Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Encyclopedia of the Qur'an - Set Volumes 1-5 plus Index Volume edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Brill Academic) The Qur'ān is the primary religious text for one-sixth of the worlds population. Understood by Muslims to contain God's own words, it has been an object of reverence and of intense study for centuries. The thousands of volumes that Muslim scholars have devoted to qur'ānic interpretation and to the linguistic, rhetorical and narrative analysis of the text are sufficient to create entire libraries of qur'ānic studies.
Drawing upon a rich scholarly heritage, Brill's Encyclopaedia of the Qur'ān (EQ) combines alphabetically-arranged articles about the contents of the Qur'ān. It is an encyclopaedic dictionary of qur'ānic terms, concepts, personalities, place names, cultural history and exegesis extended with essays on the most important themes and subjects within qur'ānic studies. With nearly 1000 entries in 5 volumes, the EQ is the first comprehensive, multi-volume reference work on the Qur'ān to appear in a Western language. (Full review Pending)

'McAuliffe's encyclopedia promises to become the central English-language reference work for qur'anic studies' P. S. Spaulding, Illinois College, Choice, 2002.
'The first volume fulfills the project's aim to summarize recent decades of scholarship and will without doubt fulfill another aim, to inspire new work in the decades to come. Enthusiastically recommended for all readership levels.' P. S. Spaulding, Illinois College, Choice, 2002.
'The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an is an higly prestigious and competent volume from a superb publisher with contributions by the worlds leading experts. If readers were to own one volume on this topic, this work would be the encylopedia to own. The first volume is carefully and masterfully crafted and provides the expectation of valuable work to comethe scholarly community looks forward to future volumes. Linda L. Lam-Easton, American Reference Book Annual, Vol. 34.
'The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an is a masterful, comprehensive book' Discourse, 2001.
'The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an will be a truly collaborative enterprise, carried out by Muslims and non-Muslims, and its articles will present multiple approaches to the interpretation of the Qur'an... A turn-of-the-millennium summative work for the state of qur'anic scholarship.' Atlantic Monthly, 1999

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Readership: The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an uses English-language entry words rather than transliterated terminology. This format makes the EQ accessible to both specialists in Arabic and Islamic studies as well as to scholars in such fields as biblical studies, medieval history, comparative literature and the social sciences. General readers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, will welcome the authoritative coverage that the EQ provides and the accessible format of its presentation. As the first such reference work on the Qur'an in a Western language, the EQ will be indispensable for both academic and public libraries.

Cross-referencing and indices
Frequent cross-references will draw readers to related entries and each article will conclude with a citation of relevant bibliography. The final volume of the EQ will contain indices of transliterated terms, of qur'ānic references and of the authors and exegetes cited in the entries and essays. It will also include a synoptic outline of the full contents of the EQ. 

Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qur'an by Suha Taji-Farouki (Qur'anic Studies: Oxford University Press/ The Institute of Ismaili Studies) This volume examines the writings of ten Muslim intellectuals, working throughout the Muslim world and the West, who employ contemporary critical methods to understand the Qur'an. Their work points to the emergence of a new trend in Muslim interpretation, characterised by direct engagement with the Word of God while embracing intellectual modernity in an increasingly globalised context. The volume situates and evaluates their thought, and assesses responses to it among Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. The ten chapters highlight the diverse arenas in which such intellectuals draw on the Qur'anic text, through their fresh readings of its verses.

SUHA TAJI-FAROUKI is Lecturer in Modern Islam, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, and Research Associate, Department of Academic Research and Publications, The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Her publications include A Fundamental Quest: Hizb al-Tahrir and the Search for the Islamic Caliphate (1996); Muslim Jewish Encounters: Intellectual Traditions and

Modern Politics (co-edited, 1998); and Islamic Thought in the Twentieth Century (co-edited, I B. Tarus).

Like those of the Islamists with which many such appeals to tradition take issue, they can ultimately be interpreted as responses to the ongoing failure in the Muslim world to create a culturally viable, successful modern state. The Islamist reaction to the failure of cultural modernisation and secularisation processes launched by the post-colonial elites is to invoke the self-past, re - imagined in terms of culturally authentic and `pure' models, and motivated by perceptions of the West (with its agents within the Muslim world) as a threat. In contrast, some of those surveyed in this volume uphold the very same processes of modernisation and secularisation, while dismissing, denying or refuting the issue of their `alien' cultural provenance and their compatibility with an Islamic commitment to transcendence, through a re-imagining of `Islam' that itself rivals the Islamist one. This advocating of `modern' values via a re-imagined Islam nonetheless sets their posture apart from that of the secular intellectuals.

