Reading the Qur'an

A few weeks ago, I read the Qur’an[1] while on vacation. I’m not religious, but I figured it must have some positive qualities if over a billion people believe it to be the greatest book ever written. Also it was a short read, maybe 15 hours total.

It turns out I was wrong about the positive qualities. If I didn’t already have an inkling of the depth and breadth of human irrationality, I would be shocked to discover that billions accept this book as gospel. Its lack of divine inspiration is obvious to anyone who isn’t indoctrinated. For example: After a paragraph-long introduction sura, God apparently told Muhammad to title the second (and longest) sura The Cow. There is nothing in the Qur’an that couldn’t have been written by a 7th-century schizophrenic who knew parts of the Old and New Testament. The entire text contains no references to basic biology, chemistry, or physics. There is no mention of the germ theory of disease, evolution, DNA, or fundamental physical constants. It would take but a few pages to outline these topics. Not only would this be evidence of divine inspiration, it would have saved humanity centuries of suffering in squalor.

It’s bad enough that the Qur’an is scientifically ignorant, but it’s also morally backwards. The Qur’an endorses slavery. It mandates lethal punishments for benign actions. The message is anything but, “Turn the other cheek.” It wholeheartedly approves of violence against unbelievers. In addition, much time is spent gloating over the horrific fates of infidels in the afterlife. Muhammad can’t stop fantasizing about fire. He’s like Claude Frollo from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame. And there’s sexism. The Qur’an is the most sexist text I’ve read.[2] While it’s possible to twist the text and interpret it more equitably (and Haleem’s footnotes make a valiant attempt), a straightforward reading is unambiguous: A woman is simply worth less than a man.

When it comes to the structure of the text, there’s very little to speak of besides its absence. The author comes across as schizophrenic. Suras veer in random directions with little or no warning. In many ways, it reminds me of Time Cube. The Qur’an repeats certain phrases excessively. It’s as if someone loaded a cannon full of stock phrases and shot them at the text, peppering it randomly with, “God is all-merciful.” “God is fully aware of what you do.” “God is not unaware of what you do.” and so on. Over and over and over. One begins to wonder if God feels insecure.

In short, the Qur’an is a terrible guide for how to live one’s life in the 21st century. It was clearly authored by a 7th-century human. But don’t take my word for it. Read the text yourself and come to your own conclusions.


Please don’t take what I’ve said here as insulting Muslims or Islam. I’m only talking about my impressions from reading the Qur’an. It’s likely that the only reason I’m not saying similar things about other religious texts is that I haven’t read them.

  1. The specific version was M. A. S. Abdel Haleem’s English translation of the Qur’an, which is widely considered to be the best.
  2. I haven’t read the Bible in its entirety, though I bet it’s similar.

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