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(Text as at 19/03/2011 17:18:14)
The correspondence so far:- You can't be serious about the site you referred me to.
Interestingly, I got an email from a Christian friend of mine this morning, who quoted a friend of his he'd just met on a preaching tour of Australia (she's an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity). He'd asked her if there was an on-line concordance for the Koran, and she'd had this to say:
"What I have learnt is that there is no logic, structure or sense in Koran and so Islam preach that an ordinary person can never understand Koran and you have to be a top notch Mullah to be able to read the interpretation of it and be able to comment. People are not encouraged to read the interpretation of it and up to very recently in Iran you couldn't get more than literal translation of it which didn't make much sense any how as it wasn't in sentence form. So all in all most Muslim have no clue what is said in it as they are suppose to read it in Arabic and recite it over and over again. Also there isn't much resources developed for people to find out what Koran said regarding various topics. Have a look at this site (Link (Defunct)); it's not a concordance, but he has pulled out all the major Islamic quotes re jihad".
This was sent to me because we'd previously had a discussion where my correspondent had alleged "that Mohammed in the Koran told Moslems to kill their enemies, whereas Christ in the New Testament told them to love their enemies". I'd argued that you'd need to immerse yourself in Islamic studies before jumping to conclusions. Anyway, my response to the recent correspondence included the following thoughts.
A web-link (from another correspondent):-
- The initial correspondence:-
- I'm not sure I was ever an atheist - more agnostic - but I do think people should have good reasons for their beliefs, and not sign up for package deals. Emotionally, I've always wanted to believe, and have done so at various stages of my life. It's just that I don't at the moment, and the more I talk to believers, the less inclined I am to believe (I'm most inclined after listening to atheistic rants). Where I "am" at the moment, and my reasons for studying at Heythrop, are on my website1, so there's no point repeating them here.
- I enjoyed the Philosophy of Religion module2, which has just finished, but it was all a bit of a rush. I'd like to have done the whole MA on this topic, rather than skate over it in a term (though I do intend to follow up on a lot of the reading over the summer).
- I had a tutorial with Peter Vardy last week. He's an inspirational teacher, though not much of a philosopher (as he admits). I manage not to spot the coffin in his room, and would probably have missed the elephant as well. He did, though, ask whether I intended to complete the course - a bit odd, as I'm comfortably the top student. He thinks I should be getting on with things and not fritter time away on irrelevancies (the MA is a bit of a hodge-podge, and the second year consists of courses which, while interesting, aren't really core to my concerns). He asked how old I was - 57 - and said I'd 7 years active mental life and would be dead in 20 years. By analogy with his own expectations, presumably (he's 65 by all accounts). I'd rather hoped for an extra 10 years on top of that; but whatever, the years are certainly getting in short supply, actuarially-speaking. My intellectual interests really focus on the metaphysical possibility of post-mortem survival, and I'd like to reach a conclusion before I find out (or not) for real.
- Your blog (Link) seems very professional, though I've not had much time to look at it. You seem to be much in demand. I've got to focus on my essay on the Ontological Argument over the next 3 weeks, so won't be able to review it until later. You might, being an expert on these things, let me have your thoughts on a few books I've recently purchased (or had given to me). Some details are on my website at:-
… "Jones (Alan), Qur'an - Arabic Through the Qur'an"
… "Omar (Abdul Mannan), Qur'an - The Dictionary of the Holy Quran: Arabic Words - English Meanings"
… "Qara'I (Ali Quli), Qur'an - The Qur'an: With a Phrase-by-Phrase English Translation"
… "Wansbrough (John), Rippin (Andrew), Qur'an - Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation"
- Also, as well as Qur'anic Arabic (Link (Defunct)), Heythrop do a module on Islam for my MA course (Link (Defunct)). What do you think? Do you know Ahmad Achtar?
- Heythrop had a session ("Achtar (Ahmad) - Scriptural Reasoning at Heythrop: Abraham's Sacrifice of his son") with him, Jonathan Gorsky and Richard Price (Anthony Price's brother). He seemed a nice-enough chap, though I wasn't inspired by what he had to say (Jonathan Gorsky did the best, I thought).
- No doubt Islam is as replete with sects as Christendom. My sister-in-law is Turkish and stems from a Muslim sect (Alevi, I think) that allows the drinking of alcohol. She's a free-thinker. Are you a heretic, or mainstream? Reading the introduction to Qara'I's book, he makes out that the earlier revelation in the Bible had become textually corrupt and therefore a final revelation was needed to put things right. He also claims that the text of the Qur'an remains exactly as revealed. As an argument, this is pretty weak. Of course, fundamentalist Christians and Jews take the same line with their sacred texts; it's only the liberals who admit the vicissitudes of the textual development and transmission. A fundamentalist Christian cannot "tinker" with the Hebrew text to make it say what he wants (though he can tinker with the interpretation, especially if he follows the New Testament in so doing). It's alleged that there are discrepancies between the Qur'an and the earlier revelation, so the only option open to a fundamentalist Muslim is to allege corruption in the earlier texts - but of a sort for which there's no textual evidence. Do you take a fundamentalist or liberal approach to the Qur'an?
