In the Christian tradition, today is the first Sunday in Advent. ??It is the first day in the Christian calendar, the day when we begin looking forward to Christ's birth in Bethlehem.??
Since it is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my wife and I were in Pickerington, Ohio, where I grew up. ??We celebrated this first Sunday in Advent at Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church. ??I was confirmed in this church. ??I was ordained an elder in this church. ??And I was supported through seminary in this church. ??What a gift it was to be able to celebrate this first day of the Advent season. ??As we lit the candle of the Advent wreath, a ritual to countdown the Sundays of Advent in preparation for Christmas, we recited the words, "Living God, come to our world. ??When you hide your face, help us, to trust your promises and wait in hope." ??Then Pastor Jeff gave the children Advent Calendars to count down the time to Christ's birth.??
After the service, my wife and I began the four hour journey back to Michigan. ??On the way, I read through Surah 4 which was 63 pages in total. ??As we came through Toledo, I got a wonderful picture of the large Mosque rising out of the cornfields. ??Moving from the Christian Advent service to reading the Quran and seeing the Mosque illustrated, for me in my personal spiritual life, the crux of my project to read the Quran for Advent. ??It is to wrestle with the complexities of interfaith relations and the diverse reality of our religious landscape. ??It is also to raise awareness of interfaith cooperation, to engage in conversation among members of the faiths, and hopefully, motivate all of us to be open and connect with our neighbors. Once we deeply share in each other's lives and religious identities, then maybe, we can work together to improve our communities.
So what were my thoughts, questions, and observations of my first 63 pages of the Quran?
Well, there are many. ??First, I was surprised at my familiarity of the stories and characters. ??The Quran references Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mary (among others) multiple times in the first chapter. ??I felt a deep connection to the Quran immediately as I related to the stories shared by Christianity and Judaism. ??I've read that Jesus is mentioned around 25 times in the Quran, while Mohammed, PBUH, is mentioned only 4 times. ??Along the same lines, the Quran repeatedly expresses that all of the prophets of Allah are seen as equals. ??I wonder if we may have closer, more amicable relationships among Christians and Muslims if most Christians knew Jesus is seen as an equal to Mohammed, PBUH, in Islam. ??And further I wonder how things would be, if Christians knew that we shared so many stories and traditions and believed in the same God.
The next characteristics of the Quran that struck me is its literary form. ??While I know I am reading a translation of the Quran, where much is lost, it seemed that Allah was speaking directly to the reader and the community, refering to Allah's self in the form of the royal 'We" and also in third person. ??Much of the literary form seemed to be sort of "stream of consciousness" not being organized by theme or chronology. ??Also, it consisted much of decrees and commands and wisdom straight from Allah. ??Even when a prophet or event was referenced, it is refenced in the context of the present meaning in relationship to Allah's instruction concerning faith and righteousness. ??It seems to vary from the literary structure where the narration of events or stories, as found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, are expressed in first person and the event itself is experienced by the reader at the time of reading. ??I wonder if this characteristic of the Quran comes from its quality of Allah's words being spoken directly through the Prophet Mohammed, PBUH.
I also read that some of the Quran is interpreted literally and some allegorically. ??How does the reader make this distinction. ??
Also, how much of the historical context is needed to understand these passages more fully (I assume the historical context is totally necessary).??
Finally, after reading Surah 4 titled "The Women," it is apparent the Quran supports a patriarchal culture (as the Bible does). ??Are there feminist Muslim scholars that reinterpret parts of the Quran? ??Are there translations of the Quran that use inclusive language (it seems the Quran is directly addressed to men, and only secondarily addressed to women through the men)? ??What about the idea that men should get twice the amount of inheritance than the woman in the family, is this taken literally in the present day? ??These observations are viewed through the lens of a progressive Christian where the feminist voice is valued and heard (not that it isn't in the Muslim community). ??I'd love to get some feedback on this.
In summary, the Quran is dense with ideas and material and stories and history. ??Its almost overwhelming. ??But I feel more connected to my Muslim friends and I am excited about building my knowledge of their faith and connecting with them on a deeper level! ??