From Issue: 511 [Read full issue]

'Using' The Quran

From the time Muawiya's troops raised pages of the Quran on their lances to the start of the first Gulf War in 1991, when Saddam Hussein put the Quranic phrase Allahu Akbar, "God is Greater," on the Iraqi flag, up to the international terrorist movements of our time, there have been Muslims who have used the Quran to encourage, justify, and challenge highly specific political agendas, some violent and intolerant. At the same time, there have been more Muslims who have been inspired by the Quran to pay charity, be generous, establish peace treaties, and work for a just and accountable political order. In Muslim societies in which religious identity is strong, the language of the Quran is the dominant normative discourse, and some will use the Quran in a manipulative fashion, while others will sincerely try to be guided by its message. It is impossible to prevent the Quran from being "used" to justify bad behaviour. Shakespeare wrote that "the devil can cite scripture for his purpose," and this is as true of the Quran as it is of the Bible, which has been used at various times to justify everything from the enslavement of Africans to the subjugation of women and the forcible expulsion of indigenous peoples from their lands.

Ridding societies of religious discourse will not prevent injustices from being committed in the name of secular values either. Nationalist and secular regimes and their founding texts are not immune from manipulation for unjust purposes. For most of its history, the explicitly egalitarian spirit of the US constitution was interpreted away by restricting the application of the "men" to white males. Throughout the twentieth century, secular "modernizing" regimes in the Middle East elevated the importance of Turkish, Persian, and Arab national identities and their founding myths to justify severe discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Compiled From:
"The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life" - Ingrid Mattson, p. 183