The National Catholic Review
Studying the Quran as a Catholic

Cambridge, MA. If there was any doubt, it should be clear now that Donald Trump lacks the moral quality required of a politician who would become our president. He has offended both morality and practicality by his rants against Mexicans, his call to deport all illegal immigrants, his bullying and his disrespect for those who dare to argue with him. His new call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States is another, singular instance of his lack of the credentials, moral as well as intellectual, that would make a person a serious candidate for our highest office. His call to exclusion is not only deeply offensive to Muslims, it is an abomination to people of other faith traditions as well. Indeed, it is hard for me, a Catholic priest who knows the Bible reasonably well, to imagine how any Christian who respects the Word of God can in good conscience support or vote for Donald Trump, especially after his mean-spirited and dangerous call to ban Muslims who would enter the country.

But underlying his rant against Muslims seems to be a deep ignorance of Islam, and the loud pretense that such ignorance is not a problem. ISIS and similar violent organizations likewise seem to manifest ignorance regarding what Islam is really about, how to interpret—as one must—its original texts and its traditions. Ignorance and violence, verbal and physical, travel together.

And so, those of us who can need to make determined efforts to cut through the ignorance of this dangerous moment. As a professor—and as a priest—I suggest that one thing we can do is study Islam, and learn more of this religious tradition. (In another context, I might urge all people of religious faith to study each other’s scriptures; no religious community can imagine itself exempt, as if interreligious knowledge is optional or unimportant for its true believers.)

There are many ways to study Islam, of course, and reliable textbooks exist regarding Islam’s history, its theology, and its acculturation to new environs over the centuries. But some of us—particularly those of us, such as myself, who have no particular expertise regarding Islam—should seize the opportunity just now made available to us, of purchasing, or borrowing, from a friend or the library, The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (HarperOne, 2015) and studying it carefully. To see this new volume as a timely resource today is hardly a novel idea, and many have already noted that in a time when ignorance is rampant and violent, this can be a book of great value. See the endorsements at Amazon.com, and also at many places on the web.

It is a very impressively put together volume. The fresh translation of each of the 114 suras (chapters) of the Quran is accompanied by copious notes, frequently more than half of the page, and sometimes even several full pages of commentary on some few verses. These notes are rich in necessary historical and linguistic information, and are rich in detail from the many commentaries on the Quran through the ages. The editors of this volume take very seriously the task of “study,” and want to give readers everything they require for this work.

A general introduction by Seyyed Hossain Nasr, chief editor, precedes the translation, along with some initial advice, “Approaching the Study Quran.” Fifteen essays by distinguished scholars conclude the nearly 2000 page volume, with themes such as: “How to Read the Quran” (Ingrid Mattson), “The Quran in Translation” (Joseph Lumbard), “The Islamic View of the Quran” (Muhammed Mustafa al-Azami), “Quranic Commentaries” (Walid Saleh), “Quranic Ethics, Human Rights, and Society” (Maria Massi Dakake) and “Conquest and Conversion, War and Peace in the Quran” (Caner K. Dagli).

This volume is, then, something like a combination of the Oxford Annotated Bible and the Jerome Biblical Commentary. Much to read, much to learn, all the more important when the ignorant are the loudest.

Of course, even I recognize that the media moves quickly, ideas and diatribes fly back and forth at great speed, and few of us (even busy academics at the end of the semester) actually have the time to sit down and read the 2,000 pages of this volume carefully. Trump and company will not care for such learning, but continue of their path of exaggeration, fear-mongering and violent rush to judgment. Politics trumps all. Terrorists, violent under the guise of Islam, will likewise have no time for the quiet reading of the text: wisdom is the most fearsome enemy of terror, after all. But we must sit down and we must read, and we must share what we learn, to push back the waves of ignorance about Islam by a good dose of knowledge. Of course, knowledge does not predictably serve a single purpose, and it may be that in our study we also come up against ideas or sentiments in the Quran that we do not agree with. But we will be much better off if our disagreements are grounded in close reading, and articulated with respect to specific points.

In the weeks to come, on and off as time permits, I will practice what I preach, by a series of brief reflections appropriate to this season of Advent, on Mary and Jesus in the Quran. While much has been written by scholars on them, and while I am certainly not the one to glean any new scholarly insights (Hinduism being my field), I will venture, between now and Christmas, to see what I can find in the Study Quran that opens my eyes and mind and heart about Jesus and Mary, and share it ever briefly with you. I may also point out a few things I disagree with, even as I learn from them. More in a few days.

