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Every verse of the Koran has four kinds of meaning

By Iftekhar Hai - Oakland Tribune - CA, U.S.A.
Thursday, July 13, 2006

Understanding and interpreting the Koran is an art, a science, and an inspired act.

Sufi commentators living in Islam from the 10th to the 15th century answered questions in their own unique way.

They said that every verse of the Koran has four kinds of meaning: an esoteric sense, an inner sense, a limit, and a lookout point. What this means is each person is an island, gifted with varied intelligence, flowering in pluralism and diversity, where differences of opinions and perceptions were looked upon as a blessing in building intra-lingual and intra-cultural societies.

All this is removed from the Koran, when interpreted by the fundamentalists.
When the West underwent profound technological, economic, cultural and political changes, Muslim societies fell behind because of fundamentalist thinking in an idealized theocratic system -- held sacred and disseminated through schools.

The Sufi thinkers welcomed an import of ideas by reformists who did not wish to sacrifice either Islam or modernity. They insisted in being genuinely democratic and representative.

But the theocratic leaders refused to learn foreign languages, science, and technology, ensuring backwardness for their people.

The European Renaissance owes a lot to Sufi-minded Arabs who had translated and enriched Greek philosophy and sciences, which were lost. And Arabic numerals were introduced into Europe in the 10th century by Sylvester II, the first French Pope, and an admirer of Arab-Islamic civilization.

In a dishonest interpretation of the Koran, Muslim women have suffered for centuries at the hands of men and mullahs, and they still do.

Thirteenth century Mullahs justified the execution of the great Sufi thinkers. Unfortunately, it was their deaths that precipitated the decline of the Muslim world and eventually stifled reflection or innovation. Therefore, the principles of democracy were forever buried.

Fundamentalists maintain nothing has changed since the age of the Prophet. And they do not like it when the incompatibility between fundamentalist interpretation of divine Islamic law and human rights is pointed out to them.

Moderation in Islam is not incompatible with human rights, nor is Islam incompatible with pluralism and its corollary -- a secular state. Muslims are enjoined to respect democracy and respect authority.

For me, there goes not a day when I -- together with the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs -- worry about how a theology of liberation can be used toward freeing religion from social, political and religious structures and ideas based on injustice and exploitation.

Lessons of love, compassion and forgiveness, which are integral part of the great faith are altogether absent in the teachings of the fundamentalists. So are scholarship and reflection.

Iftekhar Hai is the president of the United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance.


Thursday, November 16, 2006



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