Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice
Revelations and Generalizations
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
114:1 Say: “I seek refuge with the Lord of the People,
114:2 “The King of the people,
114:3 “The God of the people,
114:4 “From the evil of the slinking whisperer [Satan],
114:5 “Who whispers in the breasts of people,
114:6 “Both jinn and men.”
Both jinn and men! That is it, the last verse of the Koran. What a read! What a revelation! What is a jinn? Jinns are spirits that inhabit another dimension. There are good and evil jinns. The caricature of the genie is probably based on this creature of the Koran.
When I decided to read and study the Koran with the intention of writing about it, I was determined to get a Muslim’s interpretation, an interpretation that could only be viewed as being favourable to Islam. I also wanted a translation that was easy to read and understand.
The translation that seemed to satisfy these requirements was an interpretation by Majid Fakhry, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the American University of Beirut, which had the seal of approval of Al-Azhar University of Egypt, a world-renowned center for Islamic study for more than 900 years:
Messrs Garnet Publishing Limited, with reference to your letter dated 5 July, 2000, in respect of your request that this department (Islamic Research) may review your book titled: An Interpretation of the Qur’an, English Translation of the Meanings. A Bilingual Edition translated by Majid Fakhry.
After having reviewed this book as requested we have the pleasure to declare that we have no objection to approve this book and put it in circulation or introduced for republication.
Islamic Research Academy, Al-Azhar University
In the translator’s own words “we have tried to express ourselves in a simple, readable English idiom”, and for the most part, he has succeeded admirably in producing a very readable interpretation of one, if not the most read book in the world.
My goals in reading the Koran were diverse. At the top of my list was gaining an understanding of what makes this book so special; to understand what makes the religion based on its content so attractive to so many and yes, to satisfy my curiosity about what God sounds like, or more accurately, reads like.
I also read the Koran in the hope of dispelling some prejudices and apprehensions that I had developed after reading about Islam from authors, devoted Muslims most of them, who had mostly nothing but praise for Allah and His “perfect religion”.
The Legacy Edition of Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice is the culmination of a twelve years of work and study. I believe it is the most honest, forthright, complete review ever attempted by a non-Muslim of Allah’s and His anointed Messenger’s legacy: the Koran. This appraisal takes Allah and the Prophet Muhammad at their word, as does most of the Muslim world, and so should you.
Although I consider myself well versed (no pun intended) in the Koran and the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad, in Pain, Pleasure Prejudice you will not be subjected to drawn-out discussions about Allah’s revelations.
To reiterate what I wrote in the Foreword; I am not a religious scholar and I don’t pretend to be. It would be the height of presumption on my part to think that I could properly mine the Koran for purported hidden meanings behind “Verses which are elaborately formulated and clearly expounded from the Wise, the All-Aware”, to quote Allah. I prefer letting Allah and His Messenger speak for themselves, offering only a layman's opinion, or an expert’s explanation, where I feel one is warranted.
When Fakhry‘s crisp translation is not sufficient, it is Moududi I most often turn to. Abul A’la Moududi’s (also spelt Maududi) [1903-1979] credentials as a pre-eminent Islamic scholar are impeccable: journalist, theologian, Muslim revivalist, Islamist philosopher, first recipient of the King Faisal International Award for his services to Islam and Islamic studies. Of the more than 120 books he wrote, he is most famous for his magnum opus The Meaning of the Qur'an.
The Koran is the book upon which the Taliban, the Islamist fundamentalist movement which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, based their concept of God’s government on earth. The Taliban, like all believers, were, and are required to at least attempt to commit to memory the entire Koran. Believers are also expected to accept Allah’s Revelations in their totality without question.
As an unbeliever, I hope I can safely express my opinions about the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad, although nothing is certain. It is an unfortunate fact of life that authors who choose to write about Islam, the Koran or the life of the Prophet Muhammad must tread carefully lest the believers perceive their writings as an insult to Islam. I hope that I have achieved that fine balance, if such an equilibrium is even possible.
Translations of the Koran are usually called interpretations because believers claim that only the Arabic version of the Koran can convey the true meaning of God’s words. If you can’t read the Koran in the original, they say, you are bound to misinterpret Allah’s words.
Do they have a point, or is it just a pre-emptive rationalization? A pre-emptive excuse for some of the frightening revelations contained within the Muslim Holy Book. Revelations that may leave some unbelievers wondering if it is God’s words they are reading or those of his nemesis?
The Koran is written in verses or ayats, therefore it is true that you will not be able to appreciate the rhythm and rhyme that only the original can convey, but any good translation will be able to communicate the meaning of the poet’s words and the meaning of the words is what you should be concerned with.
An English translation of the Koran will run to about 77,700 words; the approximate size of a standard 300 page book. A book, Allah reveals, in which you can study “Whatever you choose.”
68:35 Shall We consider those who submit like those who are criminals?
68:36 What is the matter with you; how do you judge?
68:37 Or do you have a Book in which you study?
68:38 Wherein there is whatever you choose.
It is a bold statement for a relatively small book where boundless repetitions use up print space that could, perhaps, be put to better use.
The Koran is made up of 114 chapters or surahs. When referring to chapters of the Koran, I use the Arabic transliteration (converting from one alphabet to another) of chapter, which is surah. Each surah is further divided into verses. I have chosen to remain with the English understanding of what is an ayat.
There are 6,346 verses in the Koran if you include the 112 unnumbered Basmalahs, the formula-invocation “in the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful” which appears at the beginning of every chapter of the Koran except the first and the ninth.
In Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice I refer to verses by the surah number and verse; for example, verse 2:282. Or by surah name and verse: The Cow, verse 282. A verse can be just a few words long or more than 200 words such as verse 2:282, the longest verse in the Koran which deals, in part, with the virtue of good bookkeeping practices and why, when it comes to transactions involving money or chattel, a woman on her own cannot be trusted to accurately remember things.
Towards the end of some chapters you will find supplementary material following a squiggly line (~~~). It is additional information which I consider important that could not be conveniently presented in footnotes.
Just a few editorial notes before we get down to business and let God speak for Himself. All quotes from the Koran are from Majid Fakhry’s interpretation unless otherwise indicated. Text added by Fakhry within a quoted verse to improve understanding is enclosed within square “[ ]” brackets. Other clarifications by Fakhry, including footnotes, are enclosed in round “( )” brackets. Any underlining of words in verses for emphasis is my doing not Fakhry’s.
I hope that Majid will forgive me if I have use in my writing the more familiar Koran instead of Qur’an as he does.
On rare occasions, you will find italicized bracketed comments within a verse. These are the author’s.
At the beginning of twenty surahs, following the invocation In the Name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful, are written a letter or a group of letters of the alphabet e.g. Alif – Lam – Ra. According to some Islamic scholars, these letters are abbreviations or Muqatta'at, of Arabic words, in this instance, the English meaning can be interpreted as “I am Allah, the Most Seeing.” Other Islamic scholars, according to Fakhry, believe they are “secret symbols with which the Angel Gabriel opened the revelation or surah in question.” I have included these letters or groups of letters in quoted verses where they appear.
Where warranted, verses are accompanied by sayings or descriptions of actions of the Prophet called hadiths (Ahadith is often use to indicate the plural form, but not here). Hadiths, of which there are tens of thousands, are hearsay evidence collected approximately 200 years after the Prophet’s passing of what God’s Messenger said and did, including the silent approval of actions done in his presence.
An authentic (sahih) or good (hasan) hadith i.e. one that can be traced to a witness of what the Prophet said or did, or did not do, via of chain of reliable transmitters, is usually considered a legal precedent if it does not contradict the Koran.
In at least 300 revelations, what Allah reveals of his Koran is in the form of telling His Messenger what to say in what are responses or appear to be responses to questions or observations from believers and unbelievers listening to the Prophet deliver the latest batch of revelations delivered by Allah’s intermediary Messenger, the angel Gabriel.
When you encounter the word “say” followed by a colon in a revelation (with no other qualifier such as “they” e.g. “they say” or on a rare occasions “you said”) unless otherwise indicated you may assume it to be Allah telling His Messenger what to say. Examples:
3:98 Say: “O People of the Book, why do you disbelieve in the Revelations of Allah, when Allah witnesses whatever you do?”
3:99 Say: “O People of the Book, why do you debar those who have believed from the Path (the religion) of Allah, seeking to make it crooked, while you are witnesses (while you know it is the right religion)? Allah is not unaware of what you do!”
Is it favored or favoured? Majid Fakhry rendered his excellent translation of the Koran into British English e.g. favoured as opposed to favored.
17:40 Has your Lord, then, favoured you with sons and taken to Himself females from among the angels? Surely, you are uttering a monstrous thing.
Not only have I not changed Fakhry’s translation to conform to American English (that was unthinkable), but I have, in my accompanying narrative, chosen to remain with British English, with an occasional inadvertent foray into Canadian English (yes, there is such a thing). The same for hadiths. In quoting the sayings and recollections of the actions of the Prophet I have chosen to remain with the English of the translators and their often confusing punctuation and grammar.
Sunni Islam considers the hadiths collected by six men ((al-Bukhari, Imam Muslim, At-Tirmidi, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawood and An-Nisa’i) with the al-Bukhari collection being the largest and considered the most authoritative as the “six canonical collections.” Imam Bukhari (d. 870) is said to have gathered over 600,000 hadiths of which 7,275 are considered authentic. The Koran and these “hadith collections” inform every facet of a believer’s existence.
One final editorial observation: all quoted verses have been carefully reviewed to ensure that Fakhry's interpretation has been faithfully rendered. Many verses such as 44:43-44 must be read together to form a complete sentence or thought; therefore do not assume a typographical (typo) or grammatical error if a verse does not end with the expected punctuation.
44:43 The Tree of Zaqqum (the Tree of Bitterness) will certainly be
44:44 The food of the sinner.
Punctuation or lack thereof, is usually a good indication of when verses must be read as a group.
Finally, some of the quoted verses from Fakhry’s interpretation of the Koran have no closing quotes and it has to do with an often misunderstood rule of English grammar.
If the material being quoted is more than one paragraph .i.e. verses, you can get away with only opening quotation marks (“) at the beginning of each verse and only supply closing quote (”) at the end of the complete multiple paragraph quotation.
Three Translations, One Interpretation
Is it a translation or an interpretation?
14:33 And He has made subservient to you the sun and the moon pursuing their courses, and subjected also the night and the day.
Yusuf Ali’s translation closely parallels Fakhry’s, the main difference being “subjected to you” instead “subservient to you” and “also” is enclosed in quotes.
14:33 And He hath made subject to you the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing their courses; and the night and the day hath he (also) made subject to you.
Muhammad Assad uses square brackets to show what he believes Allah means by “subservient”.
14:33 And has made the sun and the moon, both of them constant upon their courses, subservient [to His laws, so that they be of use] to you; and has made the night and the day subservient [to His laws, so that they be of use] to you.
All three rendering of revelation 14:33 could be considered translations, but perhaps not a fourth by M. M. Pickthall, a Christian convert to Islam.
14:33 And maketh the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and hath made of service unto you the night and the day.
All translations consulted in the extensive research for Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice are from recognized Islamic scholars of the Koran.