Hungry for Ramadan

Hungry for Ramadan

Taking a Fresh Look at the Qur’an

quran_reading.jpg“Ramadan is the (month) in which the Qur’an was sent down, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong).” (Qur’an 2:185)
Aside from fasting, the importance of reflecting on the Qur’an, and reading it in its entirety if possible, is central to Ramadan.  It was in this month that the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad is said to have begun.  For many busy Muslims who might not read the Qur’an regularly, Ramadan offers that opportunity to reconnect with a conduit that Muslims believe represents a direct relationship between humans and their Creator.
For most people who are not Muslim, however, their introduction to the Qur’an is somewhat different.  It usually takes the shape of belligerent verses offered through soundbites as proof of Islam’s inherent violent and/or intolerant nature.  Both Muslim extremists and those seeking to demonize Islam use the same tactics. This constant attempt to redefine the central theme of the Qur’an has had a corrosive effect on the relationships between Muslims and their neighbors.


Herein lies the problem of reading individual verses from holy books – and I mean any holy book, not just the Qur’an.  If you see extremists citing religion to support their views, you will notice a common thread – their views are almost always backed by stand-alone verses, often from unreliable translations or taken out of context.  It has long been said that the Devil can cite scripture for his purposes – and this is how he gets away with it.
Ramadan presents a perfect opportunity to take in the Qur’an chapters (suras) at a time the way it was intended to be absorbed, rather than simply verse by verse.  This allows the reader to discover the underlying themes of the book, rather than isolated exhortations.
So what do we find when we look at the Qur’an this way?   We notice themes such as mercy (an attribute of God that is mentioned far more than His wrath), repeated calls for forbearance and patience (attributes that extremists often lack), and multiple calls to reflect and think (ditto).
In an age where religion is commodified, deconstructed, compartmentalized, and broken into bite-sized pieces, it is easy to see how the soul of a religion can be lost.  Too many religions have allowed themselves to become a collection of scripture snippets and pithy religious sayings.  
The call during Ramadan to review holy texts in their entirety, rather than piecemeal, can be a lesson to all people of faith.  Try taking in your religious text of choice, cover to cover, in the space of a month and see how it affects your view of the world.

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posted September 25, 2007 at 12:35 pm

A good point here — soundbites of scripture on Fox News don’t do much for anyone’s understanding, but at the same time, maybe you’re glossing over the fact that the Qur’an presents some troubling verses to modern readers. Yes, mercy is a theme, but so is punishment for unbelievers. And that’s not even to mention some of the verses on women! Even reading things in context doesn’t always solve the problems.

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Shahed Amanullah

posted September 25, 2007 at 12:42 pm

You’re absolutely right. I didn’t mean to gloss over those verses, only to point to a larger narrative that can provide some comfort and greater understanding. Understanding those particular verses in the larger context will take a great deal more time and study – in the meantime, I prefer to isolate them within the larger context of the Qur’an.

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posted September 25, 2007 at 2:11 pm

Aside from reading the Qur’an during Ramadan i also read about the Qur’an. I’m currently reading UNDERSTANDING THE QUR’AN, which goes into the themes and styles. The author also clears up those nasty misconceptions, ie. the Qur’an allowing wifebeating and killing infidels.
for non-Muslims I usually recommend a book about the Prophet (pbuh). I recently read IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE PROPHET by Tariq Ramadan and thought it was really well done. I suggest non-Muslims to read that first before picking up the Qur’an, especially an english translation one… they will indeed have a heart attack if that is their first introduction to the Muslim text!
a great Qur’an is THE MEANING OF THE HOLY QUR’AN by Yusuf Ali. i love his commentary and the history in it is remarkable.
oof.. is it maghrib yet?!?!

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posted September 25, 2007 at 2:40 pm

I have been guilty of picking and choosing some of the Suras for particular purposes. But never the more violent portions. The same is true for Bible readings. I do try to read the Nativity Sura, it is only the third from any authorized “scripture”. It adds an interesting and very human note to the proceedings. I have read most of the Qur’an. Each time I go looking for a portion or sura I get swept into more and more of it. We would all do well to be more than passingly familiar with this book.

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posted September 26, 2007 at 7:36 am

On the picking and choosing theme, it was NOT the son Ishmael that Abraham was told to sacrifice. It was Isaac.
It appears the Qur’An was “sent down” with a completely different story. Once Isaac is replaced by Ishmael, the path of correctness goes in a completely different direction. Now, it is the right of Muslims to state that it was Ishmael, but the Torah existed thousands of years before Mohammad was even born.
Without Isaac, the Qur’An makes Jacob, that is to say “Israel,” of no importance and worse, it completely obliterates the rights of both Jews and Christians – who share the same Biblical stories all the way to the Gospels – from having ANY legitimacy at all.
Muslims have a strange position on which to claim authenticity. Zeal and passion does not replace cold hard facts. So, if new revelations can replace Biblical truth, then Muslims should become Mormons. They have a Prophet getting Biblical truth fron an angel dating closer to today than Mohammad. If one prophet can supercede another than we can change immutability at will.
Now look at the Middle East and the world from Mohammad to this very second . . .
Hmmm, where do we read “Now do not be deceived, even if an angel of light were to bring you a different Gospel . . .”
The Apostles saw Mohammad coming. And Joseph Smith etc., etc., etc..

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posted September 26, 2007 at 9:10 pm

As an English speaker, and a non-Muslim, I have been interested in reading the Quran, but there are many translation options to choose from. I would like to try to strike a balance between precise translation of the text, while still maintaining a sense of style and “readability.” Does anyone have any suggestions for a particular translation that is particularly good?

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posted September 27, 2007 at 12:58 am

Donny, Does the Torah not say “First born” in regards to Abraham’s son and the sacrifice? Was not Ishmael born first?

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Sima Currie

posted September 27, 2007 at 11:53 am

Donny speaks of “FACTS”. Please do a bit of research. As God ordered that Ibrahim sacrifices his son, ISAAC WAS NOT BORN AS YET. Ibrahim replied “I can not sacrifice my son, MY ONLY SON…… It is a fact that Ishmael was born first..

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posted September 28, 2007 at 12:33 am

Try the translation by Muhammad Asad, “The Meaning of the Qur’an.” Asad was an Austrian Jew who converted in the 20’s, and his interpretation in English attunes particularly well to someone raised in Western culture.

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Noman Malik

posted September 29, 2007 at 12:44 am

I would reccomend the English Translation by Maulana Muhammad Ali which is available in most Border bookstores or may be ordered from the website
The translation is very close to the Arabic, yet is rendered in idiomatic English which preserves the scriptural and dignified tone of the original. The extensive footnotes are superb.

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posted September 29, 2007 at 11:21 pm

Abuljude and Norman,
Thank you for the suggestions! I will be looking for them next time I am at the bookstore.

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