Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Editorial: Why the Qur'an

It is a fair question, I think, as to why I should choose, at this point in time, to study the Qur'an, the holy text of Islamic faith. And the answer is easy: I intend to convert.

Or, alternatively, I believe that Christians, Muslims, and Jews have more potentially in common than any one of them should share with secular global capitalism. We are all theists. We believe there is more to the cosmos than its visible material. We all believe that humanity does not stop at the border, and we all see the devastating effects of war and famine and plague. And we are all in the world-healing business. The same can not be said of Wal-Mart or Haliburton.

Which is not to say that we are all the same; it is to say that I can envision an odd coalition in the next century. Call us the Servants. Call us the Brotherhood of Widows. We are dissatisfied. We are anxious about the present but filled with the promise of the future. We have seen enough justice to believe that it is possible, and enough oppression to see that inhumanity cannot possibly be tolerated.

And we've come to challenge your conscience. Read these books. Transform your mind. Your choices are, as always, entirely up to you.

Who is else is going to wake you up? The same corrupt and equivocating UN that took a pass on Rwanda and Darfur? The fractured and militaristic legacy of American interventionism? The same corporate citizens who believe that a bad job is good enough for everyone? Who have a monetary incentive to increase, rather than address, your distress?

No, I do not intend to convert, anymore than I intend to condemn. Like any religous scholar, I intend to neither promote or disparage any one religion. But perhaps like very few scholars, I believe that we might promote religion as a whole. I'm simply fascinated by the force of faith in people's lives, and I feel it still has, often despite its history, more to offer the world than the absence of belief.

And I remain compelled by something that every religious tradition has in common: a strand of mysticism, thus my sojourn into Sufi poetry. I am perhaps irrationally fond of this eccentric and ephemeral point of contact between the world's great religous traditions.

So I do intend to learn. This blog has always been more than a little Christocentric. And hardly anyone I know has actually read the book at the center of so much contemporary controversy.

Thus, the opportunity is almost entirely too good, too fitting: as the interfaith work I do through Gethsemane develops into something that could take me to Spain or Israel, my own ignorance is brought entirely to light.

This is not punishment, but opportunity: as this blog swerves toward Religion 2.0, the religious ferment of my generation, and as my own religious studies move toward something as focused as a dissertation, I intend to learn and listen and understand in the broadest context I can comprehend.

I mean, do you ever wander what's beyond the forest that the trees sometimes hide?


Anonymous said...

As a muslim, I have read the book (Quran) many, many times. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the Quran and Islam---some of it deliberate. All three religions consider themselves "abrahamic". Yet, Christianity has had an antagonistic relationship with both Judaism and Islam (historically)--painting the Jews as those committing "dei-cide" and muslims as "antichrist". Hopefully, interfaith dialogues can build bridges of peace, tolerance, and understanding.

Reading the Quran--there are several ways to read the Quran. It is not a "linear" book in that it does not have a "biginning" or "end" --so, a person can start the Quran from surah 114 and read on back, or one can randomly select a surah and keep at it until all have been selected---or you can read from Surah 1, then 2 and so forth. Surah 2 deals with the formation of a new muslim community and has a lot to do with laws. It is best to read the Quran with a "tafsir" or explanation that can put the verses in context.(historically and culturally) Tafsir (commentary)of Yusuf ali is good. (Tafsir is somewhat like the Midrash /Mishneh of the Torah)

Like Judaism, Islam does not have the concept of "original sin" therefore it also does not have the related concepts of crucifixtion /salvation. Human beings are inherently good (rather than sinful) and perfection is not a requirement of getting into heaven.(It is about right intentions leading to right action--or God consciousness)In our spiritual journey, it is OK to make some mistakes because God is most merciful, most compassionate. (In fact, most of the Surahs start with the phrase "In the name of God, most merciful, most compassionate). Islam also has some things in common with Buddhism as it advocates the "middle way", as well as peace and harmony (balance). keeping these points in mind when reading the Quran will help to make the meaning/intent of some of the verses more clear.

good luck

brd said...

One thing that I think is a difference between Islam and the Judeo-Christian tradition (though I may misunderstand) is that the Qur'an is not necessarily supposed to be translated. Learning Arabic is encouraged. However, it seems that it is more important to be able to read in Arabic than to understand. This, to me, says that Islam is more non-rational in it's approach, far closer to post-modernism than one would expect.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is much different and far more rational in it's approach (except perhaps for the pre-Vatican II Catholic segment of Christian history.)

In many ways Islam mimics Catholicism's use of repetitive prayer and prayer beads, etc.