Monday, March 22, 2010

Reading Holy Koran

Koran is the foundational book of Islam. Muslims believe that it is revealed to Prophet Mohammad in stages through Angel Gabriel between 610 Ad and 632 AD.

It is important to know certain things before reading Koran because it is not like other scriptures. Never the less it is better to read Koran and know about Islam and its philosophy, if one do not believe what is written here. It should also be mentioned that just because a Verse of peaceful nature is in Koran, it does't mean that it has meaning or its ruling is applicable today. This is where Koran differs from other religious scriptures. We come to this later.

Koran is divided in to chapters and word for chapter in Arabic is Sura. The chapters contain further instructions which appear numbered and are called verses, Arabic word for verse is Ayah.

Koran is originally written in Arabic, but it was translated in to English by many people and most of these translations are available online. The popular English translations are of Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, and Shakir and I think no Muslim should have any problem with these as all three were Muslims themselves. Remember these are completely white wash as they deliberately give different meanings for some words as they try to moderate the language and the meanings of the Koranic verses.

Yusuf Ali (Hafiz Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 14 April 1872 – 10 December 1953) was an Indian, Bohra Muslim, born in Surat.

(Mohammed) Marmaduke Pickthall (April 7, 1875 – May 19, 1936) was a British Convert, an avid supporter of Ottoman Empire and his translation is approved by OIC.

Mohammed Habib Shakir was an Egyptian and graduated from Al Azhar University (Supreme authority in Sunni School).

You can download (for free) these translations from the link I give below, and they come like this (shown below), one translation below other, so you can check one translation against another for more accuracy. For example 10 nth verse of Sura (Chapters) 2 appears like this:

YUSUFALI: In their hearts is a disease; and Allah has increased their disease: And grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves).
PICKTHAL: In their hearts is a disease, and Allah increaseth their disease. A painful doom is theirs because they lie.
SHAKIR: There is a disease in their hearts, so Allah added to their disease and they shall have a painful chastisement because they lie

Website link is:

Other translations that are available on the internet are Hilali's at, He is also a Muslim. In this blog most of the time I use and present verses from these four (mentioned). And also there are as many ten translations of Koran available at All these translations are sugar coated and white washed presentations to deceive readers (esp. non Muslims). One will learn this gradually.

The most important thing is Koran does not provide any context (background) for a verse reveled, so it is difficult to grasp the full meaning and reader will not understand the scope and applicability of verses either. That is precisely you need Hadiths and Sira (Biography) for knowing context behind the verses.

What are Hadiths? And why do we need Hadith?  Hadith are collections of  traditions and sayings of Prophet. In essence they tell you how Prophet understood Koran and applied it. Though they do not give context to the all the verses never the less they are very important.  You should know that laws made in Islam are based on two sources i.e. Koran and Sayings and teachings of Prophet, essentially Hadith. That is why Hadiths are very important in understanding Islam.

Many Islamic scholars have collected and written ahadiths. Most important of them are Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Abu Dawood, Nasa'i, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah. All these six are respected by all Islamic Scholars. Of these six, two are considered to be Sahih, which means original, and they are Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Sahih Bukhari is the second most important book in Islam, next only to Koran.

Three collections of Hadith (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and Abu Dawood) are also available on online at the below website:

Hadiths and Sira are collectively called as Sunna, the perfect example of Prophet Mohammed as a Muslim, whom Muslims are to supposed to follow.

Another important source for understanding Koran, Islam and Mohammad is Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, the first written and authentic biography of Prophet, this is in Arabic, but the English translation is available and it is ‘The Life of Mohammad: A translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah’ By A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press.

The Holy Koran has 114 chapters. One Sura can contain 300 verses and another one can contain 4 verses, implying size of a Sura changes. You can not just start reading Koran, because you will not understand any thing, for the reason that Suras are not arranged according to chronological order (i.e. first reveled first appears). Suras are arranged in Koran according to size (by number of verses it contains) of the sura (except for the first one) i.e. largest Sura comes first, and then second largest, it goes on. This is the general pattern in Koran but not absolute. But why do we have to read it in chronological order? From many perspectives we need this order and we need to read in chronological order. Below are some reasons:

1. Koran has many contradictions (it has verses which contradict each other in the meanings and the rulings) and to resolve these contradictions Koran it self has a rule called abrogation (verse 2:106) and according to this if two verses contradict each other, verse reveled last replaces the verse reveled earlier.

