Last night’s EastEnders featured the scene below, where a Muslim character called Tamwar quotes the Qur’an, in Arabic and English, to illustrate what Islam is to him. It’s very well done, I think, and it’s a happy coincidence that this scene, filmed months ago, happened to go out when many British viewers urgently needed to hear such a message.
This quotation caught my attention for another reason, though. It names some of the people we should strive to treat well: parents and relatives, orphans, neighbours near and far, companions and travellers. There, Tamwar’s quotation ends. But there’s actually one more category in the verse itself: “those your right hands possess”. Slaves.
It’s an accidental illustration of the power we have to shape the texts we’ve inherited. Tamwar suppresses the mention of slaves, and in so doing, he makes the text beautiful and relevant to him and to the people around him. To some extent, everyone who adheres to a scriptural religion does this; and for that matter, everyone who holds texts in reverence, from ‘great’ works of philosophy and history to national constitutions.
Many Muslims believe that Islam pragmatically reformed slavery, in preparation for its eventual abolition. Others promote radical exegeses, insisting that the Qur’an never does endorse slavery; we haven’t been reading closely enough. Tamwar’s reasons are his own. What matters is this:
I believe – not on faith, but from experience – that Muslims can read the Qur’an as a tract for solidarity and liberation. I don’t have to share such interpretations in order to see the value in them.