One of the core tenets of Islam is that the Qur'an contains the words of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over 20-plus years by the Archangel Gabriel.
So imagine being Muslim and hearing that some 300 prominent intellectuals and politicians in France, including a former president, have published a manifesto insisting that, as The Atlantic reports, “'the verses of the Quran calling for murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers be struck to obsolescence by religious authorities,' so that 'no believer can refer to a sacred text to commit a crime.'”
The manifesto is arrogant, misguided, insulting and thoughtless. If those who signed it wanted to be consistent, they also should have demanded revisions of the New Testament stories of Jesus suggesting people cut off their hands or pluck out their eyes if those body parts cause them to sin. And they should have demanded that the Hebrew scriptures be changed to remove the stories of God telling the people of Israel to invade the land of Canaan and wipe out men, women and children.
But this isn't about consistency. This is one more example of non-Muslim Europeans reacting badly to the growing presence of Islam in Europe. As you can read in the piece to which I've linked you in the third paragraph of this post, Muslims are, naturally, rejecting the idea of revising the Qur'an. As they should.
The manifesto references antisemitic thinking and actions that find their roots in some of the more radical branches coming out of Islam. And that antisemitism is a real problem. Just as it was a real problem when anti-Jewish stances were preached from Christian pulpits for centuries. But the key to reducing or eliminating that problem is not to do surgery on holy writ. That idea is so bonkers that I'm flabbergasted that anyone -- much less people identified as intellectuals and political leaders -- might imagine it as a real solution.
Religions evolve, change, adapt. And so do approaches to sacred writing considered canonical, no matter what religion considers them that. All the great world religions, including Islam, should be about the task of understanding their current context and speaking a word of hope, justice, mercy, compassion and love in ways that can be heard today. Scraping certain words out of sacred texts is a uniquely foolish way to go about that task.
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A NEW WHITE HOUSE OFFICE
It has taken a long time, but finally President Trump has issued an order to create a White House office of faith-based work, similar to offices that operated under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. These efforts have to be handled carefully and constitutionally. I wish I trusted the Trump administration to do that. But we'll see.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column -- about biblical literacy -- now is online here.