A note on methodology

Tomorrow, I will release my examination of the first chapter (surah) of the Qur’an. I’ll provide you with the original text, as well as my edits and redactions, and my reasoning behind the changes made. Here I will help to lay out the methods that I have applied to the Qur’an.

As I mentioned in my introduction, I used many different translations of the Qur’an (which I must, since I do not speak Arabic) and several major commentaries to make sure that whatever text ultimately emerged from my examination of the Qur’an was based on at least a reasonable triangulation of the true spirit or intent of the primary text. For my English translation, I have mainly used the words of Yusuf Ali’s translation, though I will note in the text where I have deviated even from his fine translation (pursuant to some of the rules provided below) to produce the final text. My choice of Yusuf Ali’s translation is purely aesthetic; for pure artistry and poetry, the Pickthall translation is clearly superior, but for legibility I believe that the Ali translation is unrivaled.

I will also be using Yusuf Ali’s convention for numbering the verses of the Qur’an. Unlike the Bible, there remains significant variation between how different editors and publishers of the Qur’an number the verses of each chapter (though there is no disagreement as to which chapter is which, since each chapter survives from the original companions of Muhammed in discrete wholes). Therefore, wherever a verse is noted, please assume that I am referring to the numbering convention adopted by Yusuf Ali.

That being said, I am not going to provide you with a cut-and-paste adaptation of Yusuf Ali’s translation. I am not just editing the Qur’an, I am re-translating it through the lens of humanistic reason. For that reason, I must apply certain rules to the Jefferson Qur’an:

  1. I have made gendered language gender-neutral where necessary. Except where a particular verse or story refers to a specific male or female character (for lack of a better term), I have changed references from, for example, “men” as the common referent for “humans” to a gender-neutral form.
  2. I will interpolate clarifying terms where necessary. For example, if a verse that survives the crucible of reason refers back to the subject of a verse that tragically did not, I will interpolate using editorial brackets.
  3. The verses, once edited, will be completely reorganized. This is the most important part of the story of the Jefferson Qur’an. For the first several posts here, I will simply walk you through the Qur’an from cover to cover showing my redactions and edits. But with each post, you will see on the accompanying tags a reference to how I have categorized certain verses: for example, if a surviving verse of the Qur’an talks about religious freedom, acceptable legal principles, or moral wisdom, I will tag that post appropriately. Once the entire Qur’an has been parsed, I will then provide you with a completely reorganized Qur’an. The original Qur’an is, to be frank, edited nonsensically. Except for its first chapter, the surahs of the Qur’an are, for reasons totally opaque to historians of the Qur’an, arranged from longest to shortest. Even the Book of Mormon is more sensibly-organized than that. I will therefore take the verses that have survived the editing process and arrange them thematically under appropriate headings.

As a general matter, the lens under which the Qur’an will be scrutinized here is the lens of “reason.” I have about as much interest in precisely and carefully parsing what “reason” means as Thomas Jefferson did in The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, upon which this work is based: that is to say, none whatsoever. In exchange for that singular conceit, I will offer you what I hope is careful and at least not wildly inconsistent reasoning behind each of the edits I make.

Tomorrow we begin with the first chapter of the Qur’an. It is “out of order” in that it is very short, so I will be able to easily walk through the entire chapter in a single post. For most chapters, however, I will provide a few or a few dozen verses in each post so that you are not bombarded with dozens of pages of explanatory text every single day. I strongly encourage you to leave your comments disagreeing, arguing, berating, and correcting my reasoning, my historical commentary, and my edits. I will also periodically provide general Qur’anic commentary to alleviate the relative monotony of the task at hand. This commentary, too, I strongly recommend you brutalize with corrections and counterarguments. This work is about truth and reason, not about my personal vanity (which is considerable), and I will need your help in order to make it so.

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