Think Outside the Box

By Kawther

Explain to me how a 1400 year old scripture like the Quran can be so easily defined.

Arabic is one of the most complex languages in the world, with each word and even each letter having 5, 6 or 7 different meanings depending not only on the sentence’s context, but also its placement within it.

Clearly anticipating this, the prophet Mohamed (pbuh) said that the Quran is not complete without his progeny – the family that he raised and taught to understand the true meaning of the Quran.

So why have we now chosen to disregard the original explanations? Who would walk into the remains of ancient Egypt and attempt to translate the writings on the wall without an archeological interpreter? Surely, the direct translation of “Bird Bird Tea-cup Squiggle” is not what was going through the Pharaoh’s mind at the time. But I wouldn’t put it past the general population of ancient Egypt to have also taken things simply by forming a liking to birds and tea-cups. Throughout the ages human beings have been foolish enough to accept the literal meaning of text without expending the effort to examine it deeper for its true meaning.

Although in reality readers cannot solely be blamed for misunderstanding the Quran. The fault does fall however upon the fallible scholars who skimp on a decent dictionary to relate the script.  A common mistake is how the original verse in the Quran, ‘Men are the maintainers/protectors of women’ is translated as ‘Men are the controllers of women’. Only one word is different, but it changes the entire meaning of the sentence, leading to great ramifications.

The latter sentence not only accuses Islam of being misogynistic and adds on to the misunderstanding and paranoia by non-Muslims in the West. It has also contributed to the numerous honour killings and genital mutilation of women by their so-called “Muslim” relatives in various parts of the world.

A current trend is in expressing disapproval of such questionable acts in the form of literature that have reached the book-market. I appreciate the few authors who publish their unique life stories and share their world with us. Their pains and joys become ours as we trudge through the moments of their life that have shaped who they are today. It is indeed a blessing to have the variety of cultures and races to adorn our planet. The tragedy, however, is when people generalize their story to reflect an entire nation or religion, rather than address individual issues that arise within them.

So to say that the advancement of one civilization over another, such as the West over the East is proof that one aspect as specific as religious faith is the cause of hindrance, is unjustified. For a fair comparison, one would need to separate cultural and religious influences. Then further distinguish between an actual ruling within a religion or simply an inaccurately derived interpretation. Furthermore, it should be taken into consideration what Western civilization would look like today if it were under the same pressures of famine, war, disease, economic instability and over-population as their Eastern counterparts.

Depending on the upbringing in which an author receives their first glimpse of religion, it forever colours their perception of it. Often there is no filter to distinguish between actual religious laws and the misinterpreted form of religion which communities practice. If we are indeed unique in our individuality, then blanket statements about a faith just aren’t going to cut it. Just as no two people can look at a painting and see exactly the same thing, every individual will see what they expect to see, regardless of the aspects highlighted to them.

It seems that a balanced account of life stories needs to be accessible in order to ensure that fair judgment is made on misinterpreted issues. The more people who choose to contribute the better. The difficulty at present is that not everyone can so easily express their views. In countries where there is fear of persecution, individuals simply focus on surviving day to day. There is no time or energy to expend on writing books or reforming old customs that seemingly slip through the radar as being against the original wise teachings. When there is a comfortable wave of normality, people ride the wave. And those who choose to oppose are easily swept away.

The constant fear of the unknown fuels paranoia and anger making multicultural/interfaith understanding within a society that much more difficult. The prospect of having a non-hostile public forum in which individuals from all backgrounds share their perspective views is necessary.  People may choose to trust pure heartedly in customs that have provided a functional life. But the question is whether challenging what we know can enable us to achieve a fulfilling life. Initially, researching primary sources for where such customs have derived from, then comparing discrepancies to reach an ultimate truth. To accept second-hand interpretations of sources without thoughtful analysis leaves opportunity for falsehood to intertwine with truth. And to choose silence means to agree to others speaking on ones behalf whether it be fairly or unjustly. So we need to really ask ourselves, what do we choose?


  1. A great informative article. Everyone needs to know just how important it is to pay enough attention to the various possible meanings of words in the Holy Quran. As a new learner of modern standard Arabic, the variety of explanations can be overwhelming! so overlooking detail in a holy scripture is completely unacceptable, and by this happening it is downgrading the true beautiful messages of Islam. People.. As Kawther had said: Think outside the box!

    • What do you mean by overlooking detail is unacceptable when you encourage to think outside the box?

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