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2.2 MISCONCEPTIONS

As I grew up, I was always taught that 'Mahomet' was the author of the Qur'an; I remember seeing French translations bearing this information. I was invariably told that the 'author' of the Qur'an simply compiled, in a slightly different form, stories of sacred history taken from the Bible; the 'author' was said to have added or removed certain passages, while setting forth the principles and rules of the religion he himself had founded. There are moreover Islamic scholars today in France whose duties include teaching and who express exactly these views, although perhaps in a more subtle form.
This description of the origins of the Qur'anic text, which is so out of touch with reality, might lead one immediately to assume that if there are scientific errors in the Bible, there must also be errors of this kind in the Qur'an! This is the natural conclusion to be drawn in such circumstances, but it is based on a misconception. We are well aware that at the time of Muhammad - the Qur'anic Revelation took place between 610 and 632 A.D - scientific obscurantism prevailed, both in the Orient as well as in the West.
In France, for example, this period corresponded roughly to the reign of King Dagobert, the last of the Mrovingians. This approach to what was supposedly the Qur'anic text may on first sight seem logical, but when one examines the text with an informed and impartial eye, it becomes clear that this approach is not at all in keeping with reality. We shall see in a moment the truth of this statement, which is obvious from the texts.
Whenever there is textual proof of the existence in the Qur'an of statements that are in agreement with modern knowledge, but which in the Bible are related in a manner that is scientifically unacceptable, the stock response is that, during the period separating the two Scriptures, Arab scientists made discoveries in various disciplines which enabled them to arrive at these supposed adaptations. This approach takes no account whatsoever of the history of the sciences. The latter indicates that the great period of Islamic civilizations, during which, as we know, science made considerable progress, came several centuries after the communication of the Qur'an to the communication of the Qur'an to man.
Furthermore, scientific history informs us that, as far as the subjects dealt with in this present book are concerned, no discoveries were made during, the period separating the Bible from the Qur'an.
When this aspect of the Qur'an is mentioned in the West, however, we are likely to hear it said that while this may indeed be so, nowhere is this fact referred to in the translations of the Qur'an which we possess today, or in the prefaces and commentaries that accompany them.
This is a very judicious remark. Muslim - and indeed non-Muslim -
translators who have produced a French version of the Qur'an are basically men of letters. More often than not, they mistranslate a passage because they do not possess the scientific knowledge required to understand its true meaning. The fact is, however, that in order to translate correctly, one must first understand what one is reading. A further point is that translators - especially those mentioned above - - may have been influenced by notes provided by ancient commentators often came to be regarded as highly authoritative, even though they had no scientific knowledge - nor indeed had anybody else at that time. They were incapable of imagining that the texts might contain allusions to secular knowledge, and thus they could not devote attention to a specific passage by comparing it to other verses in the Qur'an dealing with the same subject - a process that often provides the key to the meaning of a word or expression. From this results the fact that any passage in the Qur'an that gives rise to a comparison with modern secular knowledge is likely to be unreliably translated.
Very often, the translations are peppered with inaccurate - if not totally nonsensical - statements. The only way to avoid such errors is to possess a scientific background and to study the Qur'anic text in the original language.


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