Shuck and Jive

Friday, January 09, 2009

Our Qur'an Quest Makes the News

Thanks to Greg Miller of the Elizabethton Star for this article in today's paper about our reading the Qur'an cover to cover in 2009. Check it:

First Presbyterian Church begins study of the Qur'an

By Greg Miller
Star Staff

First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton has embarked on a new adventure -- a study of the Qur'an.

"Last year, 2008, we read the Bible (including the apocrypha) cover to cover," said the Rev. John Shuck, pastor. "For 2009, we will read the Qur'an cover to cover."

Participants in the study, which has already begun, will read about 1/12 of the Qur'an each month through December, according to Shuck. A special service will be held each month throughout the year. "We will use some portions of the Qur'an for prayers, perhaps a chant in Arabic," Shuck said. "During the sermon, I will speak about something in the Qur'an that we had scheduled ourselves to read for that month."

When the congregation read the Bible through last year, Shuck set up a blog -- -- and had quizzes and summaries for each reading.
"I have also set up a blog -- -- for the Qur'an reading that will have resources. I am not sure if I will have a class yet. If there is interest, I will."

In the White Spire, the church's newsletter, Shuck said that the Qur'an is about the length of the New Testament and is divided into 114 surahs (chapters). "Within each chapter are verses," he said. "For instance 2:112 is Chapter 2, verse 112.

"The Qur'an is not ordered chronologically in the order that Muhammed received the revelations. His followers put the text together and ordered it into these chapters. Except for chapter 1, 'The Opening,' the earliest chapters are the longest, and they progress from longest to shortest."

Shuck says the Qur'an is a "bit of a challenge" to read. "It is a challenge because it is not a story like the gospels or the book of Genesis, for instance. It is more like reading one of the Hebrew prophets. Without guidance, it is at times difficult to know the context behind what is written. It is written in the first person for the most part. God is the speaker who is calling on the prophet, Muhammed, to recite what God is saying."

Many characters in the Qur'an, Shuck says, are also in the Bible. "There is more about Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Qur'an than in the Bible," Shuck notes. "You will find Jesus, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Moses and others. They are all prophets. The message was the same -- submit to God. One of the central meanings of Islam is 'to submit.' A Muslim is one who submits to God. If you submit to God, you are a Muslim. Abraham is credited as being the first Muslim, and he and his son Ishmael (spelled Isma'il in the Qur'an) created the holy shrine in Mecca."

Qur'an means "recitation," according to Shuck. "Is the recitation of God's revelation. For Muslims, it is only the recitation when it is in Arabic. An English translation or any other translation is not the Qur'an but an interpretation of the Qur'an. To hear the Qur'an, one needs to learn Arabic. A Muslim discipline is to memorize the Qur'an in Arabic.

"There are many English translations, some are better than others. The most popular would be by Yusuf Ali. The one I enjoy and will be using is by Tarif Khalidi, who is professor of Islamic and Arabic Studies at American University in Beirut."

For 23 years, Shuck says, "Muhammed received revelations from God. Through them, God communicated instructions for how to live. Here is an English translation of the first surah:

"In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray."

Shuck continued, "A couple of things here. The word Allah is the Arabic word for God. If you were to read a Bible that was translated into Arabic, the word translated in English as God would be translated in Arabic as Allah. The purpose of the Qur'an is to show us the straight way, the way of God."

Shuck recalls a course on Christian-Muslim relations while he was in seminary was influential to him. "I read about the Roman Catholic priest, Louis Massignon, who made great strides in peaceful relations with Christians and Muslims," Shuck said. "He encouraged Christians to appreciate Muhammed as a prophet and to read the Qur'an 'devotionally' that is as if we were hearing the word of God to us. He wanted Christians to approach Islam from the inside. He was fully a Christian and fully comfortable in the world of Islam. It was his ministry that influenced Vatican II to be more open to Islam in ecumenical relationships."

Shuck continued, "Louis Massignon is a model for me. I want to be able to understand my Muslim sisters and brothers as they would wish to be understood. In doing that, I wish to read their sacred scriptures sympathetically. I would hope, they in turn, will read my sacred scriptures with sympathy as well.

" I think it is very important that we understand others as they wish to be understood," said Shuck. "Treat others as you would like to be treated. There is a great deal of misunderstanding by Christians of Islam. There are real differences between our faiths and our approach to spirituality and to God. But, we must not exaggerate these differences or misrepresent others to make ourselves look good. It is important that Christians and Muslims build bridges of peace. This is one of the main reasons we are engaged in this project."

Shuck says the congregation will be looking at the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam. "That is a huge question that we will be exploring this year," he said. "I would say that there is a great deal more that we have in common than we realize."

Shuck says the church plans to connect with the Muslim Community of Northeast Tennessee. "We are looking forward to fellowship activities together. This will be the best opportunity to ask questions. Perhaps we will be able to host an educational event for the larger community. The Muslim Community of Northeast Tennessee has a mosque in Johnson City, and they are wonderful folks. I hope that others will make connections with our Muslim neighbors. This is their Web page."


