Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Quran as Literature

Numerous times in the Quran it mentions how beautiful it is as a piece of literature and challenges man to create another piece that can equal it. Obviously, I'm not reading the Quran in its original Arabic as my Arabic leaves very much to be desired. The translation I have sacrifices the poetic quality for accuracy of translation so I don't expect anything monumental when it comes to the lyrical and metric characteristics. However, just analyzing it as literature, it doesn't seem to be anything ground-breaking.

I've been told by a friend of mine who used to teach ESL (English as a second language) classes that her Eastern students write much differently than typical western writing when it comes to organization. Rather than organizing thoughts into paragraphs consisting of introduction, development, and conclusion, their writing was structured very differently, making it hard to read for Westerners. I keep wondering if my lack of enthusiasm for the Quran as a literary piece is a result of my being accustomed to Western literature. However, the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, was written in Hebrew, which is a Semitic language like Arabic and comes from a region geographically close to Arabia, and seems to agree with my literary tastes much better.

I think my protest with the Quran as literature is that it seems to jump from topic to topic and story to story without any easily discernible connection. Besides that, it is very repetitive. In the last week, I've read the story of Moses, basically about the same each time, at least four times in four separate surahs. It's not just Moses, either, I've also read the stories of Hud, Lut (Lot), Noah, and Salih multiple times. The Bible, on the other hand, seems much more linear and organized when it comes to narration and even non-narratives like the Psalms seem more organized by thought and theme.

I keep meaning to ask one of my Arab friends what their thoughts are of the Quran from a literary standpoint. I think it has many inspiring, meaningful words, which might be impossible for any human to recreate, but it's not the smoothest flowing, best organized piece of literature in my opinion. Even when I hear it recited in Arabic, it doesn't sound the prettiest but I also have to admit that I'm not terribly accustomed to hearing Arabic poetry so my ear is terribly untrained.

As always, I don't mean to offend anyone and I certainly don't mean to insult the Quran. If you disagree, please add your input, I'm always very happy to hear varying opinions. The entire purpose of this blog is to solicit the experiences of others and to generate intelligent, respectful conversation so please don't take this post the wrong way.

27 comments:

Azooz said...

My favorite subject - but it can never be explained properly. In short: the Quran is the greatest book ever written.

I'm really not good at short - so here's a bit more:

Take as fact that no one has ever written anything like the Quran, in any language - it's has been an actual matter of fact since it was first read over 1400 years ago. When you read it in English it uses the same words (mostly) but no translator or even a trully great poet can use words as the Quran actually does. You do not have to learn Arabic, but if you love reading a good book for just the shear pleasure of reading, you'll never find a better book to read than the Arabic Quran.

Think of a single English book on theology, written with no poetry yet much more wonderfull than any English poetry in the history of the English language. Each page readable by a 5 year old and a 100 year old - and yet gets better with each reading.


I've read over 5,000 English SF books in my life, many I still love - but nothing as readable as the Quran. I learned Arabic at 12 and agree with you on how the Quran sounds to non Arabic ears, but now that I know Arabic I can listen to it with interest for hours each day.

When you read the story of Moses (pbuh) - did you notice his mother in most verses, like a grand master just painting her light perfume? Think of the story of Moses (pbuh) as a whole, each repetion is within a certain Surra (image) as a different aspect of his story - you'll see it in English but have to read more deeply into the image each verse presents to you. It takes volumes to explain the whole story, tafseer have it explained in full linear fashion, and I advise you read it - it'll make the Quran much more readable for you and hopefully a lot more enjoyable.

I'll go out on a limb and explain the Quran as a greatest of all jewels, with 114 sides, each single side is by itself the greatest individual work of art ever seen by humans (surra means image), that image then fits in exactly with the whole jewel and exactly with each other image. Do not take that description as literal, it's just an attempt and does not do the Quran justice. In English you see it in only one dimension, be color blind - and too rushed (uninterested) to see it in full.


Grammer - is a thing people notice and apreciate as they gain langauge skills, and if you spend your whole life learning grammer you'll never find anything like the Quran's. The translators of the Quran would have be experts in Arabic grammer but no one knows English grammer that well to make it look "acceptable". You'll see most English Qurans say someting like "A Translation of the meanings of the words in the Quran" - for there are no proper translators or translations posible of the Quran - it's that good a book.


Word skills - An old Arabic dictionery is called asmaa alasad (names of the Lion) for the author liked the fact that Arabic has 450+ names for Lion. The huge number of nouns is becuase Arabs pick the names of things from the people in that area - and the poets chose the ones they like from a huge liberary and are judged by how well they know those word. Before Islam, Arabic was the language of poets and they picked up words and developed the langauge away from any civilization thus it was never stuck developing in only one place. Arabic was never written down in a single alphabet so for over 3,500 year the poets had full control of it. When an Arabic speeker says "the ten" we are speeking of the top ten poets in the history of the Arabic language - none of them were Muslim, for the Quran made the list "secondery" and unimportant. Vanity is important to understand here, the Arabic within the Quran is like nothing any Arab can write, there is no language vanity at all becuase it's Arabic goes beyond even the best Arab poets skills.

Grammer and words skills are the two I can talk about in short, the rest are just as great but beyond my words skills and grammer - and spelling ;)

A friend once complained that the story of Cain and Able in the English Quran was not "enough" - but to "get it" you have to read the whole Quran before the story, and the whole Quran after it - then read it again, and it gets much clearer (and better) with each reading. The tiny details keep showing up constantly, adding relevance to keep people interested. What knowledge I gain from one story fits exactly with the next - in linear fashion the Quran would have to be 30 volumes at least, and most of the details would have to be sacrificed.

I'll stop here - this is one question you can always ask freely and the answers will interest you - but if you learn Arabic you'll see it your yourself why it can not be properly explained.

I'll come back to this topic if you have more questions on the Quran, I'm not good at theology but to me the Quran is a book I like to read and know a bit about from language.

Peace

Anonymous said...

Powers of unconscious long-term memory systems are at work in subtle ways, when we begin to percieve--the literture of our own tribe or another. Unconsciosuness, thy name is perception. Neuro-perceptions will be a full-fledged field of study with special reference to conceptions of truth, goodness and beauty, but not yet. Literary taste is but narcissism in disguise.

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