Note: this author no longer holds one or more views in this post, but this post is kept as an archive.
My name is Lambda Moses (pen name), and I’m an undergraduate student in UCLA. I haven’t decided my major yet. I was raised as an atheist by atheist parents in China, but I converted Sunni Islam in April 2010. My parents strongly opposed my conversion, and tried every means – including threatening to abandon me or not letting me to go to college – to drive me out of Islam. As they failed every means, and they knew that both Islam and Christianity believe in God, they converted Christianity in October 2011, hoping to let me worship the same God in a different and a more “acceptable” way. With the encounter of Christianity, I began to question Sunni Islam, especially the rituals, which are not so pronounced in Christianity. But I had problem with the Trinity, and I still didn’t want to give up the Quran, though I didn’t understand it. So I googled how to pray according to Quran alone. Then I hit Edip Yuksel, whose article “Manifesto for Islamic Reform” (http://www.19.org/578/manifesto-for-islamic-reform/) convinced me to give up Hadith.
Development of my approach
My current approach has an emphasis on the structure of the Quran. My current approach is still developing, under clinical trial, as I’m still discovering the structure. I’m trying to make the whole process scientifically rigorous, for if I’m manipulating just to see a “miracle,” I’m committing idolatry by assigning God other than truth (see my upcoming article about theology, and please don’t confuse the real God with what religions think of God). I would reject cool hypothesis refuted by evidence, and I may reject the Quran if I really can’t find it special no matter what, for God is the important part, not the label.
In fact, the structure of the Quran has always been interesting me, even when I was a new Sunni, not knowing the traditional belief that the order of chapters doesn’t matter to the meaning. Loving math and sciences, I input the chapter numbers (x-axis) and number of verses in each chapter (y-axis) into my graphing calculator, drawing a best fit curve of the data (I didn’t save the equation of the best fit curve, but you can do it again if interested). I wondered if the curve could tell something special, and I daydreamed that if my curve was a groundbreaking discovery, then I would be the first person to discover a mathematical miracle of the Quran. But I was not. And I didn’t find anything special about the curve. Rashad Khalifa did it, though not by best fit curve.
Getting to know Edip Yuksel, I began to read his Quran: a Reformist Translation. Free from the shackle of traditions, the message of freedom, peace, and justice in the Quran suddenly opened for me. I was also fascinated by Code 19, strongly advocated by Edip Yuksel, by its small probability of occurrence and its power of correcting scribal errors. Unfortunately, for over a year, I was not thinking on my own, considering Edip Yuksel’s works “authentic.” I was a very paradoxical person; I thought critical thinking was important, because Edip Yuksel advocated it, while not exercising real critical thinking. At that time, still, I learnt very little about the Quran except what initially enlightened me and the Code 19. I even wanted to start a congregation in my high school, but in my first “sermon,” I had no idea what to say. I also wanted to translate Edip Yuksel’s translation into Chinese (I don’t know Arabic, but I was so astonished by that translation), but it ended up as full of dictionary diction, troublesome to the reader.
A change occurred in 2013 summer, the last summer holiday before going to college. 1 am in the morning, sitting silently in my bedroom, surrounded by an ocean of darkness outside, I began to read Quran: a Reformist Translation the fourth time, and I got tired of the end notes and appendices. I wondered why the Quran is arranged this way. I also wondered if the very struggle of the reader to understand the Quran is also part of the message of the Quran. Under the influence of Code 19, I suggested that the arrangement of the Quran is part of the miracle of the Quran. Also under the influence of Code 19, I wondered if the frequencies of words form a function, with some unknown dependent variable, and if another miracle can be discovered when I perform calculus to such function.
I began my fourth reading by paying attention to topics, and counting number of verses in each topic, and dividing that number by 19. It worked in the very first topic I experimented on, but after that, I failed; first of all, I found that it was very arbitrary to determine the boundary of topics, and I began to manipulate to make it divisible by 19. Finding this approach problematic, I gave up, and began anew (de novo means anew).
In my second attempt, when reading a chapter, when I get to a later part of the chapter, I tried to relate it to the earlier part of the same chapter. This seemed to work, at least to Chapter 2. At that time, I found that the first half of Chapter 2 was about what we should not do, and the second half was about what we should do, and now I still hold that finding true. But as other chapters had different structures from Chapter 2, and I didn’t pay attention to the inner structure of each chapter, I ended up using one phrase to summarize the central theme of each chapter, and lost track of my own findings when I got to Chapter 30 (I don’t really remember), because, on the one hand, I found nothing special about how the topics of each chapter is arranged, and on the other hand, I didn’t write the phrases down, so I simply forgot about them as I became busy welcoming my first quarter in college.
My first quarter in UCLA was fruitless regarding findings about the Quran, because: firstly, I took 19 units (the maximum number of units permitted by the college without petitions) in the FIRST quarter and I had to write SIX papers while I didn’t get used to the campus culture; secondly, as an international student, I was experiencing a cultural shock; thirdly, I was mainly reading the short chapters by the end of the Quran during that quarter, so I didn’t get that much instruction (this phenomenon contributes to my new Prerequisite hypothesis, which suggests that knowledge of the previous chapters are required to properly understand the following chapter, as in the current arrangement of the Quran).
