(The national flag of Mali)
‘Follow not that of which you have not knowledge of’ – The Koran (17:36)
‘Bring your truth (evidence); if you be truthful’ – The Koran (2:111)
‘We must love one another or die’ – W. H. Auden (‘September 1, 1939’)
I have been reflecting on the recent atrocity in Mali, as well as Paris and Beruit, and in remembrance of those who recently lost their lives due the recent disgraceful, barbaric and inhumane act of terrorism I have written the following. It has also been inspired by re-reading W. H. Auden’s poem ‘September 1, 1939’, which he wrote on the eve at the beginning of World War II. With France and Russia, and other ‘Western’ nations now retaliating for what recently occurred in Paris, like a ‘blitzkrieg’ similar to that seen in WWII (as well as Vietnam, et al), Auden’s poem is rather prophetic. Furthermore, during the recent terrorist attack in a hotel in Mali hostages were selected to be freed or shot if they respectively could or could not recite verses from the Koran. The following is a meagre attempt to provide some information about the Koran. I am no expert, but have attempted to read The Koran (in English). You never know – something in what follows may actually save a life. I actually don’t think it terrible for us ‘Westerners’ to learn more about the Koran, and be able to quote it – it could save your life – and it may help in bridging a gap of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Try it – it wont do you any harm to try.
The Koran (or Quran) is the most important and influential piece of Arabic literature. The title, ‘Quran’ or ‘Koran’, means ‘The Recitation’. According to Muslim faith, the ‘Koran’ was recited to Muhammad by God through the archangel Gabriel over a period of about 23 years, between 609-632 AD. Muhammad died in 632 AD. Whilst it is not a very easy thing to read due to its relatively loose structure and narrative style. The Koran is a book a guidance, and as such it assumes that the reader or listener has prior knowledge of other religious narratives, such as the Bible. For example, 3.3 inThe Koran states (the words in brackets are mine): ‘It is He (God) who sent down to thee in truth The Book (The Koran), confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus Christ) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criteria of what is right and wrong’. Now – reciting this may not save you and I am no expert re Islam and The Koran, but just as I don’t know many people who have actually read The Koran, I wonder how many ‘Muslims’ have read The Bible? In fact, I don’t know many who have ready either, or any major religious texts. They may have been subject to interpretation either through evangelical preaching, church and mosque sermons, literature and other means of communicating human interpretations of the so-call ‘word of God’. Just as with the Bible, there is considerable debate about the Koran and its interpretation, as evident in the use and practice of sharia law. One reason for this is because when God began his recitation to Muhammad it was actually written down by a number of scribes, and the whole compilation of the respective ‘revelations’ is also fragmatic and only really came together after Muhammad’s death; this also may account for the meandering style of the Koran. There is also the difference within the text of what ‘revelations’ are from when Muhammad was in Mecca and when he was in Medina. The Koran did not exist in book form at the time of Muhammad’s death in 632 AD. It was put together together later, and modern scholarship asserts that illiterate Muhammad did not write down the ‘revelations’; they were recorded by others. And so – it starts to get more complicated.
The text of the Koran has 114 chapters, each chapter is called a ‘sura’ and is either derived from Medina or Mecca, although there are some suras that contain both. Virtually all suras begin with the words (in Arabic) ‘In the name of God’. The first sura, consisting of seven verses, is the one that is most recited:
‘Praise be God, Lord of the Universe, the Beneficent, the Merciful and the Master of the Day of Judgement. You alone We do worship and from You alone do we seek assistance, guide us to the right path, the path of those whom You have granted blessings, those who are neither subject to Your anger or have gone astray’.
This one of the most important quotations from the Koran, but it is subject to interpretation – what is the right path? How can one tell? Who are those that have been granted God’s blessing? How does one know that God is angry with some and not others? Who decides these matters – God or Man?
