Sunday, June 10, 2012

Textual nonsense in the Qur'an

In a previous post, I suggested that one of the reasons why I cannot believe that the Qur'an is divinely inspired and that Muhammad was the prophet of God is that, despite claims to utter clarity made in the Revelation, there are many verses in the text that seem to defy any logical interpretation at all.  
For example, can any Muslim or scholar please explain the following verse to me? (I have given multiple translations lest I am accused of cherry-picking the most obtuse...)
YUSUFALI: If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. 
PICKTHAL: And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice. 
SHAKIR: And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.

How does my decision to marry multiple wives (or one of my slave girls/captives) have anything whatsoever to do with my inability or otherwise to deal justly with orphans? (And that's before we start on the idea that God should find it acceptable that I should marry a captive...)

Am I missing something here? Am I being stupid? 

This is supposed to be God's final words of wisdom and advice to us? Our omnipotent, omniscient maker wanted this passed down generations; wanted this learned word-for-word in madrassas; thought this, when chanted by children who have no idea of the meaning, would help them get into Paradise?

And because I question and research, rather than blindly accepting what I'm told, and find that there is no logic to it all,  I'm going to be burned in Hell for eternity. 


  1. Basically this is taken from the chapter called 'Women'. How I interpret this is that Allah is talking about the women that have been widowed because of loss of husbands during the many wars waged. Because women belonged to men, upon the latters demise the women were considered to be orphaned because there was no one left to look after them.

    Hence for this reason, the excess of widows, Allah proclaimed that you can marry up to four, but only if you can look after them equally. But you also had the option of marrying the captives of war if you so desired. Muhammad himself married a few that took his fancy.

  2. I am not interested in convincing you to believe one way or another---but to present a point of view that may differ from yours but exists.

    Knowledge can be used for good or bad---it is upto us to choose.

    As Azim explained, this verse can be understood as an approval of polygamy or as a limitation to polygamy. ---That would be the simplistic understanding and the one favored by some groups of Muslims.

    But a careful reading, as you and Azim have done---inevitably brings up the point that the Quran is talking about a war situation in which there are widows or women (either free or captives) without a living relative (orphans). So why does the Quran advocate marriage of women in this very specific situation? ----because of security.

    Women have a right to security---this does not make them inferior or superior---but in a war situation, women have a right to protection and security and men have a duty to provide it. Again, this does not mean that women are incapable of providing protection and security for themselves or their families. It just means that in this situation, women have the choice and men have the duty.

    War creates a situation where property/assets are damaged. Lives are lost. For those women who have no relatives (orphans) to provide for them financially---and where there is no "social security" system---these women will be left on their own to fend for themselves. Marriage provides them with financial security, social security (a new family network) and physical security. The (Islamic) marriage contract provides women with independent wealth with which they can invest in bussiness or purchase assets that can provide future returns. This does not mean that orphaned women are married against their will---because a marriage contract is not valid unless it is consented upon by both partners.

    Free women have more choices than captive or slave women. By encouraging marriage, these women become free women with independent wealth and their security needs met with.

    Men and women can interpret some of the verses of the Quran differently---where men may see what is convenient to them---women find that the Quran is often egalitarian, kind and gentle with them. This does not mean that only one or the other perspective is correct---it means that the Quran has the ability to speak to both genders and this is something that our society must acknowledge. The Quran also speaks to women and their voices and interpretations must also be a vital part of he body of scholarship and tafsir.

    1. - "The Quran also speaks to women and their voices and interpretations must also be a vital part of he body of scholarship and tafsir."
      - The problem is that the Qur'an speaks to men and tells them how to deal with women. Even the chapter that's called 'Women' in which one would think Allah will speak directly to women, we have this verse being discussed which is telling men to marry up to 4 women but don't marry widows if you can't treat well with her children. How many women Islamic scholars, Tafsir writers, Imams do you know?

