Archive for January, 2011

Reading the Koran, Terry Jones, and Baroness Warsi: 23 January

January 23, 2011

My reading the Koran is going slowly, only 48 pages of 562. It is good to see similarities with the Bible, but so far they are few. Unfortunately, so far, the similarities are superficial but the differences fundamental.

Surah 2: 126: And when Abraham prayed: My Lord! Make this a region of security and bestow upon its people fruits, such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day, He answered: As for him who disbelieveth, I shall leave him in contentment for a while, then I shall compel him into the doom of Fire – a hapless journey’s end.

There are similarities between this and Abraham praying in Genesis 18 for the people of Sodom. Abraham asks God not to destroy the city because of the righteous people there, bargaining with God, playing on his kindness. Abraham begins securing the safety of the city if there are 50 righteous people, and whittles God down to only 10. At this point Abraham stops, although there is no indication that God would not be willing to bargain further. The story shows God to be less harsh than Abraham first thinks he is.

In the Koran Abraham prays for blessing on the whole area and its people, but only on the believers. In the Bible neither Abraham, nor God, are concerned about what people believe, but about what they do to their fellow humans. In the Bible God wants righteous people, people who do not lie, steal, kill etc. In the Koran God wants believers. This is clear already from the 150 verses I have read. Those who suffer ultimate judgement in the Koran are the unbelievers, or ‘infidels’. According to Jesus, those liable to the ‘eternal fire destined for the devil and his angels’ are the callous, uncaring, unrighteous. Jesus does not mention their beliefs. (Matthew 25) The fire Jesus talked of is not originally for people at all, although it can become their fate if they ally themselves closely with the devil. The fire in the Koran is indeed for disbelieving humans. In the Koran there is no possibility of bargaining with Allah. This verse shows Allah to be harsher than Abraham in lulling unbelievers into false security in this world and then punishing them in the next.

The Koran’s description of Abraham is quite different from that of the Bible. Of course it is unthinkable that Abraham could have talked about believers in Allah, for that name of God was not known to him. It flies against the strict Jewish tradition that the name of God is not voiced at all; euphemisms, such as ‘The Lord’ or ‘The Name’ are used instead. More than this, the idea that Abraham would be in any way concerned about the beliefs of the people around him is alien to Old Testament and Jewish thought. Judaism does not seek converts. It makes it hard for people to convert to Judaism. Jews are not interested in changing the beliefs of others, they find it hard enough following their own religion.

The Abraham of the Bible and the Abraham of the Koran may have the same name but, from this verse at least, are different people, with different ideas and attitudes.

And now the Home Secretary has banned Terry Jones the ‘Koran-burning’ pastor from entering the UK, a sad reflection of the establishment’s inability to distinguish violent and non-violent opposition to Islam. Burning paper is non-violent, a dramatic statement of opposition to the ideology of Islam, deliberately targeting the ideology and not the people. Moslems have responded by claiming that Koran-burning is violent and threatening violence in return. Our leaders have accepted this Moslem view.

The difficulty is that our Government and establishment are unable to conduct a proper assessment of the Koran itself. Does the Koran promote violence against non-Muslims? That is one question in my mind as I read it. One argument that the Koran does promote violence is the life story of Mohammed. Before he received the teaching of the Koran he was a businessman. After he was a warrior prince. But this could have been a wrong interpretation of the teaching. Hence the need for a proper assessment. It is hugely encouraging that Imans in Iraq, both Sunni and Shia, have promulgated a fatwa against violence, especially outlawing suicide bombings.

For the Government the idea that the Koran might contain an incitement to violence is unthinkable. If the Government ever even hinted at such a conclusion the opprobrium heaped on it would be immense. Threats of violence and actual violence would probably ensue from extremist Moslems – unaware that thereby they would be confirming the conclusion. Even considering the question is unthinkable.

Instead the Government insists that the problem is not with the Koran but with extremists. But what if, as Baroness Warsi publicly denied, being ‘extremely Moslem’ and a ‘Moslem extremist’ are the same thing? It all depends on what exactly is the teaching of the Koran.

Roger Harper

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Debate, Dawn Treader and The Nativity: 6 January

January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!

My seven week break from posting was due to being preoccupied with Christmas and some disheartenment. There are not many of you reading this. And no-one makes any comments! Even when I think I’m being controversial. If it has ever crossed your mind to disagree (or even agree) with me, please go ahead.

Looking back over last year I have thought about commenting how the Pope blatantly asserted the superiority of his church over us Anglicans and Rowan Williams went along with him, smiling. But unless there’ll be some debate, I’ll keep my head down.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the film, is good, worth seeing on the big screen. Much is very faithful to the book, Eustace is brilliant. Despite some reviews I have read, it has a good pace, keeps up interest, and builds to a believable climax. It does not meander around. The physical battles are built up, the moral ones played down. The drama is central, the message in the background. But it’s all there. A fuller and deeper story than many, many, others.

As long as Dawn Treader makes enough money for the new production company, next up will be The Silver Chair, which I reckon is the best Narnia book of all. The children win the ‘battle’ not by fighting as adults with sword and shield but by being children. They are aided not by a warrior, be it Prince or mouse, but by Puddleglum the weedy pessimist. May the producers this time let the story be led along by its own twists and charm and not by exaggerated epic battles.

Narnia in the cinema contrasts with The Nativity on BBC TV. Before Christmas the story was told in four half hour episodes, very faithful to the originals, very moving. Here the supernatural drama was played down – no hosts of angels in the sky over the shepherds – and the message played up – expert Christian commentary from the wisest of the Magi. It was like a good Christmas sermon. The story had pride of place, but the script writer Tony Jordan made sure the message was also there clearly. Catch up with The Nativity if you can. Or wait until next Christmas. It’s set to become a regular.

It seems that Tony Jordan, with his ‘street’ (or Albert Square) credentials as tough Eastenders and thriller writer was allowed to become a little preachy, while the Narnia scriptwriters had to veer away from drawing out the lessons. Let’s have Tony Jordan writing the screenplay for The Silver Chair!

Roger Harper