- Category: Interfaith
- Created: Thursday, 23 April 2009 03:15
- Published: Thursday, 23 April 2009 02:54
- Written by Nicholas Kristof, On The Ground, New York Times
- Hits: 2170
Nicholas D. Kristof
My Thursday column is about more rigorous scholarship emerging within the Islamic world and directed at the Koran in particular. It grows partly out of a conference this week at Notre Dame, in which Arab and Western scholars alike discussed some of the most sensitive issues related to the Koran.
One of the problems has been that the Koran has meanings that are often obscure, and Muslims are in any case often reluctant to translate it or modernize the language, so its meaning is often not accessible to ordinary Muslims. This means that a fundamentalist mullah can claim a particularly traditional interpretation, and others are often not in a position to argue back. In addition, most Islamic clerics have tended to be fairly conservative, and so ambiguities in the Koran and the hadith have tended to be ignored.
For example, the Prophet Muhammad is generally said to be the last of the prophets, and that is one reason there has been such harsh treatment of sects that claim a later prophet. But in fact the wording in the Koran is that he is “the seal of the prophets,” and while that could mean that he is the last, that is not the only possible meaning. Maybe it means he is the greatest of them, or the confirmation of what they prophesied, and so on. These alternative interpretations are mostly taboos, but we’re beginning to get a scholarly discussion of these alternatives.