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The Great Koran Controversy: Will Muslim Martyrs Get 72 Raisins Instead of Virgins, & Other Speculations

Mosques_1_2_2 According to an Islam tradition, Muslim martyrs will go to paradise and marry 72 black-eyed virgins. But some Koran scholars point to a less sexy paradise. While beautifully written, Islamic texts are often obscure. The Arabic language was born as a written language with the Koran, and growing evidence suggests that many of the words were Syriac or Aramaic.

Specifically, the Koran says martyrs going to heaven will get “hur,” and the word was taken by early commentators to mean “virgins,” hence those 72 concubines. But in Aramaic, hur actually meant “white” and was commonly used to specifically mean “white grapes.”

The exact number of virgins (or raisins) is not specified in Koran, but the number 72 comes from a quotation of Muhammad recorded in one of the lesser-known Hadith. ("Hadith" is an Arabic word meaning traditions.) After Muhammad's death, several collections of his deeds and sayings were collected to form the Hadith, which is the second most authoritative document is Islam, after the Koran.

The philologist "Christoph Luxenburg", (who always uses a pseudonym for security reasons) notes that grapes would actually make more sense, because the text compares them to crystal and pearls, and because contemporary accounts have paradise abounding with fruit, especially white grapes.

Okay, so for the sake of argument, lets say that Luxenburg is right and martyrs will get some grapes rather than young maidens, but what’s the big fuss? The real controversy is the notion that translations of Islamic holy text, including the Koran, have ever existed in the first place.

While the Bible has been rigorously, often even brutally, picked apart by scholars of every kind, the West has carefully avoided doing the same with the Koran. In the United States, where Arab and Islamic Studies rely on funding from the Gulf States, an interest in Koranic criticism is the foolproof way to commit career suicide. So for all intents and purposes, every word of the Koran came straight from heaven when Mohammed directly transcribed what the angel Gabriel told him to.

But now a small group at the University of the Saarland and a handful of others, are daring to raise their voice that the Koran’s origins actually have quite an interesting history. If you told a Christian scholar that Jesus didn’t actually write the bible, but that it is a collection of eclectic texts from a wide variety of ancient writings spanning centuries that were somewhat randomly compiled into the Bible as we know it today, after much debate and bickering at the Council of Nicene, and they’ll probably nod their head in agreement. Most Christian scholars have finally come to grips with the fact that their Holy Book was written by a lot of different authors with differing religious opinions and interpretations, however inspired those men may have been. However, tell a devout Muslim that Mohammed may not have actually written every word of the Koran straight from the mouth of the angel Gabriel…and well, you’re asking for trouble.

Indeed, the recent news that a secret archive of ancient Islamic texts had surfaced after 60 years of suppression raised a storm of controversy. Andrew Higgins' Wall Street Journal report that the photographic record of Koranic manuscripts, supposedly destroyed during World War II but occulted by a scholar of alleged Nazi sympathies, is like a real life mixture of the Da Vinci Code with a dash of Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.  The story of the photographic archive of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, now ensconced in a Berlin vault, appears to be case of life imitating truly art. Somehow even the Nazis have found their way into this convoluted history. “I hate those guys!" as Indiana Jones so famously said.

The Encyclopedia of Islam (1982) observes, "The closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Koran in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ." The Koran alone is the revelation of Islam. Understandably, for a devout follower of Islam, there is no room for holes to be poked as to the origins of the Koran,

But what if scholars can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Koran was not dictated by the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammad during the 7th century? What if there was proof that the holy book was actually redacted by later writers drawing on a variety of extant Christian and Jewish sources?

Scholars already knew that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa'na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von Bothmer, were able to make 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. The German archive includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD is poised to provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.

The history of the archive is perhaps the most fascinating part of the story, however. It is not clear why its existence was hidden for sixty years, or why it has come to light now, or when scholars will have free access to it. According to Higgins' account on the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Koran.

The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Koran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God's word. However, the wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible", Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.

