The university references a verse from the Quran, regarding it as one of the greatest expressions of justice in history.
Source: Step Feed
When it comes to the law, both legislation and implementation are deemed relative. But the same can’t be said for justice as by definition it is the offering of what is morally fair and right. As we know, the law should seek justice and Harvard knows exactly how Islam is doing so.
Harvard Law School, one of the world’s most prestigious institutions (No. 7 in the world, to be exact), actually speaks of justice at the entrance of its faculty library. In doing so, it references a verse from the Quran, regarding it as one of the greatest expressions of justice in history.
The phrase at hand is Verse 135 of Surat Al-Nisaa (The Women), which is posted on a wall facing the faculty’s main entrance, a wall that portrays some of the best phrases with regards to justice. The first media reports of the news date back to February 2014, but the news resurfaced on our newsfeed this week. We thought it’s worth a reminder especially in the age of rising Islamophobia in the U.S., particularly.
In this post, I intend to introduce a part of the popular book by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, about the water cycle.
I would let him do the talking about harmony between the Quranic description and the modern understanding of the water cycle.
In my introduction, what I want to emphasize is what could have gone wrong, if the Holy Quran was not the literal word of God, as we see in the case of the Holy Bible, or was a myth, as we see in the case of the Chinese and the Japanese myths about creation.
The contrast with scientific contradictions in the Bible and sheer mythical nature of Chinese and Japanese traditions, brings out the elegance and beauty of the Holy Quran.
The Chinese tell of a time during the Hsia dynasty, in the third millennium before Jesus, when our cosmic environment suddenly changed. Ten suns appeared in the sky. The people on earth suffered greatly from the heat, so the emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the extra suns. The archer was rewarded with a pill that had the power to make him immortal, but his wife stole it. For that offense she was banished to the moon.
The Japanese have their own share of myths. According to them, Izanagi-no-Mikoto (male) and Izanami-no-Mikoto (female) were called by all the myriad gods and asked to help each other to create a new land which was to become Japan. They were given a spear with which they stirred the water, and when removed water dripped from the end, an island was created in the great nothingness. If our Western Navy personnel find these myths to be literally true our ships and fleets may begin to sink!
If you read your book of Genesis carefully, the earth is created before the sun, we can have days and nights before the creation of the sun, our earth has a roof or a vault called the sky, plants and animals gain existence only after mankind and to top it all off, Grand Ma Eve was created from Grand Pa Adam’s rib, while he was sleeping.
Additionally, there are only four rivers in the planet earth, if time and space were not a consideration, I could keep on reading Genesis over and over and keep on adding to this list.
According to the second chapter of Genesis seas have been created, the whole of universe is in place, God has rested for a day also and yet there has been no rain at all on planet earth. The water cycle simply does not exist for the writers of the Holy Bible!
When the verses of the Qur’an concerning the role of water in man’s existence are read in succession today. they all appear to us to express ideas that are quite obvious. The reason for this is simple: in our day and age, we all, to a lesser or greater extent, know about the water cycle in nature.
If however, we consider the various concepts the ancients had on this subject, it becomes clear that the data in the Qur’an do not embody the mythical concepts current at the time of the Revelation which had been developed more according to philosophical speculation than observed phenomena. Although it was empirically possible to acquire on a modest scale, the useful practical knowledge necessary for the improvement of the irrigation, the concepts held on the water cycle in general would hardly be acceptable today.
Thus it would have been easy to imagine that underground water could have come from the infiltration of precipitations in the soil. In ancient times however, this idea, held by Vitruvius Polio Marcus in Rome, 1st century B.C., was cited as an exception. For many centuries therefore (and the Qur’anic Revelation is situated during this period) man held totally inaccurate views on the water cycle. Two specialists on this subject, G. Gastany and B. Blavoux, in their entry in the Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Universalis) under the heading Hydrogeology (Hydrogéologie), give an edifying history of this problem.
“In the Seventh century B.C., Thales of Miletus held the theory whereby the waters of the oceans, under the effect of winds, were thrust towards the interior of the continents; so the water fell upon the earth and penetrated into the soil. Plato shared these views and thought that the return of the waters to the oceans was via a great abyss, the ‘Tartarus’. This theory had many supporters until the Eighteenth century, one of whom was Descartes. Aristotle imagined that the water vapour from the soil condensed in cool mountain caverns and formed underground lakes that fed springs. He was followed by Seneca (1st Century A.D.) and many others, until 1877, among them O. Volger . . . The first clear formulation of the water cycle must be attributed to Bernard Palissy in 1580. he claimed that underground water came from rainwater infiltrating into the soil. This theory was confirmed by E. Mariotte and P. Perrault in the Seventeenth century.
