New Project--Reading the Quran, Introduction
It is basically impossible to live a day without hearing something about Islam and the Muslim world. And much of what we hear is disturbing. We see terrible violence in Syria, primarily Muslim-on-Muslim, and that violence is spreading to other countries (including the U.S.) from ISIS and other radical groups. Iran and Saudi Arabia, perhaps the two most high-profile Muslim nations, seem to be on the brink of war, if they are not already at war. Meanwhile, there are calls from political leaders in the U.S. to round-up American Muslims, including American citizens, because they represent an existential threat to the country.
Truthfully, I don't know what to make of much of this. I believe strongly and completely that for the government to discriminate against Muslims in the United States on the basis of their religion would be to surrender the very thing that makes this country what it is. Beyond that, it has dawned on me that I do not know enough about Islam, or way in which Islam interacts with the political situation in the Middle East to speak intelligently about any of these topics. I know very little of Islam other than the highlights, and that is not enough to wade through what is going on in a meaningful way.
Then, a couple of evenings ago, I stumbled upon the video (copied below) from Father Dan Horan. Fr. Horan is a Franciscan priest, author, and theologian, whose writings I have enjoyed very much in the past. His blog "datinggod.org" is very good, as is his book "Dating God." As the video states, there is a new "Study Quran," clearly modeled after the common Study Bibles than many people use. This struck me as an excellent way to rectify my ignorance of Islam, providing some support in attempting to penetrate a text that has a reputation for being difficult for a casual reader to get into. I was out of excuses.
As Fr. Horan mentions in the video, one of the more famous stories of St. Francis is his trip to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. His initial "plan," such as it was, was to go to the Sultan and convince him to abandon Islam in favor of Christianity. Francis, needless to say, was unsuccessful, but Francis impressed the Sultan with his sincerity and love for God. In researching this story for the post, I came upon a part of the story I never heard before. The Sultan offered St. Francis a multitude of gifts, all of which Francis rejected save one--a ivory horn used to call the Muslim faithful to prayer, which Francis took back with him to use within his own Franciscan communities. Francis's encounter with the Sultan is a symbol of how Christians and Muslims can learn to understand each other without having to resort to polemics or violence.
And so, in the spirit of St. Francis and at the suggestion of his follower, Fr. Horan, I am going to do a new series going through the Study Quran, one chapter (or "surah") at a time. This will take a long while, as there are 114 surahs. My intention is to do this sporadically, intermixed with other topics. As I go through this, it may make sense to change up the format or reorganize these posts. We'll see.
Insofar as the Study Quran is like a study Bible, I take it for granted that some segment of Islamic scholars will have objections with the translation. I have no way of adjudicating any of these issues, so for purpose of this series I will take the translation as a given while recognizing that there will be disputes over words and phrases. Similarly, as the Study Quran's commentary relies in large part on various historic Islamic commentaries, I am sure that folks will have objections to the inclusion or exclusion of this or that commentator, or that the mass of commentary leans in one direction or another in a way that is not representative of Islamic thought. Again, I am going to assume that the commentary is definitive for purpose of the series, recognizing that I have no way of knowing otherwise.
In the event that the blog has, or attracts, Muslim readers, I would hope they would leave comments with their perspectives and insights. And if anyone would like to join me in this project, let me know and I will link to any thoughts you might have.
Amazon says the Study Quran will arrive on tomorrow or the next day. I hope to get the first post out by early next week.