“…then produce a chapter like it …” Qur’an 2:23.
I am not confessing that the Qur’an is “miracle” as imagined by the Muslim sheiks. But what I do mean is that I recognize that the composition is a splendid piece of religious literature.
Any attempt to discredit the Qur’an’s literary excellence would deny the fact that a lot of hard work has gone into creating it. Yes, the Qur’an is an exceptional production, but there are many other poetic compilations which exceed its greatness. Great as it is, the Qur’an is not comparable to the elegance of other literature of its genre. For example, approximately twenty years ago, Everett Fox produced an English translation of the Torah that far exceeds the beauty, rhythms, cadences, nuances and stylistic devices of the so-called Noble Qur’an.
I must take a moment to inflame the passions of the sheiks by calling for an English translation of the Qur’an insofar it can accomplish the stylistic and moral effect Dr. Fox has been able to achieve with the old sacred Hebrew text. We will call this The Torah Challenge. We invite the sheiks to produce a chapter like it, and recruit some help from your friends if that will get the job done. In doing so, it might help Islam gain broad scholarly acceptance if, during the process of re-writing the Qur’an into English prose, the translator could smooth out the biological errors and correct its historical inaccuracies while they are at it. Ahmed Ali’s contemporary translation has attempted to correct selected scientific blunders, but misses the mark in stylistic virtue.
Since English is my mother tongue, I, like many other people, hold William Shakespeare to be the highest authority to which I would compare all other literary compositions. I expect most Muslims who consider Arabic as their first language believe the same thing about their literature, too. You see, the richly metaphoric Qur’an charms the Arab psyche just as Shakespeare resonates with our own English way of thinking. Shakespeare’s genius was to convey the spectacle of life in such a vivid way that he is undisputedly acclaimed as the preeminent English dramatist of all time.
Fans of Sir William are like the Muslims who allege that any other point of view regarding their prized literature would be entirely uncivilized, not worthy of a rebuttal. But do you not admit that no one else can communicate in such a concise and comprehensible way or more forcefully in the English language than Sir William? Certainly not Muhammad.
Many people from all over the world believe William to be the greatest writer in the Western world just as Muslims avow that Muhammad and his companions, that is to say those men who assembled the Qur’an (Uthman ibn Affan, Zaid ibn Sabit, Zayd ibn Thabit, Abu Bakr, et al) to be the premier language authorities of all Muslim territories. After all, recitation of poetry was an art to be studied and perfected in these nomadic lands. Has any Muslim, including Muhammad, produced a more compelling war cry than Henry V’s patriotic rallying speech presented at the siege of Harfleur? Upon hearing it the first time, I dreamed of getting up and joining the English army, to fight to the death along with the rest of the king’s band of brothers. The Qur’an’s glorification of war, intense nationalistic pride, and its unifying themes of self sacrifice in the service of imperial conquest does not even begin to compare to Henry’s Battle of Agincourt discourse. Just as Shakespeare is portrayed as a storybook mastermind to secular Western humanity, the Qur’an is bandied about in the Muslim world as the greatest literary success that has ever been. I am sure there are many Italian political philosophers who feel the same way about Niccolò Machiavelli’s handiwork.
Then there are quite a few Germans, too, including some Nazis, who believe that Friedrich Nietzsche was the most profound interpreter of the human condition the world has ever produced.
Regardless of how extraordinarily powerful, rhythmically precise, or spiritually forceful the Qur’an turned out to be, we can submit many other geniuses who are equally capable of producing the equivalent desired effect.
Hence, in addition to the Qur’an there are innumerous books which raise the human spirit, bringing dead minds back to life, for bad or for good, so that the reader is inwardly coerced, he has received persuasive inner-confirmation and is therefore fully convinced that he has discovered something so forceful it were as if the words were inspired by a supernatural being, an angel, or perhaps even God Himself.
The Milgramic behavioral patterns the writers and editors of the Qur’an have promulgated throughout the Middle East (and now beyond) through magnificent oratory by authoritative personalities using crowd controlling techniques such as those theorized by Gustav Le Bon is indeed astonishing, causing a man to lay down his life — destroying others in the process — in blind obedience by either transferring the responsibility of their actions to religious agents or else believing their exploits to be in service of a higher being or purpose. The chimera of destiny, too, deceptively works in the minds of Muslims, but so it did in the plans of other determined men with similar dispositional attitudes and authoritarian personalities such as the prophet Muhammad, Caliphate Abu Bakr, Khalid ibn Al-Waleed, Jaberer ibn Abdulla and the other Muslim commanders. One example of this from recent history: throughout the Nazi era the Third Reich leaders, especially Hitler himself, were fond of trumpeting their victories and pogroms as proof that destiny was on their side. Time and again, the Germans saw their successes as well as their hardships as the consequence of divine degree.
Muslim culture henceforth perceives itself as a providential movement ordained by Allah, and its caliphs as apostles and protectors of this auspicious society.
I am still waiting to see an English Qur’an as powerful as Fox’s translation of the Torah, but no Muslim has yet been able to do it.
The Qur’an is therefore mere Arabic prose, and nothing more.