Sacred texts must be read with caution

By William J. Hamblin and Daniel Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, May 20 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Several people have shared a verse with us from the Quran, the holy book of Islam. It reads as follows:

"For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo! while some of the people trembled in despair, still more rejoiced. For the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah, and there was peace" (Quran 9:11).

The significance of this passage for our day becomes especially obvious when we notice its chapter and verse reference.

The nation symbolized by an eagle is obviously America. The disturbing "son of Arabia" referred to in the passage is plainly Osama bin Laden, whose attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center enraged the United States and provoked not only the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but anti-terrorist action worldwide.

Can it be reasonably doubted that this verse refers to current U.S. military efforts in the Middle East, the homeland of Islam?

No, it can't.

But things aren't as they seem.

There really is a Quran 9:11 — although the system of referring to chapters and verses in the Quran by number is modern, not original — but this is how that passage actually reads:

"And if they repent and establish prayer and pay the poor-tax, they are your brothers in religion. And we set forth the verses in detail for a people who know" (our translation).

But, one might respond, perhaps somebody's made a simple mistake with the reference.

No. This "prophecy" is a hoax.

The Quran mentions no "eagle," and no such verse nor anything remotely like it appears anywhere in the book.

So, if anybody ever shares this supposed Quranic passage with you, tell him it's a fraud.

It's reminiscent, though, of another "eagle" prophecy that might mislead earnest people trying to understand the signs of the last days.

"For wheresoever the carcass is," says Matthew 24:28, "there will the eagles be gathered together."

A friend told many years ago of a LDS Gospel Doctrine class in which the teacher sought to explain that passage.

"What country," the teacher asked his class, "has an eagle as its symbol?"

"The United States!" his eager students immediately answered.

And this, of course, demonstrated that the prophecy in Matthew pertains specifically to America.

Not so fast, though.

It certainly may refer to America, but the United States isn't the only country with an eagle as its symbol.

Eagles appear on the flags of Mexico and Zambia, for example. They appear on the coats of arms of many countries, such as Austria, Russia, Poland, Ghana, Nigeria, Germany and Egypt.

An eagle appeared on the standards of the armies of Rome and was a symbol of Hitler's Third Reich.

Here's another problem, though: Think about it. Are eagles carrion birds? Do they typically gather around carcasses? No, they don't.

The passage almost certainly refers to vultures rather than eagles. Unfortunately, though, despite the fact that many countries probably should have a vulture as their symbol, none, as far as we're aware, actually does. There's a lesson to be learned from such examples as these: Be careful.

Don't rest your case on a passage that you haven't actually read for yourself. And don't place too much weight on a single word in a translation, because the translation may mislead you.

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