Comments

Egberto Bermudez | 12/24/2015 - 8:41am

Dialogue with Islam is an imperative, therefore I would like to share key passages of EVANGELII GAUDIUM about the subject:
251. In this dialogue, ever friendly and sincere, attention must always be paid to the essential bond between dialogue and proclamation, which leads the Church to maintain and intensify her relationship with non-Christians.[195] A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”.[196] What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says “yes” to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others. Evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another.[197]
252. Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”.[198] The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.
253. In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.
I commend Fr. Francis X. Clooney, S.J. for his series of articles about “Studying the Quran as a Catholic.” He is certainly making an effort in promoting what Pope Francis calls “a culture of dialogue and encounter.” I welcome his advice when he writes: “There are many ways to study Islam, of course, and reliable textbooks exist regarding Islam’s history, its theology, and its acculturation to new environs over the centuries. But some of us—particularly those of us, such as myself, who have no particular expertise regarding Islam—should seize the opportunity just now made available to us, of purchasing, or borrowing, from a friend or the library, The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (HarperOne, 2015) and studying it carefully.” Therefore, for those of us that don’t have the time, nor the expertise to do a careful study of the Quran, I would like to propose a reliable book written by two Italian journalists (Giorgio Paolucci and Camille Eld) in the format of an interview to Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit who has been studying Islam as a Catholic for his entire life. 111 Questions on Islam: Samir Khalil Samir on Islam and the West. The book is balanced, clear and profound and it gives a sensible response to most of the questions that we could have about Islam.
http://www.amazon.com/111-Questions-Islam-Samir-Khalil/dp/1586171550/ref...

J Cosgrove | 12/24/2015 - 9:51am

Already have downloaded the Kindle version which I will read on my IPad.

Some interesting answers to the various questions. One is how do they consider Christianity and Jesus. Apparently the Quran considers it nonsense that God would have a son because He would have had to have a wife to do so. Not what Christianity has ever thought. They took it literally as a physical relationship.

Maybe Fr. Clooney should consider this book by a fellow Jesuit.

J John | 12/13/2015 - 4:48pm

Professor Clooney makes good points but there is a large difference between studying texts and how people actually interpret and live out those texts in today's world. I'm still struggling to understand if Trump's political conclusions are actually wrong, irrespective of them being offensive to many Muslims. In the 2011 Pew survey, 8% of U.S. Muslims agreed that suicide bombings were sometime justified. That means there are about 150,000 Muslims in the U.S. who believe that it is sometimes justifiable to murder unarmed citizens. A 2014 Pew study of 39 countries also revealed enormous sympathies toward ISIS, Osama bin Laden, Sharia law, and utter hatred toward Jews. Studying the Quran is not a high priority for most non-Muslims, and those who do claim some level of competence need to explain how the lived religion of Muslims is supposed to interface with American culture, if we see an ever growing threat against innocent people. I do not think it is helpful to demonize Muslims, but I'm also deeply worried that 1 out of 10 U.S. Muslims appear to have some sympathy with attacking innocent people. This means there are 3,000 Muslims in every U.S. state who have some openness to the moral possibility of attacking and killing non-military people. This is far too many to not consider and debate what I use to think of as drastic measures. If Trump is so wrong, then it would be helpful for me if others would explain how many Muslims comprise the "extremist" form of Islam.

Bill Mazzella | 12/23/2015 - 10:29am

J John,

21% of Americans say that we can use nuclear weapons even if not attacked by nuclear warfare. There are wackos or people who are off center in every religion or nationality. There are plenty of Christians who believe it is ok to kill non military people. Listen to Cruz......

J Cosgrove | 12/12/2015 - 8:24pm

But underlying his rant against Muslims seems to be a deep ignorance of Islam

Maybe Trump has provided a teaching moment about Islam. Is Islam a religion? There are certainly many religious elements within Islam but is it a much more encompassing ideology? Andrew McCarthy seemed to think so and has written about this in an article earlier this week.

http://www.nationalreview.com/node/428201/print

The article is titled "Trump’s Muslim Immigration Ban Should Touch Off a Badly Needed Discussion"

Particularly pertinent is any Muslim that advocates sharia law when they come here.

The lack of separation between spiritual and civic life is not the only problem with Islam. Sharia is counter-constitutional in its most basic elements — beginning with the elementary belief that people do not have a right to govern themselves freely. Islam, instead, requires adherence to sharia and rejection of all law that contradicts it. So we start with fundamental incompatibility, before we ever get to other aspects of sharia: its systematic discrimination against non-Muslims and women; its denial of religious liberty, free speech, economic freedom, privacy rights, due process, and protection from cruel and unusual punishments; and its endorsement of violent jihad in furtherance of protecting and expanding the territory it governs.

