Reading the Koran
With Pastor Marshall
Marshall offers this class on the Koran four times a year – usually in
January, April, June and October. It meets on the four Thursdays in each
month from 7-9 pm. Each of the four sessions discuss some 50 verses from
the Koran – sizing them up from a Christian point of view – noting
either their congruence or incongruence with historic Christian
session I surahs (or chapters) 1-7 are discussed, surahs 8-21 in session
II, surahs 22-40 in session III, and surahs 41-114 in session IV. Note
that the surahs are arranged in the Koran with the longest ones first.
purpose of this class is to become familiar with the contents of the
Koran. It is not a class on the history of Islam. Nor is it a class on
the interpretation of the Koran in its original Arabic text. There are
three approved English translations of the Koran. We use the 1930
edition by M. M. Pickthall.
class tuition is $50.00. This includes your own copy of the Pickthall
translation of the Koran, study sheets on the selected verses and many
handouts on features of the Koran to enrich your reading. Some of those
handouts provide information from the magnificent international five
volume commentary, The Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an,
edited by J. D. McAuliffe. Others include Martin Luther's preface
to the 1543 Latin edition of the Koran and Melanchthon's
"warning" published in the same volume.
Pastor Marshall has been a Lutheran pastor (ELCA) since 1979. He is married to Dr. Jane L. Harty and they have three children, Susannah, Ruth and Anders. Pastor Marshall graduated from Washington State University in 1971, magna cum laude, with a BA in Philosophy. Upon graduation he was elected into the prestigious academic fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa. In 1975 he graduated from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, with a Masters of Divinity degree. While at Luther Seminary he published his first academic article, "God and Worship." In 1978 he received a Masters in Religion degree from Claremont Graduate School and was advanced into the PhD program. That same year he published his first academic article on Martin Luther, "Luther's Two-Factor Hermeneutic." He then began writing his PhD dissertation on the philosophies of religion in Wittgenstein and Whitehead, but never finished it.
Marshall has published over 50 articles in academic journals and
professional magazines, specializing in the thought of Martin Luther
(1483-1546) and Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). His essays have appeared
in Touchstone, The International Kierkegaard Commentary, The Christian Ministry, dialog, The Ecumenist, Søren
Currents in Theology & Mission, Trinity Review, Pro
Ecclesia, Lutheran Quarterly, Lutheran Partners, The
Bride of Christ, Lutheran Commentator, Logia, Lutheran
Forum and Word
& World. In
2003 he published his acclaimed pamphlet, Making a New World: How
Lutherans Read the Bible.
In 2013 he published Hunger Immortal: The First Thirty Years of the
West Seattle Food Bank, 1983-2013, and Kierkegaard for the
Church: Essays and Sermons (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock). And
in 2016 he published his second book on Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard in
In 2013 he published Hunger Immortal: The First Thirty Years of the West Seattle Food Bank, 1983-2013, and Kierkegaard for the Church: Essays and Sermons (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock). And in 2016 he published his second book on Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard in the Pulpit.
at Claremont Graduate School, Pastor Marshall was a research assistant
for Professor John A. Hutchinson, author of
Paths of Faith (1969, 1991, 4th ed.) and Living
Options in World Philosophy
(1977) – for which Pastor Marshall worked on the index. His
doctoral advisor was Professor John B. Cobb, Jr., author of many books,
including Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of
Christianity and Buddhism (1982) and Transforming Christianity and the World
studied Islam and the Koran with Jamil Razzak and Abdul Mohammad from
the Idriss Mosque in Seattle,
1420 NE Northgate Way.
He also studied with Tarek Dawoud who recommended the great Islamic
scholar, Mohammad Asad (1900-1992) – who has become "the brains" behind
Pastor Marshall's class.
He also studied with Tarek Dawoud who recommended the great Islamic scholar, Mohammad Asad (1900-1992) – who has become "the brains" behind Pastor Marshall's class.
Pastor Marshall is
a conservative Lutheran – believing in and practicing the historic
Christian creeds. So he is not a liberal and could not rejoice in Robley
E. Whitson's classic study on world religions: The Coming Convergence
of World Religions (1971,
Pastor Marshall believes that significant differences exist between the
great religions of the world and that these should not be smoothed over.
Instead they should be respected, studied and understood.