      - "Free women have more choices than captive or slave women."
      - You say slave women do not have the choices as free women do? So you condone the Qur'an's support for slavery. A book that legitimises slavery could never be moral or just or and certainly not worth placing at the centre of your life. Also a slave woman would have to become Muslim before they could be given the rights as a free woman.

      - "This does not mean that orphaned women are married against their will---because a marriage contract is not valid unless it is consented upon by both partners."
      - Actually a woman has little say in her marriage as it is normally arranged by her male guardian. Do you think 6 year old Aisha had any say in her marriage? No Muhammad asked her father for her hand. A 6 year old girl could never consent to something a child of that age would knoe nothing about.

      A woman cannot marry herself nor can a mother or any female approve the marriage for another female. A woman must have a wali (male guardian) for the marriage to be permissible. In the event that such a male relative is not available the Islamic ruler, sharia judge or imam will act as the guardian required to approve the marriage.

      Sunan Abu Da'ud 11:2078 The Apostle of Allah said: The marriage of a woman who marries without the consent of her wali (male guardians) is void. The sultan (man in authority) is the guardian of one who has none. If there is cohabitation, she gets her dower for the intercourse her husband has had.

      Sunan Ibn Majah The Prophet said: A woman may not give another woman in marriage, nor may a woman give herself (independently) in marriage.

      Two witnesses must also be present for the marriage to be valid. These must be Muslim and of course, male.

    2. Islam literally means peace. So why war at first place.

    3. No, Jone. Islam means "submission".
      Who told you it meant "peace"?
      Yet more lies ...

  3. Here are some further translations:
    And if you fear that you will not be just in dealing with the orphans, then marry of other women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; (Sher Ali)
    If you fear that you shall not be able to treat the orphans with fairness, then you should not marry the women with orphan children; marry other women of your choice: two, three or four.(F Malik)
    With respect to marrying widows, if you are afraid of not being able to maintain justice with her children, marry another woman of your choice or two or three or four (who have no children)(Muhammad Sarwar)
    If you deem it best for the orphans, you may marry their mothers - you may marry two, three, or four (Rhashad Khalifa)
    So these are Arabic speakers, experts in the Qur'an, who appear to differ in their understanding of the text.
    How is this possible if Allah made it clear?

  4. Well based on these, most likely more modern translations, there is an attempt to clear up the ambiguity in the verse. These explain that the orphans 'are' children from the widows and if you cannot treat well with the children then do not marry the widows. Which on the hold is a good stipulation. But that's basic common sense - no need for a god to tell you that.

    But these translations contradict what KAT alluded to. The marrying of many women has nothing to do with surlpus of wives because of war. As it does say if the widows aren't for you then you can marry your choice of women up to four.

    1. I think the key word here being AMBIGUITY.
      How can an omniscient being be incapable of communicating its/his/her(!) intended meaning CLEARLY?
      The two are evidently incompatible - especially given the claim to clarity in the Qur'an...
      And if any Muslim reading this is tempted to suggest that the very ambiguity of the message encourages us to think, then my reply to you is: it doesn't. It simply encourages confusion, doubt, uncertainty and schism.

    2. Dear Spinoza if you show to someone a mango and ask him/her to tell what is that, if he/she say that is an apple how does this change the meaning of an object(mango) in your hand.?

  5. @ Azim
    You bring up some valid problems about law and tafsir scholarship.

    When men read the Quran---they feel the Quran speaks to them---and this is correct---When women read the Quran, they feel the Quran speaks to them---and this is also correct. Both perspectives are right---though the male perspective (in law and tafsir)has been dispoportionately represented. This is a situation that people can correct today if they so choose.

