October 16, 2004

Quran 2.0 

The interpretation and translation of ancient texts is by no means an easy job. It takes deep historical and linguistic knowledge, and it's still a long job. I had only glimpses of what it takes, during my Latin and History studies in high school.

An ancient text will almost inevitably undergo changes during time, and sometimes it is very difficult to reconstruct the original version of the work. In certain cases, it is actually impossible.

While translating from one language to another, there are subtleties of meaning that are difficult to convey. And ancient texts were written in a different social and historical context - this is the main difference.

That's why scholars need to write commentaries, to explain ancient texts. Some of them are honest, and do not let their own ideas surface in the commentary. Others are not, and write commentaries that sound more like propaganda than explanation.

I think religious texts are particularly difficult in this regard: many people base their faith on what is written in those books, and they are not going to accept happily the idea that holy writings can be wrong, or a madman's drivel, or fakes. But mostly, philological analysis will show that the holy books cannot be considered as the direct hardcopy of God's words, but they are the product of humans like us. They may have been inspired by God, but they were humans anyway, with their shortcomings. In the end, much about religious texts boils down to a matter of interpretation: when what you read has little or no apparent meaning, people are led to make one up.

Catholicism, in recent times, went a long way in the direction of reinterpretation of the Bible and Gospel: in many cases the doctrine says quite explicitly "Yes, the books say so, but we consider it means something else".

I know almost nothing about Judaism, so I won't comment.

And now, Islam. One can say anything, but it cannot be denied that the Quran contains a lot of incitement to hatred and violence against the infidels, and anti-semitism. Faithfreedom deals in depth with these issues - although I think their approach has a fundamental flaw: they axiomatically consider the belief in a revealed truth as an irrational and basically wrong position. On the other hand, I do not think that who believes in a revealed truth is necessarily irrational, stupid or misleaded.

The Quran is particularly disjoined and chaotic, in my opinion. This stems from the fact that Suras originated in the oral tradition of arab tribes, and what sounds good when recitated around the camp's fire (ok, I'm taking a bit of liberties here) may be rather inconsequential on paper.
Blogger Kat wrote some articles regarding the life of Mohammed, and blogger Jinnderella added her contribution. Thus, the subject of interpretation is of fundamental importance for the Quran.

The mainstream in Islam today is an extremist vision, the Wahabi one, spreaded all over the world by Saudi-funded mosques and islamic schools - Little Green Footballs has several stories regarding the connections between mosques in the West, Saudi Arabia and dodgy groups, strongly suspected of terrorist affiliations. The Saudi imam of Rome's mosque, in Italy, was expelled for incitement to hatred and violence, also thanks to the investigative work of the Italian-Egyptian journalist Magdi Allam. More moderate currents of Islam have been marginalized - if not persecuted - by the Wahabis and Iran-related Shiites. In this visions, the infidels are enemies that must be defeated, their territory conquered and the Caliphate extended to all of the world. Violence only one way to accomplish this; others are demographics and the exploitation of western liberal societies in order to slowly implement Sharia.

Recently, an islamic organization in Italy, the UCOII (Union of Italian Islamic Communities) published a new italian version of the Quran. This version was prepared by Hamza Roberto Piccardo - an Italian convert - and it is distributed in many italian mosques. The commentary to the text is pure extremist and militant propaganda, strongly hostile to Jews, Christians and the West. It preaches isolation of the muslims from the rest of the society and implementation of Sharia, considered the only legitimate system of laws. Again, a consequence of ideologically-motivated, closed, literal and ahistorical interpretation of the text.
Small wonder if, following these teachings, muslims will practice violent Jihad.

Magdi Allam, again, uncovered this story, and he also suggests more intelligent versions of the Quran: Alessandro Bausani prepared a much "softer" translation and conciliating commentary.
Even Islamic scholars (Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid and Muhammad Mahmud Taha) are proposing a historically-contestualized intepretation of the Quran, following which poligamy, corporal punitions and holy war will have no place in the modern world.

These are the scholars and muslims with which is worth and useful to open a dialogue. Not the false moderates, wolves under a lamb's hide.


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