I was preparing to write an in-depth review/response to this egregiously bad graphic novel, but I realized that meant I would have to re-read it to ci...moreI was preparing to write an in-depth review/response to this egregiously bad graphic novel, but I realized that meant I would have to re-read it to cite all the examples of its vileness, and so I changed my mind. No way do I want to give this a second read. Holy Terror is a poorly drawn (clumsy and lazy are two descriptors that spring to mind) post-911, Islamophobic revenge fantasy that repeatedly perpetuates racist, ethnic, and religious stereotypes without noticing, even once, the irony of a "hero" who fights terror with terror, murder with murder, violence with violence. If Frank Miller seriously thinks "a whole lot of folks need killing," he needs to look in the mirror rather than at the local mosque when he contemplates the root causes of terrorism. (less)
Approaching the Qur'an is an introduction to the Qur'an for the non-Arabic speaking, and presumably non-Muslim, reader, and it is an excellent one. Al...moreApproaching the Qur'an is an introduction to the Qur'an for the non-Arabic speaking, and presumably non-Muslim, reader, and it is an excellent one. Although I appreciate another book, The Qur'an: A User's Guide, for the way in which it contextualizes the Qur'an, this book provided a better introduction for some of the essential form and content of the text.
For one thing, Sells actually provides a translation of much of the primary material. His translations cover a quarter of the Qur'an, at least in terms of the number of suras (i.e., the first, part of 81, and 83–114), and focus primarily on the earliest, shortest, most direct material. (For whatever reason, these suras come at the end of the canonical arrangement of the Qur'an, making them material largely unread by those non-Muslims who attempt to experience the written Qur'an in English, and peter out somewhere along the journey.)
Sells also provides the reader with the opportunity to hear the Qur'an being recited, which is the means through which most Muslims across history have related with the Qur'an, whose very name translates as "Recitation." The accompanying CD includes several different recitations of a handful of key suras, for which a phonetic rendering and brief gloss are provided so that the reader may follow along. Just the small sample of recitations provided are enough to convince this reader that much of the power and meaning of the Qur'an might be forever lost on those who only encounter it in translation and as a written text.
The book concludes with a chapter on the gendered quality of the "sound forms" that appear throughout the Arabic text, and an excellent collection of resources for further exploration.(less)
After finishing Craig Thompson's Habibi, and being inspired by the beauty of the Arabic calligraphy, I decided to read the Qur'an. I read the Bible l...moreAfter finishing Craig Thompson's Habibi, and being inspired by the beauty of the Arabic calligraphy, I decided to read the Qur'an. I read the Bible last year, and figured it was high time to read the whole Qur'an as well, rather than get by on the mere handful of snippets I once read in the context of an undergrad course on Islam; I guess Habibi gave me that final push I needed.
At the same time that I began reading Ahmed Ali's translation of the Qur'an, I decided that it certainly couldn't hurt to have this "user's guide" as a companion for the journey. It hasn't hurt, for sure, but it hasn't helped much either. Instead of being a "user's guide" (which to me suggests an easy to read compendium of information needed to explicate and flesh out the primary text) this book provides a scholarly look at the history of the Qur'an and of Qur'anic scholarship, both within and without the Muslim world. It explores questions around the meaning of revelation in Islam; the distinction between the Qur'an as a history-bound revelation and as an eternal, absolute Logos, independent of history and humanity; and the role of orality and aurality, and not just literacy and textuality, in understanding the Qur'an. All of which is fascinating, if a bit overwhelming, to this reader who is neither a Muslim nor a scholar of Islam.
The concluding chapters of the book are more straightforward and are probably the most useful to the non-Muslim reader of the Qur'an. They summarize the Quranic basis for Muslim faith and practice, revealing the scriptural basis for some beliefs and activities while challenging the legitimacy of other practices and attitudes. These chapters were so well written and so full of useful information that they brought my estimation of the entire book up by one star.
