Welcome to Varied Expressions of Worship

Welcome to Varied Expressions of Worship

This blog will be written from an orthodox Christian point of view. There may be some topic that is out of bounds, but at present I don't know what it will be. Politics is a part of life. Theology and philosophy are disciplines that we all participate in even if we don't think so. The Bible has a lot to say about economics. How about self defense? Is war ethical? Think of all the things that someone tells you we should not touch and let's give it a try. Everything that is a part of life should be an expression of worship.

Keep it courteous and be kind to those less blessed than you, but by all means don't worry about agreeing. We learn more when we get backed into a corner.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Opus 2011-103, Koran Klarifications: Opening Understandings, Part 2

I said that the translation was endorsed “as much as possible.”  Muslims make a point of saying that the Koran can only be understood accurately when read in the original Arabic.  This means that no translation can truly be endorsed as accurate.  On one level this is a legitimate point.  This is true of any translation.  You always lose something.  For instance, in German there are two words for the English “to know.”  One is for knowing people, one is for knowing information.  This does not mean that you can only read Goethe in German but it helps to keep it in mind.

On another level this is a smoke screen.

First, it gives the impression that there is a unity in Islam that does not exist in Christianity.  This is not true.  Most people have heard of the two main divisions in Islam.  They are constantly brought up to explain the tension in Iraq.  You have the Sunni and the Shiite or Shia.  They are both Muslim in the same way that Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists are both Christian.  In addition to that you may have heard of the Sufi and Wahhabi groups.  They kill each other as readily as the English of Cromwell’s day killed the Irish.  Islam is not united.  It started to divide when Mohammed died and they argued about who would be his successor.

There is no unity in the Koran either.  This is well disguised, but there are different versions of the Koran.  The same issues exist that have created problems in translating the Bible.  These problems exist for any ancient texts.  Accept it.  Work with it.

Second, Muslims don’t understand the Arabic of the Koran either.  That may sound strange since so many of them speak Arabic as their first language.  I asked a student about this once.  He was Muslim and missed Friday mornings because he was at the mosque.  He was doing a report on Mohammed.  I asked him if he spoke Arabic.  He said he did.  I asked if he could read the Koran.  He said he could.  I asked if he understood what it said.  He said he didn’t.  This confused me, obviously.  He said the Arabic was very old and that the language had changed.  This conversation has been backed up by books I have read.

A light went on for me.  There are times when I have trouble understanding the King James Version and Shakespeare.  They are only 400 years old.  Imagine trying to understand something 1,300 years old.  It would be futile.  When I was in High School a teacher played a recording of a group of actors reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as it would have been read when it was written.  It was impossible to understand even though it was in English.

The point is, Muslims can read the words.  They learn how to pronounce the letters.  They can develop a cadence that sounds poetic.  The problem is, they don’t understand what it says.  This answered a question that had developed in my mind as I was teaching about Medieval West Africa.  In the same chapter it talked about how Islam had spread in the area and that the area had no written history.  Everything was oral tradition.  Since part of conversion to Islam is learning to read the Koran I could not understand how you could be literate and have no written history.  My current understanding of what it means to “read” the Koran explains this.  They learned to pronounce the words but they never learned to understand them and use them.  It fits the facts.  Another mystery solved.

It is at a level of Medieval Catholics understanding the Latin Vulgate.  They may have memorized it and even known what some of the words mean.  Since they could not read it for themselves they were forced to accept what the priest told them about it.  Muslims are in that situation.  They often only know what they have been told.

Third, you don’t need to understand every nuance to get the idea.  While there is always something lost in a translation you can still communicate.  You don’t need to know Greek and Hebrew to understand the Bible.  It does not make sense that you must know Arabic to understand the Koran. 

Forth, you can explain issues in footnotes. 

I would make the same recommendations about studying the Koran that I make about studying the Bible.  First, I would recommend that everyone get a copy of the Koran and read it.  Read the whole document.  When looking at a specific quote, read the context.  Don’t be satisfied with proof texting.  At times it is necessary, but you can always go beyond it as time allows.  Check different translations.  Be open to correction, it is a learning process.  Understand that people lie even while claiming the truth.  Don’t be afraid of it, truth will out.

homo unius libri

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Comments are welcome. Feel free to agree or disagree but keep it clean, courteous and short. I heard some shorthand on a podcast: TLDR, Too long, didn't read.