The Islamic articles of Belief and the Pillars of Islam are firmly based in the Quran and form the core of the faith. However the great depth of its message, analysed by scholars over the centuries, remains fresh for each generation.
The scholar of the modern period, Said Nursi in the 25th Word of Risale-i-Nur, which deals with the miraculous character of the Quran, describes it as ”a revealed scripture which contains in summary the books of all the prophets, whose times were all different, the writings of all the saints, whose paths are all different, and the works of all the purified scholars, whose ways are all different.” (p.378) He continues, “That is to say, the Holy Qur’an is a heavenly repast at which the thousands of different levels of minds, intellects, hearts, and spirits find their nourishment.” (p. 402).
As the Quran speaks to people across the centuries, to all levels of education and experience, in many different lands, there are many different valid understandings of the book. This is one of the signs of its miraculous nature.
Said Nursi writes: “According to the consensus of those qualified to interpret the Shari’a and the Quranic commentators and scholars of theology and jurisprudence, and according to the testimony of their differences, on condition they are considered correct by the sciences of Arabic and the principles of religion, all the aspects and meanings which are found acceptable by the science of semantics, and appropriate by the science of rhetoric, and desirable by the science of eloquence, may be considered among the meanings of the Qur’an. The Qur’an has placed allusions to each of those meanings according to its degree. They are either literal or significative.” (p.407).
A narrow interpretation, a black and white, “this is true and all other views are false” is not the way of the Quran. Bitter arguments, which seek to establish the exclusive, dogmatic “truth” are to be found amongst some Muslims today. That is one of our contemporary weaknesses. It was also a weakness at the time of the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate, which assisted those who wished to dismantle Islamic culture.
Again Said Nursi, who experienced this traumatic time, has sound advice; “All Muslims should say about his own school and way: “This is true, I don’t interfere with others. If others are good, mine is the best.” They should not say: “This is the only true way, the others are all false. Only mine is good, the others are all wrong and unpleasant.” (Nursi The Gleams)
It is this diversity within unity which makes the organic imagery used by Baker so appealing; “A particularly insightful elaboration comes from Hamdan. He compares Islam to a coral reef. Coral is a living creature. Classified by scientists as an animal, coral assumes a wondrous variety of forms, some rigid and rocklike, others supple and vegetative. Coral does not live as an individual. It always establishes itself as a part of a complex colony of interconnected individuals that cooperate in ingenious ways to secure food for constituent elements, often vast in number. Coral also takes on a variety of splendid colours, thanks to the algae it ingests. That variety mimics the diverse forms of the Islamic community. Like such communities, coral adapts to very different oceanic environments.” (p.66 Raymond William Baker One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds. Spirituality, Identity, and Resistance across Islamic Lands.)
This diverse and colourful Islamic world community is flourishing as never before, despite widespread attack. What may look threatening may in fact be creating allies for the Ummah, allies we have never considered before.
By making Islam such a centre of attention it is also encouraging millions to investigate the faith, which they may never have been done in different circumstances. To be totally ignored would be worse.