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September 14, 2011

Koran Curious: A Book Review

Hassan Ibrahim

More by this author...

There has been and always will be a struggle between those that lack understanding and tolerance, and those who seek to live by the golden rule. The golden rule being to treat people the way that you would like to be treated or the way they want to be treated.

It seems like a simple rule to follow but too often people find an “enemy” amongst them that they feel the need to disdain.  It isn’t a surprise that this disdain comes from ignorance, misconceptions, and stereotypes and grows from an unwillingness to move past their fear into a place of mutual respect and understanding.

A subject that is at the forefront of misconceptions today is Islam.  Although there are over 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide Islam is struggling to be understood for various reasons including both people who would like to see its downfall and people who have used Islam as an excuse for their violent acts.

That is why it is more important than ever to have books like Koran Curious by CJ Werleman that seek to provide us “with a better understanding of Islam”.  Werleman tries to do this by providing us with ‘a deeper understanding of Prophet Muhammad’s biography held side-by side with relevant passages of the Koran”.

Werleman is a self-proclaimed atheist who was inspired to write after witnessing the “devastating aftermath of twin suicide bombs on Bali’s Jimbaran Beach”.  He has written two other books; God Hates You, Hate Him Back (2009) and Jesus Lied, He was Only Human (2010).  Koran Curious was first published in Great Britain by Dangerous Little Books.

Koran Curious is broken up into three parts; a foreword, a brief biography of Prophet Muhammad’s life that is presented in 6 chapters, and lastly a sura-by-sura explanation of the Koran.

Unlike many forewords I have come across, Werleman uses his in an effective way to give his reader an overview of why he wrote the book as well as why we need books such as his.  He outlines how “the fastest growing religion has indeed been hijacked and misinterpreted by Islam extremists and Christian-Jewish influences”.

Werleman does a great job opening up his readers mind to Islam before they even begin to read about the Koran or Muhammad himself.  He does this by giving the non-Muslim reader an image of a Muslim that might surprise or even shock them.  The image presented is of Muslims that aren’t much different to any democracy loving Westerner.

In one example Werleman describes the results of a Gallop study done in 2008 that hoped to find out Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. The study made conclusions such as Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustifiable and that Muslims dreams for the future include better jobs and security rather than conflict and violence.

The second part of Koran Curious describes the life and times of Muhammad.  Werelman successfully presents Muhammad’s life in an honest and fair way, and even though Werleman is not a Muslim himself, he gives Muhammad the respect he deserves considering his influence on the world for the past 1400 plus years.

What I found refreshing about Werleman’s presentation of Prophet Muhammad was that he never defends or attacks some of the more misunderstood things of his life but rather presents things in context.  Werleman makes sure to point out that the “historical context” is important in judging Muhammad’s acts and words.

In the third part Werleman presents the Koran in a “Coles notes” sort of way.  He first gives a brief description of what each sura is about and then follows by quoting some passages from that sura.  In some cases he includes the whole sura but in most cases he picks and chooses passages he feels are most representative of the sura.

One peculiar thing I feel like I should point out is that at no time does Werleman mention which translation of the Koran he used for his book.  I’m not sure if he felt it wasn’t important or relevant but to me it seems like an oversight.  Of course the third part of the book does just end up being an extension of the first two parts and in the event that a reader wanted to find out more about the Koran they probably would be better off finding a more extensive study.

Another thing I questioned while reading Koran Curious was why in a couple of instances Werleman felt the need to distance himself from statements he makes that put Islam in a good light or at the very least showed how there is a campaign against Islam in the West.  Some of these statements seem forced and added to deliberately remind the reader that Werleman is not defending Islam but merely writing about it.

One example of this is on page 6.  After describing some of the forces that are currently campaigning and lobbying against Islam Werleman says: “I felt it important to briefly mention the varying forces at play whenever the topic of Islam is raised in the West.”  He immediately follows this up with “this by no means excuses what are some of the more troubling aspects of the Islamic faith…”

In another instance after describing how it is essential for us to judge Muhammad and the Koran in “historical context” Werleman feels the need to add that “Obviously, this doesn’t vindicate everything laid out in the Koran...”

What I would like to ask the author is if it is obvious then why point it out?  To me it seems like Werelman is saying that Islam isn’t as bad as we think but with out skipping a beat saying it isn’t good either.

I do however have to give Werelman the benefit of the doubt though because as an atheist I find it hard to believe that he has an agenda specifically against Islam.  You did see the titles of his other books right?

So why is Koran Curious any different than the hundred’s of other books that make an effort to try and give us a better understanding of Islam?

My simple and humble answer is that Werleman’s writing is contemporary, honest and “no-holds barred”.  He is a great storyteller and the story of Prophet Muhammad is one of the greatest to be told.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Islam’s past and present and I hope that because of this book Islam is more understood in the future.

Koran Curious, CJ Werleman, dangerous littlebooks, 2011.

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