Some troll with a cassock in Florida has loudly declared September 11th "International Burn a Koran Day."
That makes me very angry; burning is no way to treat a book.
Let's take a look at why book-burning is such a big deal.
Burning a book is a way of making a very specific statement. That statement is not simply "I disagree with what's in this book," which would be all well and good, respectable even. There's no more respectable position to be in when disagreeing with something, than that of having read and understood what it is with which you're disagreeing. It's the educated debater's position.
Book-burning has nothing to do with being educated or understanding, quite the contrary. The act of burning a book actually says to the world, "my burning this book is preferable to letting anyone else read it." Your feelings about the book are no longer the issue; what you are now doing is actively denying innumerable others the choice of reading it at all. Regardless of whether they would feel as you do about the contents, you are now denying them that choice; you would rather they not even be given the opportunity to read what's inside it and form their own opinions, to ever become educated about their position. A book-burning is a loud act of censorship, and the only goal and effect of censorship is ignorance.
I have never considered myself easily offended, but censorship is something I find deeply offensive on every level. I consider self-education a basic human right, and will not have that precious right denied by anyone for any reason. Inspired by those who want to stop me from doing so, I shall read the Qur'an.
For those unfamiliar, I'll explain a little bit about where I'm coming from. I'm an eclectic solitary Neopagan, and a clergyman in the sense that I believe everyone is and Divinity (under whatever label you wish to apply) does not require intermediaries between you and itself. My belief system might be described in further detail as somewhere in the general neighborhood of pantheism or panentheism; though I'm not entirely in line with either -ism, I'm close enough to borrow a cup of sugar now and then. One popular verse sums up my feelings on the whole of human religion and spirituality well; "an' it harm none, do what ye will." Tolerance is very important to me; when it comes to religious and spiritual matters, so long as no harm is being done, I do not believe anyone has the right to tell anyone else what they should or should not believe.
Much of my adolescence was spent reading and studying as many spiritual belief systems as possible, reading most of what my local library had in the 100s and 200s. I've read sacred books, reference books about the sacred books, and textbooks about the reference books. I've studied belief systems ancient and modern, traditional and eclectic, gnostic and agnostic, theist and atheist. I've attended services in as many local houses of worship as I've been allowed to, and spoken at length with friends and teachers of many faiths and of no faith. I've long been passionate about learning everything I could about where humanity has been and where it's going, and finding the threads common to us all.
The Qur'an has always been on my reading list, but I simply had not gotten around to it yet. The idea that some idiots are making the rounds in the press with their desire to prevent me from reading it was the final bit of motivation I needed to get started. I may not have a voice as loud as the book-burners at this point, but I have my curiosity and wits about me.
What do I hope to achieve with this particular book? My existing strong spiritual beliefs lead me to consider a conversion to Islam unlikely at best, but that's not my goal; my goal is to learn about what this book and its followers have to say. In that sense, I am approaching the Qur'an with an open mind.
I may end up agreeing with all of what's in the Qur'an, I may completely disagree with every last word; far more likely I'll find things in its pages I do and do not consider of value, just as with every other religious text I have read. The one thing of which I am entirely certain is that whatever my feelings about the Qur'an turn out to be, I will have come by those feelings legitimately and honestly; more than I can say about anyone willing to lash out and destroy something of which they have no direct knowledge.
I've selected the English translation of the Qur'an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, and have begun reading this afternoon with an eye toward finishing it on or about Saturday, September 11th. While others keep going on about "International Burn The Koran Day," I'll have achieved the complete opposite. I find that good.
This is undoubtedly a touchy subject on all sides; I detest that it is, but I cannot pretend it isn't. Whether what I'm doing interests, disgusts, pleases, or offends you, I would be quite interested to know why and how you came upon your feelings on the matter. I encourage open and reasonable discussion.. yes, this is the Internet, but I do have enough faith in you and the rest of the crowd that reads my blog to counteract standard expectations. Please feel free to share your thoughts; comments are open on this blog. (If you haven't commented before your comment won't appear until it's approved, which is standard procedure for this blog, but I shall approve anything I don't feel is blatant trolling, spam, or pointless flame.) You can also email me privately; though I might repost what you have to say, it will be anonymous unless I have your permission to attribute you.
Since I announced my intentions to do this on Twitter earlier today, a few people have asked me to consider posting what I think of the book. That's a good idea, but I'm not sure how I'll do it yet; I'll keep some notes, and perhaps publish them during my read in parts, or all at once after I've finished. I'll see how it shapes up.