Rabat - At the request of many students who attended my courses and seminars on the reading of the Holy Quran, I am taking on the difficult task of transforming my bullet point notes into a coherent text. My notes draw on the writings of too many scholars to all be cited in this text. However, let me point out that this section has been mainly influenced by the writings of Taha Hucin, Ibn Roch, Al Ghazali, Arkoun and Al Jabri.
Rabat – At the request of many students who attended my courses and seminars on the reading of the Holy Quran, I am taking on the difficult task of transforming my bullet point notes into a coherent text. My notes draw on the writings of too many scholars to all be cited in this text. However, let me point out that this section has been mainly influenced by the writings of Taha Hucin, Ibn Roch, Al Ghazali, Arkoun and Al Jabri.
Reading, is an interaction between a person, or group of persons, a text, or a set of texts, at a given time, and in a given place. As such, reading is a mental and intellectual activity which can highlight one’s cognitive, sociological, ideological or political abilities to name a few.
Reading is a complex activity. The process of understanding a text and its relevance, one must look at what is to be read and how the reading is to be approached. Firstly, reading involves placing the text in a historical and spatial context. This context encompasses on the one hand, the identification of past concepts in light of present and future concepts. On the other hand, it requires the recognition of the time in which the text unfolds, and an understanding of what it intends to influence. The second aspect of reading a text is the identification of the genre based on its linguistics. The third aspect of reading a text involves the audience. The cognitive abilities of readers, their experience with the text, their morals, their values, and their openness are all relevant to how a text is understood by an individual.
As a result, because reading involves a psychological, cognitive and experiential activity, no two persons will read a text the same way. As well, the understanding a person will derive from a text will not be the same the second time they read it.
As a text is necessarily historical, it will be influenced by previous texts, which, like a chain novel, will build on each other. A text’s reliability will be tested by other texts who will deconstruct them, assess them, and supersede them. Reliable information will thus often be more provisional than final and definitive.
As a chain novel, texts will have more than one voice and perspective. It is impossible to read a text in a vacuum without some appreciation of the origins of the text, and the other texts it is trying to address. Every new read will bring about a different significance.
The nature of a text and its impermanence has often been a source of conflict because of establishments that build, and justify their interests on static, and never-evolving meanings and interpretations. To allow otherwise may bring about the rise of competing alternatives. This explains why some approaches to reading exclude an appreciation of the context and insist that the text be stripped of its developmental conditions.
Reading and investigating the Quran and, more generally Islam, needs to be supported by a methodology that can account for (i) how traditions are born and how they phase out, (ii) how communities generate values and the laws that enforce them, (iii) how discourse creates traditions and validates values, (iv) how discourse justifies the dynamism by which tradition and values change and the counter forces that check their evolution, (v) how texts expresses its intentions, and (vi) how texts prefer to be read.
The study of any religious text in any religion needs to start with identifying and agreeing on the methodology to use when approaching them. The Quran’s extensive reference to history, reason, and knowledge is an invitation to investigate ones’ self and investigate the world we live in through our minds and experiences.
Reason, mind, experience and spirit are all paths to knowledge and have become one in the path to true knowledge of Islam. Because none of these schools of thought have been able to maintain the exact definition and value throughout history they raise debates that may never be settled to the satisfaction of all. This does not, however, exclude updates of these definitions based on a different understanding of the same text.
The approach mentioned above requires one to read anti-Islamic texts before reading the Quran. This will help the reader reconstruct the complexity and specific conditions under which the Quran became a necessity. This will therefore call for a understanding of the cultural, social, linguistic and discursive conditions the Arabic language was used to convey emotions, ideas, symbols, and images. Surveys of the lexicon used will also reveal the changes words have undergone as well as the difficulties of translating the Arabic language. One example which has been used in the literature is the word “din” which is often translated as “religion.” In Arabic, however, the word originally meant “path” and “way.”
This “pre-reading” exercise is critical to reading and understanding the Quran because the holy text was the only basis against which most discussions relating to the religion were allowed to develop. In fact, Arabic grammar was developed so as to facilitate reading, understanding and interpreting the Quran. Also, volumes of text were produced to corroborate the miracle and inimitable powers of the Quran. For example, Ibn Jinni had one volume called “The Inimitability of the Quran” According to some scholars, any aspect of Arabic literary heritage that was not in line with this standard had been simply destroyed. In fact, many of these scholars had to review their thesis as a result of a direct challenge by religious establishments.
The study of the Arabic language and discourse, including grammar, proves to have been closely framed by religious constraints, political considerations and by ideological choices.
Finally, as already mentioned, a text has an opinion and an attitude. The text itself will contain information for the reader on how to understand its opinion, how to make sense of it and how to implement its intentions. For example, amongst other things, the Quran informs the reader that (i) some of its parts have been cancelled and others substituted with better ones without telling exactly which, (ii) it confirms and continues the teachings of previous texts some of which it names and some of which it does not, some of which are still available and others are not, (iii) those who hold a Holy Book other than the text they are in possession of should comply with it and will be judged according to its laws, (iv) its teachings are amended and/or completed by those of the Prophet (v) God has revealed the Quran and he will protect it, and (vi) God has created men and is responsible for their guidance and accepting of the Faith.
The challenge Muslims have faced since the death of the Prophet who provided valid and unquestionable answers,is the reduction of differences in the interpretation of the Quran by unifying their reading approach. In today’s world, serious disagreements involve how to report the tradition of the Prophet, whether to seek answers in other Holy Books, whether to identify the cancelled or amended parts, and how to address issues that have never been dealt with by the Quran and the Prophet.
A great deal of ink has been dedicated to such issues but no consensus has been reached. Suffice to interrogate history about the numbers of scholars persecuted, tortured and killed because of opinions they expressed, and the number of wars fought because of different readings of the same text and heritage. Today, that difference in interpretation of the same text manifests itself through terrorist attacks around the world. What is missing is tolerance and acceptance that perhaps no ones interpretation holds all the truth.
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