Islam students at LUC

Archive for February 13th, 2013

This week we talked about how to interpret the Qur’an and the three forms of interpretation: specific, universal, and personal.  In retrospect, it makes sense that these would be the three different ways to interpret any religious text, but I never before realized that there was more than just literal and figurative interpretation.  I was really impressed by the example we looked at in class, from Surah Masad.  I still remember learning the meaning of that surah when I was in kindergarten, but we were only taught the specific interpretation at the time.  Switching “Abu Lahab” with the a person who can’t control his temper completely changes the meaning of the surah.  These different forms of interpretation really makes the Qur’an a much deeper and more interesting text.

In response to : I found in very interesting how you compared the Constitution with the Qur’an.  While you’re right that it would be harder to find the individual interpretation of a text that was written for mankind, I think it can still be done if one first understands the first two interpretations.  After knowing the context of the text and how it can be applied to everyone, it is up to each individual person to make his/her own interpretation of what this text means to him/her and his/her own life.  Alone, the individual interpretation can’t be perfect and would be very difficult to even come up with, but grouped with the other two, I think it’s very doable.

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I enjoyed our discussion at the start of class on whether moral reform should be internal in terms of character or external in terms of justice in the larger society. I can definitely see both sides of the coin. If all people are good, then they make up the pieces of society which inevitably ends up being good. On the other side, if laws and societal pressures are in force, then people are more likely to adhere to that system. However, I think focusing on justice and the society at large takes away from the human experience as a whole, especially when talking about religion. I see religion as something people look to in order to better themselves or to develop that personal relationship with a higher being and less as guidelines to try to keep peace and order in society. In regards to the story we read, it ended up depicting Joseph in a manner that I was not expecting. I come from absolutely zero knowledge of these stories, either Biblical or Islamic, so that maybe plays a role in this, but I got kind of annoyed at Joseph at the end. At first, he is shown as this innocent and vulnerable character that everybody tries to harm, so I kept thinking he would just be the good guy all throughout. However, he employed the same deception and trickery on his own brothers when they came to the city for the food. He lied to them under false pretenses for his own gain, to get his father to come to him. Yet still at the end of the story, Joseph is still revered as this perfect religious being.

In response to ragewithramblers: You bring up an interesting point when mentioning that history is always written by those who are victorious. I hadn’t previously thought about the bias that the story may carry with it. I was kind of swept up with the whole mysticism and inspiring story of Muhammed’s life that I didn’t think too much about the validity of it, for lack of a better word. Even though the story incorporates the struggles and sometimes defeat of the new converts, it adds to us rooting for them even more. I wonder if there are first-hand accounts of the battles from the Quraysh point of view. It would be interesting to compare the two accounts of what happened side by side and draw any similarities and differences from them.

Yesterday we continued our discussion on the Qur’an.  We talked about the subject of the Qur’an and its interpretation.  In terms of subject, the Qur’an is a book of guidance which eventually translates into character building.  It focuses on developing character and a just society.  A question was raised in class: can a society be just without individuals of character or which is more important.  I have a similar opinion to those stated in class: I believe if everyone had moral character, society is bound to be just.  However, it is also possible to have a just society without good character.  Like someone mentioned in class, it is similar to following the law without actually internalizing it to be the truth or right.  We then moved our conversation to the interpretation of the Qur’an.  I think this is one of the most important, yet controversial aspects of the text.  The Qur’an can be interpreted on a specific, general, or personal level.  Sometimes this causes conflict in regards to the gap between the specific and personal levels of interpretation.  In some circumstances, the specific interpretation, which involves the story of the Prophet, cannot be identically applied to a current day situation.  Yes, in a more general sense, all of the lessons in the Qur’an can be applied.

In response to catlover1415: I agree with you that we won’t fully be able to understand how it would be if we had someone rise up and claim to be a prophet.  However, I would like to clarify the “holy wars” thing.  Something that we haven’t necessarily talked about in this class yet is the difference between the spread of Islam and the expansion of the Islamic empire.  Throughout history, Islam did not spread by war.  As in individuals did not convert forcefully because they had been conquered.  Instead, the spread of the religion was a slow, peaceful process.  The expansion of the Empire, on the other hand, was a forceful, exponential process.  When lands were conquered by Muslims, they were not forced to convert.  Rather, many of them chose to convert seeing equal treatment and peace in the faith.  So there was a separation between the spread of Islam and the spread of the Islamic rule.

Each culture and society seems to have some sort of central text or document that is interpreted by the people. For the Muslim community, they have multiple ways of finding meaning in the Qur’an. The same goes for us as Americans interpreting the Constitution. In class, I found it very interesting the amount of parallels that could be drawn for methods of interpreting the two texts. The first method of interpreting is to view the two as dead documents, that they should be viewed as what the message was for Muhammad and his followers or the founding fathers and a new nation. I feel that this may be good for upholding the original meaning, but it makes it nearly useless for people to reflect it in their lives today. The next way to interpret is to view the two as living documents. With this method, both are read with a broad view of everything, and universal meanings are “found”. “Found” is a term used lightly because sometimes, a meaning may not always be present, so a person reading it like this may pull a meaning out off their arse. The last one is a personal interpretation of the documents. While it is good to take moral personal lessons form texts like the Qur’an and the Constitution, but they were not made for an individual, they were written for entire societies and should be interpreted as such. To summarize, there is no perfect way to interpret things like these, but some interpretation is better than none.

 

In response to vaultingrambler, I agree with you fully on your idea that false interpretations when finding general meanings for the Qur’an. Everything can not be applied to everyone. With that just said, I can see now why you may think that an individual interpretation may be the most superior. However, I have to disagree with you. Individual interpretation means different interpretation among a populations. This could easily escalate to conflict between different beliefs. An individual can find some meaning and apply it to their life, but a societal interpretation needs to be co-structured with it. As you stated, “Learning about any moral and life guiding text takes a lot of time and experience”, this is why it cant be left for the individual alone to interpret.