Monday, July 17, 2017

Note to self (re: the Koran)

In the helpful website "YAQUB" (aka, "Yet Another Qur'an Browser"), there are 10 translations of the Koran into English, 6 by Muslims, 4 by non-Muslim Western scholars.

The latter four include A.J. Arberry, who did his translation in the 1950s.  (If this Muslim in this short video is correct about his praise of Arberry as "the first non-Muslim" to give the Koran a fair shake, we have good reason to be suspicious of Arberry's intellectual freedom from PC MC.)

Next, Edward Henry Palmer, a 19th century British linguist and Arabist trained at Cambridge.

In addition to Palmer, we have John Medows Rodwell, another 19th century British Cambrdige fellow, and scholar of Islam.

Finally, the fourth on the list is George Sale, an 18th century British scholar of Eastern and ancient languages.

I recently noted that of all the 10 translations of Koran verse 2:191, the one by Sale is the only one that captures the point brought out by the tafsir (exegesis) of that verse by Ibn Kathir, a Muslim scholar of the 14th century whom Wikipedia informs us is "a highly influential Sunni scholar of the Shaf'i'i school" (the Shafi'i school being one of the four mainstream schools of Sunni Islam, the Islam of over 85% of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims).

Sale's rendering is thus:

And kill them wherever ye find them, and turn them out of that whereof they have dispossessed you, for temptation [to idolatry] is more grievous than slaughter: Yet fight not against them in the holy temple, until they attack you therein; but if they attack you, slay them [there]. This shall be the reward of the infidels. 

Note that Sale renders the Arabic word "Al-Fitna" as  temptation [to idolatry].  This is the most apt rendering of that word; a decidedly religious cast to that category of crime.  Yet the other nine translators effectively obfuscate this with their consensus of various renderings that accent a political, as opposed to a religious, tonality to the word:

Pickthall:  "persecution is worse than slaughter"

Yusuf Ali: "tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter"

Shakir: "persecution is severer than slaughter"

Sher Ali: "persecution is worst [sic] than slaying"

Khalifa: "Oppression is worse than murder"

Arberry: "persecution is more grievous than slaying"

Palmer: "sedition is worse than slaughter"

Rodwell: "civil discord is worse than carnage".

[meanwhile, Hilali-Khan, two 20th century Muslim guys who together translated the Koran, choose to leave the word untranslated:  "And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing."]

As I noted above, George Sale is the only translator of that list who captures the point brought out by the tafsir (exegesis) of that verse by Ibn Kathir, a 14th-century Muslim scholar.  This is not to say that the renderings of the other translators are wrong; for it is not incorrect to say that fitnah is tantamount to "tumult", "civil discord" and "oppression" etc. -- in sum, to "disorder in the land". But the crucial point to understand is the Islamic perspective that sees the thought crime of "idolatry" and related forms of blasphemy as the most glaring expression and source of such "discord" and "tumult".

As Kathir is working out his exegesis (relying not only on the Koranic text, but also on the hadiths of Mohammed), going from verse to verse as he approaches verse 191, he seems to make a big deal out of how the principle at work there is that Muslims should not fight & kill except when attacked first.  Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  That's the usual response from a Muslim apologist (and often of their Useful Idiots in the West) whenever someone in a discussion or debate points out the injunctions to violence in the Koran.

Now, in doing so, Ibn Kathir is merely spelling out what the Koran says up to the point of verse 191 (supplemented by various hadiths).  He even goes so far as to disagree with certain scholars who argue that "the first Ayah about fighting that was revealed in Al-Madinah [whereby Mohammed] used to fight only those who fought him and avoid non-combatants" was abrogated by the later, infamous "Verse of the Sword" (9:5):   "then kill them wherever you find them".  By contrast, Ibn Kathir goes on to argue that 9:5 does not confute other verses in that same chapter, to the effect that it "applies only to fighting the enemies who are engaged in fighting Islam and its people."  He concludes: "So the Ayah means, `Fight those who fight you',"

Following that, Ibn Kathir spends a short page further amplifying this, by also noting an injunction to "not transgress limits" during warfare (by "mutilating the dead, theft (from the captured goods), killing women, children and old people who do not participate in warfare, killing priests and residents of houses of worship, burning down trees and killing animals without real benefit)." 

Then, still doing exegesis of the Koran, he immediately segues into the unmistakably explicit affirmation that "Shirk is worse than murder."  For those readers who still don't know, nearly 16 years after 911, what shirk means, the common definition sounds rather stilted and archaic: "to associate partners with Allah".  Massaging this a bit, we can say that shirk means "polytheism".

However, even "polytheism" doesn't quite capture it. A closer study of Islam yields a subtler, broader definition -- basically, that shirk is any reliance for informing our meaning of life, our worldview, and our sociopolitical existence with any source other than, and not including, Allah and His Prophet. Thus, for example, when modern Western nations invoke as a source of their laws merely human intelligence, vaguely amplified by tradition and "natural law", they are committing shirk.  And recall what Ibn Kathir affirmed, which he drew from the Koran and the hadiths of Mohammed:  "Shirk is worse than murder."  And on this same page, Ibn Kathir makes the clear equivalence of shirk and fitnah, by concluding:

(And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing.) "Shirk (polytheism) is worse than killing.'' 

(Note: that parenthetical "polytheism" is likely the interpolation of the translator or editor of Ibn Kathir's tafsir.)

The significance of this equation of shirk and fitnah is then amplified further by the thematic thread that runs through chapter 9 of the Koran -- the most warmongering chapter -- namely, that Jews and Christians are mushrikoon, practitioners of shirk, and that their shirk consists of their thought crimes, their beliefs (in Christianity's case, the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus; in the Jewish case, the supposed divinity of Ezra).

And remember:  "Shirk is worse than murder."


This elevation in Islam of the thought crimes of shirk and fitnah to a status more pernicious even than physical killing, coupled with the obligation to fight and kill against the "disorder" they constitute, cuts to the very heart of the raison d'ĂȘtre of Islamic terrorism, and of its broader, deeper framework of jihad.

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