The structure of the volume presents a clustering of some chapters, reflecting certain features or tendencies loosely held in common among some of the thinkers considered. The first chapter discusses the project of the late Pakistani scholar Fazlur Rahman, a towering figure of twentieth-century Islamic reform. Although he spent most of his academic life in the West, as Abdullah Saeed points out, Rahman remained firmly committed to an Islamic process of knowledge, while at the same time subjecting traditional Islamic thought and methodologies to a profound critique. Rahman emphasised areas that have been neglected in Muslim understandings of the Qur'an, and it is from this that his importance largely derives. Such areas include the socio-historical context of the revelation, the spirit of its message as a whole, and the retrieval of its moral elan, as a basis for elaborating a Qur'an-centred ethics. Rahman's wide-ranging influence is evident in the work of such thinkers as those who form the subject of the two following chapters. These are his former student Nurcholish Madjid, a prominent Indonesian public figure, and the American scholar Amina Wadud.

As Anthony H. Johns and Abdullah Saeed demonstrate, Madjid has endeavoured to achieve a pragmatic realisation of Qur'anic values in a manner appropriate to the distinctive character and needs of the Indonesian state. His aim in this is to safeguard Indonesia's integration as a religiously and ethnically plural entity, and to enhance the role of the Pancasila in its capacity as the ideological cornerstone of national unity. His `contextualist' approach to understanding the Qur'an is informed by a recognition of the pressing need for inter-religious harmony in Indonesia. It is equally motivated by his consciousness of the historically divisive impact of fiqh among Muslims there. Also inspired by Rahman and in contrast with Madjid, Amina Wadud's concern, as described by Asma Barias, is with the problematic of Qur'anic interpretation and the marginalisation of women's full human agency within society. Wadud is a pioneer among a growing cluster of Muslim women scholars who are developing a feminist reading of the Islamic tradition and foundational texts. As Barias, herself a member of this cluster, demonstrates, Wadud highlights the connections between traditional tafsir (exegesis) and the means of its production, explaining the genre's masculinist nature, and its resultant biases against women. She calls for a more egalitarian tafsir, inclusive of women's voices,and reflecting new, holistic modes of understanding and participation in Muslim religious life. The claim that it upholds the ontological equality of the sexes stands at the core of her own reading of the Qur'an, which thus serves the project of Muslim women's emancipation.

It has been suggested that Rahman never consciously introduced analytic procedures derived from Western thinkers in a major manner, and was not attracted to the ongoing debate in Western intellectual circles, even in those areas that influenced his methodology. In contrast, in the assessment of one scholar, in his employment of `the categories of post-modernity' to call for a rethinking of the whole Islamic tradition, the Algerian-French scholar Mohammed Arkoun, seems to be using the Islamic tradition as a text upon which to continue a debate about Western epistemology. He pays little attention to the specificity of the Islamic condition or tradition, as if the Islamic tradition is expected to serve as a yielding raw material for constructing the epistemological edifice of the West.

Arkoun presents his project as a detached, ideologically neutral and radical perspective on the development of the `religious phenomenon', and its implications for present and future human concerns. He rejects any link between his own thought and `islahi (reformist) thinking'. Questioning the assumptions of the historical-critical method, his own critical reading of `Islamic reason', his deconstruction of centuries of Islamic thought, and his constructs of revelation and orthodoxy challenge both academic scholarship on Islam, and Muslim self-understandings. As Ursula Gunther suggests, the `Arkounian' perspective has had little impact on both potential constituencies thus far.

The Egyptian scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd introduced a linguistic problematisation of the religious discourse to a contemporary Arabic readership in a substantial manner for the first time. As Navid Kerman shows, his approach is based on application of the most relevant achievements of contemporary linguistics to the Qur'an, combined with literary study of the text and the adoption of Hans-Georg Gadamer's hermeneutics. Its conclusions are implicitly posited in opposition to contemporary

Islamist discourses with their notion of a single, eternally valid interpretation of the sacred text. This provides the context for understanding postures adopted towards his writings in Egypt, and his trial.

Mohamad Mojtahed Shabestari's project provides an example of the rethinking of the Islamic revolutionary tradition in Iran. It represents one trend among post-revolutionary Iranian Islamic discourses, as they endeavour to address the contradictions inherent in the paradigm of what Farzin Vandat terms `mediated subjectivity', inherited from the founders of the Islamic Republic. Well-versed in German theological and philosophical scholar-ship, Shabestari relies on the principle of inter-subjectivity, which he situates within a religious model. He thus adopts a hermeneutic approach to subjectivity, which avoids any direct interpretation of Qur'anic texts. Vandat sees in his hermeneutic construct of inter-subjectivity a framework in terms of which the discourse of religious modernity in post-revolutionary Iran can be advanced, as compared with the inherited paradigm. Shabestari's critique of the negative side of human subjectivity is accompanied by the suggestion that religion, projected as a source of permanent principles and general values, can help ameliorate the crises that accompany the unavoidable modernisation process in Muslim countries.

