Throughout the world there are numerous religions in practice today. The most prominent of the Worlds’ religions are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism. Each religion is discernible in its own unique way, with its various traditions, methods and places of worship, art, literature etc. In addition to that each religion has texts or scriptures which are considered to be sacred, holy and very important. Scriptures in the religious sense means the ‘Word of God’ as revealed in a particular book like the Bible or the Koran.
Scripture can also stand for an inspired book or a source of teaching that a particular religion honors as all-important. Some scriptures have much spiritual truth in them, others have very little. Scriptures play an extremely important role in religion. It is through these scriptures and sacred texts that rituals, traditions and rules of a particular religion are passed on through centuries and from generation to generation. This paper studies the problem associated with the interpretation of the Bible and Koran in Part I and in Part II it deals with the status of women in the Bible and Koran.
The method that is used to interpret the scriptures determines the results of one’s theology. It is the difference in the hermeneutical (method of interpretation) approach that spawns the divisions in the realm of theology. Islam is the second most practiced religion in the world. Its teaching show many similarities with the Jewish and the Christian scriptures. Islam’s basic scripture is the Koran, revealed to Prophet Mohammed (p. b. u. h) by angel Gabriel (Jibrail) who recited the verses to Mohammed, who in turn taught them to his followers who memorized them and wrote them down on leaves and scraps of paper.
The Koran has 114 surahs (chapters), arranged in order of decreasing length. Several interpretations of the Koran are available in English but no true translation. The Koran was revealed specifically in Arabic and a translation in any other language cannot convey the holiness of the Arabic Koran. The Koran is a book. It is not a collection of different, structurally unrelated sayings. The arrangement of the verses of the Koran, though not chronological, is Divinely ordained. Therefore, a Muslim must accept the fact that there is an underlying wisdom in the arrangement.
Each verse and each surah must be interpreted in relation to the context. For this purpose, it is important to understand and appreciate the language and the style of the Koran thoroughly. The language of the Koran is the Arabic of the Prophet’s (p. b. u. h) time. Anyone who wishes to interpret the Koran seriously must have a through command over its language. For an ordinary Muslim, the Koran is the easiest book in that his objective in reading the Koran is remembrance of God and of the responsibility life entails. For a scholar, however, it is perhaps the most difficult.
A scholar has to pay attention to each and every stress, for slight misinterpretation of even one word can change the meaning of the surah entirely. Islam has been split into two main sects; the Sunnis and the Shiites. Sunni Muslims revere the Sunnah, the teachings of Mohammed (p. b. u. h) based upon Haddith, the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed (p. b. u. h) as recollected and transmitted by his followers. The Shiite tradition in Islam has its own recollections of Haddith which differ from the Sunnis but only in minor details.
For Shiite Muslims, the Nahjul Balagha is of great importance. It is a collection of the sayings and sermons of Ali, son-in-law of Prophet Mohammed (p. b. u. h), considered as the perfect exemplar of Islam and the first of the Shiite Imams. For Shiites Nahjul Balagha is only second to the Koran. Another important book in Shiite Islam is the ‘Tohfa-tul-Awam’ (Gift for the People). This books is a guide for Shiite Muslims in their day-to-day life. Every devout Shiite consults this book before undertaking any major decision, be it marriage or the buying or selling of property.
Even though both the Sunnis and the Shiites believe in the ultimate supremacy of the Koran, major differences emanate when it comes to the interpretation of the Koran. The early history of Shiism is still very obscure. Many see the roots of Shiism in Mohammed’s acceptance of Ali as his successor. After Ali’s death, the Shiites became an often persecuted minority-especially under the reign of Mu’awiyah. The second Imam, first son of Ali, Hassan was killed under the Caliphate of Mu’awiyah.
Hussein, the third Imam and second son of Ali, along with numerous citizens of Medina and many family members, was massacred under the authority of Yazid, son of Mu’awiyah. The memory of these and following tragedies and martyrdoms provide the paradigm of suffering and protest that has guided and inspired Shiite Islam. Not found in Sunni Islam, the ideas of martyrdom and survival through persecution have become a distinct part of Shiite Islam and are commemorated during the lunar months of Moharram and Safar.
The Shiites have different interpretations for parts of Koran. According to the Sunnis, “there is nothing in the Koran and the Tradition to support the Shiite claim that the Imamate is one of the pillars of religion” (Nasr, 75). However, Shiites especially in areas concerning the Imamate and esoteric interpretation of the Koran, disagree with the Sunni interpretation and construction of Koranic verses. Another conflict arises where the dialect with which the Koran is recited is concerned.
The Sunnis and Shiites have different ways of pronouncing the words in the verses. For example, the Shiites instead of reading the Arabic word umma in reference to people or community read the word as ‘imma in reference to the Imams. These differences have paved the way for numerous uprisings among the Sunnis and Shiites. ‘Sectarian violence’ has claimed many lives in Pakistan over the years and the problem is still escalating. It has also given non-Muslims a solid reason to doubt the unity of Islam.