- Don't get the impression that I'm a potential convert, by the way. Islam strikes me as rather impoverished when compared to Judaism or Christianity, but that's an outsider's view based on very little information. Islam has very much got into people's faces of late, though entirely due to the (so called) terror rather than intellectual debate. As you would once have pointed out, in the UK you can be as rude as you like about Christianity, but no-one can speak openly against Islam lest they get accused of racism (on a good day) or get blown up (on a bad one). But still, an educated person has a duty to find out what all the fuss is about. I had a chat with John McDade at my interview and floated the idea that there must be more to Islam than meets the western eye - given the wonders of the mediaeval Islamic civilisations - but he wasn't very encouraging of that thought. It's possible that the civilisation arose in spite of, rather than because of, the religion. No doubt you'll try to put me right on these matters.
- Another try:-
- While searching for a solution to a computer-problem, I came across a posting by some chap … who added the following footnote (irrelevant in the purely technical context):-
"Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before We clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?
… Qur'an 21:30"
- This looks to me like some middle-eastern creation myth that is plain false in its literal meaning, if that's how it's intended to be taken, though (like the Judeo-Christian ones more familiar to me) it may have spiritual value within the tradition within which it arose and has been cherished. How do you approach such passages? The reason I ask is that I'm oft in discussion with Christians who insist that to "believe" God, or to be "strong in faith", you have to believe (what seems to me to be) obvious nonsense. Usually the divine omnipotence / human ignorance card is played - ie. God could have done anything he pleased, and just how do I (or anyone else) know what happened "in the beginning" without God telling me? Any thoughts?
- Its odd that you see the ayat expressing a creation myth - it seems rather scientifically accurate to me...
- Nice of you to write a whole sentence. I'll be similarly succinct. Just how should the verse be construed, scientifically speaking? And how is 96:2 (the clot of blood) passage to be interpreted? See, eg. Link (Defunct) (the question, not the answers). Could you recommend a sound, scholarly 1-volume commentary on the Qur'an?
- The best guide to the Qur’an is the Qur’an itself. I recommend Muhammad Asad's excellent translation and commentary ("Asad ( Muhammad), Qur'an - The Message of the Quran: The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration", which draws on the classical scholars). As to your scientific questions have a look here: Link
- The reason I’ve not pursued this is that that the link is to a site that doesn’t address my question (as far as I can see) but claims all sorts of scientific truths to have been anticipated by the Qur’an. No-one but a believer would entertain these so-called “proofs” for a second.
- And some more:-
- I don't think you're trying very hard in this discussion. I've ordered the book you suggest, but note that a couple of the Amazon reviewers claim that it's sectarian, and that the uninformed can't distinguish Asad's own thoughts from more traditional ones:
- "That brings you to Muhammad Asad, an Austrian convert (from Judaism), born Leopold Weiss. His translation itself is about on a par with Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Muhammed Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali: it more or less works in English, but you may get distracted by all the parentheses and there is a little too much flowery language. His notes are at least as numerous as in Abdullah Yusuf Ali, but Asad/Weiss naturally had a better idea about what might confuse the average non-Muslim reader. He offers a reasonable combination of the scholar's hadith and the layman's history plus moral application. Unfortunately, the hadith are not identified with the name of their authors, the opinions of Asad himself are frequently seen by the Muslim mainstream as non-standard (read: incorrect), and you can't tell the difference. You don't know whether what any given note says is just Asad's individual, controversial opinion, or a point of view most Muslims are at least familiar with."
And some more:-
- Thanks for the link below (Link (Defunct)). It's a very useful site indeed - lots of resources (even a copy of Mein Kampf!). Yes, I'm sure we've discussed these matters before. I had two issues with a blanket condemnation. Firstly, that outsiders can cherry-pick nasty verses (I've seen similar things done for the Talmud; and one could no doubt compile a case against Judeo-Christianity by carefully selecting violent passages from the OT and various "woes" from the NT). One needs a balanced contextual view. Secondly, one needs to consider the context in which a work was produced when evaluating its overall tenor. The "dark ages" weren't exactly a high-point of civilisation - even Byzantium, the Christian legacy of the Roman world, was a horrid place, with its routine torture and blindings. But I agree that for a book purporting to be the eternal word of God, a general tenor of retributive violence isn't what you'd expect. But maybe there are arguments that would defend such an approach, given the times. Even the Christian "love your enemies" doctrine can be variously understood and contextualised. As you argue, many of the NT teachings are in the light of an impending end of the world and are "not for today", so maybe some of the "start up" violence of Islam isn't meant for today either (maybe they are awaiting their Charles Welch; Link, Wikipedia: Charles H. Welch).
