Saturday, December 11, 2010

Breaking news: The Quran is not as evil as you think.

"I think I’m saying some important things here that need to be much more widely known, especially at this point in time."  This is what Lesley Hazleton said about her 9 minute video on Accidental Theologist web site that she contributes to.

For those who read the Quran in Arabic, the video's message comes as no surprise, but the beauty and eloquence in it make it a must watch even if you already know every word in the Quran.  It is a great resource to share with friends and family, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Lesley Hazleton is an American British writer, psychologist and reporter with a 13 year experience in Jerusalem (from 1966 to 1979).  She is admittedly an agnostic Jew with affinity to learn about religion, and dislike of organized religion.  She is currently working on a biography of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.  I will forward to reading than in 2012 when it is scheduled for release.

The video is not just extremely informative, but is very witty and humorous.  It is a packed and very enjoyable 9-minute experience.

I hope you enjoyed the video, and please share it widely.  It says "... that need to be much more widely known, especially at this point in time." as the speaker has said.



I first found about the video on Juan Cole's Informed Comment great website.  Juan Cole is a Political Science professor in the University of Michigan who is an expert on the Middle East and Iran.  His website is a great source of information and analysis of what is going on in the Middle East, and the US foreign policy there.


  1. A lot of reactionary commentators have sprung up since 9/11. I'm sure most of them have never read a word from the Quran before 9/11.

    But I think many other people are disconcerted with Islam because of the appearance that there isn't enough debate on policy and society among the Muslim communities in the Middle East. The basic culture of how things are run, the Arab autocrats, prevents alternatives to fundamentalist interpretations from joining the market place of ideas.

    In Israel, when rabbis say racist things, the Israeli media goes full throttle, and the PM and President denounce the rabbis. But even this raises the concern of many (in Israel and abroad, especially among Jews) about the state of Israeli society.

    One sign of hope for the fight against fundamentalist interpretations, is that the internet has allowed many to participate in the market place of ideas.

  2. Your description on the study of Islam reminds me a lot of my (limited) experience in studying Tanakh and Talmud. I don't know if you've had formal study on the Quran (and the Sunna perhaps), but perhaps can you explain to me how you study it?

    What I like about the way we studied Tanakh and Talmud in school, was that the basic act of translating a word led to the gaining of new insight. Why was this word use here, but a different word was used elsewhere? There were so many nuances that would take a lifetime to study.

    When we would get really deep into a text and ask the teacher questions, sometimes the teacher would tell us that we could take a month studying this one paragraph, but we only have a week to study the entire chapter.

    I think another important aspect to studying ancient texts, especially those sacred to your religion, is that no matter how awful something sounds today (such as something immoral done by today's standards), you must remember that you have the freedom to interpret it to your understanding and even disagree with it. Sometimes you have to read the text head on, and other times you have to step back and think of it in the historical context.

    For example, I interpret the episode of the (Near) Sacrifice of Isaac, as the first time God abolished human sacrifice. We know ancient people did human sacrifices, and Torah was progressive at the time to replace it with animal sacrifices. Of course, we don't know do animal sacrifices anymore (with a few exceptions), but that doesn't mean the ancient texts lose their value.

    When I was little, I thought of King David as a great leader. But after I actually read the texts about him and the other kings, I know that he was very immoral. Even God did not like the idea of an Israelite king.

    One of the things I like about the patriarchs is that even they argue with God. There is one story in Talmud that I found particularly interesting. The story is about a debate about oven regulations (I think) and the majority of the sages agree with one position, but another sage advocated another position and even has the help of God to plead his case by using miracles. But the story teaches that God put the Torah in our hands, meaning that the laws are to be determined by us, and not by some "Heavenly Voice". This story might upset some people, especially in other religions, the idea that we can outvote God, but I think is a must to fight fundamentalist interpretations.

    In conclusion, from your studies of Islamic texts, what stories and methods of study highlight your values, what you like about the Quran, and how it speaks to the modern world? Also, are there any famous Islamic sages like Hillel and Rambam that teach you a lot?

  3. In response to the first comment, my response was getting long, so I am posting it as a blog post soon. khaled

  4. As for the second comment
    Thanks Michael for sharing you experience with the study of the Tanakh. Unfortunately, not many Muslims study the Quran the way it is supposed to be studies: paying attention to meaning rather than sounds.

