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 The Amazing Qur'an
The basic question one must ask oneself is "Could this Qur'an be the words of any other than God." In reaching your conclusions there are a number of factors to bring into your judgement.  Firstly we must consider how this object came into existence and how reliable is the description offered of how it came into existence.  Then we need to begin our investigation of the object in question.  Through doing this we begin to notice certain characteristics about the text and start to study it in detail, noticing certain subtleties.  The establishment of general consistency with our knowledge is of primary importance since if we find things in it which contradict what we know, it will immediately be making demands on our credulity rather than challenging our conscience to accept it as true, so that we would feel guilty not accepting it.  Further investigation shows consistency with current knowledge that is quite amazing.  Coincidence also plays an interesting role in discovering curiosities about the Qur'an which show some amazing aspects of the structure.  In the process we continually consider whether there is any credible alternative explanation of the origins of the Qur'an and ask ourselves, is it too hard for us to accept any other explanation with a clear conscience that our thinking remains good? What are our doubts about the explanation that this amazing Qur'an comes from other than God? Are these doubts reasonable?
This section takes you through the above process and the next section will try to tackle some of the important questions about the moral teachings of Islam which amount to doubts that prevent people from accepting Islam.  These doubts are usually down to lack of knowledge about the correct teachings of Islam and in answering them I shall try to explain the relevant details of Islamic teachings to clarify the misunderstandings.
 The Proclaiming of the Qur'an
The word Qur'an means a proclamation - something read out.  The role of Muhammad (pbuh)*1 in this was that of the messenger.  He was commanded to read in the first verse revealed of the Qur'an.  
   Proclaim! (or Read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher Who created
   Created man out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood*2
   Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful
   He Who taught (the use of) the Pen
   Taught man that which he knew not.
A crucial part of understanding the Qur'an is considering the role of Muhammad (pbuh).  Who was he? What did he do during his life? Why should Muhammad (pbuh) have been chosen? What was his level of education? What environment did he grow up in? Once these questions are tackled we can keep the answers in mind when reading the pages ahead and consider whether any of these details can offer some credible alternative explanation of the origins of the Qur'an than that it was divinely revealed.
Muhammad (pbuh) was born 570 years after the birth of Christ (pbuh) a few weeks after his father had died.  As was the customary practice in Makkah at the time Muhammad was given to a Bedouin wet-nurse to take care of him for a number of years.  His mother died when Muhammad (pbuh) was 6 years old.  He was raised by his paternal grandfather 'Abd al Muttalib (Shaybah) until the age of eight and, after his grandfather's death, by Abu Talib, his paternal uncle.  Under the guardianship of Abu Talib, Muhammad (pbuh) began to earn a living as a shepherd, then as a trader.  At the age of twelve, he accompanied Abu Talib with a merchant caravan as far as Bosra in Syria.  He worked as a trader for several years, gained an excellent reputation for honesty and became known as "al-amin" which means "the trustworthy one".  At the age of 25 a rich merchant widow called Khadijah heard of his credentials and proposed marriage to Muhammad through a relative.  He accepted despite her being 15 years older than him.  Khadijah and Muhammad (pbuh) were the parents of six children - four daughters and two sons, although both the sons died in infancy.  Importantly Muhammad was known to be illiterate - he couldn't read nor could he write.  He was however, known to be very eloquent in his speech.
Muhammad was descended from Ishmael who was the first born son of Abraham.  Originally built by Abraham and Ishmael, the Ka'bah had become largely corrupted.  When it was first built, it was for the worship God alone but now this was known only as a sort of holy centre, for all kinds of pagan beliefs and idolatry.  The Ka'bah had at that time 360 idols which the pagans would worship.  These were statues of various sorts and even included statues of Jesus (pbuh) and images of Mary.  There was still a group of Makkans who tried to follow the true teachings of Abraham.  They were known as the Hanafi.  The main cultural pursuit of the Arabs was poetry.  Competitions would be held and the language blossomed into a deeply expressive form.  It became, at that time, a language with a highly sophisticated grammar and great subtlety of expression.
Muhammad (pbuh) was born into the leading clan of Mecca who were the "Quraish".  His position in society was very well respected.  At around the age of 40 he began to take to meditation and prayer in a cave on a mountain overlooking Makkah.  He would fast and spend long hours in contemplation and prayer.  It was during one of these visits to the cave that he received the first words of revelation from the Archangel Jibril (Gabriel).  On this first appearance, Gabriel (as) said to Muhammad: "Iqraa," meaning Read or Recite.  Muhammad replied, "I cannot read,".  The Angel Gabriel then embraced him until he reached the limit of his endurance and after releasing said: "Iqraa." Muhammad's answer was the same as before.  Gabriel repeated the embrace for the third time, asked him to repeat after him and said the verses that are mentioned above.
Muhammad (pbuh) was terrified by the whole experience of the revelation and rushed home to his wife.  He told his wife to cover him with a blanket.  After his shock had calmed down, his wife Khadijah asked him about the reason his distressed state.  After hearing his account she reassured him by saying: "Allah will not let you down because you are kind to relatives, you speak only the truth, you help the poor, the orphan and the needy, and you are an honest man." Khadijah then became the first person to accept Islam.
Initially the Qur'an won converts to Islam through the message being given to friends and family of the prophet.  After some time in this phase the message began to be proclaimed publicly.  Soon enough the people in power started to oppose this message since it clearly threatened their authority to make law based on the authority of 'the gods' (the idols).  The small band of Muslims was severely oppressed and several killed.  But they persisted in teaching this new revelation to others.   Finally after an economic boycott and the theft of their possessions which reduced the Muslims to near starvation, Muhammad was given the position of a judge in the city of Yathrib partly as a way that the tribes could in that city could find a way out of their feuding, but also largely a result of many people accepting Islam, taught by companions of Muhammad (pbuh).  Following the establishment of the Islamic State a number of battles took place between the Muslims and the Makkans who were attempting to eliminate the Muslims and their "dangerous ideas".  Eventually the Muslims were able to march into Makkah without any resistance because of their overwhelming forces and announced a general amnesty.  Within 100 years the Islamic State had spread into Spain and India defeating both the Persian Empire and the Romans and was the largest 'empire' yet to have been seen on Earth.
Muhammad's life and example span a whole range of circumstances and therefore the study of his example and his judgements provides a rich and comprehensive precedent which is used in deriving Islamic law.  
Those who wish to reject Muhammad as a prophet have two basic positions.  They either assert that he was a liar or that he was mad.  The first is flatly contradicted by all the reports of his life and that he was deeply convinced of the message he had to deliver.  If he were a liar, would he have risked his life and the life of his dearest companions many times?  Would he have been so confident in what he said and did? The next alternative that he was mad is thrown into doubt by the careful planning that he went through in all that he did.  Madness shows a lack of grip on reality yet Muhammad was known to be highly realistic in all that he did.  We know this, for example, from the councils of war he conducted.  Islam made perfect sense to Muhammad as it makes perfect sense today.  
This only captures a few of the alternative, and in the majority wholly unreasonable, perspectives of who Muhammad was.  The evidence that the Qur'an is an accurate record of the words he proclaimed as direct revelation from God is however largely beyond dispute.  This is the subject of the next chapter..  Nevertheless, some will always come up with the most ludicrous alternative explanations.  As they see no need for the moral of good thinking they see nothing wrong in making such suggestions.  It is fairly pointless discussing them.
The crucial question to consider in the following sections is whether it is reasonable to say that Muhammad could have written (or thought up) the Qur'an.
The writing of the Qur'an
 *1 - Muslims usually refer to Muhammad, as to all prophets, with a phrase like `peace be upon him' following the mention of his name.  This is abbreviated to (pbuh).
*2 - the word in Arabic is 'alaq and shall be explained fully in a later section.
 The Writing of the Qur'an
Muhammad recited this Qur'an to others and in his prayers.  Others have done the same ever since, some memorising parts of the Qur'an and others memorising the Qur'an in its entirety.  This helped the Qur'an to become unrivalled as a work of its time in terms of the care and effort which were employed to ensure that it would be preserved for all mankind.  
Once a part of the Qur'an had been revealed to the prophet (pbuh) he would dictate it to scribes who would make written records of every word recited.  These writings would then be read back to the prophet to ensure that they had been correctly recorded.  Others around at the time would make their own copies for their private use.  
These fragments of revelation came together and were linked into a specific sequence.  The sequence defined what is the current ordering of verses in the Qur'an and the prophet (pbuh) affirmed that it was given to him as part of the revelation he received.  This sequence was set out through the recitation of Qur'an during prayers and   in particular during the month of Ramadan when the prophet (pbuh) would recite the whole of the Qur'an in its correct order.