There was just one little problem; Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he had it all along. The Koran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave. Why Spitaler concealed the archive is unknown, but Koranic critics who challenge the received Muslim account suspect his motives.

"The whole period after 1945 was poisoned by the Nazis," says Gunter Luling, a scholar who was drummed out of his university in the 1970s after he put forward heterodox theories about the Koran's origins. His doctoral thesis argued that the Koran was lifted in part from Christian hymns. Blackballed by Spitaler, Luling lost his teaching job and launched a fruitless six-year court battle to be reinstated. Feuding over the Koran, he says, "ruined my life".

He wrote books and articles at home, funded by his wife, who took a job in a pharmacy. Asked by a French journal to write a paper on German Arabists, Luling went to Berlin to examine wartime records. Germany's prominent postwar Arabic scholars, he says, "were all connected to the Nazis".

But why on Earth would the Nazis care to suppress Koranic criticism? Some scholars believe the answer lies in their alliance with Islamist leaders, who shared their hatred of the Jews and also sought leverage against the British in the Middle East. Jeffrey Goldberg reviewed the most recent of many books on this subject, Matthias Kuntzel’s Jihad and Jew-Hatred, January 13 in the New York Times.

Kuntzel makes a bold and consequential argument: the dissemination of European models of anti-Semitism among Muslims was not haphazard, but an actual project of the Nazi Party, meant to turn Muslims against Jews and Zionism. He says that in the years before World War II, two Muslim leaders in particular willingly and knowingly carried Nazi ideology directly to the Muslim masses. They were Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, and the Egyptian proto-Islamist Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It may be a very long time before the contents of the Bavarian archive are known. Some Koranic critics, notably the pseudonymous scholar "Ibn Warraq", claim that Professor Angelika Neuwirth, the archive's custodian, has denied access to scholars who stray from the traditional interpretation. Neuwirth admits that she has had the archive since 1990. She has 18 years of funding to study the Bavarian archive, and it is not clear who else will be allowed access to it.

In 2005, Puin published a collection of articles under the title, Die dunklen Anfange. Neue Forschungen zur Entstehung und fruhen Geschichte des Islam ("The dark beginnings: new research on the origin and early history of Islam," Hans Schiller Verlag, 2005). This drew on the work of Luxenburg, who believes the incomprehensible passages in the Koran were written in Syriac-Aramaic rather than Arabic. The Koran, according to the research of Puin and his associates, copied a great deal of extant Christian material.

Neuwirth has led the attack on "Christoph Luxenburg" and other Koranic critics who dispute the traditional Muslim account. According to Higgins, "Ms Neuwirth, the Berlin Koran expert, and Mr Marx, her research director, have tried to explain the project to the Muslim world in trips to Iran, Turkey, Syria and Morocco. When a German newspaper trumpeted their work last fall on its front page and predicted that it would 'overthrow rulers and topple kingdoms', Mr Marx called Arab television network al-Jazeera and other media to deny any assault on the tenets of Islam."

Despite her best efforts to reassure Islamic opinion, Higgins reports, even she has stepped on Islam’s toes. "Ms Neuwirth, though widely regarded as respectful of Islamic tradition, got sideswiped by Arab suspicion of Western scholars. She was fired from a teaching post in Jordan, she says, for mentioning a radical revisionist scholar during a lecture in Germany."

Some critics argue that by refusing to discuss the origin of the Koran, the Islamic world is forced to adopt an openly irrational stance, employing its power to intimidate scholars and thwart the search for truth. Christian leaders say they would like to have more dialogue with Muslims, but that there isn’t a basis for it.

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, who directs the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the French daily La Croix, "Muslims do not accept discussion about the Koran, because they say it was written under the dictates of God. With such an absolutist interpretation, it's difficult to discuss the contents of the faith."

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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Interesting read.

I understand where the Muslims and the scholars are coming from. However, if Islam has nothing to hide so allowing the scholars the time to research the Koran should further re-instate the belief to all that the Koran is indeed the word of God.