While for outsiders the Qur'an exists primarily as a literary text (al-kitab, the book), for Muslims it continues to function as both a written text (mus-haf) and an oral one (al-qur'an) with an organic relationship between these two modes.... In other words, comprehension can follow from the emotive and intuitive response that is evoked in the hearer and reciter rather than from a study of its contents. (56)
Somewhere between the confessional insistence on a neat and clinical collection process and the critical position that the process of compiling the Qur'an took several centuries one may find a way of reconciling some of these tensions ; and the faithful may retain the deep seated belief in the authenticity of the text while being able to look the facts of history in the eye. Alas, the facts are never as uncomplicated as the fundamentalist (religious or secular) may want to insist; even if they are, they still require a person to approach them and people, like facts, also exist within history and carry their own histories within them. Any scripture should be understood in terms of its relation to its audience at any given point in time. (99)
While the eternal relevance of the Qur'an has for long been regarded as synonymous with a Qur'an divested of time and space, the history of the Qur'an and of its interpretation prove otherwise, as anyone concerned with the Qur'an as a functional or contextual scripture will soon discover. In order to relate Qur'anic meaning to the present, Muslims are compelled to relate to it from the distance of some historical moment. (101)
The Qur'an, despite its inner coherence, was never formulated as a connected whole, but was revealed in response to the demands of concrete situations. The Qur'an is explicit about the reasons for the progressive nature of its revelation. (122)
The contents of the Qur'an as the message of God to humankind and Muslims have been the focus of scholarly Muslim approaches to it. "How do I fulfill the requirements of God for me, in this day and age?" is the question that drives the Muslim. (146)
Despite the claims that anyone may make about God, he is really free from whatever people ascribe to Him. In other words, despite what we learn about God or His nature of characteristics of God elsewhere in the Qur'an, God remains free from not only the confines of biology and paternity, but also from the confines of human language....The Qur'anic portrayal of God is thus of a deity beyond the religious community that serves "Him"—and refers to God as "Him"—and which, perhaps inevitably, seeks to limit God by preconceptions and socio-religio-political horizons. God is also greater than the law and to elevate the law to the level of the divine and the immutable is, in fact, to associate others with God, the antithesis of tawhid. (148)
There is no direct reference in the Qur'an to any notion of an Islamic state.... Any assumption that an Islamic state is the will of God for all humankind rather than the results of a particular set of political circumstances as they unfolded in Medina during the lifetime of the Prophet is based on an interpretation of what the Qur'an says rather than any explicit statement to this effect.... Contrary to what observers of the contemporary world of Islam may imagine, there are very few specific duties explicitly spelled out in the Qur'an for an Islam wielding political power and all of these revelations pertain to the Medinan period. (183)
Texts, we now know, answer to questions asked of them and in the same manner that the taliban (the searchers) are not innocent and void of a context, similarly the text is also not free from a history and a context.It is in the ongoing interrogation of us as readers and our contexts that shape our questions and responses on the one hand, and a careful study of the text and its engagement with its context—both then and now—that we may gather some approximation of its meaning. None of us who approach the Qur'an are gender-neutral, classless, disinterested and disemboweled figures who "just want to understand." The need for understanding is driven, at least in part, by who we are and what our interests are in retaining or shedding our gender, race, class, clan, or ethnic positions. As misguided as it is to approach the text ahistorically, so it is to pretend that we are ahistorical beings. (192)
This book really tries, and succeeds to a great degree, in conveying the essence of Sufism, and particularly of Sufi poetry. But as nodozejoze recentl...moreThis book really tries, and succeeds to a great degree, in conveying the essence of Sufism, and particularly of Sufi poetry. But as nodozejoze recently said to me, "Sufi poetry doesn't do much for me. I think you have to know Persian for it to really strike home." I was also expecting it to be a little more "juicy" since Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey) is one of the editor/translators.
[T]he first step on the Path is to begin to contemplate the futility of the world of dust, the world in which one's lower self is doomed. The seeker must renounce it all, including his own self, and seek that which is Everlasting. He must travel from things to Nothing, from existence to Nonexistence.
How does one get lost on purpose? Our present state is one of forgetfulness toward the Divine—the true Self—and remembrance of worldly affairs and the lower self. The cure for this is a reversal: remembrance of the true Self, the Divine within, and forgetfulness toward everything else. (40)
Quatrain by Binavi Badakhshani (p. 95)
I became water and saw myself a mirage became an ocean saw myself a speck of foam gained Awareness saw that all is but forgetfulness woke up and found myself asleep.
Quatrain by 'Ayn al-Qozat Hamadani
He Who splashed a thousand worlds with color How can He buy the paint of "I and thou"? Colors, colors—nothing but whim and fantasy; HE is colorless, and one must adopt his hue. (98)
From Lord of the Haram by Fo'ad Kermani (pp. 113-4)
Divine Essence is beyond thought. So cut this philosophic guff: our minds can never grasp nor eyes perceive that absolute Absolute— so when it comes to this the brain is mired and boggled in bewilderment and the foot of perception stuck in the door.
Even the Universal intellect cannot comprehend his Essence so how can these paltry flecks of gray matter compete? No one gets to the Essence except the Essence. Only through His Power do things attain permanence. How can that-which-does-not-exist reach the Absolute?
