Dr. Carl W. Ernst examines the Qur’an and the unique challenges that come with studying such an ancient and important book.
Hostile readers of the Qur’an use a literary approach that is the equivalent of a blunt instrument. They make no attempt to understand the text as a whole; instead, they take individual verses out of context, give them the most extreme interpretation possible, and implicitly claim that over1 billion Muslims around the world robotically adhere to these extremist views without exception. This is, in effect, a conspiracy theory that has virally multiplied in significant sectors of modern Euro- American society. It is irrational, it is paranoid, and it is out of touch with the realities of the lives of most Muslims around the world today. It ignores the existence of multiple traditions of interpreting the Qur’an in very different fashions(see chapter 1). Unfortunately, a small minority of extremists, who quote the Qur’an in support of terrorist violence, have been magnified by the media into a specter that is now haunting Europe (and the United States)more intensely than Marxism ever did.2 In part because of these contemporary anxieties, it is difficult for most Europeans and Americans to read the Qur’an.
Another questionable assumption is the idea that if one understands the Qur’an, one understands the entire Islamic faith, and therefore one understands all Muslims. This breathtakingly simple concept, a by- product of Protestant views of scripture, is no doubt convenient; it means that in order to understand Muslims one does not really have to take seriously things like hundreds of years of history and politics, social and economic conditions, the cultures of different regions, and so on. It would be easy if, from a few lines in a sacred text, one could predict everything about the behavior of hundreds of millions of people in widely separated countries, as if they were programmed from a central computer. A simple thought experiment should indicate otherwise. What does the New Testament tell us about modern American Christian attitudes on issues like abortion, homosexuality, and environmentalism? Since Christians fall on all sides of these issues (let alone the debate about which groups count as Christian), many additional factors would have to be introduced to provide convincing explanations of these questions. Likewise, the Qur’an by itself is far from explaining the history of Muslim majority societies.