Monday, September 27, 2010

The Religious Evolution of Women's Rights

Quote from the Holy Qur'an

"...And their husband's will have a right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation.  And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them..."
Al-Baqara 228

Quote from the Holy Bible

"But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no long two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate."
Mark 10:6-10

     Even dressing this topic in reference to these two religions is something akin lighting a match in the middle of a wildfire.  There is no doubt in my mind that both Christian and Muslim readers already have their minds made up about gender roles.  Male or Female, on either side of the religious divide most believe that the side of the Gulf they occupy is the "Good" side.  Whether it be the Christian accusing the Muslims of being oppressive of women or the Muslims accusing the Christians of objectifying women.  This conversation has been beaten to death and there has been little or no progress, because of the stalemate of religious authority, so lets go about this a different way.

     For as long as I remember, being a man was a good thing and being a woman was akin to being a second class citizen.  Now, this is inside the Christian community in which I was raised.  Women had to deal constantly with the various prejudices and Biblical conundrum of their role.  Where they to speak, or be silent?  Where they to preach, but just to other women?  What if a woman goes against the drawn conclusion.  Then there is the modesty discussion, a talk which I do not understand.  I am a man, I can control my eyes, my wrongdoing is my own.  No matter what a woman is wearing it never excuses a man from action, unless of course you think were all raging balls of sex only good for procreation.  But we are not, we are humans and so are women, our rights should be the same.

     But inside a biblical system the woman is trapped in between two worlds, her own and the world of the Bible.  In the Old Testament she is chattel more often than not and used to bind alliances or cause sin among the rules of the nation.  The New Testament gives no new rights, perhaps supposed equality in Christ at the end of things but no real equality here on Earth.  So the woman is presented with the puzzle and told, "Listen only to male leaders and suppress, all you can, your desire to listen to female leaders.  Let the men interpret the Bible and teach you, but in your Bible study later feel free to use Beth Moore materials."  It is a schizophrenic, intolerable, domineering, catch 22 mess.  There are so many contradictions in that statement, let alone the whole of scripture concerning women that a logical person would simply divorce the whole thing and be done with it.

     That is they would if there were not the threat of eternal damnation along with rough time here looming over their heads.  Nobody, unless they have extreme will, can break free of that kind of threat and lose the community they once loved.  So many women and men sit in pews listening to things about each other that they profess to believe in church but act out differently as they leave the parking lot.  This is good, it shows how archaic all the rules and laws truly are, we act differently, not out of sin, but because we know the truth is not contained in some ancient patriarchal ramblings but revealed in the world we have grown ourselves.

     I expected that a Muslim woman would have a situation similar to a Christian woman.  This is not true.  Again I will ask you to divorce from your mind the cultural images of Islam and women in burkas, as I have to, and think textually.  As I read through  60+ verses in Al-Baqara regarding legal obligations between man and wife I noticed a key difference.  Women are given rights!  How wonderful it was to read that the rights given a man are the same given to his wife.  That he MUST be fair to her or suffer punishment.  This was not only shocking but revealed to me the times had changed between the authorship of the Bible and the Qur'an.

     It did not show me some categorical divide between the two books but rather the advancement of human thought on gender relations.  The man and woman were beginning to be seen as equally important in Allah's eyes, and as religion is the expression of humanities deepest desires we, as a group, began to realize this truth more corporately.  I am massively confused as to why Muslim nations oppress and abuse women when in their own book they are given equal status as men on at least one occasion (divorce) and growing status in many other places compared to the Bible. Please stick to your beliefs if you cannot move beyond them, then you would at leas have as high a view of women as the Qur'an.  It even allows for you to remain proud of your penis if you need to, because it apparently gives you an "advantage"

    It is sickening to me to see religion used in a way to harm any, and in this area it has harmed half the human race.  We have far to long clung to old pages, ritual, and rites to tell us how men and women should behave.  It is far beyond time we rethink these ancient words, painful symbolic destruction and outdated cultural practices.  We moved forward in thinking from the Bible to the Qur'an in moral discourse.  Is it so wrong to take the final step?  To enforce equality, not just allow it.  Men, stand up for women for you do not want to be on the opposite side when the paradigm shifts for the final time.  Women stand up for yourselves do not let someone else be your voice,  be your own.  Together we can turn the tide against the patriarchs and win back the humanity we all deserve.    

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Expressed Power

Quote from the Holy Qur'an:

"...but Allah knows the man who means mischief from the man who means good. And if Allah had wished, He could have put you into difficulties: He is indeed Exalted in Power, Wise."
Al-Baqara 220

Quote from the Holy Bible:
"He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
Matthew 5:45

From a Christian perspective it is kind of shocking the first time one reads the Qur'an. To see the same language which has always been reserved for reference to God. To suddenly realize that there are an entire other group of people associate the power and majesty of our God of their deity can be quite confusing and even a little upsetting. However the conceptualization of God's abilities is not limited to only those from a Christian background. The express details of how God uses power is the difference between the brothers.

