Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reading the Quran on September 11

As September 11 approaches, all eyes are on a small nondenominational church in Gainesville, Florida, which is planning an "International Burn-a-Quran Day." The world is wondering if it will be the match that ignites wildfires of protest and retaliation around the world.

General Petraeus has warned about the consequences. The White House has weighed in on it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned it. Interfaith groups have protested it. Christians in Islamic countries are pleading with the pastor to cancel the event.

The most creative response to “Burn-a-Quran Day" is “Read-a-Quran Day.”  Rev. Larry Reimer, minister at the United Church of Gainesville, Florida, has proposed that people protest the burning of Qurans by reading the Quran. That is what I will be doing on September 11.

I have read the Quran completely through several times – more than most Christians have read their own Bible. The first time I read through the Quran was over thirty years ago (back when we called it the Koran). I took a Ph.D. seminar in Islam at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and we had to study the Islamic scriptures as part of the course.

I read the whole Quran again in the wake of September 11, 2001, when I participated in a series of radio discussions with a Sunni imam. I read it again when I visited his mosque in Pittsburgh, and he presented me with an annotated copy of the Quran as a gift.

I am a student of the world’s religions. I have read many sacred scriptures and appreciate them all. As a Christian I have problems with all scriptures … including parts of my own. I have problems with the Quran, especially the parts that advocate warfare and violence against infidels.

But I can’t complain too loudly about those sections of the Quran, because my own Scriptures have passages that are just as violent as those in the Islamic holy book. We are all selective when it comes to reading our holy books. Every believer has a “canon within a canon.” We consciously or unconsciously edit the scriptures to fit our religion, rather than the other way around.

Many Christians have never heard some Bible texts read from a pulpit. I found that out when I preached a series of sermons on the Song of Solomon a few years ago. There are lots of sexy parts in that book, including many euphemisms for body parts that are not supposed to be mentioned by preachers in church! People were shocked. The Bible is X-rated – for both sex and violence!

Back to the Quran…. I imagine that many of the most vocal critics of Islam have never opened the Islamic book. Those who are burning it have likely never read it. (The pastor admitted this to NBC News.) That is probably equally true of those who are condemning Quran-burning. It is easy to be tolerant when you have no idea what you are being tolerant of! It is hard to defend the reading of ideas that seem intolerable.

So I invite you to join with me in reading the Quran on Saturday, September 11. Read more than a few sentences. Take 10 or 15 minutes out of your day to read portions of the Quran. It can be found at Personally I prefer the Authorized English Version translated by Dr. Rashad Khalifa.

Pick a surah (that is what they call their chapters) and start reading. You may be surprised at what you find. You may be shocked. But at least you will be a little more knowledgeable about the book that is at the center of this controversy.

1 comment:

  1. hey dude, there were some controversy about the translation made by Dr.Rashad. Well, this guy used to call himself the messenger of God which he shouldnt, as muslims believe that Muhammad was their last prophet (beside Jesus).


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