Contrary cat that I am, I decided to read The Koran for Lent. Actually, I've been thinking of reading it for a while - it's one of the many books I've acquired with the thought that I will get to it "eventually." But my interest has been renewed after my trip to Morocco and the recent riots over the political cartoon of Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper. The perverse little punk rock snot in me enjoyed the fact that all this havoc was being caused over a cartoon. People died: 15 in Nigeria, 10 in Libya, 4 in Afghanistan. I had a dark fantasy of this escalating into a holy war, nuclear weapons being used, life on Earth exterminated...all due to a cartoon. It somehow seems an appropriate statement for how stupid the human race is.
I was bemused each day to see "Cartoon Riot" headlines. It conjured images of people running off of cliffs but staying in mid-air for a beat or two before falling. Anyone hit on the head would see stars (perhaps three stars and a quarter moon?) and when surprised, their eyes would ZING out of their heads. Sadly the truth was just more unfunny craziness and useless destruction. There's not enough Tex Avery in the world.
So I began to read The Koran. I read because I believed our notion of Islam is deliberately distorted in the west by our media and government. I wanted to see for myself, by going to the source, what the religion had to say. I respect several of the Five Pillars of Islam:
1. Belief in one God, Allah and Mohammed as his profit
2. Pray 5 times daily
3. Give alms to the poor
4. Purify the self by fasting
5. Try to visit Mecca once in your life
Any religion that includes helping the poor as one of its core beliefs wins a certain respect from me. I've fasted and think it's a good idea, and I also like a religion that values travel. Praying 5 times a day...mmmm...well, contemplation of the infinite daily, not a bad idea. Having to drop whatever your doing and pray to a God? Not too hot on. The first belief, Mohammed as profit, well, that's why I was reading the book, to see if I could justify it.
I should point out that I have no interest in converting to Islam or any other religion. I will always be a lapsed Catholic. However: no matter what set of beliefs may interest me, I will never call or label myself according to any religion ever again. Against this background, I began the Koran. "Let's see what Islam is really about." I was looking for more evidence that governments lie to people to keep them separate and themselves in power.
I wasn't too far into the book when I started getting that sinking feeling. "Oh...some of this is a little messed up." I reminded myself that the book has a historical context, but historical context couldn't shake the growing sense that parts of the Koran are as bad as "they" say. Let me put it this way: any holy book that proscribes rules for menstruation before it declares that murder is forbidden isn't a holy book to me. As well as being a religious guide, it was also a legal guide, in which all financial matters (according to Allah) can be simplified as: men always entitled to twice as much money as women. The Koran gives specific instructions for the inheriting of wealth, said instructions always favoring the men. What surprises me is not that this is in the book, but that it is so blatantly spelled out. I got tired of reading the adjective "unclean" applied to women.
I'm continuing on with it, but I feel more like a lawyer conducting due diligence. I'm looking now for further evidence of ugly attitudes in the book, and overreacting to messages of compassion and love. "Whew! The Koran says we should take care of orphans! That's so GREAT!"
I'll post more thoughts as I get further into the book.