Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Al-Fatiha - a Western perspective

I come to the text as an individual who is engaged in a solitary reading (which is the way Westerners come to the text). That is how I engaged this text. Of course, in its context of time and place, the al-Fatiha was recited and heard by at least two people (the reciter and the one who is being recited to) thus making it a communal in hearing.

al-Fatiha (the opening)

In the name of the Infinite Light and Life,
the One of total Grace and Mercy.
I offer my devotion and praise,
to the One who continually creates all worlds.
To the One who gives without thought of return,
from whom flows eternal mercy,
protecting us from judgment:
I offer my devotion and praise;
I offer my deeds and thought.
I only ask that you show me the true path,
so that I do not go astray leading to spiritual non-existence.

Jim Davis
Author of "The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims - A Short Introduction"
Ozark Bioregion, USA

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Anti-semitism in Islam rooted in al-Fatiha?

Dr. Andrew Bostom's recently published 750 page anthology entitled "The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism" is a scathing critique of a range of Muslim exegesis of various Quranic ayats that serve as a foundation for the attitudes many Muslims hold against the Jewish people. He cites Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi's 700 page treatise, Banu Isra'il fi al-Quran wa al-Sunna, first published in the 1960s and then re-issued in 1997, rationalizing Muslim Jewish hatred. According to Bostom,

"Tantawi was apparently rewarded for this scholarly effort by being named Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in 1996, a position he still holds. These are the expressed, "carefully researched" views on Jews held by the nearest Muslim equivalent to a pope - the head of the most prestigious center of Muslim learning in Sunni Islam, Sunnis representing some 85 per cent of the world's Muslims. And Sheikh Tantawi has not mollified such hate-mongering beliefs since becoming the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar as his statements on the Jews as "enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs," the legitimacy of homicide bombing of Jews, or "dialogue " with Jews (just below), makes clear:

....anyone who avoids meeting with the enemies in order to counter their dubious claims and stick fingers into their eyes, is a coward. My stance stems from Allah's book (The Qur'an), more than one third which deals with the Jews....

Tantawi's case illustrates, the prevalence and depth of sacralized, "normative" Jew hatred in the contemporary Muslim world." (2008, pp. 33-34).

Dr. Bostom goes on to summarize the thoughts of Haggai Ben-Shammai, chairman of the Ben-Zvi Institute and Professor of Arabic language and literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, that much of this antisemitism is rooted in al-Fatiha:

" The terrifying rage decreed upon the Jews forever is connected in the hadith and exegesis to Qur'an 1:7, where Muslims ask Allah to guide them rightly, not in the path of those who provoke and must bear His wrath. This verse is in turn linked to Qur'anic verses 5:60 and 5:78, which describe the Jews' transformation into apes and swine (5:60), having been cursed by the tongue of David, and Jesus, Mary's son " (5:78). (2008, pp. 34-35).

Clearly, as a Muslim, I find this interpretation of al-Fatiha completely unacceptable and reprehensible. The text itself makes no mention of the Jews. It specifies only those who have earned God's displeasure.

As Muslims, we must own our shadow and express our sincere apologies to our brothers and sisters of the Abrahamic faiths for all of our misdeeds and prejudice. For my own part, I ask the forgiveness of all Jews, past and present, secular and religious, to whom the expression of the faith of Islam has caused pain, injury and offense. Any interpretation of the words of God that undermine the central Islamic principle of the Unity of Man - that we are all created from One Single Soul - cannot be an honorable and noble interpretation of the final revelation of Allah.