Sunday, July 24, 2005
Manji claims in her latest article in the Australian (‘Sins of scripture’ in the Koran, too, 25 June 2005) that Muslims must be honest enough to admit that the Qur’an teaches people to hate and kill. She says that Christians and Jews have acknowledged the same thing with the Bible. She asks why no Muslim writer has done so with the Qur’an.
When I read Manji making such suspect claims, I wonder which planet she is living on. She effectively claims that in over 1,400 years of theological history, no Muslim scholar has ever questioned the literal meanings of the Qur’anic text.
This is simply incorrect. Any expert on Islamic history will confirm this. Most Muslims will confirm this. Which explains why most Muslims tend to ignore Manji’s work.
Manji has perhaps never heard of the Ikhwan as-Safa (the Brethren of Purity) who were a collection of Ismaili Shia scholars living outside Basra and who spent much of their time debating the meaning of basic Qur’anic concepts.
Perhaps she also has not read the tens of thousands of classical and modern commentaries on the Qur’an from all Islamic schools of thought addressing the meanings of the verses. Perhaps that is because the mainstream consensus on the meaning of these verses does not suit her purpose.
On the surface, Manji has a point. The literal words of the scriptures can be used to justify all sorts of crimes. Both the Bible and the Qur’an contain verses which have been used to justify violence, genocide and other excesses.
But Manji is clearly no expert on religion or terrorism. If she had been an expert, she would have understood that scriptures need to be interpreted. And that scriptural exegesis has its rules and principles.
An anti-Zionist Jewish writer once described the Zionism as treating God like a “real estate agent for the Jewish people”. Margaret Marcus (who adopted the Muslim faith and changed her name to Maryam Jameela) claimed Zionists had gone against thousands of years of consensus in the interpretation of Old Testament texts which insisted (she claims) that only the Messiah can lead the Jewish people back to the Promised Land.
Was Marcus correct? Who knows.
The other day, I was told by some Anglican friends of mine that the Archbishop of Sydney gave a sermon in St Andrews Cathedral claiming that the genealogy of Christ included prostitutes, adulterers and mass-murderers. What spin can be put on this? Could it be said that Christ taught these things?
And when Christ asked his disciples to gather their swords and prepare for war, was he telling them to get ready to commit acts which Roman authorities would view as terrorism?
Does Hinduism teach war? Major Hindu texts such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata give vivid descriptions of battles between gods and demons and men and each other.
Buddhism is a peaceful religion. But one can suggest that Buddhism also produced the most genocidal army in human history. The Mongols slaughtered more people and destroyed more cities than perhaps even the Nazis.
In the current climate, it is crucial for us to explore the ideological roots of terrorist violence. That requires an honest appraisal of what scriptures and religions actually teach. Specialist expertise is a must if one is to properly walk this ideological field of landmines. Manji doesn’t have that expertise. If she is not careful, she might say something that will blow up in her face.
Then again, perhaps that is something she really wants to happen. After all, any publicity is good publicity.
(The author is a Sydney lawyer and columnist for the Adelaide-based Australian Islamic Review.)
© Irfan Yusuf, 2005