The Tunisian scholar Mohamed Talbi is best known for the case he advances from an Islamic perspective for religious pluralism and inter-religious dialogue, and for his work as a historian of North Africa. Ronald L. Nettler demonstrates how his progressive, liberal ideas are justified through a historical-contextual approach to the Qur'anic text, which seeks to elucidate God's intention in it. His `intentional' reading is put forward as a foundation for resolving the current crisis in the Islamic encounter with modernity, and a foil to the literal readings that plague contemporary Muslim understandings.

Osman Tastan points to the pragmatic, utilitarian approach to the Qur'an, and its legal content in particular, developed by the veteran Turkish scholar Hseyin Atay. Atay's extraction from the Qur'an of practical solutions to specific Islamic issues serves astraightforward understanding and simplified practice of Islam. While this makes it accessible to the general practising public, its rationalist, anti-traditionalist orientation clearly reflects and sits comfortably with the established emphasis on modernity in the Turkish Republican context. This orientation is prominent in the publications of many scholars who, like Atay, are situated in Faculties of Islamic Studies in Turkish universities.

The Syrian engineer Mohamad Shahrour and the Libyan writer Sadiq Nayhum share common features. Both emanate from essentially secular backgrounds, and are self-taught in the area of Islamic learning. Driven onto the discursive arena carved by the Islamic resurgence, their engagement with the Qur'an partly serves a critique of traditional Islamic and Islamist formulations and contemporary political conditions. Shahrour advances his `contemporary reading' of the Qur'an as the foundation for a comprehensive project of cultural, social, political and material renewal in Arab-Muslim societies. Andreas Christmann elucidates his employment of a linguistic analysis to reprogramme Qur'anic terminology, thereby estranging readers from conventional understandings and challenging traditional religious authority. As Suha Taji-Faroulzi demonstrates, Nayhum recruits Qur'anic texts in the context of a call for a culturally rooted form of direct democracy, embedded in `Islam' reconstructed as a formula for political emancipation. To some extent, his resort to the Qur'an suggests a `ritualistic' acknowledgement of the Islamic textual tradition. At the same time, it illustrates the appeal of the `Qur'anic message', however appropriated, among secular-oriented Muslim intellectuals confronting the experience of alienation and fragmentation brought by modernity.

By way of conclusion to this introductory chapter, attention must be drawn to a reform-oriented but Islamically rooted voice, which has become increasingly influential during the late twentieth century, reflecting a certain resonance with a broad public understanding in Muslim societies. This is the voice of reform-minded Muslim intellectuals and academics and a small number of reform-minded ulama, whose diverse contributions, put together, bear witness to important patterns of intellectual development and change in contemporary Islamic thought.

While such reform-oriented thinkers might themselves be subject to various Western influences, having in some cases been trained in Western universities, they work self-consciously from within Islamic cultural and textual traditions, and adhere to an Islamic frame of reference. Often with an eye to invalidating extremist Islamic postures, they address the ongoing challenge of elaborating modern Islamic responses to the modalities and demands of the modern experience, and the profoundly changed realities and novel problems of modern Muslim life. Their interpretive approach to the Qur'an and Sunna is direct and pays attention to social and historical contexts, distinguishing between universal principles and the moral thrust of the revelation on the one hand, and directives that may be bound to its specific circumstances on the other. In determining the meanings and implications of the revelation, they draw on the rich legacy of Islamic tradition in its diverse branches, while carefully probing the complex relation between this tradition and the context of its elaboration, taking into account aspects of its contingency.

Some of these thinkers deconstruct and critique aspects of the project of Western modernity, often sharing common ground in this with the critical discourse of modernity and its post-modern critics. However, they part company with the latter in their Islamic frame of reference, and their concern to offer `constructive' responses to the human predicament. Refusing to bow to a blanket privileging of the modern over the pre-modern, they maintain that modernity's characteristic sense of superiority must be tempered with a respect for pre-modern sources which, if properly contextualised, can yield much that is of value. Others divest the modern West of its claims to universal validity; their commitment to Islamic cultural resources derives further confidence from an awareness that, at this juncture in history, there is a possibility for other voices to be received with less prejudice. Crucially, their contributions explore and advocate significant contemporary areas of reform within this culture, includingdemocratisation, pluralism, tolerance, openness to other religions, and equality of status for women and minorities in Muslim societies. Their arguments in this regard evince an alertness to the specific worldview upon which concepts and institutions are premised, identifying what may be incompatible with an Islamic cosmology and a commitment to transcendence.