  1. "The Qur'an is not ordered chronologically in the order that Muhammed received the revelations. His followers put the text together and ordered it into these chapters. Except for chapter 1, 'The Opening,' the earliest chapters are the longest, and they progress from longest to shortest."

    Most muslims like myself understand that the Quran is exactly the way God wanted it, word for word, letter for letter. It is said that though the chronology of the revelation is not the same as the composition, Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) told the people where each revelation/verse was supposed to go in the Quran. This order was memorized by the early muslim community exactly. Some of the verses/surahs were written down also. Later, when the Quran was put together in book form--those who had completely memorized the Quran were able to help. (Ofcourse, Caliph Uthman himself was also present during the revelations and was a companion of the Prophet)The Quran we have today is exactly the way Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said it was to be.
    There are some mysteries in the Quran---for example some surahs start out with "special letters". There is much speculation on this but no one knows. Also, most surahs start out with the words "In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful." Except for surah 1, this phrase is not part of the surah verses. However, surah 9 does not have this phrase at the start. These mysteries are part of Quran exactly as revealed.

  2. Kat,

    I am so glad you are here helping me with this. I have been reading Michael Sells' book and he said that when children learn the Qur'an they begin with some of the surahs that are later in the book, that were from the early Meccan revelations.

    Is that how you learned it?

  3. Sir,

    Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself supervised and authenticated the written texts of the Qur’an

    Whenever the Prophet received a revelation, he would first memorize it himself and later declare the revelation and instruct his Companions (R.A. – Radhi Allahu Taala Anhu) – May Allah be pleased with him who would also memorize it. The Prophet would immediately ask the scribes to write down the revelation he had received, and he would reconfirm and recheck it himself. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was an Ummi who could not read and write. Therefore, after receiving each revelation, he would repeat it to his Companions. They would write down the revelation, and he would recheck by asking them to read what they had written. If there was any mistake, the Prophet would immediately point it out and have it corrected and rechecked. Similarly he would even recheck and authenticate the portions of the Qur’an memorized by the Companions. In this way, the complete Qur’an was written down under the personal supervision of the prophet (pbuh).

    Order and sequence of Qur’an divinely inspired .
    The complete Qur’an was revealed over a period of 22½ years portion by portion, as and when it was required. The Qur’an was not compiled by the Prophet in the chronological order of revelation. The order and sequence of the Qur’an too was Divinely inspired and was instructed to the Prophet by Allah (swt) through archangel Jibraeel. Whenever a revelation was conveyed to his companions, the Prophet would also mention in which surah (chapter) and after which ayat (verse) this new revelation should fit.

    Every Ramadhaan all the portions of the Qur’an that had been revealed, including the order of the verses, were revised and reconfirmed by the Prophet with archangel Jibraeel. During the last Ramadhaan, before the demise of the Prophet, the Qur’an was rechecked and reconfirmed twice.

    It is therefore clearly evident that the Qur’an was compiled and authenticated by the Prophet himself during his lifetime, both in the written form as well as in the memory of several of his Companions.

    The chapters were not ordered based on size. The second chapter is the biggest one.

    There is a particular context for each chapter. Yes, it is not a story book. But it tells us about historical events, stories etc.

    Shinu S

  4. Shinu S,

    Thank you for the correction. I learn as I go!

  5. Sir,

    Children are taught smaller chapters first. Because it is easy to grasp those chapters fast. (But only after first chapter). It is necessary to recites holy verses from Quran during prayers. It is easy for them to understand the context of full chapter if it is small.Those last chapters are small as well as hold basic truths of Islam like oneness of God, approach towards non-Muslims, basic prayers etc.
    It's a holy revelation from the God. It's not a simple story book. It deals with science, history, commerce, family, nature etc.

    Shinu S.

  6. Thank you, Shinu. I appreciate your patience with me and guidance.

  7. Sir,
    Even though we can find a lot in common between Christians and Muslims about the beliefs in earlier Prophets fundamental difference is that Islam prevents us from accepting the fatherhood of God, Islam proclaims no one is born with a sin, Islam don't accept Angels as God, Islam prevents from worshiping any human, angel or a prophet.
    That's all I know about the differences between these two religions, Sir.
    Also I like the way you studied Quran - particularly I think you done it without any prejudices. Religious tolerances is all this present world need to maintain peace. There wont be any external force in accepting any religion. It's something personal.

    Have a nice evening sir.
    Bye for now.

    Shinu S.

  8. Sir,
    It's not a guidance. It's what I know and believe. I can't accept those sentences from the post because we know it is wrong. That's why I replied. I really like the way you presented. I've to thank you for your patience.
    Thank you for considering my comments and thank you for making a study-without prejudices-about Quran.

    Shinu S.

