Is this a genuine attempt to counter the jihadists’ interpretation of Islam, or a cynical exercise designed to deceive Western non-Muslims and keep them ignorant and complacent about the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat? Well, it’s not a good sign that two of the five Muslim scholars who put “The Study Quran” together are the arrogant and vapid puffball Joseph Lumbard and the even more arrogant, rude, hostile, condescending, and hate-filled Islamic supremacist Caner K. Dagli.
Arrogance, rudeness and condescension are, however, the hallmarks of so many Muslim scholars today (think Reza Aslan) that this book cannot be dismissed on that basis alone, although this recurring personality trait doesn’t speak well of Islam’s ability to instill in its believers any sense of basic human courtesy (except perhaps for fellow Muslims). This book, like all books, should be reviewed on its merits alone — so let’s see what its creators say about it in this CNN puff piece. Much more interspersed below.
“Could this Quran curb extremism?,” by Daniel Burke, CNN, November 26, 2015:
(CNN)On a warm November night in Washington, a small group of American Muslims gathered at Georgetown University to celebrate “The Study Quran,” new English translation of Islam’s most sacred scripture.
By the next evening, several said, the need for the book became painfully apparent.
The Islamic State had struck again, this time slaughtering 130 men and women in Paris. The group quoted the Quran twice in its celebratory statement.
Surely CNN must have mentioned before that the Islamic State quoted the Qur’an twice in its statement on the Paris attacks, but if it did, that report is exceedingly hard to find — try it and see. It looks as if CNN only saw fit to bring up that fact when it had, in the form of “The Study Quran,” what it thought to be a refutation of the Islamic State’s Qur’anic exegesis. The fact that the Islamic State justifies its actions and makes recruits among peaceful Muslims by referring to the Qur’an and Sunnah is not something that CNN generally thinks it important for Americans to know.
After the attacks, President Barack Obama renewed his call for Muslim scholars and clerics to “push back” against “twisted interpretations of Islam.” Some U.S. presidential candidates fed anti-Islamic flames, creating the most hostile environment since 9/11, American Muslims said.
If the mainstream claim that Islam is a Religion of Peace that has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists were remotely true, then it would be easy to find Qur’an-based refutations of the Islamic State’s understanding of Islam: the President of the United States wouldn’t be calling on Muslim clerics to “push back” against “twisted interpretations of Islam” fourteen years after 9/11. But such purported refutations have generally been exercises in deception designed to make Westerners feel good about Islam rather than genuine attempts to induce Islamic jihadists to lay down their arms and take up the cause of peace. See, for example, here and here about the celebrated letter of Muslim scholars to the Islamic State’s caliph al-Baghdadi.
“The whole program of ISIS is to turn Muslims against the West and the West against Muslims,” said Joseph Lumbard, one of the five scholars behind “The Study Quran.”
“They want the West not to understand Islam.”
This is disingenuous. The Islamic State actually wants the West to understand Islam: that’s why it fills its communiques with Qur’an quotes and references to Muhammad.
Thus far, many English translations of the Quran have been ill-suited to foiling extremist ideology or introducing Americans to Islam. Even after 9/11, when interest surged and publishers rushed Qurans to the market, few of the 25 or so available in English are furnished with helpful footnotes or accessible prose.
Meanwhile, Christians or Jews may pick up a Quran and find their worst fears confirmed.
Odd. Why would the Book of Peace have such an odd effect?
“I never advise a non-Muslim who wants to find out more about Islam to blindly grab the nearest copy of an English-language Quran they can find,” Mehdi Hasan, a journalist for Al Jazeera, said during the panel discussion at Georgetown.
Of course he doesn’t, because Mehdi Hasan knows full well what the book says. Hence the need for “The Study Quran,” to make non-Muslims think that, well, yes, the Qur’an does say that, but it doesn’t really mean it.
Ten years in the making, “The Study Quran” is more than a rebuttal to terrorists, said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian-born intellectual and the book’s editor-in-chief. His aim was to produce an accurate, unbiased translation understandable to English-speaking Muslims, scholars and general readers.
The editors paid particular attention to passages that seem to condone bloodshed, explaining in extensive commentaries the context in which certain verses were revealed and written.
“The commentaries don’t try to delete or hide the verses that refer to violence. We have to be faithful to the text, ” said Nasr, a longtime professor at George Washington University. “But they can explain that war and violence were always understood as a painful part of the human condition.”
Oh, well then, that makes it all right!
The scholar hopes his approach can convince readers that no part of the Quran sanctions the brutal acts of ISIS.
“The best way to counter extremism in modern Islam,” he said, “is a revival of classical Islam.”
Translation wins plaudits from academics
At the Georgetown panel, after a musician played a Persian lute, Nasr introduced his hand-picked translation team as “his children.” All are his former students and Muslims, the scholar said, a condition he set before signing the contract with the publisher, HarperOne.
The book has been endorsed by an A-list of Muslim-American academics. One, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, called it “perhaps the most important work done on the Islamic faith in the English language to date.”…
The Quran itself says that some verses are clear, while others are allegorical, the ultimate interpretation known only to the Almighty. Likewise, some passages are poetic, describing the grandeur of God and pleasures of paradise. Others detail how Mohammed captured territory and defended his new community, at times with force.Those verses should be read literally and applied liberally, ISIS and other extremists argue. The editors of “The Study Quran” disagree.
Questions about literal interpretation
ISIS presents itself as a return to the roots of the religion, back to a time when the Quran was the only guide for Mohammed and his companions — no commentary, no debates. But its brand of Islam, known as Wahhabism, emerged in the 18th century. It is a relative latecomer to the tradition and has always been a minority view among Muslims, scholars say.
