Karina Piser in the Atlantic tells us about a manifesto published in a French newspaper and signed by 300 “prominent intellectuals.” The subject? Editing the Quran. These luminaries call on Islamic religious authorities to weed out those verses that justify the murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and other nonbelievers so that no Muslim would be able to say they committed an act of terror because a sacred text told him to. Actually they didn’t say “weed out”–they said the verses in question should be frappés d’obsolescence–made obsolete.
Who would argue with that? Especially given some of the horrible murders of innocent Jewish women that have occurred recently. Well, no one should be surprised that imams around the world were outraged, with some accusing France of racism and blasphemy. The Quran, in their view came directly from God to the angel Gabriel to Mohammed who gave it to us. Period. “How could you dare to edit God’s word?” they say. “Do you think Mohammed mis-heard something? It’s impossible!”
OK, first it’s not racism to point out that certain texts in a holy book are being used as justification for terrible crimes. You could be any race and feel called upon to commit these crimes because of a koranic verse. So let’s not confuse the issue with the word “racism.” Second, of course it’s blasphemy to a fundamentalist Muslim who believes every word came from God. The signers of the manifesto must have known they would get this reaction and that they would have their suggestion thrown back in their faces in disgust. If someone’s mind is made up, especially about religion, arguing with them is like banging your head against a brick wall.
But don’t the imams agree there’s a problem? They do, but they suggest that that the Quran is being misused by a group of misguided youths and criminals who are too ignorant to understand the meanings of the verses. It’s their job as imams, they say, to promote a critical reading of the text and help their people come to an understanding of the true meaning of this gift from a kinder, gentler deity.
The only trouble with that is, for every imam emphasizing the softer side, there’s nothing to stop others from seizing on other texts in order to justify the medieval atrocities they revel in. So what’s to be done?
The Muslim leaders are closer to the spirit of the manifesto than they may realize. The imams are angry that a group of ignorant terrorists have commandeered their religion, bringing it into disrepute. The signers of the manifesto want to do something about those people, but it seems that the semantics of the term frappés d’obsolescence– threw a monkey wrench into the good work they were trying to achieve. Some different language, like “coming to terms with confusing verses” might help. One Muslim professor on a radio show emphasized the mystery behind the verses of the Quran, and how there needs to be lots of discussion in the community about meanings.
Fair enough, but it should be clear to all but the most benighted individuals, that certain sentiments and rules have no place in the 21st century. We need to get beyond the point we’re at now, with terrorists justifying their mayhem and massacres by citing God’s wishes chapter and verse. There is not going to be a wholesale conversion of the Muslim world to Christianity, Buddhism, or Ethical Humanism anytime soon, so in the meantime, we have to deal with the Quran, and it would behoove the Islamic authorities to move in the direction that Christianity has. The Bible forbids divorce and working on the Sabbath but most Christians view these strictures as inconsistent with where we are in the world today. They ignore them, or they have reinterpreted them. In short, they are treated as obsolete. Perhaps we could say God worked through His prophets in the olden days but expected us to have the brains to realize that some changes would be needed as time went on.