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.

Fear: the Mind Killer

Fear: the Mind Killer

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, Dune

In our youth, we rail against the unfairness of the world. In developing our philosophies, we also develop our fears. In a recent discussion group regarding specific symbolism of Freemasonry, the question was asked, how do we get rid of fears, which are really false gods? Fear, one person postulated, is that which motivates negative behavior. Another postulated that fear motivates all behavior. After much discussion, we never really came to a solid conclusion about how to mitigate fear.

Fear is the unpleasant sensation caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, threatening, or likely to cause pain. That definition is ripe with opportunity for dissection, to pull apart the chunks that create philosophical reasons for fear.

First of all, it’s an unpleasant sensation, and humans hate unpleasant feelings. No one really wants to feel icky, and yet, that icky feeling is built on a belief ― it is not necessarily based in fact or reason. It is simply a belief. By definition, a belief is a “trust, img_0142faith, or confidence in something.” Taken apart and put back together, we can say that fear is an icky feeling caused by a trust, faith, or confidence that someone or something is out to cause some kind of harm to our person, our connections, or perhaps, our way of life.

This explanation is not to trivialize fear, or some major manifestations of fear, like post-traumatic stress syndrome. This is simply to discuss common fears that most, if not all of us, experience. Are fears founded? Some, yes. Some, perhaps not. In the face of an immediate disaster, fear is certainly appropriate. Sigmund Freud said, about real fear vs. neurotic fear:

You will understand me without more ado when I term this fear real fear in contrast to neurotic fear. Real fear seems quite rational and comprehensible to us. We may testify that it is a reaction to the perception of external danger, viz., harm that is expected and foreseen. It is related to the flight reflex and may be regarded as an expression of the instinct of self-preservation. And so the occasions, that is to say, the objects and situations that arouse fear, will depend largely on our knowledge of and our feeling of power over the outer world…   

Proceeding now to neurotic fear, what are its manifestations and conditions…? In the first place we find a general condition of anxiety, a condition of free-floating fear as it were, which is ready to attach itself to any appropriate idea, to influence judgment, to give rise to expectations, in fact to seize any opportunity to make itself felt. We call this condition “expectant fear” or “anxious expectation.” Persons who suffer from this sort of fear always prophesy the most terrible of all possibilities, interpret every coincidence as an evil omen, and ascribe a dreadful meaning to all uncertainty. Many persons who cannot be termed ill show this tendency to anticipate disaster.

That is, fear is simply the lack of feeling powerful over our own world, whether it is caused by an oncoming tornado or by feelings of inadequacy. What we’re concerning ourselves with here is what Freud called neurotic fears. Yet, the basis for our reactions, that lack of control, does come from the same “fight of flight” process of survival. Both have their roots in control.

It was once explained to me that all vices – Sloth, Envy, Greed, Avarice, Gluttony, Pride, and Lust – are all major manifestations of fear. Aristotle, in Nichomachaen Ethics, made similar statements – explaining that virtues and vices were a spectrum, and deficiencies were the expressions of the ends of the spectrum. Management courses in many places talk about how to address employees fears with some of these same techniques but, again, no one really gets to the heart of dealing with fear head on. So, we know what fear might be and how it manifests, but how do we actually deal with it?

In younger days, I read a series of books based on “The Michael Teachings.” These teachings are channeled thoughts on life and living, how and why people do what they do, and general human relations. One aspect that stayed with me had to do with fears. Many people have a dominant negative attitude which they must overcome in their lives.

Some examples of these are 1) self-depreciation, 2) self-destruction, 3) martyrdom, 4) stubbornness, 5) greed, 6) impatience, and 7) arrogance. Many of us go through all of these at some time in our lives but, in general, we stick with one (maybe two) when we’re tired, depressed, feeling overwhelmed, or just not working at our peak. When our sense of comfort, our inner child, is attacked or feeling vulnerable, we resort to these attitudes which are really manifestations of fear.

These are born from our childhood and are placed there by our reactions to environment and experiences. Each of these blocks is based in a very specific fear and can be overcome, with conscious effort. These are the dominant negative attitudes with their spectrum of manifestation, to use Aristotle’s idea of a sliding scale of virtues and vices.

