The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito. A few things are worth noting:
- I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material. You can do that on The Great Courses website. My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
- These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course. As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
- There is no third thing. I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.
Lecture 4: God’s Word: The Quranic Worldview
According to the Muslim faith, The Quran is the literal and uncorrupted word of God; it was sent to the world as a correction to the Bible which had become tainted by the hand of man. Primary among the Quran’s concerns about the Bible is that it allows for idolatry in the form of the worship of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not considered to be properly monotheistic because of its recognition of the Trinity.
Finally collected in written form in 650, the Quran was written in Arabic and has been preserved verbatim. From a textual standpoint, it is considered the single greatest written work in the Arabic language even today and stands as a perfect literary example. It has even been said that some people have spontaneously converted to Islam after hearing and understanding it even once. The Quran is the only miracle of the prophet Muhammad. In Muslim countries reciters of the Quran are viewed as great celebrities and have been known to fill stadiums.
The Quran is 114 chapters or suras and designated as either Meccan or Medinan depending on where the prophet happened to be living when he uttered them. The arrangement is not chronological but basically lists longer suras first followed by shorter ones. Typically the Meccan suras cover religious practice while the Medinan ones revolve around daily life non-religious aspects of the faith.
Islam recognizes a few different classes of beings. In no particular order:
- Allah – God, the center of creation. His nature is revealed through the world around us and he is merciful and just but souls will be judged. The only truly unforgiveable sin is idolatry unless you repent before death.
- Angels – Recorders and messengers between Allah and the rest of the world.
- Jinn – Spirits with free will that are either good or evil.
- Devils – Fallen angels who have been disobedient to God
- Humans – Have special status and have been given the Earth in trust from Allah. While Muslims believe in The Fall they do not believe that every person born since has Original Sin but that each person is judged for his or her actions in life. Humans are therefore not saddled with guilt for past misdeeds but encouraged to simply repent and return to the path of righteousness.
The Quran speaks at length about several key topics but among the most important:
- Society – The primary crux of the Quran is that of social justice. All people are bound by Islamic law and as such are part of a whole that is responsible for care of the poor, widows and children. Even charging interest is forbidden as its seen as taking advantage of the poor. Muslims, therefore can neither earn interest from savings accounts nor pay interest on a mortgage, for example.
- Women – The Quran abolished the ownership of women and established their rights to own property and to be financially cared for in the event of divorce. It also established rules for when divorce was appropriate and forbade infanticide. The most telling of quotes on the status of women is: “The best of you is he who is best to his wife.” Previously the status of women in Middle Eastern society was tenuous at best.
- Religious Tolerance – There is to be no compulsion for conversion of other religious faiths. All were made different by Allah intentionally but the Muslims are to act as an example to other faiths on the right way to run a society. Christians and Jews are “People of the Book” and therefore share a single God. All who do right and live a righteous life will be rewarded in Heaven. Non-Muslims living in Muslim countries are welcome but must pay a tax similar to the 2.5% that Muslims themselves must donate to charity.
- The Lesser Jihad is a physical struggle to right injustice. For example, if you are kicked out of your homeland, you may fight to get it back. The Quran is very clear though that fighting is only a means of last resort:
“[2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors.” It goes on to detail rules for the treatment of prisoners and other specific situations in which the Lesser Jihad is appropriate.
- The Greater Jihad is the struggle to stay on the path of righteousness and uphold the five pillar so Islam that have been previously detailed in another lecture.
Lastly, there is a brief discussion of what have been deemed the “Sword Verses” which many use to justify the categorization of Islam as a warlike faith. The lecturer points out that these verses are taken out of context and incompletely quoted.