In this post I’ll provide some of the tools and resources that have helped me in my research. I’ve posted a few on the “Research Resources” page. I’ll keep expanding as time goes on. These resources; however, are of critical importance. Most are free, but papers from JSTOR which will be cited often for the formal essays here does require a subscription, unless you have free access via a 3rd party. EDIT: I’ve added a link to Libgen, where many pirated versions of books are available for free.
The first two resources are for verifying the range of meanings allowed by the roots of the words used in the Quran. For those unaware, Arabic is perhaps the most complex spoken language that man ever developed. It’s also a more logical language, in the way words are constructed and that there are no “duppes.” This language may have many different words for “camel” but each of those words provides different specific attributes. The way root-based languages work, is that the “root” contains the essence of the meaning. Roots have a range of meaning, and the derivatives carry within them that entire range. This allows Arabic an exceptional ‘multi-dimensionality,’ at the cost of increased complexity.
As an analogy, think of the theory behind Quantum Computing. Unlike classical binary systems, which are limited to 1’s and 0’s, quantum ‘bits’ (‘qubits’) can be both ‘1s’ and a ‘0s’ at the same time via superposition. Such systems can pack more data, just as Arabic words pack much more meaning than English words. However, herein lies the problem of translation. Firstly, a text written in Classical Arabic, such as the Quran, can not be directly translated into a language like English. You can convey the meaning in English, but it will take more words then were used in the original sentence. So you can have an explanation/exposition of the original, but not exactly a translation. Secondly, and much more importantly, pinning down the correct meaning from the range allowed by the root, requires one to understand the context and check for consistency with the rest of the text. Moreover, since the Quran is a 1400 year old document, it also requires understanding how the word was applied by Arabs in that age, using classical sources.
Sound’s intimidating? It is, especially for non-Arabic speakers. This is why I have included books by G. A. Parwez. He was an intellectual from Pakistan who published an accessible explanation, in English, of the Quran. Parwez was not your average intellectual. He was extremely controversial and disliked by mainstream ‘scholars.’ His approach was rationalist, logical and based in understanding the Quran’s revolutionary message without imposing incorrect limitations that most other translations have done. Nor were his conclusions based in earlier commentaries, which themselves were influenced by the non-authentic hadith literature, and incorrect histories. Many of his conclusions are contained in the book “Islam: A Challenge to Religion,” linked on the Resources Page.
As you read Parwez’s exposition, and compare his explanation of the verses with the mainstream translations, you will notice many differences in meaning. This is where the first two tools are very helpful. You can take the exact root of the word in question and look at the range available to the word. This first step will verify that the applied meaning falls within the allowed range. Secondly, you’ll have to do an analysis, checking for consistency within the general context of the Quran’s narrative. I have only found one error in Parwez’s exposition of the Quran, and that is a minor one. I consider this a minor fault, in an otherwise highly accurate explanation of the Quran, and one which I have found to be far superior to the mainstream ‘translations.’
With all of this said, it is up to the reader to verify the truth for themselves, always. The greatest tragedy of our civilization, is that there has been no adequate effort made to formally analyze the Quran, and by that I mean, laying out all of its rule verses and making “Truth Tables” etc. Such an enterprise is possible. Get a team of qualified logicians and linguists together in one room, give them a budget to work unhindered, and within a few years the result would be a precise output of meaning, with logical proofs, that is harmonized and finally codified. This will once and for all end the debates on the “interpretations” of the commands of the Quran. The mainstream will not do this, because they thrive on ambiguity. This is explained in the Quran as follows: “After people split into sects, every group thinks it is on the path of truth and is therefore content with its own way. Remember, splitting into sects or factions amounts to shirk.” (Verse 30:32, Quran: Parwez’s Exposition)
For now though, we must try and do what we can to get to the truth, using the meager resources we have available. It’s a sad state of affairs, I know. But it is what it is, and we just have to deal with it.