The Koran For Dummies®


by Sohaib Sultan




About the Author

Sohaib Nazeer Sultan has studied traditional Islam for several years while living in the Middle East and the United States. He has studied, both formally and informally, with esteemed scholars of Islamic theology and Islamic law.

During his undergraduate studies at Indiana University, Sohaib played a leadership role in the diverse religious community of Bloomington, Indiana, serving as Public Relations Chair, Vice President, President, and Student Advisor for the Muslim Students Union. Sohaib also organized and participated in numerous interfaith dialogues throughout the state of Indiana, including a forum called Healing Our Community in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11. Upon graduating, Sohaib was honored by Indiana University for his cultural diversity efforts and was asked to offer a Muslim prayer at the pre-graduation ceremony of the 2002 graduating class.

Currently, Sohaib lives in Chicago, Illinois, where he works on independent projects as a freelance journalist. He is often invited by churches and synagogues to speak about the Islamic faith and its role in the world today. Most recently, he served as an Islamic affairs analyst for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio in a series of dialogues on Muslim-Christian relations in the United States. Sohaib plans to begin his masters in Islamic Studies in the Fall of 2004.

The author invites and encourages constructive dialogue with his readers. You can contact him through e-mail at



I dedicate this book to my family — my mother, Amra Sultan; my father, Talat Sultan; my sister, Sohaira Sultan; and my brother-in-law, Zubair Saeed. I will be forever grateful for their unceasing support, encouragement, and love.


Author’s Acknowledgments

I want to thank my Acquisition Editor, Kathleen M. Cox, who initially contacted me about writing this book. Her encouragement and help in the first phase of the book convinced me that Wiley Publishing is the best publishing company to work for. Kathy did a marvelous job of introducing me to the unique, reader-friendly style of the For Dummies series. Thanks to my wonderful Project Editor, Mary Goodwin, this project has been completed on time. I am truly indebted to Mary for her excellent review of the chapters, brilliant new ideas, and patience throughout the project.

I greatly appreciate the work and dedication of the technical reviewer, Dr. Dany Doueiri, a scholar of Arabic and Islamic Studies at University of Southern California San Bernardino. Without his scholarly review of this book, this project could never have been such a success. I deeply respect his sincere advice in every chapter of this book.

I owe a great deal to all of my friends who helped me with this book and enlightened me with their conversations and ideas about Islam and the Muslim world. I would like to especially thank my former roommate and good friend, Jermey Burcham, who suggested my name for this project, and diligently reviewed several chapters in this book. Also, I thank my relatives from all around the world who sent their encouragement and good wishes as I completed this project.

Finally, I send my deepest respects to all the scholars that I have ever learned from. Attending their classes changed my life. Their vast knowledge of the Islamic sciences and ability to teach the Islamic tradition is a reflection of their illuminated hearts, beautiful character, and deep intellects.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Mary Goodwin

Acquisitions Editor: Kathleen Cox

Technical Editor: Dr. Dany Doueiri

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Cover Photos: © Robert Berger/ImageState/ PictureQuest

Cartoons: Rich Tennant,

Illustrator: Lisa S. Reed

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Indexer: Aptara

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

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Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

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About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : Revealing the Word of God: The Book