By contrast, early Muslims revered the Quran as the literal word of God but knew that not every verse should be interpreted literally, argue the editors of “The Study Quran.” Disputes and commentary about sacred scripture are not a modern, liberal betrayal of Islamic tradition. They are the tradition.
Still, those who argue that “Islam is a religion of peace” are wrong if they mean the faith is pacifist, said Caner Dagli, one of the editors and a scholar at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. “The Quran does allow the justified use of force.”
Mohammed wasn’t just God’s messenger, Muslims believe. He was also a head of state who built a new community in hostile territory, which often meant seizing and holding land through force.
But all that is all right, because here comes a tu quoque:
The Bible has also its share of bloody moments. But many of those moments are part of a larger story — Joshua overcoming the Amalekites, for example. It’s apparent that the battle occurred at a particular historical moment and is not meant to be repeated.
But in the Quran, many of the stories are stripped away, making the commentary — which provides the context — even more crucial.
“A lot of the classical commentaries viewed these verses (on violence) as having limited application, and that’s what we wanted to bring out,” Lumbard said.
Selective use by ISIS
Take, for example, verse 47:4, a text that ISIS has used to justify its brutal beheadings of its captives in Iraq and Syria. It reads:
“When you meet those who disbelieve, strike at their necks; then, when you have overwhelmed them, tighten the bonds. Then free them graciously or hold them for ransom, till war lays down its burdens. …”
Taken alone, the first sentence could be read as condoning the killing of non-Muslims wherever ISIS encounters them, whether it be an Iraqi desert or Parisian cafe.
But the context makes clear that the verse is “confined to the battle and not a continuous command,” Lumbard said, noting that the verse also suggests prisoners of war can be set free, which ISIS apparently ignores.
Lumbard ignores the fact that the Islamic State considers itself to be at war with the West — thus justifying the application of verses “confined to the battle.” Also, the verse says, “free them graciously or hold them for ransom,” not free them outright — and the Islamic State has demanded ransom for hostages many times.
In the Qurans pushed by the Saudis and ISIS, questions can arise even in peaceful-seeming verses.
After praising God, the Quran’s first surah (chapter) rebukes sinners who anger the Almighty or wander from the faith. In the Saudi-promoted translation, the guilty parties are named in parentheses: Jews and Christians.
The translation an Islamic State recruiter reportedly sent to a young American is even harsher.
In the online version, a footnote asserts that Mohammed himself said: “Those upon whom wrath is brought down are the Jews and those who went astray are the Christians.”
The Jews “rejected Jesus, a prophet of God, as a liar,” the footnote continues, while Christians erred by believing that Jesus is divine.
Lumbard pushes back against that interpretation, arguing that elsewhere in the Quran it is evident that anyone, including Muslims, can irk God and wander from the straight and narrow. And the saying — or hadith — attributing Christian and Jewish insults to Mohammed is of debatable authenticity, the scholar says.
Lumbard is again being disingenuous. This is not just a Saudi or Islamic State interpretation of this verse; it is a venerable interpretation in Islamic tradition. The classic Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir explains that “the two paths He described here are both misguided,” and that those “two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians.” Ibn Kathir’s understanding of this passage is not a lone “extremist” interpretation. In fact, most Muslim commentators believe that the Jews are those who have earned Allah’s wrath and the Christians are those who have gone astray. This is the view of Tabari, Zamakhshari, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Arabi, as well as Ibn Kathir. One contrasting, but not majority view, is that of Nisaburi, who says that “those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the people of negligence, and those who have gone astray are the people of immoderation.”
There were times, though, when even Mohammed disagreed with the Quran. Verse 4:34 is one of those instances, said Maria Dakake, an expert on Islamic studies at George Mason University in Virginia.
One of the most controversial sections of the Quran, 4:34 is sometimes derisively called the “beat your wife” verse. It says that if men “fear discord and animosity” from their wives, they may strike them after first trying to admonish their spouse and “leave them in bed.”
“It’s obviously a difficult verse,” said Dakake, the only woman on the translation team of “The Study Quran.”
“I found it difficult when I first read it as a woman, and when people today, both men and women, try to address the meaning of the verse in a contemporary context, they can find it difficult to understand and reconcile with their own sense of right and wrong.”
But Dakake said that while reading through the reams of commentary, she found that Mohammed did not like the verse, either. In one hadith, or saying attributed the prophet, he reportedly said, “I wanted one thing, and God wanted another.”
“That was very meaningful to me,” Dekake [sic] said. “We can say, looking at this commentary, that hitting your wife, even if it is permitted in the Quran, was not the morally virtuous thing to do from the point of view of the prophet.”…
Any Muslim will tell you that nothing, even Muhammad’s wishes, supersedes the Qur’an. Dakake doesn’t mention that wife-beating is also sanctioned by Muhammad’s example: A hadith has Aisha reporting that Muhammad struck her. Once he went out at night after he thought she was asleep, and she followed him surreptitiously. Muhammad saw her, and, as Aisha recounts: “He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?” (Sahih Muslim 2127)
A reporter asked: How could “The Study Quran” help?
Webb said he imagines a young Muslim man — the kind of lost soul who grasps for the nearest certainty he can find. He imagines that young man watching ISIS or al Qaeda propaganda online, alone in his room, listening to them quote the Quran, trying to coax him into violent action.
And then Webb imagines the young man opening “The Study Quran,” and reading scholars’ commentaries on those perplexing verses, and finding that most of them, perhaps all of them, disagree with the terrorists.
The vaunted “moderate” Webb has dismissed secularism as a “radical lunatic ideology,” which means the dismissal of the idea that the government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, and the embracing of the idea that the law of Allah constitutes the only legitimate constitution and government. He has also appeared at events hosted by Hamas-linked CAIR, a group that he openly lauds.