The Holy Qur’an

The Holy Qur’an

In a recent blog post, we discussed what a sacred text might be. In conversation, the idea that the West view the Qur’an as suspect deserves some further introspection. Most people is North or South America have not read nor understand what the Qur’an is, and make assumptions about different interpretations of texts. Christians should not have any trouble struggling with the idea of different interpretations of texts. As of this writing, Wikipedia lists 108 completed versions of the Bible in English and dozens more partial and unfinished versions. That’s just English. That does not count the different languages and their own idiosyncrasies of language which may change subtle meanings. Let’s just say that there is a wide variety of translations, interpretations, and commentary on meanings contained within the Bible, perhaps more so than any other “sacred text.”

Be that as it may, the Qur’an is a relatively new piece of literature in the consciousness of Western peoples, mainly due to global conflicts and media hype. The Quran or Qur’an is one of the world’s newer religious texts, having thought to been revealed to Muhammad beginning in 609 C.E. over the course of 23 years by the Angel Gabriel. The book itself is considered a miracle and is considered to be one of the foundational reasons for Muhammad’s prophethood. Margot Patterson, in her book “Islam Considered: The Christian View,” states: “The Quran is of inestimable importance in Islam, more important to Muslims than the Bible is to Christians, even fundamentalist Christians.”

Because of the timing of its delivery and the beginnings of wider literacy amongst people at that time, the Quran was completed in written form within 20 years of the Prophet’s death, by the third caliph, Uthman, in 654 C.E. Even with its relatively new nature, there are slight variations that have to do with the spread of Islam in the years after the Prophet’s death, especially as it moved throughout Arabia, Persia, and eastward.

The meaning of the word Quran is “that which is recited” or “the recitation.” The whole foundation and working of the Quran is complicated and challenging. While there are many, many translations into languages other than Arabic – upwards of 112 in 2010 were counted – there seems to be lesser variation on Arabic texts than there are for Biblical translations. Muslims generally believe that to understand the true meaning of the Quran, one must learn Arabic and, even better, ancient Arabic. This would not dissimilar to learning Aramaic to understand the original translations of many of the works attributed to contributing writers of the Bible. To be clear, when using the term “Bible,” the meaning is both the old and new testaments.

The recitations, or lessons, contained within the book trace from Adam through to Muhammad, all of which are told with a specific type of prose language. Indeed, when reciting the Quran for prayer, there are different, codified ways to recite the text, with different emphasis given to each method. The Quran is organized into chapters called suras but they are organized in no particular order. Even though it covers the revelations to Moses and Jesus, both considered to be Allah’s Prophets, they are not necessary sequential. One does not generally read the Quran from beginning to end.

All of this information is easily obtained and digested by the serious investigator. What is a little more difficult to digest is the differences in meaning between the Quran and other religious texts, like the Bible. The Bible is viewed by Christians as generally being the influence of the divine on its individual writers, all conveying the message as they understand it. It is divinely inspired, for the most part, but not actually divine itself.

Because the Quran is generally a single Prophet’s words, an illiterate Prophet, the words are seen as purer, as divine as if the hand of God had grasped a pen and wrote them. Christians see that God became manifest in Jesus. While Muslims do not see God manifest in the actual Quran, it’s as close as one might be able to get to having god speak to them directly. This difference, subtle as it may be, is profound when it comes to understanding how the words of each are held in regard.

Additionally, because of nature of the texts, the directives given therein, the challenge ongoing for humanity, Islam believes, is to incorporate the Quran’s doctrine into humanity’s ever changing Earth. This leads one to the discussion about Sharia Law. Christianity and indeed, the Bible, are not structured in such a way as to govern a community.

The Christian Church is the last living legacy of the Roman Empire, a government in and of itself. Judaism and Islam have both created a law-giving structure built off religious, sacred texts, in which to govern a community or far-flung communities. They were not tied to a central government much as the Christian Church was since its inception. It’s difficult for many modern Christians to get their heads around; many typically see religious law as a kind of impingement on their freedoms. What one must understand is that many people feel a higher judgement above the laws of man; many would submit themselves to religious laws before they submit them to an independent government, one which may not have the sanctity of their after-life in mind.

