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Qur’an feels familiar, familial from the very first page

Deacon Ian Punnett –

Despite what the title of this column might imply, I have never been guilty of “bibliolatry”; that is, the worship of a book, particularly a religious one. I love my oldest copy of the Holy Bible, but I almost never bring it with me anywhere anymore. There’s an app for that now, and I have a couple Bible apps in my phone. If you ever saw my old Bible, you’d know that it was my favorite, though, because I’ve scrawled all over it, marked it up, and dog-eared some of the pages for easy reference. Some people freak out when they see just how much I have written in the margins of my Bible, but to me, “use” is a sign of respect.

I’ve been a little more skittish about marking up my Qur’an so far, however. As part of my ongoing experience of chronicling my experiences reading the Qur’an, I confess that it does not feel like “mine” yet. The best way I can describe it is to say that I never think twice about leaving my shoes on when I enter my own house, but I always offer to take off my shoes when I enter somebody else’s. So far, I feel like am reading the Qur’an with my shoes off.

Which is not to say that my edition of the Qur’an was not hospitable to me from the first pages of the introduction: “At the beginning of the seventh century of our era, Arabian paganism was showing signs of decay. The influence of Judaism and Christianity, if seldom deep, was not confined to the numerous clans which had embraced one or other of these religions. …”  In the ensuing pages of the introductory chapter, the editor, R.A. Nicholson, goes to great lengths to make non-Muslim readers feel at home.

Not surprisingly, from the opening passages of the Chapter of the Heifer, the phrasing, the plaintive pleas for piety, and even the characters of the stories had a familial ring. I understand why Muslims insist the Qur’an is uncorrupted and a more accurate prophetic telling of the story of the Divine, the birth of humanity, and God’s relationship with God’s creation, but to me, the earliest stories in al-Baqarah reminded me of when my cousins would tell stories about our shared grandparents. We were of the same family, and they were clearly the same stories that I heard growing up about the same people, but the color and nature of their details were different and the order of the events in those stories was not always the same.

For example, in one of the Bible’s stories of creation, God creates all the animals but Adam names them. In the Qur’an, Allah tells Adam the names and Adam proves his importance by being able to recite the names flawlessly even when angels could not. That’s a fascinating detail to me. The Bible does not say how Adam came up with the names—it just as easily could have been from God’s list. In fact, in just the al-Baqarah alone, there appear to be many variations on Bible stories I’ve always heard, but few that blatantly contradict the narratives I thought I knew.

Just as often, I came across lines from the Qur’an that I could read to the average (and maybe even the above-average) Bible believer that they would swear they’d heard from their pulpit last Sunday. One, “O ye folk, serve your Lord who created you and those before you; happily may ye fear who made the earth for you a bed and the heaven a dome, and sent down from heaven water, and brought forth therewith fruits as a sustenance for you,” had me searching through my heavily marked up and dog-eared old Bible convinced that it was in there almost word-for-word.

But it wasn’t. In fact, there is only one sentence that is nearly identical in the Qur’an, the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible: Psalm 37:29 and Surah: 21:105. “The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever.”

Sounds like a plan. I like that line so much, I think I’ll underline Surah 21:105 in my Qur’an. I mean, when I get comfortable enough to start writing in it someday.

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