A critical reply to Woodworth's review of the Koran is featured after the essay. Fred's rejoinder is featured after that. As far as I know, this is the only place in the entire porn-drenched world of the 'Net where this review is available. For the record: I do not agree with Fred on many things - but he often has a point, stated well, and with an energy lacking in most left-libertarian discourse. If interested in The Match!, the magazine in which this piece appeared, write to the publication at: The Match!, PO Box 3012, Tucson, AZ 85702 The Match! will probably never be available on the Internet. Subscriptions are technically free but I heavily encourage you to donate money if you're interested. Thanks to J. for help with this. - B.
The KoranReviewed by Fred Woodworth
(from The Match!, No. 97, Winter 2001-2002)
All but unknown in the West is the fact that, like several modern Christian evangelists, Mohammed (c. 570-632), the founder of the religion known as Islam, once found himself embroiled in a sexual scandal. One of his nine wives, Hafsah, caught him in the act with a slave-girl. Hafsah had evidently known something about his liaison earlier, and had extracted from the Prophet his promise to end the relationship - which, of course, he didn't carry out. When Hafsah, furious at the thought that she might be a mere tenth instead of a ninth of his attentions, suspiciously checked up and had her worst fears confirmed, the situation blew up into a quarrel involving another wife, A'ishah.
Coming to Mohammed's rescue, Allah dictated (through Mohammed, of course) another chapter of the Koran - generally number 66, entitled "Prohibition." Here God attacks the wives, and blusters to them that: "If you two turn to God in repentance (for your hearts have sinned), you shall be pardoned; but if you conspire against him, know that God is his protector."
God also remarks - rather petulantly, I thought, that Hafsah and A'ishah had better watch out because they can be replaced: "It may well be that, if he divorce you, his Lord will give him in your place better wives than yourselves, submissive to God and full of faith, devout, penitent, obedient, and given to fasting."
Already, back in chapter 33 God had issued a bunch of special dispensations for The Prophet, specifically making it lawful for him (just him) to have intercourse with a number of women who would ordinarily be off-limits:
"Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave-girls whom God has given you as booty; the daughters of your paternal and maternal uncles and of your paternal and maternal aunts... and any believing womn who gives herself to the Prophet... This privilege is yours alone, being granted to no other believer."
In another (extremely short) chapter - number 111, as ever "In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful," the Prophet gets word that his uncle, with whom he's had a dispute (the uncle, Abu-Lahab, apparently thought the Prophet was making it all up), is now under a curse. The entire text of chapter 111 reads:
"May the hands of Abu-Lahab perish. May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope around her neck!"
. . . . .
The first time I read the Koran was when I was in high-school, now quite some years ago. Recently it seemed appropriate to do so again, so I spent a few evenings once more with the Recitation (literal meaning of "Koran"), the governing volume of the millions of persons who live within the sphere of Islam, a religion whose name means "submission."
Unlike the Bible, you can get through the entire Koran in a reasonable amount of time, as it is only about the length of a moderate-sized novel - 435 pages in the translation I recently read (N. J. Dawood's 1956 work, revised in 1974). A few persons, incidentally, have claimed to have similarly read the Bible straight through, but one needs to be very skeptical of such boasts, since a little reflection (and actual experiment) will show how unlikely that is. Texts of this sort attract followers and rabid fanatics for this very reason, that they are so impenetrable in their dense mass. Not having read it and therefore feeling guilty about the failure to do so must constitute a powerful impulse to leap to the defense of things these followers do not actually know. At least with the Koran, comprehending the whole thing is a relatively trivial exercise.
Like the Book of Mormon, the Koran purports to be the further chronicles of what God wants you to do. It recognizes the existence of the Bible or Scriptures and Torah, and states as its reason for being, that the Christians and Jews have too far split into sects and had fallen away from proper observance of "God's" laws. Also like the Book of Mormon, this one is supposedly the transcript of a tablet preserved in heaven.
Allah didn't dictate the whole thing at once, though; more chapters came through as situations (such as Hafsah's investigative surveillance) made them necessary. There are 114 of these, generally arranged by length, with the shortest last. The longer chapters at the beginning of this arbitrary (and non-chronological) arrangement drag rather badly; Mohammed saves his deadliest rantings for the somewhat shorter ones.