"Thank you for an altogether exciting and enjoyable course in reading the Koran. I appreciate that you are a meticulous and careful instructor. But I really appreciate your ability to teach, inform, provoke, uplift, honor, engage, and inspire – all in the same setting! I learned a lot from this course about the Koran, and I learned a lot about the Gospel." (2-3-2007)
"What a rich experience and if I may say, it was much more than I had anticipated when I heard of a class on the Koran being taught by a Lutheran pastor in West Seattle. Your breadth and depth of knowledge of the Koran is formidable and I pray that opportunities for you to sit down and discuss with both Christians and Muslims will increase in the days ahead. I also appreciate your example of faith in word and practice." (2-4-2007)
"I have learned a good bit, though I know my knowledge to be meager. Thank you for taking ownership of offering the class. I do believe it is valuable, particularly in these times." (6-26-2008)
"I compliment you on your years of study – years of questioning and researching and dialoging with the local Muslim masters. I found the class to be challenging as well as enlightening. And even though I am smarter than I was four weeks ago, I still have a long way to go. However, you have given me a grand beginning." (6-27-2008)
"Thanks for listening and allowing me to speak unhindered in class. It's unbelievable how much you were able to get across to us in class in an often humorous but always totally focused way. I sensed a deep commitment in you to honestly help us understand the Koran. The background materials you provided were equally valuable, representing many different views that I would never have known how to gather on my own." (2-1-2010)
"Thanks so much for the Koran course. I can't imagine spending the amount of time you have on the project, but you are to be congratulated for wringing those secrets out of the book. You have a fine teaching style, covering an enormous amount of material in such a short time span." (7-30-2011)
"I found Pastor Marshall's guidance as a teacher helpful because the Koran can appear contradictory. He has Muslim religious leaders as friends, and strong convictions of his own personal beliefs. He teaches in a spirit of discovery and respect for both Islam and Christianity – with his style of charm and occasional humor. In class he tries to build bridges between two religions that are not the same by exposing and respecting the differences. I certainly feel he did this well. I enjoyed the class." (4-9-2012)
"I enjoyed the class very much. In addition to the value of learning some of the fundamentals of Islam, it helped deepen my understanding of Christianity as well – much like taking a foreign language can help one better understand one's own language. I appreciate you sharing your impressive knowledge." (7-27-2012)
"Once again, I absolutely loved the class! I learned a lot, even though I was taking it for the second time. And I would like to take it a third time and bring some friends along with me. I simply cannot believe, based on current world events, that this is not the most popular class in Seattle!" (4-26-2013)
"This class gave me a whole different view of Islam. I liked that Pastor Marshall answered all my questions and took time to explain even the smallest details. President Obama should take this class! Now that I've taken it, I can talk to people about Islam. And I can explain to other Christians who Allah is." (7-18-2013, by a 5th grader)
"Now I can begin. Begin to see linkages between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Begin to hear places of similarity and also of difference in our sacred texts and teaching. Begin to feel the heartbeat of the culture of my Muslim neighbors. Pastor Marshall is humble about the limits of his class, scrupulous in scholarly balance, delighted by the complexity of this material, generous in allowing students to grapple. He opens the door wide to make it easy to begin. He sends us out with paths for future learning. And, perhaps most important, he prepares us to talk with Muslims about the Koran with greater respect and curiosity, deepening the authenticity of our connection." (5-1-2014)
"Pastor Marshall's class met and exceeded all my expectations. A first rate scholar with as keen a mind as anyone I know, he provided our class with an immersive learning experience that was inspiring, challenging, and engaging. Anyone with a desire to learn the basic teachings of Islam and the Qur'an would be wise to sign up for this class pronto. I recommend it wholeheartedly." (3-9-2015)
"I appreciate all your handouts. As a visual learner I'm grateful for all the paper resources that I can go back through over time and really dig into more deeply, as well as share with others. Thank you for all the time and effort you have clearly put into this class. May it indeed lead to deeper understanding and peace between Muslims and Christians." (7-31-2015)
"What a great class. My wife and I were both glad we took it. Very enlightening! And your mullahs were right about not understanding the Qur'an if we just tried to read it on our own." (7-28-2016)
"I truly enjoyed the class even though I labored hard through some of it. I genuinely believe that this course would benefit anyone seeking to better understand global events and US policies. It would also particularly benefit anyone working in education, social services, medicine, law enforcement, or any form of public service. Thanks for having the heart and the vision to delve into the Qur'an and teach it so effectively." (8-1-2016)
"This has been an exceptional learning experience! You are an inspiring teacher and leader. I appreciated the design of the course and the materials provided. This course strengthened my faith and enhanced my daily Bible study as I came across Scripture that was referred to in the Koran. I looked forward to class each week and finding out what was next. Now I'm looking forward to sharing what I've learned with my Muslim friends." (7-19-2018)
"Thanks for your very stimulating, thoughtful, well-organized, educational, balanced [Q42:17] January journey through the Koran. Whew! We made it thanks to you." (1-26-2021)
"I so appreciate your willingness to continue to teach the Koran! It's especially important for us to understand and respect the beliefs of others as best we can, just as it is to understand other religious philosophies." (3-5-2021)
"Please know how much I appreciated your approach and effort in your wonderful class on the Koran. What you're doing is notable and a little rare – taking the reader to the primary documents of the faith rather than beginning with summaries. Too often we talk about a topic instead of looking at what is actually there. Imagine discussing the role of Picasso in modern art without ever looking at his paintings! It's my intent to sit in on your class again when I can devote the time even more seriously than I did the first time through. Blessings on your ministry." (7-17-2021)
you are interested in this class contact Pastor Marshall by email firstname.lastname@example.org
or by telephone 206-935-6530.