A year after the prophets death, it was entrusted to a main scribe Zaid ibn Thaabit to assemble these scattered documents on which the verses of the Qur'an were written.  He was especially qualified since not only was he a scribe, but he had also memorised the Qur'an completely and was present during the final & complete recitation of the Qur'an by the prophet.
Zaid established and applied a rigorous method of work: he would not accept any writing that was not certified by at least 2 witnesses.  The witnesses would have to have seen it being written down, not from memory, but at the very dictation of the prophet (pbuh).
Having completed this task, the collection was given to Abu Bakr - the immediate successor to Muhammad (pbuh) as head of state.  
After the collection was made, it was kept & guarded by Abu Bakr and then the following head of state Umar.  The next head of state, Uthman, decided to publish it so as to have copies available at the now remote frontiers of the Islamic State.  He did this by having four copies made.  These copies became the standard against which all other fragments which people possessed were checked.  At least one of these Uthmanic copies still exists today.  
This compilation of the Qur'an was unanimously recognised as authoritative by the companions of the prophet at the time.  It is a strong evidence that for the authenticity of the Qur'an that no other compilation has been used for the 1400+ years since then no matter how implacable certain sections of the Muslims were toward one another.  
Variations do exist however in the readings of the text even though there is no dispute about the basic form of the text.  These variations come through slight differences in the words due to the old form of written Arabic where diacritical marks (including for example short vowels) were not marked in the written text.  This means that there is more than one reading that can fit the text.  The prophet explicitly accepted some of these variations as equally valid and acceptable.   The exact reading of the text as well as any differing readings were set through oral transmission of the recitation of the Qur'an and through the choice of readings being obvious from the context.  The difference in meaning that these differences in readings have is very slight.
The question arises of how reliable the historical reports are.  This is not a new question by any standards.  Islam had a distinct advantage over previous religions in terms of the ability that the Early Muslims had to preserve the original teachings.  The Qur'an was completed in an environment that could not be more different from that of the material that now makes up the Bible.  Muslims were not a persecuted community but the rulers of a state that was having military successes on all fronts.  This made collection of historical data much easier and establishing the authenticity of various texts clearer.  
The laws of the state that emerged from Muhammad's great success as political leader were firmly based on the teachings of Islam.  This meant that a great deal of effort went into establishing what the teachings actually were.  Indeed this effort was often inspired  by a strong religious intention to identify the truth of such matters.  This motivation also ensured that clear honesty and objectivity is evident in how the studies were carried out.  Whole sciences grew up about which sayings of Muhammad (pbuh) were authentic and which were doubtful.  The reports were traced back through the people who narrated them.  Some reports were taken form what was written down at the time of Muhammad (pbuh); others proved to be more dubious (the science to identify which were which is called 'uloom ul-hadith).  The narrators of the reports of what Muhammad said were investigated to see what their reputation was.  For example, it was asked of narrators whether they were ever known to have lied (the study of narrators' reputations is called 'uloom ar-rijaal). Only chains of reporters (isnad) containing just the names of 100% trustworthy narrators were considered reliable enough to use in law making.  Hadiths (sayings or narrations) were categorised depending on various criteria including this and many others, which influence the authenticity.  Much effort went into this and there is a vast body of literature on the subject.
Of course establishing the exact authenticity of any particular hadith is never 100% possible but at some point the sources are judged to be reasonably sound and reliable and to reject a well-authenticated hadith would be judged unreasonable and therefore wrong.
As for the Qur'an.  There has never been any doubt about its authenticity.  So many people memorised it by heart and there was from the time of Muhammad a great deal of written material which contained the text of the Qur'an.  In all the history of the Qur'an, since Uthman commissioned written copies in the form of Books, there has been one, and only one Qur'an and there have been no changes in it.  It is accepted by all Muslims as the exact word of God.
One of the effects of the Qur'an is that huge efforts were also made to preserve the meanings of the Arabic language so that the sources of Islamic law would not get lost through the evolution of the language.  This has meant that the classical Arabic can be studied today and modern Arabic is very close indeed to its classical ancestor.  The extent to which the Arabic language has remained unchanged for 1400 years show just how significant the source texts of Islam were to the early Muslim generations.  These all contribute to proving beyond reasonable doubt that the Qur'an is the same Qur'an that was revealed to Muhammad and that the accounts of his life and his saying are generally very well authenticated and reliable - to an extent probably unlike the accounts of any other character in history.
People bent on denying Islam sometimes try to make challenges to this account of events.  However, to do so basically means believing that most if not all the Muslims around throughout the history of Islam were liars - is this reasonable?
 The Consistency of the Qur'an
The Qur'an is truly remarkable in many ways, many of these are in the power, subtlety and clarity of the language itself.  However, for someone who doesn't know Arabic these subtleties are not easy to appreciate so I shall concentrate on bringing to light aspects that don't depend on a great knowledge of Arabic.  Firstly I shall consider the consistency of the Qur'an:
Surah 4 Verse 82
   Do they not consider the Qur'an (with care)? Had it been from other than Allah they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.
There are a number of important aspects of this consistency.  Firstly, it is consistent within itself -i.e.  it doesn't contradict itself.  Secondly it confirms the essential teachings of previous revelation.  Thirdly and most impressive is that it is consistent with known scientific facts - including the facts that have only recently been recognised.  It would be impressive enough if there were simply no errors considering the facts known at the time because there were many things which people believed and fully accepted as facts which have been proven wrong.  That none of these things got into the Qur'an is quite remarkable.
To demonstrate the internal consistency would require me to go through the whole of the Qur'an and consider all the verses and their relation to one another.  This would be too much for the current effort and I leave it up to the reader to do that on their own.  The confirmation of previous revelation is also a subject where to demonstrate the case would require a great deal of work in identifying all the basic teachings of previous revelations.  This would require a critical analysis of the teachings of previous revelations (including for example a disproof of the teachings of Christianity on Trinity).  To show the Qur'an is consistent with known scientific facts is in principle also hard to do since that would require a thorough search through the Qur'an for anything contradicting scientific fact.  What can be done however, is to identify a number of passages in the Qur'an where there is surprising consistency with relatively recent scientific discoveries.
The Qur'an is a book which contains several references to natural phenomena but these references have clear purpose in explaining the deeper meaning to life and existence in general.  The Qur'an leaves room for a variety of interpretations but the consistency with recent science within those acceptable interpretations is still astounding.  
The Big Bang
Surah 21, Verse 30:
   ARE THEN, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then Parted    Asunder? - and [that] we made from water every living thing? Will they not then [begin to] believe?
This verse should be re-read a couple of times.  In it we see that the whole of material existence was once as one thing before it was exploded apart.  This appears to be a clear reference to the "Big Bang" - the widely accepted theory of the origins of the universe.  In the very same verse we see a reference to the origins of life being in water (see also origins of life section).  This is also a key finding of science.  Both of these points must have been somewhat puzzling to the early readers of the Qur'an.  Now these statements are seen in the full light of modern knowledge and are recognised as astonishingly accurate.  Moreover, the last question of the verse is now doubly potent.  
The Story of Creation
There are several places where the Qur'an describes aspects of the creation.
The Bible describes the creation as having taken place in six days followed by a day of rest.  In the Bible a 'day' is explicitly the interval between two successive sunrises or sunsets.  There can be no question that this story is wrong.  The very mechanism of the Earth rotating around its axis was not fixed in the earliest stages of creation as were described in the Bible.
In contrast to this the Qur'an while also describing creation as taking place in 6 'days' never connects this word with a set period.  In fact, in the Qur'an a day in the sight of Allah (in this instance judgement day) is described as 50,000 human years.  (Surah 70: Verse 4) The use of the word yawm in Arabic can equally well 'mean period of time' as it can mean 'day'.
A significant passage of the Qur'an is Surah 41, Verses 9 to 12:
(Muhammad Asad translation)
   "Say: Would you indeed deny Him who has created the earth in two aeons? And do you claim that there is any power that could rival Him, The   Sustainer of all the worlds?"
   For He [it is who after creating the earth,] placed firm Mountains on it [towering] above its surface, and bestowed [so many] blessings on it, and   equitably apportioned its means of subsistence to all who would seek it: [and all this He created] in four aeons.
   And He [it is who] applied His design to the skies, which were [yet but] smoke; and He [it is who] said to them and to the earth, "come willingly or   unwillingly!" - to which both responded, We do come in obedience."
To me this is obviously a reference to the fact that we are in the second cycle of solar evolution.  The earth is made up of material that resulted from the first life cycle of a sun and our sun is a 'second generation' sun- two periods.  The last of the verses quoted above confirms this point by referring to the what the sky and earth was made from - smoke.  A simple but absolutely accurate description of the remains of the burnt out first generation sun! This description of the coming together of matter in forming the solar system is a very fundamental part of the concept of the current understanding of how it actually happened.
The expansion of the universe
Surah 51, Verse 47:
   And it is We who have built the universe with [Our creative] power; and verily, it is We who are expanding it.
