In August, a study from the Pew Research Center showed that 55% of Americans say they know little to nothing at all about the religion of Islam.  Two weeks ago, my local newspaper reported that 62% of Americans say they do not know a single Muslim personally.  No wonder there is so much prejudice against Muslims of all kinds in America.  It is easy to vilify people with whom you don’t have relationships.  Pew also found that people with more knowledge of Islam are more likely to view it favorably.

It was with total disgust that I watched the news out of Gainesville, Florida this past September as pastor Terry Jones declared September 11th “Burn a Koran Day.”  I was ashamed that this man filled with such hatred wore the same name of “Christian” as I do.  I remember telling myself that if he actually went through with his incendiary plans that I would instead buy a Qur’an on September 11th.  I thought at the time and still do that Christians could have a much greater influence of Muslims (though that wasn’t his plan, was it?) if we all bought a Qur’an, read it, and struck up a conversation with a real Muslim.  Maybe I am naive but I see Jesus being a part of a book circle before he would join the bonfire.

Well, Pastor Jones’s plans changed so I didn’t buy that Qur’an back in September.  But now I have.  Mine is an Oxford World’s Classics edition, translated to English by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem (no time to learn Arabic!), first published in 2004 and reprinted in 2010.  My plan is to spend 2011 reading the Qur’an cover to cover, blogging as I go.

I guess for me this is largely a cultural exercise.  Islam is the second largest religion in the world (1/5th of the world’s population) and by some estimates the fastest growing religion in the world.  The impact of Islam is being felt more and more in America and as this nation becomes increasingly more and more secularized we will likely see Islam grow even more here, as it has in England and Canada.  The recent events at Ground Zero in Manhattan; Murphreesboro, TN; and Oklahoma have elicited strong and usually negative reactions from many.  It seems now is a perfect time to become familiar with the sacred text of this prodigious religion and to do so first-hand.

Still, I am a Christian, and firmly so.  Maybe this is an act of religious curiosity, but I am not seeking a new religion.  Nor am I a religious pluralist.  I believe Jesus is the way to the Father (John 14:6) and that salvation is found in no other name (Acts 4:12) than this one foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11).  However, I have no interest in being as belligerent and uncharitable as some self-proclaimed Christians allow themselves to be.  I carry Jesus with me into this project so I won’t be surprised if I find truth and beauty and wisdom.  All of these belong to and come from God, and no religion — Christianity, Islam, or any other — should think they have sole proprietary rights to things of such ultimate concern.  Some might say that I can’t really understand the Qur’an because I have left my Christian glasses on.  That may be true, but let’s just see what happens.

I invite you to join me on this journey through the Qur’an.  If you would like to read with me, you might check out quranexplorer.com or al-quran.info.  These are two good online versions.  There are also several iPhone apps available as well.

May we be more informed and therefore more understanding because of it.

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