Chapter 1: Getting to Know the Koran

Receiving Revelation Straight from the Source

Guiding the Way: Prophet Muhammad

Discovering the Basic Messages of the Koran

Naming the Revelation

Hearing the Words: The Audience of the Koran

Knowing the Essentials about Islam and Muslims

Chapter 2: From Revelation to Written Book

Revealing the Koran to Muhammad

Collecting the Koran as a Book

Memorizing Miracles: Preserving the Koran throughout History

Experiencing the Koran as Divine Art

Chapter 3: Mapping Out the Structure of the Book

Discerning the Structure of the Koran

Discovering Surah Names and Themes

Finding Your Way Through the Moral Narrative

Simplifying the Moral Narrative of Shorter Surahs

Chapter 4: Discovering the Language of the Koran

Arabic: Plain, Clear, and Eloquent

Literary Style in the Sacred Scripture

Hearing the Voice of the Koran

Chapter 5: Relating the Koran to Abrahamic Revelations

Previous Revelations: Between Sacred and Corrupted

Linking the Three Faiths: Common Experiences in the Scriptures

Contrasting the Koran with Judeo-Christian Scriptures

Part II : Searching for the Soul of the Koran

Chapter 6: Interpreting the Koran

Coming to Know the Guidance

Drawing Out Interpretations

Chapter 7: Understanding Interpretations of the Koran Today

Getting to Know Famous Commentators of the Koran

Influential Movements of the Twentieth Century

Another School of Thought: The Shi’ites

Part III : Seeing the Koranic Worldview

Chapter 8: Meeting God, Prophets, and Mankind

Conceptualizing God

Prophets of God: Preaching a Divine Message

The Status and Nature of Man

Chapter 9: Divining Nature, the Universe, and the Unseen

The Divine Ways of Nature

Inheriting the Earth: The Role of Mankind in Nature

The Unseen World: Angels versus Satan

Accounting for the Soul

Chapter 10: Taking the Koranic View of Other Faith Traditions

Islam: One Religion under God

Honoring Freedom of Choice and Respecting Diversity

Examining Some Controversial Passages on Interfaith Relations

Part IV : Living the Koran

Chapter 11: Following in the Footsteps of Muhammad

The Scripture Speaks about Muhammad

Doing as God and His Messenger Do

Looking at Some Key Prophetic Sayings

Chapter 12: Putting Meaning into Ritual

Declaring Faith: More than Just Words

Conversing with the Divine: Prayer

Raising the Soul Over the Ego: Fasting

Purifying Wealth, Uplifting the Needy: Almsgiving

Journeying to the House of God: Pilgrimage

Chapter 13: Understanding the Koranic View of Self

Connecting the Three Dots of Self Awareness

The Seven Gates to the Heart

Blessed Is the Baby’s Soul, a Soul without Sin

The Soul’s Journey: From Pre-Birth to the Hereafter

The Muslim Self: A State of Being

The Kafir: A Faithless Self

Chapter 14: Achieving Koranic Ethics and Morality

Discovering Ethical Principles in the Koran

Leading the Life of Good Virtue and Character

Purifying the Heart

Chapter 15: Raising a Family the Koranic Way

Healthy Family Equals Healthy Society

Looking for a Spouse: Let the Search Begin

Celebrating Marriage as the Basis of Family

Bringing Up Children

A Matter of Inheritance: Who Gets What

Tackling Divorce in the Koran

Part V : Relating the Koran to the World

Chapter 16: Connecting the Koran to Society

Divining a Community of the Middle Path

Witnessing the Truth

Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil

Uniting a Community with the Rope of God

Leadership and Citizenship in the Koran

Jihad: Struggling in the Path of God

Chapter 17: Purifying Society through Islamic Law

Defining Shariah

Extracting and Interpreting Sacred Law

Searching for Rulings and Principals

Exploring the Contents of the Sacred Law

Understanding the Islamic Penal Code

Looking at the Four Schools of Law

Chapter 18: Struggling for God: Jihad

Finding the Spirit of Jihad

Connecting Qital with Islamic Law

Understanding Martyrdom

Looking at Jihad in Today’s World

Chapter 19: Discussing Women in the Koran

Finding Equality in the Scripture

Discerning Women’s Rights in Divine Law

Chapter 20: The Koran and Modernity

Differentiating between Modernity and Modern Culture

Promoting Social Progress

Focusing on Issues of Modernity

Imagining an Islamic Democracy

Part VI : The Part of Tens

Chapter 21: Ten Misconceptions about the Koran

Misconception #1: Muhammad Wrote the Koran

Misconception #2: The Koran Is Incoherent and Unorganized

Misconception #3: The Koran Is Void of Reason

Misconception #4: The Koran Espouses Polytheism

Misconception #5: The Koran Says That God Belongs to One People

Misconception #6: God Is Wrathful and Unloving in the Koran

Misconception #7: The Koran Preaches Fatalism

Misconception #8: Jihad Means “Holy War”

Misconception #9: The Koran Discourages Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation

Misconception #10: The Scripture Values Men More Than Women

Chapter 22: Ten Ways to Dig Deeper into the Koran

Comparing “Translations”

Listening to the Koran

Looking at Different Interpretations

Reading Books

Studying Arabic

Studying the Koran

Surfing Web Sites

Taking Classes

Talking to Muslims

Visiting Your Local Mosque

Appendix A: Glossary of Koranic Terms

Appendix B: Finding Prophets in the Koran


L et the exciting journey begin! The Koran For Dummies introduces you to the sacred Revelation revered by over 1.4 billion men and women worldwide.

The chapters in this book also guide you through the often complex and controversial perspectives of the Koran that has come under new scrutiny in a post-9/11 world.

I hope that this book answers all your questions about this sacred Book and provides you with a renewed understanding of the Islamic faith and the Muslim tradition.

