Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Don't Burn the Qur’ān; Read It!

Sometimes Christian pastors are really stupid. I can get away with saying that because, as of next week, I'll have been one for 18 years. And I've done some (okay, a lot of "some") stupid things as a pastor.

But nothing as monumentally stupid as Pastor Terry Jones' dubbing of September 11, 2010, as "International Burn a Koran Day." Granted, as pastor at a pretty small church myself, there's a bit of envy that he's brought world-wide notoriety to his tiny Dove World Outreach Center (where do people come up with such names for their churches?). But this is not what the Lord Jesus has in mind when he teaches his disciples that the world will hate them.

For an better plan, Martin Luther is actually quite relevant. You see, one of the reasons the Reformation had staying power in the 16th century was that Christian Europe was in the midst of a grand struggle with the Muslim Ottoman Turks. Under Suleiman the Magnificent, the Turks captured Belgrade in 1520. Then it was the defeat of the troops of King Louis II of Hungary (who was killed) at the Battle of Mahács August 29, 1526 -- which terrorized Christian Europe even more than September 11, 2001, terrorizes Americans. Suleiman would lay siege to Vienna in 1529 and attempt it again in 1532. While those campaigns failed, the Turks controlled much of eastern Europe, finally occupying Buda (the western part of modern Budapest), Hungary, in 1541. Most of Hungary would be under Ottoman dominion for the next 150 years; the Balkans into the 19th and 20th centuries.

It's this context that explains Luther's regular references to the Turks even from the very beginning of the Reformation. It turns out that Luther mainly knew about the Qur’ān from Italian sources. He finally read a poor Latin translation at the beginning of Lent 1542, which led to his translation into German and the publication of an early-14th century (or earlier) document as Refutation of the Alcoran by Brother Richard.

In 1542 Theodore Bibliander of Zurich produced the first scholarly Latin translation of the Qur’ān, but he couldn't get it published (Basel authorities censored it and jailed the either Bibliander or his printer -- historical footnotes in Luther's Works conflict here) until Luther intervened.

The Qur’ān was published, with a preface by Luther and other notes by Melanchthon. Far from burning the Qur’ān so that it would be destroyed, Luther wanted Christians to read it so that they would know what taught and compare and contrast that with the Holy Bible. As far as I can tell, Luther's preface hasn't been published in English, but you can read this summary on the LutheranWiki, including such points as:
Some fear that weak minds might be confused by the publication of the Quran in Latin – but there is no one in the church who is not absolutely sure that no religion or doctrine concerning God can be true that totally differs from the prophetic and apostolic writings.

Mohammed confesses to have come up with a new opinion that differs from the prophets and apostles – as the heathen opinions of old are to be rejected, so also Mohammed’s figments.

Those who do not even know that on the religion in agreement with the prophets and apostles is the true religion, how do they arm themselves against Mohammed’s ideas they might hear even if they do not read the Quran?

We who teach in the church have seen many different enemies – papists, Jews, Anabaptists, Servetus, and others – let’s also arm ourselves to fight against Mohammed: one cannot say anything about things one does not know.

“Therefore it is useful for the learned to read the writings of the enemies in order to refute, shake, and overthrow them all the more powerfully, in order to be able to heal some and certainly to arm our people with firmer arguments.”
Pastor Ronald Marshall of First Lutheran Chruch of West Seattle offers a handout of Luther's Preface to the Qur’ān for his class, Reading the Koran with Pastor Marshall, which he has held for several years.

So, Pastor Jones, if you want to perform the true service of a Christian minister, read the Qur’ān, learn how and where it conflicts with the Holy Scriptures, teach that to confused Christians and anyone else willing to listen, and proclaim the Gospel of the Jesus Christ. It was good enough for Martin Luther; it ought to be good enough for you. Don't burn it!

1 comment:

noellesnow said...

Any Christian pastor who wants to burn the Koran is not a Christian, and is also someone who absolutely should read the Koran. Muslims believe in the same God that Jewish and Christians believers call God. The Koran has the same stories of the Hebrew bible. As an Islamic scholar, I have been taught that Muslims believe in the Virgin Mary, and that Jesus Christ is a prophet who will return. In essence burning the Koran is like burning the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. The pastor who wants to burn the Koran said that Islam is evil Islam means to be subservient to God. How is that evil? That pastor needs a pastor because he does not know the reconciling Gospel of Jesus Christ. His hate rhetoric comes from the devil and is not based on any Gospel lessons of Jesus the Christ. And I thought I just read that that pastor was kicked out of his former congregation for stealing money from the till!
J.B. Krmaschek