The expansion of the universe was only discovered in the last few decades and the theories that describe the universe in cosmology only began to be developed after Einstein discovered General Relativity Early in the 20th century.  This verse is from a book that was completed 1400 years ago.  How could Muhammad have known this if he wasn't receiving revelation from the All-Knowing?
The origins of life
   Are, then, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then Parted   Asunder? - and [that] we made from water every living thing? Will they not then [begin to] believe?
(see Also Big Bang section)This quote clearly says that all life comes from water.  There are two possible meanings to this and both agree exactly with scientific knowledge.  One is that every living thing is made from Water (as its essential ingredient) and the other that all life originates from Water.  The first meaning is true since in all living cells water is the major component.  The latter is true since all life known about had its origins in water.
The exploration of space
Surah 55, Verse 33
   O assembly of Jinns and Men, if you can penetrate regions of the heavens and the earth then penetrate them! You will not penetrate them save with a   power.
This verse needs a little explanation.  In Arabic, there are different words for 'if'.  One expresses the possibility, another expresses an achievable hypothesis and another expresses an unachievable hypothesis.  In this case the 'if' is for an achievable hypothesis.  Man will penetrate through into the heavens 'if' he has the power to do so!
Descriptions of the foetus
This is one of the most remarkable areas of description in the Qur'an.  The development of the foetus is spoken of in the Qur'an in some detail.  The early stages of which could not have been known at the time of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) because the size of the foetus at these stages is too small to see with the naked eye, rather a microscope is needed.  
Surah 71 Verses 13-14
   What is the matter with you, that ye are not conscious of Allah's majesty, Seeing that it is He who has created you in successive stages?  
Surah 23 Verses 12-14
We did create human beings out of the essence of clay, and thereafter We cause him to remain as a drop of sperm in [the womb's] firm keeping.  Thereafter we fashioned the sperm into something that clings (Alaqah), which we then fashioned into a chewed lump (Modgha).  The chewed lump is   then fashioned into bones that are then covered with flesh.  Then we nurse him unto another act of creation.  Blessed is God, the best of artisans.
The use of 'essence of clay' here is to say in other words that what we are made of comes from the earth.  The word used for semen here literally means a 'small drop'.  
The description of the next stage as 'something that clings' accurately represents the stage where the fertilised cell attaches itself to the inner most layer of the uterus by hair-like projections.  Another meaning for the word alaqah is 'leech like'.  This describes the process of implantation in the first few days entirely correctly and is so concise as to use just one word.  
The word "Alaqa" has been translated as `something that clings'. This only identifies part of the descriptive accuracy of this word.  The word has a number of meanings, which I shall now elaborate.  It's root meaning is from the verb 'aliqa which means "to hang, be suspended, dangle; to stick, cling, cleave adhere to; to catch, get caught or stuck; to be attached, affixed, subjoined" Other forms of the verb have related meanings such as to be affectionately attached to someone.  (dictionary definitions from Hans Wehr )
The meanings apply ideally to the process through which the fertilised ovum becomes lodged in the womb.  
If we look at the noun 'alaqa we find this meanings of "medical leech" and "blood clot".  The leech is an interesting little creature.  The creature is a parasite, which lives on blood, which it sucks out of the body of, it's host.  Not only is this a similar process to what happens to an embryo in the earliest stages, but also a leech looks remarkably like the earliest stages of the embryo.  The meaning of a clinging thing can easily be seen in this use of the verbal noun.  As for blood clot it is first necessary to point out that it is the process of clotting or coagulating which brings the idea of clinging to this word and not blood.  There is a quite different word for blood in Arabic 'damm' and this is not meant.  When blood coagulates the material is primarily known to be sticky which explains the use of 'alaqa for this material.  What we have is also a living fluid half way to becoming a soft solid which is an accurate description of the embryo as the cells which have multiplied until they form a fluid now begin to form tissue structures.
The description of the chewed flesh implies something like teeth marks.  This accurately describes the Somite development.  The Somites as Hamilton Boyd and Mossman say " are conspicuous features of embryos in the period under consideration and are readily seen in the surface contour.  They are bases from which the greater part of the axial skeleton and musculature are developed".  The age of the embryo is referred to by the number of these Somites since "they form one of its characteristic external features" these features along with the pharyngeal arches which also appear at this period (4 weeks) give the embryo the clear appearance of a chewed lump in which the indentations of teeth are present.
The structure of the embryo as it develops and gains its form is primarily skeletal at and before 5 weeks.  That is - what you see in pictures of embryos this age is the bones and a number of semi-translucent organs.  The bones at this stage have structure and form and are easily the most marked and visible feature of the embryo but they are of course not fully calcified (many bones are still in the final calcifying stage through into adulthood).  Over the next couple of weeks a quite definite change takes place in the way that an embryo looks.  Instead of seeing bones and organs, all that can be seen now, is (the flesh of) a naked body.  The embryo begins to look much more human.  It is a reference to this, which to me seems most fitting with the general tone and meaning of (this part of) the verse: "we clothed the bone with flesh "
Other bits for you to investigate ...  
   Geology of mountains (78:6-7, 31:10++)   The gender of worker bees (16:68)   Near death experiences (50:19)   The nerves being in the skin (4:56)   Life on other planets? (42:29)   The Water Cycle (23:18-19, 15:22, 35:9, 30:48)   ++ more which depend on specialist knowledge.
This gives a number of key indications which, together with a more thorough investigation establishing the consistency of all statements in the Qur'an, show that the Qur'an is a remarkably accurate book when it comes to describing reality.  In the next section on structure of the Qur'an I consider some evidence where the whole of the Qur'an is discussed and therefore the evidence is doubly clear since there is no excuse of saying "but somewhere in the Qur'an there might be a verse that says ..."
 The Structure of the Qur'an
The numerical structure of the Qur'an is a relatively new study and began when the first full indexes of the Qur'an were composed through putting the text on to computers.  
Surah 11, Verse 1
   This is a scripture whose verses are perfected and then explained.
This verse indicates that no words are wasted in the Qur'an, it could not be in a better form.  One could not use fewer words to say the same thing.  To do so would add unnecessary information.  One way to look for structure is to look, not to the meanings of the words, but to treat them as abstract logical terms (programmers would call them parameters or variables) which are used in phrases that could be understood as formulas or equations.  To make this clear consider the difference between
"London is a large city"
and
"London has 6 letters"
In one phrase I am referring to the city and in the other to the name 'London'.
In the Qur'an we have several statements that could be thought to be equations.  Specifically this is where the phrase "the likeness of A is as the likeness of B" ('mathal A kamathal B' in Arabic).  But in what sense are A and B alike in an abstract way? Well the answer is that their number is the same, i.e.  the number of times that the noun words or noun phrases occur is the same.
The occurrences of this include: Surah 3 Verse 59
   The likeness of Jesus before Allah is as the likeness of Adam.
Both the Name "Adam" and "Jesus" occur in the Qur'an 25 times each.
Surah 7, Verse 176
   The likeness of those who reject Our signs is as the likeness of the dog.
Both the Phrase "Those who reject our signs" and the word "dog" occur in the Qur'an 5 times.  Surah 29, Verse 41
   The likeness of those who take protectors other than Allah is as the likeness of the spider
In this case both A and B only occur twice.
Another expression in Arabic which can be understood as an equation, is the inequality statement expressed directly as "A is not equal to B" (la yastawee A wa B).   This is sometimes stated as a question "Is A equal to B?" (hal yastawee A wa B) the indication invariably is that they are not equal.  So we would expect that the number of occurrences of these 2 words are not the same.  Nothing amazing in that, you may think it is indeed quite likely that the occurrences would be different.   However, what we find is that the occurrence of the two unequal words differs by one exactly.
In 4:96 those who sit around are declared as not equal to those who strive in the cause of Allah.  The former term has 2 forms for the same word in the Qur'an "al-qa-idoon" and "al-qa-ideen" .  These different forms are exactly the same word but their ending is changed because of the grammatical case (nominative and accusative respectively).  The latter term for strivers also has 2 forms "al-mujahidoon" and "al-mujahideen".  When we compare occurrences of these words we find "al-qa-idoon"=2, "al-mujahidoon"=1, "al-qa-ideen"=4, "al-mujahideen"=3.  In each form the difference in the occurrence of the 2 words is 1.  In 6:50 the blind (Al-a'maa) and the seeing (al-Baseer) are set as unequal.  The word for the blind occurs 8 times and the word for the seer occurs 9 times - 1 more.  In 13:16 the depths of darkness (Al-dhulumaat) and the light (al-noor) are set as unequal.  The occurrences of these two words are 14 and 13 respectively.  There is one exception to this pattern.  In 5:100 the good (al-tayib) and the bad (al-khabeeth) are said to be unequal, but we find the occurrence of both words is 7.  The explanation is found in the verse that sets the equation, which immediately goes on to say that you will be dazzled by the amount of the bad.  In another verse (8:37) God explains that he piles the bad one on another together so as to separate it from the good.  This is also reflected in the Qur'an - the occurrences of 'the good' are scattered throughout the Qur'an but the occurrences of 'the bad' are sometimes 'piled together' two in one verse.  
