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Islamic lecture focuses on history, meaning

Peter Leahy | Monday, November 1, 2004

In the last of a three part lecture series last week, Yale professor Gerhard Bowering spoke of the importance of the Koran to the Islamic faith. In a lecture entitled “Scripture and Tradition in Islam and Christianity,” Bowering spoke of the life of Mohammed and his impact both on Islam and the Koran itself.

Bowering gave background information into Mohammed’s life. Born an orphan, Mohammed spent the majority of his adulthood in the business of commerce. Throughout his life he remained a highly religious individual.

“Mohammed was awake and aware of religious currents of his time,” Bowering said.

However, Bowering explained that founding Islam was no easy task even for a man with such great faith. As with Jesus, Mohammed faced strong opposition to the creation of a new faith in the form of the oligarchy that controlled the city of Mecca at the time.

When Mohammed received his prophetic call, he was hesitant to act upon it. Through the support of his wife and a few followers, Mohammed embraced the feeling that he was called to be a prophet and began his teachings.

Yet it was not until the end of his life that Mohammed was able to convert the people of Mecca to Islam. He moved to Medina and established a community there, Bowering said.

In Medina, Mohammed found his ideas more welcome. The society formed included the followers who had supported him when he first received his call to prophecy. Within Medina, Mohammed expressed his faith. He focused on the role of God in life and his own role within the faith.

“[Mohammed] said God stands at the beginning and end of each human life,” Bowering said. “Mohammed believed himself to be the ‘seal of the prophets.'”

In the last ten years of his life, Medina conquered Mecca and Mohammed became the leader of both cities. In this way Mohammed was able to bring the outlying tribes to Islam, Bowering said.

Bowering emphasized that Mohammed, while accredited with founding Islam, did not interpret the words he received from God. Rather he repeated them as he received them and thus Muslims see the Koran as God’s word alone.

“Mohammed faithfully transmits the message,” said Bowering. “For Muslims, Mohammed contributes nothing to the Koran. He is the messenger, the mouthpiece.”

At the time of Mohammed’s death in 632, the Koran was not yet formed.

“[The Koran] was put together in book form 20 years after his death,” Bowering said.

Since its original composition, the Koran has been updated. Originally, the Koran was composed without the Arabic marks indicating short consonants or vowels, Bowering said. In the 7th and again in the 10th centuries, there were efforts to “improve the way of recording in writing” the Koran.

“Today we have mainly two versions of the Koran,” Bowering said.

Many differences exist between the Koran and the Hebrew Bible – one being the Koran is much shorter.

“[The Koran] is a rather short portion of scripture if we compare it to the Hebrew Bible,” Bowering said.

The Koran is also considered by some to be disorganized.

“The Koran is disjointed. You jump from one topic to another as you go through the suras.”

There are 114 suras or chapters in the Koran.

Nevertheless, the Koran remains the central teaching of the Islamic faith. It is as important to Muslims as Jesus is to Christians, Bowering said.

“The Koran is the word become book as Jesus is the word become Christ.”