One day last week, I was watching simultaneously—that is, switching from one channel to another—two seemingly and vastly different “performances.” On an HD cable channel (devoted mostly to classical music concerts, operas, etc.) was Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” while on a news channel was live reportage on the ground in the aftermath of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist attack in Paris that killed 130 people. It was hard to let go of one or the other.
A hundred or so voices were rising, falling, exploding, with a symphony orchestra in a European concert hall while terror from Islamist extremists was playing out in a much-loved European capital. “War Requiem,” an antiwar opus, was composed in the 1960s to celebrate the restoration of Coventry Cathedral destroyed in the Battle of Britain in World War II. Britten mixed the Latin Mass for the Dead with verses by war poet Wilfred Owen who lost his own life while serving as a foot soldier. Sonorous and sorrowful in many parts, “War Requiem” is not quite like the “Requiems” of Brahms, Mozart and Fauré that give you glimpses of paradisum.
Hand on the remote, I suddenly wondered how my face looked like while I was beholding all these. I was overloading, I soon realized.
But last week was indeed an overload of terror, followed by several more—among them, the terrorist attacks in Mali and Tunisia. Before that was the bomb explosion in a Russian Metrojet that had just left Egypt, killing more than 200 on board, also claimed by IS terrorists. These, while thousands are heading for Paris for the summit on climate change starting Nov. 30.
The irrepressible Pope Francis asked for prayers and described the Paris attack as World War III-ish.
But there are pocket gardens of light in this so-called grey November of our souls. Just off the press is “The Study Quran” (HarperOne), a meticulous presentation of Islam’s holy book in English, with Muslim scholars—Sunni and Shiite, among them—explaining and interpreting the verses and putting them in the right context.
Behind this “monumental work” is Seyyed Hossein Nasr, university professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. Who is he? “Author of over fifty books, Professor Nasr is a well-known and highly respected intellectual figure both in the West and in the Islamic world. Born in Tehran, raised from the age of twelve in the United States, and a graduate of MIT and Harvard University, Nasr is well qualified to explain Islam to a Western audience. He appears frequently on Meet the Press, as well as other national news shows.”
After learning about “The Study Quran” from the news a few days ago, I immediately went to the Internet to know more about it. (It is quite pricey, I must say.) It is hoped that, with this book, persons with ill motives and terroristic bent will not use the Koran to justify their violent actions. But that is not all that it is for. There is so much more in the Koran that people of different faiths can learn from.
Often misunderstood is Verse 4, Chapter 47 of the Koran, which says, “Strike the necks of those who do not believe.” Does this mean that a Muslim must aim to exterminate—by beheading—all those whose faith is not Islam? No, this verse applies in the context of the battlefield.
I looked at my copy of the Koran (Ballantine Books) and, yes, there it was, Chapter 47:4. “When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters.”
This penchant for beheading, performed on world stage for all to see, might have originated from that hijacked verse, used to suit the cruel, vengeful streak of those who wish to build one world Islamic caliphate. Peace-loving Muslims shake in fear.
An analyst said in a TV interview that recruitment of young, impressionable people into IS or al-Qaida to train for terrorism does not happen in mosques, it happens on the Internet. These recruits (some are teenagers) join not because of full understanding of the teachings of Islam or of some lofty political beliefs or to seek redress for persecution that happened centuries ago, but because of something missing in their lives, some disaffection and weariness. Maybe even a spiritual emptiness that they want to turn into some fiery, “self-affirming” pursuit. Much like what happens to those drawn to religious cults with wacko leaders.
It is the recruiters, the leaders with the political, ideological agenda who prey on the young, the dispensable young who, believing in the promise of paradise and with the name of God on their lips, blow themselves up and kill those around them.
Some of the dozens of praises for “The Study Quran”:
“Nasr and his team have done the English-speaking world an enormous favor with their erudite and profound translation and commentary on the Qur’an combined with essays by some of the most learned scholars on the Qur’an—a timely contribution in a world that has become infected by Islamophobia and intolerance” (Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, UCLA School of Law, and author of “The Great Theft”).
“A monumental milestone in the study of the Quran in western academia and a veritable touchstone of authenticity for all who are asking: what does the Quran actually say? With clarity and comprehensiveness, the editors and translators of this magnificent volume have helped distinguish the true spirit of Islamic faith.” (Reza Shah-Kazemi, The Institute of Ismaili Studies)
I wonder what the book’s commentators and annotators say about the Christmas story in the Koran. I did write a column on this 10 Christmases ago after which I received a warm letter from a Muslim.
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