise, and that you will be recreated in a form unknown to you.
  • That number 72, never appears. That idea came into being 300 years later, and most Islamic scholars see it as the equivalent of people sitting on clouds with wings, plucking harps.

Paradise is Gardens Watered With Running Streams.

— VIA —

Whether my cohorts will appreciate this or not, there are quite a few similarities and parallels with her evaluation of the Koran as there are with the Bible. I like her “highlighter” imagery, and no doubt, all people of a “book”-centered religion have done the same thing. It behooves all of us to approach, perhaps even our own Scriptures, as “tourists.”

Regarding the gender reference in the Koran, she doesn’t mention the development of people over time. Much of the male dominated language in the Bible is inclusive in meaning, though it may not be reflected in technical syntax, and perhaps over time language evolves to become more inclusive in syntax to match the meaning that had always been there. There is also the issue of social evolution and the perspectives that peoples have regarding gender. It is unfair to compare the two without mentioning the eras in which the documents were written.

Regardless, I’m thankful for this presentation. Let’s cut out the “middle man” and read stuff for ourselves…shall we?

Posted in: Religion