I just wasn't up to my four mile walk this morning, so instead I spent some time reading the Qu'ran. Or rather, I spent some time reading an English translation of the Qu'ran, just as yesterday I read an English translation of Revelation. It was legitimate for me to read Revelation in translation, because what interested me was the impact of the text on American Fundamentalist Christians, almost all of whom also read that and other books of the Bible in English translation. But devout Muslims insist that the Word of God ought only to be read in the original Arabic, which of course I cannot do. I find the King James translation of the Bible inexpressibly beautiful, but then I am in general entranced by the language of English authors of that period -- Shakespeare, Donne, et al. I have read that those fluent in Arabic find the Qu'ran very beautiful, simply as Arabic, and I am certainly prepared to believe them, but I can make no independent judgment of its literary merits on the basis of the translation I am reading [nor can I, of course, of the literary merits of the Old or New Testaments in their original languages].
Starting at the beginning, with the first Sura, I have read only a bit -- as far as verse 121 of the Second Sura [if that is the correct way to refer to passages in the Qu'ran.] That appears, in my translation, to be no more than 2% of the entire text, so obviously I have a long way to go. Three things strike me, as a lay reader, in my initial engagement with the text. First, the religious sentiments and doctrines seem virtually indistinguishable from those of the Old Testament: Monotheism, the admonition to love God [Allah is, I believe, the Arabic word for God, not in any sense God's name], the promise of paradise for those who love God and punishment for those who do not, the warnings to those who fall away from the true faith, and so forth; Second, the moral injunctions are benign and unexceptional: deal honestly with others, do not turn away those who are in need, honor your father and mother, and so on; and Finally, and I suppose most unexpected for a truly naive reader [which I cannot truthfully say I am, after half a century teaching the history of Western philosophy], the incorporation into the doctrine of Islam of the Old Testament traditions -- the Creation, the temptation of Adam, God's covenant with Moses, the line of the Old Testament prophets, and even the prophetic status of Jesus.
Save that the language, at least in English, is different, and hence would be recognized as not biblical, I venture to guess that Fundamentalist Christians could easily mistake many passages in the opening Suras for biblical passages with which they were unfamiliar -- passages from the Prophets, I should think, not from the narrative portions of the Old Testament.
What, if anything, is the significance of this initial engagement with the Qu'ran? Hard to say. It is not anything like what the hysterical anti-Muslims in America imagine, but then I could have figured that out without ever looking at the Qu'ran. I have yet to get to the passages in which specific dietary, sexual, economic and other prescriptions and proscriptions are laid down. My guess is that they will be as absurd and objectionable as the corresponding passages in the Old Testament [Leviticus, anyone?] Surely the most striking difference between Islam and either Judaism or the primitive Christianity of the New Testament is its universalism. In this respect, Christianity in its earliest form is, I think, a halfway point between the tribalism of Judaism and universalism of Islam.
Well, the sun is up and the day has begun, so perhaps I should check the latest pre-election polls.