Monday, February 05, 2007

No god but God, Part I

Series: Part I (below), Part II, Part III, Part IV

As I've mentioned, lately I've been reading No god but God by Reza Aslan. I finished it over the weekend. What a profitable study. Subtitled "the origins, evolution and future of Islam," this book truly took me on a journey through time, and gave me the building blocks for an increased understanding of Islam. (I'm ashamed to note how little I already knew before reading it, and am grateful for the beginnings of elucidation.) I may devote several blog entries to this important book, and I do recommend it to anyone wanting to expand a sense of fellowship with our Islamic neighbors.

First, the Quran. Here's an illuminating passage:

The Quran, as a holy and revealed scripture, repeatedly reminds Muslims that what they are hearing is not a new message but the "confirmation of previous scriptures" (12:111). In fact, the Quran proposes the unprecedented notion that all revealed scriptures are derived from a single concealed book in heaven called the Umm al-Kitah, or "Mother of Books" (13:9). That means that as far as Muhammad understood, the Torah, the Gospels, and the Quran must be read as a single, cohesive narrative about humanity's relationships to God, in which the prophetic consciousness of one prophet is passed spiritually to the next: from Adam to Muhammad. [Citations are from the Quran.]

I've often felt this about the Bible—that it is a story of the progressive revelation of who God is and how humanity relates to Him. The God described in the early books is about power and oneness and victory, since that's what those people at that time needed to know. Later the Gospels reveal a God of Love, peace, good will, healing. God didn't change; humanity's perception of Him matured.

The Quran, in its original, apparently (according to Aslan) presents what could be considered advances on these ideas as well, with Muhammad's vision of how society could be, the role of women, the sharing of wealth. The fact that his immediate followers could not maintain this society after his exit from this world does not negate the vision itself. Aslan catalogs the various agendas of the men in power at that time, how most had a vested interest in reverting back to how society had been before Muhammad even while continuing to praise his name.

My understanding of this is still simplistic of course. I am saddened that I will never myself be able to read the Quran as a Muslim reads it, since from what Aslan is saying, it is important to be fluent in Arabic and to read it in the original. There has been such a wide diversity in attempts to translate it. The original words have many alternate meanings, so it can be translated in many different ways, from orthodox to liberal, so any given translation will not provide the whole of the meaning.

But we can also learn something from this as Christians. We have the same issues with the Bible, written in an ancient language and transmitted by hand over thousands of years. How can we know for sure the original meaning if we are universally reading it in translated form?

I'm appreciating again Mary Baker Eddy's first tenet of Christian Science:

As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life. --Science and Health

The inspired Word. Aslan's book showed me that we are not alone in seeking the inspired meaning of holy scripture. This is just as important in Islam as it is in Christianity and Judaism. No god but God has given me an several point agenda for prayer for my Islamic brothers and sisters, the first point being supporting an inspired understanding of Muhammad's revelation even as I strive for this myself with Moses and Jesus.

More on this tomorrow.


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1 Comments:

At 2/05/2007 08:47:00 AM, Anonymous Emily said...

I wonder if anybody has done a Strong's-type concordance to the Koran, listing the words, their Arabic translations, and all the possible English translations of those words? I am sure there are plenty of Muslims who are not fluent in Arabic who would find such a volume helpful.

 

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