Religious Text Essay, Research Paper
Throughout the world there are numerous religions in practice today. The most prominent of the Worlds’ religions are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism. Each religion is discernible in its own unique way, with its various traditions, methods and places of worship, art, literature etc. In addition to that each religion has texts or scriptures which are considered to be sacred, holy and very important. Scriptures in the religious sense means the ‘Word of God’ as revealed in a particular book like the Bible or the Koran. Scripture can also stand for an inspired book or a source of teaching that a particular religion honors as all-important. Some scriptures have much spiritual truth in them, others have very little. Scriptures play an extremely important role in religion. It is through these scriptures and sacred texts that rituals, traditions and rules of a particular religion are passed on through centuries and from generation to generation. This paper studies the problem associated with the interpretation of the Bible and Koran in Part I and in Part II it deals with the status of women in the Bible and Koran.
PART I: INTERPRETATION OF THE KORAN AND THE BIBLE:
The method that is used to interpret the scriptures determines the results of one’s theology. It is the difference in the hermeneutical (method of interpretation) approach that spawns the divisions in the realm of theology.
Islam is the second most practiced religion in the world. Its teaching show many similarities with the Jewish and the Christian scriptures. Islam’s basic scripture is the Koran, revealed to Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h) by angel Gabriel (Jibrail) who recited the verses to Mohammed, who in turn taught them to his followers who memorized them and wrote them down on leaves and scraps of paper. The Koran has 114 surahs (chapters), arranged in order of decreasing length. Several interpretations of the Koran are available in English but no true translation. The Koran was revealed specifically in Arabic and a translation in any other language cannot convey the holiness of the Arabic Koran. The Koran is a book. It is not a collection of different, structurally unrelated sayings. The arrangement of the verses of the Koran, though not chronological, is Divinely ordained. Therefore, a Muslim must accept the fact that there is an underlying wisdom in the arrangement. Each verse and each surah must be interpreted in relation to the context. For this purpose, it is important to understand and appreciate the language and the style of the Koran thoroughly. The language of the Koran is the Arabic of the Prophet’s (p.b.u.h) time. Anyone who wishes to interpret the Koran seriously must have a through command over its language. For an ordinary Muslim, the Koran is the easiest book in that his objective in reading the Koran is remembrance of God and of the responsibility life entails. For a scholar, however, it is perhaps the most difficult. A scholar has to pay attention to each and every stress, for slight misinterpretation of even one word can change the meaning of the surah entirely.
Islam has been split into two main sects; the Sunnis and the Shiites. Sunni Muslims revere the Sunnah, the teachings of Mohammed (p.b.u.h) based upon Haddith, the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h) as recollected and transmitted by his followers. The Shiite tradition in Islam has its own recollections of Haddith which differ from the Sunnis but only in minor details. For Shiite Muslims, the Nahjul Balagha is of great importance. It is a collection of the sayings and sermons of Ali, son-in-law of Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h), considered as the perfect exemplar of Islam and the first of the Shiite Imams . For Shiites Nahjul Balagha is only second to the Koran. Another important book in Shiite Islam is the ‘Tohfa-tul-Awam’ (Gift for the People). This books is a guide for Shiite Muslims in their day-to-day life. Every devout Shiite consults this book before undertaking any major decision, be it marriage or the buying or selling of property. Even though both the Sunnis and the Shiites believe in the ultimate supremacy of the Koran, major differences emanate when it comes to the interpretation of the Koran. The early history of Shiism is still very obscure. Many see the roots of Shiism in Mohammed’s acceptance of Ali as his successor. After Ali’s death, the Shiites became an often persecuted minority-especially under the reign of Mu’awiyah. The second Imam, first son of Ali, Hassan was killed under the Caliphate of Mu’awiyah. Hussein, the third Imam and second son of Ali, along with numerous citizens of Medina and many family members, was massacred under the authority of Yazid, son of Mu’awiyah. The memory of these and following tragedies and martyrdoms provide the paradigm of suffering and protest that has guided and inspired Shiite Islam. Not found in Sunni Islam, the ideas of martyrdom and survival through persecution have become a distinct part of Shiite Islam and are commemorated during the lunar months of Moharram and Safar. The Shiites have different interpretations for parts of Koran. According to the Sunnis, “there is nothing in the Koran and the Tradition to support the Shiite claim that the Imamate is one of the pillars of religion” (Nasr, 75). However, Shiites especially in areas concerning the Imamate and esoteric interpretation of the Koran, disagree with the Sunni interpretation and construction of Koranic verses. Another conflict arises where the dialect with which the Koran is recited is concerned. The Sunnis and Shiites have different ways of pronouncing the words in the verses. For example, the Shiites instead of reading the Arabic word umma in reference to people or community read the word as ‘imma in reference to the Imams.