I tend to approach sacred texts as something between "participant observer" and "disinterested revisionist," in the terms outlined by Farid Esack in h...moreI tend to approach sacred texts as something between "participant observer" and "disinterested revisionist," in the terms outlined by Farid Esack in his The Qur'an: A User's Guide, but regardless of the approach it is a real challenge to "review" a sacred text and give it a "rating." Sacred texts aren't read for entertainment or enjoyment, nor are they intended to be. Most sacred texts arose in different social and historical contexts than those of their contemporary readers, and in the absence of those contexts, meaningful reading can be a challenge. Separating what is intended to be allegory from what is meant to be taken literally is always a problem. They are complex enough to speak to different aspects of the human experience in different places and different times, and yet simple enough to remain compelling across the miles and millenniums. And dealing with tricky issues of authorship is an ever-present peril too. For example, how do you tactfully critique the author's writing style when a billion-plus people believe the author in question to be God Almighty? All that said, I am going to do my best to give an accurate account of my impressions when reading the entire Qur'an (in English translation, of course) for the first time.
The translation is really beautiful, drawing as it does on the full richness of the English language (e.g., I had never encountered the word guerdon before), and it also manages to capture something of the rhythm of the original Arabic (to which I have been listening, sporadically and without comprehension, as I read this translation).
The content is pretty straightforward, although the almost postmodern presentation of the content, jumping from channel to channel as it were, can be disorienting to the reader more comfortable with linear narratives. In addition, the text can come across as highly repetitive, driving home time and again the same basic message in often much the same language. And the message of the Qur'an is pretty simple:
There is one and only one God, variously referred to as God, Allah ("The God"), or Ar-Rahman (according to Wikipedia, "The Beneficent, The Most Merciful in Essence, The Compassionate, The Most Gracious"). This one God is said to be one and the same as the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
The one God is merciful and forgiving to those who believe and who ask for mercy and forgiveness, but harsh to those who do not.
The one God wants those who believe in God to be just, merciful, and compassionate in their dealings with others.
There is a Day of Judgment coming, in which those who believed in the one God and acted accordingly get to reside forever in the gardens of Paradise, while those who disbelieved, who got caught up in earthly pleasures, and who mocked Muslims will get to spend time in the fires of Hell. (Translator Ali makes a point early on that this Hell isn't eternal, as in the Christian version, but I am at a loss to see how he came to this conclusion, based on my reading of his translation, where the fires and punishments are described time and again as everlasting.) The Day of Judgment and the threat of hell is so ever-present in the Qur'an that I suspect Christianity derived its own teachings on eternal hellfire, not from the Bible as they believe (where eternal damnation is referred to obliquely), but from the influence of a millennium-plus of Islamic theology on Christianity. The theme of the clear, absolute separation between the believer and the damned which runs through the Qur'an rankles my sensitivities and is one of the more challenging aspects of the text, although I don't see it as any worse than the same mentality expressed in Christian terms.
The one God's existence and the appropriate response to this fact, that of gratitude and submission, can be inferred from many examples of design and intelligence in the natural world. Again and again, the Qur'an repeats that "there is a message in this [particular phenomenon] for those with eyes to see it," indicating that there is an Islamic natural theology and providing the basis for Islam's important contributions to mathematics and natural science.
While Jesus was a powerful, important, and miraculous prophet, he is not, and did not claim to be, the Son of God. God did not beget any children, nor does he have any peers. According to the Qur'an, the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and of the divinity of Christ are errors, misinterpretations of Jesus' real message, which was, of course, the message of submission to the One True God. Interestingly, much of the material in the Qur'an about Jesus and Christianity reveals different Christian traditions than those to which we are accustomed, including apocryphal childhoodmiracles and the idea that the Gospel was a single book.
Likewise, according to the Qur'an, the Jews misunderstood the message of Moses and the other Hebrew prophets, giving it an ethnocentric character rather than recognizing its universality. Based on my meager knowledge of the context of the original recitation of the Qur'an, it appears that many if not most of the most stridently anti-Jewish passages are related to specific challenges posed to the first Muslims by the Jewish community of Yathrib/Medina, and so should not be seen as blanket statements of Islamic antisemitism, although many probably insist on interpreting them as such.
The one God has revealed this simple message before, beginning with the first prophet Adam and continuing through various prophets to various peoples, and the peoples have tended to reject their prophets. The Qur'an repeats again and again that most have rejected the prophets and their message, and asserts that Muhammad and his revelation is being rejected in a similar fashion.
A believer in this revelation should resist oppression, with violence if necessary, but may also practice forbearance as a moral example, being forgiving and merciful. A believer should practice modesty, cleanliness,
There are two different general types of revelations, those proclaimed in Mecca and those proclaimed after the first Muslims undertook their emigration (Al-Hijrah) to Yathrib/Medina in 622 CE. In the former, the revelations seem primarily concerned with convincing the listeners of the authenticity of the Qur'an and of Muhammad's status as prophet, exhorting them to worship Allah without partner, and warning of the Day of Judgment. The suras delivered in Medina are quite different, addressing the concerns of the newly established community and religion, and providing guidance for Muhammad in his new role as leader, as well as prophet.
