Mirrors

July 15, 2009 at 10:43 pm (personal)

In my travels around the blogosphere today (yeah, work is going really well – NOT), I have come across a certain saying – twice; once from a Muslim and once from a Christian. The saying is that scriptures are like a mirror – what we see in them is really a reflection of ourselves.

Maybe it’s just my habit of being superstitious about the voice of God, but seeing it in two places from people of two faiths in one day made me pay attention.

A few of you have been telling me similar things in response to the question “is there an ideal?” In other words, no there’s not. There is not one particular view on a religion that is the correct view. There is not an absolute at the bottom of all the layers of interpretation that people have put on it over the centuries. Perhaps those layers of interpretation just give the illusion that it’s all neatly wrapped up – an ideal life, a complete package, a closed case, a done deal. Which I don’t think it is.

I think if there is a “true nature of a religion”, it is what the original prophet/founder of the religion understood the religion to be. But it’s pretty difficult to determine that through historical documents which have issues with preservation. Or you can read scriptures which are attributed to God in the religion, and decide from that what you think it was supposed to be about; but you are reading it through the lens of the translator’s understanding, and you then put your own twist on top of that as it reflects your own values back at you. So how can you be sure that what you understand bears any relation to the original? Is there enough clarity to constrain the message?

And then even if you think you understand the original, there’s the question of whether it’s from God, or man-made.

I have to admit, I’m really lost now.

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9 Comments

  1. susanne430 said,

    Sarah, do you believe God answers the one who seeks Him and if you are seeking then you will find Him? Perhaps instead of trying to follow “religion” and all the rules of Islam or Christianity or Judaism, you should simply seek to know God and ask Him to show you the truth about what pleases Him and how He offers salvation.

    I am sorry for your confusion and struggle. I know that is difficult. Hugs!

  2. Jasmine said,

    I’m with Suzanne (including the hugs!) Got is not found through the brain and through thinking

  3. Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

    This is a big question. Some say we aren’t qualified enough to interpret scripture (whereas someone who’s studied it for years and speaks Arabic is), and some say we should all be able to interpret scripture without outside help, since if I go to a sheikh, he too has preconceptions and a worldview that have influenced HIS interpretation.
    I think maybe the answer is somewhere in between, especially with Islam. I have a big problem trusting Islamic scholars and sheikhs, especially when it comes to issues to do with women, because many Muslim men are patriarchal, and every single Muslim country is patriarchal. Surely this influences these men who are seen as “Islamic schoalrs”?
    However I also realize my limitations. I feel that to understand Islam well, I need to speak Arabic and be able to read the Qur’an in Arabic, I need to know Islamic history, and I need to know how to make connections between things. Many things in Islam that I had a problem with made much more sense when I looked at the context/historical period, as well as the Arabic version as opposed to a translation. So these are all important.
    It’s so confusing! However it doesn’t mean you can’t be a Muslim until you are all of the above. I’m a Muslim and I haven’t yet acquired all those things. However I would rather learn Arabic and Islamic history than let a shiekh tell me what Islam is.

  4. ellen557 said,

    You’re right, religion isn’t an ideal. It’s something we need to work at constantly. As human beings, we’re not perfect – so if you consider that all figures, for example in Islam, who wrote down hadiths were not perfect, then I guess going to the Qur’an is better.
    Or those who put the bible together at Nicea were not perfect either. So in a sense, the physical parts of religion can be thought of as man made. The feeeeeeling (I want to put that in italics but have no idea how hehe) of religion, though, it not something that we can make for ourselves, I personally think that comes from God.

    I think the biggest translation problem lies in hadiths. Many bad cultural practices have stemmed from poorly translated hadiths or ones that aren’t authentic so perhaps, while you’re at this stage, it’s important to get yourself a good copy of the Qur’an (and if you’re concerned about translation, then read up on the translator to check his/her viewpoints) and/or a good translation of the Bible and just relax and read it. If you have a problem with a verse, mark it and research it.
    I remember I went into an Islamic bookstore about two weeks ago and the worker there was giving me advice on different Qur’ans. He was saying “Every single verse, every single sentence, has layers of meaning.” I guess that means that a) you can’t take it at face value and b) you have to research around the verse.

    We ourselves can do a lot more to solve our problems about religion than we think. Like if there’s something you personally feel is missing from your views of Christianity, research into it a bit more until you’re satisfied. The same goes with Islam – it really does help to research and read Qur’an (personally I would read Qur’an a million times and only then start thinking about hadiths) and to give yourself an idea of what it would be like to practice the religion so you can make a more informed decision, if that makes sense?
    Actually I’m sure most of my comment doesn’t make sense so if you can figure out what I meant then kudos hehe.

  5. Sarah said,

    Thanks for the support, sisters 🙂

    Sara – sure, patriarchal cultures influence interpretation of religion; but part of the reason for them being patriarchal cultures could be that Islam originally came into a patriarchal culture and is “coloured” by it? So a literal take on Islamic rules and an imitation of the past will keep things that way!

    Ellen – I found what you said about translation of hadith very interesting. Perhaps this is a big problem. It’s only recently that decent English translations of the Qur’an have been available, so I don’t see hadith faring any better. Also, I totally agree that what was written down as hadith might be quite different from what actually happened (or was said) in many cases. Chinese whispers. 😉
    Oh, and the many layers of meaning thing is true – I learnt something about this at my applied physics workshop last week; there was a talk about linguistics, which said that highly compositional languages (of which Arabic is one) have a much greater richness of meaning!

  6. Lisa said,

    Sarah, sorry it’s taken me so long, I’m finally finishing up with visiting everyone habibty.

    In my mind, there is no real ideal.

    First, I think of Islam as but a continuance of Christianity and firstly Judaism. These other religions are equally important in the scheme of things, and as such I came back to Islam. Knowing that these religions were close to my heart as well, and that I COULD BE either of them given different circumstances in life…

    I came back to Islam despite my knowledge not being there, to just finally make the effort. Half is based on the logic of Islam, but again I could easily be a Jew (more likely) or possibly Christian (problems with Trinity), but my life was taken into account as well with Belal and Youssef. Love you so much.

  7. Sarah said,

    Lisa – thanks for going through all my posts after your holiday, it’s a huge compliment that you took the time to do this!

    I have been surprised a few times with you and your journey. This final settling on Islam surprised me because it wasn’t very long ago you seemed to have decided to be Christian. But I can totally understand the need to pick a direction and get on with life. Sometimes I badly want to do the same. And it makes sense that you would choose Islam based on pure monotheism and the fact of your husband and son being in the faith.

    What you are saying about these religions being equally valid and important is something I have been thinking about too. I feel when I look around at different people of different faiths that it is all the same journey. We make such a meal of the differences. The similarities show a common core spiritual understanding. Maybe this is what’s really important.

  8. Achelois said,

    WWR, it’s past midnight here so please excuse my typos; I’m still going to comment now that I’m determined to read your entire archive and I’m so sucked into it!

    Personally, I think all scripture is man-made. That doesn’t mean there is nothing in it that doesn’t make God nod His head in agreement. In fact, I think most of the scripture is what would make God nod 🙂 But I still maintain that He doesn’t write books, I think. I think it is below His majesty to do that. He is too Large to write books – that too various drafts and then not be able to preserve them so that they are “corrupted” or otherwise teach a few laws that seem so sexist and *man*-made.

    • Wrestling said,

      You are definitely an all-or-nothing person! 😆 I hope you’ve gone to bed now!

      This was an interesting post to re-read. I needn’t have worried. It is possible to see something other than your own values in a scripture. I certainly did.

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