  9. Shinu,

    Thank you for that. Please call me John. Thank you for the encouragement. I do wish to learn without prejudice and I am pleased that you commented and corrected my errors.

    I am certain to make a lot of mistakes, but not intentionally.

    As awkward as I feel engaging in this project, I think it is worth it!

    Have a good night,

  10. Shinu and Kat, if you would help me with something, I would appreciate it. I see in your comments that you follow any mention of the Prophet Muhammed with "(pbuh)", which I assume is short for "praises be unto him". When a non-Muslim such as I makes a reference to the Prophet, would you consider it a sign of respect or of arrogance for me to do the same? While I may not possess the same understanding and devotion to the Prophet, I wish to show the proper respect for others.

  11. Snad,

    It's Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH).
    When a non-muslim like you mention about prophet I won't mind whether you say PBUH or not. But as a Muslim I MUST say PBUH & I'LL (It's what Islam teaches us to do so.) There is no compulsion in religion. Every Muslim will do so. But it doesn't matter if you do so or not. Even if I do it by thinking only non-Muslims will read it(but I wont), how can I be 100% sure? How they will think about me not following a simple instruction about mentioning our prophet?
    So sorry Snad, it's up to you to decide & no compulsion. But we will. Hope you understand. It wont hurt any others religious sentiments anyway. Rite?

    Shinu S.

  12. Thank you, Shinu, for the response. I would not want to say something that anyone would consider an affront, nor would I want to be rude by omitting a sign of respect. And thank you for clarifying the acronym (not my strong suit!).

    Thank you for this discourse,
    Sandra (Snad)

  13. Allah is the Light
    Of the heavens and the earth.
    The parable of His Light
    Is as if there were a Niche
    And within it a Lamp:
    The Lamp enclosed in Glass;
    The glass as it were
    A brilliant star:
    Lit from a blessed Tree,
    An Olive, neither of the East
    Nor of the West,
    Whose Oil is well-nigh
    Though fire scare touched it:
    Light upon Light!
    (Sûrah 24: 35, Al Nur)

  14. Job's vision of God:

    I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye beholds thee. (Job 42.5)

  15. The lamps are different, but the Light is the same: it comes from Beyond.

    -- Rumi, Jalaluldin, trans., R. A. Nicholson. Rumi: Poet and Mystic. London and Boston, Mass.: Unwin Mandala Books; 1978; p. 166.

  16. Once the colorless became enmeshed in colors
    A Moses came into conflict with a Moses
    (Masnavi 1:2467)

  17. There is a characteristic light, a spirit luminosity, which accompanies this divine presence, and which has become generally associated with indwelling divine presense of God. It is widespreadly known as the "pilot light" or the "light of life." It is also said that it is the "true light which lights every man who comes into the world."

  18. Snad,

    I think now you understand it is not a sort of affront. No one would ever say something that hurts his/her religious sentiments. But there is nothing like that in it by saying so. Non-muslims need not say so and even after saying so it won't hurt their passion. ok. It's only Peace Be Upon Him, nothing wrong in it, I think, as far as non-muslims are concerned.
    Thank you for your cooperation.

    Shinu S.

  19. My apologies for delay in answering. However Shinu has done a good job.

    As Shinu mentioned---Islam has a different world-view than Christianity so please ask questions.
    any question is a good question.

    Rob---Thanks for quoting part of surah 24---its my favorite.

  20. Shinu and Kat:

    In a similar vein to Snad's question, I was wondering if you could give me your personal opinion on something (I don't presume to ask you to speak on behalf of all Muslims).

    I live near a Jewish Temple, and sometimes when I see the Rabbi and his family, or members of his congregation, on Saturday, I'll wish them "Shabbat Shalom", even though they know I'm not a Jew (he and my pastor are good friends). They usually appreciate the sentiment and reciprocate.

    If I come across someone who is obviously a Muslim (for instance, wearing a taqiyah or hijab), is it considered polite or rude for me as a Christian to greet them with "Salaam 'Alaykum"?


  21. flycandler

    It is not rude at all but considered good manners to greet someone. You can say Asalam-alaykum, or salam-alaykum, or simply, salam. (it means peace). The return greeting is usually walecumsalam but you can say salam back too if its easier.

    Though Islam means submission (to God), it comes from the same root as salam (peace). So the word "Islam" can also have the connotation of attaining peace through submission to God.

    If you are familiar with Judaism, you will find many concepts and words similar. The concept of soul for example-Nefesh in Judaism (Hebrew) -Nafs in Islam (arabic). (there are many others too). Judeo-Islamic world view is similar also.---both do not interpret the story of (Prophet) Adam (pbuh) as that of "original sin" therefore spiritual progress of the soul is related to "good intentions that lead to good actions".
    (There is a slight difference also --Judaism has the concept of a "chosen people" Islam/Quran does not---in that all human beings are created equal. ---However, some people such as the Jews have been blessed with more Prophets/guidance than others---but this also brings with it more responsibility for following that guidance)