Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Allah's QC 1.0: Je Suis Charlie

When fanatics of any faith engage in hateful activities in the name of their religion, observers everywhere foolishly assert that the fanatics are misinterpreting their holy books. There is an obvious fact that goes unnoticed: these are books of holy savagery; to get a moderate, liberal message from them, it is absolutely essential to discard the simple face value of the words in the books. In this series I will talk about the words in the Qur'an. We will see where it lies on the continuum between the foundation for a religion of peace, and a tool to be used by hateful people to justify their hatefulness. In this video, a brief introduction to Muhammad and the Qur'an.

Muhammad was born in the latter half of the sixth century, that is, about 500 years after the Christian Gospels were written. He was orphaned while still a kid, and was raised by a relative. When he was about 40 years old, he started claiming that the angel Gabriel was delivering messages from God, which Muhammad was commanded to recite to his fellows. In Muhammad's mind, this is the same god as is worshiped by Jews and Christians--referred to as Allah, but Allah is a title, similar to the English word God, not an actual name. Muhammad appropriates the books of Moses, the Jewish prophets, and the Gospels as part of his religious heritage, liberally embellishing them with the mythology of his own culture.

Muhammad never learned to read or write, so the holy books of Islam were written by his followers.
His sayings have been divided into two categories. The first category includes all the sayings that were delivered by the angel, God's words recited verbatim. These make up the Qur'an. The second category includes both Muhammad's inspired paraphrases of God's message, and his other sayings that weren't inspired but were still considered edifying. This second category is the basis for the writings known as the Hadith. I'll address the Hadith in a future series.

The Qur'an is organized into 114 chapters, called suras. Some of these are lengthy stories; others are short poems. Strangely, the suras are not in chronological order, but instead are ordered from the longest to the shortest. Or perhaps not so strangely: the Christian New Testament is also not in chronological order. From a doctrinal standpoint, the order of the New Testament is irrelevant. The order of the Qur'an is very important: in sura #2, the 87th sura to come down from heaven, God introduces the idea of abrogation, which basically means that he reserves the right to change his mind. So doctrine set down in later sayings overrides any contradictory doctrine in earlier sayings.

There is very little in the Qur'an to provide instruction on how we should live our lives. To Muhammad's credit, he mentions charity quite often, and it's no surprise that his God has a soft spot for orphans. The primary message of the Qur'an is that Muhammad is God's mouthpiece, and by the way, you should obey God (which is almost always equated with obeying Muhammad). If you don't believe that Muhammad's message comes from God, you will go to hell. Muhammad's constant whining about people who won't believe that he's tight with God is a dominant theme.

When I first read the Qur'an, I was struck by how human Muhammad seems as compared to Jesus. Jesus is just a psycho with almost no personality, exactly the kind of character one would expect from a bunch of different oral traditions being mashed together. Muhammad is a psycho, but he is also recognizably a human being: hedonistic, hypocritical, shortsighted and small-minded, laughably thin-skinned and petty, a goofy Homer Simpson type whose renown serves as a reminder that in the world of humans, personal charisma counts for far more than substance. Now he is revered by many, just as Jesus is revered: either by people who have never read the material, or who ignore its face value in favor of interpretations more palatable to modern sensibilities.

Or bigots seeking justification for their hatred.

That's 1.0. Thanks for watching.

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