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What the Koran Really Says Hardcover – October 1, 2002

3.6 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"For the professional Islamicist, it is enormously convenient to have all these articles assembled together in a single work. For anyone interested in the Koran, it will be a boon to understanding Islam. …robustly critical scholarship…."
-Times Literary Supplement

"Like Ibn Warraq's earlier (and extraordinary) Why I Am Not a Muslim, this book offers a perspective on Islam and the Koran which demands a wider reading and a wider debate , and not just in the Christian and secular West.... [An] excellent book on a sensitive and under-explored subject."
-Fortean Times

From the Inside Flap

Islam has worldwide influence, and even in the United States is experiencing a period of unprecedented growth. Islam and its sacred book, the Koran, have been the subject of voluminous commentary and, recently, great popular interest; yet it has rarely received the kind of ojective critical scrutiny that has been applied to the texts of the Bible for more than a century.

Though some scholars of note have raised crucial questions about the authenticity and reliability of the Koran and Muslim tradition, Koranic studies by and large have failed to take advantage of critical skeptical methodologies. Today the majority of interpreters of Islam's sacred text appear content to lie in the Procrustean bed prepared by Muslim tradition more than a thousand years ago.

To correct this neglect of objective historical scholarship, Ibn Warraq has assembled this excellent collection of critical commentaries on the Koran published by noted scholars from the beginning of the twentieth century to recent times. These important studies, as well as his own lengthy introduction, show that little about the text of the Koran can be taken at face value. Among the fascinating topics discussed is evidence that early Muslims did not understand Muhammad's original revelation, that the ninth-century explosion of literary activity was designed to organize and make sense of an often incoherent text, and that many of the traditions surrounding Muhammad's life were fabricated long after his death in an attempt to give meaning to the Koran. Also of interest are suggestions that Coptic and other Christian sources heavily influenced much of the text and that some passages even reflect an Essenian background reaching back to the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Complete with a glossary of Arabic terms and appendices on Semitic languages and scripts, this outstanding volume is a welcome resource for interested lay readers and scholars alike.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 782 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Edition edition (October 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157392945X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573929455
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #926,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy W. Dunkin on November 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Anyone familiar with Ibn Warraq's books readily knows why he is pretty much universally reviled by Muslim polemicists (he has several death fatwas outstanding against him - hence his use of a pseudonym for publishing). This book is no different. In it, Ibn Warraq presents a large collection of articles from scholars who spent their lives investigating the Qur'an and its history. This, in and of itself, will cause most Muslims and "pro-Islam" people in the West to view this book as a "hostile" source. Any collection of articles that deconstruct the Qur'an and which demonstrate flaws, imperfections, and inconsistencies in the Qur'an will be viewed as such.

Bad point: Much of the information in the book is very dated. We're talking about information first presented by the likes of Noldeke, Wellhausen, and Goldziher in the early 20th century.

Good point: Much of this information is still relevant today, if only because of the relative paucity of scholars who are actually willing to critically examine Islam without slavishly seeking to substantiate the Islamic party line. Many of the linguistic arguments still have not been satisfactorily answered by Muslims or Westerners to this day (i.e. rebuttals based on circular reasoning such as relying upon the traditional Islamic view of the Qur'an to SUBSTANTIATE the traditional Islamic view of the Qur'an don't count).

If Muslims think that the essays in Ibn Warraq's book are "hostile", then they should acquaint themselves with the works of more modern researchers from the last thirty years like Crone, Cook, Nevo, Wansbraugh, etc. These and other investigators are even more "hostile" if only because they have a greater base of archaeological, numismatic, epigraphic, etc.
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This book is the most difficult I have as yet attempted to read on the topic of Islam. The introduction by Warraq suggests it will be an exposition about the history and structure of the Koran, like those available for general readers about the Bible. What we get instead from Warraq is the unvarnished conversation of scholars with one another. Only Warraq himself attempts to address the general reader.

The book is organized as an anthology, with many entries that read like scholarly papers written for The Society of Biblical Literature. Some of the material requires an acquaintance with classical Arabic, and makes references to loan words from Hebrew, Syriac, and other aancient Semetic languages.

I would recommend that the general reader approach the book by reading Warraq's "Introduction," first, and then skip over to the critical concluding essay by Ibn Rawandi (Section 8.3). (Ibn Rawandi is the pseudonym of another Islamic dissenter like Ibn Warraq. Both these names are derived from 8th and 9th Century Islamic dissenters described in Chapter 10 of Warraq's "Why I Am Not A Muslim.")

After reading Rawandi's critical essay, one should then go back and read (or re-read) the materials to which Rawandi refers. Only then should the naive reader attempt to follow the arguments concerning loan-words found in the Koran from Syriac, Ebionite-Christianity, and other ancient sources.

Why is this all so hard to unravel? It appears to me that the state of critical scholarship about the Koran is much less well developed than is scholarship about the Bible. The attempt to explain the redundancies and contradictions in the Koran is about as well developed today as was Biblical scholarship in the last quarter of the 19th Century.
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This book is a compendium of many well researched papers written in the last century and before. It is a very scholarly book, and not something for the casual reader, which makes it far too detailed for someone not familiar with the languages of the Middle East. It is easy to see why Islamists hate this book since it points out that over 20% of the Koran is indecipherable to even most Islamic scholars. It also shows the probable origins of the Koran from other material and writings available before Mohammed heard the voices which made him a prophet in the minds of some. While there are some interesting tidbits, such as Christoph Luxemberg's theory that the Islamic promise of sexual bliss with numerous virgins at every believer's disposal in the afterlife is probably a misinterpretation of the Syriac word for "white raisins" instead of doe-eyed virgins, this is a tedious book for the regular reader. While I'm sure Luxemberg's theory will not diminish the supply of jihaadist lunatics, it does point out that a religion which condemns to death scholars who try to examine the basic document of this faith is a very scary threat to civilization all over the globe. The book also tells the stories of outrageous threats against some of those so condemned. Ibn Warraq (a pseudonym for a former Muslim who has been condemned to death by fatwas issued by mullahs of the "religion of peace" has done a great job of compiling these papers. I also got to learn that his pseudonym means "son of a stationer (or bookseller)"
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