Mar 082013



By Katherine Ayers

Friday, March 8, 2013

Recent lectures at East Carolina University’s focused on putting religious books into context.

Asra Nomani, a journalist and practicing Muslim, spoke on women in the Muslim world on Monday while Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbuilt University in Nashville, Tenn., spoke on politics, homosexuality and the Bible on Tuesday.

“A text without a context is just a pretext to make it say anything you want,” Levine said. In this sense, “the Bible has been used as a rock to do damage instead of a rock on which you stand.”

As a woman raised in a conservative Muslim household in Morgantown W.Va., Nomani said she began to chafe against conservative Muslim ideals during her teens in the 1970s.

“But no one else was protesting,” she said. “So I checked out of the community and how it was expressing itself.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, Nomani said the Islam portrayed on television was foreign to her, so she went to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to learn.

“I realized (the religion) they were practicing were rules created by men over the centuries,” she said.

In the Quran, women are able to walk freely, but in Saudi Arabia Nomani had to be accompanied by a male chaperone.

“I saw all of the contradictions; I’m not stupid,” she said. “How did they happen?”

Lost in translation

Levine and Nomani said diverse translations allow people to interpret the same text differently.

Nomani mentioned a verse in the Quran which explains that Muslim women should cover themselves either with a cover that’s “most convenient” for the woman or a full burqa, depending on the version.

In her talk, Levine pointed to the biblical passages most often used to condemn gay people but said no one has the 100 percent accurate translation.

Homosexuality is never mentioned Levine said, but Jesus did mention divorce.

“Do we want to stop divorce and remarriage today? Probably not,” she said. “When it comes to family values, we’re picking and choosing.”

Questioning any religious tradition can be hard as Nomani found out when she staged a 2005 New York City protest where she led a prayer time without wearing any head covering. Her picture ended up on a Jihadi website and former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi claimed that woman-led prayer would create “1,000 more Osama bin Ladens.”

“There’s a level of agitation in everybody’s soul not to be oppressed,” she said. “I didn’t consider myself a feminist until I sat in a mosque balcony and realized I needed to step out and be strong in every part of my life.”

Not buying it

Not everyone is interested in a non-traditional view of scripture.

Mohammed Abdo, a senior Industrial Engineering student and ECU Muslim Student Association member, explained that in Islam, all Muslims face toward Mecca when they pray, and bend forward as part of their prayer. If a woman was up front leading the prayers, it would be a distraction to the men.

“It’s not to demean women in any way, it’s more to help men stay away from temptation as much as possible,” he said.

A woman should cover her hair for the same reason — to help men avoid temptation.

“I feel like if you don’t want to cover, then don’t, but if you do, I’m behind you all the way,” he said. “But hair is a very sexual thing on women, there’s no denying that.”

ECU Criminal Justice senior Lane Middleton said Levine’s points from the Bible didn’t align with his.

“There’s too much biblical evidence against what she said,” he said. “Religion isn’t supposed to be about what you can and can’t do, it’s supposed to be about your love for God.”

Civil versus religious rules

Ultimately, Levine does not want to see religious rules affecting state laws.

“We can’t be 100 percent sure what (the Bible) says or why it says it,” she said. “If I have a 90 percent sense that something is right, but have a 10 percent hesitation, I am hesitant to put down a (civil) law that might impact people’s lives.”

For the word of God to remain alive, Levine said, it needs to speak.

“You can never be fully wrong and you can never be fully right,” she said. “Keep reading, keep talking, and see what’s the good news.”

Contact Katherine Ayers at and 252-329-9567. Follow her on Twitter @KatieAyersGDR.

via The Daily Reflector.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.