LEARNING TO LOVE EDUCATION AGAIN
Making Connections Between the Qur’an and Our Values
By STUART GRAUER
Dr. Stuart Grauer is a teacher, the founding Head of School at The Grauer School, and Founder of the Small Schools Coalition. He consults with schools worldwide and been awarded the University of San Diego Career Achievement Award, plus various international educational exchange fellowships including a Fulbright. Stuart is one of the nation's top authorities on small schools education. His work has been covered in The New York Times, Discovery Channel, and frequently in the local press in his home town of Encinitas, California, where he has been named “Peacemaker of the Year.” A regular essayist for Community Works Journal, Stuart's new book, Fearless Teaching, is available at local bookstores. email Stuart
The Qur’an (Anglicized: Koran) for all Muslims stands as the definitive word of God, but it is also is the greatest literary work in classical Arabic. As such, it is of interest not just to religions but to all schools and humanities teachers. Western scholars, including our third president, Thomas Jefferson, have been studying and interpreting the Qu’ran consistently since it was first (reliably) translated into English in the year 1733.
I’m not Muslim, but I have been reading the Qur’an lately, in my role as a scholar and teacher, especially since there is so much reference to it in the news. As a humanities teacher (and writer), I love how it is meant to be read in slow, measured rhythmic tones, like a meditation, and like much great poetic verse. I wish I could read it in Arabic, but alas…
I think King James had pretty much the same wish for the Bible, which is why he appointed 17th century England’s greatest scholars to translate it into some of the world’s most beautiful, poetic, and spiritual text.
How strange to suddenly consider this incredibly beautiful text prompting terror and hatred! But we must not avoid what we fear.
There have been wars going on pretty consistently since homo sapiens have been on the scene. (Homo sapien means “wise person.” How bout that!) And so, epic books like the Bible and the Qur’an naturally have plenty of warring and strife in their pages. The fact that some crazy extremists and literalists interpret the warring and strife they find in these books as acts of God they must promote is a perverted and horrible fact--because those books are so obviously written to bring messages of beauty, written in beautiful verse.
No one has to believe in the Qur’an. For instance, even the Qur’an states: “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.” (2/ 256). But this does not mean we should not seek out beauty and goodness in the pages of humanity’s most revered books.
And so, I looked to see if The Grauer School’s core values are in the Qur’an. I’m sure someone will say I am breaking a rule or being evil in doing this, since I am not a Qur’anic scholar or practicing Muslim, and our school is nonsectarian and independent. That’s fine, have at it. I’m sick of fearful people squabbling over all this and, as a teacher, I choose to set a role model of seeking out universal values wherever I can find them—even if that means I have to explore the world’s great spiritual texts! (To quote from a text message I got earlier today: “ha ha.”)
Our school’s core values include: Compassion, resourcefulness, intrinsic motivation, accountability, and curiosity. Here I go:
• Compassion is the easiest one to find in the Qu’ran:
Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you. (Abu Dawud)
Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. (Farewell Sermon)
ALLAH loves kindness when you deal with any matter. (Bukhari & Muslim)
• Resourcefulness: Muhammad relied upon the intelligent resourcefulness of his followers to implement social and political rules:
Eat of its fruit when it bears fruit, and pay the due of it on the day of its reaping, and be not prodigal. (6:141)
Eat and drink: but waste not by excess (7:31)
• Intrinsic motivation: (Intrinsic Motivation is a motivation that comes from inside of an individual—moreover from the task itself--rather than from any external reward, such as requirements, money, or grades.)
This is a tricky value, since the motivation to read the Qu’ran serially, ritualistically, and by rote is well known. However, we know that the Qu’ran was intended to bring about an emotional and spiritual response or fervor of the reader, hence we find:
If they come across a verse creating eagerness (for Paradise) they pursue it avidly, and their spirits turn towards it eagerly . . . -Imam Ali (a.s.), Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 193
And there is magnificence enough in the Qur’an’s story and metaphor to motivate and inspire the hearts of readers from any background:
Have you not considered how Allah sets forth a parable of a pleasant word being like a pleasant tree, whose root is firm, and whose branches are in the sky, yielding its fruit in every season by the permission of its Lord? (14:24-25)
It’s motivational to read great poetic verse.
So compete with each other in doing good. (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48)
There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm. (Ibn- Majah)
Or how about this for accountability:
He who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have me as his accuser on the Day of Judgment. (Prophet Mohammed)
The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim. (Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74)
In conclusion, even though we are an independent school, we can find our school’s core values in the Qu’ran.
Who knows why there is so much fear in this world? And I know that my very plunge into this book will make some people fearful. Be that as it may, plunging like this is what teachers do for a living. I could easily do this exercise for any world religion, but Islam is under hot scrutiny right now. It’s Islamophobia, and I can’t think of a better purpose for education: Education and understanding are the only sustainable ways out of fear. If you are looking for proof of this statement, you can look it up in the Qu’ran. Or the Bible, the Talmud, the Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, or the Tao Te Ching. Better yet, try your own prayers or deepest thought.
There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, as many as the population of China. And, since this is the world’s fastest growing religion, there will be many more. So, among any population this big, there are obviously going to be some mean and crazy people. I know that there are other quotes in the Qu’ran that lead some people to conclude opposite things to the above beautiful, core values that we try to live by at The Grauer School, especially conclusions about things that happened in times of war. As I say, war has been pretty much incessant, and getting worse. Such dualism is the nature not only of meanness and craziness, but of literature.
Our analytical mind loves taking gorgeous paradoxes and splitting them up into antagonistic parts rather than embracing true paradox. The human mind seeks out dichotomies and conflicts as naturally as the human lung seeks out air. We’re just trying to make sense of the world. There is even a name for people who can’t handle dichotomies, paradox, duality and conflict: fundamentalist extremists. I have called them, alternatively, above, mean and crazy people. Knowing the half of matters is also called: ignorance. To wit:
I have seen men, some of whom are given the Quran before faith and they read it from the opening chapter of the Book to its closing and they do not know what it orders, what it forbids and what should be his stance towards it. They are like someone who picks dates only to throw them (i.e. he does not get any benefit from his recital). -Al-Haakim
As noted, the quote belongs to Al-Haakim, which means “all-wise,” and it is one of Allah’s 99 names. His point is, all the reading in the world might not make you wise or educated. Moreover, there is no candy the human brain craves more after than rejecting and accepting facts all in a pretty row, so as to prove what it already believes.
I am hardly all-wise. But I am a teacher. I’ve also, notwithstanding their oral tradition, read more of the Qu’ran than some of the extremists that claim to know the verses and have done horrific things in their name. Over half of Muslims have have not read the Qu’ran and here is why: they can’t read. What’s more, extremists claiming to be Muslims have destroyed many schools, including of course the one the brave Malala Yousafzai attended.
We all will find pretty much what we seek, in our minds, anyway. You can parse love or hate out of any holy verse, and you can blame any finding on the translation. And should you seek literature splendor and universal values out of the Qu’ran, you may be richly rewarded. I also believe that if we seek deeply enough, with perseverance and an open heart and open mind, and learn as much as we can bear, we all will arrive at about the same place: our basic human capacity for goodness and for living by the golden rule. To that end, this season, I will attempt to be a homo sapien. //End
*With appreciation for proof-reading to Imam Taha Hassane, Imam & Director of Public/Interfaith Relations, Islamic Center of San Diego
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