This movement is for Christians who are interested in reading about the Koran, or reading the Koran itself. I do not mean to slight any Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Confucian, Taoist, Shinto, Agnostic, Atheist, or other people who might be interested in this project; however, since “Burn a Koran Day” is the project of a Christian minister, I thought it appropriate to start a Christian movement as a positive response.
This being the 21st century, this movement also comes with an affiliated Facebook group. The Facebook group, “Christians Reading the Koran,” may be found at this location. (Log into Facebook before hitting this link.) I would encourage you to join this group; it is a way to demonstrate the numerical strength of this movement. As I write this, news reports indicate that hundreds of Afghanis have protested “Burn a Koran Day,” and U.S. Army General Petraeus has said that the planned book burning could endanger U.S. troops in the region. (My personal feeling is that there is the potential here for an extraordinarily large problem.) It would be great to be able to demonstrate to the Muslim world that there are a large number of Christians who are trying to promote peace, respect for the Koran, and better understanding between Christians and Muslims.
Now for a few questions and answers.
Is this movement part of some plot to proselytize for Islam?
No. I am a committed Christian, specifically a Latter-day Saint.
Is this movement part of some plot to proselytize for Christianity?
No. This effort is meant to promote peace, and better understanding between two large religious groups.
Let’s be clear about something. I have nothing against missionary work. I have been a missionary myself, in Eastern Asia, and my son will soon be leaving for a two-year term of service as a missionary in Eastern Europe. I enjoy sharing my faith. However, I strongly believe that missionary work should be clearly labelled as such. The “Christians Reading the Koran” movement is not missionary work.
How could this movement promote peace and mutual understanding?
In the short term, I think it would be good to demonstrate to the Islamic world that there are Christians who show respect for the Muslims’s holy book by studying it, even as others are burning it.
In the long term, it would be great for Christians to learn more about Islam. One can hardly show respect for people whom one does not understand; to understand Islam, one should understand something about its scripture.
How might people involve themselves in learning about the Koran and reading the book itself?
There are books in both the Dummies and the Idiots series’s about Islam and the Koran, and these would be a good place for the absolute beginner to start. (Disclosure: I have published a book in the Dummies series, and in 2011 I will be publishing several books with Tarcher/Penguin, whose parent company publishes the Idiots series.)
Some people may find that they wish to start with a chapter or so on Islam, to give them the proper context for the Koran (or Qur'an). There are good chapters on Islam in the following books:
- Stephen Prothero, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).
- Huston Smith, The World's Religions (New York: HarperCollins, 50th anniversary edition, 2009).
I plan to read Michael Sells’s book, Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations (Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1999). Sells, formerly a professor of religion at Haverford College (my alma mater), now at the University of Chicago Divinity School, gives context for the emergence and meaning of the Koran, and translates some of the early sections of the Koran, with commentary.
When it comes to reading the Koran itself, the reader in English has several choices, ranging from a volume (the Dawood translation) in the Penguin Classics series to a 2004 translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, published by Oxford University Press.
Shouldn't Christians be focusing their study on the Bible?
Last time I looked, there was nothing in the Bible to discourage other, non-biblical learning. This is why Christians do things like go to college, graduate school, professional school, art school, and so forth. We live in an intensely multicultural, pluralistic world. To be prepared to live in that world, and to further the cause of peace in that world, we all need to learn more about each other's faiths. (This point is elaborated on in an excellent book by the religious studies scholar Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy.)
"But I've already got so much else to do!"
Remember the Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not whine."
Hey, I'm not your time cop. Only you can decide whether you can fit this in. For most people, with some rearranging of priorities, study time can be found--but I recognize that this doesn't apply to everyone. (Yes, I was once a 50-to-60-hour-a-week intern working in a hospital myself.)
The “Christians Reading the Koran” movement is a good idea. The activity promotes peace and mutual understanding—two things that are most definitely On The Mark.
[The photo of the first few verses of the Koran is in the public domain, and was obtained from Wikipedia.]
(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)