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Home » Lesley Hazleton: On Reading The Koran at TEDxRainier (Full Transcript)

Lesley Hazleton: On Reading The Koran at TEDxRainier (Full Transcript)

Lesley Hazleton

Here is the full transcript of American-British author Lesley Hazleton’s TEDx Talk: On Reading The Koran at TEDxRainier conference.

Lesley Hazleton – American-British author

You may have heard about the Koran’s idea of paradise being 72 virgins, and I promise I will come back to those virgins. But in fact, here in the Northwest, we’re living very close to the real Koranic idea of paradise, defined 36 times as “gardens watered by running streams.” Since I live on a houseboat on the running stream of Lake Union, this makes perfect sense to me.

But the thing is, how come it’s news to most people? I know many well-intentioned non-Muslims who’ve begun reading the Koran, but given up, disconcerted by its “otherness.” The historian Thomas Carlyle considered Muhammad one of the world’s greatest heroes, yet even he called the Koran “as toilsome reading as I ever undertook; a wearisome, confused jumble.” Part of the problem, I think, is that we imagine that the Koran can be read as we usually read a book — as though we can curl up with it on a rainy afternoon with a bowl of popcorn within reach, as though God — and the Koran is entirely in the voice of God speaking to Muhammad — were just another author on the best-seller list.

Yet, the fact that so few people do actually read the Koran is precisely why it’s so easy to quote — that is, to misquote phrases and snippets taken out of context in what I call the “highlighter version,” which is the one favored by both Muslim fundamentalists and anti-Muslim Islamophobes.

So this past spring, as I was gearing up to begin writing a biography of Muhammad, I realized I needed to read the Koran properly — as properly as I could, that is my Arabic is reduced by now to wielding a dictionary, so I took four well-known translations and decided to read them side by side, verse by verse, along with a transliteration and the original seventh-century Arabic.

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