There has been a lot of public discussion lately about the Qu’ran. It is deeply unfortunate that it has mostly come in the context of who’s going to try to burn a the sacred text of one of the world’s major religions, and whether they need a permit for the BBQ.
There is an essential difference between burning a book, and banning it. Both are attempting to drive ideas out. But burning the book is an attempt, at least symbolically, to eradicate the ideas entirely. What is contained in these books is so infamous, so contemptable that nothing less than total destruction can keep Us safe.
Burning books is different from banning, however, in that that the book burners can make a claim that what they are doing is free speech, although, I should note, they would deny this claim on the part of people who want to burn other symbols, like, say the American flag. WE are burning evil ideas. THEY are burning the sacred symbol of America.
But, as with the people who would ban books, the people who would burn them seldom know what is actually IN the books. They have heard a particular book encourages unapproved sex, unapproved religioius devotion, or unapproved violence, and they want to call attention to themselves and how deeply the disapprove of these vile ways of having sex, expressing religious devotion or committing violence, and out comes the kerosene. And, of course, there’s always an excuse for why this book is different from all other books. In the case of the Qu’ran, the excuse is that the people who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington D.C. all said they were devout Muslims.
I will also note here there are many truly devout Muslims who would argue that point. These are the people who have actually READ the book, as well as studied it, discussed it, related its contents and teachings to their lives, considered it carefully, finding new meaning as their understanding and inspiration grows. Just like the devout of the other Abrahamic religions have done with their sacred texts.
But people are frightened, and people are angry, and they are looking for someone to blame. Blaming people who look different and who read a book you can’t make a fine target at any time. An entire web of reasons and exucuses can be woven separating the reason that burning this book is a righteous act from it being a simple-minded publicity-seeking act of destruction.
Well, okay. If burning a book is an act of free speech, than the only counter for it is another act of free speech, and here’s mine.
What’s IN this book that needs to be eradicated? What does it actually say? What does it actually teach?
For those of us who do not read or speak Arabic, trying to learn about the Qu’ran, let alone read the book for ourselves can pose some difficulties. The orthodox Muslim view is that as the Qu’ran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabic, is must be learned and studied in Arabic. In addition, the Arabic of the Qu’ran is a dense, poetic classical Arabic that is at least as different from modern Arabic as the language of the King James Bible is from modern English.
It should also be remembered that trying to understand what an individual Muslim believes from reading the Qu’ran is at least as difficult as trying to understand what an individual Christian believes from reading the Bible.
However, there are translations, and discussions readily available. Here are a few:
I particularly like the second one, as it provides a primer to the English speaking non-Muslim who wants to learn about the Qu’ran and its place in Islam.
For an intro to the history of Islam in America, which is longer and deeper than most of us knew, the Wikipedia page is actually pretty decent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_America
In terms of learning about this other American religion, I don’t want to leave out one of the most controversial and most misunderstood aspects of Islam, which is the position of women in Islam. There are good websites for this discussion as well:
Peace be with you.