Other words have more direct numerical meanings.  
The Arabic word for month is shahr.  It occurs 12 times.
This is counting only the definite and indefinite articles: 'the month' and 'a month' There are also occurrences of other forms of this word which are in the plural.  The total number of the occurrences in the plural is nine which is the length of a human pregnancy and perhaps the next most obvious period of time measured in months after a year.
The Arabic word for Day is yawm and you will find it occurs 365 times in the Qur'an.
This is also only counting the definite and indefinite articles: 'the day' and 'a day'.  There are other occurrences of the word day in the plural and forms where they are tied together to pronouns, which make one word such as 'their day'.  Interestingly enough the number of occurrences of the word day in the plural forms is 30 - the closest whole number of days in a lunar month and the average number of days in a solar month.
The word for year is sana and that occurs 19 times.  
The significance of 19 here is that each period of 19 years is a repetition of all the relative positions of the Earth and the moon.  This cycle was discovered by a Greek called Meton and is known as the Metonic Cycle.
This is counting the definite and indefinite articles 'the year' and 'a year' but also the plurals.  The word occurs 12 times in the plural form and 7 times in the singular form.  There are no other occurrences.  The fact that this calculation takes into account plurals whereas when considering the word for month I ignored plurals has caused people to level the charge that the number relationships were fudged.  I also saw the weakness in the pattern.  However, I believed there was still something there.  Maybe it was to do with the type of plural (broken and unbroken)? This is what was put on my web site for several months.  But I discovered that that reasoning was wrong since both plurals are really broken plurals. Looking again for the significance of 12 and 7 we find what must be the answer:
Meton of Athens (ca.  440 BC) noticed that 235 lunar months made up almost exactly 19 solar years.  Using modern measurements,
1 year is         365.2425 days;
1 lunar month is   29.53059 days
19 years     = 365.2425 / 29.53059
          = 234.997 lunar months

This 19-year Lunar Cycle became known as the Metonic cycle, and was the basis for the Greek calendar until the Julian calendar was introduced in 46 BC.  Since 12 lunar months equal 354.367 days, about 11 days less than a solar year, an additional 235-19(12) = 7 lunar months were added to synchronise the cycle.  These were added in years 3, 5, 8, 11, 13, 16, and 19 of the cycle.  
So, almost certainly, we have here the importance of the numbers 12 and 7 (the occurrence of the plural and the single of 'sanat' (year) respectively).  The metonic cycle is 19 solar years pretty exactly or in lunar years it is 19 and 7/12 ths!!
The remaining words you might think of related to time are "week" which doesn't occur at all, and hour.  The word hour occurs in the Qur'an not, as might be expected, 24 times but 48 times! This is still a bit of a puzzle to me but there is something that might be noted here.  A given calendar day e.g.  19th of January 1998 exists for exactly 48 hours.  How is this? Well, it begins existing at the international dateline when the whole world is momentarily on 18th of January 1998.  After 12 hours half the world is 19th of January 1998 and the other half is 18th of January 1998 after 24 hours the whole world is momentarily 19th of January 1998.  After 36 hours half the world is 19th of January 1998 and half the world is 20th of January 1998 and after 48 hours 19th of January 1998 ceases to exist and momentarily the whole world is 20th of January 1998.  From this we see that a day lasts not 24 hours but 48 hours!!!!
Another example of structure is spotted in Surah 15, Verse 33
   For no statement do they bring you but We reveal the Truth to thee and the best explanation
In the Qur'an the word for 'they said' is qaalu and this occurs 332 times.  The replies Allah gives to the reader of the Qur'an are commands to 'Say!'.  The Arabic word for 'say!' in the imperative is qul and this occurs in the Qur'an 332 times.
Another example is that the Muslim should try to keep a balance between wanting the good in this life "dunya" and wanting the good in the next life "akhira".  When we look for balance between these two words in the Qur'an we find it: Both the word "dunya" and "Akhira" occur 115 times.
One more thing I noticed was the result of an email dispute between a couple of people. The first was pointing out that the word Trinity never occurs in the Bible.  The reply to this was that the word Tawhid never occurs in the Qur'an.  The word Tawhid is an emphatic form of the meaning of oneness, which means aloneness (i.e.   without partners) and is a very important term in Islamic theology.  I checked this out and it is true that the word "Tawhid" doesn't occur in the Qur'an.  This is somewhat contrary to what one might naively expect given the importance of the concept of God's oneness in Islam.  However, I did notice that the word "wahid" meaning "alone" did occur in the Qur'an.  What would you expect for this word, how many times is the word "alone" in the Qur'an? The answer is once.  It is alone.
These are just starting points and I'm sure there is much more to discover.  It deserves further investigation and I for one shall investigate this more as time permits. If you think that ignoring the remaining forms of the words (e.g. not considering the plurals for each word) is inconsistent then see Appendix 2 at the end of the book for the apparent consistency of  these forms to the patterns spotted.
Please note that I have personally verified these through my study of the concordance of the Qur'an.  This book is in Arabic and is called "al-muhjam al-mufahris li alfaadh al-Qur'an al-kareem" it was compiled by Muhammad Abdel Baaqee.  In the introduction he explains how he validated the concordance by reading through the entire Qur'an and checking that every occurrence of every word was mentioned in the concordance.  He found 14 omissions only and these have been included in the copy I now own as an appendix and integrated in later editions.  It was only after he compiled this concordance that these discoveries were made and this concordance was compiled and published earlier this century (1940's).  You must ask yourself, `Could Muhammad have put this structure in the Qur'an?' Even if he could what would have been his aim seeing that the structure was not known about for 1350 years? Would it have justified the effort for any material gain of Muhammad?
If you make a balanced and objective analysis of the evidence you may well realise that to deny that the Qur'an is revelation from God, is to be quite unreasonable, a self deception and therefore a sin of disbelief that you will have to answer for on Judgement day. At such a point your choice is clear. If you never reach such a point despite your good thinking then it will be due to the lack of knowledge that you have been able to find. This will then be the fault of the Muslims in not delivering the message adequately. Muslims may be at fault both in terms of not providing exemplary behaviour because our conduct does not follow the teachings of Islam closely enough or it may be through us not communicating the message effectively. If this is the case you have some valid excuse on Judgement day for not accepting Islam.
 The Opening of the Qur'an
The Qur'an starts with the Surah (chapter) called "Al-Fatihah" which means "the opener" as it opens the Qur'an it is sometimes also able to open people's hearts.
     1 In the name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful.  
     2 Praise be to Allah the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds.  
     3 Most Gracious Most Merciful.
     4 Master of the Day of Judgement.
     5 It is you we worship and serve and it is you we seek help from.  
     6 Show us the straight way.  
     7 The way of those upon whom You bestowed Your Grace, not those upon whom is anger, nor those who go astray.
The importance of these verses to the practising Muslim is very great.  The closest comparable thing in Christianity is 'The Lord's Prayer' (Our father, who art in heaven, give us our daily bread....).  These verses of the Qur'an are a prayer that forms the core of the obligatory and non-obligatory formal prayers of all Muslims.   They recite it and reflection it at least 17 times a day.  It sets the state of the mind, heart and soul at the beginning of each prayer and therefore sets the outlook on the day and hence indicates the whole perspective on life of a Muslim.  It contains, in a few short verses, all the basic principles of Islam.
   Verse 1
The phrase "bismillahi-Rahmani-Rahim" - In the name of Allah the most Gracious the Most Merciful - is a key part of the everyday life of Muslims.  Muslims are encouraged to start every act with these words since by doing so, that act becomes a direct 'ibadah' (worship & service) of Allah provided that what is being done is in accordance with Islamic law.  It therefore helps to develop in Muslims a good habit of reflecting on the moral value of all their actions at the point they are about to do them.  Indeed, all permissible acts in Islam can be a form of worship of Allah - including sex with your spouse.
If we look a little more closely at the Arabic words we might give the following clarification.  Firstly, the words that are Allah's names are in an intensive form.  The basic word of rahman is an adjective meaning showing kindness and giving benefits.  The intensive form implies that you can basically ignore all other rahman in comparison.  Al-Rahman means THE Gracious - the one whose grace totally eclipses the grace of others.  Al Rahim is a very similar word but implies definite action taking place.  So Allah is the one who is actively bestowing of grace so much more than any other that the others are negligible by comparison.
The name Allah is also of this form.  It literally means "The god" in comparison to which all other (would be) gods are as nothing.