However, all chapters have in common the same type of basic presentation, which is comprised of three ingredients: stories, commands, and threats. Especially threats. All float and bubble to the surface again and again in a broth of astounding amounts of repetition.
For example, in one chapter, no. 55, which is something less than three pages long, the interrogation, "Which of your Lord's blessings would you deny?" is repeated 31 times, many of these being complete non sequitirs, such as "Flames of fire shall be lashed at you, and molten brass. Which of your Lord's blessings would you deny?" Well, for a start, I'd want to deny that one. Other repetitions include the story of Noah with certain embellishments, about six or eight times, Pharaoh and Moses, maybe ten, Abraham, Joseph, et alia, many more; Jonah, etc. and on and on here and there through the book.
Commands go forward at a blinding rate, thick and fast, too; and more about those in a moment, but first this word from the First Islamic Bank of Sadistic Threats: Mohammed can hardly write two consecutive paragraphs without at least one fairly horrifying promise that infidels, unbelievers, apostates, "People of the Book" (Christ-worshippers), fornicators and others are going to burn in hell, drink boiling water, eat putrid filth for all eternity, have melted metal poured all over them, roast their skins in blazing flame and then be provided immediately with more skin by his eminence, The Compassionate, the Merciful, so that they can be burned some more, and so forth. I had wanted to count the number of threats, but bogged down in what seemed like a never-ending mire, so was forced to resort to a statistical method. By this I compute the total to be around 1200 to 1500, including such ones as these:
"Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. Scalding water shall be poured upon their heads, melting their skins and that which is in their bellies. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.Whenever, in their torment, they try to escape, back they shall be dragged, and will be told, 'Taste the torment!!'"
"Those who deny our revelations we will burn inf ire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than we shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge."
Atheists are to be crucified or else have their hands and feet cut off.
Incidentally, chapter 74 contains an interesting point: "Would that you knew what the Fire is like! It leaves nothing, it spares no one; it burns the skins of men. It is guarded by nineteen keepers."
. . . . . .
Commands a person would have to obey in order to avoid these demented tanning sessions range from lawful eating to lawful sexual practices to treating orphans properly. Slavery is permitted, in fact definitely cited approvingly, and a master is allowed to compel his slave-girl to have intercourse with him; but he is not allowed to prostitute her for money to others.
More commands order the faithful not to be friends with Christians or anybody else who is not Islamic, and especially not with unbelievers. The arguments of unbelievers should not be listened to. Their cities should be destroyed.
Women are not addressed in the Koran; the reader is explicitly and implicitly male. Women are indeed spoken of, but not to, and they are stated to be inferior and subservient. Girl infants are not lawful to kill, but otherwise it is definitely to be mourned when one is born instead of a son.
Conception is stated (several times) to take place when ejaculated semen turns into a clot of blood that Allah makes into a human being inside the mere vessel, the female. Other scientific thought has the sky as an actual dome, perfect as there are no cracks. The far western setting place of the sun is a pool of mud.
Mohammed thinks there are two seas on the planet, and lightning is a sign from God.
Sometimes he purrs and chuckles: "How many cities have we laid in ruin! In the night our scourge fell upon them, or at midday when they were drowsing."
Sometimes he is apocalyptic: "On that day there shall be faces veiled with darkness, covered with dust. These shall be the faces of the wicked and the unbelieving."
But always he is monstrous and insane. His recitation is one of gross, turgid evil, and the impact of his "Koran" upon Arab culture and the world has been profoundly, unrelievedly bad.
It is not accurate to speak of "fundamentalist Islam"; there is either the Islam that is founded upon this book, the Koran, or there is something else - some other religion - which has nothing to do with this book at all. In any case, THIS recitation, by Mohammed, of "God's" alleged speeches and edicts, leaves absolutely no room for any latitude, any "interpretation," any individual opinions at all. It eradicates, indeed, any trace of free will and only proffers to male fanatics several hundred paragraphs cajoling them to follow orders so that after death they will live endlessly in "gardens watered by running streams" where dark-eyed, explicitly "high bosomed" "virgins" will have sexual relations with them throughout infinity on green silken cushions and lush carpets. The repetition constitutes a pretty good technqiue of hypnosis; the threats drive home the consequences of disobedience, and the commands are those of an ignorant, insane priesthood operating as the heirs to a lunatic's pretensions to speak for a nonexistent "god."