About This Book

The Koran has been at the heart of Muslim life and culture for over 1,400 years. Interpretations of Islam and its role in the world today gain legitimacy among Muslims only when those ideas and theories can find their roots in the sacred Scripture.

As such, the Koran is probably the most used and misused Book in the world, not only by Muslims, but also by non-Muslim activists and intellectuals. By reading this book, you can gain basic, necessary, information on the teachings of the Koran that continue to shape the debate on the world’s future.

Muslims often claim that Islam offers a complete way of life that intertwines inner experiences with outer realities. Through this book, you can come to appreciate the Koran’s intimate role in individual and communal Muslim life — a role that gives rise to intense spiritual treasures and core community values. The importance of this subject has taken on new meaning as Islam has emerged as the second largest world religion; many experts consider Islam the fastest-growing religion in the United States and Europe.

The Koran For Dummies provides a basic, practical understanding of the Koran’s role in Muslim life and society. This book, as an introduction to the Scripture, doesn’t discuss every interpretation found about the Koran in Muslim and non-Muslim circles.

I wrote this book as an American Muslim; my own religious experiences played a part in the writing of this book. However, The Koran For Dummies offers an objective, accurate portrayal of traditional Islamic views about the Koran.

Most books that you find on the Koran are either too academic for the average reader or too short for a comprehensive discussion of the Koran’s style and content. This is what makes The Koran For Dummies unique. This book is organized in a simple, easy-to-read style that tells you what you want to know about the Koran in a straightforward, but complete, way.

As a companion to this book, I recommend Islam For Dummies, by Malcolm Clark, published by Wiley. This book does an excellent job of explaining Muslim history, culture, and politics. It also includes a great introduction to the various sects within Islam.

Conventions Used in This Book

As you read this book, you should keep the following points in mind.

Muslims strongly believe that the Koran is the actual living word of God that was revealed through Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad. Muslims use expressions like “the Koran says . . .” and “God says . . .” interchangeably to mean the exact same thing. Throughout this book, I write from the Koran’s perspective, keeping in mind that most people who read this book are not Muslim. However, you should remain aware that for Muslims, the Koran represents God’s unaltered and eternal word.

I use three different words to refer to the sacred Revelation: Koran, Book, and Scripture. These three words mean exactly the same thing — there is no difference between them whatsoever.

In this book, most Koranic passages that I explain are not direct quotations, but rather paraphrases of the basic overall meaning. Many of the passages that I do quote directly make up only part of the verse that helps explain any given subject, and not the whole verse, which often includes text that strays from the subject at hand.

The Koran is made up of chapters, called Surahs, and verses or lines, called Ayat (singular, Ayah). When I give references to the Koran, I write them like this: (Surah: Ayah) or (Surah: Ayah-Ayah). For example, if I quote Surah 1, Ayat 1 through 3, I cite the passage as (1:1–3).

The beautiful and unique Arabic language has amazing depth. Arabic words can be translated in more than one way. In this book, I translate concepts in a way that non-Muslims will find easy to understand. I could write an entire chapter, or even a whole book, to explain the complexity of some Arabic words (such as Taqwa — God-consciousness), but, for reasons of space, I use only a few words to reference each Arabic word.

When transliterating Arabic terms into English phonetics, I use transliterations commonly found in the West, so that you can recognize the word. For example, the proper transliteration of “Koran” is “Qu’ran.” And, the proper transliteration of “Mecca” is “Makkah.” But, for the sake of recognizability, I use the transliterations that may be most familiar to Western readers.

At times, to fully understand the Koran, you have to venture to outward sources. The most important of these sources is Prophet Muhammad, the primary interpreter and teacher of the Book. Throughout this book, I refer to the sayings of Muhammad to expand on basic ideas presented in the Koran. Sometimes I also refer to the words of Muhammad’s close companions and famous scholars of the Islamic tradition.

Finally, this book doesn’t necessarily tell you about your Muslim neighbor, friend, or co-worker. Nor do these chapters always reflect the condition of the Muslim world today. In fact, most Muslims contend that many in the Muslim world have stopped practicing the authentic teachings of the Koran and instead rely on their own tribal cultures for individual and communal guidance. This book seeks to present the Koranic ideal, which doesn’t always translate into practice. However, if you want to understand the role of the Koran in society, and its ability to bring reform to the Muslim world, you must understand the ideals of the Scripture.

Foolish Assumptions

You don’t have to be familiar with the Islamic faith or Muslim practice to read and enjoy The Koran For Dummies. In each chapter, I tell you the fundamentals that you need to understand what the Koran teaches and how it perceives the seen and unseen world.