There have over the centuries been numerous editions that have attempted to address this and make the text more united in style – just like history and evolution of The Bible. Also, over the centuries, and including recently, old manuscripts of the Koran, and/or fragments have been discovered that subsequently have to influence of changing the established text. Furthermore, we ‘Westerners’ are additionally at a disadvantage as the Koran is only recited in Arabic. There is also the issue of ‘inimitability’, meaning the belief that no human voice can fully do justice to this text, which is the voice of God. ‘With the truth we (God) have sent it down and with the truth it has come down’. Despite debate about the actual written text of the Koran, its date of composition, and the fact that new pieces are still be discovered, the accepted text is generally that was put together 20 years after Muhammad’s death under the Caliph Abu Bakr, primarily by the scribe Zayd jbn Thabit. The written text is highly respected and must not be touched without a proper cleansing ritual ‘none shall touch thee but those who are clean’ 56:79). I remember when I was in Istanbul and visiting the respective famous mosques I was amazed and applauded the water cleansing rituals; something that I have seen elsewhere. I have only ever been refused entry to one mosque and that was in Thailand, on Koh Samui – I am not sure why – but we were ordered to leave as we were not Muslim – and we did (sorry -small digression).
Here are some more quotes:
‘It is He who has created the Seven Heavens in harmony. You cannot see any fault in God’s creation; then look again; can you see any flaw’ (67:3)
”Believe in God and the last day (of judgement)’
‘O people! Be respectful of your Lord. The earthquake of the Hour is a mighty things’
A lot of the Koran is focused on the Day of Judgement; the revelations are guides for this final day of mankind. To me this is one of the essential differences between Christianity, Judasim and Islam. Whilst the issue of the Day of Judgement is a major factor in all these religions, nonetheless, there are differences in how this is handled. In Christianity there is the essential philosophy of Jesus Christ which is based on compassion and the forgiveness of sins. From my brief and absolutely novice reading of The Koran there is more Thou Shalt not do this and Thou shalt do that etc. This sort of thing is also in the Bible, of course, but there is a subtle difference. Is it here in this difference that we ‘Westerners’ seem so shocked by the atrocities of those who claim they are representative of Islamic faith. They are, of course, not representative of all Muslims – they are representatives of fanaticism and fanatics – and they are world wide – Christian, Muslim, Jews, Buddhists, White, Black, Yellow, Red, etc etc etc.
In conclusion, here are two more quotes from The Koran that I think we all can be reminded of as they reflect the need and desire for a life dedicated to issues of truth and justice.
‘Follow not that of which you have not knowledge of’ (17:36)
‘Bring your truth (evidence); if you be truthful’ (2:111)
In other words, this is very similar to ‘Thou Shalt Not Bare False Witness Against Thy Neighbour’, one of the central tenents of the Christian and Jewish faiths. These quotes also remind us that ‘Ignorance’ is NOT ‘bliss’, that it can be very destructive. Extremists and fanatics are driven by ignorance and fear – the follow a path and seemingly make judgements about things (us ‘Westerners’) about which they may not have full knowledge of. They are driven by other ignorant fanatics who have an opinion that is a perspective, not necessarily a fact (thanks Marcus Aurelius). They need to bring their evidence against the ‘West’ – that justifies the murder of innocent people. They need to bring the evidence of the guilt of each individual they kill – as I interpret the lessons of the Koran. I’m not taking a self-righteous ‘Western’ attitude, as I think equally that the powers that be in the ‘West’, as well as individuals, can be equally self-righteous and fanatical and destructive of innocent lives.
In reflecting on recent current events, Beirut, Paris, Mali, and now what is basically the ultimate annihilation of the country once known as Syria, I am reminded of some other ancient texts that pre-date The Koran and The Gospels – such as ‘The Epic of Giglamesch’ and a number of the ancient classical Greek plays, such as Euripides’ ‘Trojan Women’ and ‘The Bacchae’ (5th Century BC). These texts carry warnings about the approaching Armegedon, which incidentally is man’s invention. They deal with the ‘blood-lust’, a rather uncomfortable aspect of the human condition, and that blood will have blood, an eye-for-an-eye etc, until there is no more life – nothing – the end. This doom can only be stopped by the conscious decision of all parties, to stop allowing bestial animalisitc instincts to lead and be more human and humane. After over 2000 years you would have thought mankind would have learnt by now – but it hasn’t. I am only one small voice, one who prefers to quote and old English homosexual poet, W. H. Auden, who wrote in his poem ‘September 1, 1939’ – ‘WE MUST LOVE ONE ANOTHER OR DIE’.