The Koran

by N. J. Dawood (Translator)

Paperback, 1974




Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1974.


The Koran is universally accepted by Muslims to be the infallible Word of God as first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel nearly fourteen hundred years ago. Its 114 chapters, or surahs, recount the narratives central to Muslim belief, and together they form one of the world's most influential prophetic works and a literary masterpiece in its own right. But, above all, the Koran provides the rules of conduct that remain fundamental to the Muslim faith today- prayer, fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimage to Mecca and absolute faith in God and His apostle.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Kade
The strange thing about reviews of religious texts is how tolerant review forums are of the review of text, the evaluation of mechanics, translation, and grammatical style with theological criticism. If you don't like God, then you give this book a 1. If you find God cruel, you give this book a 1. Amazon is practically overflowing with joke reviews by mean-spirited internet atheists, smugly griping about the "lack of interesting characters" or "the inconsistencies and plot holes and fickleness of the main character". How is this even relevant? The protagonist of Wuthering Heights is a bastard, people still consider it (and him part of it) a literary classic.

In terms of mechanics and style translation, I much prefer the Penguin Classics version for arranging things topically rather than scattering, say, the requirements for Halal all over the book. If you're an atheist, please don't buy this solely for the sake of giving it a 1 on some online review forum.
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LibraryThing member Muscogulus
There will never be a definitive English version of the Qur'an, as Muslims consider only the original Arabic to be authoritative. But Dawood's version is better English than most, so it's probably a good choice for non-Muslims. For many Muslims this is one of the most controversial translations, because Dawood, an Iraqi Christian, arbitrarily rearranged the order of the suras (chapters) to suit his literary taste. In more recent editions he has restored the traditional order. (My edition has his original arrangement.)… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is a must-read whether you’re an atheist, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan--whatever. Followers of Islam number one-and-a-half billion people--they’re the second most populous faith in the world and their impact on history has been profound. I believe that anyone that doesn’t read the Jewish and Christian Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads (sacred to 900 million Hindus and among the oldest written works) and at least try to get their message is going to be handicapped in understanding the world around them. Christians should also be interested in how the Koran incorporates stories from the Bible: Adam, Noah, Jonah, Mary and Jesus--they’re all in there. (Although I prefer the stories in the original source.)

I’m an atheist, but I did rate the Bible five stars without reservations and meant it. Not only because it’s essential reading given it’s sacred to 2 billion Christians, the largest world faith, not only because it is one of the oldest writings, giving us an insight into the origins of what it means to be human, but because, in essence, the Bible is not a book--it’s a library--a collection of great poetry and stories.

The Koran is different. Both on Goodreads and Librarything we’re forced to give the authorship of any works held as sacred as “anonymous” but from both a secular and religious point of view that just isn’t accurate. In the case of the Bible, the books in it all have traditional ascriptions. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible are believed by the faithful to have been written by Moses, the other books are usually named after their purported authors. From a secular point of view, although scholars might dispute authorship, it’s like the case with Homer. Many scholars believe that the Iliad and the Odyssey were written 300 years apart, but we give the traditional authorship as Homer for both because it’s convenient and we don’t know better. Jews and Christians alike don’t believe the Bible is written by God--the faithful believe it’s inspired by God, so from both the believing and skeptic point of view the authorship of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is “various.” It’s different with the Koran. Mohammed’s claim is that he was reciting the direct word of God as given him by the angel Gabriel. So from the point of view of the believing Muslim, the author of the Koran is God. But for a nonbeliever like me, it’s obviously by one man--Mohammed--who lived from 570 to 632 AD. And judging this book by a secular standard, no I can’t see it as equal to the Bible.

Now, I recognize I do have handicaps evaluating this book. Atheist I might be, but growing up in America I was raised in a Catholic household, educated in Catholic institutions, and surrounded by a dominant Christian culture. I had to take catechism to receive Communion and take classes in Religion to graduate my high school and college. It meant I had a cultural context and familiarity with the Bible well before I ever decided to read it cover to cover. I didn’t and don’t really have that with Islam. For a believing Muslim, reading the Koran in translation as I did means I didn’t really read the Koran. Remember, Mohammed’s claim is that he was reciting the word of God--in Arabic.

