Saturday, 15 October 2011

I've been reading the book "Goodbye Mohammed" by Norbert Pressburg. So far only available in German, it explores some of the research that's been done on Koranic origins in Germany in recent years. One of these researchers, Christoph Luxenberg (a pseudonym) focuses on the Syro-Aramaic origins of the Koran. Syro-Armaic language is so pervasive in the Koran that Luxenberg believes a proto-Koran written entirely in Syro-Armaic must once have existed. (And perhaps still does somewhere: wouldn't that be interesting if it turned up?)

Many passages of the Koran seem either bizarre or incomprehensible when interpreted as Arabic alone. When Syro-Aramaic is taken into account, however, they acquire a whole new meaning. In a previous post, Johnny Rottenborough already mentioned how the idea of Islamic Jihad murderers (so-called martyrs) being rewarded in paradise with 72 virgins is based on a mis-translation.

Another important translation mistake occurs in Sura 24, Verse 31. This verse is used to justify the imposition of veil-wearing on Muslim women.
And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts, and display not their ornaments, except those which are outside; and let them pull their kerchiefs over their bosoms and not display their ornaments save to their husbands and fathers...
Source

The word 'kerchief' here in the original text is 'chumur'. 'Chumur' is not an Arabic word. It is incomprehensible in Arabic. However, the Persian Koranic commentator Tabari, writing around the year 900, decided that it meant 'headscarf/veil' and that this garment should cover the hair, neck and earrings. This is the source of the Islamic tradition that women should wear the veil, passed down to the present day.

Viewed through the prism of Syro-Aramaic, however, the passage takes on a wholly different meaning. 'Chumur' means 'belt' in Syro-Aramaic. Read correctly, the passage tells women not to 'pull their kerchiefs over their breasts' or heads but to 'pull their belts around their loins' or hips.

Bear this in mind the next time you see a heated debate about the wearing or banning of the burka in Europe. The whole thing is based on a translation error.

I'll post more interesting nuggets from the Goodbye Mohammed book as I read through it.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe that the whole koran is a translation error.

Johnny Rottenborough said...

I need to do some more reading on this but a proto-Islam based on Christianity emerged in the far north of Arabia; the Negev desert has many rock inscriptions that subsequently found their way into the Qur’an. It may be that Mohammed (if such a figure existed) took that primitive religion and fashioned it in his own image.

Cheradenine Zakalwe said...

Interesting.

I get the feeling the book is tending towards the conclusion that Mohammed didn't exist - the clue is in the title, I suppose, but also various intimations in the text so far, although I'm only 10% of the way in - so I may have to revise my opinion that he was an epic con man.

Johnny Rottenborough said...

Until 60 years after his death, neither official documents nor rock inscriptions make any mention of Mohammed. Then, all at once, his name becomes part of the state’s official religious terminology along with the bismillah, ‘In the name of Allah’.

What with Islam’s origins being so dubious and its holy book a literary and theological disaster zone, it’s no surprise Muslims are touchy about their faith. I hope very much that Good Bye Mohammed will appear in English but will any publisher dare risk it?

Cheradenine Zakalwe said...

It would be the weirdest story in history if someone had just made this whole nonsense up: epic tragi-comedy. Someone apart from Mohammed I mean.

Just when you think the Islamic sickness can't get any sicker, along comes another twist.

Johnny Rottenborough said...

For those with excellent eyesight and a good working knowledge of Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac, the English version of Christoph Luxenberg’s The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran is here.

Cheradenine Zakalwe said...

Nice. You can download it and zoom in.

Johnny Rottenborough said...

I chickened out of the download after staring slack-jawed at the difficulty of the text.

Anonymous said...

The English version of the book by Norbert Pressburg is now available. It is titled:

"What the modern martyr should know: 72 grapes and not a single virgin. The new picture of islam."

Anonymous said...

The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran at Scribd is private not public!

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