A greater change occurred in December 2013 and January 2014, during my first college winter break. The campus was so empty and silent, as almost everyone went back home for Christmas and New Year. Alone in the dark little apartment I sublet for winter break, I began my 5th reading of Quran: a Reformist Translation. This time, I paid more attention to the internal structure of each chapter. I found that the structure of Chapter 2 was unfolding, with one section introducing another, and the structure of a large part of Chapter 3 interlacing, like DNA strands. I continued to do so in the Winter quarter, reading the Quran at least an hour a day, until I got very busy with papers and finals by the end of the quarter. And as I went further, I found that each section of a chapter plays a role in the chapter, and each chapter plays a role in a group of chapters; I still need to test this hypothesis, but now it seems to work. Then the Quran would work like a complicated protein molecule, with each amino acid playing a role in secondary structure (simple folding like alpha-helix and beta-pleated sheet), primary (sequence of amino acids) and secondary structure to the tertiary structure (precise 3D shape of a polypeptide chain), all the above to the quaternary structure (how multiple polypeptide chains are related), and all the above to the function of the protein. An amino acid can’t do much on its own, but a protein as a whole does something amazing. But when the structure of the protein is disrupted, the protein gets denatured, and can’t work anymore. Is the Quran also “denatured” by the traditional atomistic verse-by-verse approach?
Later, I gave my structural approach the name “Integral approach,” since what I was doing was just like integration in calculus, when small bits approaching infinitely small are added together, forming a continuum. Traditionalists disintegrated the Quran by cutting it apart into small units – a single verse, or just part of a verse – then I’m integrating it back. I’ve got integration, so what about differentiation? As differentiation is by nature a rate of change with respect to something, I pay attention to how an aspect of the Quran changes – and the rate of changes – and what role it plays in the Quran as a whole. Now, I’ve achieved my high school dream to do calculus to the Quran! But this has nothing to do with numbers; I’m merely using the idea of calculus. I’ve got calculus, then what about matrices, vectors, vector spaces…? Perhaps the matrix is an important idea, since the nature of matrix is transformation, and the Quran transforms the status of being of a person, which has many dimensions… I just didn’t do that well in matrices as I did in calculus.
But one thing I should keep in mind is that, although math is deductive, and math sounds like 100% natural law of God, predicting everything, the history of math is full of arbitrary whims of people, so math, as what we now study, can by no way exhaust all of God’s law. The whims of people are biased and subjective. Say, what if instead of calculus, something else was discovered? How would that shape science today? Perhaps everything within the human capacity of intelligence will ultimately be discovered, but it’s just a matter of time. But nobody can say that we know everything that we can know about the universe, let alone what we can’t know. Furthermore, even what I’m doing now is largely whimsical; the main part of what I’m doing is to see whether it works. To be honest, it may or may not work. But what counts as “work”? I think “work” means not contradicting something else in the Quran and nature, as the Quran claims to be free from contradictions. It’s a whole system. If once something gets wrong, then it contradicts, then the logical structure of the Quran forms a self-protection mechanism, and the Quran can be said to be complete and perfect logically. And “work” should also have positive long term results.
Regarding bias, here comes my relative weight hypothesis; overemphasizing is still distorting, and to best understand the Quran, we need to make sure to get the relative weight of each aspect right. Now I have no idea of how to more objectively estimate any relative weight; I’m still using intuition, and estimation based on frequency of appearance, position of a topic within a chapter, and position of a chapter in the whole Quran. This is very premature, requiring a good knowledge of the structure, which is still awaiting me to rediscover.
Still in winter break, I made friends with Farouk A. Peru, who confirmed my structural approach, and introduced to me his existential approach, an approach assuming that the Quran is a contemporary text directly addressing the reader. I didn’t take that very seriously until I got stuck at Chapter 17, when I had no idea why the scene of those who reject is so repeated and why the promise that the Quran is great appears over and over again without really explaining why it’s great. Should I give up or double check if I was biased? Then I began to question the notion that the Quran uses “you” to refer to Muhammad, for this understanding forced me to ignore MY experience as a reader. Assuming that the “you” refers to me, the reader, I read Chapters 10-15 (Alif-Lam-Rad sequence) de novo, then it made better sense to me. But I’m not very sure about who the “you” is referring to yet. But what now seems apparent to me is that, the reader’s experience does matter. If the “you” means any reader, then “revelation” has to be redefined. But why still take for granted the traditional definition of words if I do reject all “Islamic” traditions? After all, every book is written to be read, though who reads it varies from book to book. And now, I’m trying to answer one of my questions posted over half a year ago in my bedroom, about whether the very struggle to understand the Quran is also part of the message of the Quran.
With my new discoveries and ideas, I became skeptical of Edip Yuksel’s approach that overemphasizes Code 19. It now seems that Code 19 is not the only way to show that Quran is the word of God; I wondered if anyone before 1974 would have to follow by faith, which is contrary to the teaching of the Quran itself. And I got to know many Quranists who don’t accept Code 19. But what am I doing? It seems that, to those who hate math (OK, I love math, though there’re a lot of people who hate math), I’m making the Quran seem hard. But at least that’s easier to me than following the traditions by rote learning. I definitely hate rote learning, one thing I hate the most along side pseudoscience, political manipulation, and the notion that religion is a set of beliefs and practices. It just turns people into robots and sheep, and it’s definitely one of the most important ways towards idolatry. Probably one day, I would reject my current approach, but then, I would have learnt from it something negative or positive.
I named this blog and the corresponding Facebook group “Quran De Novo,” since we should always “de novo,” challenging cliches and traditions, breaking new grounds. This blog and Facebook group does not aim to arrive at some definite conclusion; the purpose of it is to explore new ways towards conclusions. I’ve been doing so ever since the lonely night in my bedroom, with my cat scratching the door. And most of my ideas are premature, still in clinical trial. So articles in this blog will be tentative. But with all those trials and errors, we make new discoveries along the way, and with new thoughts and new discoveries, we evolve spiritually towards God and the Truth, as God is the True Lord, who has not created the universe except with truth. This is not idolizing the ego and the discretion, since we use laws of reasoning to test whether something works, and reject what doesn’t work. May God guide us in His light! May it be so (the meaning of “Amen”).