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The Essential Koran

Thomas Cleary’s The Essential Koran is a sort of summarized version of the Islamic text. It consists of passages selected for the opening of Islam to the modern Western mind.

I was surprised at the lack of myth in the book. It seemed to be filled with “God is this, God is that, disbelievers are poopy.” Names were dropped (Moses, Jesus, etc) and the Garden of Eden* was given a full page, but there were no real stories — the most important aspect of any religion or believe system. I’m forced to think that this is a result of the summation, that the actual Qur’an contains more myth.

I found many disagreements in the text, though none that I think are specific of Islam. Rather, all large, organized religions seem to fall to this.

Despite the beauty of the words, it describes a life of fear. Fear of some god, some master hanging over you. Even those who claim to love and find joy in their god must consider with every action what their judge will think of them. There is no harmony in this — these tiered systems, that find a distinction between heaven and earth.

They do not comprehend anything…except as God wills.
What’s this? Are humans not sentient? You are your own being. You are god. You know as well as any what lays before you and what lays behind you.

And what is the life of the world but the stuff of deception?

How can one live so removed? How can one deny the joys and beauties and truth of life?

There is much good in Islam — kindness, benevolence, tolerance — but it is still a structure of (dank) submission. A belief that separates its followers from the Earth.

  • A note on the Garden of Eden story: this version has the fruit enlightening Adam and Eve to their bodies. It is said “and when they tasted of the tree, their shame was exposed to them; and they began to sew together leaves from the garden to cover themselves.”. Our bodies are now something to be shameful of? So much for humans shaped in the image of their God, and all that.

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