In the following passages from the Qur’an, there is no trace of the mistaken ideas that were current at the time of Muhammad: –sura 50, verses 9 to 11: “We sent down from the sky blessed water whereby We caused to grow gardens, grains for harvest, tall palm-trees with their spathes, piled one above the othersustenance for (Our) servants. Therewith We gave (new) life to a dead land. So will be the emergence (from the tombs).” –sura 23, verses 18 and 19: “We sent down water from the sky in measure and lodged it in the ground. And We certainly are able to withdraw it. Therewith for you We gave rise to gardens of palmtrees and vineyards where for you are abundant fruits and of them you eat.” –sura 15, verse 22: “We sent forth the winds that fecundate. We cause the water to descend from the sky. We provide you with the water-you (could) not be the guardians of its reserves.” There are two possible interpretations of this last verse. The fecundating winds may be taken to be the fertilizers of plants because they carry pollen. This may, however, be a figurative expression referring by analogy to the role the wind plays in the process whereby a non-raincarrying cloud is turned into one that produces a shower of rain. This role is often referred to, as in the following verses: –sura 35, verse 9: “God is the One Who sends forth the winds which raised up the clouds. We drive them to a dead land. Therewith We revive the ground after its death. So will be the Resurrection.” It should be noted how the style is descriptive in the first part of the verse, then passes without transition to a declaration from God. Such sudden changes in the form of the narration are very frequent in the Qur’an. –sura 30, verse 48: “God is the One Who sends forth the winds which raised up the clouds. He spreads them in the sky as He wills and breaks them into fragments. Then thou seest raindrops issuing from within them. He makes them reach such of His servants as He wills. And they are rejoicing.” –sura 7, verse 57: “(God) is the One Who sends forth the winds like heralds of His Mercy. When they have carried the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a dead land. Then We cause water to descend and thereby bring forth fruits of every kind. Thus We will bring forth the dead. Maybe you will remember.” –sura 25, verses 48 and 49: “(God) is the One Who sends forth the winds like heralds of His Mercy. We cause pure water to descend in order to revive a dead land with it and to supply with drink the multitude of cattle and human beings We have created.” –sura 45, verse 5: “. . . In the provision that God sends down from the sky and thereby He revives the ground after its death and in the change (of direction) of winds, there are Signs for people who are wise.” The provision made in this last verse is in the form of the water sent down from the sky, as the context shows. The accent is on the change of the winds that modify the rain cycle.
–sure 13, verse 17: “(God) sends water down from the sky so that the rivers flow according to their measure. The torrent bears away an increasing foam.”
The UAE has become the first Arab state to officialy normalise diplomatic relations with Israel with the signing of a historic peace deal. The so-called “Abraham Accord” announced on August 13, outlines Israel’s plan to stop annexing Palestinian territories in the West Bank. Some conspiracy theorists, however, see this peace deal as a sign of biblical prophecy unfolding
According to the blog Bible Prophecy – Signposts of the Times, the treaty could be related to something known as the Gog-Magog alliance.
Gog and Magog appear in the Bible’s Old Testament as both individuals and lands that will oppose Israel, although their exact nature is never fully revealed.
Some theorists have linked the figure of Gog to the Antichrist, who will arrive just before the Last Judgement.
The names also appear in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, where it is said Satan will be set forth to deceive the nations “in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog”.
According to Signposts of the Times, the Israel peace deal could be linked to Gog and Magog through Ezekiel 38.
The Gettysburg address by President Abraham Lincoln was only two minutes long, yet it is written in golden letters in history for all times to come.
