Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My First Thoughts on the Qur'an

First and foremost: I'm not claiming to be the best or most consistent believer.
I say all of this at my own responsibility and in my own name.

In how far do general thoughts on faith apply to the faith of which I like to share thoughts with readers, namely that which I consider my own: Islam. Islam literally means peaceful submission and surrender, willing obedience to God and His rule. The Qur'an is the main scripture of Islam and is left to us by the Arabian prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, after completion in 632 AD. However, Islam is not named after him, the name refers to a state of mind: Glad submission to the one God. It's mission is completion and correction of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, in order to provide the faithful with a clear and consistent idea of who God is, the history of God's messengers and of previous believers, the future of mankind in the afterlife, and the psychological dimensions of faith and disbelief. The main issue of Qur'an deals with the tension between freedom of faith and expression for the individual and religious community, versus divine sanctioning on obedience and truthfulness in faith and expression. Is it possible to combine a proper truthful faith with a freedom to make one's own choices? Is there only one way to this truthful faith, or are there any acceptable alternatives? Is it 'allowed' to switch between religions or leave the faith altogether, and who has any say in this? Also today, faithful communities are struggling to find a proper answer to these questions within their community, but also related to other communities of different creeds, as those latter are an important background to the Islamic umma. The Qur'an is, unlike the Bible, not written as one chronological story, but as a compilation of verdicts and narrations compressed in rhyming sentences and short sayings, which may be read without specific order. They shouldn't be read entirely independently, as the compilation as a whole is a complete set of rules and regulations. Some verses, also named ayat, signs, apply to specific situations only, others are better understood in combination with others. For a good understanding one should regularly read Qur'an as a whole. Another aspect is the use of time and people. Sometimes Qur'an refers, in one verse, to different time lapses and different individual persons or groups of people. At other places every reader may feel spoken to, even when it may very well be the case that only the prophet Muhammad is referred to. An example is the People of the Book. Sometimes learned people in general are meant, sometimes Jews and Christians only and as a community, sometimes the followers of the three monotheistic religions, also Islam. The Qur'an is, in my opinion, a self explanatory text. However, if it were that easy, not such fuss was made of it, and those many shelves with commentaries hadn't been filled. The human factor is important and sometimes spoils many goodies here.