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For the Love of God and His Prophet

Weblog for Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 54

Week 2 Response: The Iceberg Metaphor

Filed under: drawing — cspendleton at 12:36 am on Sunday, February 16, 2014

For this week, I wrote Qur’anic verses outlining the image of an iceberg to portray the notion that understanding the Qur’an requires looking beyond the obvious to understand its meaning and depth.

The verses I chose to write were not random. In his discussion of different theoretical approaches to understanding the Quran, Zia Sardar opposes two different abuses of the Qur’an. One is the restrictive way that some of the ulama interpret the Qur’an; the other is the way Islamophobic people read the Qur’an, deliberating seeking out verses that would portray Islam as an inherently violent faith. Sardar mentions a verse that is frequently taken out of context and touted by xenophobic Americans. This verse outlines the iceberg and is the only verse peaking out of the water: “We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. They serve gods for whom no sanction has been revealed. Hell shall be their home” (3:149). This is accompanied by another commonly touted verse, also in black, that completes the outline of the outer layer of the iceberg: “And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers” (2:191). As the reading this week emphasized, however, the Qur’an should not be taken out of its historical context; this verse in particular refers to the Battle of Uhud and only to a specific group of disbelievers who had betrayed the Prophet (Sardar 26).

Alongside those infamous verses, I also wrote a verse that was mentioned in lecture — 49:13 — in light blue to contrast with them: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other, not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” This verse contradicts the ones forming the outline and tip of the iceberg. Whereas they seemed to espouse violence, this verse praises diversity as a deliberate act of God.

Muslims believe the Quran to be a timeless revelation of God’s word, but Sardar correctly argues that understanding God’s revelation is subject to time and place (perhaps he is using the cultural studies approach as well!). This is a challenging endeavor, requiring Muslims and non-Muslims who wish to understand the Qur’an to look deeper than the text itself or to cherry-pick single verses to support their own beliefs. If one chooses only to see the tip of the iceberg – to see only what he or she wants to see, including those violent verses – then that person will ignore the vast amounts of knowledge, historical and cultural context, and other verses that ultimately comprise the Qur’an.

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