On November 19, 1863 delivered the Gettysburg Address, at the official dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, on the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the Civil War. Though he was not the featured orator that day, Lincoln’s brief address would be remembered as one of the most important speeches in American history. In it, he invoked the principles of human equality contained in the Declaration of Independence and connected the sacrifices of the Civil War with the desire for ‘a new birth of freedom,’ as well as the all-important preservation of the Union created in 1776 and its ideal of self-government. (1)
Lincoln’s deep voice echoed passionately: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (2)
He was inspired by his polished human conscience and his Christian faith. In the Gospel of Mark we read:
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (3)
In the Old Testament that is shared by the Christians and the Jews, we read:
“You must not exploit or oppress a foreign resident, for you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (4)
“You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (5)
“Do not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you lived as a foreigner in his land.” (6)
“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners who dwell among you and who have children. You are to treat them as native-born Israelites; along with you, they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” (7)
The first ideal in Confucianism is “Jen.” This is Confucius’ idea of the ultimate brotherly love. It is the idea that no matter where you live in the world, we are all brothers because we are all humans. To achieve Jen is to be able to devote yourself to making others happy, both those in your community and those within your family. As the old saying goes, treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. (8)
Mencius or Mengzi (372–289 BC) was a Chinese Confucian philosopher, who has often been described as the ‘second Sage,’ that is, after only Confucius himself. He is part of Confucius’s fourth generation of disciples.
He believed ‘Jen’ is implanted in the individual by T’ien (Heaven). One could say Jen is our Heaven-endowed nature. The Constant Virtue of Jen can be interpreted as the main principle of being Human. (9)
Five centuries before Christ, Confucius set forth his own Golden Rule: “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.” (10) The teaching of the Golden Rule in each religion is universal and transcends race, religion and gender.
All the prevalent world faiths, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, give a universal message. Nevertheless, they have parochial streaks available within their traditions and scriptures that those with myopic vision and ulterior motives can read in limited ways, in service of their nationalist or populist agenda as opposed to a universal one, in service of their political goals.
Read how Reid Turner, who attended Bethel University and Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN and pursued additional graduate studies at the University of Chicago, is reading a parochial message, just for the Christians, in the New Testament and accusing Pope Francis of misinterpreting the Bible, when the Pope speaks for universal brotherhood in our global village:
“In the following examples the Pope appears to be manipulating scripture to deemphasize Christian brotherhood and elevate universal brotherhood. …
The Pope here is trying to identify the ‘little ones’ of Matthew 10:42 with the Universalist understanding of ‘brethren’ in Matthew 25:40, who he here equates with ‘the vulnerable of the Earth.’
There is nothing wrong or contrary to the Christian message to see the face of Christ in those who suffer. The point here is that Jesus never identifies Himself with them in a general sense in Matthew or anywhere else in the New Testament. He identifies only with His followers.
In my estimation there is evidence of a pattern; the Pope appears to be intentionally manipulating scripture to replace references to Christian brotherhood with the concept of universal brotherhood.” (11)
The New Testament and for that matter all religious scriptures are like a mirror, each reader, whether a Universalist or one with a myopic view, sees himself or herself in the mirror.
Likewise, all of the universal quotes of the Old Testament are ignored when the Zionist and the right wing politicians in Israel, want to insist on a Jewish state, at the detriment of the human rights of all the Palestinians, both the Christians and the Muslims.
Similar exploitation and misinterpretation of the universal message of the Quran by the myopic Muslim leaders can be cited. But, in the interest of space I am not going to pursue that here.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. (12)
The first two Articles of UDHR, among the 30 state:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (12)
Devouts of each religion continue to claim that their religion is universal and in keeping with the 30 Articles of UDHR.
But, periodically they also come up with a more limited reading of their tradition and scriptures in one guise or the other. Allow me to ask the followers of each and every religion, do you believe in a universal religion or a parochial cult? Do you read a pluralistic message of justice and compassion for the whole human family in our global village in your scripture or do you preach a limited message of ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ to the exclusion of others, putting one group in ‘the chosen’ sphere and the other in ‘the heathens?’
I for one, by the Grace of Allah, do not waiver from the universal and the pluralistic message of the Quran. No matter the circumstances or the audience!
This is how I read the Muslim scripture, the holy Quran, the final literal revelation of the All-Knowing God.
My task has been made easy by none other than the celebrated polymath, Sir Zafrulla Khan. He became Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister in 1947 and served concurrently as leader of Pakistan’s delegation to the UN (1947–54). From 1954 to 1961 he served as a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He again represented Pakistan at the UN in 1961–64 and served as president of the UN General Assembly in 1962–63. Returning to the International Court of Justice in 1964, he served as the court’s president from 1970 to 1973. (13)
He wrote a booklet correlating the 30 Articles of UDHR with various verses of the holy Quran. The booklet can be read online. His booklet is titled, Islam and Human Rights. (14)
I hope the Universalists in each religion will create a more comprehensive message from their respective traditions and scriptures and safeguard our one human family from being broken down into factions by corrupt parochial voices whether they come in the guise of patriotism, nationalism, fundamentalism of the respective religions or populism.
