Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Quran as Literature

Numerous times in the Quran it mentions how beautiful it is as a piece of literature and challenges man to create another piece that can equal it. Obviously, I'm not reading the Quran in its original Arabic as my Arabic leaves very much to be desired. The translation I have sacrifices the poetic quality for accuracy of translation so I don't expect anything monumental when it comes to the lyrical and metric characteristics. However, just analyzing it as literature, it doesn't seem to be anything ground-breaking.

I've been told by a friend of mine who used to teach ESL (English as a second language) classes that her Eastern students write much differently than typical western writing when it comes to organization. Rather than organizing thoughts into paragraphs consisting of introduction, development, and conclusion, their writing was structured very differently, making it hard to read for Westerners. I keep wondering if my lack of enthusiasm for the Quran as a literary piece is a result of my being accustomed to Western literature. However, the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, was written in Hebrew, which is a Semitic language like Arabic and comes from a region geographically close to Arabia, and seems to agree with my literary tastes much better.

I think my protest with the Quran as literature is that it seems to jump from topic to topic and story to story without any easily discernible connection. Besides that, it is very repetitive. In the last week, I've read the story of Moses, basically about the same each time, at least four times in four separate surahs. It's not just Moses, either, I've also read the stories of Hud, Lut (Lot), Noah, and Salih multiple times. The Bible, on the other hand, seems much more linear and organized when it comes to narration and even non-narratives like the Psalms seem more organized by thought and theme.

I keep meaning to ask one of my Arab friends what their thoughts are of the Quran from a literary standpoint. I think it has many inspiring, meaningful words, which might be impossible for any human to recreate, but it's not the smoothest flowing, best organized piece of literature in my opinion. Even when I hear it recited in Arabic, it doesn't sound the prettiest but I also have to admit that I'm not terribly accustomed to hearing Arabic poetry so my ear is terribly untrained.

As always, I don't mean to offend anyone and I certainly don't mean to insult the Quran. If you disagree, please add your input, I'm always very happy to hear varying opinions. The entire purpose of this blog is to solicit the experiences of others and to generate intelligent, respectful conversation so please don't take this post the wrong way.

Pastoral Counseling

I spoke to my pastor today. It went very well, actually. Looking back and knowing my pastor, I should've expected it to be exactly as easygoing as it was but it's kind of hard to tell your religious leader that you're having serious serious doubts and even considering leaving the church for something else.

Rather than disappointment, I received only support for my search and support in my final decision, whatever that may be. I don't know if my pastor is unusual or if they're all so cool but in either case, I'm happy to have such a resource at my disposal (I'm making my pastor sound like a book or a website, not a person).

We had a nice discussion and we agreed to meet more and I'll write more about it later. For now, I just wanted to break the news that I've told yet another person who knows me face-to-face and it's someone who will help answer my questions, clear up my misunderstandings, and argue theology with me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Guts to Criticize and Do It Well

In today's khutbah, the speaker talked about proper Islamic dress in daily life but especially for the mosque. It wasn't anything very ground-breaking; he just reminded people that Muslims are supposed to dress respectfully and modestly. However, for some reason I was impressed at even this slight criticism. I guess I've gotten used to people being afraid of possibly offending anyone. I agree that you should avoid offending people if possible but when correcting someone and setting them straight, it's necessary to somehow show them the error of their ways.

I was impressed at how tactfully today's criticism was made. There was no finger pointing. The perpetrators themselves were hardly mentioned, for the most part the whole khutbah was about the reasons behind the dress code. Verses from the Quran and hadith were mentioned and explained. Everything was very tasteful and I don't believe anybody felt singled out or offended.

The point of this post, however, has nothing to do with Islamic dress. My point is that the speaker was not afraid to criticize. In today's world of personal rights and ultra-politeness (although that only seems to apply to not offending people but not to manners or common courtesy) most people are afraid to speak up about something being wrong. This timidity to speak up is what leads to cursing becoming a common part of regular speech, inappropriate dress everywhere, wide acceptance of sex and nudity, and other little problems that sum up to one big problem throughout society.

I know I've read either in the Quran or in hadith, possibly both, how to criticize others. It says to take them aside and tell them their error in private. There's no need to make it into a public embarrassment. If they still don't correct their ways, then do it again. Finally, if they continue to do wrong, then bring it to the attention of others. This shows a great deal of respect, consideration, and maturity, in my opinion and now I see that it's not just taught but also practiced this way.