Halakhah and Sharia have many similarities. The word sharia comes from the word halakhah, the Jewish canonical law. The difference between Christian canonical law is that it generally comes from a single source – the Pope. In this community based law system, rabbis or imams are responsible for interpretations and their interpretations stand unless a council may be called to help with judgments. The misunderstanding comes from most American’s belief that Muslims or Jews in America would prefer canonical law rather than the country’s legal judgments. This is generally untrue. An excellent article on this is located in the Jewish Observer, here: https://thejewishobserver.com/2013/04/16/afraid-of-sharia/. While there outliers across religions – yes, there are Christians who oppose American law as well – observant Jews and Muslims follow the laws of the country in which they live, even if these laws impinge on their religious freedoms. As the article states, polygamy is legal under sharia but even in Arabic countries, it is still rarely practiced. It is not practiced in the United States because it is illegal here, for every religion.

There have been many interfaith conferences between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders. There will most likely need to be more. While this continues, the onus is on the rest of us, the believers of whatever faith we have, to learn more about the other people in this world, what they believe, how they act, what they find important. As the article in the Jewish Observer relates, we should not be afraid of any religion. We may need to work hard to understand the nature of religions and under and when something is mainstream and when it is fundamentalism. Just like political extremists, there is a great difference between the far ends of the spectrums of religions and a great deal in the middle. The edges is where extremists and fanaticism reside. This is where most people begin to go sideways in their understanding: believing the fundamentalism is the entirety of a religion.

Fundamentalism spans the globe. There are fundamentalist Buddhists, after all. Fundamentalism is a strict adherence to irreducible tenants of a religion. An example for Christians is the virgin birth of Jesus. In many cases, other Christians would not be seen as Christian because they do not necessarily believe in a virgin birth. Included in fundamentalism is the general literalness of translation. It is not enough to believe that Mary was “metaphorically” virgin; fundamentalist Christians believe that she was actually a virgin. There is no symbology in the meaning. The words of the sacred texts are interpreted literally, not symbolically. In general, fundamentalists are not militants unless they feel a fanaticism that is above all else. Militancy to faith also spans religions and it is born more from fear than from the religion itself. “Religious fanaticism is defined by blind faith, the persecution of dissents and the absence of reality.” In his book “Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk,” Neil Postman states that “the key to all fanatical beliefs is that they are self-confirming….(some beliefs are) fanatical not because they are ‘false’, but because they are expressed in such a way that they can never be shown to be false.” One cannot confuse Fundamentalism, Fanaticism, and Faith. They are very different and cannot be singularly tied to any one religion.

The best way to combat fanaticism is understanding and knowledge. The Freemason knows that there is a fundamental law that underlies human nature, and these texts really seek to make that divine law accessible to all human beings, regardless of where, when, and to whom they are born. The Quran is piece of that understanding. We might be seen as the generations that demonized Islam, much as other generations and countries have demonized Judaism and Christianity. Do we have to be? Seeking to learn is what sets the discerning, intelligent human apart. We can’t develop a better humanity if we can’t understand what is important to all of us, not just ourselves. There is beauty, grace, and knowledge everywhere, if we can be strong enough to listen.

The Leadership Doppelgänger

The Leadership Doppelgänger

In general, in employment, you can categorize people’s career personality strengths into three areas: technical ability, analytical and tactical thinking, and creative, entrepreneurial thinking. Everyone seems to have these traits on a sliding scale, a little of one or a lot of another, but they all exist. If you move to the top of your technical field, no matter the field, it seems inevitable that you will eventually land, at least career-wise, in a management position. Managers, too, have these three strengths, and they become more enhanced, more visible, the longer someone is in their management position.

Which one of these strengths is the foundation of great leadership? There are some who would argue, as did the book eMyth by Michael Gerber, that it is a mix of all three. The knowledge of oneself in these categories is really the key. We must first understand that the manager is not, just by virtue of title, a leader. A manager is the one who makes the business operate, the one who sees to the tactical, day-to-day running, the one who makes sure that the employees have what they need to be successful, and the one who anticipates issues and when missed, fixes them. Not everyone can be a manager. It takes a fullness of vision to be able to see the whole and work to have the parts move in synchronicity. A manager must attend to details, to make sure that goals are set, communicated and clear, and that the targets are eventually met. A good manager knows his responsibility does not stop at the end of the day but that it continues in his consciousness, through all the aspects of the day. Most people can develop the strengths necessary to be a manager, and some may develop into being good managers. Much depends on the knowledge of themselves.

