The Koran (Rodwell)

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For works with similar titles, see Qur'an.

INTRODUCTION


The Koran admittedly occupies an important position among the great religious books of the world. Though the youngest of the epoch-making works belonging to this class of literature, it yields to hardly any in the wonderful effect which it has produced on large masses of men. It has created an all but new phase of human thought and a fresh type of character. It first transformed a number of heterogeneous desert tribes of the Arabian peninsula into a nation of heroes, and then proceeded to create the vast politico-religious organisations of the Muhammedan world which are one of the great forces with which Europe and the East have to reckon to-day.

The secret of the power exercised by the book, of course, lay in the mind which produced it. It was, in fact, at first not a book, but a strong living voice, a kind of wild authoritative proclamation, a series of admonitions, promises, threats, and instructions addressed to turbulent and largely hostile assemblies of untutored Arabs. As a book it was published after the prophet's death. In Muhammed's life-time there were only disjointed notes, speeches, and the retentive memories of those who listened to them. To speak of the Koran is, therefore, practically the same as speaking of Muhammed, and in trying to appraise the religious value of the book one is at the same time attempting to form an opinion of the prophet himself. It would indeed be difficult to find another case in which there is such a complete identity between the literary work and the mind of the man who produced it.

That widely different estimates have been formed of Muhammed is well-known. To Moslems he is, of course, the prophet par excellence, and the Koran is regarded by the orthodox as nothing less than the eternal utterance of Allah.The eulogy pronounced by Carlyle on Muhammed in Heroes and Hero Worship will probably be endorsed by not a few at the present day. The extreme contrary opinion, which in a fresh form has recently been revived[1] by an able writer, is hardly likely to find much lasting support. The correct view very probably lies between the two extremes. The relative value of any given system of religious thought must depend on the amount of truth which it embodies as well as on the ethical standard which its adherents are bidden to follow. Another important test is the degree of originality that is to be assigned to it, for it can manifestly only claim credit for that which is new in it, not for that which it borrowed from other systems.

With regard to the first-named criterion, there is a growing opinion among students of religious history that Muhammed may in a real sense be regarded as a prophet of certain truths, though by no means of truth in the absolute meaning of the term. The shortcomings of the moral teaching contained in the Koran are striking enough if judged from the highest ethical standpoint with which we are acquainted; but a much more favourable view is arrived at if a comparison is made between the ethics of the Koran and the moral tenets of Arabian and other forms of heathenism which it supplanted.

The method followed by Muhammed in the promulgation of the Koran also requires to be treated with discrimination. From the first flash of prophetic inspiration which is clearly discernible in the earlier portions of the book he, later on, frequently descended to deliberate invention and artful rhetoric. He, in fact, accommodated his moral sense to the circumstances in which the r\oc\le he had to play involved him.

On the question of originality there can hardly be two opinions now that the Koran has been thoroughly compared with the Christian and Jewish traditions of the time; and it is, besides some original Arabian legends, to those only that the book stands in any close relationship. The matter is for the most part borrowed, but the manner is all the prophet's own. This is emphatically a case in which originality consists not so much in the creation of new materials of thought as in the manner in which existing traditions of various kinds are utilised and freshly blended to suit the special exigencies of the occasion. Biblical reminiscences, Rabbinic legends, Christian traditions mostly drawn from distorted apocryphal sources, and native heathen stories, all first pass through the prophet's fervid mind, and thence issue in strange new forms, tinged with poetry and enthusiasm, and well adapted to enforce his own view of life and duty, to serve as an encouragement to his faithful

adherents, and to strike terror into the hearts of his opponents.

There is, however, apart from its religious value, a more general view from which the book should be considered. The Koran enjoys the distinction of having been the starting-point of a new literary and philosophical movement which has powerfully affected the finest and most cultivated minds among both Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. This general progress of the Muhammedan world has somehow been arrested, but research has shown that what European scholars knew of Greek philosophy, of mathematics, astronomy, and like sciences, for several centuries before the Renaissance, was, roughly speaking, all derived from Latin treatises ultimately based on Arabic originals; and it was the Koran which, though indirectly, gave the first impetus to these studies among the Arabs and their allies. Linguistic investigations, poetry, and other branches of literature, also made their appearance soon after or simultaneously with the publication of the Koran; and the literary movement thus initiated has resulted in some of the finest products of genius and learning.