But The Koran just didn’t appeal to me, even comparing it to other sacred texts. It’s pretty rambling and unstructured, really a collection of sayings of the Prophet. It’s composed of “suras,” 114 verses on various subjects, and traditionally not ordered thematically, although that’s an order imposed in Dawood’s popular translation, which I own. The longest sura, “The Cow” runs to about 30 pages in my paperback edition but the rest are about ten pages at the longest, and many suras consist of only a few lines. It’s not unlike Confucius’ Analects in that structure. Although while the Analects expressed a philosophy too authoritarian for my tastes, at least it only claimed to simply be derived from his own wisdom and that of previous sages--not the word of God, and it eschewed the supernatural. And goodness knows the God of the Bible can be wrathful and misogynistic, but The Koran? There’s this fairly obscure sura, Number 111, known as “Fibre” cursing Mohammed’s uncle who opposed him:

May the hands of Abu-Lahab perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre round her neck!

That’s the sura in its entirety. Sounds pretty petty and vindictive for the word of an eternal, just, benevolent God. There’s also the infamous “Verse of the Sword” taken as a justification for Jihad: Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. (Sura 9:5 “Repentence”) I read things like that and I couldn’t help but think of Jesus urging people to forgive their enemies and turn the other cheek. Or of passages in the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching speaking of the futility of war or that it’s the person without virtue who is consumed with exacting vengeance. There may be countless references in The Koran to God’s mercy and compassion, but that’s not the spirit I read in it reading it cover to cover. Never mind that a man shall inherit twice as much as a female (Sura 4:11 “Women”) and the testimony of a man is worth that of two women. (Sura 2:282 “The Cow”) Given the world we find ourselves in, I actually wanted to find much good in The Koran. But, even knowing the vagaries of translation and interpretation, I can’t read this book and and honestly claim my overall impression was in any way positive. And on Goodreads, at least, one star means "didn't like"--so if I'm going to be honest in my ratings, that's the one that fits.
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LibraryThing member unlikelyaristotle
What can I say really? I'm extremely biased, already having been Muslim before opening the book. I read it in it's original Arabic, which I think makes the world of difference, unfortunately. The Arabic language is practically the only way Arabic culture has survived, as far as I can see, and a very very large part of that is due to the Koran and its flawless Arabic.

In terms of Arabic grammar, rhetoric and style, this would be the perfect book. To this day, it is well known that the best chance of becoming as fluent as a native Arabic speaker, none is more highly recommended than the Koran.

One thing I was shocked by is the repetition. I couldn't believe how many times the story of Moses was retold! However, many people who have read it many times tell me that every time they read it they find new meanings, something which, as a book lover, is very intriguing to me.

What I loved the most about it was its cryptic surahs. There are some which appear to be completely rhetorical, but upon closer inspection you uncover a meaning to it. My favorite one is (unfortunately I can't remember the Surah it came in) when it says, 'Thulumat fawqa thulumat', which roughly translates into 'darkness over darkness'. It sounds grim at first, but to me it sounded simply beautiful, and after a bit of study, one interpretation I found was that it was referring to two different things: the ocean and a woman's pregnancy. Sounds strange? Well for the ocean it was referring to the impenetrable and unimaginable darkness found in the deep sea, which obviously in those days no one could experience and had any idea about. The particular way it was described alluded to layering, and this was later attributed to the different currents and undercurrents in the ocean.
As for the woman's pregnancy, another thing which was almost a complete mystery in those days, it was meant to describe, according to the interpretation, the layers inside a woman's belly during pregnancy (excuse my horrible descriptive qualities!), meaning the placenta etc.

I just thought that comparing the two to each other was incredibly beautiful and sounds so poetic in arabic, the only disappointment I feel is that not everyone can appreciate it in its true language, and unfortunately, the English translations aren't very beautiful.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
Compilation of teachings. Theme of humility and equality before God, with keen sense of "proof" and justice among the struggle of people trying to raise their families.

The suras themselves are almost stupifyingly opaque, especially in Arabic. It's like reading Pythic oracles on steroids. Most of the teachings were already being practiced, so they were easily adopted. For example, Arabs already dressed modestly, did not eat pork, and worshiped the god Allah, whose symbol was a crescent moon, at the Kaaba, in Mecca.

The Koran adopts the Judaic God. Like Jews and Christians, it proclaims "there is no other", while filling a pantheon with angels, devils, and other lesser gods. Monotheism remains a myth.

The compilation is poetically similar to other works available in Arabic, although almost no contemporary writings survive. The "stories" clearly track Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Greek translations, even of some of the Apocrypha.

The word "Islam" means "submission" (not "peace"). The concept of Peace is not invoked in the Qu'ran as a practical way of life. There is no "turn the other cheek" but it doubles the "eye", and does frequently appeal to God's mercy. The Prophet is a warrior, and more blood is on his hands than on all of the Christian apostles combined. However, there is much less slaughter in the Koran than in the Old Testament / Pentateuch. And it is a Testament to moderation in comparison even to the Romans.

