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The Koran

Title: The Koran
Original title: القرآن
Author: Muhammad
Translator: K. V. Zetterstéen
Year: 610-629

As some sort of introductory disclaimer, I would like to point out that my reading of the Koran was conducted in a spirit of curiosity and inquiry. I simply wanted to know what the book was about, and what was actually said in it. Therefore, this review will cover the Koran as any other book, so this review should not be interpreted as commenting on things external to the book. In other words, this is not a review of the religion Islam, but it is a review of the book as perceived by a secular westerner such as myself.

First and foremost, the version I have is very beautiful. The cover image can be seen above, but gives little credit to the wonderful blending of green and gold on the real book. The text itself is also neatly presented. However, the language of my Swedish translation is very archaic, which at first made the reading cumbersome. It only took me a short while to get into the flow of it and begin to appreciate the language instead of despising it. Some sentences are truly adorable, but I do not know if the translator K. V. Zetterstéen should take credit for this or not.

As for the content, I am afraid that I do not like the Koran very much.. To begin with, it is extremely repetitive, both in language usage and content. Sometimes, the same sentence or paragraph will appear many times in different chapters, but more often, very similar phrases will recur. If was dogmatic, I could have summarised the book in just a couple of sentences: Those who reject Allah will burn in hell for eternity, those who are faithful to Allah will rejoice in paradise, and Allah is omnipotent. The essence of these three sentences are reiterated many, many hundreds of times in the Koran and become rather tiresome to read after a while.

However, since I am not very dogmatic, I intend to focus on other things instead. The structure of the text is rather odd. Since no certain information prevails on which order the chapters were written, they have been put roughly in order of length (there are minor exceptions, though). This makes the reading of the Koran more enjoyable as pages go by. The shorter chapters towards the end are often interesting, more to the point and also sport a more attractive language.

Concerning the moral of the text, I am horrified by some passages, but rather impressed by others. At times, the language describing what will happen to the unbelievers is horrible, which also applies to certain passages describing what should be done to unbelievers. I know that there are many interpretations of these; some claim that the Koran only advocates violence in self-defence or that all people are really Muslims (so therefore, the most terrible things mentioned in the Koran really does not apply to most people), but that is not how it appears to me in this translation. On the other hand, the message of alms, of helping the poor and of respecting other people is honourable and something I quite like.

To sum things up, I do not regret that I read the Koran, because it really does not do not to have read such an important text. It bears much resemblance with the Old Testament in that both seem to be about clearly dividing people into us (the believers) and them (the unbelievers), and then stating what will happen to the two groups and provide tales to convince the reader to join the correct one. However, the style of reiteration and dwelling on topics dwelt on a hundred times before in other chapters, make it fairly tiresome to read. The Koran is interesting, but it is presented in a style I do not like at all.

Further reading
USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts (containing, among other things, three English translations of the text)