When looking at monotheistic religions the attributes of God are quite consistent. God is of course all powerful, he is all places at once, and can create or destroy at will. The being that is above and beyond all things would need to have all these abilities to fill that position. Each book represents their high being as someone who occasionally meddles in human affairs. I was a bit shocked at this mention in the Qur'an given the story of Adam in the beginning seemed to be a testament to free will, but it would not be an Abrahamic religion if God did not decide to come down occasionally to deal with beings of much lesser power.

But how are we to deal with this occasional intrusion, should it be welcomed or rejected, loved or hated. It is quite possible to simply follow the instructions contained in the books and welcome the intervention, good or bad, into ones life by a higher power knowing it is for good because it is from God. These occasions are impossible to identify. How does one know when God is pouring out difficulties and when it is simply the unfortunate circumstance of life? Simply trusting one's instinct only goes as far as crisis, when the intuition goes away and all that is left is a screaming raw soul begging for an explanation for the apparently senseless action taken by the Creator against their life and well being.

In the Bible exists the example of Job who never stopped trusting and received double what he started with as a gift for his faith. This theology has been removed from Evangelical Christianity though because it breeds greed, "Wealth is Proof" of salvation and favor in the eyes of the Divine. Jesus message to those in his lifetime was opposite, it did not matter what an individual had here true treasure and wealth lay beyond this material world in heaven. It is all very confusing in the Bible, attempting to sort the old with the new each narrative seeming to present a different message. Job makes an appearance in the Qur'an as well being rewarded for a similar effort. His steadfast faith in Allah brought him great blessing. Again the example is that even in loss humanity is not to question the expressed power of Allah, for He will do as he wishes and it is good. There is not a challenge from humanity, because it is far to weak.

Perhaps there is another answer inside of this expressed power. It is full of questions: Why would God/Allah even need interaction with man? What possible end could theses trials and miracles provide for God/Allah? When humanity sees a trial how does it decide from whence it came? These questions indicate a flaw in the logical argument of God's expressed power in the world. When we look at it honestly, these messages point to a God who for one reason or another messes things up for no reason, but then the damaged individual learns a valuable lesson and is restored.
I'm not so sure God is required for this process, but it would make sense that God would be branded as the author. Every time someone encounters crisis they have the option to grow or stagnate. This happens to the believer and the atheist, it seems more likely that this message in both books seek to provide a reason for this growth or death. It is easier to brand it God than nature because it gives us someone to blame besides ourselves when we fail. "God did this to me and I hate God for it." is far easier to take than, "This just happened and it is a terrible tragedy, I don't now how to move on" Both mental realities are difficult to deal with, but one gives a reason for the problem, and we love placing blame.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Let It Speak

Speaking with my wife yesterday I told her, "I wish that I could just post the Qur'an on my blog." She encouraged me to do just that so today I have decided to do a verse by verse comment on a passage in the Qur'an I have read and will give some amazing insight on what the book actually says on conflict compared to the Old Testament view of conflict. I am comparing with the old testament because it contains most of the biblical narrative about conflict and war. I will begin with my quote form yesterday and continue on until the thought is concluded in the text.

"Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors, and slay them (those who fight you) where ever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter/ but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith." Verses 190-191

I made extended comment on these verses in my last post but they begin the discussion of this topic in the text so they must be included here. Please notice that the text says that a conflict of violence should only occur when violence is brought upon the Muslim community for the sake of their faith. Also if you are a Christian I am sure you notice the stark contrast between this and the "turn the other cheek" approach. If nothing else you must agree that this passage makes more common sense than the other, but many think that lack of common sense makes the Bible so great as a message. That may be true but the Qur'an contains a message that can be attained, a more logical allowance for human conflict.

"But if they cease, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful" Verse 192

Everyone please read that again. I am not attempting to oversimplify conflict with Muslim nations but is there a possibility that this verse could help us all understand how to end the problems. What would be wrong with diplomatically approaching a Muslim leader with this verse from their own Holy Book and ask, "If we stop, will you obey your teachings." I also am aware that the conflicts that some Muslim leaders have with the west is a cultural war, but even that can be discussed in length after the bullets stop flying and peoples oppression ends. Yes, there are many other issues of human rights in these countries, but none of us honestly believe they are easier to deal with as mortars are going off 50km from the negotiation site. Perhaps we should be imploring Imams across the world to petition these leaders with this verse. Thinking with the Qur'an instead of against it could become an amazing step for world peace.

