Q & R: Reaching across the cultural & religious divide

Here’s the Q:

Brian, I have a thought about your blog response
You emphasize, rightly, that progress toward peace with Islam or any
other group must include making the effort to better understand them
and why they take the positions that they take. But that’s difficult
with Islam in ways not shared by other groups of “other”. As you
doubtless know, there are no translations of the Quran into any
language. There are some sort-of translations that Muslims allow to be
used as a crutch by people who want to learn Arabic. But they take it
as a cardinal principle that the words of the Prophet cannot be
translated and yet remain the words of the Prophet. While nearly
anybody, anywhere, can pick up a Bible in a familiar language, only
Arabic speakers can read the Quran.
The result is that anything an American may “know” about Islam has
been filtered through a great many layers of interpretation,
misinterpretation, bias, hatred, tradition, unrecognized cultural
references, etc.
I like languages, but I have little inclination to learn Arabic. Yet
we must come to a better understanding of Muslims. For that, we need a
strategy. A number of things you’ve written suggest that your strategy
for better understanding Muslims has been to meet as many as possible
and have long talks, taking a nonjudgmental attitude so that neither
party gets mad and storms out. Great. But that strategy doesn’t work
for many Americans.
Any suggestions?

Here’s the R:
Thanks for this question. The fact is, you could also say that to some degree, ‘anything an American may “know” about Christianity or Juadism has also been filtered through a great many layers of interpretation, misinterpretation, bias, hatred, tradition, unrecognized cultural references, etc.’ Fortunately, there are many translation of the Quran into English and other languages. Since avid readers of the Bible will already know that there is always an element of interpretation in any translation, people sensitive to the issues and complexities of biblical translation and interpretation are well placed to read the Quran responsibly in translation … not in a way that would satisfy all Muslim scholars, but in a way that will replace complete ignorance with a responsible knowledge base.
In addition, there are excellent introductions to Islam, written by both Muslims and Christians. Here are three resources I would especially recommend:
1. John Esposito’s works, beginning with Islam: The Straight Path.
2. Who Speaks for Islam summarizes a monumental demographic study and dispels many myths. It’s short, readable, and research based.
3. Reza Aslan’s No God but God is also highly readable and helpful.
As for building relationships between Christian and Muslim congregations, people like my friend Jeff Burns and organizations like Peace Catalyst are going important and needed work, among many others.
And here’s another great resource:

Excerpts from “The Jesus Fatwah” by Living the Questions from Living the Questions on Vimeo.