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It's much easier to act as if critics of Islam have a problem with Muslims as people than it is to accept the uncomfortable truth that Islam is different


The Quran


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Last 30 Days
2001 (Post 9/11)

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What can we learn about
Islam from this woman?

Games Muslims Play

 The Quran Can Only
be Understood in Arabic

The Game:

The Quran can only be fully understood in Arabic.  One cannot criticize Islam without knowing Arabic

The Truth:

Critics of Islam are often told to "read the Quran" by those who are usually unprepared for what happens when their advice is heeded.  An honest translation of Islam's most sacred book generally reinforces negative opinion.  The fallback is to then claim that the Quran can only be understood in Arabic.

This transparent effort to cloak Islam from intellectual critique isn't well thought out.  In the first place, the Quran was translated from Arabic by Arabic speakers: devout Muslims whose linguistic expertise far exceeds that of the armchair apologist.  If these translators err, it is by subjectively toning down the literalism.  The idea that they would deliberately mangle an interpretation to cast Islam in an unflattering light is highly unlikely.

Another problem is the fundamental impossibilty for anyone to learn a language that cannot be translated into one they do know, which means the apologists who insist that one "must learn Arabic” in order to understand the Quran are refuting their own premise.  If Arabic can be learned, then it can be translated.  If it can be translated, then there is no need to learn it.

While every language has its nuances, how is it that Arabic is the only one which supposedly has words and phrases that are literally untranslatable?  More importantly, why in the world would Allah choose to communicate his one true "universal" religion for all people in the only language that cannot be translated for all people?  Even the vast majority of Muslims and their imams do not speak Arabic.

How suspicious that this linguistic "discovery" was made only recently – and that it coincides with contemporary rejection of Islamic practices which were considered acceptable up until Islam's recent collision with Western liberalism.  In fact, the argument that there are hidden and alternate meanings to unflattering Quranic passages (eg. justifying slavery, the inferior status of women, sexual gluttony, holy warfare, wife-beating, and religious discrimination) corresponds with the level of embarrassment that modern scholars have about such verses being in the Quran!

No other world religion claims that it can only be understood in one language.  Neither is the same level of effort required to explain away primary messages.  While the Bible is generally distributed "as is" by various Christian groups, for example, it is rare to find a Quran that does not include voluminous and highly subjective commentary intended to mitigate politically-incorrect passages.

An additional problem is that apologists want to have it both ways.  On the one hand, they declare that (for some strange reason) the "perfect book" can't be translated and that Allah's perfect religion thus cannot be understood by most of humanity without a battery of intercessors and interpreters.  Then they turn around and blame the reality of Islamic terrorism on this same "necessary" chain of intermediaries by claiming that the Osama bin Ladens of the world have simply gotten bad clerical advice, causing them to “misunderstand” the true meaning of Islam (in the most catastrophic and tragic way imaginable).

Of course, the irony is that, as a Saudi, the Quran-toting Osama bin Laden was a native Arabic speaker – as are most of the leaders and foot soldiers in his al-Qaeda brotherhood of devout Muslims.  In fact, many critics of Islam are Arabic speakers as well - a fact that is often ignored by the apologists, who only find Arabic linguistic skills relevant when they are lacked by critics (not that the pundits have ever been known to care about whether a critic of the Bible speaks Hebrew or Greek).

At this point the beleaguered apologist might offer up a weak claim that the Quran can only be understood in Classical Arabic, an obscure Quraish dialect which has not been commonly used in over a thousand years and is known only by a few hundred people today (generally Wahabbi scholars, who - ironically enough - are accused of taking the Quran 'too literally'). 

It is hardly plausible that the differences between classical and modern Arabic are of such significance that peace and tolerance can be confused with terrorism, but even if this were true, it begs the same question.  Why would such a “perfect book” be virtually impossible for the rest of us to learn - and susceptible to such horrible "misinterpretation" on a daily basis?

Really, it isn't hard to see through this childish game, particularly since the rules are applied only to detractors and not to advocates.  Apologists never claim that Arabic is a barrier to understanding Islam when it is lauded as a "religion of peace," no matter how less knowledgeable the fans are than the critics.  Neither do they qualify the claim that "Islam is the fastest growing religion" with the caveat that new converts (or the vast majority of existing Muslims) must not understand Islam, since they can't read the Quran in Arabic.

Obviously, this game exists because the Information Age is now making the full history and texts of the Islamic religion available to a broader audience - and the contents are highly embarrassing.  Pretending that different meanings exist in Arabic is a weak attempt at self-assurance and saving face.

Further Reading

Muslims are Afraid of the Quran (Apostate Prophet video)

Games Muslims Play Index

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