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09.08.10

Get Over the Quran Burning

As a Florida pastor calls off a Quran-burning bonfire on 9/11, The Daily Beast’s Asra Q. Nomani, herself a Muslim, says there are a few brutal passages in the Quran that should go up in smoke.

On the plan to burn Qurans this weekend, I say to Muslims: Let's get over the symbolic insult and deal with the very real issues of literal interpretations of the Quran that are used to sanction domestic violence, terrorism, militancy, and suicide bombings in the name of Islam.

Gen. David Petraeus has weighed in, saying that the planned burnings by the Rev. Terry Jones' congregation in Florida will endanger U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. But I believe that there is something that endangers Americans and American soldiers even more: certain passages that—when read literally—pit Muslims against Americans and the West.

We, as Muslims, need to tear a few pages out of the Quran.

I believe the Qurans are being burnt because we, as Muslims, haven't dealt sincerely and intellectually with very serious issues that certain Quranic passages raise, particularly in the West. These include verses—when literally read—that say that disobedient wives can be beaten “lightly,” that Muslims can't be friends with the Jews and the Christians, and that it's OK to kill converts from Islam.

We, as Muslims, need to tear a few pages out of the Quran—symbolically, at least, by rejecting literal adherence to certain problematic verses.

The Christian faith had to deal with problematic verses from the Book of Deuteronomy that sanctioned violence. Jews have had to confront rigid readings of the Old Testament that sanctioned stonings. Muslims, too, must re-interpret verses that aren't compatible with life in the 21st century.

Look at one literal reading of the 34th verse of the fourth chapter of the Quran, An-Nisa, or Women. "[A]nd (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them," reads one widely accepted translation. Based on a literal reading, Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha concludes that when dealing with a “disobedient wife,” a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of “the importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam.” If that doesn't work, he can “leave the wife's bed.” Finally, he may “beat” her, though it must be without “hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any cost.”

Such appalling recommendations occur because we haven't yet universally drawn a line in the sand, as Muslims, and said that this verse may have been progressive for the seventh century when women were supposedly beaten indiscriminately, but it isn't compatible with the modern day, if read literally. Instead, we do something called the "4:34 dance," suggesting that the light beating be the result of everything from hitting a woman with noodles (yes, you read that right) to a traditional toothbrush, called a “miswak,” from the root of a plant.

The kidnapping and killing of my friend and colleague Daniel Pearl in 2002 forced me to confront the link between literalist interpretations of the Quran and their role in sanctioning violence in the world. For critics of Islam, these verses are the smoking gun that proves that Islam is intrinsically violent. These are verses such as At-Tauba (“The Repentance”) 9:5, which states that Muslims should “slay the pagans wherever ye find them” or Al-Mâ'idah (“The Table Spread with Food”) 5:51, which reads, “Take not the Jews and Christians as friends.”

We need to reject literal reads of the Quran and recognize that these verses were communicated during specific moments of war, and they aren't edicts for all time. We, as Muslims, must reject the notion that we read these words literally. To many, that would be an act of blasphemy. But, until we do, the literal words of the Quran will be used to rally hate against the faith. And that is why, indeed, Qurans will be burned by the small congregation of about 50 folks from the Rev. Terry Jones' Dove World Outreach Center. It's really just these particular verses that need to go up in smoke.

Asra Q. Nomani is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She is co-director of the Pearl Project, an investigation into the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Her activism for women's rights at her mosque in W.V. is the subject of a PBS documentary, The Mosque in Morgantown. She recently published a monograph, Milestones for a Spiritual Jihad: Toward an Islam of Grace. asra@asranomani.com