The sea wave breaks on the rock, and sea breeze makes me chill in the mist. Where am I? Where am I standing in the ocean of thoughts? It’s been almost a year since I began to explore the structure of the Quran, and half a year since I started my current approach. Now I’m looking back at the path I’ve taken so far. Does my approach work? Me half a year ago must be very disappointed; it doesn’t work that well, and it should be revised. I haven’t posted for almost a month, and I have not progressed on the second part of the second wave of Islamic reform, since I’m stuck. Click here to see what my approach is.
Questioning the calculus approach
This began in my stagnation and decline in late May. My aerospace analogy of the “differential approach” doesn’t work. I turned round and round in Chapters 18-32, unable to disentangle the structures and functions of subgroups in those chapters, that I believed to be subgroups. Also in late May and June, I found that my hypotheses may be problematic: I thought that Chapter 21 presents a process of evolution and ascension, from rejecting polytheism to putting Monotheism into practice to putting trust in God, but a second reading of Chapter 19 showed that this particular order when particular characters are mentioned may not be significant, as Chapter 19 has a less detailed but similar sequence as in Chapter 21, but mentioning messengers in different orders. Also betraying my hypothesis is the finding that Chapter 19-25 may not be presenting another phase of acceleration, as in the ALR sequence. At least I could not find such a trend unless I began to manipulate. Those chapters may be more like flat land than a spacecraft leaving for Moon. Then I lost track on what trend I was tracing when I got to Chapters 26-28. After Chapter 26, I just found the same concepts repeated over and over again: mentality of rejecters, how the worldly life is temporary, God’s judgment, characteristics of God, characteristics of believers, God’s signs in the creation, and etc. More of a disaster to my hypothesis is that I still did not observe a trend or a gradual change.
Perhaps the Quran can’t be oversimplified into trends. The “differential approach” may simply be my adolescent fancy. After all, not everything follow trends; you can’t observe a “trend” of how the R group of amino acids changes when you go down a polypeptide chain of a protein, but the R groups serve their functions. But does the “integral approach” work? Related to the “integral approach” is the “protein structure analogy.”
At present, I think it works in some ways, but not in all ways. It works, as the internal structure of a chapter does affect the information conveyed; for instance, in Chapter 25, introducing the characteristics of believers from God’s signs and characteristics of God implies that a correct understanding about God is a feature of a believer. It also works, when a group of chapters have similar characteristics, such as Chapters 19-21. Functions of some chapters are also seen, such as when a chapter begins a new section, such as Chapter 16, or ends a section, such as Chapter 7, and other functions still await discovery (I hope it’s not “discovery,” which is manipulation). Not only chapters, but also concepts can play functions, such as one of the functions of stories of rejecters is to warn people.
I also remember that I dreamed about using the “integral approach” to “show” that the Quran is the word of God and to recover the original message of the Quran. Here is where it doesn’t work. It seems that unlike that of a protein (does this sound blasphemous?), the structure of the Quran isn’t meant for precision, and the structure alone does not significantly contribute to definition of concepts, while the content of the passage and context themselves are a lot more useful.
I still remember, soon after I wrote about the ALR sequence, Abdur Rab’s comment that “the acceleration is an illusion” made me so crestfallen that I cried the whole night. How can it be the case that what I spent weeks to find turns out to be an illusion? Now I don’t think my findings in that post are without evidence, but the significance of the trend I described may be questionable.
Reflecting on relative weight hypothesis
I dreamed about ensuring objectivity of my interpretations, but perhaps this dream will never come true, or fully come true. It seems that what I get from a chapter depends on what I’m doing recently. When I took all social sciences and humanity courses in a quarter, I paid more attention to verses about the society and status of being, and it was at that time I made the first step to get beyond Code 19 and began to look for miracles in the Quran about society and status of being. I came up with the relative weight hypothesis when I was dreaming about going to law school but I ended up with a conclusion that law school is not for me. A “pure bred science student,” I’m very deeply impacted by science and math, so I thought about the calculus approach and protein structure analogy. When I did more volunteering in a week, I would pay more attention to verses about charity and application, while when I traveled more in a week, I would pay more attention to verses related to nature. When I took an ecology course, I paid more attention to what the Quran says about environment and natural resources, but then, when this summer has a chemistry theme, I get back to the structure and function again… I realized how personal exegesis can be! Imagine that I grew up as a “pure bred humanities student” who has trouble with math, and a very social extrovert (while I’m in fact a stereotypical introvert), my approach might have been completely different. Humans are biased in inquiring knowledge; we should first be interested in something before asking a question and inquiring about it, and where our interests direct is not objective. I heard that we know more about Mars than about what’s deep inside our own ocean!
Although exegesis can be very personal, relative weight is not without its merit. It’s pretty obvious that the mentality of rejecters is an important component in the Quran, as it’s repeated over and over again. It’s obvious that any topic that is repeated over and over against is more important than a topic only mentioned once and not in details. Perhaps there will be no way to determine a relative weight quantatively, since everyone is biased, but this idea can be used qualitatively to prevent significant distortions.
Reflecting on prerequisite hypothesis
Knowing the content of a chapter with smaller chapter number (I call this “earlier”) is a prerequisite to properly understanding a chapter with larger chapter number (I call this “later”). I think this works so far. For example, 37:38-39’s meaning might be inferred from the immediate context as Abraham is against worshiping stars, but anyone who has read Chapter 6 knows immediately what those verses mean. OK, this is not the best example. Let’s say the beginning of Chapter 8. Without knowing Chapters 1-7, one may easily conclude that Islam is very millitant, but with Chapters 1-7, especially Chapter 4, we know when fighting is permitted, so the millitant conclusion can be ruled out. You may also not be able to get a clue why rejecters are mentioned so frequently in the later chapters without knowing the earlier chapters. But how important is the idea of prerequisite? I don’t know, and I don’t know if it can be known. I haven’t worked out the entire structure of the Quran yet. Would there be another arrangement of the chapters that can also make sense? If we try each arrangement, then we won’t ever be able to finish trying.
Not everything cool works. I used to be so proud of my new approach that I dreamed about sitting side by side with the most well known Quran scholars, as if I was their colleague. But now, looking back to the path I’ve taken, I realized that I’m but a fanciful teenager. Not everything works. I’m still a teenager, because I haven’t embodied all the Quranic principles that I know in in life; I’m still too easily affected by emotions, and I’m still not free from dogmatism, and I’m still thinking like somebody who doesn’t know the “real” world outside school except where to go sightseeing. After all, I don’t know that much about the Quran, and studying Arabic is still in future tense. And this is not my first time of getting stuck. In sum, the reason why I get stuck is that I’m stuck in a paradigm that may not work, or causes bias. Now I’m reflecting on this paradigm, and it definitely doesn’t feel so comfortable when a paradigm almost hardened into a dogma gets challenged. Also, one biggest mistake I made is that from time to time, I considered the Quran a speciment in lab instead of God’s guidance. I went on my own way instead of how God directs us to use the Quran. Now let me play Maiden’s Prayer. My mind, like the music, goes up, swirls, and detours. I don’t know where the waves of thought will take me to. I’m riding on a ship, seeking God’s bounties, and may God guide us all!