Free Qurans: good faith requires good terms

Farouk A Peru

If you had good faith, would you demand an apology and furthermore issue threats when your gesture is rebuked? That’s not good faith at all; that’s a hostage situation. 

Farouk A. Peru, TMI

Imagine you were being tied up and held at gunpoint. You are told that you are completely in the power of your captor and that escape is simply not possible. Then your captor, albeit in a very friendly manner, gives you some food. Would you eat this food without suspicion or would you eye every morsel as though it might kill you? When you eye it with suspicion, your captor actually gets offended. This is perhaps the biggest irony of all.

Nevertheless, this is exactly what transpired with the “free Quran” incident.

What would normally have been a beautiful gesture of sharing one’s faith turned into an ugly exchange with some threats thrown in. I unequivocally blame the new kids on Islamofascist block, the so-called Islamic Information and Services Foundation (IIS), for their lack of sensitivity. IIS’s intention was to distribute one million Qurans to counter the “rising Islamophobia” in the country. A noble gesture indeed, but there’s more to it than that. Let us consider the following:

Firstly, it is quite likely that the Qurans being distributed were of the traditionalist translation and interpretation. That stands to reason because the IIS belongs to the Allied Coordinating Committee of Islamic NGOs of Malaysia (Accin), which includes the racist Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma). This means that the footnotes in their translations portray a very self-centred outlook. Allow me to explain:

The Quran is interpreted by its readers through a variety of lenses. Two of these include a universalist lens which I personally favour and believe that the Quran itself supports. Through this lens, we see the Quran as supporting multiple means to God (as per chapter 29, verse 69) and that there are many paths of truth (13/17). In other words, the Quran is not a parochial text. It acknowledges cultural dissimilarities between people. It even tells the Prophet to not interfere with the rituals of other peoples (22/67). This is a beautiful teaching and I highly support the gesture of distributing translations of the Quran which depict this.

However I fear that the Qurans given by IIS will not be interpreted in this way. This is because the footnotes borne by their Qurans may contain elements of what I call a self-centred reading. In other words, in that reading, Muslims become the protagonists of the text. Whenever the word “believers” is mentioned, Muslims will see it as referring to themselves. Whenever the word “disbelievers” is mentioned, Muslims will accordingly see it as other than themselves. This is what the footnotes of famous translations such as those Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Khan and Hilali and Saheeh International insinuate: that Muslims are the chosen people. This is the source of Islamofascism.

Such Qurans make very unpleasant reading for people of other faiths and ideologies. They would see themselves as “the other” and close themselves off from the Quran. I would not blame them for feeling that way, either. However, I do not believe that this self-centred outlook is indigenous to the Quran. The Quran is very universalist in its outlook. It even begins with the story of humankind (2/21) and expounds on a common utopia for all (2/30). It is not about converting you to the religion of Islam; it is about bringing you salam (peace).

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