The Two Faces of Islam

In the article “Islam and its Interpretations”, the author Hasan Suroor discusses how a religion that preaches tolerance, peace and coexistence has recently become almost synonymous with hate and intolerance. How can this be possible? How can a religion be used to spread messages of peace, respect and equality while simultaneously spreading messages of violence and revenge? The author argues that it is not necessarily the religion that spreads these messages, instead it is people who willfully choose to interpret the religion in a way that suits their own goals and agenda. However he also admits that the blame is not to fall completely on the interpreter but some should fall on the religious writings themselves, the Koran along with other documents known as Hadith. He claims these texts are “a minefield of ambiguity” due to the fact that they are “too numerous, were pronounced in vastly different situations, and compiled many years after (the Prophet Muhammad’s) death with the result that their precise meaning was frequently lost in translation” and often taken out of context. The context in which a situation takes place is something that absolutely must be taken into consideration because as something may serve you well in one situation, it might not in another. It’s like the old saying “use the right tool for the right job”. However unlike that saying, many self-proclaimed Muslims take writings and teachings out of context and present them into a situation in which they were never meant to be presented. A common area where we see such misinterpretations is with the term ‘jihad’. Many Muslims insist that the ‘real’ concept of jihad does not involve violence, instead “the ‘real’ or ‘greater’ jihad, they say, means a peaceful inner spiritual struggle. An armed struggle against an external enemy is regarded as ‘lesser’ jihad and permitted only in specific circumstances”. Mr. Suroor takes another shot at Islamic texts by stating that although “extremists can be accused of inventing circumstances that, in their opinion, would justify violent jihad… they cannot be accused of inventing the notion of violent jihad itself”.

The Author also touches on the subject that Islam, to a large extent, is “portrayed as being somehow unique in having a violent history”. However almost all religions, when inspected thoroughly, have had violent stretches in their pasts. Judaism isn’t as innocent in this as it has splashes of violence in its history too, even some denominations of Buddhism have been seen to take violent paths and let’s not forget the bloody history of Inquisition and the Crusades. The only thing the author claims to be “unique about Islam is that while other religious movements, particularly Christianity, got over their early violent origins, it failed to move on and update its theological precepts”. The Western world experienced the Enlightenment and Renaissance eras which completely changed the way Christianity would function, however Islam never experienced any sort of equivalents to these eras.

Hasan Suroor finishes by stating that all Muslims must accept the fact that any interpretation of Islam, peaceful or violent, is backed by Koranic verses and Hadith. Although some of these interpretations may be extreme, they derive legitimately from the same Islamic theology that more moderate interpretations of Islam do. Therefore the only way to overcome this problem is by creating “an Islamic equivalent of the New Testament”. All the scriptures must be re-designed and presented in a manner that leaves no room for misinterpretation or misrepresentation.



One thought on “The Two Faces of Islam

  1. Solid summary of the article as it was written.

    As the author alludes to being Muslim himself, I find his interpretation of the Koranic texts to be accurate and informative. With much of the media vilifying the entirety of Islam, individuals can sometimes forget the importance of interpretation with the ancient texts. I do however take issue with how the author tries to present Islam as being unique for its “minefield of ambiguity” in the Koran. As someone who is familiar with the Old Testament, I would argue that both texts have equal potential for ambiguity.

    As with the Koran and Hadith, the Old Testament and Talmud were not written by a single author at the same time. This would technically leave both religious texts vulnerable to misinterpretation according to the original author’s understanding. Although the Old Testament and Talmud have not been wilfully misrepresented to support violence, my point is that both sets of texts have similar vague inceptions. It is not fair to hold the Koran to a higher standard than we hold all other religious texts with respects to their historical production. At present, Scientology (if it counts) is the only religion with first generation proponents who can identify a single author for their religious texts. For fear of offending anyone and losing site of my purpose in commenting, I won’t get into the irony that Scientology is the only “religion” with this desirable state of having a single author produce all the texts in an identifiable time period.

    A book by A.J. Jacobs, entitled The Year of Living Biblically, documents the author’s experience living as closely as possible to the scripture of the Old Testament for a year. With rules preventing a man from laying in a bed where a menstruating woman has lain, or sitting on a chair that she has sat upon while menstruating (Leviticus 15:20), one starts to question if Islam is truly unique for the ambiguity of its scripture. Another prime example of ambiguity in practice would be the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. While they may claim to be proponents of true Christian morality, almost every denomination of Christianity has officially denounced their activities.

    My point in emphasizing the examples above is to demonstrate that there is room for interpretation with other religious texts as there is with the Koran. By identifying the Koran as being more ambiguous, I think the original author has missed the opportunity to reduce the vilification of Islam as a whole. Perhaps we should start to ask why a religious text gets used to promote violence, as opposed to trying to prove an inherent violent nature of the text itself. Given the level of political interference experienced in the Muslim world as the hands of the West, are we really that surprised to find misinterpretations in support of violent resistance?

    #349 #J.A.

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