   Verse 2
Verse 1 has the effect of saying "now we begin".  After it is said, we start the actual prayer:
Alhamdu lillah - literally: "the praise is for Allah" This is very fundamental to Islam - God is the source of all good and consequently when we appreciate anything of His creation, we exclaim praise to He who is responsible - Allah.  This exclamation contains the driving idea of Islam and ties in exactly to the value argument presented earlier in the section on the Sin of Disbelief.  The exclamation forms a key part in the Muslim outlook on life.  When Muslims are happy at some good thing happening they exclaim alhamdu lillah - praise be to God.  This helps prevent arrogance from thinking that this good is from yourself rather than from the source of all good.  If things happen that to you seem bad you should also say "alhamdu lillah!" to counter the idea that Allah causes bad to happen to you.  This has the effect of turning perceived problems into opportunities.  It reminds one to show moral virtues like patience and trying to learn how to solve the problem.  It put one in the frame of mind that looks towards how to achieve good deeds out of this situation.
After the exclamation the explanation comes in a superbly condensed form.  "Rabb al-`alamin" - the lord of the worlds.  The word meaning 'worlds' implies all possible worlds known to exist.  This was interpreted at the time to mean the spirit world, the world of the heavens, the world of human beings.  Essentially each realm of known existence.  (the word in fact comes from the root verb "to know").  A modern interpretation might consider the worlds to mean different planets or even parallel universes as in the 'many worlds' theory which some physicists seem to like at the moment.  
The word Rabb means primarily the person in charge - the authority figure.  The person who makes the decisions.  This goes to the heart of the argument made earlier about seeking deeper explanations.  The ultimate explanation behind all of the ways that existence functions is the decision of Allah.  The word Rabb also has the implicit meaning of cherishing, sustaining and bringing to maturity.  Allah cares for all the worlds He has created.
This verse sets the initial perspective of the reader or person praying towards the ultimates of existence: the ultimate authority behind existence and the ultimate good of existence.
   Verse 3
This re-iterates the meaning from verse 1 and guides the perspective more towards the relationship of humans to Allah.  The primary reality of this relationship is authority of Allah over His creation as expressed in the word "Rabb".  This relationship however must never be thought of as an arbitrary authority.  It is authority with a purpose.  The authority is used for the good; it is used for "rahma" and this is verse three that brings this point home.  It the recognition of the grace of Allah towards His creation.  
   Verse 4
The Qur'an now brings the focus Humanity's relation to Allah.  Human beings, unlike any other part of Allah's creation have free will.  They can be part of the divine purpose of rahma or they can oppose it.  
This leads to man's responsibility, which flows towards Allah and the consequences of this responsibility.  There is a judgement of a person's efforts and implicitly rewards and punishments depending on how well that person has done.  If they have tried to be part of the divine purpose, if they have tried to do what is right, then they are rewarded.  If they have opposed the divine purpose they are punished before Allah then shows mercy on all who have had even as little as a mustard seed of trust in Allah and puts them into paradise. (Sahih Bukhari Hadith 8.565)
From this recognition flows gratitude and from this gratitude flows the desire to please the object of your gratitude.  The Muslim tries to please Allah primarily out of gratitude for the grace he has bestowed on him / her.  Islam literally means willinglyseeking to do what Allah wills by submitting to His will and thereby pleasing Him.
   Verse 5
This is now very directly the relationship between Allah and human beings.  We are made by Allah and we are subject to His laws.  We owe all that we have to Allah since He gave us all we have.  Our lives are indebted to His grace and we continually recognise this through worship and through seeking Allah's pleasure through serving Him.  In exchange to what we do we receive help from Him in abundance.  The emphasis here implies `only', so that it means that a Muslim only worships and serves Allah and only seeks help from Allah.  No matter how Muslims receive help they attribute it to Allah as being in control of all things.  The emphasis also quashes the thought that Allah might in any sense need our help by stressing that the relation is the other way round.
   Verse 6
This is the essential form of help that Allah provides in answer to our asking for help.  He provides guidance.  
the word `show' <YA comment>
`straight' the meaning of the root word also includes `stand up' and has profound meaning connected to ideas of upholding virtues etc which in English require many words.   Part of the structure of Arabic where verbs are the centre and each verb has many forms and each form has many nouns that can be made from it.  It allows huge flexibility and yet the words remain tied together giving resonances of meanings that can't be achieved in English.
Verse 7:  The path is in front of you. You have the choice. The path of those Allah has given comfort and blessing and ease (all implied by "an'amta").  This is those who deliberately go for the straight path with definite intention.  The next option is those who have anger on them. These are those who deliberately do the opposite of going for the straight path.  The last option defines a midway position where there is no deliberate intention either way and so the person goes astray
This puts the Muslim in the right frame of mind to receive guidance and to follow it and therefore is the perfect "opener" opening the heart and mind.
 (To read further see Qur'an, though there are as yet few commentaries on the internet.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali's translation is widely regarded as one of the best in English but all translations have their problems of one form or another.)
 The Teachings of Islam
The teachings of Islam have been distorted in the Western world ever since the time of Muhammad.  Christian attacks on Islam date from the Crusades during which 'Western culture' found its first real sense of identity.  This identity was defined as being fundamentally hostile to Islam.  Not Islam as it really is but a completely unapologetic pack of lies about Islam.  To mention such things may seem a bit strange because it is so far in the past.  However, the level of ignorance about Islam continues to astonish, and part of this ignorance is due to the persistence of this Christian reaction to Islam - to lie about it.  The type of lie has moved on of course because truth eventually prevails.  Although some Christians still use them, the charges that Muslims worship Al-Lut (a pre-Islamic pagan god for the moon), or that the use of the honorific title "we" in the Qur'an implies a plurality or trinity of God, or that Muslims are sexually promiscuous, or that Muhammad was the chief idol they worshipped are no longer even remotely tenable.  The allegations made to try and discredit Islam these days focus on a number of things none of which stand up to any serious scrutiny.  I do not wish to imply that everyone who makes these allegations is a liar - this is certainly not the case.  Rather I suppose what typically happens is that someone is all too keen to find something vaguely discrediting and jumps to ignorant conclusions.  Either that or they deliberately hide something of what they know so as to present only half the picture.  These allegations then get repeated without enough concern for investigating them properly at that stage.
The 'Christian' West criticised Islam's moral teachings firstly on the basic grounds that it was way to liberal - it allowed freedom of thought, polygamy, even Divorce!!! These days the criticism is the other way round - Islam is way too strict.  It insists on no sex outside marriage: it has no concept of gay rights, etc.  This is fairly ironic but shows just how things have gone in the West.  Islam has not changed its teachings.
Today the main concept people in the West have about Islam is from its media image.  This is driven by the relevant companies seeking to make an exciting story.   Unfortunately this means all too often little more than demonising Islam.  Many Muslims see the Zionists behind this and indeed the Jews are the great storytellers in the media, particularly in Hollywood.  Recent movies such as "True Lies" and "The Peacemaker" tell exciting nonsense stories about mad Muslims about to blow up the US with nuclear weapons. These stories serve to obscure the facts of the real situation: It is Israel that has the nuclear weapons, has continually shown aggressive expansionist aims since its foundation, and disregard for the human rights of their neighbouring Arab population - not to say hatred. These considerations makes it more likely that any nuclear attack would be from Israel than from any Muslim country.
Anyway, the situation is not so simple and it is probably much closer to the truth to attribute these distorting attacks on Islam to a mixture of motives of money, nationalism, racism (Zionism is just one form of this) and ambition on the part of a number of "experts" who quietly retire when they are shown to be rather unbalanced and unqualified.
These images of Islam must be forgotten since they are largely, if not entirely, fictional.  However the questions that arise out of them need to be tackled.  Each little lie created by these stories has to be responded to. 'Oppression of Women', 'Terrorism', 'intolerance', 'barbaric punishments' and more are routinely wheeled out.  This section will try to answer most of these points and explain what Islam really teaches.
 Where the teachings come from
Before I delve into what the teachings of Islam are it is necessary to note that in Islam there is no Church with any authority to pronounce judgements on matters of moral law.  There are no priests, bishops, popes, rabbis, etc.  It is recognised as a basic teaching of Islam that only Allah has the right to make something forbidden for all time and only Allah has the right to make something allowed for all time.  So to find Islam's teachings we need to go to the material sources.  This provides a framework of permanent law within which people can act.  The Islamic State may make temporary laws so long as they don't contradict this framework.
If we look at the history of shari'ah (Islamic Moral Law), it started with the laws enacted by Muhammad and it is his precedent and the precedent of the immediate successors to Muhammad (called the Khulafa al-Rashidoon) that provide the best examples of how shar'iah should be implemented.  This period only lasted a few decades after which rulers came to power who were motivated more by self interest than by setting a moral example and more crucially were not scholars of Islam.   This had the effect that the jurists and scholars no longer trusted the head of state with law making.  The heads of state were generally quite happy to operate in the framework provided by Islam and hand over the development of laws to the scholars and jurists.  Where they deviated by making unislamic decrees they were eventually persuaded to return to the law as defined by the scholars.  
