By Daniel Ben-Tal   June 22, 2008

Regional tensions would be greatly diminished if we understood each other’s mindset, says University of Haifa clinical psychologist Dr. Ofer Grosbard. With this in mind, he devised Quranet, an attempt to translate the Koran into a set of social guidelines applicable to the contemporary world.

An educational tool that reveals the beauty of the Koran and its respect for human dignity, Grosbard’s project is envisaged as a bridge between the Islamic world and the West.

Everyone can find a Koranic answer to his or her educational questions says the bilingual Grosbard, who lives in a mixed Jewish-Arab quarter of Haifa and learned Arabic from his neighbors.

Grosbard is a clinical psychologist, author and Ph.D. candidate at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He has written a widely applauded critique of the Israeli mindset entitled Israel on the Couch: the Psychology of the Peace Process, and a novel The Arab Within that was awarded the Hebrew Writers’ Association’s Book of the Year prize in 2000.

He came up with the idea for Quranet last year, while he was tutoring a course on developmental psychology to a group of 15 Bedouin graduate students of educational counseling.

“I taught them about Freud, Erikson… the people who developed western thinking. However, I had a feeling that they weren’t exactly connecting with what I was teaching,” Grosbard tells ISRAEL21c. “The group – 13 of them female students – almost thought as a unit. Within the Arab sector, the Bedouin are the most in need of help.”

One day last April, one of his students at the Oranim College, Bushra Mazarib – who earned her BA in computer sciences at the Technion before transferring to education – approached him after class.

“Bushra did something that is not behavior usual for a Bedouin – she told me what I was doing wrong,” Grosbard recalls. “‘Do you want to know the truth?’ she asked me. ‘Everything you’re telling us won’t help us as educational counselors in the Bedouin sector.’

“She told me that a parent may approach her and say that a demon has entered into her child, or some similar statement from that cultural background. What I was teaching them would be useless in such a case. I didn’t grasp it at first, so I asked her what would help.”

Her answer was simple: The Koran.

“I went home and thought about what she said. She’d thrown me a glove that I had to pick up, so I bought a Hebrew version of the Koran. I knew practically nothing about the Koran beforehand. I had skimmed though it before, and got the impression that it’s one long prayer, unlike the Jewish tanach with its built-in stories.”

Grosbard then devised an innovative assignment for his students, asking them to find quotes from the Koran that relate to the types of problems they expect to face. He gave each student two portions of the Koran to study.

“In a normal class, you give students work and they do it, but in this case they undertook the assignment with great enthusiasm,” says Grosbard. “The Koran has fortitude that we don’t know.”

The students returned with a list of passages that had meaning for them and Grosbard asked them to make up stories based on these passages. “They produced highly colorful, dramatic accounts of life,” he says. “Their emotions are in the open. I could never have written such stories, that I so enjoyed reading.”

Grosbard later added his own commentary to each story, from the psychological point of view.

Last summer he began editing the copious input. “The students wrote their pieces in Hebrew which is not their mother tongue, and needed several edits. They covered almost every subject. I divided the texts into issues such as violence, mourning loved ones, incest, how to deal with cheating partners, adolescence, treatment of fellow man, etc. Altogether, we address 330 questions.”

The outcome was a 600-page Hebrew manuscript published in book form in May by the Ben Gurion University publishing house, with introductions by three distinguished Sheikhs (including the founder of the Islamic movement in Israel). “This gave me legitimacy as a Jew to discuss the Koran. The Koran has beautiful texts, although they can be quite general in nature,” says Grosbard.

He believes the book is an attempt to understand the way of thinking of another culture. “There’s a great difference between our image of Arab society and what is written in the Koran. It’s a good, spiritual book that talks about mutual respect in a hospitable, tribal society. In the West, we don’t understand traditional collective thinking that places human respect at the center.”

At May’s Presidential Conference to celebrate 60 years of Israeli independence, Quranet was selected for an exhibition entitled ‘Tomorrow’s Spaces’ that highlighted new ideas, products and technologies that will shape the face of tomorrow.

The next stage will be to translate the book into Arabic and English, then upload the texts onto an interactive website. “To the best of my knowledge, no similar website or tool exists,” says Grosbard. “The students are already using the book daily as an educational aid, and say that it helps in indescribable ways.”

Grosbard says that he awaits an investor. “This project must reach the Internet if it is to help inter-faith dialogue – otherwise, it will remain virtual,” says Grosbard, noting that he lacks the $100,000 or so needed to translate the texts and establish such a website. “After all, there are 1.2 billion Moslems in the world…”


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