2. Muslims generally say, there are many war (violent) verses and one must understand context and back ground in which they were reveled, so to understand them better we need time order (Chronological order) of Suras.

3. The role of Prophet Mohammad becomes more and more important, this can be grasped only if we read  Koran in chronological order.

4. The Koran commands Muslims to obey and follow the example of the perfect Muslim-Mohammed. It devotes 91 verses to this command. This is one of the most important parts of the Koran because it establishes the Sunna, the perfect example of Mohammed. It is interesting that of the 91 commands to follow the example of Mohammed, 86 of them occur in Medina.

5. There are some 217 verses concerning Hell to unbelievers and 68% of them are in the Koran of Mecca. Why is there less Hell in Medina Koran?.

6. Prophet preached for 13 years in Mecca and had about 150 followers but after he started fighting, after migrating to Medina called Hijra, in less than 10 years entire Saudi Arabia fell to his command. Many Muslims say he was defending or Pagans in Mecca were persecuting him and other Muslims.

Chronological order of Koran is available on net, best one is by Egyptian university Al Azhar. It is the most authoritative one in Sunni school, and no Muslim can dispute with this.

If we understand this concept of chronological order, Koran can be divided in to two parts, Koran reveled in Mecca (610AD to 622AD) and Koran reveled in Medina (622 AD to 632AD). As you read, as you go from Meccan Koran to Medina (Yathrib) Koran, you will understand clearly one aspect, changes in nature of verses with respect to Non Muslims (infidels and Kafirs (Kuffar)). Simply they become more and more violent. Tolerance that was seen in Meccan Koran simply disappears, giving the way to intolerance. Hatred-ism and intolerance towards Non Muslims keeps on increasing till the very end in Medinan (Yathrib) Koran. This aspect can only be observed if we read Koran in chronological order (time order).

Reading any religious book is really boring, so with Koran. So I suggest people to start reading from Suras reveled in Medina (Yathrib). Fortunately some early Medina suras are the first to appear in Koran like 2nd, 3rd,4th and  8th.

Here is the list of Suras reveled in Medina after Hijrah (migration of Prophet from Mecca to Medina) in 622 AD, Islamic calendar starts from here. (2, 8, 3, 33, 60, 4, 99,57,47, 13, 55, 76, 65, 98, 59, 24, 22, 63, 58, 49, 66, 64, 61, 62, 48, 5, 9, 110).

By the time you read first 10 suras from this list you will understand much of Islam as it covers laws regarding marriage and divorces, inheritance, punishments for adultery and lewdness, usury (interest rate and mortgage), rules regulating slavery and Jihad (later chapters like 9, 47, 58, 49, 48and 5 are also needed to understand (Jihad) completely) but it starts (very strong foundation laid) right in the Sura 2,later I will write on this or I will provide an excellent link. But if you complete reading the first ten suras from the above list, you might feel compelled to investigate more on yourself.

Even this can be time consuming and boring too. I suggest you to go to a website, in such case. One simple website is Go to this website and click on flat menu and you will see many sections and you can read from them. Here number of the verse is always mentioned, by clicking on that number will take you to source (provides hyper link), Yusuf Ali. But you have to connect dots, which is not easy as you need back ground, but never the less you could get an idea.

All Muslims always say context should be seen (actually behind each single verse), but I ask them what context? Is it historical context? Remember Koran is a word of God for eternity and valid for all time. It contains instructions for all time. These instructions can not be changed, questioned or even doubted.

This context business is not available to Muslims, but it is very much available to infidels (us). Never the less, giving the benefit of doubt to Muslims, we will see context too in my later posts esp. about Jihad and Political Islam, when I get time.