    Equality---The concept of equality---that every human being is equal to the other---did not exist in the worldview of late antiquity. Yet this is a concept that the Quran strongly advocates. "free women" did not have the type of rights in late antiquity that the Quran provides---nor did they have the recognition as autonomous persons that the Quran gives. The reality at the time of early Islam was that the world consisted of a hierarchy---not equality. The type of equality the Quran advocated was a radical concept that not only took a lot of getting used to---it also did not appeal to everyone and created resistance. The Quranic idea of equality created a neccessity for new formulations of law---the most vexing problem was how to formulate legal policies of slaves. This is because previously slaves were understood as property---but now they also had to be understood as individuals with (God-given) rights.
    Some scholars who have studied the history of Islamic law are Kecia Ali and Dr Aziza Al-Hibri. Their views are interesting---particularly concerning how patriarchial perspectives influenced formation of law.

    Dr. Amina Wadud has also studied the problem of the disconnect between how women understand the Quran (egalitarian, kindly and gentle) with how some Islamic practices do not follow the full spirit of the Quran. Many Muslim women activists today (such as sisters in Islam and other groups) are insisting that Islamic law and practice be in keeping with the concepts of eqality, liberty, and justice that the Quran advocates. This would not be the case if women felt the Quran was unjust or oppressive towards them.

    Some western women who become Muslim after reading the Quran also say they find the Quran speaks to them---that it gives them(women) equality and respect. Such views are scoffed at by western people---but this is wrong. A womans view of the Quran and her participation in scholarship of tafsir and law will create benefit for the whole Ummah....but will also benefit western feminist discourse.

    slavery---it is true that the Quran does not abolish slavery instantaneously but instead advocates the freeing of slaves. (this is in contrast to how it condemns female infanticide). This is because some cultural practices need to be changed drastically due to the demands of justice,---but others need to occur over time due to the same demands of justice. To suddenly free slaves without an adequate economy to provide livelihood or an adequate social security system would have created hardship for the weakest members of society. Without adequate social and legal support due to a lack of understanding of the Quranic concept of equality---would have potentially created problems for the rights of the weakest members of society.

    The Quran encourages human beings to think and reflect in a wholistic, sophisticated and nuanced way. Perhaps this way of thinking may require more effort but it is worth it.

    1. "When men read the Quran---they feel the Quran speaks to them---and this is correct---When women read the Quran, they feel the Quran speaks to them---and this is also correct"
      Yes! Right! Then the Quran must be advocating lesbian marriage when it tells women to "marry women of your choice-two,three or four" LOL

    2. "instead advocates the freeing of slaves"
      It doesn't, it only advocates marrying the female slaves, or having sex without marrying them. If the female slave doesn't wish to marry? She remains a slave. And the male slaves are obviously doomed.

      "The Quran encourages human beings to think and reflect in a wholistic, sophisticated and nuanced way"
      Are you kidding?If you were given the charge of writing a biography of Hitler,I'm sure you could make him look like a saint.
      Let me give a few "nuanced" thinking from the Quran:-
      O you who have believed, indeed the polytheists are unclean, so let them not approach al-Masjid al-Haram after this, their [final] year. And if you fear privation, Allah will enrich you from His bounty if He wills. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Wise.
      Wow! So sophisticated thinking about polytheists!
      Have you heard of a parent who burns his child's skin,makes it regrow and then burn it again? Read Quran 4:56 to know of this father.
      Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. Lo! Allah is ever Mighty, Wise
      Really! Wow! Quran is talking to me! LOL

  6. أرملة= widow
    يتيم = orphan
    If there are two different words in Arabic, why should Allah use the word for orphan when he meant widow?

  7. - "When women read the Quran, they feel the Quran speaks to them---and this is also correct."
    - Read the Qur'an with an open mind. It does not speak to women at all. Allah continually speaks to man even with matters concerning women. KAT you only make statements but never back them up. These are some examples of how the Qur'an speaks:
    2:223 Your wives are as a tilth (tilled earth) unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will.
    4:3 Marry of the women, who seem good to you, two, three or four
    4:34 Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the man to excel the woman. Good women are obedient. As for women from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and beat them.
    24:31 And say to the believing women... that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except those which is apparent....
    33:59 Tell thy wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons;
    2:222 - Women (during menstruation) are a hurt and a pollution: So keep away, and do not approach them....
    2:231 And when you divorce women and they reach their prescribed time,...
    2:221 Do not marry the idolatresses until they believe… and do not give believing women in marriage to idolaters
    2:236 There is no blame on you if you divorce women when you have not touched them

    These are just a minute sample of the tone of the Qur'an. Even on women's issues such as menstruation, Allah speaks to men. And on that topic in a very derogatory manner causing scorn towards the fairer sex.

