Has a non-Muslim ever read the Koran?

German research project: How much truth is there in the mysterious Koran?

When the angel came, the prophet panicked. Mohammed was alone, he had hidden in a mountain cave for days to think, to worship, to pray. Maybe he was looking for the truth. Maybe he sensed the closeness of God. Maybe he was waiting for a sign. But when the angel came it was terrible.

At first Mohammed only heard his voice: “You are the messenger of God!” After these words the prophet collapsed, he sank to his knees, slid around on the ground and briefly considered whether he should throw himself off the cliff. But then the angel appeared and spoke again. “Read!” - “What should I read?” Then the angel grabbed him, shook him three times and shouted: “Carry on in the name of your Lord who created man.” Beads of sweat appeared on Mohammed's forehead, but he obeyed and began to recite aloud what the angel had given him. “Lecture” means Qu'ran in Arabic. In German notation: Koran.

This is how the Muslim tradition imagines the calling of Muhammad. It is said to have been the first of many revelations that the Prophet received, in Mecca, then later in Medina, between 610 and 632, the year of Muhammad's death. The angel spoke, Mohammed repeated his lectures aloud, and then passed the words on to his growing congregation. Individual sayings became whole suras, later suras became the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Was it like that?

Two new scientific projects

Modern Islamic studies are currently trying to find out. Two German research projects are currently underway that could provide completely new insights into the origins of the Koran and its meaning. In Potsdam at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, work has been going on for a year on the first comparative edition of the most important Koran manuscripts from the first centuries of the Islamic calendar. The project is called “Corpus Coranicum”. It should pave the way to a source-critical complete edition of the Koran; the first results should be available at the end of March and then published on the Internet as soon as possible. And the Islamic scholar Hartmut Bobzin from the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg has submitted a new German translation of the Koran. It will be presented at the Leipzig Book Fair next week. The publishing house C. H. Beck, one of the most renowned German science publishers, promises nothing less than the "first philologically and linguistically convincing translation in decades".

The origin of the Koran has so far been researched much more poorly than that of the Bible or the Torah. Muslim scholars have for centuries taken the accounts of Muhammad's revelations for granted, and preferred to rack their brains over questions of interpretation. Western scholars, on the other hand, have mostly ignored the Koran, and when they did study it, it was often to prove its supposed inferiority to Christian tradition.

The result: Islamic studies today is facing significant problems that research into the Old and New Testaments, for example, has long since overcome: its most important research subject, the Koran, is not textually secured, there is no critical edition of the original Arabic text. Instead, up to 14 different versions are recognized in the Islamic world, which were established in the centuries after Muhammad. And: In many countries there is a lack of scientifically flawless, but at the same time linguistically pleasant translations of the Koran, despite some translations also in Germany. Both problems should now be resolved.