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Contents: Westerners prone to misunderstandings Mohammed thought of himself as a genuine Semitic prophet, in line with Abraham, Mozes and Jezus Koran : "dictated" to an ordinary man Hell and Heaven War, booty and Peace Women Wine Slaves Suicide means Hell Property and trade Semitic Regimes of Pleasure, Abstinence and Punishment Koran source texts Overall Impression <under consideration>
Westerners Prone to
Muslems have a good knowledge of the Jewish and Christian tradition, which they regard as their own. They recognize the revelations of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and all other Abrahamic prophets as part of Islam. The Koran summarises these revelations and refers to them.
Jews on the contrary, and Westerners, even if raised in the christian tradition, do not find any such reference to Islam in the tradition of their religion. Moreover, they are prone to misunderstandings about Islam caused by anti Islamic propaganda issued for centuries by their religious leaders. This anti-Islamic propaganda is not based on any Semitic prophecy, because no position on Islam is recognized as word of God by Jews or christians.
Though research indicates that most Westerners outside the US nowadays do not think anymore of themselves as christians, the christian misrepresentation of Islam still prevails in the West.
The stress of the introduction below is on reducing the worst of the misunderstandings common among Jews and christians.
Mohammed thought of himself as a genuine Semitic prophet, in line with
Abraham, Moses and Jesus and all other Semitic prophets
Mohammed considered God to be the One recognized by Jews and Christians, and in fact in his early days as a prophet his prophetic message to be just a helpful addition to those of many other Semitic prophets, most notably Abraham, Moses and Jesus (Koran 42.13). He thought his message to be in harmony with those of the other prophets, bringing out more clearly that some Jews and christians were not following them on some minor points. The record would be straight and all Semites (that is, tribes of Abraham) united if
|Jews would see that charging interest on loans is wrong (Koran 4:159 Jews practise usury and cheat others of their possessions. Woeful punishment have We prepared for those that disbelieve.)|
|christians would see that prophets, such as Jesus and Mohammed, cannot be "sons of God", but are just like other men, equal among themselves to God (Koran 4:171 Christians: do not say: 'Three'; Koran 5:65 Some christians are righteous.), and|
|both Jews and christians would see that prophets, saints, martyrs and priests can not claim to have a special capacity of linking others to God, and cannot be addressees of prayers, and that God cannot and humans should not be represented by drawings or statues or making idols (Koran 6:49 No intercessors besides God)|
As long as Mohammed thought Jews and christians, which he thought of as part of the people of God (part of the Semites) would return from their relatively minor errors, the direction of the Islamic prayer was Jeruzalem. Only after some dissapointments in his efforts to convince Jews and christians, he propheted that the direction of prayer should be changed to the Ka'bah of Mecca, thought to have been built by Abraham himself, after life in Ur (South Mesopotamia, see timeline) had become unbearable to him and he went Westward for "promised" land.
Koran is "dictated" to an ordinary man
Muhammed's charisma was such that he could profile hinself as an ordinary man and did not need special status by claiming to be son of God or doing miracles. He claimed that watching flying birds, "sustained by none save the Merciful" would suffice to see God.
No Special Powers for Mohammed
Koran 67:13 Unbelievers do not need to see miracles. Let them just watch the birds
Muhammad simply presents his revelation as dictated to him by the
Angel Gabril, and considers his own idea of what the words mean as having no
special status superior to that of others. He is said sometimes to have put his
position simply as what God said, without being sure what He meant.
Muhammed could not write. The Koran was written down after his death using a great number of different types of sources.
Hell and Heaven
Koran speaks about heaven and hell in an astonishingly higher frequency than the Bible, often as a pair, to enhance the contrast between the consequences of choosing between right and wrong in the subject matter dealt with. In Koran, the description of hell is as sobre as in the Bible, but descriptions of paradise occur much more frequent and show much more detail than those to which Bible readers are used.
Like every shepherd, and Muhammed needs to make clear to the flock where to go and where not. Since dogs can not be trained to have the same authority over men as they have over cattle, something more pushy is needed than a well trained teethy quadruped.
Older prophets were used to stress the beneficial effects on life on earth of following God. Jesus was the first in the line of Semitic prophets who decided to put hell (and heaven) into use for Semites.
