It should be a matter of intense interest to all Muslims that Islam is the only religion whose origins were recorded historically and thus are grounded not in legend but in fact. The Koran was revealed at a time of great change in the Arab world, the seventh-century shift from a matriarchal nomadic culture to an urban patriarchal system. Muhammad, as an orphan, personally suffered the difficulties of this transformation, and it is possible to read the Koran as a plea for the old matriarchal values in the new patriarchal world, a conservative plea that became revolutionary because of its appeal to all those whom the new system disenfranchised, the poor, the powerless and, yes, the orphans.
Muhammad was also a successful merchant and heard, on his travels, the Nestorian Christians' desert versions of Bible stories that the Koran mirrors closely (Christ, in the Koran, is born in an oasis, under a palm tree). It ought to be fascinating to Muslims everywhere to see how deeply their beloved book is a product of its place and time, and in how many ways it reflects the Prophet's own experiences.
However, few Muslims have been permitted to study their religious book in this way. The insistence that the Koranic text is the infallible, uncreated word of God renders analytical, scholarly discourse all but impossible. Why would God be influenced by the socioeconomics of seventh-century Arabia, after all? Why would the Messenger's personal circumstances have anything to do with the Message?
The traditionalists' refusal of history plays right into the hands of the literalist Islamofascists, allowing them to imprison Islam in their iron certainties and unchanging absolutes. If, however, the Koran were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages. Laws made in the seventh century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st. The Islamic Reformation has to begin here, with an acceptance of the concept that all ideas, even sacred ones, must adapt to altered realities.
Now I'm not saying Muslims must think of their Scriptures as mere historical documents and not sacred, however, I do think it's important to realize that everything done during Muhammad's time does not, in fact, have to be done today in the same way. You can ride in cars instead of camels. You can use a toothbrush instead of miswak. You can wait until your daughter is grown instead of marrying her off to some old man when she is twelve or younger. You can have one wife instead of four. I've seen some Muslim women talking about this very thing on other blogs lately especially in regards to women's rights and roles in this world.
I've never read anything from this author before, but he said his hope is "to illustrate how much the West and the world as a whole can learn from the Qur'an, and to boldly offer the fruits of more than a hundred years of biblical criticism among Christians and Jews." He hopes this will profit Jews and Christians so they can understand a religion they may know too little about. And he hopes to inspire Muslims with "techniques of scriptural analysis" so they can "unlock the treasures of the Qur'an" for the benefit of everyone.
I've yet to get into this book's chapters because I had to first read the foreword, introduction, prologue, cast of characters and preface. I did glean a few things from those pages worth sharing. The author reminds us that we are no longer in a secular age like the 20th century was labeled. The liberal Christians' idea that we are in a "post-religious" age is just not true according to this liberal Christian.
Also this author believes Islam to be "beautiful" and will avoid speaking of leaders and followers, but the Scriptures. He will talk of the Torah, Gospel and Qur'an instead of Judaism, Christianity and Islam or even David, Jesus or Muhammad. So this seems like it will be interesting .. hope so.
The author believes the "Qur'an is as hard to read as the books of Daniel or Revelation, and it is presented in a similar style. (pg. 9) He had many Muslims help with this book and he addressed how they were "aghast" at how the Bible portrays the prophets and leaders as very imperfect people especially in the Jewish Scriptures. In the spirit of understanding the other point of view, he wanted the reader to realize this important distinction between Muslims with their nearly-perfect prophets and Jews and Christians with their error-prone prophets. Muslims, he claims, use this view of the prophets as proof the Bible has been corrupted, whereas Jews "[appreciate] God's response to the human quest" and Christians believe in grace, both of these "depend on the fact that God redeems these great prophetic characters in spite of their sins, not because of their virtues. The point is that this redemption is available to all." (pg. 26)
The author had a new twist on the Golden Rule for his book: "To understand others as they would want us to understand them, we must put forth the most favorable interpretation of any cherished belief, as long as it does no real damage to our own. We would hope that others might look at our tradition through our fond eyes, rather than looking for every inconsistency and hypocrisy they can find." (pg. 10)
So I guess this means I need to see Muhammad as a Muslim would. O_O
Or at least try. Trying is good.
Stay tuned. I'll share more if the chapters are any good!