Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Quran Project - Conclusion

This post brings an end to my overview of Fazlur Rahman’s book, Major Themes of the Quran. After going through all eight chapters of the book, I feel that I’ve learned a lot. I hope you did too. There are many things he says that I agree with, and others that I don’t. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on how you guys have felt about Rahman’s opinions, and that feedback ranges too.

I’m glad. Sharing Rahman’s work with you has started off lots of different discussions, all of which are important regardless of our religions or backgrounds. The Quran constantly tells us that it is a message to those who think, question and ponder. Let’s continue doing these things in order to better understand our lives and our selves.

Thanks for taking this small journey with me through Rahman’s Major Themes of the Quran. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Appendix sections I didn’t summarize, please get your hands on a copy of his book. It’s definitely worth reading.

Looking forward to sharing more with you in the future!

The Quran Project - The Emergence of the Muslim Community

With the call to Islam, or “submission to God,” the Muslim (“submitting”) community began to form. Before this community could form, however, there needed to be a desire for this community from the people. The prerequisites for this community to form and the foundation that it was formed on are what Fazlur Rahman discusses in this chapter. He focuses particularly on: the Arab search for God, the concept of One Community, and the emphasis on “true” monotheism.

The Arab Search

“And they swore with all their strength that if a warner should come to them, they would be better guided than any other community.” (35:42)

Long before Muhammad began experiencing the revelations of the Quran, the Arabs were longing for God to speak to them. They were already feeling that their polytheistic faith was empty. A few looked towards Judaism and Christianity, but the majority did not find what they needed in those religions. They continued their search. This was a time of struggle for the Arab people, but it was necessary. Only by wholeheartedly searching for God will anyone eventually be able to find Him.

One Community

“Say: I believe in any and every Book that God has revealed.” (42:15)

When Muhammad began receiving revelation, he realized that he was in contact with the same Force that inspired Judaism, Christianity, and the earlier religions. Because of this, one of the Quran’s greatest calls was for the creation of one community. If God is one, and the message He sent to all His prophets is one, then all of humanity should be one.

This new One Community would include everyone that believed in God – regardless of gender, ethnicity and religion. Religion was something the Quran was particularly progressive about. Politics aside, all faiths are in the end islam, merely the Arabic word for submission to God. Once people realize that, they can begin to create the One Submitting (Muslim) Community. That is the Quranic ideal that Muslims, along with people of other faiths, struggle with until today.

The Straight Religion

“So set your face to the religion as a true monotheist; this is the primordial religion on which God has originated mankind … This is the straight religion.” (30:30-31)

The One Community that Muhammad worked to establish was based on what the Quran calls “the straight religion.” What that describes is the “true monotheism” of Abraham, who worshipped only God and nothing else. This is the original faith that all religions are based on, but the Quran’s claim is that other faiths deviated from this original call. What the One Community would try to do is go back to this original, primordial faith. By submitting ourselves to God and no one or nothing else, we become liberated from the problems and politics of this world, and are able to walk a path that leads us to our utmost potential.

The Quran Project - Satan and Evil

What is Evil, according to Islam? Where did all forms of evil come from, and what role does it play in the life of humankind? Fazlur Rahman answers these questions in this chapter of his book, Major Themes of the Quran, by dealing with the following topics: the creation of Satan and Adam at the same time, Evil’s master strategy in this world, and the concepts of self-destruction and choice.

Created with Adam

"When We told the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam,’ they all bowed. But not Iblis, who refused and was arrogant: he was one of the disobedient." (2:34)

It is interesting to note that in the Quran, Evil (personified as “Satan”) doesn’t come into existence until Adam comes to existence. Before Adam’s creation, there was simply a spirit (jinn) named Iblees. Once God created Adam, He asked all of the beings in heaven to bow down to this new creature made from dust. Only Iblees refused to do so, and by disobeying God’s orders he became Satan. It was at that moment that Evil was created.

So the story of Evil began with the story of humans. Evil will live along with humans, since Satan promised to try to make humans stray from God until the Day we all come back to Him. Only with the end of the human story will Evil too come to an end.

Evil’s Master Strategy

"Satan has caused to look attractive to them the [evil] deeds they had been perpetrating." (6:43)

So if Evil will always exist as long as humans exist, we need to understand how it works to protect ourselves from it. Satan, the being that represents Evil, has a very simple “master strategy.” This strategy is to make the passing, temporary things in this world look much more attractive and important than they are, and to make the truly central and productive things in our lives look less attractive, less important and feel more of a burden. If we are able to recognize that, we can overcome the evil in ourselves and in our lives.

Self-Destruction and Choice

"Eat of that which God has given you as [good] food, but do not follow the footsteps of Satan for he is clearly your enemy." (6:141)

But what’s the problem with Evil? Why do we make such a big deal about it? An act is not evil because God just decided to call it evil for fun. An act is evil because God knows that this act eventually leads to our own destruction. If we are all allowed to steal or kill, we will lead to both the destruction of our moral selves and the destruction of our civilization. There will be no way for life to go on smoothly without such acts being denounced as Evil.

If evil leads to self-destruction, though, how can Satan be free to roam around and make us do his Evil? Well, he can’t. All he can do is tempt us towards evil by using his “master strategy” – making the good look bad and bad look good. We ourselves chose whether or not to “follow in his footsteps.” That is the test we face in this lifetime: whether we will fall for Evil’s passing tricks or chose what is lasting, which eventually leads us to success and to God.