A hell, defined as a torture department in the underworld, was already employed by the Greek at the times Semitic prophets still thought they did not need one and still limited themselves to reward and punishment by God in life on earth, and relegated all dead without much distinction to an underground world of skinny, grey, impotent and generally uninteresting and certainly unenviable people.
Apostle John added some detail to the the last judgement, hell and heaven in his Apokalyps, the last book of the christian New Testament.
Muhammed did not add significantly to the image of hell, apparently considering Jesus' and John's hell to be gruesome enough. The main elements are heat and fire, apparently at the time physically experienced by Semitic mortals with enough intensity to convincingly be things to stay clear of. You will drink boiling water and molten brass and you will eat decaying filth, you will be speachless of despair ( Koran on Heaven and Hell).
Jesus, mainly through the gospel of Matthew inspired painters to depict the blessed chatting in Heaven, in cosy groups on clouds, often wearing clothes covering their complete bodies.
|Matthew on Heaven|
Dante, in his Divina Commedia, <link to Dante pages> took it as his duty to
make his poem on heaven equal in size to his poem on hell. Since this results,
for heaven, in a size unmatched by the amount of thoughts christian prophets and
believers have ever made about heaven, Dante is in danger of getting boring
indeed. He solves the problem (if only for intellectuals), by making his
elaborate system of heavenly circles into a theory of human conciousness. Going
up, he peels it off. Going into highest circle of heaven, he removes the last
element of consciousness from the soul: its self-awareness. Of course, this may
seem more scary to a earthly human than hell, but the poet is at pains to
convince his reader that on the way up you learn to appreciate it.
One of the distinctive features of God's prophecy to Muhammed the way He adds detail to the image of paradise, giving it about 30 distinctive features. The top six in frequency of mentioning are: 1. Rivers, running streams, fountains (80%), 2. Abundant fruit (60%), 3.Peace (45%), 4. (Soft) couches (40%), 5. Bashful virgins, houris (be wedded to, 30%), 6. Silk, brocade, gold for clothing and covering (30%). Lower ranking assets are: being accompanieded by your descendants and father. Being accompanied by your spouses is mentioned but has near bottom rank in frequency.
Koran on Heaven and Hell
Koran sources heavenly joys: Graph Table of frequencies
find Koran references
Like Jezus, Muhammed must have found it hard as a prophet to depict hell as worse than everything we can find on on earth, and equally hard to depict heaven as something better than everything we can find on earth.
War, booty and Peace
The western image of muslems is decisively warlike. Thomas W. Lipmann, in his highly recommendable Understanding Islam, An Introduction to the Moslem World, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1995 (p. viii-ix), mitigates the image of Islam being "source of conflict, violence, and fanatism":
"...Its record does not compare unfavourably with that of Christianity...The Koran...does not teach that violence is to be shunned...But the Koran also ordains justice, charity, mercy, self-denial, and tolerance...".
Indeed, Islam does not at all compare unfavourably with Christianity in violence. Indeed, it seems virtually unimaginable to emulate the violence and divine encouragements to violence one finds in the Bible, let alone the historical record of violence practised by christians in the name of God. The Koran is equally warlike. References to peace are largely limited to the descriptions of paradise, where one finds it together with other items rarely found in the Semite's real world on earth, like running water, soft couches, untouched virgins and wine! War, however, is extensively dealt with.
