About – Reading the Bible in Muslim Contexts

A woman in her early thirties is sweeping up outside her small clothes shop. She sweeps the dust off into the street beside the shop, hoping that by getting rid of it, she will bring in more customers to her tired business. She manages the shop and its customers who always want to take clothes on loan but who often forget to eventually pay up, on her own since her husband divorced her for a younger woman who he said he hoped would be able to bear him the son she had not. She lifts up the matt outside her door and gives it one last hard shake into the street, then sweeps under it and goes inside the door. A couple of shops down, two older men are standing on the pavement outside a small mini market talking. Their feet have been motionless for the last ten minutes but their hands have been waving in the air, touching each other’s shoulders and pointing at one another to highlight they are making important points. They are wearing business trousers and pristine white shirts. Up above them, a young man is asleep on a mattress under the air conditioning in his living room. A middle aged and tired looking woman hobbles down the street carrying a three heavy bags of groceries home. On the balcony in the apartment beside the young mans, which still had bullet holes from the civilian war, an elderly lady who has Alzheimer’s sits in her bedclothes at a small plastic table, staring back into her apartment. A little water truck creeks to a stop outside their building and three Syrian men jump out who start carrying their heavy loads of water bottles up into the building’s dark concrete stairwell, beneath a rusting metal sign with ‘in the name of God’ written on it in handwriting. Above them all up on the roof of the next building, a Sudanese house helper, who has lived in her madam’s apartment for one year as sleeps on a camping bed in the kitchen at night, is hanging out her ‘madam’s washing on a line tied between two satellite dishes. This is in stark contrast to the large family in the fifth floor apartment directly beneath her feet. Their curtains have remained closed all morning, presumably, because they are all recovering from the engagement party they had in their home last night. A sheikh came from the local mosque, read some verses from the Qur’an and guided the beaming man and woman to sign in a book.

What does the female shopkeeper worry about as she stands in her shop waiting for customers? Does she imagine her daughters lives in her ex husbands home? What does the young man think about the future as he lies on his mattress at night? What do the three Syrian men believe God’s role has been in their transformation from civil administrators in Syria to water deliverymen in Beirut? What do the two businessmen think about the future of their families and business in the middle-East? Have the people got so used to wars and killing that they no longer acknowledge the presence of the three Syrian refugees, just as they have grown used to the many bullet holes fro. Their own civil war on the balconies above them? What does the woman with Alzheimer’s think about? How do her family care for her in her hope which is surely a burden upon them? Perhaps it is one they are glad to bear? Why did someone hand a hand written sign with the words In the Name of God at the stairwell of their building? How did the Sudanese woman end up deciding to live in the kitchen of a woman in a foreign Arab country. Was it her choice? Did she run from something? Or is she happy to be making and saving money? Surely she gets lonely being locked up in the home all day and every day? What did the sheikh read from the Qur’an? Why did the two young people sign a book and why did the family choose to have the sheikh come to their apartment?

What do these people think about God and the world? They are shaped by Islamic doctrines, the books of the mosque and the words of the sheikh, but they are also shaped by the concerns of their daily lives, their experiences and the words of their family members and friends. This mix we call Street Islam. The beliefs of the people in the street, not only the religious scholars.

How does these Muslim contexts shape the way these people read the Bible and what they see in its pages?

This project seeks to explore this question in one small part. We hope to form a sort of commentary on the Bible which takes into account the context of Arab Muslims – their lives, their concerns, their beliefs and their questions about God, as well as the more formal Islamic doctrines they and other Muslims assent to which also shape their lives and how they read the Bible.

We hope these ideas will help you to consider how Muslims in your life might read the Bible.