    I believe that the Quran is meant not for scholars and theologians, but for people who can read and think. It is a shame that many Muslims do not trust themselves studying the Quran and only prefer to 'recite it' in Arabic, a language most Muslims do not even understand. Reading the Quran becomes a ritual rather an interactive activity with God.

    There is something that happens when one reads their wholly book as if it is a conversation with God, listening to every question and argument that God poses, and contemplating the meaning of every sentence and every word. A good dictionary would help, but a theology book, or an 'official' interpretation IS AN OBSTACLE. It simply puts someone else between you and God, and the Holy book was not meant for that in Islam (nor in other religions in my opinion).

    The Quran also needs to be read from beginning to end several times, and then, you start getting it. Broad view at the beginning makes it easier to gage the bounds of the thought process and the recurring themes, which makes it a lot easier not to get hung in minutia or get extreme interpretations of a 5 or 6 word construct.

    That has been my experience, and it seems to be the experience of many non-Muslims that read the Quran (using several versions of the interpretation in English for example as the speaker said in the video), without all the baggage that one gets growing in a Muslim society; that part of the culture that does not reflect the faith but gets in the way when you want ot know the faith from the original sources.

    I know that long comment did not answer all the points you raises, but may be we can keep the discussion going.

  5. Another part of Micheal's comment I would like to elaborate on is the question about what I like about the Quran.

    I like above all the way God make His arguments to Mankind, believers and non-believers. The Quran is full of rational dialectical arguments especially with the non-believers. And even thought there section that talk about the punishment in the after life, there is more arguments that try to challenge the disbelievers to think, and actually many arguments challenging the believers as well to think for themselves and formulate their own thought about why they believe.

    The discussion sometimes feels like an academic one when many of the issues God raises with Mankind end in a question or an open ended statement that one would have to THINK about to try to find what God meant.

    Reading the Quran instills a spirit of inclusiveness, tolerance, freedom, thoughtfulness. Its spirit is VERY different from what one gets when they read a 'pre-digested' essay and lists of rules and regulations telling them in a nutshell what God wants, so they do not have to think or spend some effort finding out from God's own words.

    Faith is a personal experience and journey that we have to travel ourselves assuming we have the mind and education of an average person or above, good intentions and some perseverance. And if we make mistakes in good intention, God promises us in the Holy Book that He is most forgiving.

    Why more Muslims do not take the chance to find for themselves what God wants from them still boggles my mind. But there is something tempting in getting a 'recipe for success' from a self-proclaimed scholar rather than find for your self how to succeed.

    I like to find for myself, and I think God wants me to.

  6. During my studies of Tanakh, we never read the thing from start to finish. We might read a few chapters in a row, but we moved around a lot. Well, this was part of a school curriculum so we didn't have time to.

    You description of studying the Quran is a lot different than what I've ever felt reading the Torah. For you, it is like communicating with God. For me, God is more like a character that serves as a function, which isn't "Jewish", but how I just feel.

    Your description of Quran is a lot like the Gospels, both being the holy texts of universalistic religions. For me, universalistic religions imply that one must be a member of that faith to be righteous. It makes me uneasy.

  7. The Quran flow is very different from the old and new testaments. It is not arranged chronologically and does not focus on finishing 'a story' from beginning to end. It intersperses parts of a story with the lessons to be understood from it together with some explicit commandments from God in a way that may confuse new readers of the

    But once you adapt to that, it makes reading even one page or less feel like an intact whole experience. So it does not NEED to be read from beginning to end, but to get the overall spirit of a religion it is important to have some global overview before focusing on (and sometimes drowning in and getting bogged down with) details.
    Of course, it reading is meant to be part of schoolwork, it is a different story.

    The Quran, for the most part, is explicitly God talking to the reader. There are section when God is part of the story (i.e., a character as per your description), but that is just from the linguistic and artistic point of view. It still feels that God is talking to you there, just using a different narration style.

    You last paragraph about universalist religion is confusing to me. You seem to use the universalistic in a Christian 'doctrinal' sense, and that is your choice.

    'Universal' to me means aimed as anyone who cares to explore it, and belief in it if they wish. It is not directed to any one group of geographic or ethnic nature. Still I am not sure where the unease comes from it is just mean open to all!.

    I think of the Quran as a book whose audience could be anybody who cares to explore it. What they take from it, would reflect their own personal and intellectual capabilities. And if they are true to themselves - and only THEY, and God, can know that, then they have done their job. How they are judged is God's job, not ours – at least according to numerous explicit statements of the Quran.