We have witnessed the result.
(This response appeared in the Summer, 2002, issue of The Match!)
Dear Fred: I have a few observations about your remarks about Islam. First, the Dawood translation is not among the better translations of the Koran. Second, Islam is obviously authoritarian, but a good case can be made for Christianity having caused more strife and destruction in the world than Islam ever did. Islam never had a thousand years of the Inquisition, an index of forbidden books, etc., etc.
Thirdly, the current world problems are not the fault of Islam. The Muslim world was and to a lesser degree still is subjected to Western capitalist colonialism. The USA still maintains its power on the heartland of the Middle East - that is, Israel. Islamic fundamentalism, or whatever you want to call it - arises out of a consequent deep resentment and feeling of alienation by people in this tradition who in searching for relief from this resentment and alienation look into their own tradition for answers. And one can say they arrive at distorted views of that tradition.
There IS a "liberal" tradition amongst Muslims, believe it or not, and as for the Koran, it contains all kinds of contradictory ideas. Like the Bible one can delve into it and extract what suits one.
Finally, as I pointed out in my book, People Without Government, there have been Muslim cultures which have been at least quasi-anarchic, e.g., the Berbers. Also see my article in The Raven, no. 19, 1992 on the Egyptian village.Harold Barclay,
Vernon, British Columbia
As to the Dawood translation of the Koran which I reviewed, I can't imagine how the quality of the English version has anything to do with what I was reviewing, which was the meaning of the text. If you want to tell me that Mr. Dawood got it so ass-backwards that a typical passage like: All you non-Muslims: Allah is going to force-feed you boiling asphalt and beat you with red-hot baseball bats for all eternity, while he laughs uproariously, because, yea, he is the wise, the all-merciful, and the infinitely compassionate, well, I'll need to see some evidence, but until I do I am going to figure that what I read was substantially what the Islamic fanatics themselves read and believe.
And THAT is, I reiterate, a horror. It is psychotic, self-serving lies invented by a complete madman (Mohammed), and believed by a fanatical batch of near-zombies who would gladly kill you and me and every other man, woman and child on the planet who doesn't kowtow to their bearded patriarchal mullahs.
Whether Christianity is that bad or not is a separate matter, one that has nothing to do with the question of whether Islam is monstrously insane and dangerous. Yes, in point of fact, Christianity is pretty awful, too, but I really do not think it can come up to the sheer sadistic frenzy of Islam. Christianity has done more damage only because it has been around for 600 years longer. But for sheer density of bloodthirsty howling, the Koran has the Bible beat with almost every single one of its brain-fevered and fantastically torture-loving chapters.
Western capitalist colonialism isn't the cause of Islamic terrorism. What they're doing in western countries now, these maniacs have been doing to their own countrymen for centuries: making them live in fear. Islam does indeed have lists of banned books; somebody in saudi Arabia once sent me a list of stuff you were prohibited from accessing by computer, and as everybody knows, the islamic religious dictators have managed to outlaw music, movies, and even pictures of human beings. None of this arises from any "distorted" version of their religious tradition; it arises because that IS their religion.
To talk about a liberal form of Islam seems, to me, utterly fantastic. If someone is carrying around a book that repeatedly states: Anyone carrying this book is herewith commanded to murder anybody who rejects the authority of this book over his life, then you have an explosive situation that is bound to wreak havoc again and again. The kind of liberalization spoken of is nothing more than wishful thinking because it expects people to ignore forever what is plain to see in a book that they will continue to be taught is holy. (This is why Christianity, despite CENTURIES of liberalization, still spews up dangerous fanatics, and will keep doing so until nobody believes in the nonsensical Bible anymore.)
Islam is a theocracy. I've never lived in any Egyptian village, nor among the Berbers, but I know with mathematical certainty that when a people are living in a theocracy, they are not in freedom.