Lesley Hazelton in giving a TED lecture in 2010 had much to say on the Koran (or Qua'ran). If you find this interesting, or if you hate what she says as quoted below, go watch the video, as I'm sure you will be either more intrigued, or less spiteful toward her, depending upon your orientation.
A psychologist by training and Middle East reporter by experience, British-born Lesley Hazleton has spent the last ten years exploring the vast and often terrifying arena in which politics and religion, past and present, intersect. Her most recent book, After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split, was a finalist for the 2010 PEN-USA nonfiction award.
She lived and worked in Jerusalem for thirteen years -- a city where politics and religion are at their most incendiary -- then moved to New York. She came to Seattle to get her pilot's license in 1992, saw the perfect houseboat, and stayed. By 1994, she'd flown away all of her savings, and has never regretted a single cent of it. Now her raft rides low in the water under the weight of research as she works on her next book, The First Muslim, a new look at the life of Muhammad.
"Very interesting perspective. Her talk has motivated me to read and learn more about the Koran and make up my own mind rather than get second hand information filled with hate."Alan Klein, commenting at Informed Comment, juancole.com
Here is part of what she had to say at TED:
"Or take the infamous verse about killing the unbelievers. Yes, it does say that, but in a very specific context: the anticipated conquest of the sanctuary city of Mecca where fighting was usually forbidden. And the permission comes hedged about with qualifiers. Not, you must kill unbelievers in Mecca, but you can, you are allowed to, but only after a grace period is over and only if there's no other pact in place and only if they try to stop you getting to the Kaaba, and only if they attack you first. And even then -- God is merciful, forgiveness is supreme -- and so, essentially, better if you don't. (Laughter) This was perhaps the biggest surprise -- how flexible the Koran is, at least in minds that are not fundamentally inflexible.
"Some of these verses are definite in meaning," it says, "and others are ambiguous. The perverse at heart will seek out the ambiguities trying to create discord by pinning down meanings of their own. Only God knows the true meaning." The phrase "God is subtle" appears again and again. And indeed, the whole of the Koran is far more subtle than most of us have been led to believe. As in, for instance, that little matter of virgins and paradise. Old-fashioned orientalism comes into play here. The word used four times is Houris, rendered as dark-eyed maidens with swelling breasts, or as fair, high-bosomed virgins. Yet all there is in the original Arabic is that one word: Houris. Not a swelling breast nor a high bosom in sight. (Laughter) Now this may be a way of saying pure beings -- like in angels -- or it may be like the Greek Kouros or Kórē, an eternal youth.
"But the truth is nobody really knows, and that's the point. Because the Koran is quite clear when it says that you'll be "a new creation in paradise" and that you will be "recreated in a form unknown to you," which seems to me a far more appealing prospect than a virgin. (Laughter) And that number 72 never appears. There are no 72 virgins in the Koran. That idea only came into being 300 years later, and most Islamic scholars see it as the equivalent of people with wings sitting on clouds and strumming harps. Paradise is quite the opposite. It's not virginity, it's fecundity, it's plenty, it's gardens watered by running streams."