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As The Ashes Fall

September 11, 2010

The news is changing almost every hour: the Qur’an burning is on. It’s been cancelled. It’s been cancelled in exchange for the not-Ground Zero not-Mosque being relocated. The not-Ground Zero not-Mosque is being relocated to the Statue of Liberty. Terry Jones has finally read a copy of a Qur’an he meant to burn and converted to Islam.

Okay, not really (although there is a precedent: Daniel Streich, the guy who tried to ban minarets in Switzerland is now a Muslim). What confounds me about all the venom against the Qur’an is how difficult it is to find many people who have actually read it, who have some real idea what it is and what Muslims’ belief about it is. I’ve heard people say things like ‘when Muhammad wrote the Koran…’ or ‘which version of the Koran are you reading?’. And of course, Terry Jones has not read it – God forbid that you might know what you were burning. You might as well, I don’t know, enslave someone because they are black.

Oh wait, we did that.

This begins to make sense.

Dear friends, should we not make it our study to understand beliefs other than our own? I know more about other religions (and anti-religions and dragon-lore and the science of the Discworld and the physiology of vampires) than many of my acquaintances, and I’m learning more all the time (not about vampires). Not because I have an interest in – gasp – converting (or becoming a vampire), but because I want to understand the world I live in, and the people I live with (and the books I read).

When we are living as ‘native minorities’ in countries such as the UK or the US, we don’t need to learn about the ‘local culture’ and ‘integrate’ – we live that life every day, whether we go to school, or to work, or we open a book or turn on the TV. We know this world – I know this world. You don’t need to explain it to me. I can explain it to you.

The life we do learn about actively is the other one – the one that is so different, that is lived according to a different law – and that is the one we struggle to live and hold on to, but we believe in unshakeably. And that is the one we want to help you to understand, for your own sake. Not so that we can hold mass-conversions (how do you even do that? Is it like a mass grave?) and have ‘shariah law’, but so that your world and your heart can become a little bigger, and we can all live and let live a little more kindly.

Some time ago, I came across a History Channel documentary about the Qur’an while reading Ange’s Blog, Secrets of the Qur’an. The great disconnect between an authentic Islamic account and a weird orientalised one never fails to disturb me. There are all of these little pieces of history madly out of sync: Makkah was not teeming with Jews and Christians, Muhammad (saas) did not want to kill himself after ‘iqra’ had been revealed (it was after the long gap in revelation after iqra’) – it’s as if it has all been ruthlessly rationalised to make it palatable for a modern age. The orientalist retellings of Islamic traditions are almost grotesque – full of omissions, ignoring the continuity of the message that is so fundamental to Islamic creed, consigning the Qur’an to the same kind of ignominy of authenticity as other texts, when in fact the recording of the Qur’an is easily the most striking instance of literary preservation historically. Seerah, Islamic history, Qur’anic lore – these are the bread and water of a child growing up in a committed Muslim household. What senior academics in Ivy League universities struggle to understand and explain, a child of ten from such a household could put them straight about in as many minutes.

It frustrates me on several levels: it makes it clear that no Muslim’s study – or knowledge – of Islam will ever be considered acceptable by a non-Muslim audience, and this is both a great shame and a great loss. It also runs wildly counter-intuitive – the idea that someone ‘involved’ couldn’t then be ‘impartial’: there’s something wholly wrong with this. It is like saying a physicist’s explanation of quantum mechanics is less valuable because they are a physicist. Stupid, right?

Islam is meant to be understood within its own context, and within the context of belief in Allah. It is the lynchpin of everything. Absenting that element…makes it all hollow. It takes away its meaning. It is like saying a body without its soul is a person. No, it’s not. It’s a corpse. Islam isn’t separable from the belief aspect. Its purpose is not to be studied as a quaint little academic project – this is not the point of the Qur’an. In the end, while there is certainly some kind of value in such documentaries, and it may help to dispel some of the alienness people feel towards it, I wonder if it doesn’t create more confusion than it resolves.

And that’s why you should all go and buy Abu Eesa’s CD (see trailer above), which gives an authentic, clear and nuanced introduction to what the Qur’an is, its history, its significance to Muslims, and its relationship to past scriptures. I was taken by surprise in this presentation by how moving the part about Mary (Maryam), peace be upon her, was – for that alone, I would urge my Christian friends to listen to it, and dare anyone who loves Jesus or Mary to be untouched.  It’s funny, because I’m so familiar with the scene in the film, The Message (one of just two ‘real’ ‘Muslim films’ in the history of Muslim films ever, see clip below), that I can repeat it word for word, but I’ve never felt it – really felt it, prickling all over from goosebumps – the way I did when I heard this.

And that is why, in partnership with Prophetic Guidance, we’ll be giving away a few copies of them for free. If you are not a Muslim – and this includes my fellow writers – and are interested in knowing something about the Qur’an, drop an email either to me or to rockpoolproject (at) gmail (dot) com with your name and postal address, and a copy will be sent to you, wherever you are in the world.

One of the aims of this project, The Rock Pool – which is so much more than ‘just a blog’ – is always to be faithful to the quest to understand, fighting stupidity and prejudice wherever we can, however we can. To that end, this is not a traditional giveaway, but an attempt to erase a few molecules of darkness, ignorance and misinformation. So I will keep this open: for anyone who comes across this post, whenever you come across it, if you feel like you want to know – and you genuinely want to know – I personally will do my best to see that you get a copy, if you promise to do your best to listen and let it be what it is, whether you agree or do not agree.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Allumer permalink
    September 11, 2010 5:05 pm

    “fighting stupidity and prejudice wherever we can, however we can.”

    Girls – I think this calls for capes. Big, swishy capes.

    Love the point you make about how native minorities don’t need instructions on the world they were born into. Damn straight. We know enough already, thanks.

    And lastly, one criticism. I was expecting a lot more rantiness…just kidding!

    • September 11, 2010 5:27 pm

      or MASKS.

      But I like the capes. Capes. Capes are awesome. We can be, like, Captain Planet. And our HQ could be the Technodrome. I can be Krang.

  2. September 12, 2010 2:11 am

    omg i have a post in draft where i link to a captain planet video! can we get that line allumer quoted on our banner? puhlease?

    your post is, as always, brilliant and beautifully put. and funny. and deep. and wise. and… much more.

  3. September 12, 2010 11:10 am

    I’m not sure there’s enough space! I can try, but it might end up looking crowded.

    Since we’re talking about cartoons (what, thisi sn’t about cartoons?), I loved loved loved Peter Pan and the Pirates, and they possibly had the BEST opening theme ever.*

    * Along with Animals of Farthing Wood, Cities of Gold, Prince Valiant, Tintin, and Ghostbusters. And more.

    Oh god, now I am in a cartoon-theme watching spiral. I have to eat something. I hate the internet.

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  1. Idul Fitri adalah tanggal yang mana tahun ini di Indonesia?

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