Anti-American incidents in Muslim countries, including the recent killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have drawn attention to the religion of the prophet Mohammad and to the Qur’an, the holy book of the religion embraced by nearly one-quarter of the earth’s inhabitants. This may explain the large turnout on a rainy afternoon for the monthly “Thoughtful People” program presented by UNC Professor of Religious Studies Carl W. Ernst in the Fairways Gallery at Carolina Meadows.
Drawing from his recently published book, How to Read the Qur’an, Dr. Ernst explained that the 114 chapters, or suras, of the Qur’an were presentations of the prophet that were delivered between the years 610 and 632. Some of the confusion in understanding the Holy Book is that the suras are not in chronological order. Ernst said that reading them in the sequence in which they were written would reduce much of the confusion and misunderstanding.
Also, the suras have a complex structure which, once understood, reveals the beauty and power of the material. For example, sura 5 has a “ring structure,” seven verses on each side of the central eighth verse. Although the surrounding verses speak of violence towards non-believers, that key central verse says that, in God’s plan, friendship and cooperation with enemies is possible. We must not miss the main point for the secondary verses.
Mohammad was familiar with the Jewish and Christian scriptures and refers to them frequently. It is perhaps ironic that there is more material on Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Qur’an than in the New Testament.
In the question period following the presentation, a Carolina Meadows resident challenged Dr. Ernst, asking how the Qur’an gave justification to terrorists for their violence. Ernst responded that not everything all Muslims do is based on the Qur’an. Political events sometimes motivate them. Furthermore, the media sometimes distorts complex situations, he said, adding that their motto is: If it bleeds, it leads. Another resident shared with the audience how he and his wife were treated with kindness in several Muslim countries.
By Bill Powers