Religion: Some thoughts on Islam and the Koran
This blog item gets found a few times a month and I'm really curious who is reading it.
Is it Christians who hear about Jay Smith and want to know more? Or is it Muslims wondering who this guy is who likes to debate Muslims?
Recently, that blog post got a comment!
I'm always happy to receive comments as long as they are on point and respectful. Indeed, reader George wrote in such manner the following:
I saw Jay Smith speaking a while ago. As an atheist student in London, reading Islamic studies, I would be interested to know what your reaction to what he had to say was. How accurately you think he represented the Qur'an, for example. You raised doubts about his characterising religious behaviour in terms of radical/liberal/nominal depending on reading of the text, could you elaborate on this perhaps. Finally, where do you see al-Qaeda fitting into worldwide Islam and how representative would you consider the views of the likes of bin Laden to be of the views of most Muslims around the world? I hope you find time to respond to my comment.I responded in the comments section by saying:
Thanks for dropping by this blog outpost and sharing some observations. It seems each day I get a hit via a google search for Jay Smith.Thus, tonight, I thought I'd share a few more thoughts on Islam and the Koran from my limited perspective.
Thanks for your questions. I promise to write a blog post sharing about them. Alas, I've been under the weather the last several days and only now heading back to normal.
My first reaction is that since you are in London, I would really like to hear *your* impressions of Islam. Here in Los Angeles, I have relatively little contact with Muslim people and so what I know is limited to what I hear in the popular media and my modest knowledge from what I have read and heard in personal research. Since it sounds like you may have met actual followers of Islam, your observations could be enlightening.
I found Jay Smith's presentation to be informative. I haven't gone to Islamic web sites to confirm the things he said. Of the many research projects I could undertake, I haven't taken that one up at this time.
I did buy a copy of an English translation of the Koran and tried to read it. I read the first three chapters but found it slow sledding. Muslims believe that the Koran is best read in Arabic so there hasn't been many efforts at translation into English. My copy might be a translation that is not so easy to read.
Additionally, of the parts I read, I found the text to be somewhat episodic. Being a Christian, I'm familiar with the Bible and the literary style of the Bible which is mostly narrative (many of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels of the Christian Scriptures) and didactic (the letters of Paul and other letters). These two genres tend to read with an easy flow and the Bible has many English translations of which some tip the balance toward readability over literalism in translation.
George asked about the radical/liberal/nominal categorization. That question came from my blog post where I wrote:
The serious readers of the Koran were considered radical. (ed. note - I think this is unfortunate terminology because I don't think of Christians who are serious readers of the Bible should be considered radical). The nominal Muslims were generally non-readers of the Koran. The liberal Muslims were the one who proclaim that Islam is a "religion of peace."If I had the chance to speak to Jay Smith, I'd ask him what percentage of serious readers of the Koran become radicalized in terms of participation or approval of terrorist activity? Likewise, I'd also ask if any of the Muslims whom he called liberal who say Islam is a "religion of peace" are serious readers of the Koran?
What I wonder is whether the issue is taking the Koran seriously or is it what people claim to do in the name of Islam regardless of their view of the Koran?
Within Christianity, there are definitely "nominals" who might show up at church on Easter or Christmas and have Bibles with pristine pages and dusty covers. Of the Christians who read their Bibles, there are those who hold a "high" view of the Bible in that they regard the Bible as authoritative for morality and theology and those who hold a lesser view of the Bible where they regard it as a book that contains wisdom. Within those who hold a "high" view there are some Christians who take a larger percentage of the Scriptures literally while there are others who are more cautious in interpreting literally. Liberals in the context of Christianity would be those who think of the Bible as containing wisdom but not necessarily authoritative. I suppose those who hold a "high" view and take more things literally will consider as liberal those who hold a "high" view but take less things literally.
In any case, what is troubling for Islam is that there is a significant number who believe terrorism is justified. Within Christianity, there is no analogous group who holds such views. The question from a virtue epistemology perspective would be: is Islamic terrorism something imposed by people upon the Koran, derived from a correct reading of the Koran or derived from a mis-reading of the Koran?
George's final question was in regard to Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is Sunni. From my reading of the news, Islam's two major denominations are Sunni and Shia with the Sunni being the more numerous. The Sunnis are considerably more numerous if this web page is accurate. They report that Shia only account for 7.5 to 11% of the Muslims in the world.
This web page gives a quick explanation of the difference between Sunni and Shia and places the number of Shia at 15%.
I have no idea what UBL and Al-Qaeda's theological views are in reference to typical Sunni beliefs. I think of UBL as a terrorist and Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization and not in theological terms. What I really wonder is whether UBL starts with hostility toward the West and then appropriates Koranic terminology to justify his beliefs. Or did UBL start from reading the Koran and arrived at his views. The end result is the same but clearly if the latter is true then we are truly faced with a clash of civilizations.
I hope UBL and Al-Qaeda is not the future of Islam.
If any Muslim readers happen to stumble on this blog post, I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on these matters.
I freely acknowledge that my perspective is very limited.