If we continue mindlessly treating Islam as if it were merely a religion, if we continue ignoring the salient differences between constitutional and sharia principles — thoughtlessly assuming these antithetical systems are compatible — we will never have a sensible immigration policy.

So while one of the biggest boors on the planet and certainly does not have the temperament to be president, maybe we should thank Trump for the discussions he is forcing us to have.

Richard Murray | 12/13/2015 - 4:27pm

J Cosgrove, this is childish tripe.

You say that you disavow Trump, but then you regurgitate all his stereotypes. You've bought Trump's presentation hook, line, and sinker.

Why don't you go learn something about Islam. And about Vatican II.

J Cosgrove | 12/13/2015 - 8:33pm

Maybe you should refrain from commenting.

First, you exhibit very poor behavior with ad hominem comments exhibiting a superior attitude.

Second, you completely misread my comment which means you could not have read the link I posted or understood the point I was making.

and

Third, you post suggestions that are irrelevant.

Richard Murray | 12/14/2015 - 3:58pm

You're wrong on all counts, J Cosgrove.

Much of your previous comment focuses on Sharia law, which a tiny segment of the Muslim population practices.

Therefore, you take one tiny part of a religion, and blow it out of proportion. That's stereotyping, and it's similar to what Trump does.

Tim O'Leary | 12/8/2015 - 8:45pm

I completely agree with Fr. Clooney that Donald Trump is totally unfit to be president. I also repudiate any of his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim positions. While not as radical (yet) as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's incarceration of Japanese-Americans, I think he is heading there.

When it comes to investigating the religious claims and founding of Islam, I think it is important for people to have a more clear-eyed view of the founder of Islam - to learn about the life and actions of Muhammad and his early followers, and to see who they justified conquering the whole of North Africa, most of Spain, the Middle East and East Asia in less than a century from their founding. It is pandering to just skip to the Crusades (as President Obama has done). Without a full picture, it will be impossible to see why Al-Qaeda, ISIS-ISIL-Daesh, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and the several other Radical Islamic Jihadis can even try to connect their present actions to original Islam.

As Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the courageous fighter for human rights for Muslims, has said, Islam is in need of a radical reformation http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-reformation-for-islam-1426859626.

Beth Cioffoletti | 12/9/2015 - 4:34am

I would like to read this article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tim, but I find that I need a WSJ subscription. In that vein of self reflection, I find myself wondering how much we modern day Christians connect our actions back to our original founder and early followers. Are we in need of radical reform too?

Sean Paul | 12/22/2015 - 4:20pm

Type the article title into Google and then click the google link. Many times this allows you to avoid the subscription protections. It worked for me at least on this article.

Tim O'Leary | 12/9/2015 - 1:36pm

Sorry you cannot get access to it, Beth. For copyright obligations, I do not want to copy it but here is a quote "Not all of this violence is explicitly motivated by religion, but a great deal of it is. I believe that it is foolish to insist, as Western leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself. For more than a decade, my message has been simple: Islam is not a religion of peace. When I assert this, I do not mean that Islamic belief makes all Muslims violent. This is manifestly not the case: There are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. What I do say is that the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam. Moreover, this theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offenses, including but not limited to apostasy, adultery, blasphemy and even something as vague as threats to family honor or to the honor of Islam itself."

As to the founders & reform, all human endeavors over time need to reform. I would make a key distinction: Christianity reforms by moving toward the example & life of its Founder: Islam by moving away from the example & life of its Founder.

John F | 12/10/2015 - 7:35pm

Tim, this Quran is very much made for you and Beth and even Ayaan. These verses or behavior of Muhammad do not make Islam inherently more violent than any similar verses or acts by prophets in the bible. The reason a billion plus Muslims are peaceful is because the view held by Ayaan and terrorists is an extreme minority view held by few. Unfortunately Ayaan was brought up in an abusive household by one of them and this had colored her views. She actually knows very little about Islam outside of the minority version she was raised with. If you disbelieve me, I ask you to look up 2 things. One is the fatwa on terrorism. It explains the covering verses and hadith in detail and then exclaims how they cannot be used to justify terrorism. It was endorsed by major Muslim organizations around the world. Second i ask you to search the news for an article about 70000 Muslim scholars and millions of Muslims meeting in India recently to sign another fatwa against terrorism. Easy to find. Thank you.

Tim O'Leary | 12/12/2015 - 12:03pm

John - I read the Quran many years ago (or, to be more accurate, an English translation of the Arabic) and found many admirable teachings there, along with many that would horrify most today. I would also certainly not endorse or want many of the practices/judgments of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) re-enacted today. My faith is in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, and God Incarnate, and I seek to understand His judgment back on the Old Testament and forward on the Church, and on sacred and secular history.