"And fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression." Verse 193

If a Muslim community does find it self in conflict with a power or people that refuse to back down this will certainly be a verse in the battle cry of the soldier. Allah gives permission to both begin and end a conflict, along with parameters for clear and concise guidance for each step. If a conflict is started is is continued until the party becomes destroyed or the party discontinues the engagement. It is a bullheaded approach to conflict but one that every nation on earth has adapted and is willing to prove with endless lives. In there Christian world there is much room for debate about the topic of war and conflict, mostly because there are not specific rules spelled out and everything is up to theologians to interpret. Even Augustine, the man who developed what most "just war" theory is based upon today, took many pages to fully discuss conflict inside of the Bible and come to a conclusion. So again the Qur'an wins points for conciseness.

"The prohibited month for the prohibited month, - and so for all things prohibited, -there is a law of equality. If then anyone transgresses the prohibition against you, Transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves." Verse 194

This is the concluding verse of the section her on conflict. The prohibited month discussed her would certainly be Ramadan, the month of fasting, prayer and humility. And inside of this discussion we a wonderful rule of equality. It is quite similar to the "eye for an eye" rule found in the old testament. That practice was followed until Jesus made his "other cheek" statement. It is the most basic form of justice, retributive. However, note the end of the verse, Allah is with those who restrain themselves. This conflict can be undergone with direct retribution but the heart of the passage suggests that it is more honorable by Allah to withhold complete retribution if it is possible, again quite akin to the conclusion Augustine had drawn about conflict.

I hope reading this brought thoughts to mind about our worlds current affairs. Possibly it may have changed your mind on how to deal with those issues. At the very least after reading these passages I would like you to know that everything you hear about the Muslim religion, that is not coming form a Muslim or the Qur'an, will be incomplete. Even the words I write are an attempt at defining the whole, and there is plenty left to read and much more to write, bear with me and we will all be changed for the better.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Holy War

Quote from the Holy Qur'an:

"Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors."
Al-Baqara 190

Quote from the Holy Bible

After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, "Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?"
The LORD answered, "Judah is to go; I have given the land into their hands."
Judges 1:1-2

In the middle of what many would consider a Holy War, it is quite dangerous to even approach this subject. So many of us have invested in one side or another. Death to America! Kill the Taliban! Each side has its own standard for violence. A military organization must operate as to not completely obliterate its countries international image while at the same time defending the people residing within its borders. They are motivated by defense of country and protection of the ideas for which it stands. The terrorist organization is has no regard for image and cares deeply for the message and ideas that for which it stands. They are motivated by defense of country and protection of the ideas for which it stands. Even if they country they stand for has not yet come to be.

In these two passages we see violence that is permitted by the Creator. Each author presents their side of the story when it come to just war. In the past for the people of Israel it was just because the land belonged to them. Whenever somebody entered the land of their fathers they had a "divine" right to kill all of those occupying the area, including on some occasions women and children. Permission is given to the Muslim to attack only if they are first attacked, specifically attacked because of their beliefs as it is mentioned elsewhere. The odd thing is that in their just war passage there is a limit set down, not to transgress what is acceptable.

In my honest opinion from what I have read in both books, at this point my money on the "correct" mode of operating a religiously motivated conflict would lie with the writers of the Qur'an not the Bible. Mainly because Christians spend so much time attempting to explain away or integrate the stories of the Old Testament into the loving message of the New Testament. The issue has been been dealt with almost perpetually and is always detrimental to the faith of the critical follower, because it makes no sense. This is coming from a Bible scholar. It would make much more sense just to say that these passages in the Bible are obviously ethnocentric and provide a "divine" defense for the actions contained therein.

However, this view of the Bible is considered heretical. In fact by my suggesting it I am certainly risking my employment, or at very least will be requested not to share my personal belief. This is where holding a hard line on belief becomes an issue. In the american church there is a witch hunt for people like myself. Those who would seek a more moderate view of the messages contained in the Bible or perhaps use a different interpretive method, like allegory the favorite of Church father Origen. It is acceptable to love him and his writing but not to read the Bible the same way as he, even when it makes much more sense at times.

As for my saying that the Qur'an makes more sense, I am certain there are many objections. I believe it makes more sense because it is far more honest that the command contained in Judges. It allows for conflict where normal human conflict occurs. Along with this allowance it places limits upon it. Limits that assume the natural moral boundaries of humanity. The only need to kill the enemy is if they are killing you. There are latter commands to kill those you capture but nowhere does it speak of murdering children or women. Textually it is the better command, the more moral. There is even condemnation for those who operate outside of the law set forth. How it is executed and interpreted is obviously in stark contrast to the original words, but if words are incorrectly interpreted do is the blame on the speaker or listener. If someone in your life hears you speak ill of another person and then decides to hit them with a car in your honor does the fault lay on you or your friend?

