The Guardian Unlimited section, Comment is Free, has just started a year long project in which each week, writer, broadcaster and cultural critic Ziauddin Sardar will blog a different verse or theme of the Qur’an. Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting will help frame the debate and whilst readers cannot directly blog questions and opinions, they can email questions, their queries, etc.*
We are only at the beginning of this project and it has already stalled somewhat and rightly so in my view, as Mr Sardar is refusing to engage with those of us who have raised what he clearly regards as prickly issues and by doing so has partially negated the whole point of the exercise.
My own bone of contention with Mr Sardar has been over his claim that if it is to be understood perfectly, the Qur’an must be read in its original language. However if one takes into account the Qur’an was written in ancient Arabic, the vast majority of Muslims will be excluded from reading the book as they cannot understand nor speak that language. Incidentally this does explain why in most Madrases the Qur’an is learnt to memory by rota. I also raised the point with Mr Sadar that in countries in which Arabic is not spoken, few Muslims even understand the call to pray beyond what they have been told, as it is broadcast in Arabic, ancient or modern I know not.**
Whilst there are serious theological question to be asked about the claim that the Qur’an can only be properly understood in ancient Arabic, that is for others. My own gripe is as there are no official translations of the Qur’an, indeed translation is positively discouraged by Islamic scholars and religious authorities, This places immense power in the hands of the aforementioned people and those they serve on earth. For to leave all interpretation of the Qur’an in such a comparatively small group of individuals hands, cannot but keep the masses in ignorance, for every word from within the Qur’an, a book many hold dear, comes to them second hand and more often than not from what I would regard as a tainted source due to their additional agendas.
Indeed what Blogging the Qur’an has done to date is to lay out starkly just why progressive socialists and atheists should actively oppose organized religion. I am not suggesting here we should refuse to work with people who have a religious faith, far from it, nor should we act like a bull in a china shop, but we should put our point polity as to why we believe that religion is still the opium of the people.
** Emails to Blogging the Qur’an, http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/quran/2008/01/your_say_1.html
***Emails to Blogging the Qur’an, http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/quran/2008/01/your_say_5.html