These differences have paved the way for numerous uprisings among the Sunnis and Shiites. ‘Sectarian violence’ has claimed many lives in Pakistan over the years and the problem is still escalating. It has also given non-Muslims a solid reason to doubt the unity of Islam. I came across the following phrase on a web-site depicting the differences between the Shiites and Sunnis:
“AS CHRISTIANS, OUR RESPONSE IS THAT IT IS CLEAR THAT ISLAM IS NOT A UNIFIED, COHERENT BODY, AS SO OFTEN IS
CLAIMED IN CONTRAST TO THE APPARENT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN VARIOUS CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS. INDEED
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANT (CHRISTIAN) GROUPS WHICH HOLD TO THE BIBLE AS THE
INSPIRED, INFALLIBLE AND COMPLETE WORD OF GOD SHOW FAR MORE UNITY, THE DIFFERENCES BEING A
RESULT OF INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE, RATHER THAN HAVING DIFFERING SCRIPTURES AS WITHIN THE BODY OF
The sacred book of the Christians is the Holy Bible, which includes the Old and the New Testament. Where the interpretation of the Bible is concerned, people have been known to use two ways; the literal (meaning exactly what it says) and the allegorical (the plain words having a deeper meaning). While researching for this topic, I came across numerous accounts of people who argue that, even though it is a spiritual book, the literal interpretation of the Bible is the only correct way to interpret it. They say that the literal interpreters have broad agreement of every major Biblical theme, while the allegorical interpreters find themselves in discord in many places and doctrines. Along with many others, the greatest reason to reject allegorical interpretation of the Bible or the strongest argument presented against it is that “such a method of interpretation leaves one with no authority by which to judge a man’s interpretation” . That is, if the Bible does not mean what it actually says, then what do we do to determine if man’s interpretation is correct? If everyone starts to interpret the Bible to fit their needs and imaginations then there will be no unity amongst them. If the literal method of interpretation did not make sense than it would have been acceptable to assign some other meaning to the Bible. However since it does make sense, then it seems outrageous to reject a literal method of interpretation in favor of the allegorical.
On the other hand, I also came across an article written in 1994, which says that the Vatican condemns the literal interpretation of the Bible .
PART II: STATUS OF WOMEN IN RELIGIOUS SCRIPTURES
I would like to emphasize in this introduction that my purpose for this study is not to denigrate Judaism or Christianity. As Muslims, we believe in the divine origins of both. No one can be a Muslim without believing in Moses and Jesus as great prophets of God. The purpose of this study is to examine, albeit briefly, the status of women in the Holy Bible and the Holy Koran.
Christianity and Islam both agree on the basic fact that God is The Creator of the whole universe and that Adam was the first created man and Eve the first woman. The Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam and Eve is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, he put all the blame on Eve.
“The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”
Consequently, God said to Eve,
“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
The Islamic conception of the first creation is found in several places in the Koran, for example:
“O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm
and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.’ And he swore
to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?’ They said: ‘Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost’ ” (7:19:23).
A careful look into the two accounts of the story of the Creation reveals some essential differences. The Koran, contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistake. Nowhere in the Koran can one find even the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Eve in the Koran is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not to be blamed for the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Koran, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.
The difference between the Biblical and Koranic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. The Catholic Bible states explicitly that:
“The birth of a daughter is a loss” (Ecclesiasticus 22:3).
A daughter is considered a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father:
“Your daughter is headstrong? Keep a sharp lookout that she does not make you the laughing stock of your enemies, the talk of the town, the object of common gossip, and put you to public shame” (Ecclesiasticus 42:11).
It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide.
This heinous crime was seriously condemned in the Koran. The Koran makes no distinction between male and female child. They both are regarded as a gift from God. In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly:
“He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire”
The Koranic and the Biblical belief on female education also differ greatly. The heart of Judaism is the Torah, the law. However, according to the Talmud, “women are exempt from the study of the Torah.” The Bible also discourages females from speaking freely.
“As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35)
How can a woman learn if she is not allowed to speak? How can a woman grow intellectually if she is obliged to be in a state of full submission? How can she broaden her horizons if her one and only source of information is her husband at home?
In Islam it is equally important for both men and women to be educated. One famous Haddith (saying) of Mohammed (p.b.u.h) says that acquiring knowledge is obligatory on both men and women.
In Islam women must cover their heads at all times. It’s a sign of modesty. Similarly in the New Testament of the Bible, women have been ordered to cover their heads whilst in prayer. It also goes to say that, man need not do so because the woman has been made out of the man and the man out of God.
1st Corinthians 11:6: – For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
1st Corinthians 11:7: – For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
1st Corinthians 11:8: – For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
Therefore, both Islam and Christianity require their women to cover their heads. The difference is that women covering their heads in Islam is a sign of modesty and respect. On the other hand women covering their heads in Christianity is a sign of male authority and dominance.
Many people in the Western world believe that Islam oppresses the rights of women. For example in Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive. This kind of extremity has not been prescribed in Islam and is the manifestation of a country’s culture. It will not be wrong to say that the Koran has given women higher more respectable position in Islam as opposed to the position awarded to women by the Bible in Christianity.