|In Koran 2:190 the believers are told to fight for the sake of God (but not to attack first).|
|Koran 2:256 ordains abstaining from compulsion in religion, but.|
|Koran 2:216 Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it, and:|
|Koran 47:1 unbelievers in the battlefield should be striken off their heads.|
|Koran 47:16 warns sceptics consulting those endowed with knowledge after Muhammed told them to go to war.|
|In Koran 47:20 Muhammed recognizes that some people long for the (apparently still lacking) forthright Chapter (prophesy) revealing the imminent war, others, however, do not and are warned!|
|Koran 47:34 warns: do not sue for Peace!|
|After victory (the taking of Mecca, AD 630 or of Kaybar a year earlier), Muhammed states the fate of the desert Arabs, who did not join the war (Koran 48:10): no share of spoils, a blazing fire, and forced military service.|
|But there are exemptions from (forced) military service (Koran 48:17).|
|War must go on, but (Koran 48:19) "God has promised you rich booty, knows of other spoils which you have not yet taken".|
|Followers of Muhammed are said to be ruthless, as described in Torah and Gospel, enrage unbelievers but are told in Koran 48:29 to be all that for a rich recompense, certainly part of which is to be enjoyed in this life on earth, such as slave girls whom God gives to them as booty Koran 33:50|
|Finally: True believers fight in peace (Koran 49:9).|
The contrast Lipmann observes in Koran in "not shunning violence" on the one hand, and ordaining "justice, charity, mercy, self-denial, and tolerance" on the other coincides meticulously with the borderline between unbelievers and believers: order and truth among the believers, devastation among the unbelievers.
In practice the Arabs conquering the world in the two centuries after Mohammed were somewhat less loyal to their fellow believers, and much less rude against the conquered unbelievers. After all, taxing unbelievers ( Property and trade) is more profitable than "striking off their heads" (Koran 47:1). The wisdom emerged that a good percentage of the present value of the annual production of an unbeliever is considerably higher than that of the booty resulting from following Koran in killing him and taking in your possession his property and the agreeable part of his family. And this is certainly true for those who calculate present value with zero interest rate as prescribed by Koran 2:275. After some first experience with power every culture starts to understand that milking yields more than slaughtering. Arabs went that way just as quick as the Mongols who would later arrive to take the then most important centre of human civilisation, the Islamic capital Bagdad in 1258 and kept slaughtering its Muslem population for weeks until they had to fly for the smell of the dead bodies, taking the jewelry looted packed in the skins of the Bagdad muslem leadership.
Only at the very first stages of the formation of Islam, some muslems may
have been as bad as the Torah, Gospel and Koran wants them to be. But such
people can be found in every culture.
There is a special Chapter in Koran dealing with Women (Chapter 4), but even that chapter is directed to men. Men are considered primarily responsible.:
|Men are said to have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other. Men are told to beat spouses if disobedient (Koran 4:34),|
So, what is told to the men about women?
|Women and orphans do have their own property (Koran 4:4).|
|Women receive a dowry from the man whom they marry, and if a man divorces a woman she should keep her dowry Koran 4:20.|
|A man can marry up to four free women, provided equality can be maintained, and any number of slave girls (Koran 4.1).|
|The slave girls, whom God has given to you as booty (Koran 33:50)|
|A male shall inherit twice as much as a female (Koran 4:11).|
|Inheritance of a woman requires the woman's consent Koran 4:19.|
In frequency among the over 30 items of joy in paradise, being
accompanied by your spouses is in the bottom segment of items mentioned
only in 10% (2) of the passages specifying paradise (Koran
13:18, Koran 43:63,
Graph of joys in paradise),
well below top items like rivers, running streams, fountains (80%), abundant
fruit (60%), peace (45%), soft couches (40%), bashful virgins (30%), silk,
brocade, gold for clothing and covering (30%).
Since in heaven God supplies untouched virgins, there seems to be some underspecification of the heavenly pleasures for women. There is some mentioning of young boys (Koran 52:13, Koran 76:1), but that might not be relevant to this point of possible underspecification.
The Koran rules for proper channeling of the carnal desires seem likewise not to be primarily directed to women but to the men as those in charge of carnal intercourse.