If you’re already somewhat familiar with the Koran, you’ll enjoy an added experience of simplifying and breaking down major concepts and themes in the Koran that you may have questions about. Also, this book will provide you with valuable insight into the Koran’s literary structure that will help you to feel more comfortable with the Book’s narrative style. Finally, you’ll find out about the basics of classical and modern interpretations of the Scripture, which will give you an added perspective into your experience with the Koran.

You have many questions about the Koran. You may have heard many stories and controversies in the media and don’t know where the Koran stands on these issues. I answer frequently asked questions and respond from an Islamic perspective to common misconceptions that you may have come across.

I assume that you want an introductory look into the most essential issues related to the Koran. I don’t offer you an academic critique that dissects every theory, view, and interpretation about the Koran. Instead, I explain traditional views and interpretations of the Scripture. But please remember, as you dig deeper into your exploration of the Book, that interpretations of its text are as diverse as the Muslim population that comes from every culture possible.

How This Book Is Organized

The Koran For Dummies is not a textbook. You don’t have to read it from A to Z or even start from the beginning.

If you want to read about a particular topic regarding the Koran, you can find that subject in the Table of Contents or Index, flip to those pages, and get a quick explanation of the topic.

You don’t have to read this book from cover to cover, starting with Chapter 1 and going straight through to the end. However, if you are just starting out in your exploration of the Koran, I advise you to look through the chapters in Part I of this book to get up and running.

Part I: Revealing the Word of God: The Book

This opening part introduces you to the basic themes of the Koran, and the history of its compilation. Here, you also discover the Book’s unique style and language. Finally, you get a look into how the Book relates to Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

Part II: Searching for the Soul of the Koran

The Koran has always been open to interpretation and reinterpretation. This part surveys traditional methods of interpreting the Koran, and takes a look at modern movements of thought that seek to define the Will of God through the Koran.

Part III: Seeing the Koranic Worldview

This part of the book explores the Koran’s view of the seen and unseen worlds, including the concept of God and angels to the role of man on earth. It also looks at the Scripture’s relationships with traditions other than its own.

Part IV: Living the Koran

This part explains the Koran’s role as a living Book that guides towards a spiritual life and seeks to create moral-ethical civilizations. It also looks at the teachings of the Book on shaping a good family life.

Part V: Relating the Koran to the World

In this part, you can discover how the Koran plays a dynamic role in shaping modern events and belief systems. This part looks at Koranic teachings on society, law, war and peace, women, and modernity.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

The first chapter in this part addresses ten misconceptions about the Koran, explaining how these wrong ideas about the Book differ from reality. The second chapter gives you ten great ways to continue your exploration of the Koran long after you have read this book.

I end the book with a short glossary of Koranic terms, and a list of references to the prophets throughout the Koran.

Icons Used in This Book

The following icons make your reading of The Koran For Dummies even easier:


Points to essential information about the Koran that you may want to remember in the future.


Highlights an example that may help you better understand a particular Koranic concept. Also, leads you to further reading.


Alerts you to important differences of opinion that can be found in the interpretation of the Koran.


Emphasizes sayings of Prophet Muhammad, his companions, or scholars of the Koran to further your insight.


Tells you how Muslims practice their faith in their day-to-day lives.


Points out mistakes that readers of the Koran often make, or common misconceptions that people hold about the Book.

Where to Go from Here

You can begin this book from wherever you like, or simply use it as a reference whenever the need arises. You may also want to start by checking out the following:

bullet If you’re interested in the Koran’s most basic message and teachings, then go to Chapter 1. Also check out Appendix A to become familiar with some fundamental Koranic terminology.

bullet If you want to know how the Koran relates to other faiths, go to Chapters 5 and 10.

bullet If you’re interested in the history of the Koran, its organization, and literary style, then turn to Chapters 2, 3, and 4.

bullet To read about the Koran’s belief system and its worldview, see Chapters 8, 9, and 10.

bullet To find out how Muslims put the Koran into practice, go to Chapters 11 through 15.

bullet To discover the Koran’s views on contemporary issues and debates, turn to Chapters 16 through 20.

bullet Finally, if you want to explore the Koran beyond reading this book, see Chapter 22.

Part I

Revealing the Word of God: The Book

In this part . . .

A lthough you can begin reading this book from any chapter that interests you, you may want to begin with this part if you are completely new to the Koran.

In this part, I focus on the dynamic style, language, and construction of the Koran. I introduce you to its overall message, and tell you how the Koran came together in book form. I also compare the Book with the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.