- But this site seems very thorough. However, I'm intrigued by the site - did you look at the other pages? What's this "Yada Yahweh" stuff, that's mentioned on the page you referenced (Link)? Looks like a messianic Jewish group, rather anti-Pauline (Link (Defunct)). I've not done anything but skim a few pages, and don't know how the various offerings are related. But if it's the same group that rubbishes both Paul and Islam, then you might not want to take what they say about either at face value.
- That said, I don't hold out much hope for Islam having much that's useful to say, or that it's anything but a retrograde step in the "history of religions". But whether it's worse than Nazism I don't feel comfortable to pronounce on. I don't see any reason to dispute the claim that Moorish Spain and pre-Ottoman Baghdad were more civilised than their Christian enemies (and more friendly to the Jews). Maybe they were "un-Islamic" in so being, but I'd need convincing.
- I'd been questioning my "Catholic-converted-to-Islam" about Islam's scientific claims, and have got nowhere so far. I've copied the correspondence below for your edification. You'll see he doesn't answer my questions, but refers me to a site that is frankly ludicrous. It's interesting to compare that site with the relevant page on Prophet of Doom (Link (Defunct)), which takes the offending passages as self-evident nonsense (as I would, prima-facie, ie. without "spiritualising") - but it seems the fundamentalists find ways of insisting they be taken as literal truth. Not to mention rummaging through the text of the Qur'an for obscure passages that they claim are predictions of specific scientific findings. Just nonsense.
I received the following in mid-January 2010, but haven’t had the opportunity to follow it up yet:-
- I don’t think this3 is fair. There are many secular areas of enquiry that have enough fascination to tickle the intellect for me to pursue if this was my only interest. You know my background (or can remind yourself from my website) and “religion” has always been an important issue for me. It’s just that I don’t think any of the revealed religions are credible, and don’t think the so-called “proofs” of natural theology work. While I think there are profound mysteries in the universe, I take naturalism to be the default position – but I’m willing to be argued out of it. Now it’s often said that you can’t be argued in to any religious position, that it’s a step of faith – or at least one of commitment. The trouble with steps of faith is that you have to choose a particular one. You yourself seem to have chosen two incompatible ones at different stages of your life. You’ve not explained, I don’t think, what caused your move to Islam. To me it seems a hopeless retrograde step, but I’m willing to spend time at least getting a superficial view of what Islam is all about. But from my limited experience, it seems that there are various un-argued assumptions that need to be taken on board before you can get started. You know, the 5 pillars (maybe). Do you just have to accept the Qur’an as divinely dictated? What if you don’t think it is?
- I’ve been in Christian groups where – if you’re only willing to accept some foundation authority – whether the Bible or the Church – and are willing to ignore any conflict between that authority and whatever else you think you know (thereby either living in anti-realism or denying that you know what you thought you knew), then you can live happily, otherwise there’s continual chafing. But I’ve not been willing to do this, and don’t intend to change – because I don’t think this is what God – if he exists – would want.
- Anyway, the reason I’ve been writing to you is that you might know something about Islam. I think it’s incumbent upon educated people to know something about Islam beyond the comments and selections of its despisers, cultured or otherwise. I also want to know – if you have to submit to one book or another – whether there’s any principled way of choosing which – or whether the various adherents just take this as axiomatic, and a matter of faith.
- My basic principle is to submit to the truth and follow it wherever it leads. If Islam were to be the truth, I’d submit to it, but I wouldn’t dream of so doing “just in case”.
- It’s up to you whether you want to answer any of my questions, or turn email ping-pong into a “discussion”. "Asad ( Muhammad), Qur'an - The Message of the Quran: The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration" turned up this morning. A very fine volume, but my opinion on whether its contents are as sumptuous as its bodily form will have to await my reading of it.
I had an earlier discussion here4 with a different correspondent.
- At long last we have the full unabridged Muslim Debate Initiative (The Muslim Debate Initiative) debate from December 2009. I chair and moderate this event and open with a brief speech about how I came to embrace Islam. I believe this was the first time in the UK that Muslims had debated the British National Party. The event was reported around the world by CNN, the BBC Arabic Service and Press TV (amongst others).
In-Page Footnotes:Footnote 3: The claim that I am only interested in intellectual discussion, not commitment.
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