Strangely Familiar

22249363465_1b3eec5fee_o‘God in the Qur’an’

In his 1966 book The Gates of the Forest, Elie Wiesel relates the Hasidic tale of the long line of rabbis who performed a miraculous ritual, averting catastrophe for their communities in times of crisis. They would go into the forest to meditate, light a fire, and recite a special prayer. They did so in imitation of the eighteenth-century master of all Hasidim, Israel ben Eliezer, usually known by the honorific title “the Baal Shem Tov,” the master of the Holy Name. The generations of rabbis who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov, Wiesel recounts, gradually forgot parts of the ritual. The fourth in that forgetful lineage, Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, spoke plaintively to God of his predicament: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And indeed, telling the story was sufficient to avert the catastrophe. Why? The Hasidic tale ends with a great tribute both to God and to humankind: “God made man because he loves stories.”

God made Jack Miles because God also loves someone who loves stories. In his 1996 Pulitzer-prizewinning God: A Biography, Miles approached the Hebrew Bible as one might approach a body of literary work produced by Yahweh-Elohim, the Lord God; in a follow-up 2001 book, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, he undertook the same task with the New Testament, focusing in particular on the four Gospels. Holder of a Harvard doctorate in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Miles left the Society of Jesus before undertaking formal theological studies; yet his Jesuit education, tracing back to his days in a Jesuit high school in Chicago, equipped him to  comprehend multiple languages and their literatures: English, Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, and Spanish; but also Hebrew, Aramaic and, last but not least, Ethiopic (Ge’ez), the ancient Semitic language of the Horn of Africa. He has enjoyed a long career as a Distinguished Professor of both English and Religious Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Miles admits that he does not know Arabic very well, but his background in other Semitic languages and his careful comparative study of various English and other renderings of the Qur’an allows him to read it with notable sensitivity. Most of the stories told at some length in the Qur’an that have biblical resonances find their parallels in the Torah, especially Genesis and Exodus. Thus do Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, the family of Abraham, the patriarch Joseph, and Moses appear on stage again to play their parts in the Qur’an.

FULL ARTICLE FROM COMMONWEAL MAGAZINE 

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Why the Quran Was a Bestseller Among Christians in 18th Century America

gettyimages-72924853Islam has existed in North America for hundreds of years, ever since enslaved people captured in Africa brought their religion over. In the 1700s, an English translation of the Quran (or Koran) actually became a bestseller among Protestants in England and its American colonies. One of its readers was Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson’s personal copy of the Quran drew attention in early 2019 when Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, announced she’d use it during her swearing-in ceremony (she later decided to use her own). It’s not the first time a member of Congress has been sworn in with the centuries-old Quran—Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman, did so in 2007—yet its use highlights the long and complicated history of Islam in the U.S.

“The Quran gained a popular readership among Protestants both in England and in North America largely out of curiosity,” says Denise A. Spellberg, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Thomas Jefferson’s Qu’ran: Islam and the Founders“But also because people thought of the book as a book of law and a way to understand Muslims with whom they were interacting already pretty consistently, in the Ottoman Empire and in North Africa.”

When Jefferson bought his Quran as a law student in 1765, it was probably because of his interest in understanding Ottoman law. It may have also influenced his original intention for the the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom to protect the right to worship for “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination,” as he wrote in his autobiography.

FULL ARTICLE FROM HISTORY.COM

Christmas and The Quran

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Christmas has been described as the greatest story ever told. A child born in a stable following a miraculous conception, who is visited by kings and shepherds, while being hunted down by a cruel king, it is a tale that has inspired film-makers, artists and poets.

Yet many elements of the story have been open to debate with even the Christian gospels giving contrasting accounts of the birth.

Karl-Josel Kuschel’s book, Christmas and the Quran, is a passionate endeavour to understand the different narratives given around the Christmas story (or stories) and put these in context. Kushcel, a Professor Emeritus of Catholic Theology at the University of Tubingen, puts forward an ecumenical message to help bridge differences between Christians and Muslims, both whom revere Jesus, or Issa in Arabic.

Kuschel’s book is divided into six sections, to explore the narratives of Jesus’ birth. The chapters are divided into the “Birth of Jesus in The New Testament”, “The Birth of Muhammad”, “The Birth of John the Baptist in the Quran”, “Mary – God’s Chosen One”, “The Birth of Jesus in the Quran”, and ends with “A Call for Dialogue”.

Kuschel uses the gospels of Mathew and Luke and Surahs 3 and 19 in the Quran as a framework to show the Muslim and Christian understandings of Jesus’ birth. Rather than highlight contradictions, Kuschel says that the stories illustrate the shared fundamental message in Islam and Christianity of God’s power and mercy.

