Folio from an early Qur’an (8th-9th c. BCE)
At a time when the delegate leader for the nomination of one the major political parties in the United States is blatantly and falsely tarring Muslims as violent extremists and social media is making it easier and easier to thoughtlessly advocate genocide, it seems worth remembering the bewildering range of ways that the Qur’an is present in our world.
Here are three examples. First, I have no idea what to make of the progress of Dubai’s Holy Qur’an Theme Park. Immersive faith experience? Blasphemy? Fun Fundamentalism? (Would it fit in some strange subgenus with the kids’ activities at the Creationist Museum in Kentucky?)
Second: admittedly, I have a professional bias for books brimming with footnotes and scholarly commentary, but just hefting the weight of the new “Study Qur’an” (described breathlessly here by CNN and in more detail by Muslim Matters) belies reductive characterizations of Islam. The commentary tradition itself, aside from its relation to worldwide practice, contains multitudes. Fragments of one of the oldest manuscripts of the Qur’an were discovered just last year, stowed away, safely misclassified, in the collections of a British university library. Even the complicitous orientalisms of Anglophone scholarship exist in multiple streams, fanning out into criss-crossing rivulets of appropriation, collection, dissemination, and–often overlooked–mutual transformation.
And, third, here’s a 2013 NPR interview with the author of Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders. As I read about what Jefferson may have learned about pluralism through his encounters with Islam (even as he may have owned Muslim slaves), I wonder how many of our public officials today would be willing to abide by Jefferson’s response to a would-be biographer who was attempting to pry a late confession from the Sage of Monticello. In an 1817 letter to Adams, Jefferson writes (surely with one eye on posterity and one eye on Adams’ own pieties):
[…] say nothing of my religion. It is known to my god and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life. If that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.” (The Adams-Jefferson Letters, ed. Lester Cappon, 506)