Understanding Islam and what it motivates men to do is critical to understanding modern geopolitics. Understanding Islam is also essential for evaluating conflicting political, religious and socio-economic claims.
Whether your son is learning about Islam from an apparently hagiographic sixth-grade social studies text or your teenage daughter is interested in an attractive and exotic Saudi Arabian exchange student at the university, accurate and objective information about Islam is important to you.
Is Islam, as some claim, the ultimate all-purpose way of life, the solution to problems and way to please God or is it, as others assert, the most threatening cause of violence in the modern world? Should you revert to Islam, and if you change your mind, can you reverse the procedure? Who should you believe, John Esposito or Robert Spencer?
The Koran and hadith
To find the answers to those questions, you need to turn to translations of original source documents: the Koran and hadith. You can spend about thirty dollars for a translation with the translator’s commentary, but how will you judge its authenticity? The less expensive alternative is to read the Koran on the web and compare multiple translations. U.S.C.’s Muslim Student Association makes parallel translations by Ali, Pickthall & Shakir available in their Compendium of Islamic Texts.
You can read up to nine translations at www.quranbrowser.com. By comparing those translations, you will find that the wording varies but the meaning is the same. The Compendium of Islamic Texts also includes abridged versions of the four major collections of hadith. If you want to search hadith for particular topics, visit http://www.islaam.net/ and open the search button in their toolbar.
While reading the Koran, you may have questions about the meaning of the text. Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir will answer many of those questions. Tafsirs compare related verses and hadith to determine their meaning. One tafsir site: www.qtafsir.com, which includes an alphanumeric search engine to help you can find the verse that is troubling you.
Islam’s Koran, Sahih Bukhari, and Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir
The Koran, Sahih Bukhari, and Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir should be sufficient to develop an elementary understanding of Islam. Beyond those sources, there are several large libraries available on the web, so extensive that we are not likely to live long enough to fully explore them all.
Explore the subject of Islam
You will encounter quotations from the Koran and Hadith. To verify those quotations and explore their context, you can use your favorite search engine. Koran verses, called Ayat, are arranged in chapters called Surahs. They are generally referenced by Surah: Ayat, 5:32, for example. Each ayat is a named anchor in a large HTML file in the Compendium of Islamic texts. If you search Google for Koran 5:32 USC, the correct link will be at the top of the list. Clicking it will open Surah 5 so that you can scroll down to ayat 32.
Handith in Bukhari’s collection is referenced by volume, book, and number. Searching for Bukhari 4.52.220, for example, will find a saying in which Muhammad brags about being made victorious by terror. If the author does not furnish a fully qualified reference to the hadith, search for an important phrase enclosed in quotation marks.