On the whole, I enjoyed reading the Qur'an more than I imagined I would, in part because of the excellent translation, but the absoluteness and repetitiveness of the message definitely also made it a challenge. Much of the text spoke to me, even though I am not a Muslim (and oftentimes doubt that I am even a theist), and I can easily see how it provides so many with inspiration in a world seemingly given over to everything but God, the Sacred. (I can also see how it would inspire violent responses to perceived aggressions and injustices as well, although I don't think that the Qur'an advocates violence against nonbelievers—other than in via divine punishment in Hell—nearly as much as does the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. I think everyone, liberal or conservative, Christian or atheist, who is interested in and/or concerned about Islam should read this complex and compelling primary sacred text for themselves before they jump to any particular conclusions.(less)
I've always found Huston Smith insightful, lucid, and fun to read, and so I chose this as one of my course textbooks (when the previous textbook came...moreI've always found Huston Smith insightful, lucid, and fun to read, and so I chose this as one of my course textbooks (when the previous textbook came out in a new edition---for $110!). In spite of its lack of much primary source material (which Philip Novak's collection of scriptures supplements), this is an excellent introduction to the major religions of the world, "our wisdom traditions." Smith's concise chapters describe the big religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity--as well as discussing the role of religion in the 21st century and providing tips on how to approach religions and religious diversity. The illustrations are the weakest part of the book. Some are excellent, others (like the image of Mahavira in the chapter on Buddhism) are out of place, and the heavy reliance on the paintings of Marc Chagall didn't make much sense when the religions of the world afford so much imagery. (less)
After reading two fairly profound, novel-length, "comic book" story arcs, I was expecting to that this collection of short stories would be filler, li...moreAfter reading two fairly profound, novel-length, "comic book" story arcs, I was expecting to that this collection of short stories would be filler, light stuff that Gaiman could crank out while catching his breath, preparing for the next run. Boy, was I wrong.
The first story in this collection, "Three Septembers and a January," brought me to tears as I read it on my lunch break. It tells the story of one Joshua Abraham Norton, the first and only Emperor of the United States, a man whose waking dream saved him from utter despair and whose holy madness inspires many of us to this day. Gaiman does him honor with this story.
"Thermidor" introduces the reader to Orpheus, son of Dream, in a tale about Robespierre's Reign of Terror, the ironic effort to effect the Age of Reason through terror. Heads will roll!
Werewolves. Subtle rendered, hinted at, glimpsed out of the corner of the eye until the very end, but werewolves nonetheless. These People and their history and customs are the focus of the third story, "The Hunt," a tale of the Old Country told by grandfather to granddaughter.
"August" explains much about the life and deeds of the First Citizen of Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, by interweaving imperial conquest and childhood sexual abuse. I wonder how this one went down with classicists.
My least favorite story in the collection, "Soft Places," is more hallucinogenic than the others (hence the title). G.K. Chesterton (whom I can identify only thanks to Gene Wolfe's introduction), Marco Polo, Fiddler's Green, and Dream meet in the sands of the Desert of Lop. But of course, it's "really" a dream...
A retelling of the myth of "Orpheus" juxtaposes classical symbolism with contemporary style and imagery, and does a great job at it. Gaiman shows he can write a relatively straightforward story and yet suggest visual imagery which "problematizes" that same narrative.
"Parliament of Rooks" takes a little boy's dream, and uses it to discuss Adam and Eve via the classic DC Comics spooky comic narrators Cain and Abel. The reader learns about the three wives of Adam, from the Midrashic account of the Creation; about how the two brothers got neighboring houses, one of Mystery and the other of Secrets; and about the differences between a murder of crows and a parliament of rooks.
"Ramadan" concludes the volume with a haunting tale of Haroun al-Raschid, the sultan of Baghdad at the height of its prominence and power. Gaiman trenchantly connects the myth, legend, and dream of the Baghdad of Ali Baba and flying carpets with the then-contemporary (and, sadly, now-contemporary) bombed out modern metropolis.
Gorgeously rendered coming of age story of a young woman caught between two worlds: ancient, cultured, repressive fundamentalist Iran and postmodern,...moreGorgeously rendered coming of age story of a young woman caught between two worlds: ancient, cultured, repressive fundamentalist Iran and postmodern, nihilist, hedonist Vienna on the other. I read the first half sometime ago, re-read it in its entirety as part of the Parkland College "one campus, one book" campaign for fall 2009, and plan to watch finally the copy of the DVD my wife got for her birthday back in June. (less)