In September, a minister in Florida sparked an international controversy with a plan to burn copies of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. In response, my colleague the Rev. M’ellen Kennedy organized an event in Barre to "read the Qur’an, don’t burn it." In keeping with other letters on topics of inclusion, I invite us here in our community to take up that challenge.
What would we find if we joined in reading the Qur’an? For those who have read the Bible, much would be familiar. The Qur’an tells stories of Noah and Abraham, of Ishmael and Isaac, of Moses. The Qur’an speaks of Mary the virgin giving birth to Jesus. When angels come to tell Mary that she will give birth, they say:
"O Mary! Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and in the Hereafter and be (of the company) of the righteous." (Surah 3, verse 45, as translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.)
In addition to familiar stories, familiar concerns come across in the Qur’an, particularly a concern for the weakest and most vulnerable people in society. In the Qur’an, these are orphans, widows, and the poor. The Qur’an instructs Muslims to take care of these vulnerable people, to treat them with respect and kindness, and to deal fairly with them in financial matters.
For those more familiar with the Bible, there are also surprises in the Qur’an. For example, unlike the Bible, the Qur’an is not organized chronologically. Rather, the stories are woven throughout the whole text. Each chapter or "Surah" of the text contains the fundamental articles of faith, so that reciting any of them, the practicing Muslim is reciting the things that the faith believes are most important. For those of us used to reading a more or less chronological account, this is a change.
Of course, the Qur’an also tells the story of Muhammad. In the Qur’an, Muhammad is a prophet of Allah, the Arabic for "God." In the line of the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian New Testament, Muhammad seeks to bring the theology of God’s love, justice, and care for the poor to a new community. It is also the story of this new community as it struggles against adversity and eventually grows and prospers.
Muslims in our country right now face discrimination, hate speech and violence at unprecedented levels. Intolerance against this religious community is growing in our country. As a person of faith, I feel a need to speak out against this kind of religious intolerance. One of the promises that the United States makes to all her citizens -- including her Muslim citizens -- is that our right to practice our religion is protected. Thus, the persecution -- in violence or in hate speech -- of any religious group in our country is a violation of all that we stand for as a nation.
The Muslims I’ve known in my life, are, like me, people of faith. They take their faith as seriously as I do mine. While we don’t agree on every point of faith, the Muslims I’ve known are gentle, loving people, doing their best to understand and follow God’s will. In fact, Islam means submission -- submission to Allah. I honor the quest of American Muslims to follow their tradition, and see in them a reflection of my own life of faith. May we all learn to respect the faiths of our neighbors as we work together to create a community bound by ties of tolerance and love.
Erica Baron is the consulting minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington.