Century Marks

Century Marks

Lifeline of books

Writer Mari­lynne Robinson says that after she spoke at a women’s prison in Idaho one of the women said to her, “Tell your students to write good books. They’re all we live for.” Robinson, who teaches at the highly regarded Iowa Writer’s Workshop, said in an interview in the May Atlantic that it’s easy to forget how important books are, especially for a person like herself whose house is groaning with books. “But then you realize that they’re really bread to people who absolutely need them,” she said.

Quest for historical Qur’an

The academic study of Islamic origins is one of the most contested fields in the history profession. “Those of us who study Islam’s origins have to admit collectively that we simply do not know some very basic things about the Qur’an—things so basic that the knowledge of them is usually taken for granted by scholars dealing with other texts,” says Fred Donner, an expert in early Islamic studies at the University of Chicago. Among the issues in question are the book’s place of origin, its original form and its initial audience. What is known is that the Qur’an came to be viewed as divine, and it empowered previously despised and marginalized Arabs to challenge two great empires, the Roman and Persian (History Today, May).

Batters out

A church had to leave the church softball league in St. Clair, Missouri, after it became known that its pastor is openly bisexual. The pastors at three Baptist churches said their teams could no longer play against the team from St. John United Church of Christ, whose new pastor, James S. Darnell, is bisexual. Rather than ruin things for the rest of the league, his church dropped out of the league. “It’s frustrating,” said Darnell, “because this is who is representing Christianity in our community, and this is the message youths in our community are getting” (RNS).

Taking the stand

Blake Allison’s wife, Anna, a software consultant, was on her way to visit a client in Los Angeles when the plane she was in crashed into World Trade Center Tower 1 on Sep­tember 11, 2001. Allison has met clandestinely with the lawyers for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of 9/11, to tell them he is willing to argue in the military tribunal against the use of the death penalty. Allison knows that his wife’s family doesn’t agree with him, nor do other families who lost loved ones on 9/11. He also knows that Mohammed would do it all over again if given the chance. “First and foremost, I don’t think it’s right to take a life,” Allison said. “It’s grounded in my faith. The New Testa­ment is very clear about this” (New York Post, May 14).

Gender gap

It’s no wonder that Saudi Arabia ranks 131 out of 135 nations in the World Economic Forum’s report on the global gender gap. It is a country where child marriage is still practiced and where women are treated like minors their whole lives regardless of age or education. Women far outnumber men on university campuses, yet they still can’t run in elections or vote. A woman who broke the ban on female drivers was sentenced to ten lashes and needed a royal pardon. Saudi Arabia “is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its . . . having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina,” says Egyptian-American columnist Mona Eltahawy (Foreign Policy, May/June).