A Dialogue on the Koran
On May 22, 2017, an Islamic terrorist detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb as people were leaving the Manchester Arena following a concert by Ariana Grande, killing twenty-three people, including the attacker, and wounding 139, more than half of them children. In the wake of the massacre, Muslim clerics Dr. Jamal Rifi and Sheikh Mohammad Tawhidi, hosted by Australia’s Channel Seven, debated the role religion played in the attack.
Basically, we need to be very realistic when dealing with this matter. You have a twenty-two-year-old who gets radicalised over two, three sermons in a Friday mosque gathering.
This age is an age when someone would expect people to be going out, having fun. But no, we have a large number of youth that are being radicalised. This happens because of the books that we have, the Islamic scriptures that we have; they push the Muslim youth to believe that if you go out there and kill the infidels, that's how you will gain Paradise.
For the past one thousand four hundred years we have had a religion of war – that is exactly what we have had. This is not something I am imagining, these are facts. We’ve had many wars. How did Islam spread from Saudi Arabia down to Indonesia and Bosnia? All spread by the sword. We had many wars. For someone to come and say that Islamic scriptures have nothing to do with it, I mean, that’s against the facts; that’s not true.
Islamic scriptures are what is pushing these people to behead the infidels. Let me tell you something: the people that are beheading, that mister (sic), the person that killed the young girls in Manchester did so believing he was going to dine with the Prophet Muhammad that very night that is what the Islamic scriptures tell them.
Sheikh Mohammad Tawhidi
The world desperately needs an honest discussion about Islam, starting with an unfettered dialogue on the Koran, if we are to stop the violence done in the name of Allah and His proclaimed last and greatest spokesperson, the Prophet Muhammad. If we don't, then God help us all.
Not a New Idea
Before the first Malaysian blasted into space (the first Muslim in space was Prince ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud of Saudi Arabia) on board a Russian rocket in October 2007, on his way to the International Space Station, serious questions as to how Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor was going to perform the mandatory five daily prayers had to be answered.
One hundred and fifty Islamic scholars, scientists, and astronauts were brought together and arrived at a consensus as to what was practical and desirable under the circumstances. The Malaysian Ulema (scholars of the Faith e.g. Islamic scholars) dared to look at the Koran in a new light, the light from a sun that rises and sets every 90 minutes.
That was a good start, but if we are to put an end to the carnage in the name of God the discourse needs to be as profound as the one initiated by courageous Islamic philosophers of a bygone age.
Between the 8th and 10th century, when Islam was in its infancy, there emerged an Islamic school of thought largely influence by Plato and Aristotle and which became known as Mu’tazilism or Philosophy of Rationalism or simply Islamic Philosophy.
The motives of the translators [of Greek works in science and philosophy into Arabic] and their patrons, the ['Abbasid] caliphs, may have been partially practical; medical skill was in demand, and control over natural forces could bring power and success. There was also, however, a wide intellectual curiosity, such as is expressed in the words of al-Kindi (c. 801-66), the thinker with whom the history of Islamic philosophy virtually begins:
We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign people. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself.
A History of the Arab People, Albert Hourani, Harvard University Press 1991, p. 76
Mu'tazilites argued that verses of the Koran should not be taken literally and that human reason was more reliable than scriptures. The leaders of the believers of the time, the most noteworthy being Caliphs al-Ma'mun, Mu'tasim Billah and Wathiq actively supported this sensible open-minded interpretation, allowing it to thrive, until dogma reasserted itself with a vengeance and revelation again smothered reason.
It may not be a coincidence that most of Islam’s substantial contribution in the field of astronomy and mathematics for example, was from this period when Mu’tazilism was accepted by the Caliphate as a legitimate Islamic school of thought.
How could it have been otherwise, when a literal interpretation of the Koran places Paradise just above the clouds held up by invisible pillars anchored to a flat earth, with meteorites being stones thrown by angels to stop the jinn (from which we get our concept of the Jinni) from flying up to Paradise and eavesdropping on Allah’s conversations.
Excuses and What Matters
If a dialogue is to foster trust, non-believers must have a meaningful role which will only be possible if more of them actually get to know what is in the relatively short book and don't have to depend on clerics to tell them what it is all about, as happens today.
Translations of the Koran are usually called interpretations because of the claim that only the Arabic version of the Book can accurately convey the true meaning of God’s words. If you can’t read the Koran in the original, say the imams and Islamic scholars, you are bound to misinterpret Allah’s words.
[This is] a Book with Verses which are elaborately formulated and clearly expounded from the Wise, the All-Aware.
Allah is not bragging, what He says here is true and any good translation will render Him justice and have you wondering about what you have been told.
You seldom here a Christian minister say that unless you read the Bible in the original Hebrew, Greek or Latin you will misunderstand the message. Yet, this is the argument that is made by clerics to discourage non-Muslims adults from reading a translation of the Koran whose message they expect children to grasp.
The Khatmi-Qur’an is the ceremony to recognize and celebrate a child’s first full reading or mouthing of the Koranic text, usually by the age of seven, under the tutelage of its mother.
Another excuse, repeated by Christians mostly, for not reading Islam's core religious text is that it is just like the Bible, so why bother. The Koran is more than a synthesis of Jewish beliefs and pagan traditions, and the more is what you should be concerned with.