A key aspect of this was the lack of a simple resolution to scholarly disputes about what the law should be (for example a judgement by the head of state).  This resulted in great efforts being made by scholars of Islamic law to find ways of reaching agreement through establishing agreed methods for asserting the authenticity of various potential sources of shari'ah and to develop agreed methods for deriving and elaborating the moral law of Islam from these sources.
At a certain point in the history of the Muslim world, despite these methods, the disagreements became too many and people became confused as to what they should really be doing.  Instead of trying to follow what the sources said, they began to simply follow the more established scholars.  This was the beginning of a period called "Taqlid" meaning "imitation" where people followed without understanding.  This caused a deadening of the Muslims' intellect and the general decline that reached its lowest point when the whole Muslim world was colonised except for Arabia.
What has always been needed is a political authority that takes responsibility for making law and to be an example and who has the trust of the jurists and scholars to do so.  Then the obedience required of Muslims to that leader should override following the judgement of any particular scholar since the leader would be the arbiter in scholarly disputes about what the law should be.  This, however, is not the current situation and so, for the time being, we must navigate our way through the varied understandings and teachings of Islam, picking those things which are most reliable.
There are many important principles and classifications that I could explain to you here but I shall introduce them as they are needed in the following sections.
 Rights and Responsibilities
Traditionally Islam is explained in terms of the moral value of actions ranging from prohibited to obligatory.  These descriptions apply to both the ruler and the ruled.   Islam doesn't therefore start from the concept of a constitution, which is a means of binding the rulers to obey certain rules.  Rather Islam is the law for everyone - the same rule for the ruler as for the ruled.  
For the sake of argument many of these moral rules can be phrased in terms of rights and responsibilities when we consider who is involved.  For example the duty to consult people on who should be the next political leader can be put in terms of the right to be consulted.  A duty of the husband to provide for the wife can be described as the right of the wife for provisions.  
In general a prohibition may amount to a right of some form not to have that act happen (e.g.  do not steal - the right to property) and a duty may amount to a right that it does happen (e.g.  the duty to look after the sick, poor and elderly amounts to a right of these people over the rest of the population).
Some of these rights and responsibilities are expressed very explicitly through original sources; others have been derived more indirectly. The state has a role of implementing justice and this means that the rights and responsibilities are recognised between people and between groups of various forms.  There has been a general agreement among Muslims scholars on the rights that apply to all people regardless of religion and on the matter that there are rights and responsibilities that are internal to your particular religion.  
It is the duty of the ruler of an Islamic state to maintain 5 basic universal rights among the people:
  #life  #property  #freedom of conscience  #freedom of religion  #honour
These need a little explanation:
1.  Life
This is the right that your body as an individual or any one of your bodies as a group is safe from harm.  
2.  Property
This is the right to own property safe from any attempts to force it away from you or to defraud you.
3.  Freedom of conscience
This right is the right that no one can try to force you into having any opinion or belief and is closely related to 4.
4.  Freedom of religion
This is a lot more than freedom of conscience.  It implies that you are able to follow the teachings of your religion so long as it doesn't infringe on the freedom of others to do likewise.  An Islamic state would try to ensure that each religious group could have its own laws and own legal system for matters of distinctive religious laws (e.g.  marriage , divorce, inheritance etc.)
5.  Honour
This is the right not to be defamed and libelled in public.  
These rights were recognised as universal rights of every human being living in the Islamic state.  This preceded any concept of universal rights in the Western world and may well have been the source of the concept entering Western thought in the first place as with many foundational ideas of Western civilisation which came through contact with the Muslims in the time leading up to the renaissance and during it.
This is all background material though.  The misconceptions held in the West about Islam are basically related to what makes Islam a good story in the media - Sex and Violence.  So this is what is tackled next.
 Sexual morals
The topic that most motivates people in discussing Islam is the headscarf.  This is a generally acknowledged requirement of women's modesty in Islam.  For some reason people in the west see this as an oppression of women - that it somehow means they are dominated by the men.  In Islam there are a number of codes of behaviour regarding modesty and men are similarly subject to these codes.  Men for example should not wear silk or gold.  Women are quite able to study and to work etc with a headscarf on and in fact because they remain modest; they are not so pressurised to look good - at work.
Women in Islam have always had very definite rights and responsibilities and so have men.  They are the same in general with the very important exception of the rights and responsibilities in marriage.  Here women have more rights e.g.  for provision of all their needs, for custody of the children if a divorce happens and the husband has the right basically that the wife doesn't start flirting or worse with other men.  The final decisions in matters of the family come down to the husband and because of his duty to provide for the family he has extra inheritance rights in general.  
Islam essentially distinguishes between men and women in their roles within marriage granting each gender certain rights and certain responsibilities appropriate to their natures.  Islam does not consider women in any way to be second class.  
Polygamy is another intriguing subject to the Westerner when investigating Islam.  According to Islamic law it is permissible for a man to marry up to 4 women.  This can be beneficial in a number of circumstances.  After the first world war for example, there were many single women but the number of available men was considerably less.   Arguably this was a key factor in encouraging adultery.  If the men were allowed to marry more than one woman in such circumstances it would prevent a general corruption in society's sexual morals and fulfil the needs of all those single women.  
Leaving other equally important considerations as to when this could be useful, we might look towards the basic nature of people's instincts that have recently confirmed this teaching is consistent with human nature.  Whereas the primeval drives of men lead them to look for many women at the same time, the drives of women lead them to look for one man after the next.
Another hot topic is homosexuality.  Homosexuality as far as Islam is concerned is a profound mistake (as are all sins if they are not intending to do wrong).  Humans are not homosexuals by nature.  I would say that people become homosexuals because of their environments.  Particularly critical is the environment during puberty.   Suggestions, ideas and strange dreams are symptoms of confused attempts to understand new and blunt sexual desires and are rashly interpreted as defining someone as being one sexuality or another.  If these conclusions are accompanied by actual homosexual acts they are even more strongly reinforced.  
Human instincts can be subjected to acts of will.  Sexuality is a choice of identity that follows choices of action, which follow from choices of what to have sexual fantasies about.  Human beings are especially able to control their thoughts, entertaining some and dismissing others.  However, if this free will is not recognised it is easy to get into a cycle of thinking which starts from accepting a hypothesis about yourself as true rather than as a possible choice (even if the options are sometimes difficult). For example: "I am lazy " could be supposed true by someone.  When the person who thinks this lies around in bed in the morning he observes this inaction as evidence of the statement "I am lazy." As he repeatedly chooses to do so the evidence mounts and the idea becomes fixed in his identity.  It may even have physical manifestations and change his physiology and psychology.  This process can easily occur for any idea good or bad about the self that is based largely on evidence resulting from ones own action.  The idea may be "I am 'gay'" or "I am content" or "I love eating lots of food".  The truth is - you are what you choose to be;  you do what you choose to do; you think what you choose to think.  There may be long time delays between the causing choices and the effects but anyone can change himself or herself.  There are reformed ex-drug addicts, reformed ex-compulsive gamblers and ex-homosexuals.  In all these sins prevention is 1000 times better than cure and much easier.  
It has been suggested that homosexuality is genetically inherited and that those who have this 'predisposition' are victims of it, not sinners of any sort.  However, there are other things which are probably genetically influenced to give predispositions to for example gambling or alcoholism .It could also be argued (and has been) that it is programmed into men's genetics for them to be unfaithful to their partner.  All these things don't make it the right thing to do, nor does it prevent these things from being regarded as sinful.  Drinking alcohol will still be regarded as sinful in Islam even if you have a predisposition to be an alcoholic.  The trick, as every past alcoholic will tell you, is never to touch another drop after you quit - it is a long slippery slope - your life is better without it.  Once a certain desire is connected to your identity strongly and you get in some way hooked on it, it will always be easy to return to it - you are unable to forget the satisfaction.  The difficult task is remembering the bad side of the desire, such as hangovers, lost money, self-loathing or a simply sense of loss because of what you missed out on.  But if you are to change for the better, you must remember this and the past desires you bound up with your identity can become disconnected from what you choose to become.
... And just to complete the picture - masturbation:
Islam teaches that it is better not to masturbate.  Instead you should fast regularly, since it reduces sexual desire and helps you build up self - discipline in controlling your desires.  The majority of scholars consider it wrong to masturbate based on the following verse:
Qur'an 23: Verses 1-7
   The believers must (eventually) win through, -   Those who humble themselves in their prayers;   Who avoid vain talk;   Who are active in deeds of charity;   Who abstain from sex,   Except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the   captives) whom their right hands possess, - for (in their case) they are free   from blame,   But those whose desires exceed those limits are transgressors; -
This is a general ruling that you should avoid desiring other than the sex with your spouse.
