I am a Christian pastor who works as a collegiate minister with the Virginia Baptists at Virginia Commonwealth University. One of my areas of vocational interest and spiritual work is Christian-Muslim relations, including text-centered dialogues or conversations. During Ramadan 2011, I read through the entire Qur'an, in English, via Tarif Khalidi's 2008 translation (Penguin Books). What follows is a personal, meditative rendering of the Qur'an portion of the day. This rendering is devotional in nature, not scholarly. And it comes in the form of textual observations, spiritual reflections, theological questions or poetic responses.
In a Damascus mosque [Photo by helmstedt via Flickr]
Day 26 || Reading: Qur'an 46:1 - 51:30
Rendering from Qur'an 47:1-2
Muhammad Javad Faridzadeh, the Iranian Ambassador to the Holy See, once said: "Theological dialogue between religions is no sooner born than it dies." Undoubtedly there are many notable reasons for this -- not the least of which is theology itself.
In the above verses, at the beginning of the chapter bearing Muhammad's name, I will admit: as a Christian I experienced what can only be described as a strong theological dissonance with this part of the Qur'anic message. (As I see it, when you're reading the other's Holy Book -- and divine revelation is at stake -- it's quite normal to experience some level of dissonance. This is really nothing to fear.)
For me, then, the dissonance arose over the subject of glad tidings. Muhammad, after all, has been related in the Qur'an as "a herald of glad tidings" (Khalidi's translation).
Associating all of what Muhammad brought to 7th-century Arabia as the Truth from God, then associating belief in it with what Khalidi terms the expiation of sins, well, these are the precise theological points that make Christian-Muslim dialogue stare at its death indeed. (Believe me: I will fight to keep this conversation alive despite these close brushes with death.)
Here lies a hard-to-deny conflict of ultimate Good News. For the Christian, Jesus was the most comprehensive expression of God's truth revealed. Furthermore, we believe that the sacrificial death of Jesus on a Roman cross in 1st-century Palestine was, and is, the only expiation of sins.
Yet even with this loud dissonance I can agree wholeheartedly with the 20th-century Christian monk Thomas Merton, who said, "I read the Qur'an with deep reverence." Thus, my reading of this book continues. As does my curiosity about Muhammad...