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Sunday, 1 May 2011

A 'context' for the negative, but not the positive, parts of the Koran?

[Above: Tariq Ramadan. Master of taqiyya and supreme Koranic contextualiser.]

In conversations with various people certain questions about the ‘context’ and ‘interpretation’ of Koranic passages are often raised. This brings about certain problems for Koranic context and interpretation.

For example, how wide should the context of any given Koranic passage be? The context of the surrounding sentences? The context of the whole sura from which it is taken? Or perhaps the context of the entire Koran? Perhaps culture and history should be brought into the equation too. In that case, I would need ten or more years study in order to become an Islamic scholar. Only then could I justify my selected passages from the Koran.

In any case, whose context or interpretation should the non-Muslim accept? Should he accept a Sunni context? A Shia’s? A Christian’s? Perhaps even an atheist’s?

If what are deemed to be the negative passages from the Koran need to be contextualised and/or interpreted, according to some but certainly not all Muslims, then so too do the positive passages. (This never seems to happen.) For example, we are told that there are passages in the Koran that speak against suicide. Thus they must also speak against suicide bombers. But what if someone contextualises the passages about suicide and turns them into pro-suicide arguments (as the bombers do)?

Context is indefinite or even infinite. That’s partly why there are so many Islamic sects. Take this admittedly extreme contextualisation.


‘Strike off the heads of infidels.’

can be contextualised into meaning

‘Love thy neighbour.’
then perhaps

‘Love thy neighbour.'
could be contextualised into meaning

‘Strike off the heads of infidels’.

This is what often happens with context-validation and interpretational arguments.

Again, no one, not Muslims anyway, seems to contextualise or interpret the positive passages of the Koran when talking to the non-Muslim. For example, many Muslims are keen to show non-Muslims passages about almsgiving and the duty to love one’s neighbour. Take the Koranic passage ‘Give alms to the poor’ (which is, by the way, a tacit acceptance of poverty). This could be, and probably often is, contextualised thus:

i) ‘Give alms to the poor.’
ii) ‘Give alms only to the Muslim poor.’
iii) ‘Give alms only to the Sunni Muslim poor.’
iv) ‘Give alms only to the deserving Sunni Muslim poor.’
v) ‘Give alms only to the deserving Sunni Muslims poor but only once a year.’

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