The writer Sebastian Faulks recently commented on the Quran that:
“It’s a depressing book. It really is. It’s just the rantings of a schizophrenic. It’s very one-dimensional, and people talk about the beauty of the Arabic and so on, but the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very disappointing.
“There is also the barrenness of the message. I mean, there are some bits about diet, you know, the equivalent of the Old Testament, which is also crazy. If you look again at those books of the law, Leviticus or Deuteronomy, there’s a lot about who you are allowed to sleep with, and if a man had lost his testicles he wouldn’t enter into the presence of God, that is just terrible. But the great thing about the Old Testament is that it does have these incredible stories. Of the 100 greatest stories ever told, 99 are probably in the Old Testament and the other is in Homer.
“With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says ‘the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.’ That’s basically the message of the book.”
I ask if he had talked to many British Muslims before beginning to write. “I didn’t, actually, no. I read some books and I’ve got a few Muslim friends, but I thought I’d get it better from books and from reading the source.”
He later retracted and apologised (making himself look rather foolish) claiming his comments had been taken out of context:
"While I believe the voice-hearing of many Old Testament prophets and of John the Baptist in the New might well raise psychiatric eyebrows today, it is absurd to suggest that the Prophet, who achieved so much in military and political – quite apart from religious – terms, can have suffered from any acute illness. Only a fully cogent and healthy person could have done what he did," Faulks told the Guardian today. He went on to offer "a simple but unqualified apology to my Muslim friends and readers for anything that has come out sounding crude or intolerant. Happily, there is more to the book than that."
I am no fan of Ziauddin Sardar, but he has responded well to the whole episode in the Guardian saying:
"Frankly, the "offence" does not bother me. If Faulks finds the Qur'an "a depressing book", so be it. The Qur'an itself says he is entitled to his opinion. What concerns me is the monumental arrogance on which such judgments are made. They assume there must be only one – the western – way for things to be. If the Qur'an is a religious text then it must be like the Bible; otherwise it is worthless. If it is a literary text then it must resemble the work of a western novelist, otherwise it is "very disappointing" and "one-dimensional". The complex, multilayered religious and literary texts of other cultures can only be viewed through a single, monochromatic lens.
Given "the barrenness of the message", how could it motivate the believers to develop science and learning, promote reason and experimental method, establish universities and research-based hospitals, and advance philosophical inquiry? How could the mere "rantings of a schizophrenic" produce philosophers such as Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, the multicultural society of Muslim Spain and the architecture of the Blue Mosque? If the Qur'an has no artistic merit, how did it inspire the poetry of Nizami and Iqbal, the masterpieces of Rumi and al-Attar, and the music of Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan that is all the rage in certain western circles?
I would be the last person to suggest that the text of the Qur'an is easy. It does require some effort and research. But what did Faulks' "breathtaking" research amount to? He read a single, bad translation. He thought it was unnecessary to consult his Muslim friends. But he did not even bother to read the poor translation properly."
It was nice to see an apology and a measured response rather than the usual angry reaction which benefits no-one. I always think, don't get angry, make dawah insh'Allah on the point that is being discussed, use it as an opportunity to educate. Perhaps we are maturing as a community? I certainly hope so.