I know in church we're often told to lead good lives and the goodness of Jesus, the prophets, and the saints are extolled but rarely are we actually criticized on any particular aspect of our lives. I do recall a priest one time at a university church giving a sermon on the evils of drunkenness (a problem on college campuses) and the virtues of moderation in all aspects of life. It was done just as tastefully and tactfully as today's khutbah but I don't recall any other real criticism. My experiences are also limited to only mainstream, moderate churches. I get the feeling that more fundamental, extreme churches might be more willing to criticize vocally based on my experiences debating some fundamentalists. However, in those situations, there is definitely an extreme lack of tact and compassion. As opposed to my "love the sinner, hate the sin" mantra, they seem to adopt a "hate the sinner and the sin" attitude, forgetting that they themselves are also sinners regardless of how hard they might try. I feel like there is always plenty of finger pointing and condemning when God is the only one capable of doing that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Breaking Anonymity... One Person at a Time

Today I told the first person to whom I'm actually close about my spiritual wandering. The friend is someone who has decent exposure to both Christianity and Islam. It was nice to talk to someone I know who also knows me and my background. Until now, aside from this blog, the only people to whom I've talked personally have been some acquaintances from the mosque, people with whom I've only had contact in a religious conversational sense. I'd say they're better informed about Islam than my friend but my friend, on the other hand, probably has more experience with Christianity.

I wouldn't say any major theological ground was covered but it's definitely a nice start. We talked about the importance of religion in our lives, how religion plays a role in relationships and family, and the mismatch between religion and modern society, liberal, conservative, and fundamentalist. Aside from all that generic talk, we did talk some specifics. We talked about the difficulty of justifying the Trinity as monotheistic, we talked about the strictness of Islam and the occasional laxity of Christianity, and we discussed some history and its affect on the development of the two religions. Altogether, it was a great conversation and I really hope that it was only the first of many.

Perhaps I'll expound on some more of the details and some of our shared conclusions tomorrow. Also, I've been unlucky thus far when it comes to talking with my pastor. However, we have multiple meetings, both one-on-one and group meetings, planned this weekend to discuss other church matters so I hope to begin my assault of questions and concerns then.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Yesterday I had mentioned that the Quran is divided into 30 parts. Each one is called a juz. I said that I was on the 12th or 14th, it turns out I'm on the 12th so I'm closer to a third of the way done than halfway.

Also, the khutba at jumuah today said something that I wanted to comment on but unfortunately I've forgotten what. I really need to carry a notebook around so that I will be able to remember the random thoughts that I sometimes have throughout the day.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Real People and a few Random Thoughts

Thus far, I've talked in person to a few Muslims about my search but not any Christians. When people see me in the mosque and I'm obviously not Muslim, they occasionally talk to me and, when they find out I'm Christian but considering converting, they offer to get together to talk. I figure it's definitely in my interest to go along and listen since my goal is to figure out the truth so I'm always more than willing to participate.

However, I've yet to talk to any Christians about my search; I think maybe I've been afraid of being judged. I've decided that now that the holidays are over and things are back to normal, I'll approach my pastor. I guess I had hoped that the anonymity of the internet could shield me from actually having to talk to anyone face to face but it's obviously not working as I had hoped. I suppose I could easily enough talk face to face with pastors, priests, and ministers of other churches but my pastor already knows me and, I would hope, would take more interest in me than somebody who doesn't.

On another note, I'm slowly making my way through the Quran. I restarted from the beginning a while ago, probably sometime in October. Just last night I finished the surah entitled "Hud." I'm not entirely sure but I think that's in the 12th or 14th of the 30 subdivisions. For those unfamiliar, the Quran is divided into surahs, which are similar to books in the Bible, the lengths of which can vary greatly. It is also divided up into 30 parts that are roughly equal in length to allow people to pace themselves to read the entire Quran during the month of Ramadan. In about three months, I'm almost half-way through, which means I'm way off pace. I'm not even reading the commentary or introductions that accompany it and I'm reading the English side, my native tongue. Obviously the pace doesn't really matter but I just figured I'd mention how incredibly slow I am.

Finally, I was imagining how a conversation with my friend might go regarding my search. I figured explaining it to someone else might help me organize my thoughts (the exact purpose of this blog.) While fake explaining it, I realized that the only things drawing me toward Islam are its beliefs regarding Christianity. It's not so much that I find myself believing Islam as I find myself doubting Christianity. However, aside from Judaism and Islam, I'm not very familiar with other religions that believe in the one God. I'm pretty sure there are some that, like Islam, believe in the prophethood of Jesus but deny his deity. I'd prefer to be something a little bigger and more recognized than some tiny, fringe religion but, in the end, all that matters is the truth, just like I've said time and time again. It shouldn't matter if I'm the only person as long as I know God's word and am following God's will.

I'll keep you posted on my progress with my pastoral meeting.