It is obvious that both of these books have followers that act out of misinterpretation. First, it is the Christian that decides to detonate an abortion clinic or protest military funerals. Then, it is a Muslim detonating themselves inside of a gas station or public venue. Or, it could be both groups viciously waring with each other for hundreds of years. Throughout history the anyone who has started holy war has truly been outside of the will of their particular book, relying more on their feelings and interpretation that what is written. Warfare is a nasty thing, it is a shame that either of these holy books make personal exceptions for their followers, and that those followers believe that there is not mistake in their book. However it is clear to me now, both the Bible and Qur'an explain how we ought not act, as well as how we ought to act.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Threat to Eternal Life

Reading Al-Baqara 159-181

Favorite Quote from the Holy Qur'an:

"And your Allah is One Allah: There is no god but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful."
Al-Baqara 163

Favorite Quote form the Holy Bible:

"You shall have no other gods before me."
Exodus 20:3

Every Sunday for six months I have surfed through the channels attempting to find something interesting to watch. I used to always end in failure until I discovered the massive amount of entertainment that could be enjoyed watching TV preachers. These ignorant and self focused individuals would attempt to bring me to a response from their message which would always be one of three things: a donation of money, to save my eternal soul or to share their particular moral convictions about their subject.  All of these persuasive devices were hinged on my eternal damnation.  After the exclusivity claim, which places religions at odd, comes the threat of death.

The threat of death has always been an interesting method of getting people to follow the law and do things they would normal avoid. Our desire for self preservation stretches beyond our mortal bodies because of most of us believe there is something after. Because of this desire both the Bible and Qur'an attempt to provide an answer to this fear. Most people in America are familiar with the Heaven/Hell scenario and in fact many churches even do plays such as "Heaven's Gates:Hell's Flames" to play out the various contemporary "issues" facing the church and Christians. Each of these tend to be a bash against anyone who is thinking differently than the particular church, and there will always be the "false" biblical teacher there who believes in an old Earth, isn't "spirit filled", or may even see some logic in evolution. (Gasps and faints from everyone)

These passages of Al-Baqara make quite similar points. Those who would face the fire are mentioned again and again. Their words logic and beliefs are called into question by Allah and then shown to be false because of their actions or lack of understanding. Allah is elevated with a short metaphor demonstrating his power again like wind moving about clouds, then back to the condemnation. But no condemnation is complete without the threat. For the Muslim as well the threat is a hellish scenario where the non believers become companions with the "Fire" (metaphorical Satan) for the rest of eternity. Quite the mirror of many Christian apologists, "You will have a body created for life, or a body created to burn" they may even be speaking about the same place.

The threat to our eternal well being has never been the thing that draws together unity inside of the human community. In fact this fear and the motivation to "save" all the non-believers has been quite damaging throughout history, because the message gets mixed with violence. It no longer becomes save the sinner but kill the non-believer like our modern experience or the Crusades of the past. These waring brother religions have caused so much damage because of the desire to convert. Whichever side you are on this part of our history is not a debate, it is fact. If the focus on our Holiest of texts could be taken from the anger and rancor of their origins and elevated to support our modern understanding we could be Christians and Muslims working together and not against each other. Let us move away from the threat to the positive, the alms giving and tithe. Taking care of poor and sickly and reaching out with our charing hands, beating our swords into plows, we can create a future far brighter than one lit with the fires of hell.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Sound Defense

Favorite Quote from the Holy Qur'an:

"The Jews say: 'The Christians have naught to stand upon; and the Christians say: "The Jews have naught to stand upon.' Yet they study the same Book."
Al-Baqara 113

Favorite Quote from the Holy Bible:

"Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them."
Matthew 5:17

Any major structured belief system will adequately deal with its opposition. Whatever else makes the same claims about life or contrary claims about existence must be dealt with for any religion to be taken seriously. When reading through the Bible we see this sort of thing on many occasions and it is referred to as an "apology" or defense of faith. In the days of early Christianity this defense took on the Gnostics as well as the unbelieving Jews as well as organized Roman religion. The Christian apology focuses, not surprisingly, on Christ. By doing so it shows the rational behind the belief and the need for the central figurehead Jesus.

The Christian apology today takes on all comers in what can appear to be an all out grudge match against the world. Each modern Christian apologist takes it upon himself to reveal to the world why Christ is King and all other religions have not the slightest bit of sense to them. Rarely will one encounter an mainline apologist that seeks a middle ground or concedes a point to open up a conversation. It is quite "turn or burn" when it gets to the end of things. This is the exact point many of them make against the Muslim belief system, that it is harsh and unforgiving, but it is clear to see that the blazing lake burns the toes of all who attempt to point to those who belong inside.

As the Christian apology defends the importance of Christ and his teaching, the Muslim apology in this sura focuses on the lack of action, or "work of faith", inside of the Jewish and Christian communities at the time. Written long before current events the words of the Qur'an still bring parallel to the mind of the modern reader. In fact many of the criticism directed and believers long ago are issues the Church still deals with today. Through these verses Christians and Jews are accused of being morally corrupted and falling out of line with their own belief system. A statement that was sure true when it was written and is still true today.
The other major accusation is that those who do not follow the Qur'an are simply mistaken and at flawed understanding of the Creator. This too is an argument put forth by Christian apologist all the time. Each says, the Muslim and the Christian, "If you really think about it, I mean really think then you'll decide on our side." THERE IS AN ISSUE WITH THIS THOUGHT PROCESS.