The style in which the Koran is written requires some special attention in this introduction. The literary form is for the most part different from anything else we know. In its finest passages we indeed seem to hear a voice akin to that of the ancient Hebrew prophets, but there is much in the book which Europeans usually regard as faulty. The tendency to repetition which is an inherent characteristic of the Semitic mind appears here in an exaggerated form, and there is in addition much in the Koran which strikes us as wild and fantastic. The most unfavourable criticism ever passed on Muhammed's style has in fact been penned by the prophet's greatest British admirer, Carlyle himself; and there are probably many now who find themselves in the same dilemma with that great writer.

The fault appears, however, to lie partly in our difficulty to appreciate the psychology of the Arab prophet. We must, in order to do him justice, give full consideration to his temperament and to the condition of things around him. We are here in touch with an untutored but fervent mind, trying to realise itself and to assimilate certain great truths which have been powerfully borne in upon him, in order to impart them in a convincing form to his fellow-tribesmen. He is surrounded by obstacles of every kind, yet he manfully struggles on with the message that is within him. Learning he has none, or next to none. His chief objects of knowledge are floating stories and traditions largely picked up from hearsay, and his over-wrought mind is his only teacher. The literary compositions to which he had ever listened were the half-cultured, yet often wildly powerful rhapsodies of early Arabian minstrels, akin to Ossian rather than to anything else within our knowledge. What wonder then that his Koran took a form which to our colder temperaments sounds strange, unbalanced, and fantastic?

Yet the Moslems themselves consider the book the finest that ever appeared among men. They find no incongruity in the style. To them the matter is all true and the manner all perfect. Their eastern temperament responds readily to the crude, strong, and wild appeal which its cadences make to them, and the jingling rhyme in which the sentences of a discourse generally end adds to the charm of the whole. The Koran, even if viewed from the point of view of style alone, was to them from the first nothing less than a miracle, as great a miracle as ever was wrought.

But to return to our own view of the case. Our difficulty in appreciating the style of the Koran even moderately is, of course, increased if, instead of the original, we have a translation before us. But one is happy to be able to say that Rodwell's rendering is one of the best that have as yet been produced. It seems to a great extent to carry with it the atmosphere in which Muhammed lived, and its sentences are imbued with the flavour of the East. The quasi-verse form, with its unfettered and irregular rhythmic flow of the lines, which has in suitable cases been adopted, helps to bring out much of the wild charm of the Arabic. Not the least among its recommendations is, perhaps, that it is scholarly without being pedantic that is to say, that it aims at correctness without sacrificing the right effect of the whole to over-insistence on small details.

Another important merit of Rodwell's edition is its chronological arrangement of the Suras or chapters. As he tells us himself in his preface, it is now in a number of cases impossible to ascertain the exact occasion on which a discourse, or part of a discourse, was delivered, so that the system could not be carried through with entire consistency. But the sequence adopted is in the main based on the best available historical and literary evidence; and in following the order of the chapters as here printed, the reader will be able to trace the development of the prophet's mind as he gradually advanced from the early flush of inspiration to the less spiritual and more equivocal rôle of warrior, politician, and founder of an empire.

G. MARGOLIOUTH.

1909.


The following is a list of English translations:—

From the original Arabic by G. Sale, 1734, 1764, 1795, 1801; many later editions, which include a memoir of the translator by R. A. Davenport, and notes from Savary's version of the Koran; an edition issued by E. M. Wherry, with additional notes and commentary (Trübner's Oriental Series), 1882, etc.; Sale's translation has also been edited in the Chandos Classics, and among Lubbock's Hundred Books (No. 22). The Holy Qurán, translated by Dr. Mohammad Abdul Hakim Khan, with short notes, 1905; Translation by J. M. Rodwell, with notes and index (the Suras arranged in chronological order), 1861, 2nd ed., 1876; by E. H. Palmer (Sacred Books of the East, vols. vi., ix.).

Selections: Chiefly from Sale's edition, by E. W. Lane, 1843; revised and enlarged with introduction by S. Lane-Poole. (Trübner's Oriental Series), 1879; The Speeches and Table-Talk of the Prophet Mohammad, etc., chosen and translated, with introduction and notes by S. Lane-Poole, 1882 (Golden Treasury Series); Selections with introduction and explanatory notes (from Sale and other writers), by J. Murdock (Sacred Books of the East), 2nd ed., 1902; The Religion of the Koran, selections with an introduction by A. N. Wollaston (The Wisdom of the East), 1904. TO

SIR WILLIAM MARTIN, K.T., D.C.L. LATE CHIEF JUSTICE OF NEW ZEALAND,

THIS VOLUME IS DEDICATED,

WITH SINCERE FEELINGS OF ESTEEM FOR HIS PRIVATE WORTH, PUBLIC SERVICES, AND EMINENT LITERARY ATTAINMENTS, BY

THE TRANSLATOR.

