The review of the book, Approaching the Qurıan  The early revelations by Michael Sells


By: Parvin Darabi 

The first time I criticized Michael Sells for writing such a book, trying to glorify Islam and its prophet he wrote me an email telling me that I had not read his book and did not know what he was talking about. He was quite correct about his assertions at that time. 

I recently took out his book from our library branch through inter-branch library loan and spent some time and read it and concluded that I did not need to read the book after all. 

He begins his book by this "One afternoon in Cairo, I found myself in an unusual situation. The streets of this noisy, bustling city were suddenly strangely quiet, yet the cafes were crowded with people clustered around televisionsŠŠ. What had drawn people from the streets into the cafes today was the appearance of one of Egyptıs popular Ourıan reciter. When I returned to my hotel, the lobby was filled with men, some of them Christians, watching and listening to the televised recitation with intense interest." 

He then continues saying that the reason Qurıan is word of God and not of man is because no one has been able to produce something similar in poetry, sound, and spirit as in Qouıan. He explains some of the Suras and how recitation of the book brings calm and peace to people hearing it even non-Arabs.  

Regarding Mr. Sells experience in Cairo, I had a similar experience in Tehran in 1992. When one night returning home around 8: PM I found Tehran, the city of 14 million people strangely quiet. It seemed that everyone had gone home. The shops were closing and people were in a rush to get to their houses. I asked the Taxi driver what was it all about. He replied that that night at 9:PM the television would be showing another episode of a Japanese serial called "ushin," or "Youshin," I cannot recall the correct name. The story was about a strong Japanese woman and her struggles for her familyıs happiness. The driver then told me that everyone in Tehran runs home every week on the same day to watch the program (in The Islamic Republic of Iran cafes are not allowed to have televisions). He was also on his way home to watch and would not take anymore passengers. He also told me that I was quite lucky since my destination was in the same direction as his. Otherwise, I would have had to wait for a taxi until the program was over. Should we then claim that this captivating story that inspired millions of people in one city to stop what they were doing and watch television is a revelation from a higher being as was the case made by Mr. Sell about Qurıan? No. Of course not!  

In addition, I can tell that Mr. Sells has never heard Ferdowsi poems been recited? When my father recited Ferdowsi, the entire neighborhood would crawl in our hallway just to hear him. As a matter of fact Ferdowsiıs book of poetry called "Shahnameh," the king of all books was so powerful that centuries after the Arabs conquered Persia and forced people to speak Arabic, this book alone was the instrument that brought back Persian language to the Iranian people.  Without this book we, the Iranian people, would still be speaking Arabic. 

I can say the same about many other poets and their poetry in Iran. People like Khayam, Hafiz, Sadi, Roomy, or more recent poets such as Parvin Etesami, Nader Naderpour and hundred other poets.  

The idea that Qurıan is the word of God is as preposterous as if we would claim that the "Shahnameh," or the Robeyat Khayam, or the poetry of Nader Naderpour have been revelations from a higher being. Persian and Arabic are poetic languages. It is quite simple to write verses that rime with each other. There have always been geniuses who left us remarkable works which will be cherished for generations to come. Such geniuses as Shakespeare, Beethoven, Mozart, and others. However, none of these people ever claimed to be a messenger from a divine authority. 

Mr. Sells also claims that the reason Qurıan is the word of God is because no one has ever been able to produce a book like it. I agree with him why should any one want to produce a book so contradictory, full of errors and violence? Why should anyone in the right mind want to tell a man to marry as many women as he wants to? Or to give him a revelation to tell your wives if they donıt quit complaining that I will tell you to divorce them all and marry more beautiful, obedient and submissive women? Or if your wife is not obedient go ahead and beat her? This book is a compilation of stories from Old Testament, Bible, book of Zororatians and is full of errors. 

Many writers have produced magnificent books that captures every cell in human body and soul when one begins reading them and none has ever claimed to be from a divine source. Qurıan is a book of some poetry and some weird stuff and nothing more. It is not a revelation from a divine being revealed to Muhammed as Muslims claim. The first book was written some 25 to 60 years after Muhammad died and was a compilation of what his two youngest wives Ayesha and Hafzıa could recall. This book was burned and destroyed a century later and the existing one was produced. 

As they say, "You cannot tell a book by its cover." The same is true for a book that sounds good to the ear if you are not able to understand it. Or that it rimes like poetry. It is the content that are important and frankly the content of Qurıan is mostly rubbish.


Parvin Darabi


This email was sent to Prof. Sells on Dec 2, 2002

Dear Prof. Sells, 

Please find in this link a comment on your book Approaching Quran: The Early Revelation by Parvin Darabi.

I eagerly await your response for publication in So far you have not acknowledged receiving our emails. Is it because you have difficulty defending your views on the Quran?

Sincerely yours 

Ali Sina 

Dr. Sell responds

Dec. 5, 2002
Michael Sells  [email protected]

Dear Jamal,

Thank you for sending me this strange piece by Parvin Darabi.   The writer first criticized my book without having read it.  The second review suggests it still has not been read.  

For the record, I nowhere claim that the Qur'an is the word of God.  I explain why Muslims might find the claim meaningful.  These two things are not the same.  I chose the wording of the book with with care, particularly in regard to making it clear that I was not making any claims on behalf of the authorship and truth of the book, and that clarification is repeated throughout the introduction.

The writer attributes to me a claim I never made and then goes on to argue against it and refute it. Nowhere does he quote me claiming that the Qur'an is the word of God and for good reason, because it is not my method or interest to make proclamations about the truth or falsehood of religions.

It was an irresponsible approach to misrepresent a work and then refute the misrepresentation.  But I did find the discussion of Ferdowsi interesting and worthwhile. Sometimes even when someone is making a failed argument that person might be compelled to offer some useful discussion.

Best wishes,
Michael Sells



Parvin Writes: 


It really does not matter to me if Qur'an is the word of god or not. I don't believe in God. It seems Dr. Sells believes in God. This is irrelevant to me. I did read the book. The entire book. I did not find anything interesting in it. A bunch of poetry from Arabian desert. And unreasonable arguments about its beauty and glory. This book was only written to confuse the young Western minds in their acceptance of this savage religion and its treatment of women.

I am wondering why didn't Dr. Sells write about the suras regarding women. The ones that Allah supposedly tells Muhammed to marry all the women he wants or that to divorce all his wives and marry more beautiful, obedient and submissive women? I suppose these are not such wonderful poetry!

By the way Dr. Sells since you are such a great professor of Islamic studies will you Please answer this one question for me.

Muhammed became a prophet at age 40. His first wife, Khadijeh, the rich business woman who was 16 years his senior died when Muhammed was around 53, 54. Why is is that Allah never told Muhammed to marry any other woman during these 13, 14 years and became so generous to him once Khadijeh died, even offering him a six year old child? What is wrong with this Allah you try to show as being so gentle and so passionate? I appreciate your answer.

By the way I am a she.

Parvin Darabi




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