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What the Koran Really Says
by Ibn Warraq
3.81 • 62 votes • 12 reviews
Published 01 Oct 2002

What the Koran Really Says.pdf
PublisherPrometheus Books

Islam has worldwide influence, and even in the United States is experiencing a period of unprecedented growth. Its sacred book, the Koran, is the subject of voluminous commentary, yet it rarely receives the kind of objective critical scrutiny that has been applied to the texts of the Bible for over a century. To correct this neglect of objective scholarship, this author has assembled an excellent collection of critical commentaries on the Koran published by noted scholars from the beginning of the 20th 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 much 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 reflect even an Essenian background reaching back to the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This outstanding volume will be a welcome resource to interested lay readers and scholars alike.
"What The Koran Really Says" Reviews
Omar Ali - The United States
Sun, 30 Mar 2014
The introduction is the best part of the book for the non-specialist. The rest is mostly older (and I mean older, many are 50-100 years old; nothing wrong with that, just pointing it out) academic articles by various orientalists about arcane topics like the best meaning of the term al-raheem. The overall point of the book is that the quran is much less clear in meaning and history than post 12th century orthodox opinion has decreed, but otherwise the pieces are not earth-shaking. Since the original sources quoted are all Islamic, its also clear that it was not all that crystal clear to Muslim scholars of the "golden age" either, but was decreed to be so at some later point and all discussion was then stopped. Well, its open now, what with Satan (or Al Gore) having invented the internet..
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Andriy - Brisbane, 04, Australia
Sun, 12 Jul 2015
Muslims must hate this book. All I can say to them is: LOL.
It's good to read the true origins of islam and not the version muslims would like us to believe
Seán - Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Thu, 20 Jun 2013
Phew! This book was a bit of a slog. This review might be too!
I’m left a little confused about who this book is aimed at and exactly what the motivations behind it were. I know that Ibn Warraq has an agenda; I’m just not quite sure what it is. I did read his Why I Am Not a Muslim some time ago and although it was interesting, the combination of sustained polemic with a topic as huge, complicated and contested as Islam made it rather tiring.

What this book really needs is perspective, but it’s hard to know where to find it. It consists of essays and extracts from writers on Islam and the Qur’an from the 19th century to the 1990s. Some of the works are published for the first time in English which perhaps counts for something, but on the whole it’s very difficult for an outsider to know how to judge the value of these writings. Some of them are surely out of date or disproved and one at least seemed to be included only to be refuted in a later article.
Professor As’ad AbuKhalil makes a rather dismissive reference to the book in the only thing approaching a review I’ve read:

The "political" career of Ibn Warraq (a pseudonym for a former Muslim) is a good example. Ibn Warraq is on a mission to "expose" and attack the dangers of Islam. For his efforts, he, like Lewis, received an invitation to the White House to meet with high-ranking officials. Ibn Warraq probably takes his name from the courageous free thinker in classical Islam, Abu 'Isa Muhammad bin Harun bin Muhammad al-Warraq. But unlike the present-day Ibn Warraq, Abu 'Isa was a courageous freethinker who wrote refutations of more than one religion. Ibn Warraq claims to subscribe to secularism and freethinking, yet he objects to Islam only and aligns himself with Christian fundamentalism, which raises questions about the true thrust of his mission. Free thinking, in any religion and against all religions, should be encouraged although there is a difference between religious bigotry and enlightened freethinking. The latest two books by Ibn Warraq merely collect old writings by classical Orientalists. The more rigid and biased the Orientalists, the better for Warraq. Warraq himself has nothing original to say on the subject; he merely resuscitates the writings of those Orientalists who have been long discredited, such as Henri Lammens and Ernest Renan, among other less discredited Orientalists. Warraq rejects mainstream Orientalists, like W.M. Watt. He quotes Renan's famous Islam et la Science lecture approvingly: "To liberate the Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him." It is now acceptable to express such views in polite company.

Middle East Journal Vol 58, No. 1, Winter 2004

Perhaps AbuKhalil, being an atheist, would agree that liberation from irrational belief is the best service a person could render themselves then? I have no idea if Ibn Warraq is positively aligned with fundamentalist Christianity or whether he has merely allowed his work to be used by more dubious polemicists. The criticism of only critiquing Islam also seems a little harsh. It could easily be a case of working with what you know (and what has affected your own life). And although "orientalism" is no doubt a problematic stream of colonial thought that needs challenging, I can’t help feeling that AbuKhalil is using the label Orientalist here as a bit of a blunt instrument. But once, again it’s difficult to know unless you’re totally immersed in the field.

And that brings me to my fundamental problem with this book. If you’re already an expert in Qur’anic studies then this book will probably be useless to you at best and perhaps absurdly dated at worst. If you’re not, then this book can only be heavy going. Some of the articles quote the text they’re referring to, but some do not. I have a passing acquaintance with Linguistics, some knowledge of Arabic phonetics and script, but no useful knowledge of the language and I found it very had to judge the value of the linguistic speculations contained in it. Some of them are no doubt complete nonsense; some of them seem more plausible. But who can tell?
After all is said and done, there is some interesting content, but it won’t be easy sifting through this book for it. It is, ironically, about as mubin ("clear") as the Qur’an it critiques.
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Clay - The United States
Thu, 29 Oct 2009
This is a challenging book that doesn't live up to it's title. It is academic so the purely academic, koranic scholar, linguist will like it but I would recommend "The Complete Infidel's Guide to the Koran" by Robert Spencer for the average Kufr.
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Lisa - The United States
Sun, 09 Sep 2007
Difficult yet fascinating collection of scholarly essays on the Qur'an.
Doria - The United States
Wed, 25 Jul 2018
This assemblage of dense, scholarly articles would be more accurately titled “How to Make the Koran as Dry as Dust Without Offering a Clear Sense of What it Really Says.” For scholars and researchers who have a close familiarity with the Koran, I would imagine that a great deal of elucidation is available here. For those, such as myself, with an extremely limited understanding of the Koran’s content, it is not particularly helpful.
In all honesty, I am more confused now than I was upon first cracking open this tome. I feel somehow as though I know less than I did, if that is possible. Ultimately, it was the wrong choice for a beginner, or anyone wanting to arrive at a foundational understanding of the Koran and Islam.
Highly recommended for scholars and experts in Islamic studies, Middle Eastern Linguistics, or Koranic Archaeology (not sure that is a thing, but it’s the best that I can come up with to describe what is going on here).
Not recommended for anyone else at all.
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