Pastor Marshall also offers, by special arrangement, one day abbreviated versions of his class. These are held on Saturdays from 9 am to 4 pm. The cost is $20 per person, with a minimum enrollment of 20 persons. Lunch is provided.
A HALF-HOUR VIDEO INTERVIEWING Pastor Marshall about his Koran Class has been posted on the West Seattle Blog. Check it out at http://westseattleblog.com/2017/06/video-first-lutheran-church-of-west-seattle-pastor-ron-marshalls-quran-class-still-going-strong/
TEACHING THE QUR'AN
HELPS UNDERSTAND MUSLIMS
By the Rev. Ronald F. Marshall
Why I Teach the Qur’ān
By Ronald F. Marshall
I might be the only Christian minister in America who teaches the Qur’ān on an ongoing basis. Since 2003 I have been teaching a four-week course on the Qur’ān, four times a year. I’ve invited people from outside of our church and hundreds have attended.
My goal is simply to help people read through the Qur’ān on their own. I’m told that many want to do this but are not able to finish the Qur’ān. That’s what my class does – I help people get through the Qur’ān.
Each two hour class session is based on worksheets I furnish that ask questions on about 50 passages from the Qur’ān. These questions are designed to get at the rationale of key passages in the Qur’ān and show how they compare and contrast with the Bible.
I’m not a theological liberal looking for a convergence of world religions. As far as I am concerned, there are irresolvable differences between Islam and Christianity that we shouldn’t try to explain away. I argue in class that differences can be and should be enriching – and that they can be noted in respectful ways. I won’t have any bashing of Islam in my classes – just because the Qur’ān conflicts with the Bible. So I defend the Qur’ān in class – even though I reject its central teachings. In class I try to show how one can criticize the Qur’ān without disrespecting it.
How did I get started on this class? As a life-long Lutheran I didn’t learn until I attended the seminary that Martin Luther was very interested in Islam, the young Ottoman empire – and the Qur’ān itself. He even toward the end of his life saw to it that a Latin translation of the Qur’ān was published in Germany – for which he even wrote the preface in 1543! That began my research into Islam and the Qur’ān.
Then in 1985 the first mosque was built in my town of Seattle with a hail of controversy over building permits. After its completion, I visited it and met its leaders, Jamil Razzak and Abdul Mohammad – who later came to my church to help me with a class I was teaching on Islam. This fledgling interest in Islam then skyrocketed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That’s when I started preparing my class on the Qur’ān – initially just for my church. In addition to what I learned from Jamil and Abdul, I also was helped by Tarek Dawoud and Ali Salaam – other imams in the Seattle area. On Tarek’s advice, I also started working through Mohammad Asad’s magisterial notes on the Qur’ān – published in 1980. From this study I produced a pamphlet of a hundred excerpts from Asad for each of my students. I also provide them with many other background materials from Islamic scholars, such as, Maurice Bucaille, Ahmed Deedat, Farid Esack, and Jane McAuliffe, to enrich their reading of the Qur’ān. I use these materials to keep my class in line with what Muslims believe the Qur’ān says. I cannot do that myself. The Qur’ān says at 3:7 and 17:45 that Allah wouldn’t allow me to do that even if I tried.
Nevertheless I still enjoy teaching the Qur’ān – and have no plans to quit teaching it. I like dispelling ignorance regarding the Qur’ān. No where in the Qur’ān, for instance, does it say that terrorist martyrs will have as a reward from Allah a bevy of virgins awaiting them in heaven.
But I also like studying what may well be the most important critique of my faith. And that’s precisely what the Qur’ān is in large part. Studying the Qur’ān is therefore like my college class on the Bible as literature that I took in the early 1970s from the skeptic, Dr. Palmer Hilty. From him I learned how the Bible looks to one who reads it carefully but critically – save for a few of its moral principles. As a young Christian that upset me. Some of my Christians friends even refused to take the class with me. But I hung in there and I’m glad I did.
What I’m doing in my class on the Qur’ān is similar to that class on the Bible as literature. I do not read the Qur’ān as God’s word. Nevertheless I still find much in the Qur’ān that is consistent with what the Bible says – albeit for accidental reasons in my view. What it says, for instance, about patience (2:45), endurance (94:1-8) and divine wisdom (77:39) is quite pleasing. But because it stands against the divinity and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the holy Trinity, and the Bible, I cannot abide by it. So I see the Qur’ān coming from a 7th century Arian community, rather than from God himself – as St. John of Damascus (675-749) intimated.
Even so I mean no disrespect to the over 1 billion people worldwide who currently believe – contrary to my faith – that the Qur’ān is God’s indisputable word. All I want to do is what Kent said long ago in Shakespeare’s masterpiece, King Lear: “I’ll teach you differences.”
(reprinted from a shorter version published on
The Lutheran Weekly E-Newsletter, March 10, 2009.)