|Koran 23:1 Blessed are the believers who restrain their carnal desires, except with their wives and slave-girls.|
|Koran 24:1 Adultery punished with lashes|
|Koran 24:6 Swearing by God that she did not do what she is suspected of can avert a woman's punishment (special word from God received by Muhammed to deal with extensive gossip arisen concerning one of the prophet's wives)|
|Koran 24:23 Unclean women are for unclean men, and unclean men for unclean women|
|Koran 24:26 How to aviod being and object of idle talk (discussion caused by gossip about one of Muhammad's wives).|
|Koran 24:30 How to restrain carnal desires (women are told to hide adornments and not making heard the sound of trinkets they wear around their ankles, pointing at curious male lust for jewelry, also reflected in high ranking of shiny objects (silk, brocade, gold for clothing and covering Graph of joys in paradise)|
|Sexual exploitation of women is prohibited (Koran 24:33 do not force slave-girls into prostitution)|
Interesting, finally, is Koran text apparently originating from some tension
in the husband/wife relations in Muhammed's own family. Muhammad, we are told,
was once found by his wife Hafsah with a Coptic slave girl from whom he had
promised her to separate. Of this Hafsah secretly informed A'ishah, another wife
of Muhammad. To free Muhammad from his promise to Hafsah is thought to be the
object of this chapter. Some of the references are obscure:
In Koran 2:219 drinking and gambling are said to have some benefit for men but are on balance harmful. One should not be drunk when one prays (Koran 4:43). In Koran 5:90, wine is called an abomination devised by Satan. But then again, listing signs of God to the true believers, Muhammed mentions water falling from the sky, milk giving cattle, and "the fruits of the palm and the vine, from which you derive spirituous liquors and wholesome food." (Koran 16:67).
And there is wine in paradise! Koran 47:10, describing paradise, mentions rivers of wine delectable to those that drink it. Again so in Koran 56:1 where the blessed are waited by a cup of purest wine ("that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason").
Slaves in the Koran
Slavery is, in the Koran as natural and obvious a feature of social reality as it is in the Torah and the Bible. Slavery was normal in those times and the Koran provides rules how to treat slaves. By far the most attention is devoted to slave girls:
|Koran 4.1 You can marry up to four free women, provided equality can be maintained, and any number of slave girls.|
|Koran 33:50 The slave girls whom God has given to you as booty|
|Koran 4:22 Marriing: no two sisters, no married girls except married slave girls, no fornicaton|
|Koran 4:25 Slave girls receive dowry too, but will receive half the punishment in case of adultery|
|Koran 23:1 Blessed are the believers who restrain their carnal desires, except with their wives and slave-girls.|
|Koran 24:33 do not force slave-girls into prostitution|
Slaves had property, such as dowry (of girl slaves Koran 4:25), but could apparently acquire property by other means. Hence a slave could offer his own market value in assets to his owner and be free. The Koran encourages this.
|Koran 24:33 Let slaves buy their liberty,|
Which, of course should be no problem for the owner, because with the money he could buy another slave.
The term "slave" has confusing associations to westerners
Thinking of slaves, westerners think of slave trade and slave labour in profitable production of commodities for the world market, as westerners have been doing themselves. Black and Indian slaves from the 17th century on were suffering of indescribable maltreatment, because of the commercial context and the dominant market profit motive of European slave exploitation. In short, westerners think of slaves as chained people sleeping in their own dirt next to trees where some of their relatives are hanging dead or alive as a reminder of the effect of disobeying orders.
In antiquity, slavery was a very different kind of institution. Slaves were part of a household production unit. Work, even work in crop raising, is a family, not a commercial affair. It is the rational self interest of the owner of such slaves to treat them well enough to function properly in the envisaged context. As a slave you could be treated like a horse, and like a horse be bought after checking of your teeth. Like a horse you can even be maltreated, but like a horse, you may be treated very well and even loved.
In antiquity, slavery was the default system among all peoples, Semites, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Germans. Slaves usually were captives of war. Battling armies were routinely followed by slave traders. The aftermath of your tribe losing a war and being taken captive obviously was traumatic (individuals of your tribe useless to the enemy would flee never to be seen by you again or would not survive), but once, as a slave, you had been traded and come in the hands of your final owner and user, life was usually much better than than of a typical cotton slave of a western exploiter in one of the America's.
Having slaves is an asset, a convenience, a comfort. Sacrificing part of this convenience -freeing a slave- is according to Koran, a means to expiate certain kinds of sins.
Slaves Jewish Slaves christian
Suicide means Hell
About sucide, Koran 4:29 is short and clear : "Do not kill yourselves. God is merciful to you, but he that does that through wickedness and injustice shall be burned in fire. That is easy enough for God."