    You can quote as many Muslim women as you like who try to bring Islam into the 21st century, but the facts belie the hopes.

  8. - It is true that the Quran does not abolish slavery instantaneously but instead advocates the freeing of slaves
    - What do you mean not instantaneously? The Qur'an and Hadiths unequivocally justify slavery, stipulates the uses of slaves, their rights and even the status of their descendants. Slavery continued in the Islamic world well into the 20th century until international pressures brought an end to mass slavery.

    Muhammad had many slaves and never even set an example by refraining from owning them requesting the rightly guided disciples to also set an example.

    According to Muhammad, slavery is to continue until the end of time. There is supposedly no abolition of slavery in Muhammad's vision of the future. His sign of the coming of the last day involves a slave giving birth to one who would become her master, as narrated in Sahih Bukhari 2:47 One day while the Prophet was sitting in the company of some people, Gabriel came and asked, "When will the Hour be established?" Allah's Apostle replied, "The answerer has no better knowledge than the questioner. But I will inform you about its portents: 1) When a slave gives birth to her master, 2)...."

    You say Islam advocates the freeing of slaves. The rewards for one freeing a Muslim slave are quite interesting: Bukhari 79:706 The Prophet said, "If somebody frees a Muslim slave, Allah will save from the Fire every part of his body for freeing the corresponding parts of the slave's body, even his private parts will be saved from the Fire because of freeing the slave's private parts."

    Only if a slave became Muslim he could be freed. The act brought merit to the owner who was guaranteed that their private parts would not be burnt in the fire. By freeing slaves who had converted to Islam, Muhammad ensured growth of his ummah. This did not mean a end to slavery because slaves were easy to replace from the constant expeditions conducted.

    Muhammad took slaves, he traded slaves, he sold slaves and encouraged slavery. He was able to prohibit alcohol, pork and adultery, yet he vigorously promoted slavery. He used and abused fellow humans and allowed it to continue for 1300 years, yet Muslims consider him the best example of a human being.

    Kat, some people want to make Islam into what they morally think is right, ignoring what is actually written or the deeds of Muhammad. It seems you defend Islam, but not based on scripture or history but based on what you want it to be.

    1. Dear Mr Azim,
      Thank you for these comments.
      You have a very impressive knowledge of the Qur'an which should make all readers reflect on their assumptions and prejudices.

    2. Thanks for the thumbs up. But we really have to thank Spinoza for the platform and the initiative to discuss.

      As someone who was compelled to learn Qur'an at an early age I was always only geared to see the good parts. Whereas the difficult areas were explained away and with faith it was easy to accept the myriad of apologies.

      But after doubts entered and blinkers were removed, I read Qur'an and Sunnah with a rational and open mind from a humanistic viewpoint. Then it was made clear the human and quite intolerant origins of the scriptures.

      If only others can be spurred on to get out of the shackles of blind faith and not waste life cooped up in these myopic ideologies.

    3. I am also like you Azim. Born in devout Muslim, and study Quran, Fiqh, etc.

      I only taught the good thing, and the bad thing is either evaded, or explained away with faith.

      But now I see it with clear eyes and mind.

      This site is very useful. Spiroza you did a great job because you try to discuss it from both sides, and not spread hatred. You try to encourage people to think for themselves.