I am glad there has been a fatwā against terrorism, but my understanding is that a fatwā is an academic opinion that any educated Muslim can make, and doesn't have any legal or persuasive force against the actual terrorists, whose victims include many Muslims. Just as the KKK & some Nazi-aligned or Communist-aligned Christians could not be persuaded by more peaceful Christians and needed to be defeated by force, so do the Radical Islamic Terrorists (Islamic supremacists). I also believe there is an urgent need for legal reform in many Islamic states (e.g. Saudi Arabia) away from Sharia law. Even in Jordan (our strong ally against ISIS), sharia law deems the witness of two women to be equal to one man.

Beth Cioffoletti | 12/9/2015 - 2:56pm

Thanks for reply, Tim. I will speak to my Muslim friend about this.

Guillermo Reyes | 12/11/2015 - 1:11pm

Beth

I too have Muslim friends, they participate in their local Mosques, read their Sacred Texts, and we often discuss how WE (plural: practicing Catholics and Muslims) are a minority as to being God-fearing.

It is myopic to selectively quote the Quran and say it / "they" are about violence. If we started with the Book of Genesis and followed through till the end of our Christian Bible, the Book of Revelations, the references to killing, shedding blood, beating, pushing over a hill, ransacking regions, to plucking out our eye, cutting off our hands, making women into pieces of property to trade, or slaves.....slaves!

Christians nor Jews have a leg on which to stand if they attempt use their Texts as long, endearing platitudes ala the Sermon on the Mount. Be serious

Militant Muslims, like Militant Israeli and Militant Christians all have blood on their collective hands for making God weep for doing things to others while hiding under the flag of their religion. Shall we list a few examples of recent Catholic leaders ?

Perish the thought

The 3 great Abrahamic religions are Judaism (1st Millenium BC), Christianity (1st Century AD) and Islam ( 7th Century AD).

Tim O'Leary | 12/12/2015 - 1:54pm

Guillermo: you are being too politically correct. And political correctness kills, since it avoids any attempt at real solutions while demonizing those who cry out for protection. List, if you will, the targeted killings in the last decade or so, of innocent human beings (or noncombatant) being justified by people's religion. That is the problem we face right now. As to the Christian religion, what words of Christ or the Apostles are you referring to that justify or promote the killing of innocent non-combatants?

Beth Cioffoletti | 12/8/2015 - 6:24pm

I happen to have a Muslim friend. He was a columnist at our local newspaper (the Palm Beach Post) and at one point in his career (the 1990s) he became a Muslim, changing his name from his African-American, master-slave, name, to a chosen name to reflect his deeper identity as a black Muslim. He wrote about the change in his newspaper column, about his trip to Mecca etc. Of course, this was before 9/11 and it was all interesting rather than scary.

A few years after 9/11 he began coming to our local Catholic Peace and Justice meetings and talked to us about Islam. He was teaching us, really. Always with his Koran, which was so well used and marked. I listened, but I felt I learned most about Islam by coming to know C.B. His humility, his open-hearted-ness, his joy in his faith, his very friendliness.

I find myself wondering if one's faith can be "learned" exclusively from books, or if we need to see it personalized. Incarnated, if you will.

Guillermo Reyes | 12/8/2015 - 3:30pm

Thank you Fr Clooney for encouraging readers to learn about Islam. The Jesuits at my colleges years ago offered a course using Huston Smith's book "The World's Religions" for which I am grateful I enrolled in the course, Sadly I find myself often defending world religions from Catholics, Protestants and self-described Buddhists and Muslims who do not know what they are doing nor saying in the name of these religions.

I would do well to review Smith's book since it is a classic on the topic since the 1950s, and I would gladly read the book you mention. However I woukd be more thrilled if Catholics read the Scriptures daily, participated in their local parishes regularly and studied the recent documents by Pope Francis.

Are we being unrealistic in our expectations?

I look forward to your reflections for which many of us give you thanks.

Oremus

AMDG

William Rydberg | 12/8/2015 - 12:56pm

In view of the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Verbum Dei and America Magazine special coverage of same, have you contemplated using Verbum Dei as you assemble your schema of theological reasoning? Can we assume that you explicitly view "The Study Quran" as a source of Divine Revelation from a Catholic point of view? One finds that your comments about knowing Jesus and the Theotokos (i.e. opening my eyes) "better" interesting, do you view this as a supplemental source of public revelation that Catholics should examine?

Looking forward to your commentary...

in Christ,