Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Devil, the Pope and the Turk...

That's what Brother Martin used to call "the unholy trinity". Well, that was then and this is now. It seems that most of my writing is dialogue with "The Atheist, the Lutheran and the Muslim". Perhaps there is some parallel with Luther's "trinity", but I don't see these guys as enemies--quite the contrary, I see them as people with a point of view that requires serious engagement. And you could put that down to wishy washy dialoguese too, I guess.

Nevertheless, leaving Dawkins, Hitchens and co., and Weedon, McCain and co., aside for the moment, let us concentrate once again upon our counsins-in-faith, the spiritual heirs of Ishmael, the Muslims. For the excellent Sandro Magister has once again provided us with an English translation of an important article on matters Islamic, "The Bible, the Qur'an, and Jesus: How to reach the heart of the Muslim Creed".

If I had my life over again, without losing what I had learned and gained in this one, I would chose to study Arabic and would enter fully into studies of Islam and the Koran. For I do believe that the Almighty has simply not given enough years to us for anyone to fully enter into and comprehend the thought worlds of both Christianity and Islam. Yet perhaps Brother Michael Cuypers has come close.

In this interview, he outlines the way in which his "rhetorical-critical" approach to Koranic hermeneutic is yielding unexpected results. He brings this instrument of literary interpretation--which has, in recent decades, grown up alongside of the more conventional "historical critical" approach to the Bible--to bear upon the Koran with great sensitivity and deep scholarship.

Nevertheless, he is aware that even this deeply respectful engagement with the text of the Koran has the explosive power to offend the devout Muslim. The reason? Because of the simple premise that the Koran is what it appears to be: a book.

Here is a snippet--but I encourage you to read the whole article:
Q: Rhetorical analysis places the Qur’an in the context of ancient Semitic literature. What does this entail? What are the consequences?

A: It presupposes above all that the Qur’an should be considered as a literary text. Already in the 1930’s, the great Egyptian thinker and writer Taha Husein was reclaiming the right to read the Qur’an as a literary work, beside Homer and Shakespeare. The fact of analyzing the Qur’an under the profile of Semitic rhetoric in effect places this text in the context of the literature of late antiquity.

It is clear that traditional Islam resists such an approach, because the Qur’an is considered a divine word come down from heaven, where it is kept upon a heavenly table. This word is therefore considered as having no connection with any earthly realities. This theoretical position clearly does not hold up in practice: the Qur’an was written, as it itself affirms, in “clear Arabic language,” a language that gave rise, from the very beginning of Qur’anic exegesis, to grammatical and lexicological analyses in relation to the existing Arabic language, in a very well-defined place and time.

So there is no evident reason why considering the composition of the text from the point of view of its similarities with the composition of other ancient Semitic texts should pose any real theological problem. Rhetoric, as we define it, is nothing other than the grammar of the text, at a level above that of the words and sentences.

Beyond this possible difficulty, Muslims should rejoice in discovering that this text, so greatly criticized by some for its incoherence, is in reality well constructed, with great precision, sometimes even to the point of sophisticated refinement.

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