Part one of the series talked about the Arabic of the Qur'an and scholarly apparatus of the Sunni community that developed to deal with interpreting the word of God. The idea that God's word is not necessarily clear to humans should come as no surprise, and when you introduce translations, the problem is further compounded. Most Muslims view any translation as actually an interpretation, although in my opinion, the translation simply makes the interpretation concrete. Even reading the Arabic and thinking of the meaning is an act of interpretation.
I've already discussed the problems with the Arabic of the Qur'an, and the difference between the specific Medinan verses and the universal Meccan ones. Within the interpretative framework developed by Muslims, several tools are used to help clarify the message, two of the most salient ones are reasons for revelation (asbab al-nazl) and abrogation. Let me start with the latter: simply put a latter verse can replace an earlier verse. Most often, outsiders view this as proof that the text is not from God as God cannot make a mistake and that abrogation is an admission of a mistake. However, most abrogated verses are abrogated for clarity, so that believers do not try to play lawyer with God's word. A good example is the prohibition against drinking. The first revelations are mild rebukes against certain types of alcohol, and the verses get more severe until all intoxication is banned. (See for example, 4:43, 2:219, 5:90-91, in that order since that's the chronological order of revelation). The other verses that are abrogated are from the Medinan period that are superseded by the verses of the second Meccan period. This, of course, reflects the changed material circumstances of the believers, not God; people remain temporally bound.
The reasons of revelation are exactly what they sound like. It is this tool that has allowed Muslim scholars to look at universal revelation verse specific revelation. Many of the verses relating to veiling, for example, relate to the Prophet's wives, and not to other women. We know this from recorded actions and deeds of the companions of the Prophet, and what was said about the reason for revelation. The verses requiring four witnesses for an accusation of adultery, shamefully used against rape victims, is generally considered relevant only to the Prophet's wife Ayesha. And so the list goes on and on.
What these two tools highlight is that verses of the Qur'an CANNOT be read in isolation, whether they say kill the Jews, or that the Christians are our brothers. There are reasons and approaches to reading the text. However, since the reformation has already hit Islam (see the first post in the series) and everyone who criticizes Islam for not having a reformation has contributed to the likes of OBL - with no apology forthcoming - the methodology has fallen apart.
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