I have finally finished reading the Quran, and I have to say, the last juz’ contained some very beautiful short suras – I gather these are some of the earliest. Some of them are ones my husband has recited in prayer with me, and are poetically rhyming and sound lovely. I felt devastated all over again that I’ve severed this spiritual connection between us, which today he told me he felt devastated about too. I told him at the time that I wanted to still pray with him, but he never took me up on it. Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to say in this post.
Cornelius raised an interesting question in a comment – if the Quran is not a divine book, then what is it?
I could extend this question to make it relevent to everyone: there are a whole load of people throughout history that have claimed to be receiving messages from God – if they were not really, then what was it all about?
In each case, the possibilities are:
- fully divine
- partially divine
- not divine at all
with other issues of preservation when the “messenger” lived in the past.
I have a theory that the size of a religion is a proxy for how much truth is in it. So the cults led by crackpots who sleep with their followers’ wives and announce ends of the world that don’t come to pass, will never grow very big because they won’t convince too many people.
Of course the amount of effort spent on converting others is another factor in the size of the religion. So religions that don’t actively missionise or conquer, e.g. Judaism and Sikhism, will stay comparatively small.
So basically I think there is significant truth in all major world religions, but it seems likely at least some of them must contain significant falsehood too. For example heaven and hell vs. reincarnation – can these both be true? Maybe… in some deep way that we can’t understand, they are both allegorical descriptions of aspects of the same thing? I don’t know.
I feel that both the Bible and the Quran contain significant human elements – understandings that are reflective of the cultures they came out of. My readers may feel that – for example – the Sikh holy book contains human elements or even, is entirely human in origin. So my question is: how can a person believe they are receiving messages from God if they’re not really? (I am giving these messengers the benefit of the doubt and assuming they were not fraudulent.)
Not all people who claim to get messages from God – even those with modest followings – are crazy or evil people. For example Neale Donald Walsch seems fairly innocuous. So I do not take the person’s normalcy as proof of the message. If they all brought exactly the same message, then maybe. But they can not all be literally true. And to be honest, I could probably believe Muhammad was a messenger of God if I didn’t have to believe his message was the literal words of God. If it was just meant to be his divinely-inspired understanding of things, I could almost believe in it. (Some things, like his being “commanded” to marry Zainab to prove a point about adoption, are still questionable though.)
So what is it that causes sincere mystical experiences if they are not real? (Think Paul on the road to Damascus if you are Muslim.)
I do have some doubts about my conclusions on Islam – some things that make me think, hmm, maybe I can’t dismiss that.
- Muhammad was really serious about prayer, and charity to the extent of living in poverty – he didn’t seem to be looking for worldly gains – so I think he was sincere
- Quran is really consistent throughout, and its values about renouncing dunya really resonate with me and have had an effect on me
- Long break in revelation after the first part – a troubling test for him – why would this happen if he was fooling himself?
- Their early military success was against all odds
- Quran apparently foretold a Byzantium victory
But there are many other things I can’t square up. It’s a puzzle.