Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Reformist Translation of al-Fatiha

The translators of the Reformist Translation of the Quran, Edip Yuksel, American-Turkish founder of Islamic Reform (, Layth Saleh al-Shaiban (founder of Progressive Muslims and co-founder of Islamic Reform) and Martha Schulte-Nafeh (Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in Near Eastern Studies - Arabic language and Linguistics 2004), claim that it

"offers a non-sexist understanding of the divine text; it is the result of collaboration between three translators, two men and a woman. We use logic and the language of the Quran itself as the ultimate authority in determining likely meanings, rather than previous scholarly interpretations. These interpretations, though sometimes useful as historical and scholarly reference resources, are frequently rendered inadequate for a modern understanding and practice of Islam because they were heavily influenced by patriarchal culture, relied heavily on the hearsay teachings falsely attributed to the prophet Muhammad, and were frequently driven by hidden or overt sectarian and political agendas. We therefore explicitly reject the right of the clergy to determine the likely meaning of disputed passages."

Their translation of al-Fatiha is rendered accordingly:

1:1 In the name of God, the Gracious, the Compassionate
1:2 Praise is to God, Lord of the Worlds.
1:3 The Gracious, the Compassionate.
1:4 Master of the day of Judgment.
1:5 You alone we serve; you alone we ask for help.
1:6 Guide us to the straight way;
1:7 the way of those whom you blessed; not of those who received anger, nor of the strayers.

The endnotes on 1:7 are interesting:

"001:007 Traditional commentaries attempt to restrict the negatively described groups to Christians and Jews. This self-righteous attitude has led the Muslim masses to ignore their own corruption and deviation from the straight path.

The Quran mentions communities as well as individuals who received retribution such as the people of Noah (26:25), the People of Thamud (7:78; 11:61-68), the People of Lot (26:160-175), the People of Madyan (11:84-95), Ayka (26:176-191), Aad (11:59-60); 26:123-140), and Pharoah (3:11; 11:96-99); 20:78-80)."

~ Excerpted from "Quran - A Reformist Translation", (2007, pp. 40-41)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Neurobiology and the Wrath of God in al-Fatiha

According to Michael Gerson of the Calgary Herald in an article published today, Andrew Newberg is perhaps America's leading expert on religion's neurological basis. His book, "How God Changes Your Brain," coauthored with Mark Robert Waldman, summarizes years of ground breaking research on the biological basis of religious experience, with plenty to challenge skeptics and believers alike:

"Neuroscience cannot tell you if God does or doesn't exist," Newberg states with appropriate humility.Neurobiology helps explain religion; it does not explain it away. But Newberg's research offers warnings for the religious, too.

Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain where empathy and reason reside. But, contemplating a wrathful God empowers that part of the brain "filled with aggression and fear." It is a sobering concept: The God we choose to love changes us into his image, whether he exists or not. For Newberg, this is not a critique of fundamentalism, a phenomenon varied in its beliefs and motivations. It's a criticism of institutions that ally ideology or faith with anger and selfishness.

"The enemy is not religion," writes Newberg, "the enemy is anger, hostility,intolerance, separatism, extreme idealism, and prejudicial fear - be it secular, religious, or political."

Newberg employs a vivid image: two packs of neurological wolves, he says,are found in every brain. One pack is old and powerful, oriented toward survival and anger. The other is comprised of pups, the newer parts of thebrain, more creative and compassionate, "but they are also neurologically vulnerable and slow when compared to the activity in the emotional parts of the brain." So all human beings must ask: Which pack do we feed?

How God Changes Your Brain has a few limitations. In a practical, how-to tone, it predicts "an epiphany that can improve the inner quality of your life. For most Americans, that is what spirituality is about." But if this is what spirituality is all about, it isn't about very much. Mature faith involves self-sacrifice, not self-actualization; anguish, not comfort. If the primary goal of religion is escape or contentment, there are more practical ways.

"I didn't go to religion to make me happy," said C.S.Lewis, "I always knew a bottle of port would do that." Religious discussion must come down to truth. Can we escape the wheel of becoming, or hear God's voice in a wandering prophet, or meet a man once dead? Without such beliefs, religion is mere meditation. Newberg's research shows an amplified influence of religious practices on those who "truly believe." But Newberg himself has difficulty sharing such belief.

His research on the varieties of religious experience leave him skeptical about the capacity of the mind to accurately perceive "universal or ultimate truth." Yet, he told me, "To this day, I am still seeking and searching." And that is the most honest kind of science."

~ Excerpted from "Neurons at work in the mind's God-shaped gap" by Michael Gerson.
15 Apr 2009
Calgary Herald