These are the axioms I have taken when reading Qur’an:
- God is Love: Infinite Mercy.
- The Qur’an is Words of that Love.
- The “you” addressed by the Qur’an is you, the reading/reciting subject.
Axiom 1 is fundamental to me, personally. I don’t recognize any Love except Love.
I don’t recognize a God of Anger, Fear or Hatred. Even as a facet/view/Name/manifestation. These qualities are separate from God: and, in their separation, they are illusions, mara, psychological, illusory aspects of the human condition.
Axiom 2 means that surface interpretations have to be abandoned, in favour of other, non-standard readings.
For example, the punishment of God needs to be re-read: the image of entire cities that are punished for their injustices/sins, the idea of eternal hellfire for individual souls. These things make no sense from a Loving God. The implication must be that the Qur’an is referring to aspects of the self — components our being/our reading.
Axiom 3 is another way of saying: the book is to be read as referring to you, reading it.
To put it in sci-fi terms, it renders the book a trans-temporal virtual reality.
Comprehending historical context is important, but not in the sense of “extrapolating” incidents from Muhammedean times into now (e.g., the battle of Badr to be extrapolated as the general principle of fighting for justice).
In the place of extrapolation, we propose past life flashback — or, to put it in Arabic, shahada, witnessing. Witnessing is in contrast to the unknown (ghayb) past, which is brought to you, not through actual re-living of incidents, but always through the carriage of archetypes that summarize where you’ve been and who you once were (because only archetypes, forms of life, are carried with you from one body to the next). (And when we say body, we mean body in both the biological sense, but also bodies of understanding, or even the matter of signs on a page.)
These are tidings of the unknown (ghayb) which We reveal to you. You did not know them nor did your people before this. So be patient; the end is for the pious. (11:49)
In the past, I’ve been confronted with how implausible my reading appears to Muslims. More recently, I’m starting to doubt the plausibility myself: acknowledging (immodestly) the creativity of the Tailor’s re-reading, but also acknowledging the authenticity and indigenous rights of the standard readings found within the religion of Islam.
For me, the most appealing of these more mainstream readings of Qur’an are to be found within the schools of Islamic Sufism.
Within these schools, plausible readings of (for example) God-as-punishment, God-as-wrath are admissible, because Islamic Sufis (I suspect) do not admit Axiom 1. Their Allah is more than “just” Love: their Allah, rather, encompasses all the Names, including punishment, wrath and so on. While complete in Mercy (the Creation is Infinite Mercy to us), Allah has theophanic manifestations into our reality, into the text of Qur’an, in infinite forms, guises, aspects: including Fearfulness, as Punisher, as Wrath.
For the Sufi (as I understand), everything is a theophanic manifestation of Allah, because everything is Allah. Everything, “good” or “bad”. When we see an army slaying civilians, that is a theophanic aspect of Allah as Al-Mumit, the destroyer. When your wife is giving birth to your child, that is a theophany of Allah as Al-Muhyiy, the giver of life.
The implication of this view of God is that all readings of Qur’an are admissible: it’s literally a relationship to the different Names. Its wild shifts from Mercy to Wrath (and everything in between) are to be taken as theophanies of the Names: as the Word of Multiplicity (of Everything), of course the Qur’an will have this schizoid character. In particular, when you read Qur’an’s shariah in a “literal” way as a blueprint for social justice, that’s a theophanic relationship to Allah as Az-Zahir, the outer Truth. When you approach Qur’an as a treasure trove of metaphor and allusion to deeper realities, that’s a theophany of Allah as Al-Batin.
While appealing, I’m too much of a Christian Gnostic to accept this view of God. For me, there is a fundamental disconnect between the True, Single, Higher Love and the Attributes of Material Creation. “My” God would rather sacrifice Himself on a cross to save humanity for its sins, rather than manifest Himself as an Army, a murderer, a natural disaster, etc. To be more specific, I accept the manifestation of Love in these forms, but not as a straightforward theophany, but rather as a Divine crucifixion within matter. When an army kills: that’s God’s Logos crucified upon the cross of Al-Mumit. It’s not God’s expression suddenly shifting in theophanic flux: it’s a tragedy of Light’s misprison within matter. Love in such surplus of Love that it entraps itself in it’s own Mercy: God “misstepping” (temporarily, temporally).
Axiom 1 essentially curtails the modes of reading we might obtain from Axioms 2 and 3. It renders implausibility the only avenue, in many cases.
We can, of course, (personally) retain Axiom 1 and abandon or Axiom 2 in exchange for plausible reading: but the implication would necessarily be to read Qur’an as misprison — again, a route taken by some Gnostics in relation to Torah (remnants of that Doctrine are still found within mainstream Christianity, in the idea of two covenants and the division between Torah’s Elohim and Gospel’s Father).