Where else could the oldest synagogue for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals be but in San Francisco? Three gay Orthodox Jews who decided not to hide their preference from each other or the world founded it in 1977.
If you attend the synagogue, Sha’ar Zahav — meaning “the Golden Gate,” on the morning of the Sabbath, you can listen to a friendly lesbian rabbi speak on the commandment of charity (Leviticus 19:18).
Sha’ar Zahav is located at a busy intersection, namely where Dolores Street and Sixteenth Street meet. Just opposite, a visitor would see the bell tower of Mission Dolores, the Catholic church from which San Francisco was first established and from which it has grown.
Whoever is on this road can also find a Lutheran church with this sign in front: “Sundays at 11 a.m. Mass in German.” Voila, that’s the Holy Trinity of California — Mexican Catholics, German Protestants and gay Jews! Only the fourth corner remains empty.
Perhaps one day, a mosque will stand there, a mosque with a female, lesbian or transsexual muezzin imam, who in their Friday sermon gently indicates that Allah in all his majesty loves gay polytheists just as he loves all his other children — and she knows this from example quotations pulled from the Quran. If such an Islamic place of worship will ever exist, then it will be here.
New Interfaith Rituals
Perhaps, the future of Islam is in the United States, a country where the church and state are consistently separated from each other precisely because of blooming religiosity; a country whose citizens think nothing of changing the course of their life creed several times, and perform marriages between members of different religious communities; a country where completely new interfaith rituals now occur.
It is a country where not only immigrants re-invent themselves, but where traditions brought from the Old World can be re-invented. It is a country where — because secularism is not the social norm — no eyebrows are raised when a Muslim unrolls his prayer rug and faces toward Mecca.
Recently, a book has been published that will contribute significantly to the Americanization of Islam — a blue brick of a book, very nicely finished with about 2,000 closely-printed, thin pages. On Amazon, it has already developed into a bestseller in the religion section. The work is called “The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary,” and its major editor is a certain Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University.
Nasr and his colleagues have attempted to develop a modern and fluid, but also authentic and scientific translation of the Muslim sacred book into English. But the translation is not the most important thing about this American Quran. The essentials are the footnotes; commentary from many centuries has been collected here.
The Quran Reads Like a Jewish Text
This Quran edition reads basically like a Jewish text in English. Above are a few verses, beneath is a long and extensive explanation of how they are meant — or how they could be meant.
Let us take this verse from the Quran, “So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds” (Quran 47:4, Sahih International), which is now used by the Islamic State group and Saudi Arabia as a justification for beheading captives. This new American Quran, however, makes clear that the words “strike their necks” just serve to describe the hardness and severity of the moment.
Literally, it is written like this: “Strike their necks” is in the accusative, and this suggests “the brevity of the action, as it is limited to the battlefield.”* Any further instruction cannot ensue from this. So, this pulls the Islamists’ elegant textual basis from under their feet! What, then, of the stoning of women who have committed adultery?
This penalty can simply not be found in the Quran; rather, the prescribed punishment for adultery is “a hundred lashes” (Quran 24:2, Sahih International), for both the guilty man and woman. The commentary notes: “In Islamic law a high standard of evidence is required to cancel an unambiguous Quranic text completely or partially — and it is possible at all only if one accepts that a Hadith (a saying of the Prophet Muhammad) may waive part of the Quran.”*
Most religious authorities reject this view. Well, tough luck Islamic Republic of Iran!
Where Religion Loses Its Fangs
Donald Trump is known to have said that as president he would stop Muslim immigration. As with almost everything this man says, the reverse is actually true. On the contrary, any reasonable person should hope that as many Muslims as possible come to America because America has always been the place where religions have lost their fanatic claws and fangs.
In America, religions have multiplied divisions and wonders, they have liberalized and reformed, and they no longer use their energy to fight external enemies, but rather to lead internal theological disputations.
In the United States, religious people have overhauled their scriptures and deconstructed them; they have criticized, read against the grain, interpreted the feminist view, and classified them according to the historical context. This exact process will happen even with the writings of Muslims — and “The Study Quran” is a courageous first step toward this.
The religious revival of Islam will not happen in Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Iran. These countries are prisons where there is no free air to breathe, which is necessary to put the work of a comprehensive reform into action. Muslims can no longer hope for Europe, in part because the local Islamic milieu reeks of fundamentalism, but also partly because European Muslims feel they are a minority pushed to the brink.
The lighthouse showing the way is on the other side of the pond. Thanks to America, Islam will one day really be what it now only advertises itself to be — a religion of peace. Then, you will be left wondering how it could have happened that Shiites and Sunnis massacred each other, that the collective hatred of Jews was preached, and that, in the name of the Prophet, women and children in Paris and New York were killed.
Muslims will look back on our time with the same horror of Christian Europeans, who remember the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre, or the pogroms of the early modern period.
*Editor’s note: This quotation, while accurately translated, could not be independently verified.