Great article, i really enjoyed reading this post and i shared it with everyone at work. The only thing is the Title seems off. "Will Muslim Martyrs Will..." I know this seems kind on nit-picky of me, but it seems a little more unprofessional of you. I love this site, but little things like this bug me and they should be easy to fix for a website.

Wow! Not only is there a typo in the title but a little bit or research (or at least basic knowledge of the Western canon) would have helped. If you told a Christian scholar that Jesus did not write the Bible a thousand years ago, that Scholar would indeed in assent in assent without being scandalized because a) it was never claimed that Jesus wrote the Old Testament and b) The New Testament is clearly specified as having been written by the apostles, who are said to have witnessed Jesus's life.

Mohammmed never 'wrote' the Koran. He was illiterate. It was memorized and recited by him. It several years after his death that it was later written down by muslims who had also memorized the Koran.

great article about 72 virgins
kids believe in Santa too :-)

Love the article even if there were misprints; this is about material that must get out if only to give the Muslim religion a humanistic view, the blind beliefs exhibited by the radicals is just so sick and the belief so strangled by hate and violence that there just has to be a way open to discuss and realistically look into this Islamist history. the tie with the Nazi, the hate and violence against Jews created for a specific purpose has just caused the growth of unacceptable beliefs and actions against other human beings that threatens the lives of others that don't believe or live the same way. I'm praying all this material gets out, shown to be original and real and awakens the true believers to their monipulation by others with something that truly was not presented to the world the way it is claimed. Praise God, and may we all one day live together in an example of the one love that truly is God in His most basic form and substance.

Death to those who say Islam is a violent religion!

Ben Stilton, you sort of missed the whole point. The article never claims anything you mentioned. But yes, there are lots of Christians who think the Bible is literally the "Word of God", although most bible scholars acknowledge that it is actually the words of many different men, whether they were inspired by God or otherwise. On the other hand, Muslims have such a strict interpretation of the origins of the Koran that it's impossible for Islamic scholars to objectively scrutinize the text without sending the radicals into an uproar.

please read the following:

If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding
results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare
to compare any great man in modem history with Muhammad?
The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only
They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers
which often crumbled away before their eyes This man moved
not only armies, legislation, empires, peoples and dynasties, but
millions of men in one-third of the then-inhabited world; and
more than that he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the
ideas, the beliefs and souls.... His forbearance in victory, his
ambition which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no
manner striving for an empire, his endless prayers, his mystic
conversations with God, his death and his triumph after deathall
these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction
which gave him the power to restore a dogma. This dogma was
twofold: the unity of God and the immateriality of God; the
former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not;
the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other
starting an idea with the words. Philosopher, orator, apostle,
legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational
dogmas, of a cult without images; the founder of twenty
terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is
Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human
greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any
man greater than he?
- Lamartine
Histoire de la Turquie, Pans 1854, Vol. 11, pp. 276-77.

say what? The tyranny of words goes
on and on and on and.......

The correct translation for the praise Muslims repeat every time the name of Mohammad is pronounced is not "peace be on him", but "Allah prayed on him and greeted him". On Muslim sites you see this between coma (SAW), for "Sala Allah Aleyhe wa Salm". The use (PBUH) in the West, to spare themselves the ridicule from any one asking: How Allah the creator (assumingly) pray on his creation, and to whom he pray?
In 35 to 40 years, Islam will lose 75% of its people.
Jesus is Love, Mohammed is Hate and Fear.
Check it out.

Mike; i feel terribly sorry for you and your ignorance.

Quote "The use (PBUH) in the West, to spare themselves the ridicule from any one asking: How Allah the creator (assumingly) pray on his creation, and to whom he pray?"

I don't know whether you are a college scholar or not (though assumptions could be made), however, one of the basic things a person is taught, is the misconceptions that occur as a result of literal translation from one language to another and therefore, the essence of the sentence should be accounted for.

I suggest that instead of wasting everyone's time with your poor knowledge, do a little research on things you intend to say to save yourself the embarrassment.