TABLE TO FIND THE PLACE IN THIS EDITION THE SURAS AS COMMONLY NUMBERED

(Everyman's Library Edition)

The first column gives the customary serial number of the Sura, the second the page in this edition.

1 28
2 338
3 385
4 410
5 485
6 317
7 293
8 375
9 470
10 275
11 215
12 230
13 333
14 225
15 112
16 200
17 164
18 180
19 117
20 94
21 151
22 453
23 144
24 443
25 159
26 103
27 174
28 247
29 261
30 210
31 267
32 190
33 434
34 284
35 289
36 130
37 79
38 124
39 255
40 240
41 192
42 270
43 135
44 88
45 197
46 313
47 382
48 460
49 468
50 91
51 60
52 63
53 69
54 76
55 74
56 65
57 407
58 450
59 431
60 465
61 405
62 373
63 442
64 372
65 429
66 464
67 142
68 32
69 58
70 72
71 85
72 140
73 24
74 21
75 55
76 87
77 50
78 51
79 48
80 39
81 45
82 44
83 57
84 46
85 42
86 37
87 40
88 53
89 54
90 35
91 38
92 31
93 25
94 26
95 41
96 19
97 37
98 371
99 44
100 47
101 43
102 31
103 42
104 30
105 36
106 36
107 31
108 30
109 29
110 468
111 29
112 30
113 27
114 27
INDEX TO FIND THE CUSTOMARY SERIAL NUMBER

OF THE SURAS AS ARRANGED BY THE TRANSLATOR

[The figures of the first column shew the number of the Suras in this edition ; those of the second, the numbers in the Arabic text ; those ot the third, the page.]

page
1 96 19
2 74 21
3 73 24
4 93 25
5 94 26
6 113 27
7 114 27
8 1 28
9 109 29
10 112 29
11 111 29
12 108 30
13 104 30
14 107 31
15 102 31
16 92 31
17 68 32
18 90 35
19 105 36
20 106 36
21 97 37
22 86 37
23 91 38
24 80 39
25 87 40
26 95 41
27 103 42
28 85 42
29 101 43
30 99 44
31 82 44
32 81 45
33 84 46
34 100 47
35 79 48
36 77 50
37 78 51
38 88 53
page
39 89 54
40 75 55
41 83 57
42 69 58
43 51 60
44 52 63
45 56 65
46 53 69
47 70 72
48 55 74
49 54 76
50 37 79
51 71 85
52 76 87
53 44 88
54 50 91
55 20 94
56 26 103
57 15 112
58 19 117
59 38 124
60 36 130
61 43 135
62 72 140
63 67 142
64 23 144
65 21 151
66 25 159
67 17 164
68 27 174
69 18 180
70 32 190
71 41 192
72 45 197
73 16 200
74 30 210
75 11 215
76 14 225
page
77 12 230
78 40 240
79 28 247
80 39 255
81 29 261
82 31 267
83 42 270
84 10 275
85 34 284
86 35 289
87 7 293
88 46 313
89 6 317
90 13 333
91 2 338
92 98 371
93 64 372
94 62 373
95 8 375
96 47 382
97 3 385
98 61 405
99 57 407
100 4 410
101 65 429
102 59 431
103 33 434
104 63 442
105 24 443
106 58 450
107 22 453
108 48 460
109 66 464
110 60 465
111 110 468
112 49 468
113 9 470
114 5 485

ADDENDA

Page 32, note 3. - The symbol nun may possibly refer to this letter as forming the Rhyme in most of the verses of this Sura.

Page 125, note 2. - This is the usual interpretation. Lit. Lord of, or, possessor of stakes (comp. li. 39 in Ar.), i.e., Forces. Dr. Sprenger ingeniously suggests that Muhammad's Jewish informant may have described Pharaoh as rich in neçyb, i.e., fortresses; whereas, in Ar., naçyb, means an erection, pillar, etc., for which Muhammad substituted the word for tent stakes. Vol. i. (470).

Page 391, verse 45. - Lit. who my helpers unto God? i.e., helpers of his religion (Beidh). If Muhammad had become, by any means, acquainted with the use of the Æth. radeh, helper or disciple, we have herein a probable interpretation of this passage, as well as of the word Ansar.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

 
  1. Mahommed and the Rise of Islam, in "Heroes of Nations" series.