That said, some scholars consider masturbation a kind of medicinal relief of sexual desires, which prevents one from committing adultery or some other worse sin.
The above verse raises the question about slavery in Islam:
What is the Islamic view about slavery?
At the time when Muhammad taught Islam to the Arabs, slavery was a deeply entrenched institution worldwide.  Rather than ban outright the institution of slavery, reforms were introduced to wipe it out over a period of time.  The main reform was to ban enslaving people except as a way of keeping prisoners of war. (Whether this is used or not is up to the decision of the military commanders, and even here the preference is for ransoming or setting free prisoners). Slaves already had the right to property.  To this was added the right to have their masters agree a price by which they could buy their own freedom.
Buying the freedom of slaves was then set as the price of atonement for various sins and set as a major objective of state redistribution of wealth through compulsory alms (charity)-giving.  The children of a slave are not born as slaves - they are always born free.  If the child is the result of sex between a free man and his slave, the slave must be married to the free man and she becomes a free woman on his death.
A slave was considered as the dependant of the Master and had rights over the master like other dependants.  These included that they should be housed to the same standards as the master, clothed to the same standards as the master and fed to the same standards as the master.  For these reasons some of the soldiers who were captured in the early battles which Muslims fought were released because their captors couldn't afford to keep them!!!
These things I think you'll agree contrast sharply with the slavery that took place in the US before the civil war.
 The use of force
   War
Islam as a religion that is comprehensive in its prescriptions and proscriptions also gives rulings as to when the use of force is justified.  Primarily this is of importance when considering war and peace.
Firstly Jihad does not mean `Holy War' rather it means to strive for something.  This striving may take the form of fighting (qital) or it may take a myriad of other forms including writing, working in a field or going on pilgrimage.
Islam permits war in self-defence and in removing oppression.  The primary meaning of oppression is the denial of the right to life and/ or property and / or freedom of religion.  
All the battles that took place during the Prophet's lifetime, under the guidance of the Qur'an and the Prophet, have been surveyed and it has been shown that they were for no other justification than for self-defence or pre-empting an imminent attack.  For more than ten years in Makkah, Muslims were persecuted, but before permission was given to fight they were instructed to restrain themselves (4:77) and endure with patience and fortitude:
There are restrictions on who should be fought and civilians are not a legitimate target.  Also a 'scorched earth' strategy is against Islamic teachings.  A key restriction is that there should be reasonable prospects of success.  Further, if the enemy fighting the Muslims offers peace then the Muslims should accept.  
Surah 8:Verse 61-2
   And if they incline to peace, do so and put your trust in Allah.  Even if they intend to deceive you, remember that Allah is sufficient for you.
Today the image of Islam that is put out by Hollywood is of mad Muslim terrorists.  
Terrorism means bringing terror to a population, as such it is totally unislamic.  It is unislamic because it brings about an extreme fear of people.  To have such an intention has nothing to do with Islam.  In Islam Muslims seek to instil in people a fear  of God only and NOT of people.  
There are some who hate that people should fear God only.  They set themselves up as enemies of God and the Muslims.  They may try to force people to fear something else.  By doing so they are themselves at least mild terrorists.  If they do so then Muslims have a duty to oppose this force - with force if necessary and if it will be effective and decisive.  In this way only those who are themselves 'terrorist' have cause to fear the use of force by Muslims.
It is the complete incompatibility of only fearing God, with fear of people, which is referred to in
Surah 2 Verse 256
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out Clear from Error: whoever Rejects Evil and Believes In Allah hath grasped The Most trustworthy Handhold that never breaks.
The ignorant or the liars may stand up proclaiming that there is such a thing as an Islamic terrorist.  There isn't.  The Muslims don't want you to fear them.  They only hope that you will learn to fear Allah, and to fear only Allah.
This is all very fine, but what about the various organisations that do terrorist acts and claim to do so in the name of Islam? Well, in Algeria what is actually happening is almost certainly the responsibility of the government and so what has been attributed to "Islamic Militants" is actually a complete lie.  In Egypt where there were recently attacks against tourists the groups was a splinter group of a splinter group and was therefore potentially influenced by the same forces that instigate the violence in Algeria.  They were teenage boys with a great deal of anger about the torture and oppression that the Egyptian government was responsible for.  They were also out of control of any mainstream Islamic movement and quite ignorant of Islam's teachings.  Their actions stand condemned in the light of Islam.  Israel is another and quite different case.  The only justification I have heard for the attacks there is that every Israeli citizen is a fully trained soldier and as such part of an occupying army- they are therefore legitimate targets.  I am not sure how true this is, but in any case they are pushing the law to its limits by targeting "civilian" areas even if the civilians are in reality fully trained soldiers.
   Internal Law and Order
Force is necessarily used to implement justice internal to the state.  This may take many forms depending on the crime.
If people violate the rights of others, the victims of those violations have a right to take 'an eye for an eye', or 'a tooth for a tooth' or whatever compensation the transgressor is willing to give.  However, it is more virtuous for the victim to forgive and forget, by such action God forgives and forgets some of the sins of the victim.  
If the victims choose to claim their right, the state has a duty to enforce their claim.  This is not barbaric; it is justice.  Currently legal systems in the West consider many crimes, including the crime of murder, to be "crimes against society" and so the families of the victims get no say in the punishment and no compensation is given them in any form except perhaps some kind of satisfaction in seeing punishment being meted out to the criminal.
In Islam the victims have the right to demand retaliation like for like.  This is nothing more than granting full rights to the victim.  Physical punishments can, therefore, be just.  They can also be a better deterrent to crime and they are more equal towards the transgressors than fines (which the rich don't feel as much as the poor) or imprisonment (which also punishes the taxpayers, the family and rarely reforms the criminal's character).  
There are certain punishments for particular crimes prescribed by Islam.  For example, to cut off the hand of the thief.  These are to be understood as only applying under conditions where there is no excuse for the crime (e.g.  hunger and poverty are a possible excuses for theft) and act primarily as a deterrent.  They are called collectively the "hudud" punishments.  This literally means the limits.  They are limits that no one should transgress and which if transgressed are strongly punished.
   Family Discipline
Islam also allows the use of force to a limited extent within a family, for example to discipline children.  However, the example of the prophet in all these cases is  the guide to follow.  He never hit his wife and he never hit any child - if we were all as wise as he was in matters of moral guidance, then we would be able to guide  our spouses and children likewise and never need to resort to even a token use of force.
 Islam and Secularism
Secular law can be defined as law, which does not depend on the religious beliefs of the parties involved.  The question immediately begged by such a statement is, 'Who decides what such laws should be or that there should even be laws which don't depend on the religious beliefs of the parties involved?'
The ardent pro-secularist will say that the majority decides what such laws are and what their extent is.  The Muslim should say that Islam prescribes such laws and  to what extent they are implemented in society depends on the influence and power of the Muslim community and or other communities who also want those  particular secular laws implemented.  
What those secular laws are which Islam prescribes relate to a number of areas but in broad terms they are the 5 basic universal rights that have been outlined above : life, property, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and honour.
The next question that arises is whether a state can implement some secular laws and some non-secular laws.  A good example of a non-secular law is the law  on marriage.  In some countries this law still has very Christian overtones and everyone regardless of their religion must go through the ceremony to be recognised in  law as married.  Generally the West has muddled the two types of law and starting from a position of very Christian law have diluted it into less and less Christian forms.  
In contrast, Islam makes a clear distinction between secular law and non-secular or religious law and to as great an extent as possible it prescribes enforcing  both types.  The Christians have their own marriage law in Islamic countries and that is what is enforced for them, the Jews have another marriage law and the  Muslims another.  Each religious group has in principle its own distinct non-secular laws and as far as is it wanted by each group and as far as is practically possible they are  all enforced by the Islamic State.  Each religious group builds their own judicial system and reaches agreement with the state on how their laws will or won't  be enforced.  
Communism has had a set of secular laws.  The West has a set of secular laws.  Islam has a set of secular laws.  Out of these three Islam's set of secular laws gives  the greatest meaning to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, communism's set of laws gives the least (if any) meaning to freedom of conscience or freedom  of religion and the West's set of secular laws is somewhere in between.
One key area in which an Islamic state would change the way a country works is through the laws on trade.  An Islamic state would manage the property rights  of people (at least the Muslims) according to some key principles of moral economics.  This forms the important field of Islamic economics.
