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Friday, January 09, 2009

Our Qur'an Quest Makes the News

Thanks to Greg Miller of the Elizabethton Star for this article in today's paper about our reading the Qur'an cover to cover in 2009. Check it:

First Presbyterian Church begins study of the Qur'an

By Greg Miller
Star Staff

First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton has embarked on a new adventure -- a study of the Qur'an.

"Last year, 2008, we read the Bible (including the apocrypha) cover to cover," said the Rev. John Shuck, pastor. "For 2009, we will read the Qur'an cover to cover."

Participants in the study, which has already begun, will read about 1/12 of the Qur'an each month through December, according to Shuck. A special service will be held each month throughout the year. "We will use some portions of the Qur'an for prayers, perhaps a chant in Arabic," Shuck said. "During the sermon, I will speak about something in the Qur'an that we had scheduled ourselves to read for that month."

When the congregation read the Bible through last year, Shuck set up a blog -- www.bibleandjive.blogspot.com -- and had quizzes and summaries for each reading.
"I have also set up a blog -- www.quranandjive.blogspot.com -- for the Qur'an reading that will have resources. I am not sure if I will have a class yet. If there is interest, I will."

In the White Spire, the church's newsletter, Shuck said that the Qur'an is about the length of the New Testament and is divided into 114 surahs (chapters). "Within each chapter are verses," he said. "For instance 2:112 is Chapter 2, verse 112.

"The Qur'an is not ordered chronologically in the order that Muhammed received the revelations. His followers put the text together and ordered it into these chapters. Except for chapter 1, 'The Opening,' the earliest chapters are the longest, and they progress from longest to shortest."

Shuck says the Qur'an is a "bit of a challenge" to read. "It is a challenge because it is not a story like the gospels or the book of Genesis, for instance. It is more like reading one of the Hebrew prophets. Without guidance, it is at times difficult to know the context behind what is written. It is written in the first person for the most part. God is the speaker who is calling on the prophet, Muhammed, to recite what God is saying."

Many characters in the Qur'an, Shuck says, are also in the Bible. "There is more about Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Qur'an than in the Bible," Shuck notes. "You will find Jesus, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Moses and others. They are all prophets. The message was the same -- submit to God. One of the central meanings of Islam is 'to submit.' A Muslim is one who submits to God. If you submit to God, you are a Muslim. Abraham is credited as being the first Muslim, and he and his son Ishmael (spelled Isma'il in the Qur'an) created the holy shrine in Mecca."

Qur'an means "recitation," according to Shuck. "Is the recitation of God's revelation. For Muslims, it is only the recitation when it is in Arabic. An English translation or any other translation is not the Qur'an but an interpretation of the Qur'an. To hear the Qur'an, one needs to learn Arabic. A Muslim discipline is to memorize the Qur'an in Arabic.

"There are many English translations, some are better than others. The most popular would be by Yusuf Ali. The one I enjoy and will be using is by Tarif Khalidi, who is professor of Islamic and Arabic Studies at American University in Beirut."

For 23 years, Shuck says, "Muhammed received revelations from God. Through them, God communicated instructions for how to live. Here is an English translation of the first surah:

"In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray."


Shuck continued, "A couple of things here. The word Allah is the Arabic word for God. If you were to read a Bible that was translated into Arabic, the word translated in English as God would be translated in Arabic as Allah. The purpose of the Qur'an is to show us the straight way, the way of God."

Shuck recalls a course on Christian-Muslim relations while he was in seminary was influential to him. "I read about the Roman Catholic priest, Louis Massignon, who made great strides in peaceful relations with Christians and Muslims," Shuck said. "He encouraged Christians to appreciate Muhammed as a prophet and to read the Qur'an 'devotionally' that is as if we were hearing the word of God to us. He wanted Christians to approach Islam from the inside. He was fully a Christian and fully comfortable in the world of Islam. It was his ministry that influenced Vatican II to be more open to Islam in ecumenical relationships."

Shuck continued, "Louis Massignon is a model for me. I want to be able to understand my Muslim sisters and brothers as they would wish to be understood. In doing that, I wish to read their sacred scriptures sympathetically. I would hope, they in turn, will read my sacred scriptures with sympathy as well.

" I think it is very important that we understand others as they wish to be understood," said Shuck. "Treat others as you would like to be treated. There is a great deal of misunderstanding by Christians of Islam. There are real differences between our faiths and our approach to spirituality and to God. But, we must not exaggerate these differences or misrepresent others to make ourselves look good. It is important that Christians and Muslims build bridges of peace. This is one of the main reasons we are engaged in this project."

Shuck says the congregation will be looking at the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam. "That is a huge question that we will be exploring this year," he said. "I would say that there is a great deal more that we have in common than we realize."

Shuck says the church plans to connect with the Muslim Community of Northeast Tennessee. "We are looking forward to fellowship activities together. This will be the best opportunity to ask questions. Perhaps we will be able to host an educational event for the larger community. The Muslim Community of Northeast Tennessee has a mosque in Johnson City, and they are wonderful folks. I hope that others will make connections with our Muslim neighbors. This is their Web page."
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