Following in the Footsteps of Ibrahim

“Muslims have always debated what it means to have a divine message and eternal truths take the form of a finite human language revealed in a particular culture and at a specific moment in history. After the Prophet Muhammad’s death, an early community of Muslims challenged what they saw as the excessive interpretive liberties of the Caliph Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, who was among his first converts and one of his most devoted followers. They accused the caliph, in his capacity as a ruler, of trespassing over the bounds of human interpretation and encroaching on the dominion of God’s law. In response, Caliph Ali brought a manuscript of the Qur’an to a large crowd. Touching the book, he instructed it to speak and to explain God’s law. Alarmed and surprised, the onlookers protested, “The Qur’an cannot speak, for it is not human!”. This, the caliph explained, was precisely his point. As mere ink and paper, the Qur’an does not speak for itself. It is human beings who give the book its consequence by reading, reflecting, drawing out meanings and lessons, constructing arguments, all contingent on their recognition of the inevitable limits of human understanding and the limitlessness of the book’s divine truth.”

-from Zareena Grewal’s essay “How to Read Over Sandow Birk’s Shoulder- an American Muslim’s Notes on the American Qur’an” in American Qur’an artwork by Sando Birk


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