Some time back I spent 50 cents on a book written in 1953 by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall. The book was published then by the New American Library as a Mentor Religious Classic and is entitled, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. Over the ensuing years I picked it up at various times (usually whenever I reorganized my bookshelves or moved) but never gave it a serious reading. The paperback cover is torn and the pages are yellowed.
I originally bought the book out of sentiment, as the first girl I can honestly say I loved was Ela, a Turkish-American girl from a Muslim family who I dated in College and pined after for many years afterwards. My experiences meeting her family and some of the things that happened during those stays (like the fact she couldn't speak directly to me in her parents house and also was not allowed to make eye contact) made me want to know more about Turkish culture and Islam. Long after we broke up (err...I mean, long after she broke up with me 'cause that's how it went down) I saw the book at a book sale and bought it.
Ever since the rise in the insurgency in Iraq, specifically since Al-Sadr's increase in popularity, I've been visiting the Al Jazeera website on a daily basis. And I've been deeply troubled and become more fearful from reading the posts by Muslim readers who not only feel like America and Americans are evil but who state emphatically that non-Muslims are infidels that need to be either expelled from Muslim countries or killed. So about a month or so ago, I started reading my 50 cent explanation on the Koran. While this book is not the Koran itself, it is a great work on the Koran. I guess if I had to use an analogy, it's a good precursor to the "for dummies" series.
What I find very telling, and completely against what some of the more radical clerics are preaching, is the attitudes and teachings of both early converts to the Muslim faith...many of whom survived by fleeing to the safety of a Christian country, Abyssinia, and what the Koran itself actually says. The teachings of the prophet, as Muhammad is called, include making women equal to men, striving for universal brotherhood and the creation of a common law. That's not to say that Islam is not a faith of violence, in the 10 years between the time Muhammad left Mecca and when he became the defacto ruler of north Arabia, he and his followers participated in 38 "wars" against those who persecuted them, other Arabic tribes, Syrians, Byzantines and Jewish clans allied with tribes who opposed them. I've read quite a bit so far and have more to read, but thus far I've found no mention of the claims made by the martyrs in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Indonesia, The Philippines, Morocco, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the USA.
And I suppose what also troubles me, as I try to maintain some sort of rational opinion about the state of our World, is there seems to be no organized effort on the part of the mainstream Muslim community to reign in these extremists. Extremists aren't the sole possession of the Islamic faith, their are plenty of other religious extremists in the world, but at present there doesn't seem to be so much death and terror coming from any other religious sector.
I've been in a four-day discussion on this topic with my friend Pete in Thailand and Bruce in Chicago...it's been very educational and though provoking. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this book and perhaps readig further so that I may speak from a position of knowledge and not one purely of trepedition.