Saturday, July 30, 2005

Seek First to Understand

I know it's been a while since I've posted. There hasn't been any particular reason, other than despite lots having occurred in my life, I haven't particularly wanted to spout off about it all. I may get into some of it later, though.

Right now, I'm studying up to read (an English translation of) the Koran.

I've done lots of thinking over the past few years (you know the ones) about the current State of Things, and that it's looking increasingly like the primary sociopolitical concern of the next century is going to be how Islam and the rest of the world come to terms with one another.

I feel like I've got a decent bead on how the dominant forces of the Judeo-Christian Western world function and interact. There are, of course, those who will disagree on that point, but I've grown up in the Western milieu, so it's familiar, and can at the very least look around and see when something confuses me.

I do not, however, understand the Koran (Qur'an/Kor'an/Quran) and how its contents mold the minds of its followers. Not in the slightest. There's a great deal of bluster these days in the conservative circles I frequent regarding what the Koran teaches, and my suspicion is that there is much repeating of hearsay and taking of tidbits out of context, though it's always possible that there are kernals of truth in the accusations as well.

For these and other reasons, I'm no longer content to go with pundits' quickie "analyses," or to risk parroting nonsense through simple lack of checking.

So tonight I picked up The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam and Islam for Dummies for the Cliffs-Notes, twenty-thousand-foot view, and two English translations of the Koran itself. After an hour with The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran, I can see that I will also need to procure translations of the Sunna and the Sharia, and I plan to try and find some other exegetical texts--it would be tricky, for example, to come up with a thorough understanding of Christianity and all its schismatic history simply by reading through a copy of the King James Bible.

It promises to be a fascinating ride, and I want to find out what the apologists, apostates and opponents alike think. At the end of it all (if there is an end, which I doubt), I want to try and answer the question for myself: is Islam the problem? Certainly, the hellholes of the world, from Africa to the Middle East into Asia and Indonesia, seem to be disproportionately Muslim. Still, as I discussed with Matt earlier this evening, does this mean that Islam causes hellholes, or that hellholes attract Islam, or something else entirely? Also, there are some primarily Muslim regions that aren't pits of repression and suffering--what's different about them? And what bearing does being or not being Arab have?

I'm excited and slightly daunted: it's a lot of material, and of course not knowing Arabic I'm condemned to perceive a lot of things through translators' perceptions and prejudices, but one of the things that niggles at me most in life is not knowing, and Islam's place in and relationship to the world is no longer one of those areas in which I can allow myself to persist in ignorance.

That said, does anyone have books they'd like to recommend? I'm pretty much a complete tabula rasa on the subject.