With this I rest my case against racism or dividing human societies or countries on the basis of religions or sects.
We did not send you Muhammad, but as mercy for the whole mankind. (Al Quran 21:107/108)
Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Some 44 million Muslims live peacefully as law abiding citizens in Europe. They have not been brought there as slaves but they, their parents or their grand parents came there out of their sweet will and volition for better economic or other opportunities.
Travel back to 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus reached the American soil, the last city-state of Granada fell to the Christian rulers and every Muslim in Europe was either killed, banished or converted by force to Christianity. There was then no one openly Muslim in the Christian Europe for a couple of centuries.
Today the Christians are their neighbors, colleagues and mentors. Sometimes they are spouses and family members.
Obviously these are two polar opposite circumstances. If the holy Quran is read as a rigid set of instructions about the Muslim-Christian interaction to create human societies, then it can obviously not handle both situations.
The way the Muslims of the fifteenth and the sixteenth century read the Christian-Muslim relationship in the Quran cannot be true for the twenty first century.
Better paradigms for coexistence between the Muslims and the Christians are very much needed and for the Muslims it starts with their understanding of the Quran.
If my articles are boring to you, it may be that you need to read more of them, as was suggested by John Cage, an American composer, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”
Going back to the subject at hand: understanding the Quran:
A large majority of the Muslims read the Quran for blessings and delegate their understanding of the book to the scholar of their choice, who often defer it to the scholar of their choice of the past centuries. This emphasis on the past scholarship leads to extreme conservatism and changes the Quran into a rigid document.
There’s a vigorous debate in the United States about the nature of our constitution. Liberals tend to argue that the constitution is a living document, while conservatives, like the late Justice Scalia, claim our constitution is “dead, dead, dead”.
If the authors of the constitution were alive today – having lived through 239+ years of U.S. history – do we really think they would ask their 1787 selves how to interpret the constitution?
In secular law, the debate is reasonable. Because the authors are dead and a “living” constitution risks judicial tyranny, we do need to find some way to reasonably restrain the interpretation, especially since we can amend the constitution if we aren’t happy with its meaning.
This same “living” versus dead argument often happens in religion. Those who argue for dead” are often conservatives, and they are hurting their own cause. It is proper for all of us to deliberate before breaking with long-held tradition. However, insisting that the understanding of sacred text is frozen puts the most fundamental belief of religion at risk.
When any religious person claims that a sacred text is “dead” – in that the understanding of its meaning is fixed forever – they are directly at odds with their own idea of a living, active God.
This relatively unknown author is not alone in his opinion. A polymath from the last century, Sir Zafrulla Khan who was the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan and President of United Nation General assembly for a term, among other accomplishments agrees:
It is this comprehensiveness of the Quran, the need to make provision for guidance in every respect for all peoples for all time, that made it necessary that the guidance should be conveyed in verbal revelation. The Quran is literally the Word of God and possesses the quality of being alive, as the universe is alive. It is not possible to set forth at any time the whole meaning and interpretation of the Quran or, indeed, of any portion of it with finality. It yields new truths and fresh guidance in every age and at every level. It is a standing and perpetual miracle (18:110).
The world is dynamic and so is the Quran. Indeed, so dynamic is the Quran that it has always been found to keep ahead of the world and never to lag behind it. However fast the pace at which the pattern of human life may change and progress, the Quran always yields, and will go on yielding, the needed guidance in advance. This has now been demonstrated through more than thirteen centuries, and that is a guarantee that it will continue to be demonstrated through the ages.
The Quran has proclaimed that falsehood will never overtake it. All research into the past and every discovery and invention in the future will affirm its truth (41:43). The Quran speaks at every level; it seeks to reach every type of understanding, through parables, similitudes, arguments, reasoning, the observation and study of the phenomena of nature, and the natural, moral, and spiritual laws (18:55; 39:28; 59:22).
For the Quran to be dynamic it needs to be read in the context of the time. The majority of the Spanish Christians may have been blood thirsty enemies in the 16th century but today in Europe they are neighbors, colleagues, teachers and mentors. They are benefactors of the Muslims in several capacities. For some they are even spouses or blood relatives. Unless we can read the Quranic principles according to the circumstances we are vulnerable to box ourselves into fixed paradigms to our and others’ detriment.
