1: The Opening
I cracked open my Quran over the weekend and read the first chapter in all of 10 seconds. I am a speed reading genius! OK, not really. The Opening is only 7 lines long, and it’s forever burned into my brain thanks to the rote learning techniques used at my Islamic Sunday school.
Ahhh, memories. We’d sit there hunched over our Qurans, repeating the same line over and over again until it was committed to memory. In Arabic. None of us actually understood what we were reading, we just memorized it. I spent a lot of that time daydreaming about boys and about getting my very first period so I could skip out on the afternoon prayer on account of my “uncleanliness.” Typical 12 year old stuff, right? Right?? I digress.
The Quran is supposed to be the flawless, infallible “word of God,” which means God speaks directly to Mohammed and the Muslims throughout the book. I guess I expected him to say “I” and “me” or maybe even the royal “we” or “us.” But no. God refers to himself in third person. And if that isn’t weird enough, this surah is a prayer to God…written by God. The fuck?
In the name of Allah, most benevolent, ever-merciful.
All of the surahs start out with this, and even though I’ve said it a gazillion times before, I’ve never given it much thought. God starts each chapter by declaring it in his name, and as if that isn’t enough, he reminds us that he is incredibly generous and merciful. Pretentious much? Or maybe, just maybe, this was a later addition, and the book is not the infallible word of God it claims to be.
1. ALL PRAISE BE to Allah, Lord of all the worlds,
Seriously, I can’t get over it. The whole 3rd person perspective is throwing me off. Shouldn’t it be, “All praise be to me, Lord of all the worlds”?
I had to look this up, and according to my research, this is a serious problem throughout the book. It’ll switch from God speaking to Mohammed speaking. Someone along the way figured out a clever way to get around this by adding the command “Say:” to the beginning of those passages. They don’t make sense as they are written, so adding “Say:” to the beginning makes it seem like God is telling you to declare something. Most likely something about how merciful or benevolent he is.
2. Most beneficent, ever-merciful,
Again with the merciful. Spoiler alert! I skipped ahead a little, scanned through some passages, and there’s some stuff in the Quran that’s anything but merciful. One word: Lot. …and his daughters. OK fine, four words. Sue me.
3. King of the Day of Judgement.
Our very first reference to the end of the world. On the Day of Judgement, according to what I learned in Sunday school, the earth will open up and all the bodies will come climbing out of their graves to answer to God. I assumed all this time that this zombie Judgement was invented on the spot by my teacher, but I’ve found the same stories online, too. This has never made sense to me. What happens to bodies that aren’t in graves? If you’re cremated or buried at sea, do you get a free pass? Will there be no Hindus or pirates in the next life?
4. You alone we worship, and to You alone turn for help.
5. Guide us (O Lord) to the path that is straight,
What’s with the (O Lord) parentheses? They don’t have them in the Arabic text, as far as I can tell.
I looked through the book and there are a lot of things that Ahmed Ali puts into parentheses — things I can’t find in the other translations I consulted online. I even ran across one line where Ahmed Ali adds a (God) with a footnote saying something like, “Clearly this section is talking about God, not Mohammed.” But without this parenthetical (God), it wouldn’t be clear at all. Methinks Mr. Ali doth protest too much. Mealsothinks the Arabic text must not be the perfect and infallible text it claims to be since one has to infer so much. More on that later. Moving along.
6. The path of those You have blessed,
Hint hint: he’s talking about Muslims.
7. Not of those who have earned Your anger, nor those who have gone astray.
Whoo boy, Jew bashing, right off the bat. According to my research and the neat little footnote at the bottom of the page, “Those who have earned (God’s) anger” refers to Jews. I vaguely remember learning that in Islamic Sunday school, but I can’t remember the reason why God is angry at the Jews.
“Those who have gone astray” refers to Christians. They’re not as bad as the Jews; they’re just lost. I guess that explains why they’re always looking for Jesus. (He’s over here, Christians. You can stop looking.)
That’s it. That’s the first chapter. Not much to it.
Here’s what I got out of The Opening: God is great, loves Muslims, hates Jews, and is neutral on Christians.
I was feeling ambitious, so I read on to chapter 2, The Cow. Big mistake. It turns out that The Cow is the longest chapter in the Quran. I hope it’s also the most boring chapter in the Quran because, holy hell, it dragged on and on and on. And it’s chock fucking full of God is most mercifuls and God is most benevolents and God is most blah blah blah. I was thisclose to gouging my eyes out by the end. That’s coming up next. Stay tuned!