Bonn, Germany - Along with his students at the University of Haifa, the clinical psychologist Ofer Grosbard compiled a collection of advice from Qur'anic verses for bringing up children. Journalist Hisham Adem talked to the Israeli lecturer about the practical pedagogy of the Holy Book.
How did you come up with the idea for "Quranet"?
Ofer Grosbard: The project was an idea and initiative of one of my Bedouin students, Bushra. Last year, a group of 15 Bedouin graduate students studying educational counselling attended my course in Developmental Psychology. One day, Bushra came up to me and said, "What you are teaching us is not going to be of help to us."
Bushra said that when she becomes an educational counsellor, a parent may come to her and say, "A demon has entered my child" or something similar. "Do you think that what you have taught us here will be of any use to me then?"
"What would he helpful to you?" I asked her.
She replied, "The Qur'an." She said that, in the appropriate context, the quotation of a verse from the Qur'an has enormous impact on Muslims.
I brought a copy of the Qur'an to our next lesson. I divided the chapters among the students and asked them to locate the educational and therapeutic verses. There are many of these verses in the Qur'an, exhorting individuals to take responsibility, learn the truth, respect others, etc. I also asked them to write a brief story from everyday life for each verse to illustrate how a parent or teacher can utilise the verse to convey a message to their child. Together we collected more than 300 stories, and I added a simple, brief educational-psychological explanation to each one. That was how Quranet came into being.
How exactly does Quranet work?
The user selects a particular issue from the list of contents and receives the relevant Qur'anic verse. He or she can then study a brief description of an everyday event illustrating how the verse can be utilised to convey a message. The session concludes with a brief educational-psychological explanation of the process.
What are the main goals of Quranet?
Quranet transforms the Qur'an into a unique educational tool for parents and teachers, making the beneficial power of the Qur'an widely accessible. Moreover, Quranet reveals the beauty of the Qur'an and its respect for human dignity, providing a resounding response to those who exploit the Qur'an to justify terrorism.
What exactly does it mean to use the Qur'an as an "educational tool", particularly in terms of fighting radical Muslim extremism?
I am a Jew, and although I taught my students psychology, they taught me about the Qur'an, which I had not known before. They showed me its beauty and the way it deals so well with human relations. The essence of the Qur'an is actually human relations and human dignity – the opposite of terrorism. We used it to show parents and teachers what love means in the Qur'an.
Did you cooperate with Islamic theologians?
Although we worked on the material, we did not cooperate with sheikhs or imams. We are only educators, and I would like to emphasise this as strongly as I can. The students do not pretend to be interpreters of the Qur'an. They simply want to bring the Qur'an to the child and the family. A father who reads the Qur'an to his son is not automatically an interpreter of the Qur'an. Quoting a phrase from the Qur'an to a child – that one should tell the truth, for example – doesn't make you an interpreter of the Qur'an.
I emphasise this because we received many responses from the Arab world that talked about conspiracy and our presuming to interpret the Qur'an without actually reading the material – because the book is in Hebrew, and they only saw the website. After we finished our work, we presented it to well-known sheikhs in Israel, England and India and got wonderful feedback.
The project has caused apprehension among Muslim circles inside and outside Israel. They consider it Israeli propaganda and a means of manipulating the Qur'an to suit the interests of Israel.
First of all, the initiative came from Bedouin students, who did most of the work under my guidance, and it did not have any connection to the State of Israel. I know that in non-democratic countries it may be difficult for people to believe that not everything is political and dictated by the government.
It is true that the State of Israel is proud of this project, which presents the beauty of the Qur'an. Why not? Muslims also believe that the Qur'an was given to all humanity. Is it forbidden that I, as a Jew, for example, study it? I would like to encourage everyone who feels that way to read the material and make an honest judgment. Then they will have the right answer. This project is a product of love, not conspiracy.
Do you think your project will be able to establish a bridge between the Muslim world and the West?
For Muslims, the Qur'an is a bridge between the Muslim and the western way of thinking. Non-Muslims may discover the beauty of the Qur'an. That's actually what happened to me. The Qur'an built a beautiful bridge of love between me and my students. They showed me the beauty of their culture, something I will never forget.
* Hisham Adem is a freelance journalist. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Qantara.de, 27 June 2008, www.qantara.de
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