I believe that we need to grasp what is fundamental in the holy Quran and for that matter in any book or writing and not go after the allegorical. Let the fundamental define the allegorical and not vice versa. The Quran says:
He it is Who has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book; in it there are verses that are fundamental or decisive in meaning — these are the corner stone of the Book — and there are others that are susceptible of different interpretations. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue those that are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and wrong interpretation of such ambiguous verses. And none knows their right interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’ — And none heed except those gifted with understanding. (3:7/8)
So, what is a fundamental teaching?
A fundamental teaching is what is substantiated not from one perspective but from multiple or all angles. It is something which does not leave the slightest doubt in your heart and mind. It is something that you can easily defend, no matter who the audience. It is something that you like to preach to your children and you don’t hide from anyone. It is something that is true whether you are on the receiving end or the opposite. It is true whether you are a leader or a follower. It is true whether you are among the ‘haves’ or the ‘have-nots.’ It is not what is preached by one scholar, one leader or one sect of Islam. It is true if it follows the Golden Rule.
It is a fundamental teaching if it fulfills all or a majority of the above conditions.
A fundamental Quranic teaching is one that is not mentioned once or twice in the scripture, rather dozens of times from different angles and perspectives.
Once you have a few fundamentals going for you, you will be able to understand more and more of the Quranic text. The Quran will be made easy for you. You will begin to resolve the apparent conflicts in the Quran. Because your understanding would be in keeping of the Divine understanding and rise above the vulnerability of human inconsistencies and contradictions.
Myriam Francois-Cerrah (born Emilie François; 1983) is a Franco-British writer, broadcaster and academic on issues related to Islam, France and the Middle East. She writes a monthly column for the New Statesman online and is also a regular contributor to Middle East Eye.
She is currently a Research Associate at SOAS, in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East where her work focuses on issues related to British Muslims, integration and racism.
She previously worked as a Research Assistant at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), Georgetown University (2005-2007) in Washington DC. While undertaking her doctorate, Francois also works as an academic tutor in the Oxford University Department for Politics and International Relations, where she teaches Middle East politics.
She has guest lectured at universities including Harvard University (2014), Birmingham, (2014), Luther College (2015) and an annual guest lecture at Kingston University, UK (2012-2014). She is due to deliver a lecture as part of the 2015-16 Ebor Series at York St John University.
Francois-Cerrah is studying for a PhD at Oxford University in Oriental Studies focused on Islamic political movements in Morocco.
In 2003, at 21 years old, Francois-Cerrah became a Muslim after graduating from Cambridge. At the time, she was a skeptical Roman Catholic. She rejects the use of the words “convert” or “revert” as “exclusionary”, describing herself as “just Muslim”.
What is the essence of Islam, and does it need reforming?
Renowned Jordanian Islamic scholar Fehmi Jadaane vehemently objects to the transformation of Islam into an ideology. The religion ends up mired in a political swamp, he says, its message nothing more than an instrument of governance. Interview by Alia Al-Rabeo
In recent years some authors and intellectuals have shown increased interest in the so-called “reformation” of Islam. Do you address this issue in your book “The Liberation of Islam”? Does the modern Arab world need this kind of reformation? And would it help in countering religious fundamentalism?
Fehmi Jadaane: Let me make it quite clear that I am not interested in a reformation of the faith in its essence, nor with questioning what the revelatory scripture contains, implies or aims at. Because that would imply that there is a defect in the structure of the text that needs to be repaired. Which is not at all my conviction. What I’m really getting at is this: the text of revelation, inscribed for all time on God’s “well-guarded tablet”, is confronted today with numerous contradictions in the reality that manifests itself to believers – that is to say to individual human beings. These contradictions stem from the fact that man is imperfect through and through, in all facets of his existence. For there is nothing more contradictory than a human being.
This has implications for how the text is understood, how it manifests itself and materialises in experienced and imagined reality. The obstacles and contradictions to which Islam has been and still is exposed are countless. If we want liberation, we must face up to this fact.
There is no doubt that the upheavals triggered by religious fundamentalism are currently the most prominent phenomenon in this scenario. But there are also other deep-seated contradictions that are wreaking massive damage on the global image of Islam. I dealt with some of them in my book “The Liberation of Islam”. We must resolutely censure, reject and remedy these contradictions – just as we must the notion of an Islam reduced to its ideological-political aspects.