  9. @Azim
    "I read Qur'an and Sunnah with a rational and open mind from a humanistic viewpoint" --- I am glad you have done so---If you have found the Quran/Islam lacking in spirituality then there are plenty of other ways to God. I have also used my intellect and rationality and arrived at a very different conclusion. I find wisdom and spirituality in Islam. That is not to say that there is no wisdom or spirituality in other religions....I just find that I prefer Islam---it suits me. But I am also willing to recognize that it is not for everyone....perhaps you can find it in yourself to also acknowledge those who prefer religion/spirituality.

    "2:223 Your wives are as a tilth (tilled earth) unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will"
    I generally prefer the tafsir by Yusuf Ali so I am writing with this in mind.....
    Verse 2:222 begins with--"They ask thee concerning women's courses."....Obviously the questioners here are men since women would already know what there is to know about the subject. Verse 2:223 then goes on to encourage MEN to have sexual intimacy with their wives with consideration, respect and God-awareness (taqwa)---(tafsir Yusuf ali) and verses 2:224/5 explains verse 2:223 by telling MEN not to take (thoughtless) oaths that harm relationships (again, the tafsir of Yusuf ali explains that during this time men often took oaths of abstinance, which caused misunderstanding or friction in marriage)
    in other words----verse 222 starts off the conversation by answering the question about sexual intimacy during mensturation which is a "hurt and a pollution" (a time when women are physically sensitive and it is also messy) and therefore to abstain from sexual intimacy during this time. but to resume normal intimate relations afterwards and not abstain from them thoughtlessly.

    Sexual intimacy is a blessing that creates strong marital bonds and is of benefit to both men and women. Husbands are encouraged not to refuse their wives but the same advice does not apply to the wives---who may refuse their husbands when inconvenient (--such as during menstruation). v 226 onwards give an exception to this general rule in case of seperation/divorce.

    All of the rest of the verses you have given can be put in context.....but I won't put in the effort....

    1. "same advice does not apply to the wives---who may refuse their husbands when inconvenient"
      That's a lie.
      There's no verse in the Quran that says a woman may refuse her husband's demand for sex.

  10. KAT, are you saying that men, before Islam did not know the intricacies of menstruation that they had to ask Muhammad who had to get revelation from god? I would have thought god had more important things to tell humans about than refraining from sex when a woman is so-called polluted.

    Anyway the next verse goes on to tell men that their wives are their land to go onto when and how they wish. It has nothing to do with men’s abstinence. This is the tafsir from the most renowned tafsir scholar, Ibn Kathir:

    "( go to your tilth, when or how you will,) meaning, wherever you wish from the front or from behind, as long as sex takes place in one valve (the female sexual organ)..."

    So Allah is telling men to have sex with their wives either from the front or the back, whenever they wish. And from hadiths we learn that this was because the Ansari women in Medinah, and the converted Jews thought it taboo to have sex from behind. The Quraysh men (from Mecca) were used to having sex from the back, but their new wives in Medina did not allow it. Hence they went to Muhammad, asked about it and then Allah conveniently revealed this verse permitting men to have sex with their wives how they will.

    So no concern for what the woman wants. God is telling men how to have sex with women, enjoy them as you wish from front or back and whenever you wish whether she wants it or not. When you read stuff like this you realise not only how misogynistic Islam is but how manmade it is.

    That is why Islamic scholars claim there is no such thing as rape of a wife by her husband. A wife cannot claim rape under sharia law. Because the husband has every right to have sex with her whenever and however he wishes. Doctrines like this causes so much suffering for Muslim women to this very day even in Western societies.

    So KAT this has nothing to do with men abstaining from sex and not satisfying their wives otherwise it would not have stated ‘go to your tilth when you will’. If it was to do with men abstaining from sex, the verse would have been much better written as follows:

    "Men do not neglect your wives and women please your husbands but respect each other’s desires, for you are both equals in marriage which must be grounded in love and respect."

    So you see I have met the Qur'an challenge by vastly improving on it for if it was written as above, you and modern day scholars like Yusuf Ali, would not have to devise apologies to defend it.