 Islamic Economics
The role of the state in Islam is modelled on the way that the early companions implemented the affairs of state.  Islam requires the authority of the state to act in  the public interest, to maintain justice, to promote Islam internationally, and to redistribute wealth.  The extent to which the state should rule people's affairs depends  on the needs of the people.  Sometimes large government involvement may be needed and sometimes only a little.  Islam does not prescribe any thing like a state  with huge control over industry but it is responsible for taking control of such basic utilities such as water rights if it is necessary to ensure that the basic needs of  the population are met.  The Islamic economy is a very free market economy restricted by the morals of the Muslims involved in the trading and general concerns  over distortions to that freedom to trade.  For example the existence of monopolies or other forms of attempts to deceive people as to the would-be free market prices  is something an Islamic government would attempt to eradicate.  One key aspect of Islamic economics is the prohibition of interest.  Discussing this brings out a  number of the moral teachings of Islam with regard to economics.
This has to be taken into consideration along with the prohibition of gambling and discouraging of hoarding supplies or money.  These things are all closely related.  An  efficient economy is characterised by a swift and general balance of supply and demand.  Hoarding distorts the free flow of goods if it is done for the purpose of  storing wealth.  (Keeping collections of things that are used in some way for benefit doesn't have that effect.) Hoarding is also a kind of speculation based on the idea  that what is hoarded will go up in value or at least stay constant in value.  Speculation is wrong to the extent that it is like gambling.  Let us consider the market for wheat.   In an efficient market, the buyers of wheat are the people who will then make bread and other foods and sell it, the price will adjust depending on the supply  and demand and will reflect what people are willing to pay for it in order to use it.  Hoarding amounts to betting on an increased value.  Speculation on an increased  value would mean buying the wheat in order to sell it at a time in the future with the expectation that its price is going up.  This kind of action distorts the matching of  real demand (for the use of some product) and real supply.  In the most extreme circumstances where most of the trade is speculative then most purchases are  because people expect an increase in price.  The act of buying pushes the price up and so encourages more people to buy.  This positive feedback is the opposite of  what should happen in an efficient economy where the rules of supply and demand are a negative feedback and push prices to a dynamic equilibrium.
If I expect the price to change I can, however, make a contract in which future liabilities are clearly fixed which may well take this expected change into account.   Such contracts have inherent risks in them built into the liabilities.  However, in dealing with the risk we have a contract between a user and a supplier and these  are the people best suited to mitigate that risk by finding ways around it.  What shouldn't be done is to begin trading risk to people who have little or no ability to  mitigate it, for example insuring the risk.  To do any such trading in risk is essentially a form of gambling.  In general Islam therefore tackles risks by strategies for risk  mitigation rather than insurance.  For example for risks where short-term temporary loss can be damaging what is needed is short-term loans or payouts from an organisation  with considerable liquidity.  Such mitigation can be achieved by collective mutual assistance groups.  In these groups people deposit funds according to their abilities and  on the basis of mutual assistance.  This fund is then given out to those in the most need if the dangers come to pass.  Such a mechanism removes the connection  between the amount put in to the fund and the amount paid out and is therefore no longer a form of gambling.  These collectives should ultimately be the responsibility of  the state to implement as acting in the interests of the public good.  A fine example of such a scheme in practice is the universal health cover provided by governments  in various countries including the UK.  Such organisations acting for the collective are then in a position to mitigate related common risks much more effectively.
Interest is explicitly forbidden in Islam.  The essential problem with interest is that interest divorces the lender from any moral responsibility for the use of money lent.   The return is guaranteed no matter what the changed circumstances of the borrower are.  The possession of money doesn't of itself cause any increase.  It is  only when the money is put to some use that it can yield a profit.  By divorcing the lender from any responsibility over the use of the money what is introduced is a  problem called a moral hazard.  The lender doesn't care where the money is lent so long as the returns are guaranteed.  This encourages not merely immoral lending (e.g.   .  lending to encourage a build up of weapons for a war), but it also encourages continually more reckless lending.  The real profitability of the use of the  borrowed money is hidden from the financial system.  
We consider an analogy here: The financial system is like a farmer living through the productivity of the physical economy - the man's farm.  The man takes some  of the produce from the farm for his own needs.  However, the farmer should also consider the needs of the farm and must not overwork the land or act  carelessly about the potential of the land to carry on producing.  Carelessness will inevitably cause problems, in the worst case the farm will be destroyed and so will the farmer.   The existence of interest in an economy amounts to the same thing as the farmer (financial system) not caring about the farm (the physical economy) and it is  bound to lead to problems.  On a microcosm we see the problem in the case when money is lent to people who then find themselves in difficulty are pushed ever further  into debt because they are unable to pay the debt - eventually they are ruined.
By banning interest, Islam forces the linking of lending with the moral responsibility for its use.  
The role of financing organisations is crucial to an economy, ideally they distribute the wealth from those who don't know how to put it to productive use to  those who do know.  This is essentially the role of investment agencies and it requires some knowledge of how to invest effectively in productive enterprises.  This input  of knowledge is (in our analogy) like the farmer's work to make the land productive.  The current banking system however started on quite a different way of  making money which required no specific investment skills - only rigid enforcement that interest be paid on their loans.
A brief history and prediction of the life of banks:
Banks started life not as vehicles for investment but as secure places to store wealth.  At some point some one noticed that only very rarely did people take out  all their money and there was always money locked away in their bank.  The banker decided to lend out some of the money, which belonged to the depositors  on interest.  The loan would be repaid with interest and the depositors would never have noticed.  The profit is the interest on the loan.  This practice became  established and is used globally as the basic way banks make their money.  This is known as fractional reserve banking and has proven extremely lucrative for the banks.
Firstly it is clear from Islam that fractional reserves are wrong because they are a deception.  However, using fractional reserves circumvents some of the  bad effects of hoarding money and releases it instead for use in the economy.  This is initially a good thing - it is similar to the depositor stopping to hoard money  and instead investing it.  However, all deceptions eventually have their cost.  Fractional reserve banking exacerbates the moral hazard problem mentioned above since  it inevitably involves hiding the risk of investment, which is taking place with the depositor's money.  Moreover, for every unit of currency deposited a bank may be  able to lend out much more than is deposited.  The effect of this wrenches up the moral hazard problem by increasing the risk of banks.  This works as following:
I deposit $100 in the bank. The bank then lends $90 to someone who uses the money to buy something from a third person.  This person then puts his money in  the bank.  The bank is then able to lend out $81 of this deposit, and so on around the cycle.  Thus for an initial deposit of $100 and a reserve level of 1/20 the bank  can effectively lend out $2000.  The lower the level of reserves needed the higher the potential profits of the banks.  The problem only arises when people think that  the Bank doesn't have enough money to give them their money back.  This is true- the bank doesn't have the money and is quite unable to return it.  
In order to overcome this problem, banks clubbed together so that if one bank lost the confidence of its depositors the others would lend it enough money to  return the deposits until the confidence returned.  This worked for a while but banks operate in a competitive environment and to make more profit there was great  pressure to lower the level of reserves needed and therefore increase the profits.  The use of state power was the next required step to add strength to the assertion  that people would get their guaranteed interest and their guaranteed deposits back.  When people got worried about their deposits being unsafe, the government  would declare a "bank holiday" allowing the banks to close and reopen only when the 'panic' subsided.  This use (abuse) of state power led to the creation of  national central banks which in exchange for this power enabling more effective guarantees of the deposits in the banks, lent to the government with guaranteed returns.   This step gave greater credibility to the guarantee of deposits.  This guarantee though just exacerbates further the moral hazard problem of interest.  The government has  to maintain the confidence of the depositors and is therefore heavily involved not only in distributing cash to banks in trouble but also making as sure as possible  that people don't lose confidence in the system generally.  For if one bank collapses it damages (potentially fatally) the confidence in another bank and a domino effect  is feared.  This lead then to international co-operation to establish the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to try to save national central banks  when investors/ depositors lost confidence in that country's economy.  This worked for a while however, this is still not enough for the bankers now deep in to the  moral hazard problem.  Banks that were deregulated and able to trade internationally were able to make more profits than those who were in heavily regulated markets.   Over the last few decades the regulation of banking has been dismantled to allow the banks to make yet more profits.  A new market has been introduced  where risks are traded in a myriad of forms and is the ultimate in giving banks liquidity to pay back depositors.  The volume of trade on this "Futures" market is huge  and dwarfs the size of whole national economies.  The moral hazard problem is also getting larger and larger as the financial world demands ever more returns from  the physical economy.  The problem isn't just like one farmer not caring what his land can produce; it is a global situation.  If it isn't stopped, it will result in the  global physical economy being wrecked - sooner or later.  The financial system must be reformed to prevent this - the reform is to introduce Islamic economics, the heart  of which is the ban on interest.

Conclusions
I considered writing a section on conclusions but I leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions.  Islam is there for you to investigate, I encourage you to  do so: it is really in your best interests if only you knew!
"Now have come to you from your Lord proofs to open your eyes: if any will see, it will be for (the good of) his own soul; if any will be blind it will be to his own (harm): I am not (here) to watch over your doings."
[The Qur'an 6:104]