I have, over the last few years, been struck by the connections between Islam and Christianity - the points at which our understanding and experience of God is so similar. Tariq Ramadan has a piece in the New York Times about Reading the Koran. Change the words a bit, read 'Bible' for 'Koran' and and parts of his writing express poetically, almost perfectly my understanding of how I as a Christian relate to sacred text. Here's a few of these passages:
It is the Word of God — but it is not God. The Koran makes known, reveals and guides: it is a light that responds to the quest for meaning. The Koran is remembrance of all previous messages, those of Noah and Abraham, of Moses and Jesus. Like them, it reminds and instructs our consciousness: life has meaning, facts are signs.
The Koran speaks to each in his language, accessibly, as if to match his intelligence, his heart, his questions, his joy as well as his pain. This is what the ulema have termed reading or listening as adoration. As Muslims read or hear the Text, they strive to suffuse themselves with the spiritual dimension of its message: beyond time, beyond history and the millions of beings who populate the earth, God is speaking to each of them, calling and reminding each of them, inviting, guiding, counseling and commanding. God responds, to her, to him, to the heart of each: with no intermediary, in the deepest intimacy.
A dialogue has begun. An intense, permanent, constantly renewed dialogue between a Book that speaks the infinite simplicity of the adoration of the One, and the heart that makes the intense effort necessary to liberate itself, to meet him. At the heart of every heart’s striving lies the Koran. It holds out peace and initiates into liberty.
It is not merely dangerous but fundamentally erroneous to generalize about what Muslims must and must not do based on a simple reading of the Koran. Some Muslims, taking a literalist or dogmatic approach, have become enmeshed in utterly false and unacceptable interpretations of the Koranic verses, which they possess neither the means, nor on occasion the intelligence, to place in the perspective of the overarching message.
When dealing with the Koran, it is neither appropriate nor helpful to draw lines of demarcation between approaches of the heart and of the mind. All the masters of Koranic studies without exception have emphasized the importance of the spiritual dimension as a necessary adjunct to the intellectual investigation of the meaning of the Koran. The heart possesses its own intelligence: “Have they not hearts with which to understand,” the Koran calls out to us, as if to point out that the light of intellect alone is not enough. The Muslim tradition, from the legal specialists to the Sufi mystics, has continuously oscillated between these two poles: the intelligence of the heart sheds the light by which the intelligence of the mind observes, perceives and derives meaning.
For the Muslim’s heart and conscience, the Koran is the mirror of the universe. What the first Western translators, influenced by the biblical vocabulary, rendered as “verse” means, literally, “sign” in Arabic. The revealed Book, the written Text, is made up of signs, in the same way that the universe, in the image of a text spread out before our eyes, abounds with these very signs. When the intelligence of the heart — and not analytical intelligence alone — reads the Koran and the world, the two speak to one another, echo one another; each one speaks of the other and of the Unique One. The signs remind us of meaning: of birth, of life, of feeling, of thought, of death.
The Koran is a book for both heart and mind. In nearness to it, a woman or a man who possesses a spark of faith knows the path to follow, knows her or his own inadequacies. No sheik is needed, no wise man, no confidant. Ultimately, the heart knows. This was what the Prophet answered when he was asked about moral feelings. In the light of the Book, he said, “Inquire of your heart.” And should our intelligence stray into the complexities of the different levels of reading, from applied ethics to the rules of practice, we must never forget to clothe ourselves in the intellectual modesty that alone can reveal the secrets of the Text. For “it is not the eyes that are blind, but the hearts within the breasts.” Such a heart, humble and alert, is the faithful friend of the Koran.