26th June 2009
The founding document of Islam is the group of writings collected in the Koran. A devout Muslim believes the Koran to be the perfect, immutable, and eternal word of Allah as dictated to the prophet Mohammed and memorized or written down by the companions of the Prophet. The book is complete, every word in it is true, and nothing in it has been altered since it was first transcribed 1400 years ago.
That’s the traditional view of the core Islamic scriptures, and woe betide any Muslim who questions it. Scholars who attempted to research the origins of the Koran and examine its historical variants have been driven out of Pakistan, Egypt, and other Muslim countries, and have been forced to seek refuge in the academic cloisters of the infidel West.
“The Koran claims for itself that it is ‘mubeen,’ or ‘clear,’“ [Puin] says. “But if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn’t make sense. Many Muslims — and Orientalists — will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible — if it can’t even be understood in Arabic — then it’s not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not — as even speakers of Arabic will tell you — there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on.”
In the context of 21st-century Salafist fundamentalism, criticism and analysis of the Koran can cost a scholar his life. The example of Salman Rushdie — who was, after all, only an amateur critic of Islamic scripture — did not go unnoticed.