The “manager” the leadership doppelgänger. He looks like a leader because he has a team. He smells like a leader because he has an air of being in charge. He sounds like a leader because he gives direction. A manager, however, is not necessarily a leader.

Knowing what it takes to build a functioning team is knowing about bits, bolts, and bots. Leadership is far more than a title. What happens when the manager is called on to lead? This is when he draws on his experience as a technician and as an entrepreneur. This is also where most new managers fail. It takes a very wide vision to lead, and it takes deep knowledge. As a leader, this manager must know what his people are expected to do. He should know what they need to do their jobs, understand what the goals are from their perspective, and know where potential pitfalls may assail them.

As an entrepreneur, he must be able to see the work as it unfolds throughout the months or years; he needs to be able to speculate on performance of people, technology, and materials and take action to not just mitigate problems but anticipate them and even course-correct before they surface. The entrepreneur is a creative mind, able to take apart problems and put them back together in a different way. The good leader listens to his team, weighs their input with his own experience and knowledge, wisdom and intelligence, and then makes his plans. He steps to the front when executing those plans and puts himself at the head of the charge. Being a leader means being able to step into all the jobs the team does, at any time, to continue to help the team succeed as a whole. A great leader does not think of himself as the “head” but as a functional part of the body which either all succeeds or all fails. Being a great leader means a substantial knowledge of what he can provide and what he can’t; he’s honest and upfront about that and utilizes his team to bring their strengths to the fore, augmenting his own weaknesses. Together, they form a rich and strong team that creates.

It takes time to develop leadership. It takes mistakes. It takes tears and anger and joy. It takes learning again and again what you can and cannot do, and finding the right people with the right strengths to accomplish the work. It takes education and perseverance, patience, desire, and fortitude. It takes a commitment to a career of working with people of all kinds, all types and temperaments, all abilities, and all backgrounds. It takes working with people who are far superior to you in many if not all ways, and it takes working with the gentlest of human beings who want simply to please. It takes others to remind you of your own mission, your own self-worth, and the value you might play in others lives.

Freemasonry and Leadership

In a recent conversation, the statement “Freemasonry is in the business of making leaders. It’s teaching everyone to become a leader” was made by a Freemason. Another person disagreed. They stated that they never wanted to lead a Lodge of Freemasons, and that they weren’t very good at it. They also stated that not everyone should rule a Lodge of Freemasons. There was, of course, some disagreement and a boisterous discussion.

Freemasonry has a foundation of taking the rough-sided-yet-nearly-perfect stone and continuing the polish it. It teaches people to know themselves and thus start the progress becoming a leader. It, like many institutions of a fraternal nature, allows one to deeply learn the technical aspects of an office and find out their strengths and weaknesses which help the individual forge themselves into a more perfect stone with which to build something – whether it be business, ideas, or a better world.

Each position within a Masonic Lodge has a purpose, a reason for its existence. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be there. There is nothing superfluous in Freemasonry. Each person who takes those positions, those offices, must understand what the core of that job is – what its role and function is in the running of a Lodge, how it fits with the other positions, and what the ideal form of that office is. A secretary is not just someone who takes minutes and reads agendas. The secretary is the memory of the Lodge, the recorder of its workings, thoughts, aspirations, and issues. Without someone to record the life of a Lodge, how can we learn what works and what does not, or what the goals of the Lodge may be? The secretary is an important office to ensure that the Work stays on track to the Plan, to ensure that progress is made.

The same is true for business as it is for Masonry. Each function in a department has a purpose; a company is not going to keep paying an individual, in most well-run companies that is, for doing something that is meaningless to the bottom line. The simple fact is that every job we take, Masonic or otherwise, can be a leadership position.

Therefore, I disagree with the statement that not everyone can be a leader. It might be that not everyone can be the head of a group or the manager of a team; that is simply being a manager. That is not a leader. Leadership has many levels, many forms. It is the patriot who rises to the top of the fight and does what is right, as well as the craftsman who teaches a classroom of hungry minds how to handle a welder. It’s the genius guy who is a little bit crazy and maybe a little wacko, but manages to communicate to his colleagues just how important a new way of thinking may be. Leadership is a sliding scale and each of us has some of it inside of us. Some might find the strength inside to be great leaders in whatever capacity they lead, eschewing the fear that comes with leadership. Leadership may be scary business but something that’s necessary to grow a better world. A better humanity.