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Thinking for Yourself

I have a friend, a young teacher, who finds it essential to refer back to the Qur’an and Sunna for guidance, whether it is a question of teaching classical Arabic in schools, or regulating the use of alcohol (is it possible to drink responsibly?), or even in questions of everyday behavior such as how to greet others or how to share a meal. All the arguments he makes can be made without referring to the Qur’an at all, but since he does bring the Qur’an into it, it becomes a religious matter; and anything that implies that the Qur’an could be wrong on the facts (such as the idea that the vast majority do use alcohol responsibly) must be denied, even if there is clear evidence to contradict his point of view. On a question like Darwin’s theory of human descent, he doesn’t even want to know the evidence because it would force him to question his preconceived idea. The problem becomes even more acute when we take into account the notion, often expressed among Muslims, that Islam is a complete system governing life on the political, social and economic levels as well as on the religious level; so to question the validity of a single idea in the Qur’an or Sunna is like pulling on a thread that could unravel the whole social garment. As a result, while Islam is indeed a vast and rich system allowing for great diversity of expression, the risk of stepping outside it and finding oneself in revolt against all of society is very high. It should come as no surprise that many otherwise intelligent, curious and open-minded young people are extremely reluctant to take that risk.


Comment from Liosliath
Time: July 18, 2009, 01:42

I’m curious – what’s your friend’s argument (either for or against!) teaching Classical Arabic in schools?

Comment from eatbees
Time: July 20, 2009, 12:29

Liosliath, this particular friend favors teaching Arabic on the grounds that it’s the sacred language of the Qur’an, so those who speak it have a particular advantage as Muslims in understanding the Qur’an; also since God promised that the Qur’an will be protected for all eternity, and since the Qur’an is in Arabic, God has given his guarantee that Arabic will be preserved until the end of time.

I replied that it’s possible to make entirely practical arguments for teaching Arabic in schools, such as the hundreds of millions of people who speak and write it today; and the many works of philosophy, poetry and science which have been written in Arabic over the centuries and deserve to be understood. There is a whole cultural sphere available in Arabic, and to me it feels like a disservice to reduce all this to the Qur’an, and God’s promise.

Comment from Liosliath
Time: August 4, 2009, 01:36

Yes, I’d have to agree with you – it’s extremely limiting to reduce the possible benefits to solely reading the Qur’an – though that in itself, of course, would be wonderful.

Comment from Maysaloon
Time: August 13, 2009, 09:36

Whilst I can sympathise with the piety of your friend, I cannot agree with him. I meet many people like him and it is difficult and frustrating to have a conversation outside of this area, but I have worked out a method, which is to understand the Qur’an as well if not better than the person I am speaking with. We both have a frame of reference and this way I don’t risk being muscled in with one interpretation (her own) of the Qur’anic passage. Of course I get the added fulfillment of knowing my faith better through this book.

Comment from yahia
Time: August 28, 2009, 00:16

Let’s say he makes a point taking into account the fact that the quran is among the best selling books in the world since its first edition.

Another thing, if the quran is universal and destined to all mankind, then why wasn’t it first published into multiple languages? I thought the quran wasn’t about which language it is used to be conveyed. At which point your friend doesn’t make a point anymore.

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