There is a point in every argument where it can be broken down. For the Ethical Standing agrument placed forth in this section of the Qur'an we can all say, "Well there are some who are bad and some who are good regardless of what religion they are." That true statement breaks apart an otherwise sound argument. Even one of my favorite authors C.S. Lewis had a classical argument for the deity of Christ, "Either he is a liar, a madman, or who he said he was." However as Richard Dawkins posits in of his writing Lewis ignored a third possible option, "Jesus could have simply been mistaken about who he was, and the record of him made into something fantastic so people would follow." This statement as well presents an option that keeps Lewis' argument from being "full-proof" as many assume it to be.

Every apology has "terms" in which the defense works, if they are not accepted then the argument is not even valid. May believers from every background assume we all agree on these terms universally, we do not. At some point all of us need to realize that religion, at a point, becomes about filling in the cracks in the argument with "faith" or agreeing to the terms that are set forth by their religion and disregarding the terms of another. We have all decided our paths in life, and have the free will to challenge another on their path, but please let us do it understanding the we have faith, they have faith and let that be the starting point for a long dialog not a series of monologues.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Reading today Al-Baqara 88-160

Favorite Quote From Holy Qur'an:

...And if anyone obeyeth his own impulse ot Good-be sure that Allah is He Who recognizeth and knoweth.
Al-Baqara 158

Favorite Quote From Holy Bible:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.
Titus 1:1-2

Ok So the reading the Bible and Qur'an in temproal order is simply not going to work so I have tailored my reading habits accordingly. Whatever topic/concepts are present in my reading of the Qur'an for the I will juxtapose them to similar topics in the Bible. I am in no way attempting to produce a holistic comparison but rather a thought for though comparison of the two.

Reading through the second half of Al-Baqara today again lead me to realize that this process will be slow if I wish to reflect on all of what I am reading, which I do. Unfortunately today I was only able to cover about 80 verses (I wised to finish the rest) before my mind was ready to explode and some precious aspect of what I have been contemplating would be lost. But I do wish everyone to take the entirety of my intellectual journey through these holy pages of Muslim and Christian so it is of no loss of time or joy to myself.

Starting around the hundredth verse of Al-Baqara it kicks into a very serious examination of the place of Allah and Muslim teachings compared to Jewish and Christian. This is extremely unique from my experience studying the Bible where there is nowhere near as direct an apologetic against other faiths, but rather naturally amuses that Christianity is the best way and the sound in heart and mind will follow Christ. Issue: as seen above the Qur'an makes the exact same claim. In fact it makes quite similar claims to the Bible through the entire section of my reading today.
The interesting assumption of the big monotheistic religions is the claim of exclusivity. Only those who are good and right and just and intelligent and holy and smart and good looking and special and unique and ......The list could go on forever this claim leads people to say quite false things about their faith. For example I was given a magazine at my workplace designed to "promote a Biblical worldview" and in that magazine they criticize Galileo for saying that scripture does not define science. I hope that shocks someone besides me, that man was persecuted because he believed that the Earth orbited the sun and the Church thought that it was the center of the universe. Who was wrong? Also in Christian circles there is the trap of attempting to claim every major advancement in humanity was caused due to Christianity. Is that wrong? Claims of exclusivity are fine when they are kept in their place but clamoring for historical figures to add to you personal agenda is not at all the idea contained in either book.

A companion of the exclusivity claim is the claim to "goodness" or "rightness" the entire social construction of the things. It can be seen then how interpreting some of the passaged in the Bible and Qur'an that make statements about these positive attributes some conclude only their side contains people who actually do good things for humanity. Conversely they assume that all others do things out of pride, lust, greed, or any other of the cornucopia of bad human behaviors and are therefore not good at all but "turned out good" because of the divine providence of their deity.
Again in this passage there is a severe chiding of the people of Israel but this time they are joined by the Christians. Just as the authors of the Bible sincerely wished to show the Jews that they had "missed" their Messiah, the author of Al-Baqara wishes to show Christians and Jews that they have missed the prophet that explained it all. I will get into this argument more fully tomorrow when I approach the defense of the Muslim faith presented in this passage, but it is plain to see that the writers of each book desired to show EVERYONE the right way to follow the divine, not just their own people.

We need to keep in mind when dealing with anyone from a different belief system from ourselves that they have their own reasons for believing they are correct. These reasons are deep and well though out at times, other times they are scattered and illogical, but neither of those approaches souls give us the right to barrel into their lives shouting and screaming about how stupid they are and how much they will suffer at life's end. Instead, we should let our own personal beliefs do the talking for us and whether that is the Qur'an, Bible, or nature each of us should be confident in what we believe and compassionate toward those who believe differently. If we act otherwise there will certainly be no conversation and definitely no conversion.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reflection: The "Higher Power" Cage

Already I have encountered an issue in the Qur'an that is also present in the Bible. It is what I will call the "Mental Trap of Faith" If one truly believes then they do not ask or inquire to the truth of their Higher Power they are simply required to accept it. For the Christian this comes from the "His ways are higher than ours" situation. For the Muslim it comes from the question of humanities sin of "Pride."

