…as explained by a hot dog vendor. By no means am I trying to be bourgeois. A hot dog vendor, in theory, is just as capable of understanding the Glorious Qur’an as I am. He or she is free to develop their own interpretations. Heck, for all I know, they used to be a scholar and just fell on hard times. Rather, this is just a reflection on observations I’ve made of non-indigenous Muslims attempting to give da’wah or information about Islam to non-Muslims. This recent observation came today while I was ordering a (turkey) bacon, egg and cheese on a long roll with salt and pepper (regardless of the brother’s oratory skills, he does make a killer breakfast sandwich).
Islam means many different things to many different people. That goes without saying and yet, when it comes to the face of Islam it is presented as a monolithic entity, devoid of diversity. So how is it that the brothers that love to quote the Qur’an when it tells us, “…and We made you into tribes and nations so you may know one another”, somehow forget this when they talk about the role of Arabs in the history of Islam. This quote is the Trump card, the proverbial rabbit in the hat for many foreign Muslims who attempt to “call people to Islam (hereafter referred to as da’wah)”. I mean, if God created diversity then it’s got to be good! But this seems to be the limit (intentional or unintentional, you decide) of their invitation. Instead, they embark on a mission of propaganda that in the end they would have you believe that it was the Arab people, vis-a-vie, the Arabic language, that produced the Marvelous Qur’an and even the Prophet himself.
To make this clear let me explain a little further. The case that was brought before me while my eggs were meshing with the cheese was that the English language was or is incapable of holding the Word of God (i.e., the Qur’an could not have been revealed in English). Arabic language, because of its rich lexical purity was chosen by God as the vehicle to carry God’s Word to humanity. The implication is that if a people attain a high enough level of whatever (piety, exemplary communal behavior, etc) then they can garner the attention of God and influence His actions or decisions, versus the traditional understanding (small “t” not capital) that Revelation is a top-down phenomenon.
Yeah…, now ya feel me’h. There are many topics that stem from this line of thought. I will attempt to highlight a few of them.
One of the first thoughts that comes to mind is that the Arabs as a people some how had a hand in producing and influencing Revelation. By this, I mean that their language was so spectacular that God simply had to use it as the vehicle of His Word to man. Running parallel to this thought is that it was the Arabs and not God who made the Arabic language so noteworthy. My train of thought does not stop here, though. For if the Arabs were responsible for this then does this not compete with God as al-‘Alim and al-Khabir? In other words, does the concept of the Arabs making the determination that their language influenced this decision, does this not attempt to grasp power from God? Yeah, now I know ya feel me’h. Hold on to yer butts ‘cus I’m not through with ya just yet.
Another stem to this tree of thought is that if the Arabs were some how able to achieve this level of influence or recognition then why haven’t or why couldn’t any other group of people do so? Would this imply that there is something inherent in the Arabs, vis-a-vie the Arabic language, which garners this recognition? And that conversely other peoples are not as privileged? And perhaps most importantly this suggests that it was the Arabs who produced the Prophet or influenced God’s decision in choosing His Messenger. This is a most dangerous concept. Imagine, if you will, that while we think of the Prophet as being sent to all mankind, by God’s own choice, that instead, the Arabs just “earned enough credit” through history and God picked a winner! Through this process Revelation has been down graded to a competition between the races instead of a top-down directive, chosen by God, Who is Alone without partners, and without influence, man is able to influence God. Yeah. Ouch. I could see this making a great reality show: Last Tribe Standing.
The third point I will make is that when one examines this process of influencing God it smacks of shirk or associating partners with God. To explain this, I will illustrate the definition as I received it from Dr. Sherman Jackson. Shirk: the process of extracting services through nature via supernatural means. In an example Dr. Jackson gave, imagine if you will, the Bushman. He and his fellow mates, before they go out to hunt, engage in various rituals. They might do a special dance. Throw some bones on the ground. Abstain from sex with their wives for six days and six nights and so on. The reason is extract favors or services (in this case a successful hunt) from Nature or in our parlance, God. And while the Arabs of modern day times might not engage in such actions it was the Arabs of days yonder (i.e., pre-Islam Arabs) that (holding to their argument) were the squeakie wheel that received the divine grease and it is present day Arabs who present this phenomenon as proof that the Arabs are a great and powerful people.
So the point to this little rant is more of an observation. I have seen how Arab pride and nationalism have been translated into either a tacit or active causality for their role in the Revelation of Islam. And my encounter with the hot dog shaykh is not unique. Over and over I have seen it portrayed in the above light. Is God not All-Powerful that He could not manipulate the English language, or any other language, to deliver this miracle? After all, it was the Miracle of the Arabic language which drove home this point to the Arabs of the Prophet’s time. They had never heard an Arabic language like the one that they were encountering when the Prophet recited to them. They would say to the Prophet, “Surely, this is manifest sorcery!” It is precisely that it was a form of Arabic that was Divinely manipulated that makes the Arabic language what it is (at least that in the Qur’an). Pre-Islamic Arabic would not fall into this category (i.e., it was before it was “touched” by God). My point in this is that it would seem in today’s world people often talk and speak in transcendent terms. They act as if their religious interpretations are an extension of Revelation. That they informed or influenced God’s choices or actions and that they are the Chosen People (we’re heard that one before). And while I have stated all this, in hopes some of you may leave feedback and comments, it in no way influences me in my choice of eating from the brother’s food cart. His (turkey) bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, on a long roll, is scrumptious. And his shawarma cheese steak is to die for! Now if that’s not fostering religious dialog I don’t know what is.