Monday, March 3, 2008

The Word of God

My Lord has opened the Book at The Central Message.
- Hey - wait a minute, don't let the pages flap in the breeze.
- O - I see. It is coming back one page to the key question.

Is the Qur'an also the word of God for Christians?
This question occurs in Hans Küng's book Islam, Past, Present, and Future at the end of section B. subsection I.

Some weeks ago, Chris Brady posted a question on the What is central to Christianity. He "intentionally allowed only one answer per vote." I complained that my answer, the person of Jesus, the Bridegroom, was not in the list.

Now what would you prefer: the word of God as book or the word of God as flesh? To me that question arises as a very short precis of the distinction Küng makes in his book (pp 57, 59):
The specific characteristic of Judaism is Israel as God's people and land. The specific characteristic of Christianity is God's Messiah and Son. ... The specific character [of Islam] is that the Qur'an is God's word and book.
I am struck by this thesis because the first encounter I had with Christianity was with those who proclaimed the Bible as book as the Word of God. Eventually, I have concluded that these phrases indicate in Christians more of fear than love. In reading Küng, I can see - as with the recitation of Beowulf that Iyov pointed us to - that the recitation of the Qur'an could indeed be very moving - even if one did not understand a word of it.

I have spent some time in Turkey, so I know the call to prayer of the early morning. Recitation goes beyond the written word for it is embodied.

- what is it that constitutes worship?
- it is not merely a question of understanding a definition of terms.

(That reminds me of the recent Jerusalem-Athens question that April DeConick invited answers to.)

In this first major section, Küng outlines how this living, holy book in Arabic functions for a Muslim:
- as book. (al-kitab) Every believer knows where he is. ... One can unequivocally hold on to what God wills. So nothing can be changed here...
- as one book. ... not a collection ... like the Hebrew Bible... not four different Gospels ... contradict one another in many details ... a single book, handed down by one and the same prophet within 22 years...
- an Arabic book. ... the oldest Arabic prose work ... normative in syntax and morphology
- a living book. ... to be read aloud in public time, qur'an comes from the word qara'a, 'read aloud, recite'. ..
- a holy book. ...The Muslim house of God has no pictures - the calligraphy of the Qur'an is enough. ... in Christian terms, the Qur'an is for Muslims word and sacrament in one... directly the word of God.
Quoting Toufic Fahd (p62) ...
It seems to be the last witness to an old Semitic tradition in which the world of images is combined with reality, where the word evokes the magic of the expression and where the physical is transformed by the metaphysical; a discursive thought which is expanded in statements set side by side, often without grammatical supports, without reference to causality, finality, consistency; ideas which repeat themselves, become entangled, permeate one another in a word-whole of the same textual connection; a harmony of monotonous wealth of sound, wearisome in the long run but often beguiling, soothing, forming itself on the rhythm of breathing and effect of emptiness and abstraction: that is how the Qu'ran appears to the reader who is initiated into the subtleties of the Arabic language and sensitive to the poetic rhythm which the Semitic soul bears through all the incarnations of cultures that it has known now for more than five thousand years.
I first read this as praise - but I see on typing it that it is a kind of back-handed praise. This is only the first section after Küng's historical introduction.

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