If it is it doesn't matter

Sunday, February 26, 2006

MPwI 3.1 The Qur'an and L/F

I was able to get back to this sooner than I expected, though this still may not be complete until tomorrow -- I'll publish a preliminary piece of it if I don't complete this section.

For someone who is just discovering this blog, this is a continuation of my previous post, and it probably would be a good idea to wade through that first, at least the final section on the 'spectrum' of attitudes towards the 'sacred text' as shown in Judaism and Christianity. (Hey, I warned people I was long-winded.)

Anyway, once I started investigating Islam and the Qur'an, I found significant difference from the other religions, some of which I think may go a long way towards explaining the conflicts between "Islam" and "The West."

First, the Testaments are 'anthologies,' collections of books by many different writers. Even the most conservative of Christians have no problem in accepting that there are at least 8 writers in the New Testament. Most scholars would put the number considerably higher. And the Old Testament is a melange of different books, mostly uncredited. (Orthodox Jews hold that the Torah, the first five books were by Moses, but few other Jews and few scholars would accept this. It is generally conceded, except by the Orthodox that they are the weaving together of the works of at least four different writers.) As for the other books, they simply aren't credited, for the most part, and seem to be by many different writers.

The Qur'an claims to be, and obviously is, by one writer. Most Muslims would state this author was Allah, through the medium of Gabriel, dictating the work to Mohammed. (In section four of this I will argue, I believe conclusively, that this cannot be so. However, I have no problem in believing that Mohammed believed in his visions and thought he was receiving Divine Dictation. Perhaps not completely, there seems to be some evidence that some of the work was deliberately shaped by him to meet the changing circumstances, but even then I would have no problem accepting that he believed he was led by Allah to do so.)

The Testaments are filed with stories, people, characters. There is very little of this in the Qur'an. A few stories are referenced from the Testaments, but without the details of the original -- and occasionally with the details changed. (I still have no idea where the she-camel story comes from, the one possibly original story in it.) And the stories are not told AS stories, or AS parables. They are rather used as parts of sermons. Because that is what the Qur'an is, a collection of sermons.

These last two sections have a certain importance i will discuss later. But what makes Islam so different are the claims it makes, and the Spectrum of Belief (If you didn't get through my last post, I'll explain this briefly when i get to it.)

Even to someone who has been exposed to the most extreme Fundamentalist Christianity the level of claim made for the Qur'an is staggering.

First is that the book was in fact dictated by Allah in its entirety. Mohammed was merely a 'messenger of Allah,' who in no way composed the book. (There is a problem with this on its face because of the method of compilation, but we;ll get to this in a later section.) Thus what is there cannot be changed, cannot be reconsidered in the light of changing circumstances. (This is not just an article of faith, it is a logical necessity, since if Allah wrote this, since he knew the future, he would have anticipated any changing circumstances and made allowances for them.)

Also following from this is that it is true from beginning to end. (A Diety cannot lie, because if he were capable of lying how could you trust anything that he said? The legal axiom "false in ine, false in all" applies even more strongly here.)

It is true that Allah claims that some of the work is literally true and some is allegorical. (Sura 3:7 Pickthal translation:

3:7 He it is Who hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture wherein are clear revelations - they are the substance of the Book - and others (which are) allegorical. But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, forsooth, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it. None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed.

Yusuf Ali puts it as:
7. He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.

Shakir:
He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation. but none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say: We believe in it, it is all from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding.

None of which, to me, clears things up, and none imply that the words themselves or the ideas expressed can be changed. If the book declares that interest is forbidden, or that two women's testimony in certain matters equals one man's, those are not allegories, and they remain true.)

------------------------(breathe, get coffee, come back -------

The second claim is that this is not just Allah's revelation, but his final one. "The book of prophecy is closed, the pen is put away, the inkwell has run dry." (I'm not sure if this comes from the Hadith, but a member of the forum used it, and it was so well-said I have used it. I do not believe that a strict Muslim would deny it.)

Think about this for a minute. EVERYTHING Allah had to say to mankind is in this book, expressed in terms understandable to a 7th Century Arab. Forget whatever growth in knowledge we have had over the past 1350 years, forget the growth in morals that has seen us realize the evil slavery is, the evil it was to take women prisoners in war and marry them by right of conquest, forget the political changes, the social changes that came after that time. The message is here, once and for all.

(And Allah, we must assume, had the option when he would make this final revelation. He could have waited a millenia or so to find his messenger. If he chose to make it then, to close his message then, it was deliberate. Those other changes in humanity, in knowledge, in social arrangements, in morals, COULDN'T have mattered, or else he would just have waited before he sent Gabriel to Earth. Again, there is no changing of this message, no reinterpreting it in light of Copernicus, Gallileo, Darwin, Jefferson, Lincoln, King, Einstein, Pasteur, even Shakespear. The 'inkwell has run dry,' and Allah knew it would.)

And then there is the third incredible claim. This message is not just the message Allah gave to Mohammed, it is the same message he gave to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to Jesus. And they got it right. It was just their followers who messed it up. I have heard it said, quite definitely that Jesus was a Muslim, that Adam was a Muslim, that Moses was a Muslim. (Oops, there goes evolution, because if Adam was a Muslim, that means he existed.)

-----take another break, your bladder MUST be full --------------

If the "Spectrum of belief' was the same in Islam as it was in Christianity and Judaism, this wouldn't be that important. I described this Spectrum in the last post. I didn't give names or (purely illustrative) percentages to the divisions. I'll try that here, but to understand it, go back and check out the post.

Christianity and Judaism divide pretty much like this -- again, these aren't meant to be accurate numbers, just illustrative
Literalist/Fundamentalist 5%
Conservative 25%
Liberal 25%
Casual/secular 20%
Social/customary 20%
Atheist/Agnostic 5%
(I'm basing my figures on America and Europe for Christianity. In America you'd see a jump in the Literalist/Fundamentalist number and a drop in the others, mostly in the Liberal.)

Now there is a wide range of opinion in Islam, but NOT because these groups exist in similar numbers. Islam has no heirarchy, no authoritative clergy. The interpretation of what the words mean differs from person to person, from group to group, but there is almost no difference as to the fact that the words are literally true.

The Literalist/Fundamentalist group is not a small minority, it is the majority. And the second and third groups seem to disappear.

PLEASE, this is my observation. If anyone can correct me on this, please do. I hope I AM wrong about this.

It seems as if people move from Fundamentalist to secular or customary without stopping, and many move straight out the door to atheism or rejection at least of Islam.

And this, as I'll show in my next post, leads to a GREAT number of difficulties.

And there is a final claim of Islam. Not as strong as the others, at least not in the extension of it. But there. That islam is a 'complete way of life,' not a religion. Everything involves Islam. Perhaps the most important part of this involves the insistence of Muslims that they must be under Sharia law.

We'll come back to this later, but the key is that, for a large number of Muslims, this involves politics as well. Islam is seen as an eventual world government, there is a belief in the revival of the caliphate, of a working towards a Unification of all Muslims, or at the least of turning Muslim states into Islamic states. Another thing that will be important in future posts.

Okay, you can relax now. That buzzing and ringing in your ears will fade after a while. But there will be more, tomorrow.

Because Literalism has a cost, a very serious cost. And I'll start discussing this in my next post.

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