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Humanizing the Quran Means to Worship God by Acting Kindly Toward Fellow Humans

By Aan Anshori 

May 23 2020 

Humanizing the Quran means using Islam’s holy book as divine legitimation to worship God by acting kindly toward fellow humans. If we obey the Quran’s order, for instance, to fast but are unable to treat others, particularly religious or gender minorities, with love and compassion, then we no doubt fail to humanize the message. Allah needs nothing from us. To love God means to love and be compassionate to His creatures. 

In Ramadan, God ordered Muslims to fast because the Prophet Mohammad received his first five Quranic revelations in this holy fasting month. Divine revelations also urged Moses and Jesus to fast for 40 days. 

The Quran is believed to be the ultimate and primary source from which to seek Allah’s guidance. Without it, Muslims feel lost in gaining the purpose of life to which they were directed. 

However, since the Quran is in Arabic, which is not Indonesians’ mother tongue, our paradox is that while we fully believe the Holy Book is the sacred and sole guidance from God to be a true believer, most Indonesian Muslims hardly understand its contents. 

Many of us are taught to be able to read and recite the verses from a very young age; my parents would be furious when I was reluctant to go to the daily Quran reading sessions. In my East Java neighbourhood there is no greater disgrace than parents whose children are unable to read the Quran. Even studying proper Javanese as part of our identity was considered less important. 

We are good at reading and reciting, even memorizing the Quran without seeking a better understanding of the verses. What can happen when we are raised to believe blindly, read and memorize things we don’t comprehensively understand, except the development of fanatical religiosity as well as inferiority of our Indonesianidentity, in the presence of an Arabic identity? You aren’t perceived as a good Muslim unless you are able to properly read or recite the Quran, no matter how fluent you are in your local and other foreign languages. 

I agree with Patrik K. Meyer in his article in this newspaper on Dec. 13, titled “Indonesian Muslims: Believers in Islam or cultural Muslims?” To be a believer in Islam as opposed to a cultural Muslim, he says Indonesian Muslims should have a better understanding of the words of God in the Quran, by first studying Arabic. However, what 

Meyer seems to miss is what I call the entrapment of the Quran’s interpretation. 

Many Muslims are usually trapped in intolerant Quranic interpretations due to the influence of classical exegesis. That exegesis is heavily influenced by two concepts: Islam is the one and only true religion that warrants divine salvation, similar to other faiths, and the concept of Quranic abrogation, which fully patronized Islamic civilization, that verses that Muhammad received in Medina (Medina verses), while facing enemies of Islam, fully abrogated earlier ones (Meccan verses). 

The latter concept dramatically implies that many tolerant, compassionate and peaceful verses revealed mostly in Mecca are nullified by verses expressing impatience and a sense of mercilessness against perceived enemies, such as that known as the verse of the sword in Surah Baraah (Ultimatum, Quran 9:5). 

The impact of both concepts is evident among Indonesia’s contemporary Islamic teachers and students. A 2018 survey by the Centre for the Study of Islam and Society of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (PPIM UIN) Jakarta showed that over 50 percent of surveyed teachers agreed that Indonesia should be inhabited by Muslims only, while 33 percent of them would consider supporting the use of military force to attain such a state of affairs. This is the consequence of the rise of Indonesia’s conservative political Islamic groups in the last two decades, the primary supporters of the above concepts. 

I agree with Azis Fakhruddin’s article, “Muslims lack Arabic proficiency: Big problem?” published on Dec. 20 in this newspaper as a response to Meyer’s writing. By citing his grandmother, Azis tried to convince readers that proficiency in Arabic to better understand the Quran was not an accurate indicator of faith going deeper than part of a cultural identity. 

Genuine faith would grow alongside and would be influenced by the mainstream Quranic understanding. From the above survey, we can easily predict what kind of faith Indonesian Muslims have now and will have if those conservative political Islamic groups become dominant. 

In the spirit of Ramadan, the time of the first Quranic revelation, I raise an urgent recommendation for achieving a new Islamic understanding through understanding the Quran. It is that Indonesian Islamic scholars, with government support, desperately need to design new Quranic interpretations in accordance with tolerance, compassion and peace. These Islamic values are also embedded in the state ideology Pancasila. Such interpretations should be the main reference for thousands of pesantren (Islamic boarding schools). 

Without addressing the issue of Quranic interpretation that is not in line with the spirit of Islam that is a blessing for all humankind (Islam Rahmatan Lil'alamin), I have no idea how many more Ramadans we need to humanize the Quran, since we have already spent 1,441 fasting months since fasting officially began in Ramadan. 

Idul Fitr is perceived as the victory of the faithful in which all Muslims are challenged to manifest their love of God by embracing others in celebrating it. The more we involve people of other faiths or gender minorities in our celebrations, which this year are rather muted owing to the pandemic, the more we manifest our love for Allah. 

Aan Anshori is a Member of GUSDURian group promoting the thoughts of the late cleric and president Abdurrahman Wahid, lecturer in religion and Pancasila at Ciputra University, Surabaya 

Original Headline: How many more Ramadans do we need to humanize Quran?

Source: The Jakarta Post


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