Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Martyrs' Heaven might not be all it's thought to be

New interpretations of the Koran claim that martyrs will only get a plateful of grapes when they reach Heaven, instead of the 72 virgins they were led to expect

By NicholasKristof  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

(This problem is not confined to Islam. On my blog Web site, I've been battling with fans of the Christian fundamentalist Left Behind series. Some are eager to see me left behind.)

Still, there are encouraging signs. Islamic feminists are emerging to argue for religious interpretations leading to greater gender equality. An Iranian theologian has called for more study of the Koran's Syriac roots. Tunisian and German scholars are collaborating on a new critical edition of the Koran based on the earliest manuscripts. And just last week, Iran freed Hashem Aghajari, who had been sentenced to death for questioning harsh interpretations of Islam.

"The breaking of the sometimes erroneous bonds in the religious tradition will be the condition for a positive evolution in other scientific and intellectual domains," Luxenberg says.

The world has a huge stake in seeing the Islamic world get on its feet again.

The obstacle is not the Koran or Islam, but fundamentalism, and I hope that this scholarship is a sign of an incipient Islamic Reformation -- and that future terrorist recruits will be promised not 72 black-eyed virgins, but just a plateful of grapes.

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