Banned Books Week: The Quran

Title: The Quran
Also Spelled: Qur’an, Koran, Al-Coran, Kuran, and Al-Qur’an
Challenged and burned in: Gainesville, Florida

You may remember this one. There’s a whole Wikipedia page about it. I was kind of surprised it appeared on the ALA’s list since it isn’t library-related, although arguably every time you burn a book, librarians hear its spirit cry out in pain like Obi-Wan Kenobi when Alderaan gets Death Star’d. After reading a lot of news articles about this guy, I’ve decided Florida pastor Terry Jones really just wants attention. Which is why he’s done things like threatening to burn a Quran on the 9th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, and then, a year later, actually burning it after “putting the Quran on trial” for crimes against humanity and finding it guilty of all charges. Why else would he post the video on youtube, with Arabic subtitles? Guy is clearly real-life trolling and trying to start something. Which he accomplished: Both instances sparked protests overseas, leaving at least 16 dead and many more injured. More recently he’s done things like hang an effigy of President Obama outside his church because “Obama is killing America”.

Apparently during the Quran’s “trial” Terry Jones wore “traditional judge robes” and considered shooting, drowning, or shredding as punishments after the accused was found “guilty” by the jury. This description reminded me really strongly of medieval animal trials where domesticated animals would be tried and sentenced for criminal damages, murder, or complicity in bestiality. They would also try things like weevils and other pests for ruining crops, and occasionally inanimate objects or corpses depending on who or what was perceived to be at fault for supposed crimes. If only this were still part of our legal system.

I would sue my dishwasher first thing. It knows what it did.

So I read the Quran. It was hands down the most interesting book I’ve read for the Banned Books project, and maybe even outside of it. I was grateful that the version I got from the library, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, came with lots of explanatory notes at the beginning of each sura (or chapter) and lots of footnotes too, explaining the history and different interpretations of the text. Since I don’t know much about Islamic culture or history, I would have been pretty lost otherwise.

Things that surprised me:
1) How much the Quran has in common with the Bible. The way Christianity and Islam have been historically at odds had me expecting some obvious and dramatic differences that would naturally lead to conflict, but really I think when it comes to basic morals there’s more commonality than difference. The basic message still seems to be “Be excellent to each other”.

2) How much I needed my knowledge of Biblical stories and characters to understand what was going on. Often people like Moses or Abraham were mentioned or alluded to without a full explanation of who they are, so I wonder how growing up in Islam works. I assume, unlike me, you don’t also read the Bible, but there must be some way to get a better understanding of who these people are and their back story? Or maybe you don’t need a back story to understand the message, although it certainly helped me be less confused.

3) It was pretty much poetry and I love it. I bet it sounds even better untranslated.

Even with the explanations, introduction, and maps that were helpfully provided, I still feel like I only got a surface understanding of what was going on, and would need to learn some more history to fully understand this book. But I’m really glad I read it, and would highly recommend it to anyone. I think, just like the Bible, its message can be distorted by people who want to use it to suit their own ends. An attempt at understanding can really stop these bigots and trolls in their tracks.

Previously: The Notebook Girls
Next: We’ll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives

4 responses to “Banned Books Week: The Quran”

  1. Brian says:

    Okay, MAD PROPS for reading the whole Qur’an. Seriously awesome. I’ve only read about half myself.

    It’s – yeah, there are the bits, like the Old Testament, where it’s all “here are the ways to split up inheritances, here are when you can beat your wife,” but yes, there is so much great poetry, so many great lines and verses. The thing I remember thinking was that in terms of style, it was way closer to what I imagined being God’s writing style than, like, Genesis is.

    So glad you found it so fascinating!


  2. Uncle Bill says:


    Be excellent unto each other, unless, you are a woman, or gay, or a Jew.

    I’m sure the book is poetic, and powerful poetry it must be.


    How do you explain the poetry being twisted to the point where it is OK to stone a woman to death for adultery? Or to whip her for driving a car or teaching her daughter to read?

    And what about that whole “death to the infidels” business that seems to be so popular in the Middle East?

    Were the Islamic fundamentalists who kidnapped, sodomized, tortured and killed our Libyan ambassador a few weeks ago not familiar with the whole kinder, gentler, “be excellent to each other” message of the Quran?

    I’m sure there are many good, decent, and devout Muslims on the planet, but it is time for them to stand up to the not insignificant numbers of their fellow Muslims who use the holy book as justification for behavior which can only be described, by any civilized human being, as “pure evil”.

    I can’t remember the last time I went to a good, old fashioned Methodist lashing or a Presbyterian stoning.

    Those jihadist fanatics make Scientology look appealing.

    • pladd says:

      People twist words to suit their own ends all the time. Using the Quran to justify violence against women or other religions is no different from the centuries of people using the Bible to justify the same thing. Crusades? Inquisitions? Witch burnings? Modern violence against homosexuals or Muslims? Religious justification for “pure evil” is unfortunately something that knows no culture. Which is why I wish more people would take the time to read about and understand other religions before judging everything based on the actions of extremists. I would hate for anyone to judge Christianity based on the actions of Paster Terry Jones, for instance.

      The Quran itself was about as misogynistic as the Bible (it was something I was particularly looking for), maybe a little more permissive, since divorce is okay and there’s no rule about marrying some guy with longer hair than you being a sure ticket to hell. I didn’t notice much anti-Christian sentiment either, more disapproval of polytheism, which totally fits historically.

    • Brian says:

      If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city.

      Deuteronomy 22:23-24

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