Property and Trade
The Koran is precise on private property rights:
|Inheritance: A male shall inherit twice as much as a female etc. (Koran 4:11).|
|Women and orphans have their own property (Koran 4:4).|
|If a man divorces a woman she should keep her dowry (Koran 4:20).|
Also, numerous offences are punished (thus settled) with well defined fines to be payed to the victim, that is property transfer.
Koran not only regulated property rights and inheritance but also and the (zero) interest rate on debts:
|Koran 2:275 No Interest on Debts|
|Koran 3:130 Believers, do not live on usury!|
|Koran 4:159 Jews practised usury and cheat others of their possessions. Woeful punishment have We prepared for those that disbelieve..|
Interest: Semites and their Neighbours (General Overview)
Those who know about the later Arabian civilization at its peak may be surprised to learn that almost no attention is paid to trade. There is only one very short reference:
|Believers, do not consume your wealth among yourselves in vanity, but rather trade with it by mutual consent (Koran 4:28 ).|
One could expect ideas about trade where the Koran deals with seafaring. There are surprisingly many references to seafaring (13 explicit references in Koran). But Muhammed uses boats to show the power of God as he did with birds (since they float, like the birds "sustained by the Merciful", but on water). Thus God makes the sailers catch fish and ornaments to wear (ornaments is an asset astonishingly frequently occurring in Koran, like silk, brocade, gold for clothing and covering, with dense mentioning as a feature of paradise Graph of joys in paradise). Koran warns sailers that Gods willingness to keep them floating up waves like castles should make them grateful and give alms.
|Koran 16:14 Seafaring 1: God gives fish and ornaments|
|Koran 30:44 Seafaring 2. Seek Gods bounty|
|Koran 31:20 Seafaring 3. When the waves, like giant shadows, envelop them, they pray to God with all devotion. But no sooner does He bring them safe to land than some of them falter between faith and unbelief|
For trade there are neither encouragements nor rules. Passages starting with references to the aquisition of riches usually end in efforts of fund raising among the believers ("alms giving"):
|Koran 3:180 Misers 1: The riches they have hoarded shall become their fetters on the Day of Resurrection|
|Koran 9:35 Misers 2: To those that hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in God's cause; proclaim a woeful punishment.|
|Koran 17:24 Do not be a miser, but neither be a prodigal.|
|Koran 57:7 Loans to God 1: God gives 100% interest on loans.|
|Koran 64:14 Loans to God 2 God gives 100% interest on loans plus forgiveness|
|Koran 102:1 Worldly gain|
|Koran 57:20 Life in this world is but a sport|
On land, trade caravans of unbelievers are for raiding by the believers and obtain the booty as a gift of God. Rich traders are warned that life on earth is "just a sport", and that you who are "taken up with worldy gain...shall be questioned about your joys" at the day of judgement, when you will be sent to the fire of hell and burn there, looked down upon from heaven by believers drinking wine on soft couches in the company of untouched virgin to whom they have been freshly wed by God.
All in all, Koran, literally taken, is, like the prophesies of Moses and Jesus, as the word of God, clearly and undoubtedly inconsistent with what in the context of the United Nations has been called "human rights". The "declaration of human rights" hence can hardly be called "universal" and its meaning is restricted to being a banner of Western post-christian political ethics with its origin in the Enlightenment. This may explain why "human rights" are respected neither in Muslem countries, nor in the west (Amnesty International).
In later stages of the development of Islamic culture, Arabs, while
conquering the world, quickly understood the way of Koran is needs amendment if
you are to operate an empire. Arabs established themselves everywhere as local
elites, united in a pan-Arab trade federation. Trade was made more secure by
using the sakk (check) for payment.
The zero interest rate was upheld (though ingenuity created many ways to paying crypto interest). In principle, there was no way to earn just by owning of capital and lending it. That implied absence of a "financial sector", the main cause of business cycles in economies that have one. Earning could, in principle, only be done through production (farming, craftsmanship), trade and service (military and administrative officials).
But an important additional source of income was the taxation of unbelievers and non-Arab believers, not to mention the surplus produced by slaves over their cost of maintenance.
Thus Islam matured into an extremely wealthy, technologically unprecedented zero interest rate commercial society, a heaven on earth for the Arabic elite.
Semitic Regimes of Pleasure, Abstinence and Punishment
Koran source texts