Three months of weekly posting, eleven posts in, five suwar down and…
…109 suwar to go.
Who am I kidding? I knew this was a long commitment when I started. I expected to have enough material for two years of posts at least. What I did miscalculate was how much time within the weeks it would take for me to write a post. I had hoped to streamline a writing process and see my weekly hours dwindle, but that hasn’t happened. It still takes me roughly twenty-five hours a week to finish one post. By the time I attend to my other work obligations there is little time or brain space left for me to enjoy my other hobbies and projects. I haven’t even found much time to progress in my conversational Arabic. So while I enjoy doing this and will surely continue it, it’s time for me to reevaluate my ambitions.
I can see my approach to the Quran changed quite dramatically from The Introduction to Family of Imran. My original idea was to journal my readings, and you can see this sort of loose thought-stream more in “The Introduction.” That started to fade away even as I was writing the three-part “The Cow,” where I tried using someone else’s analysis of form to divide up my attention in an almost blow-by-blow pattern. The Quran is not laid out in a way that accommodates that approach though, and by the third installment of “The Cow” I was beginning to arrange things topically by my own reckoning. In the end, each post approximates informal essay writing. It takes a good deal of outlining, research, organizing, and editing, all the more so due to the sensitivity and alienness of my topic.
At least for now, I’m going to take at least a one-week break between suwar. The first week of a surah is by far the hardest. I have to read the material, form my impressions, refine them into opinions, organize them and divide them up into multiple posts, and then do my full writing and editing. Because the world of Islam is so alien to me, I also have to look up a lot of context and get sucked down a few rabbit holes. My editorial opinions often change as I’m writing, which is unfortunate once I’ve already published one post in a series. Sometimes the content of a post gets determined more by what thoughts formed quicker rather than what order was most logical or fluid. I’d like a little more time to ground and organize my material before I have to publish. A week of prep should be enough. Once the chapters get smaller, I’ll maybe go back to weekly posts.
As I’ve written, I’ve also become aware some tactical quirks that I want to declare. I had hoped to encourage people to read the surah directly by not citing specific verses and coordinates from my reading. I stated this when I first embarked upon my long and jumbled account of The Cow. In a way, I still stand by that ideal, not wanting to hand-pick verses that affirm my point and present them out of their context. It becomes a hollow gesture though, since I often substantiate my understandings with specific ayat and only leave out their coordinates. While it forces readers to search through the surah to find my evidence, thereby leaving that evidence in its context, it also assumes that people actually are reading the surah. I know several of my readers, and I know that they are not reading along with me. Not including specific quotations or coordinates is not doing them any favors. As the tone of my posts has leaned to more rigorous analysis, I should match that rigor in my proof-texting. Plus, as we get more material behind us, it will be helpful to have those coordinates to look back to when revisiting ideas. Neither my app or website of choice have good search engines or in-chapter navigation to help me relocate past ayat. If I bookmark locations in my writings, it will help me locate them in later references. (Edit 7/26/18: I have added a few more coordinates to older posts since writing this. It is also helpful to do this because, over time, specific memory melts into impression and it’s good to always go back and refamiliarize myself with material.)
Another peculiarity that needs to be stated is my general avoidance of Islamic tradition. This is perhaps a symptom of my Church of Christ affinity, which in principle regards tradition as fallible and gives Scripture exclusive authority to determine religious thought. It’s a futile ideal, since everything from the meaning of words to modern scriptural application all depend on what patterns we’ve learned from the people around us, but yet it enables me to evaluate the Bible as I see it rather than how someone else tells me to see it. This might sound like arrogance, but I believe it is more honest. It takes a lot of education to give the Bible a fair reading, but I’ve been building up my reserves of contextual information for years. The Quran comes from a different context, and this means I’m having to build my reserve of historical/linguistic knowledge as I go. I can’t avoid tradition entirely, for indeed much of early and pre-Islamic history is only preserved by tradition. I need this tradition in order to contextualize some ayat that are vague because they assume a knowledge of Muhammad’s context, but I also don’t want to depend on it. As I described in this post, how Islam manifests today depends upon its chains of tradition, and by leaving traditions out I am also leaving out a large chunk of Islam. As such, I’ll try and be more clear going forwards that my analyses only reflect what I get out of the Quran’s meanings, and not what Islam believes in its mainstream forms.
So I shall post again in two weeks. Next comes Surah al-An’am, which will be out first Meccan surah since al-Fatihah. The Meccan suwar are generally described as more theological and spiritual than the administrative Medinian, and I’m looking forward to testing that description!