The truth behind the words is the issue at hand for Rachid Benzine, a French Morrocan, who is stirring things up by proclaiming a fresh way to interpret the Koran.
In debates about Islam, he says, the Koran has become "a text of slogans, a supermarket" for adversaries to choose quotes to impose what they think is the only valid reading.It's not unheard of for Christians to do this sort of thing. Pulling out verses to justify behavior or tradition is an age old flaw in the human psyche. Biblical scholars are taught to read verses from scripture in the context in which they were given, which clears up a whole lot of bad theology.
"No interpretation can pretend to be the only right one," insists Benzine, whose 2004 book "The New Thinkers of Islam" highlights the work of Muslim reformers. He plans to publish a book on interpreting the Koran in 2008.
Politicizing religion is the best way to destroy it. Like Christianity, Islam is a religion that should be respected by its followers. However, using that religion as a political force to mandate edicts, even if consistent with the religious doctrine, is wrong. Religion is, above all things, a personal thing, in that it defines the relationship you have with your maker.
Benzine refuses to give a ready answer when asked if the Koran requires the headscarf for women, asking instead whether fixed rules for such issues can be based on a religious text.
"Rules must be put into historical context. A rabbi once said tradition has a right to vote but not to veto," he said.
Religious rhetoric is often used in Muslim countries today to mobilise people for political purposes, he added.
Saying that you or I are wrong about what we believe is fine, and debate should happen so the truth can be discerned. However, forcing your views on doctrine upon those who disagree will foster hatred, and eventually religion loses the very thing it needs: willing belief.