Regarding your quote, the true meaning of "Salah Allah Alayhi wa Salam", is that we "Muslims" are praying for him hence "Sallah" and asking Allah to give him peace hence "Sallam". You could check this out by a click of your mouse, but i guess you and the narrator of the 72 "white grapes" are too busy following the saying " If you can't impress them with your knowledge, confuse them with your bull****. ".

Anyway, i hope everyone else would take some time and try to interpret the Koran and understand its infinite meanings and marvels.

" Posted by: Ben Stilton | January 16, 2008 at 05:33 PM

Mohammmed never 'wrote' the Koran. He was illiterate. It was memorized and recited by him. It several years after his death that it was later written down by muslims who had also memorized the Koran.

Wrong. Please do some serious research before you 'fire' any comment like this.
True that Muhammad (PBUH) couldn't write. Koran was written in his lifetime by his colleagues in bits and pieces. Its compilation however as the book we know today was done under the first and third caliphates of Islam( Caliphate was the elected head of Islamic society at that time).

"The correct translation for the praise Muslims repeat every time the name of Mohammad is pronounced is not "peace be on him", but "Allah prayed on him and greeted him". On Muslim sites you see this between coma (SAW), for "Sala Allah Aleyhe wa Salm". The use (PBUH) in the West, to spare themselves the ridicule from any one asking: How Allah the creator (assumingly) pray on his creation, and to whom he pray?
In 35 to 40 years, Islam will lose 75% of its people.
Jesus is Love, Mohammed is Hate and Fear.
Check it out."

SAW is short for SallAllah-ho-Alaihay-Wa-Sallam..
meaning Peace Be Upon Him and nothing else.
Muslims believe Muhammad(PBUH) the last prophet and nothing else. He was a man who was selected by God to be the last messenger of Islam, he did his job extremely well and died like any ordinary human being.

Also regarding multiple versions of Koran: Scholars have been trying to find them for centuries now but have failed to find any significant difference.
Please do some research.

People shouldn't kill others. I don't understand why people would kill themselves to kill others, so they they can have paradise in heaven. Heaven is a place for all those who do good here on earth. I will never understand and I hope those who beleive that they should kill to enter heaven is wrong.

it is sad that some pple are still looking for justice for what is done to d jews. They were casualties of war, the earlier u accept this the better. Stop wasting your time pinning the blame on religion.....and also what baffles me is the rate @ which the christain community speaks for the jewish pple. Jews uptil now refuse to acknowledge the core structure of christianity (jesus christ) the qur'an recognised jesus (as a messenger of God not son of God). And as for the author, your piece is brilliantly done but lacks basics. I respect your nack for knowledge and curiuosity, but more research and less sentiments will be an eye opener for you

Man created gods. the reverse statement has to be proven.

SAW is short for SallAllah-ho-Alaihay-Wa-Sallam..
meaning Peace Be Upon Him and nothing else.

Not precise translation. The original text includes the word "Allah" ... but your translation doesn't include it.
Please do some research!


Lined up to get 72 wh*res (no grapes, unironic, and no less in numbers) each are Suicide candidates, there will always be. In the heavens, there’s continuous-run mass girls-production machine, Allah’s doing shifts to turn out more..!
Of what value is these studies… It’s crap, but you get Ph.D’s on that nonetheless.

Don’t expect to teach them religion, like it should be one great religion for entire humanity: How can you say that because their entire value system crashes like a castle of cards?

Starting with Christ, the new religions (islam, sikhhism) in a fantastic way teach such intolerance:
Crusade, Jihaad, one God. Sport unkempt beards, turbans, swords, fatwas, illiterates, burkhas, sex slaves, misogyny: or live to terrorise; terrorise to live.

They must be “pure blood”: converting to muslim, sporting terrorist looks, and becoming so pure!!

Getting Ph.D’s is ok, not ok is the crap

Those terrorist bombing themselves for grapes !!!!! lol

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