You call for a dialogue between all groups across the social spectrum so that the Arab region can enter into modernity. Do you really believe it is possible for such dialogue to take place, given the massive polarisation and divisive tendencies that run through Arab society – sectarian, political and ideological?
Fehmi Jadaane: I would like to take this opportunity to throw in a quote: ‘where justice is manifest, divine law comes into its own’. The just state is thus quite capable of providing for the needs of the general public. Of course, fanatics won’t let themselves be dissuaded from their dogmatism and entrenched views just like that. Because they are ruled and controlled by “passions”, not by reason and pragmatism.
I therefore share your fears regarding the question of whether current generations in the Arab countries – at least the older ones among them, who have experienced politics as senseless conflict their entire lives – are ready for such new approaches to thinking and action.
I am pretty sure that this will only be possible for future generations – provided that an early start is made to inculcate in them paedagogical values based on what Jurgen Habermas called “communicative action”. In other words, the values of free debate, dialogue, exchange, openness and mutual respect.
The first 18 years of his life were spent in Catholic schools, which left him with many unanswered questions about God and the Christian religion, Lang said, as he narrated his story of Islam. “Like most kids back in the late 60s and early 70s, I started questioning all the values that we had at those times, political, social and religious,” Lang said. “I rebelled against all the institutions that society held sacred, including the Catholic Church,” he said.
By the time he reached the age of 18, Lang had become a full-fledged atheist. “If there is a God, and He is all merciful and all loving, then why is there suffering on this earth? Why does not He just take us to heaven? Why create all these people to suffer?” Such were the questions that came up in his mind in those days.
As a young lecturer in mathematics at San Francisco University, Lang found his religion where God is finally a reality. That was shown to him by a few of the Muslim friends he had met at the university. “We talked about religion. I asked them my questions, and I was really surprised by how carefully they had thought out their answers,” Lang said.
Dr. Lang met Mahmoud Qandeel, a regal looking Saudi student who attracted the attention of the entire class the moment he walked in. When Lang asked a question about medical research, Qandeel answered the question in perfect English and with great self assurance. Everyone knew Qandeel – the mayor, the police chief and the common people. Together the professor and the student went to all the glittering places where “there was no joy or happiness, only laughter.” Yet at the end, Qandeel surprisingly gave him a copy of the Quran and some books on Islam. Lang read the Quran on his own, found his way to the student-run prayer hall at the university, and basically surrendered without much struggle. He was conquered by the Quran. The first two chapters are an account of that encounter and it is a fascinating one.
“Painters can make the eyes of a portrait appear to be following you from one place to another, but which author can write a scripture that anticipates your daily vicissitudes?… Each night I would formulate questions and objections and somehow discover the answer the next day. It seemed that the author was reading my ideas and writing in the appropriate lines in time for my next reading. I have met myself in its pages…”
Lang performs the daily five-time prayers regularly and finds much spiritual satisfaction. He finds the Fajr (pre-dawn) prayer as one of the most beautiful and moving rituals in Islam.
To the question how he finds it so captivating when the recitation of the Quran is in Arabic, which is totally foreign to him, he responds; “Why is a baby comforted by his mother’s voice?” He said reading the Quran gave him a great deal of comfort and strength in difficult times. From there on, faith was a matter of practice for Lang’s spiritual growth.
On the other hand, Lang pursued a career in mathematics. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Purdue University. Lang said that he had always been fascinated by mathematics. “Math is logical. It consists of using facts and figures to find concrete answers,” Lang said. “That is the way my mind works, and it is frustrating when I deal with things that do not have concrete answerers.” Having a mind that accepts ideas on their factual merit makes believing in a religion difficult because most religions require acceptance by faith, he said. Islam appeals to man’s reasoning, he said.
As faculty advisor for the Muslim Student Association, Lang said he viewed himself as the liaison between the students and their universities. He gets approval from university authorities to hold Islamic lectures. “The object of being their faculty advisor is to help them get their needs met as far as adjusting to the American culture and to procedures of the university. They appreciate the opportunity to have misconceptions corrected,” he said.
Lang married a Saudi Muslim woman, Raika, 12 years ago. Lang has written several Islamic books which are best sellers among the Muslim community in the US. One of his important books is “Even Angels ask; A Journey to Islam in America”. In this book, Dr. Lang shares with his readers the many insights that have unfolded for him through his self discovery and progress within the religion of Islam.