Last time at Bookclub, after a rather tipsy chat about the latest ISIS atrocity, we rather drunkenly agreed it would be a great idea to read the Qur’an for next time, so that we could discover for ourselves whether it is a ‘religion of peace’.
At university, I’d done a year’s course in Islamic History. The course had taken us from the founding of the religion, including Mohammed’s flight to Jerusalem and battles in Mecca to the Ottoman empire. It highlighted the tolerant nature of the Abbasid caliphate and their scientific and linguistic achievements. I had also owned a copy of the Qur’an, which I’d glanced at, mainly to see how the main characters from the Bible were represented.
A few years ago my husband and I had visited the mosque in Edinburgh during an open day. I had an opinion that Muslims were a bit like Salvationists, (minus the music): generally good, religious people. Of course there are bad Muslims, and bad things done under the name of Islam, but surely these are the bad apples?
So I started reading the Qur’an a couple of weeks ago. And first off, I made the decision not to promote the fact I was reading it on Goodreads. This is aberrant behaviour for me. I always post everything about my reading on Goodreads, but having read some of the comments on people’s reviews on the Qur’an, I decided against it. I don’t want hassle. I want a quiet life.
At first I am making lots of notes from the Qur’an and was appalled at the view of unbelievers, Christians and Jews. But as I slowly read more and more of the book, I realised there is no point in making notes as it is the same two or three motifs repeated and repeated and repeated. Namely, that unbelievers will burn in hell, that all the prophets before Mohammed had failed in their attempts to make people follow God, and that as long as Muslims pray, believe in Gold and pay the prescribed alms; paradise will be theirs, (and they will hear the wails of the unbelievers and there is nothing the unbelievers will be able to do, come the day of Judgement, as they have swapped the glitter of this life for the flames of hell.)
I carried on reading, getting more and more depressed at the repetition and damnation until I was about 40% in. The date of our book club was postponed to allow more of us to finish it, but even so, I have made the decision to stop reading it.
Yes, I was getting bored with the lack of progression in the book, and yes, I was yearning for all the novels I could be reading instead, but I also was getting upset and depressed. I usually continue reading a book to the bitter end, no matter how much I hate the start (or middle), so this is a big deal for me. I feel like I am failing in my attempt to understand the Muslim faith, which was my initial aim, but honestly, it’s not doing me any good.
And here’s the thing. I am lucky enough to live in a country where I am allowed not to read it, and allowed not to like it, and even allowed to express the fact that I don’t like it. So why force myself to read it?
I expressed the fact on twitter that I was finding it hard, and had a little dialogue with someone who noted that , yes, expressing anything negative about the Qur’an can lead to hassle. I replied saying that I wanted a quiet life, so I wouldn’t post anything more online.
Then I followed this person on twitter and started reading about how apostates are treated by Islam; about how dissidents in Saudi Arabia are treated and I felt shamed. There are people facing the death penalty and 50 lashes a week for expressing their thoughts and yet they still express themselves and criticise the faith. And here am I, in comfortable Cumbria, able to express myself but too chicken to incur the wrath of some folk a long way away, who can’t really do me any harm.
So I’m going to post an honest review on Goodreads. And I’ll post a link to this on Twitter. And to heck with the response. (There might not even be one. We’ll see.)
Bring on the Thrillers/ Literary Fiction/ Crime novels. I can’t wait!