Both of these issues appear to be designed to mentally anchor the believer to their particular side and discourage investigation beyond the simple answer provided. Having a difficult time understanding why you friend died well, "God has a plan for everything." Not really understanding why your cancer came back after being in remission for ten years, "It is not your place to question Allah, the one who gave you a mind to think."

These statements are why it becomes difficult to ask questions of God in times of trouble. However, the Creator, if it holds the position of omnipotence and mercy attributed to it, it is most likely not going to be offended when we ask simple or complicated questions about the circumstance involved in our life. So why do both books contain such prohibitive sounding language?
First there is the interpretation issue. Perhaps we are misunderstanding the heart of these texts, they could have been placed there originally to present comfort to the believer. Over time these compassionate texts have been corrupted by interpretation and jammed outside of there receptive field into the realm of inquisition. Second, they truly were placed there as barriers to keep people inside. By doing so it increases membership exponentially as families have children that will never leave. And make no mistake though the media accuses the Muslim community of growing quickly because of the "born into the religion" shtick the Catholic and Protestant church have been employing the same tactic for years.

I would encourage us all to step away from this illogically constructed intellectual cage that is either constructed out of malice, misinterpretation or mission. Instead we should know that the being that created the entire universe has "big shoulders" and can handle our questioning and accusation. In fact it is probably welcomed because it would indicate to the divine its creation is using the mind it so careful crafted in the time before time.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Creation & Moses Part:2

Favorite Quote from Holy Qur'an

"And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is)"
Al-Baqara 42

Favorite Quote from Holy Bible

"Moses...wet up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself."
Exodus 24:9-10

Now in between the tales of Adam and Moses in the Qur'an the author speaks of the importance of the bond that Allah has made with the Israelites. This is likely to bring to mind the covenant that every Israelite will remember and to begin a dialog with them through out the rest of the sura. This was surprising to me because of the intense level of animosity between these two groups. Perhaps because in this sura it goes on to show how Israel fell short of meeting its covenant with Allah, but both groups claim Moses as a prophet that freed Israel from the grip of Pharaoh.
Another interesting statement is contained in verse 47 where Allah asks the children of Israel to remember the special favor that was givent to them before all others, to share Allah's message on earth. This statement is also found in the Bible. Israel was to be the bearer of God's words and message on the earth to all other nations. God preferred them above all others and therefore shared his mission with them. This agreement is astoundingly powerful and should inspire respect in these two peoples for each other. I realize that I have not finished the entire book yet and am only writing in part of what I understand. The simple existence of statements like this in the Qur'an should inspire both parties to reconcile out of respect for the past even if one or the other has "strayed" in the present day. Statements such as these could bridge the theological gap between all three faith groups Christian, Muslim and Jewish. But we must be willing to accept them on equal standing with the text we each value so much, and that is the largest difficult for all of us.

One key difference in the Mosaic account in the Qur'an and Bible is the way Moses' actions are portrayed. Most of the key events in the Bible are in the Qur'an as well, but their representation and subsequent interpretation provide vastly different views of the Moses the man. Throughout the Biblical account the keys of Moses character appear when he disobeys God's command, like when he struck the rock instead of simply speaking to it as commanded. To the modern reader it almost appears that Moses has a bit of an anger management problem and is vastly over punished for a simple transgression. Due to this particular swift movement of wood God keeps Moses from entering the promised land. An apparent overreaction for a man who had shown so much patience over the rest of his 120 years on earth that he would be eligible today for triple sainthood if there were such a thing. However at the end of the account of Moses God relents and allows him to at least see his promised land before his death from the top of a mountain. This again makes God appear slightly double minded or perhaps he feels he made a mistake with Moses, either way in the end Moses at some point in his life displeased God and it was up to God to make the call on how Moses should be treated.

However in the account in the Qur'an gives does not chide Moses even once. The villain in this account is the people of Israel who continuously ask for signs from Moses and Allah. This actually not too different than the account in the Bible; it states that Israel acted while they were in the desert, so it is certainly not demonizing the people of Israel any more than Exodus does. In Al-Baqara Moses is shown as the ever faithful follower and prophet of Allah. He is the one who preforms as he is asked and because of his obedience Allah imparts the Commandments and his Word. This account makes Allah seem to be slightly more reasonable toward the 120 year old man than the account in the Bible, showing that Allah honors obedience and punishes disobedience but in light of the account of Adam it also shows Allah willing to forgive.

