Bryan Caplan  

Divine Clarity

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My favorite passage from Ali Rizvi's The Atheist Muslim:
[M]ost moderately religious people, especially here in the West, approach their religious scriptures very differently from how they would read, say, Alice in Wonderland, or this book you're reading right now.  As I write this, I am making a conscious, deliberate effort to be as clear as I possibly can and minimize any potential ambiguity.  I know I will not be given the luxury of generous "interpretation" beyond what these words say at face value.  I will literally be held to a much higher standard as a writer than God himself.  It isn't uncommon for critics of Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris to quote decontextualized excerpts from their writings to accuse them of being bigots, while also hurling the same accusation at those who don't adequately "interpret" verses in the Quran that endorse in plain language the beheading of disbelievers or beating of wives.  In a 2014 tweet, Reza Aslan gave Harris some unsolicited advice: "If you're constantly having to explain away horrid things you've written, don't write them in [the first] place."  Note that this is from a man who has partly made a career out of constantly explaining to people why violent passages in the Scripture don't really mean what they say.
The book was a birthday present from my courageous friend, Ish Faisal of Ex-Muslims of North America.




COMMENTS (8 to date)
Ahmed writes:

Most people trying to denigrate Islam will quote the "sword verse", shown here:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them... —Qur'an 9:5

It sounds obvious until you read the next verse in the Qur'an:

And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah . Then deliver him to his place of safety. —Qur'an 9:6

It's quite clear that this refers to polytheists who were attacking Muslims, not polytheists in general.

I hope that shows the value of context.

Ishmam writes:

I would dispute that most people would use that verse. There are far more verses that are severely problematic.

Here is a website that sources the verses and context of the Qu'ran and the Hadiths.

https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Main_Page

(Disclaimer: This site is also owned by EXMNA)

Nathan Smith writes:

One reads different authors differently, depending on their reputation and one's own impressions. In some authors, one tolerates a great deal of obscurity, because they're reputed to be, or one senses from reading them that they are, especially wise, or because the text is very old and written for a different audience, thereby rendering it more obscure through our unfamiliarity with allusions and background assumptions.

Christians hold the Bible to a lower standard than other books in some ways, but much higher in other ways. We certainly don't expect it to be clear and lucid to a modern reader. On the contrary, it seems very fitting that it has a lot more meaning than one can grasp on the first read. We might not mind some apparent factual inaccuracy with regard to inessential things. But we demand that the Bible tell not just some truth, but in a way, all truth, or all the most important truth, the full supply of truth needed to understand the meaning of life and secure the salvation of the soul. If we had concluded that the most important things in life lay beyond the scope of what the Bible can elucidate, or that the Bible, when fully absorbed and assimilated, delivered an overall lesson that is wrong in an important way, we would not be Christians. Ordinary human authors are held to much lower standards. We can forgive their limitations and shrug off a good deal of wrong-headedness if they get one or two things right.

The teachings of Jesus, in particular, are unique among all human writings, in that they are understandable almost immediately, yet at the same time, they are always fresh and surprising, and one never comes to the end of what you can learn by reflecting on them and trying to apply them to one's life. They are a kind of unattainable ideal: one always has to ask oneself, "How could I live by that?" But one often sees how, in this or that circumstance, one can, and it always makes one better to do so. No merely human writer comes close to such wisdom.

And this is why I believe the apostles' testimony about the resurrection. If Jesus were an ordinary man, He would not have risen from the read. But if Jesus were an ordinary man, His words would have been fallible and limited in their wisdom, like those of all human authors. And He would have failed to live up to even the limited ethical standard that He taught. But His teachings, and the way His life exemplifies and embodies them, proves He was no ordinary man, and it follows that He might not have stayed dead as ordinary men do. And so when the apostles, spontaneously and boldly and for no worldly gain, tell the world that He was resurrected, I don't dismiss it as an anomaly. I believe it.

MDK4130 writes:

Dear Ahmed: You are commanded to kill a polytheist because he holds religious views different from your own, it says whenever you find him. The verse says nothing about who is attacking whom.

and , when you find him, you are commanded to give him protection when he converts and becomes a Muslim by the force of a sword.

THAT! is the value of context!

Moin writes:

There is nothing divine or holy about scriptures. They are very human made creations, authored by almost all males. They contain the prejudices and wisdom of the day.

Ali Rizvi has done great service to humanity with his book.

Kurt Schuler writes:

The next time you see Dan Klein, ask him about esoteric writing. That should help you to understand.

Gerald writes:
[M]ost moderately religious people, especially here in the West, approach their religious scriptures very differently from how they would read, say, Alice in Wonderland, or this book you're reading right now.

Well, of course. If you tell me that the author of one text is omniscient, eternal, and the creator of all, and the author of the second is a mere human being, might that information have implications as to how I approach those two texts? Shouldn't it?
I fail to see the profundity here.

The real question, at least as it seems to me, is the truth of the claim that the text is of divine origin. If so, approaching that text as if it were the product of a human mind would be fool's errand.

Ahmed writes:

@MDK4130,

Perhaps you need more context. Here is the beginning verse of that Sura:

[This is a declaration of] disassociation, from Allah and His Messenger, to those with whom you had made a treaty among the polytheists. —Qur'an 9:1

This is referring to a group from among the polytheists that had made and then broke a treaty by attacking Muslims. As such, the treaty was no longer valid. Here,the Muslims were acting in self defense.

As for your comment about forcing to people to convert to Islam, the Qur'an is explicitly clear on this point:

There is no compulsion in religion —Qur'an 2:256

Now of course your Al-Qaeda and ISIS types don't follow that, but then again, they're backed by Saudi Arabia, who incidentally, are US allies, this despite the fact that every terrorist incident starting with 9/11 had something to do with Saudi Arabia.

re: Alhambra Decree

Many Spanish Jews also fled to the Ottoman Empire, where they were given refuge. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire, learning about the expulsion of Jews from Spain, dispatched the Ottoman Navy to bring the Jews safely to Ottoman lands, mainly to the cities of Thessaloniki (currently in Greece) and İzmir (currently in Turkey). Many of these Jews also settled in other parts of the Balkans ruled by the Ottomans such as the areas that are now Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia. Concerning this incident, Bayezid II is alleged to have commented, "those who say that Ferdinand and Isabella are wise are indeed fools; for he gives me, his enemy, his national treasure, the Jews." —Wikipedia

Imagine that. Jews fleeing Christian persecution by seeking safety in Muslim lands. (As People of the Book, Christians and Jews enjoy protection in Muslim lands. Egypt for example, is 10% Coptic Christians.)


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