Earlier this week, The Sunday Times ran a lengthy interview with novelist Sebastian Faulks in which he had this to say about the Koran:
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.
For some odd reason, people felt this might be a tad controversial, so Faulks has now written a slightly more conciliatory essay in The Telegraph:
While we Judaeo-Christians can take a lot of verbal rough-and-tumble about our human-written scriptures, I know that to Muslims the Koran is different; it is by definition beyond criticism. And if anything I said or was quoted as saying (not always the same thing) offended any Muslim sensibility, I do apologise “ and without reservation.
It was never my intention to offend my Muslim friends or readers, and if you read my novel I think you will see how I have shown the positive effects of the Koran on a kind and typical Muslim family.
Meanwhile, Riazat Butt, the Guardian‘s religious affairs correspondent, writes that Faulks had it wrong to begin with:
The Qur’an is neither a bedside read nor a Booker entry “ I won’t be packing it in my hand luggage before I go to Tunisia this weekend. It is, for Muslims, a blueprint for everyday life, with guidance on subjects such as divorce, the day of judgment and everything in between. So if it reads like a rulebook, that’s because it is.
The Qur’an was not written in English, nor is it normally read in English, so of course the scriptures lose something in translation. Should Faulks want to fully appreciate and experience the Qur’an, he should brush up on his classical Arabic. Most, but not all, of the Qur’an’s stories are based on tales from the Old Testament, so if he thinks the Qur’an is a bit rubbish at capturing the imagination, then it follows the Bible is a bit of a let-down too.