At this point in the Bible it has become quite apparent that God does not accept those who do not follow his will and Faith, the same is true in the Qur'an its portrait of Allah. This tends to be a position that people constantly focus on in the Qur'an, presenting Allah as quite tough handed and cruel, but for the first few books of the Bible God appears the same way. Yes, there are redemptive accounts as well but the overwhelming majority are accounts of sin an punishment, it is the same with the Qur'an. But, both books make sure to mention the Mercy of the divine, the importance of it as a part of their character and relationship to humanity. God and Allah are shown to be focused on justice but not immovable and without compassion . It is shown in the Bible by God relenting with Moses. In the Qur'an it is found often in the statement "Oft-returning, Most Merciful."

The argument needs to be directed away from which one of these tales has the most hateful deity, but most often one of the fields of argument centers on the grumpiness and immovability of each Law Giver. I would suggest that at this point neither of them have earned large points for niceness but both have shown capacity for compassion and grace to those willing to follow the leaders They had selected on the earth.

At this point I realize why many speak of the Qur'an as a hateful book toward those who do not believe. However, this point does not take into account the way the authors of the Qur'an and Bible went about literature. The Qur'an gets from Creation to Moses in less that 100 verses and it takes the Bible a full book. Apparently the difference is that the Bible and Hebrew writers want to give all the possible information and through the narrative understand the character of God, Moses and the Israelites. Oppositely the Qur'an is much more to the point about character and substance of choices. So when one reads that those who reject the Faith will burn in fire, it seems as strong language directed against the Israelites, but the exact same conclusion can be drawn from the story of God swallowing up Akin and his family for taking gold from Jericho.

Americans tend to abbreviate so it is easy to see the Qur'an as the big bully and forget that the same point is made in narrative in the Bible. We have each heard so many sermons of how some of the people of Israel were foolish and lead astray, but nobody finishes the thought - that statement would conclude they are now in the Fire with all others who do not believe. The same statement made in the Qur'an. We must be cautious when we point the finger without examining throughly what we believe ourselves, we might find we actually believe the thing were are criticizing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Creation & Moses Part:1

Holy Qur'an 1-2.88

Favorite Quotes from the Reading:

"Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord Turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful" Al-Baqara 37

"Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, - any who believe in Allan and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." Al-Baqara 63

Holy Bible Genesis 1-3 & Exodus 16-20

Favorite Quotes from the Reading:

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27

"And the Lord God said, 'It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a suitable helper for him.' " Genesis 2:18

So I can already tell this experience will stretch my understanding of history. The record in Genesis and in Al-Baqara are in quite different histological order. Of course they both start with a statement on how man was made and fallen, which we will get into later, but then Al-Baqara skips on ahead to Moses. In light of these differences my examination will attempt to be, for as long as possible, synced to the history in the Qur'an so I can examine the stories that are told side by side from the different perspectives and as each respective book represents the story morally and photographically.

Another note I would like to make is that I am not a scholar on Islam but I am a low ranking Biblical scholar, if there were such a thing. I spent four years in college studying the Bible and have a strong grasp on the stories and precepts contained inside of its pages. To that end I will obviously be covering a lot more biblical ground on some days that seems possible in one reading, but rest assured it is not because I deem it less important rather it is because I have devoted my life to studying it for four years and understand it quite well and can therefore cover much more ground in a shorter period of reading.

Of course the Bible starts directly into the story of God creating anything and everything, the first verses are filled with picture and beauty as God calls out an brings order and life into the chaos of the universe. I assumed that the Qur'an would start in similar stride, I could not have been more wrong. Perhaps because it was written later, but most certainly because of different authorship, the Qur'an starts with commands. It gets to Adam eventually but not without before laying out the "ground rules" about itself. Before the story of Adam and creation there is first a prayer, the first Sura is a prayer. This caught me off guard as I began to read something I assumed would be much like the Bible. There are prayers contained within it but they are far between. However different the approach the focus in the Qur'an's first page just as the Bible's is placed directly directly on God/Allah.

In the first sura of the Qur'an there is no question of who Allah is as a being. The words directly attributed to him are merciful, gracious, cherisher, sustainer (of all worlds) and Master of the Day of Judgement. These images certainly do not summon images of violence to the mind, but rather of a Creator who desires to interact with humanity. The prayer is one of guidance, so that the mind of the reader will be trained on what they are to do. It is also a prayer of comfort, denoting that the portion of those abide in the way of Allah will have a portion of grace not of wrath.

The first verses of Al-Baqara (the second sura) again do not tell the story of creation but rather chide those who can see Allah as the divine way but reject him. It describes them as lost in a thunderstorm, metaphorically representing Allah . When the lightning strikes near them they move around and see, and the thunder frightens them but they still do not believe even though Allah is all around them. These verses strike hard the first time they are read, not one of us wish to be so dense as to ignore the thunderstorm of truth surrounding us. It brings a sense of urgency to the reading of the passages, a hunger for the truth of them, at least that is what occurred as I read them.