    1. Pertinent and succinct. Despite Kat's heroic efforts, I really cannot see how one can argue against the overwhelming evidence that the Qur'an was written by men (and mostly for men).

  11. "Am I missing something here? Am I being stupid?" Yes, knowledge on the subject. :)

  12. "...there are many verses in the text that seem to defy any logical interpretation at all." Logic according to... Spinoza? All you are constantly regurgating on your site is that it's not what you think it should be therefore how could it be Divine? Uh? :)

    "And because I question and research, rather than blindly accepting what I'm told, and find that there is no logic to it all, I'm going to be burned in Hell for eternity." Are you the only one that questions and researches? Heaven forbid, that anyone religious does any kind of research and questions. My experience of Islam is that nothing has challenged me more to research and question, certainly not the education system I went through. :)

    "For example, can any Muslim or scholar please explain the following verse to me?" Why don't you go and find one and ask? They won't bite. :)

    Commentary on 4:3 -
    "Notice the conditional clause about orphans, introducing the rules about marriage. This reminds us of the immediate occasion of the promulgation of this verse. It was after (battle of) Uhud, when the Muslim community was left with many orphans and widows, and some captives of war. Their treatment was to be governed by principles of the greatest humanity and equity. The occasion is past, but the principles remain. Marry the orphans if you are quite sure that you will in that way protect their interests and their property, with perfect justice to them and to your own dependents if you have any. If not, make other arrangements for the orphans."

    1. My problem with "religious experts" is that they find what they expect/hope to find.
      What interest is there for me to lie and misinterpret on purpose? After all, if the Qur'an really is the word of God, then why would I ignore it?
      If someone offers me a billion pounds if I just believe then I'm going to do my upmost to try and believe. The Qur'an offers me much more than that, doesn't it? So why should I not try to believe?
      On the other hand, what is there in it for believers to interpret it ...generously,you ask.
      Well,having made a decision to follow the way of life or being brought up in a culture in which it is accepted as normal - one has invested a huge amount of time and emotion on the assumption that praying 5 times a day, not drinking, going to Mecca, etc etc (in other words FAITH) is the most important thing in life)
      I stand to gain everything by accepting Islam. You stand to lose everything by denying it.
      It is no wonder you will fight against the evidence (as I see it) that suggests the Qur'an is man made.
      Whereas logic dictates I should try my utmost to believe.
      So I look for evidence that you're right. And everywhere..EVERYWHERE, I find the evidence pointing the other way. Whether it's unlikely promises of a heaven where people get to shag 80 ft tall rejuvenating virgins with see-though legs, threats of hell so sadistic that to say they are made by a merciful God is laughable, exhortations to bully the LGBT community, orders to kill the unbelievers, handy revelations made to the Prophet that allowed him to keep 1/5th of the booty from caravan raids and to marry his son-in-law's wife (and don't forget this man is the best man that has ever lived!) etc etc.
      Enough already...

  13. this link explains the verse with authentic sources that how this verse is talking about Mahr not JUSTICE as we see

  14. plz read the following blog for divinity of quran:

  15. There is no logical reason to believe in God, magic, supernatural entities or any book as 'inspired'. People only do so because of intellectual laziness and cultural inertia. Though, in defense of supernatural religion, peoples' political opinions (all across the so-called 'spectrum') are equally nonsensical, without basis and can only be rationalized by flagrant denialism and herd-think.

  16. The Quran is not open to discussion or interpretation unless one is a Islamic scholar. If god did not want it he would not have revealed it to his prophet (PBUH). Humans are not expected to have the wisdom of god to fully understand his teachings. But when you submit yourself to Allah you will begin to understand the truth and all doubts will get cleared. Hope mine will some day ! Muslims cannot be stereotyped. Muslims also have question, we have doubts, maybe we do not discuss it openly with other faiths, but in the end all are searching for the truth.