Like the Pentateuch, the Koran is recited as if of history, but it is of almost no historical importance. The Koran is functionally a Torah-Gospel, invoked by many, read by almost no one, and understood by none.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Far be in from me to rate or review the Koran. I am rating and reviewing the work of N. Dawood who prepared the Penguis Classic Edition. The book is well organized with enough information to allow the general reader to understand most of the Koran's verses.

I read the Koran because so many people claim it is the reason for Islamic actions against Western society; and even more claim that terrorism and other extremism is a perversion of the Koran. I definitely side with the latter after reading the Book. The message is that God will punish the unbelievers; the role of the believers is to let them be.… (more)
LibraryThing member MadameSynchro
My first introduction into the world of the Muslim faith. I bought it because I was curious as to what the Koran really said. After reading it I found it to be far less controversial than what the media hypes it up to be. I mean, after all you can take almost anything out of context and say that it's preaching hate. I have since taken a course on comparative religions and utilized a different translation in that class. While this version gets the point across I agree with other commentators in that the translations could be a bit better and some of the verbage doesn't seem to make sense in some places. However, it's a great way for someone not knowing anything about the face to pick upand read what it says.… (more)
LibraryThing member Martin444
This is a wilfully bad translation by a Jew (I mean no anti-Semitism - my point is that he is not a Muslim but it's also not unexpected for a Jew in particular to want to misrepresent the Qur'an) of a nevertheless wilfully bad book that is however no worse than any other "revealed" book of religion. Interesting just because one can't know how good or bad something is until one reads it (and Islam has been in the news a lot lately). Islam is doing well to be as peaceful as it is considering the book from which it sprung. There is also much good in there, of course.… (more)
LibraryThing member Paul_Brunning
One of the most influential books in the history of literature, recognized as the greatest literary masterpiece in Arabic, the Qur'an is the supreme authority and living source of all Islamic teaching, the sacred text that sets out the creed, rituals, ethics, and laws of Islam. Yet despite the growing interest in Islamic teachings and culture, there has never been a truly satisfactory English translation of the Qur'an, until now. This superb new translation of the Qur'an is written in contemporary language that remains faithful to the meaning and spirit of the original, making the text crystal clear while retaining all of this great work's eloquence. The translation is accurate and completely free from the archaisms, incoherence, and alien structures that mar existing translations. Thus, for the first time, English-speaking readers will have a text of the Qur'an which is easy to use and comprehensible. Furthermore, Haleem includes notes that explain geographical, historical, and personal allusions as well as an index in which Qur'anic material is arranged into topics for easy reference. His introduction traces the history of the Qur'an, examines its structure and stylistic features, and considers issues related to militancy, intolerance, and the subjection of women. Clearly written and filled with helpful information and guidance, this brilliant translation of the Qur'an is the best available introduction to the faith of Moslems around the world.,The Qur'an, believed by Muslims to be the word of God, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago. It is the supreme authority in Islam and the living source of all Islamic teaching. Recognized as the greatest literary masterpiece in Arabic, it has nevertheless remained difficult to understand in its English translations. This new translation is written in a contemporary idiom that remains faithful to the original, making it easy to read while retaining its powers ofeloquence. - ;'Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful one who taught by the pen, who taught man what he did not know.'The Qur'an, believed by Muslims to be the word of God, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago. It is the supreme authority in Islam and the living source of all Islamic teaching; it is a sacred text and a book of guidance, that sets out the creed, rituals, ethics, and laws of the Islamic religion. It has been one of the most influential books in the history of literature. Recognized as the greatest literary masterpiece in Arabic, it has nevertheless remained difficult to understandin its English translations. This new translation is written in a contemporary idiom that remains faithful to the original, making it easy to read while retaining its powers of eloquence. Archaisms and cryptic language are avoided, and the Arabic meaning preserved by respecting the context of thediscourse. The message of the Qur'an was directly addressed to all people regardless of class, gender, or age, and this translation is equally accessible to everyone. -,The Qur'an, believed by Muslims to be the word of God, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago. It is the supreme authority in Islam and the...… (more)
LibraryThing member Razinha
Like most religious texts, it helps to frame the Qu'ran in context of the time it was written. And, like a lot of religious texts, there is much that never evolved. Clearly this was written by a man for the sake of men and men alone. And like the bible or other religious texts, it is rife with contradictions. The hadiths are the real problem - as with Christian apologists, there are so many interpretations of the original text - and those are the guides that seem to be fueling the violence.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lukerik
The greatest work of Islamic literture in English. A beautiful translation. If you're looking to red the Koran (in either language) I would recommend this edition.


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