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Read the Qur’an

When I was sitting for jury duty on Yom Kippur (a sterile exercise, as all the courts were closed), I ran into a man who claimed that the Qur’an used more violent imagery than any other book of scripture. Having read half of it, I was confused, thinking that Muhammed (PBOH) must have had a real change of heart in the second half. When I asked him, “Have you read the book?” he responded “No.”

“But then where do you get your knowledge?”

“A report from a Canadian scholar. I forget his name.”

The Washington Post has published an opinion piece by Michael Dougherty titled “The Necessary Task of Integrating Islam within the West.” Unfortunately, in the large Dougherty uses his opportunity to denigrate Islam by association with ugly politics. This includes references to female genital mutilation (an ancient African custom predating Islam), “triumphalism” (as though Christians don’t assume a right to rule), and “jurisprudence over theology” (as though Judaism isn’t defined by the 613 laws of the Torah).

Dougherty claims that Muhammad was a “military leader and conqueror, a militant posture that shapes Islam to this day.” As I understand the history, Muhammad was a survivor of aggression originating in Mecca, aggression that forced him to Medina, and when the fighting was over, he returned to Mecca as a peacemaker. Military aggression was not propagated by Muslim culture – rather, aggressive leaders used Islam as a fig-leaf for their ambitions, much as Christianity was abused in the West, not least in the Crusades.

To those that truly want to understand Islam, I would recommend Islam and the Destiny of Man by Charles Le Gai Eaton.

As I perceive the growth of the traditions of Abraham, Judaism developed reasoning in its culture through propagation of law under the authority of the covenant with Noah. Jesus came along to remonstrate with his culture, pointing out that the law was being manipulated to divide the faithful from God, and teaching them to set it aside and tie their thoughts and actions to the judgment of a loving heart.

Islam was designed to guide other cultures through that same experience. The behaviors required by the Qur’an are far fewer than those in Judaism – Sharia law is an accretion that came later. And the writing throughout encourages the individual to guard and deepen his individual relationship with Allah.

The poetry of the Qur’an is by far the most beautiful scripture that I have encountered. If anything, what the West should hope for in accepting Muslims is not that the teachings of Muhammad should be moderated, but rather that – liberated from the coarse secular politics of the impoverished regions that Islam serves – Muslims should find the opportunity to rediscover the spiritual depth of their faith.

And if they would bother to actually read the Qur’an, Westerners might find the same.

3 thoughts on “Read the Qur’an

  1. If you wanted to read an English translation of the Sharia Law, could you find it online? Also, has anyone compared Sharia Law with the law found in the Old Testament, Exodus, Levitcus, and Deuteronomy?


    • Denise:

      I haven’t investigated that part of Muslim culture in detail. My understanding is that much of Sharia law was authored in the Sunni caliphate based in Baghdad, and reflects heavily their secular concerns. Later Sunni scholars in the employ of the caliphs also white-washed military aggression within the framework of Islam. Militant Islamists use these writings to justify violent jihad. Shia scholars dispute the authority of those writings.

      One of my colleagues at work is an Islamic scholar. I’ll ask him about translations of Sharia law and get back to you tomorrow night.


    • Denise:

      Here’s the breakdown from my friend. Please be advised that I haven’t vetted these links.

      As you’ll gather from the list, there is not one set of Shariah law. My friend emphasized that Muhammad’s (PBOH) last teaching was that he had left two things to the Ummah (the community of the faithful): the Qur’an, and his family as a manifestation of right behavior. One can therefore be a Muslim without subscribing to Shariah law.

      The Qur’an also has precedence over Shariah law. For example, under one version of Shariah, when one steals from need, there is no punishment. When one steals out of the motive to harm others, the punishment is to chop off a hand. However, one of Muhammad’s descendents argued that since the Qur’an requires that the hands be placed on the floor during prayer, the punishment as stated cannot be carried out. In some jurisprudence, it is thus limited to the end of the pinky finger.

      My friend also emphasized that the law is subject to amendment – it is an artifact of local culture.

      Explanation of Shariah:


      Sha jurisprudence:

      Sistani http://www.sistani.org/english
      Khamanei: http://www.leader.ir/tree/index.php?catid=23

      Sunni jurisprudence:

      Hanbali: http://www.kalamullah.com/umdah-al-fiqh.html
      Maliki: http://malikifiqhqa.com
      Hanafi: http://www.slideshare.net/mobile/Islamicbooks/hanafi-jurisprudence-fiqh-explained




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