The first verses in the Bible paint a bit more nebulous picture of God. This is could be due to the poetic nature of the Hebrew language and author. God is not hammered down in concrete and concise terms but the imagery bears to mind a Creator who is intelligent and compassionate. One who has thought of the purpose for the creation and designed it accordingly. This creator has given humanity a choice to follow him or to disobey, and humanity choses the latter. Blame for the event is placed on Eve's shoulders though it is also a choice that was made by Adam, a key difference in the Qur'an account. The result of their fall into the temptation of Satan was a separation from God and the Garden where they were placed to live. They are cursed because of their actions and their redemption is placed as a far off hope of the serpent being crushed under the heel of their decedents.

According to the Qur'an humanity was also created to dwell with God in the Garden. The difference being that the Garden here is in direct contact with God and is described as the place that the faithful will return to after they pass from resistance on earth. After creating Adam the Lord teaches Adam the names of everything, I suppose this represents Allah's impartation of himself to the newly created human because after doing so he commands all of his host of angels to bow to the man, but Iblis (also Satan) would not bow due to his pride and was placed with the others who reject faith. Satan then lures Adam and his wife Eve to the tree that Allah told them never to approach. Due to this transgression, that is faulted just as much to Adam as to Eve, humans are banished to Earth where they will now have to dwell and from which they will gather their livelihood. However as soon as Adam and Eve repent Allah restores them to their original place and gives them holy words of inspiration.

These accounts have interesting agreements in the fall of man due to temptation by Satan, Santa's fall (though it is discussed at a later point in the Bible) due to pride. The Qur'an and Bible agree than when Adam was created he was good, and able to do the work that the Creator assigns to him, they also show that an outside force acts on humanity to remove it from its intended place of peace and union with God. This entity, Satan in both texts, has rejected the Creators order of things and desires to destroy mankind because of their relationship with the Creator that no longer accepts Satan.

Both holy books also agree that when humanity was created it was a peak achievement for God. The Creator was more than happy with his creation he desired to place all things under it and to remind the lesser beings be they angels or animals that they were not as special as this new man. Some Muslim scholars point out that this event of Man being elevated to such high stats shows that the most tempting sin for humanity is pride, in fact in both accounts the party that assumes they can be greater than God, whether Satan or humanity, is cast aside illustrating equality with God and pride to be the greatest fault of all. A beautiful warning for every person that walks this planet.

This is already far longer than I originally assumed it would be so the discussion of Moses will have to wait for Part 2. I want to leave you with the quotes from the Qur'an at the top, if you are a Christian please consider these passages from a people's Holy book, a people that you are told want nothing but to destroy Christianity. It appears, in their on book's words, to not be the case at all.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

First There Was One

At some point in the human story we all got confused about God. The stories we all tell are similar but we tend to cling to the differences and start nasty fights with each other of what color a pew is supposed to be, or whether or not somebody should be baptized and if they are how it is to be done. But before these despites there must have been much greater, one that divided our understanding of God and blocked our willingness to listen to one another about the divine.

Well I wanted to look for myself, a normal person reading the two great books that seem to divide the world more than the followers of their respective texts would want. Each book speaks of charity and sacrifice. They speak of patience and conversion. They speak of exclusivity and racism as well. But these passages seem outside of the "good" moral intent for which each book was written. Words of division are so interesting in these holy books, words to separate those who are inside and outside, typical religious language designed by the authors. Perhaps they are from God or alternately they could be the authors personal agenda bleeding in to an otherwise "holy" text. I hope earnestly for the latter, for the former would indicate that our creator has some sort of evolving morality that could prove troublesome for us some time in the future when God decides to be rid of us.

So the plan is:
1 Year
1 Bible
1 Qur'an
1 Person
1 Entry a Day

Thank you for joining me on this journey, I will be as faithful as possible in my reading and reflection here. Also thank you to the friend that inspired this by shouting at every ignorance, "Have you read the Qur'an? Do you even know a Muslim?" After this I'll be able to say yes to each.

Beginning a Journey

After graduating from "Bible College" I found my life at a stall. I no longer wanted to pursue a life in vocational ministry. I did not want to spend the next four years of my life studying dead languages and reading the same scholarly journals as every other Masters of Divinity student must do as they chase after their calling. Rather the childish glimmer in my heart for Christianity had faded into a dull glow, but my passion to understand God was stronger than I had given myself credit.
At first, I assumed that this was me losing my faith, stepping away from the stories that had been lovingly told me as a child and entering the world as a harsh atheistic battering ram. Why an atheist? I am a man of extremes, it is one side or the other so I naturally assumed dissociation meant association with the opposite. But slowly I realized, mostly through the awful mood I was in the entire time, that I was indeed not an atheist but had a burning desire to understand God through the various lenses our human cultures provide. Suddenly dissatisfied with the stories of my youth, and because I had seen only one part of the grand tapestry that constructs our understanding of God, I decided to start at the beginning and travel the paths again.