  1. Self-depreciation is the fear of not being good enough – manifests as Humility (positive) to Self-Abasement (negative).
  2. Greed is the fear of not having enough – manifests as Egoism | Desire (positive) to Voracity | Gluttony (negative).
  3. Self-destruction is the fear of losing control – manifests as Self-Sacrifice (positive) to Suicide |Immolation (negative).
  4. Martyrdom is the fear of not being worthy – manifests as Selflessness (positive) to Victim Mentality (negative).
  5. Stubbornness is a fear of change, of new situations – manifests as Willfulness |Determination (positive) to Obstinacy (negative).
  6. Impatience is the fear of missing or losing opportunities – manifests as Audacity (positive) to Intolerance (negative).
  7. Arrogance is the fear of being vulnerable – manifests as Pride (positive) to Vanity (negative).

In taking a deeper look into our own behavior, it may be easier to see how a reaction to one situation or another traces backward to one of these negative attitudes, and the fear which grounds it. When one swings from pride in a job well done to believing that the job done was the best job anyone has ever seen, there might be some fear going on there. That line that separates the two extremes can be different for different people, and it is clear that we all have different levels of tolerance and abilities to process reactions when we encounter fear. When we start delving beyond the surface of our own psyche, introspection uncovers, perhaps, those negative attitudes based in experiences of childhood.

Children create, depending on environmental experience and personal proclivities, distorted world views. We all create these distortions (big and small) and they eventually become our personal myths. Think: “I’m ugly,” “I’m stupid,” or “I’m not going to eat tonight.” Repeated situations or traumatic events reinforce this myth. Driven by a deeply-held fear, and steered by a distorted worldview, the emerging, dominant negative attitude springs into action in their lives, even unto adulthood.

The child thinks for instance, “I will stop life from hurting by taking control of my pain. I will hurt myself more  than anybody else can.” The child’s chosen survival strategy involves some sort of conflict, a war against self, against others or against life. It is a defensive behavior pattern which looks irrational from the outside but from the child’s perspective is perfectly rational. As we mature, we must address these dominant negative attitudes or they will endanger any chance of self-improvement. They hide our true nature. *

–  Excerpt from, The Michael Teachings

When someone lashes out, at me or others, I believe the reason is always fear. Fear is not the motivator of all activity we do. It always seems, though, that fear is the core of truly negative and destructive behaviors. Hatred, lies, and fanaticism are true fear-based reactions and attitudes. In dealing with these reactions in the world, we need to keep in mind that fear is the motivator, and that perhaps by making the person feel safe, by letting them air their real fears, healing can begin.

At another study group, we discussed fear and how to use it to unravel truth. It struck me then that Freemasonry provided us opportunities to run up against our own and other’s fears. From speaking in front of a group to taking charge of ritual work to providing leadership for volunteer work, Freemasonry offers us a chance to continually transmute fears into relationship gold by providing the types of experiences that test us and force us to face those fears.

Why does the Freemason care about fears? There is a lot of the world that runs on a steady diet of fear. The only way to find a better world and improve humanity is to rise above those things which cause us to live a base, irrational, and mundane life. By addressing and recognizing when people are moving in fear, we can possibly stop the cycle for them and for ourselves.

Additionally, Freemasons strive to be leaders. Leadership is about learning what motivates people; by learning their fears and helping them maneuver around them, we find talents and skills waiting to be uncovered. Leadership is shedding light on that which holds people back from being the very best they can be. Addressing fears is difficult unless we create true, honest dialogue. Freemasonry provides an environment to express honesty and be supported.

This honest dialogue extends to ourselves. What are our fears? What is our dominant negative attitude. and how does it affect me, my family, and my connections? What relationships are healthy and positive and which are not?

Asking “why” is a good start. Perhaps by looking at the motivations within us which cause us to have painful relationships with others, we can come face to face with our fear. In order to do that, we need to be able to actively look at our behavior, assess any damage we cause ourselves, and like Paul Atriedes from the Dune Series, turn an inner eye to the path it has taken, and find ourselves in its wake.

Try looking into that place where you dare not look!

You’ll find me there, staring out at you!  

― Paul-Muad’Dib to the Reverend Mother, from Frank Herbert’s Dune