He begins by acknowledging that the nativity has echoes of other creation stories in history, but the humble beginnings of Jesus – among other elements – make the Christmas narrative unique. It is preceded by the birth of John the Baptist, who will play a role later in both the Bible and Quran.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL ARABY 

Retired soldier educating South about Islam

1FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — When Jason Criss Howk’s Army career came to an end in 2015, he thought he’d spend his days teaching and fishing.

But a wake-up call at a Pinehurst library changed those plans. And while Howk does teach, he’s found a new mission, too: Explaining the Middle East, Islam and Muslim culture to a population that has little experience, but strong opinions on those topics.

At times, it has been a combative undertaking.

Howk has spoken at small rural churches across the Southeast and has, on occasion, had to be escorted to his car by church leaders at the end of the night.

But that hasn’t stopped his one-man mission to better educate America and, in the process, help promote tolerance.

His efforts have expanded since he retired. In 2017, he published “The Quran: A Chronological Modern English Interpretation” through Old Stone Press. The book is intended for audiences that have little familiarity with Islam, the Quran or Muslim culture.

And earlier this year, he launched a podcast called “We’re Just Talking About It.”

Howk’s interest in Islam is tied to his experiences as a soldier.

He served as an enlisted paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1990s and returned as an officer a decade later.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARMY TIMES 

PATEL: Don’t use Islam as excuse to carry out horrors of female genital mutilation

fgm-e1543089779659Earlier this week, a federal judge in the United States dismissed charges against two doctors and six others involved in the genital mutilation of nine girls at a suburban Detroit clinic.

While many are disappointed the case had to be dropped because of state-federal complications, what outraged me the most was that the accused in this case claimed female genital mutilation (FGM) was a ‘religious’ act and that it should, therefore, be above the law.

As a young Muslim woman, I am tired of hearing about medieval and regressive social behaviour that supposedly has some kind of religious justification; especially when it concerns my faith of Islam.

Muslim women like me are caught between Islamophobes who condemn Islam and every Muslim for anything that moves – and our own medieval zealots who use Islam to justify practices like FGM, forced marriages and domestic violence.

It should be clear to all that FGM has absolutely no basis in any of the Abrahamic religions – and there is no mention of it in the Quran. In fact, we find quite the opposite: That the Quran strongly condemns ‘mutilating the fair creation of God’ as being something inspired by the Devil himself.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE TORONTO SUN 

Modesty in Islam

muslim man and womanIn Islam, men and women share responsibility in upholding modesty and controlling their desires in society. Whether someone dresses or behaves modestly or not, the obligation to guard one’s own chastity rests with each gender. While many people think that there is excessive emphasis on modesty for women, God’s command for men to maintain modesty precedes the one for women in the Quran: “Tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts: that is purer for them. God is well aware of everything they do” (24:30).

READ: Linden teacher fasting for Ramadan in support of Muslim fourth-grader 

While many people think that Muslim women are enjoined to wear the hijab primarily to restrain men’s illicit desires, this is not true. Indeed, it is not women’s duty to regulate the behavior of men. Men are accountable for their own conduct; they are equally required to be modest and to handle themselves responsibly in every sphere of their lives. Further, Islam’s code of modesty extends to all aspects of one’s life, including attire. Hijab, the head-covering worn by Muslim women, is an outer manifestation of an inner commitment to worship God.

FULL ARTICLE FROM MYCENTRALJERSEY.COM

‘Respond to evil with good’: Muslim community raises money for victims of synagogue shooting

October 28 at 8:05 PM

crowdfunding campaign organized by the Muslim American community has raised more than $90,000 for the victims of the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The shooting, which claimed the lives of 11 people Saturday during a morning service, “made me sick to my stomach,” said Tarek El-Messidi, a Muslim American speaker and activist who started the fundraising effort as soon as he heard about the attack. In the first six hours, the effort, called Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue, reached its initial goal of $25,000.

“When I saw the news, I thought, ‘This could have very well been at a mosque or a Hindu temple,’ ” he said. “We live in a time where so much bigoted rhetoric is being amplified.”

On the fundraising page, he wrote: “We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action.” He also quotes the Koran as saying, “Repel evil by that which is better.”

The fundraiser, which at some points was taking in about $2,000 per hour on Sunday, is an effort to offset immediate short-term needs of the injured victims and grieving families. It also will go toward funeral expenses and medical bills. El-Messidi is partnering with the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh to disburse the money.

“No amount of money will bring back their loved ones, but we do hope to lessen their burden in some way,” wrote El-Messidi.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST