Material about a variety of faith traditions

Scholarship on the Koran

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.

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Foundations for inter-faith sharing

symbols39-starBahais have been frequent participants in inter-faith fora, and like all the participants we need to work out what our basic stance is: are we there to protect our interests and have our say; are we counting the other participants as anonymous Bahais and including them into our project; are we there to show what we have to offer that other religions do not have, and so win converts? In one of the Bahai discussion lists, I had quoted the following words of Abdu’l-Baha:

… the breezes of Christ are still blowing; His light is still shining; His melody is still resounding; … and it is the same with those souls who are under His protection and are shining with His light.
(Some Answered Questions, p. 152)

And these words from Shoghi Effendi concerning the future of Christianity:

The indwelling Spirit of God which, in the Apostolic Age of the Church, animated its members, the pristine purity of its teachings, the primitive brilliancy of its light, will, no doubt, be reborn and revived as the inevitable consequences of this redefinition of its fundamental verities, and the clarification of its original purpose.
(The World Order of Baha’u'llah, p. 185)

One of the friends then asked:

Why would we need a new Revelation from God if Christianity and Islam are to be reformed to their original splendor?

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Whose god, anyway?

{flickr4j_photo id='3219303742' size='2'}

Quite recently, the current president made one of those matter of fact, mild statements he tends to make, which has rung in some circles like an alarm--he suggested that the US does not consider itself a Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) nation. It's a topic that's earned some debate, as there is a belief among some people that the US is.

There is one thing that has always puzzled me about this assertion--

Whose Christ? Or if we're not Christian, but just godly--whose God?

See, that there, is the important question. Because Christianity at the founding of this country, just as now, came in different flavors. In fact, the story of the pilgrim is just one of the many stories that both features and obscures the reality of religion in America--

Remember the Puritans? I'm sure you can't help but recall them. Buckles on their hats. Lots of black. Enjoyed, um, not a lot? Well, there was a very good reason so many of them got on the Mayflower--they were Separatists from the Church of England. They started to get slightly different notions about the Bible and all from the rest of their countrymen. (One of their ideological cousins, about a generation after the Mayflower shoved off, proved himself quite the Separatist--Oliver Cromwell signed the warrant that separated Charles I's head from the rest of him.) Anyway, they went to America for religious freedom.

{josquote}Freedom is the best antidote to theocracy there is--and that's what I try to blog about.{/josquote}

You might also recall the Quakers. I'm from Philadelphia, so I sure do--William Penn founded the City of Brotherly Love and made sure it was a "greene country towne." We still have some nice parks. Anyway, William Penn was one of those guys--a religious sect of Christians didn't tithe, take off their hats to people in authority, swear loyalty oaths, and had a crazy idea that all men were created equal (bizarre belief, that). No wonder they got kicked across the pond.

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Man With Seventy Children

I can see why a Jewish day school would reject a Jewish child. It could be that the kid has special needs the school is not equipped to deal with, or the parents cannot afford the tuition, or the kid had poor grades in a previous school or simply has a bad attitude.

What school would want to diminish its “brand” by accepting every applicant? Part of what a school sells is the “quality” of its student base and member families. This helps attract more such students and families, which helps boost fundraising and enables the hiring of a quality staff.

So, screening and qualifying applicants is the normal and reasonable thing to do. What is not normal is to accept every Jewish family that knocks on your door.

I visited such a school the other day. It’s called Perutz Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy.

{josquote}The issue was that while the mother of the girls is a practicing Jew, the father is a Baha’i Muslim.{/josquote}

This is a small Jewish day school in West Hollywood that was founded 20 years ago by the current dean of the school, Rabbi Rubin Huttler. Since its inception, the school has been utterly incapable of looking a Jewish parent in the eye and saying, “Sorry, we can’t take your child.”

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When city promotes religion, many are left out

It was a surprise to say the least. The San Marcos City Council meeting was opened on March 31st (actually it was the 5th item on the agenda) by the invocation given by Mullah Roberts:

“Glory to You, O Allah, and Yours is the praise. And blessed is Your Name, and exalted is Your Majesty. And there is no deity to be worshipped but You. I seek refuge in Allah from Satan, the accursed. He is the Living One; there is no god but Him. Pray to Him, then, and worship none besides Him. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.

“Oh Allah! the city council seeks Your guidance by virtue of Your knowledge, and it seeks ability by virtue of Your power, and I ask You of Your great bounty to grant this to them. You have power; we have none. And You know; we know not. You are the Knower of hidden things.

“Oh Allah! If in Your knowledge, the matters before the city council this evening are good for our religion, our livelihoods and our affairs, immediate and in the future, then ordain it for us, make it easy for us, and bless it for us. And if in Your knowledge, the matters before the city council this evening are bad for our religion, our livelihoods and our affairs, immediate and in the future, then turn it away from us, and turn us away from them. And ordain for us the good wherever it may be, and make us content with it. Amen.”

{josquote}I suppose members of the city council haven’t given much thought to the fact that there are Jews living in San Marcos, along with Buddhists, Bahá’is, Hindus, Unitarian Universalists, nonbelievers, Muslims, and New Age followers, none of whom are bound by the religious dogma that Jesus Christ is their savior.{/josquote}

After that, the meeting was the essence of goodness. Apparently, every decision that needed to be made was deemed good, at least for the development community, because as usual, whatever any business or realtor asked for was approved.

Well, it didn’t happen exactly this way on March 31st. The invocation was given by Pastor Robert Smith of the PowerHouse Christian Center as follows:

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