Tuesday, September 7, 2010

“Christians Reading the Koran”: Movement and Facebook Group

In an earlier post I wrote about “Burn a Koran Day,” announced for September 11, 2010, in Florida (upcoming as I write this). I mentioned in that post that I would make it a point to read the Muslim holy book, the Koran, between September 11, 2010, and September 11, 2011. I has occurred to me that other Christians might wish to join me in this endeavor. Consequently, I hereby announce the “Christians Reading the Koran” movement.

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.)


  1. Mark, thank you for undertaking this courageous and consuming purpose at this time. I was just engaged in a Facebook dialogue with an old friend of mine who teaches psychology, and has, I take it, veered somewhat from our common LDS indoctrination to more of a "mystical" view of spirituality.

    The topic of our exchange was the tragic case you have written about on the Muslim widow in Iraq soon to be stoned to death. Sadly, my friend and I could not get beyond his repeatedly calling Islam "the worst religion on the face of the planet."

    In the midst of this ensuing misunderstanding between myself and my friend, another Facebook buddy posted links to this page and your Facebook group. The coincidental timing couldn't have been better.

    I am already staunch in my respect for orthodox Muslims and their faith, but I look forward to joining you and others on here in a full reading of the Qu'ran.

  2. @islomane: Thank you for your kind comment. It is unfortunate that so many people cannot get beyond the very imperfect way, even horrifically cruel way that a given religion is implemented (and who is not guilty of that?) to an appreciation of the admirable core values that each religion does have. Thank you for joining in the discussion.

  3. As a Muslim, I truly respect your concern and willingness to learn. There is always something good that comes out of a terrible event.

  4. @Anonymous: Thank you for your kindness. I wish it were the case that there were always something good that comes out of the terrible, but I am trying--along with many other people--to see to it that something good comes out here. As the late John F. Kennedy said (possibly quoting someone else): "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." Be well, my friend.

  5. An excellent idea, Mark! I hope it goes far.

  6. I congratulate you for taking this initiative. I am a muslim (but not a scholar) and I will be happy to try to answer any question anyone may have. Islam is a religion which promotes peace, total submission to god, tolerance and justice for all. It is very easy to practice and any type of extremeism has no place in Islam.

  7. Mark, I also want to thank you for this suggestion. It is so easy to be outraged at the anti-Muslim feelings that have been emerging recently--whipped up by people with their own agendas. I find myself editing this message even as I write it in order to be consistent with Christ's message of love and brotherhood. I think perhaps Christians should read their New Testament along with reading the Koran to get a better understanding of both.

  8. @anonymous(2): Thank you for your kind comments. It's great to see both Christians and Muslims comment on this post.

    @kathie mm: w/r/t Your idea of Christians reading the New Testament along with the Koran: I could not possibly agree more. Thank you for contributing your thoughts here.

  9. Congratulations for your initiative. And, in addition, I'm waiting to see any initiative to promote things like:

    1) Eliminate violence (stoning) against women Arab states.
    2) Remove the murder of homosexuals in the Arab states (dead penalty).
    3) Request the radical muslims to don't burn more flags of any country, and please, if not too much trouble, do not follow burning the Bible in Afghanistan or destroying Buddhist figures. Buddhists never have done anything against Islam.
    4) Promote among all cultures the notion that liberty is above all, and therefore burning the Koran or the Bible are acts of "bad taste", but can't be prohibited because everyone is free to burn what he pleases.

    I would like someday to see some of these proposals. But I think we will not see it ever, because some persons have learned a valuable lesson: Westerners need only a threat to throw their freedom to garbage. It happened with the cartoons of Muhammad, It happened with the mosque at Ground Zero and is happening with the International Burn a Koran Day. When Iran killed a gay, or when a woman was stoned in the same country, I didn't see any group pressing from Facebook for stop that madness.

    PLEASE, Do not tell me that we must be tolerant with this. It's really insulting.

  10. Mark as a Haverford parent and Bryn Mawr alum, and a Muslim who went to Catholic school and read the Bible as part of our curriculum I am so pleased to see your initiative.

  11. I have become well-versed in islam over the past ten years, thank you, and I do not need any "context" to help me understand that it is a totalitarian ideology operating under the guise that the Koran is the literal word of God.

  12. @freehugs: I understand your concerns here. However, what I am focused on here is trying to deal with Christians and the way they deal with Islam--which, currently, is mostly through profound ignorance.

    I have said nothing to encourage tolerance of violence, sexism, or homophobia. Good fortune to you as you try to work against these evils.

    Anonymous "A": Thank you for your kindness. I lived at Rhoads, Fall 1975 through Spring 1978 -- perhaps our time at the BiCo community overlapped.

    Anonymous "B": What I hear you saying is that you have made up your mind, which is of course your prerogative.

    What I'm trying to do here is spread some light. I think that reading someone else's holy book increases the knowledge in the world. Anyone who is up for that--welcome aboard.


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