Friday, August 24, 2012

Contextualizing the Quran

This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt, containing guidance for those who are mindful of God, who believe in the unseen, keep up the prayer, and give out of what We have provided for them; those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the Hereafter. Such people are following their Lord’s guidance and it is they who will prosper. Quran 2:2-5
Although all Muslims believe that the Quran is the word of God, interpretations of the Quran have evolved and changed over time. As I have blogged about my reading of the Quran over the past few weeks, I have received comments and emails both praising and criticizing my interpretation. Here are the primary sources I am basing my reading on.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Allah's Guidance on Diet

Today all good things have been made lawful for you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful for you as your food is lawful for them. Quran 5:5
When reading Allah's guidance on food, it is important to remember that early Muslims had an identity complex. Early chapters in the Quran stressed that Allah was the same God described to both Jews and Christians. Prayers were made facing Jerusalem until the Prophet was given permission to change the prayer direction to Mecca. Early Muslims, therefore, could be forgiven for assuming that Jewish dietary practices applied to them. Early Quran commentators relate an incident of Jews questioning Muslims on their diet:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Reinterpreting Islam after the Mongol Invasion

It is impossible to exaggerate the trauma inflicted upon the Muslim world by the Mongols. For 600 years Muslims had seen their spheres of influence grown from Arabia to Iran and Spain. Muslims simply assumed that they were the benefactors of divinely orchestrated success. Baghdad was the jewel of the Muslim world, capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, ruled by the Prophet's own family, untouched by any opposition forces since it became a Muslim city over 500 years earlier. To put that into context, Washington DC was burned by the British a mere 200 years ago during the War of 1812. When the Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir was asked to describe the Mongol invasion (Tatars), which he lived through, he couldn't do so for many years. He wrote:
For some years I continued averse from mentioning this event, deeming it so horrible that I shrank from recording it and ever withdrawing one foot as I advanced the other. To whom, indeed, can it be easy to write the announcement of the death-blow of Islam and the Muslims, or who is he on whom the remembrance thereof can weigh lightly? O would that my mother had not born me or that I had died and become a forgotten thing ere this befell! Yet, withal a number of my friends urged me to set it down in writing, and I hesitated long, but at last came to the conclusion that to omit this matter could serve no useful purpose. On The Tatars

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Quran and Women

To whoever, male or female, does good deeds and has faith, We shall give a good life and reward them according to the best of their actions. Quran 16:97
Whoever does evil will be repaid with its like; whoever does good and believes, be it a man or a woman, will enter Paradise and be provided for without measure. Quran 40:40
Allah provides guidance to the Prophet about women throughout the Quran. In some cases Allah talks about women in general, but in others he provides specific advice on how to deal with specific situations. Outside of those specific situations, Allah continually stresses equality between men and women. As 16:97 and 40:40 point out, Allah promises to reward all Muslims based on their actions; in this life and the next. Allah continually refers to men and women in the Quran as equals ( 3:195, 4:122-124, 9:71-72, 33:35, 33:73, 49:13, 57:18, 85:10 ). Not only does Allah view men and women as equal, he sharply criticizes those who do not. Allah condemns fathers who favor sons over daughters, and promises to condemn them to Hell for contemplating filicide: