A debate on the Quran between Mouhanad Khorchide and Hamad Abdel-Samad

Two controversial contributors

In a new book – Zur Freiheit gehört, den Koran zu kritisieren: Ein Streitgespräch (It is a part of freedom to criticise the Qur’an: A disputation) – two of the most prominent voices on Islam in Germany, Hamed Abdel-Samad and Mouhanad Khorchide, debate the nature of the Quran and of the Islamic faith. The publication has sparked considerable public interest, also because its two authors have been at loggerheads on many issues of theological and political significance.

In recent years, Abdel-Samad has emerged as a reformed former Muslim Brother and a self-styled critic of Islam, publishing a salvo of controversial popular books imputing a fascist predisposition to Islam and presenting the Prophet Muhammad as a maniacal proto-terrorist. While these books have earned Abdel-Samad public notoriety, journalistic and especially scholarly observers have widely dismissed his theses as exceedingly crude.

In contrast to that Mouhanad Khorchide, Professor for Islamic Theology at Münster University, has published widely on his understanding of Islam as a religion of mercy. His reliance on theological positions and historical-critical methodology have been ostracised by a range of Muslim associations in Germany; and after receiving death threats from conservative radicals, Khorchide has been under police protection.

Attempting a serious debate

In a discussion of the book and its theses on the ZDF’s Forum am Freitag TV show ((http://www.zdf.de/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-5989636.html)), the authors nevertheless manage to engage each other in a serious conversation beyond mere polemics. Both authors show themselves desirous of activating what they refer to as ‘Islam’s silent majority’ and to equip this majority with the necessary theological tools to defend their faith against the depravations of jihadist interpretations. Moreover, they decry the tendency of contemporary theological debate to degenerate into a shouting match in which the opposing sides bombard each other with competing quotations from the Quran, each party eager to have its preferred textual passage count as a piece of ‘evidence’ demonstrating the – peaceful or violent, democratic or authoritarian – essence of Islam.

Whilst viewers of the TV debate could be impressed by the willingness of Abdel-Samad and Khorchide to enter into such an ambitious dialogue, it was also difficult to avoid the feeling that, as their discussion wore on, they began to fall into the very trap they had sought to avoid: beginning with a series of Abdel-Samad’s interventions, both discussants gradually came to rely rather heavily on quotations from the Qur’an; and both sought to use shreds of the text to prove their respective arguments about the true nature of Islam as a religion.

Abdel-Samad, for instance, alleged that the term ‘man’ occurs 61 times in the Qur’an; “and in all of these 61 verses, ‘man’ comes away negatively”. From this assertion, Abdel-Samad derived the assertion that “young people who ask themselves: ‘what does God want from me?’ are ultimately led to death, not to life” by the Qur’anic text. In Abdel-Samad’s view, the only ray of hope is the fact that most Muslims don’t read the Qur’an, or (if they do read it) don’t understand its message – also because the Quran is, according to Abdel-Samad, not only a violent but also incomprehensible and primitive book.

Sustaining nuance in the current political climate

At least in the TV debate of the book’s theses, the rhetorical prowess of Abdel-Samad has a certain edge of the quiet Khorchide: the discussion has Khorchide struggling to defend his perspective on the Quran against Abdel-Samad’s assault. Khorchide manages to make a number of memorable points – presenting, for instance, his view of how the Quran as a text of ongoing divine communication might be read in a meaningful way by Muslims today. Yet the viewer is still left with an overall sense that nuance is difficult to sustain in a public debate that pits an eloquently presented black and white narrative à la Abdel-Samad against the more complex analysis that Khorchide seeks to put forward.

The book form of the debate might be somewhat more suited to Khorchide, insofar as it might enable him to deploy a well-thought out answer to Abdel-Samad’s stark attacks. Nevertheless, the difficulties in developing an ambitious and theologically serious argument about the Quran faced by Khorchide are emblematic of the current state of the public debate in Germany and Europe. In fact, as his critics have noted, Abdel-Samad shares the fundamentalist Salafi understanding of Islam that he claims to fight; the sole difference being that he castigates what the Salafis find admirable. Neither of them can actually accommodate a more nuanced understanding of Islam as a lived religion or of its foundational texts.

In this respect, one of Khorchide’s points from the TV discussion rings true: the message that readers derive from the Quran tell us far more about the nature of the interpreter in question than about the nature of the Quran. The fundamentalist “must ask himself: ‘with what eyes of hate do I actually read the Quran?’” Perhaps Hamed Abdel-Samad, too, ought to take this question seriously.

Early Quran Fragments found in Birmingham University

The ancient manuscript, written on sheep or goat skin, sat for nearly a century at a university library, with scholars unaware of its significance.

That is, until Alba Fedeli, a researcher at the University of Birmingham studying for her doctorate, became captivated by its calligraphy and noticed that two of its pages appeared mis-bound alongside pages of a similar Quranic manuscript from a later date.

The scripts did not match. Prodded by her observations, the university sent the pages out for radiocarbon testing.

On Wednesday, researchers at the University of Birmingham revealed the startling finding that the fragments appeared to be part of what could be the world’s oldest copy of the Quran, and researchers say it may have been transcribed by a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims believe Muhammad received the revelations that form the Quran, the scripture of Islam, between 610 and 632, the year of his death. Professor Thomas said tests by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit indicated with a probability of more than 94 percent that the parchment dated from 568 to 645.

Omid Safi, the director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and the author of “Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters,” said that the discovery of the manuscript provided “further evidence for the position of the classical Islamic tradition that the Quran as it exists today is a seventh-century document.”

“Jihadism” does not exist in Islam

July 6, 2014

In a recent op-ed, Hocine Kerzazi speaks of the growing “jihadist movement” and explores the origins of jihad in Islam. Kerzazi speaks to both France’s Muslim population and to scholars around the world who study Islam.

He states that “nowhere does the Qur’an gives the term ‘jihad’ the sense of armed conflict, that of which is designated by the expression “qital” (combat, war.) The sense of ‘jihad,’ meanwhile, is fundamentally associated with the inner struggle between man and his ego.” According to Kerzazi “jihadist preachers” are guilty of shifting the meaning of Islamic legal terminology. Their arguments are taken from the eschatological tradition, namely situations of genocide that are justified in apocalyptic situations.

Jihadists added another concept to this tradition called “blood bath” (al-harj) that justifies the call to kill. In the past, the khawarij had used this to legitimize the killing of innocent peoples with the intention of pleasing God. In this way, those who call for civilian killings can, at the same time, oppose war. Kerzazi adds that the Islamic tradition is not one of “18th century pacifism” in the manner of Kant or Saint Peter. Islam, in that sense, rejects “perpetual peace” as a utopia.

Runoff Near, Debate Shifts to a New Set of Issues

During the five-way race in the Republican primary to represent a 12-county Hill Country district in the Texas House, two candidates, Rob Henneke and Andrew Murr, largely focused on the state’s water policy and ensuring local control of decisions on education and infrastructure.

The two have advanced to the May 27 runoff to succeed State Representative Harvey Hilderbran, Republican of Kerrville, who ran for state comptroller.

But the conversation in the campaign to represent House District 53 has shifted in a new phase. Discussions about water, taxes and immigration have been somewhat overshadowed by provocative topics like Shariah law, the Islamic code of law derived from the Quran.

“I’m going to be the candidate that’s going to fight to advance the constitutional conservative principles that I believe in and that this district believes in,” Mr. Henneke, a former Kerr County attorney, said.

Mr. Murr, a former Kimble County judge and county attorney, said his brand of conservatism would appeal to voters. “The message of having a voice coming from local government worried about issues like water and property rights resonates with a lot of people,” he said.

During a recent appearance on a local radio program about religion, the two candidates squared off, sharing their views on water, immigration, anti-abortion efforts and Shariah law.

“I’m very concerned about the infiltration of our society by Muslims right now in Texas,” Mr. Henneke told listeners. “I don’t think people are aware about how pervasive that has become in our society.”

He said he would support in the next legislative session the passage of the American Laws for American Courts Act, which would forbid the use of foreign law in the state’s courts.

Football fan fined for ripping up Qur’an at match

February 28, 2014

 

A football fan that ripped up pages of the Qur’an during a match has been fined. Mark Stephenson, a Middlesbrough season-ticket holder, was ordered to pay £235 by magistrates who opted not to impose a football banning order.

The 25-year-old from Shrewsbury committed the religiously aggravated public order offence last December during Middlesbrough’s Championship fixture at Birmingham City. The purchasing manager was among a group of about 20 visiting supporters who were handed pages of the Qur’an by a woman during the match.

Jonathan Purser, prosecuting, told Birmingham magistrates court that Stephenson, who had no previous convictions or cautions, was seen with a lighter, apparently pretending to set fire to some of the pages. Stephenson told a steward who asked what the book was: “It’s the Muslim bible: we hate Muslims.” Other fans were shouting and chanting at the time of the offence, and the words Qur’an, Muslims and burning were overheard by a steward.

Defence solicitor Ash Mistry told magistrates that his client had been drinking alcohol before the match and at half-time, and had very little recollection of his actions.

 

The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/feb/28/football-fan-fined-ripping-up-quran-match-middlesbrough

Catalan children travel to Gambia to study the Qur’an

January 22, 2014

 

Hundreds of Catalan children travel each year to Gambia to study the Koran and Arabic. These children between 7 and 17 years old may be between six months to five years in madrasas (Islamic schools). The goal is for their children to maintain the traditions and religious and cultural ties to the home community.

 

e-noticies: http://sociedad.e-noticies.es/-ninos-catalanes-viajan-a-paises-musulmanes-para-estudiar-el-coran-82331.html

Concerns over online Qur’an teaching as ex-Pakistan militants instruct pupils

With his track record as a member of the political arm of a banned terrorist organisation, Mian Shahzib is unlikely to ever be given a visa to enter Britain. But that does not stop the jovial 33-year-old from giving British children religious instruction every day from the comfort of his home in Pakistan. He spends hours each night sitting under a fluorescent light in the courtyard of a small mosque in Lahore, peering into a laptop as children first from the Middle East, then Europe and North America spend half an hour after school talking to him over a faltering Skype line. The fact that a hardcore Islamist and long-term follower of the UN-proscribed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) has daily access to children in the west is likely to fuel concerns about religious radicals spreading their message. The organisation is on the UN’s list of sanctioned organisations because of its alleged association with al-Qaida and is considered a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

 

Shahzib’s website, Easy Qur’an Memorising, makes no mention of his history and is one of hundreds of such online companies, some of which advertise on satellite channels broadcasting to the Pakistani diaspora. They are part of a little-known outsourcing boom fuelled by parents of Pakistani origin turning to Qur’an teachers in Pakistan.

The Guardian was told of other online tutors with radical backgrounds or who are members of extreme or sectarian organisations, but it is impossible to know how widespread the phenomenon is in a completely unregulated industry.

 

Sultan Chaudri, the owner of Faiz-e-Quran, said his company is at pains to scrutinise all 13 teachers who work for him to ensure radicals are not employed. “All the problems we are seeing in Pakistan and Afghanistan is because these young children get sent to madrasas where no one knows what sort of education they are getting or what kind of indoctrination is taking place.” Outsourced Qur’an teaching started about six years ago and there are now a handful of big players. Although there are no reliable figures on how many children around the world are being taught by Pakistan-based teachers everyone seems to think it is growing fast.

‘It goes in one ear and out the other’: Prince Charles reveals he’s been having Arabic lessons for six months so he can read the Qur’an

With Prince Charles and Camilla in Qatar as part of their Middle East trip it has been reported that Prince Charles has been seeking private Arabic tuition and is hoping to reach a level where he can read the Qur’an in Arabic. The article continues by discussing the various events the Prince and Duchess of Cornwall had been attending in Qatar. With Prince Charles spending his time at scientific development initiatives and the Duchess attending to issues and events related to women’s issues such as women’s education and self-development projects.

Terry Jones burns Qur’an again, gets citation for violating fire ordinances

Dove World Outreach Center pastor Terry Jones on Saturday burned copies of the Quran and an image depicting Muhammad in front of his church to protest the imprisonment in Iran of a Christian clergyman.

Moments later, Gainesville Fire Rescue issued the church a citation for violating the city’s fire ordinances.

Saturday’s act of protest took place in spite of published reports that the Pentagon had urged Jones to reconsider, expressing concern that American soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere could be put at greater risk because of the act.

About 20 people gathered Saturday on church property at 5805 NW 37th Street about 5 p.m. for the planned burning. Several Gainesville police officers were stationed across the street from the church or were patrolling the area. A few people watched the scene, but there were no protesters.

Jones and another pastor demanded the release of the Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from an Iranian prison. Jones said Nadarkhani faces execution.

French police arrest man over Qur’an-burning video

News Agencies – October 3, 2010

French police have questioned a man over an online video which features someone burning a page of the Qur’an and urinating on its ashes, a French judicial officer says. The video which has since been removed from YouTube and Dailymotion shows a man tearing off a page of the Qur’an, making a paper plane and throwing it onto two glasses representing the World Trade Center. The man then burns the page and urinates onto its ashes. He shows his face to the camera at the beginning of the video, gives his name and says he lives in Bishheim, on the outskirts of Strasbourg.
The Muslim community in Strasbourg has been deeply angered by the online video. An official at the Strasbourg Mosque Abdeaziz Choukri says he discovered the video and called the authorities after discussing the footage with its alleged author.