Certain of the thinkers presented in this volume clearly contribute to this reform-oriented, Islamically rooted trend, which is exemplified to varying degrees by such figures as Khaled Abou El Fadl, Muhammad Salim al-`Awwa, Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Taha Jabir al- `Alwani and the `professional' `alimYusuf al-Qaradawi, to name a few. Relative to them, others studied here create an impression that they are Westernised liberals still under the spell of Western modernity, seeing in it a solution to the needs and problems of Muslim societies. In contrast with both, yet others discussed in this volume appear to have set out on the postmodernist road, which in its extreme form can ultimately lead to nihilism.

The reform-oriented Islamic discourse sketched in these concluding lines remains intimately connected to the reformist discourse of the turn of the twentieth century. Those who contribute to it are perhaps the genuine heirs to the reformists' legacy, while taking this into uncharted waters towards a destination yet unclear, in an unpredictable and rapidly changing context. What is clear is the bid made by such thinkers to avoid the pitfalls and excesses of modernity, and to preserve the moral and cultural integrity of the Islamic worldview, and the special Islamic identity and cohesion of Muslim societies. In the wider world, the contribution of this discourse perhaps lies ultimately in its non-negotiable commitment to applying an ethical dimension to the exercise of reason and power. In Muslim countries, it might respond effectively to pressing concerns for the injection of justice and morality into the political and socio-economic order, while avoiding the problems and excesses inherent in certain Islamist options

The `West' is now an omnipresent party to the ongoing process of re-negotiating Islam among Muslims, in which this reform trend represents one of many competing voices. This undeniably complicates the task that confronts it, whether in invalidating extremist Islamic formulations, or galvanising Muslim opinion in the endeavour to establish an effective bridge between the demands of an ever-changing present and a commitment to eternal values and the tradition and culture that embody them. Indeed its foremost challenge perhaps lies in successfully navigating a path between openness to external influences and an enduring faithfulness to the internal cultural map and dynamics of Muslim society, in a world where human interactions are growing dramatically.

It hardly need be pointed out that the Qur'anic text forms the bedrock of any Islamic discourse, reform-oriented or other, worthy of the name. Modernity has focused attention perhaps in an unparalleled way on the complexities of interactions between texts and readers. During the last few decades, Muslims have read the Qur'an in a rich multiplicity of ways, something of which is illustrated by the present volume. It is hoped that the essays collected here will point to some of the challenges, problems and responsibilities contained within this act of reading.


For more than a billion Muslims around the globe, the Qurʾān reproduces Gods very own words. To hear its verses chanted, to see its words written large on mosque walls, to touch the pages of its inscribed text creates a sense of sacred presence in Muslim minds and hearts. For countless generations, Muslim families have greeted a newborn baby by whispering words from the Qurʾān in the infants ear. For centuries, small children have begun their formal education with the Qurʾān. Seated around the teacher, they have learned to form the letters of the Arabic alphabet and to repeat the words and phrases from which their own recitation of the Qurʾān will develop. In a religious culture that extols learning, those individuals who acquire an advanced knowledge of the Qurʾān are accorded profound respect. People who commit all of the text to memory are treated with reverence. In fact, reverence marks most Muslim interaction with the Qurʾān, whether that be in silent prayer, public proclamation or serious study.

For those with little previous exposure to the Qurʾān it may be helpful simply to describe this book. In the library of world scriptures, the Qurʾān stands as one of the shorter entries. When a textual tradition like the Buddhist canon of Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese scriptures is compared to the Qurʾān, the size differences are significant. Even the Hebrew Bible or the Christian canon of Old and New Testaments comprise much larger collections. In contrast, the Qurʾān is a fairly compact text of 114 sections. These sections or chapters, virtually all of which begin with the introductory formula In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, are called sūras. The sūras, in turn, are composed of verses or, in Arabic, āyāt (sing. āya). Individual sūras can contain just a few verses or a few hundred. This variation in length is noteworthy because the Qurʾān uses length as an organizing principle. The canonical text is arranged by roughly descending order of sūra length. In other words, the longer sūras appear earlier in the text, the very shortest ones toward the end.

The contents of the Qurʾān are varied and not easily categorized. Nor are they ordered in a manner that systematic modern minds might prefer. You will not, for example, find separate sūras devoted to theological pronouncements, to rules for social and personal behavior, to prayers and liturgical specifications, to narratives about past prophets, to warnings about the last judgment and descriptions of heaven and hell or to polemical challenges directed toward those with other beliefs. You will, however, find all of these themes, as well as others, woven through the various sūras of the qurʾānic text. In fact, the thematic complexity of the Qurʾān has spawned a genre of Islamic literature that seeks to extract and to categorize. Some of these works attempt a comprehensive classification of qurʾānic material under numerous headings and subheadings while others concentrate upon a particular topic. In Muslim bookstores, therefore, one finds books such as What the Qurʾān says about women or What the Qurʾān says about a just society.

Just as there is thematic variation within the Qurʾān, there is also stylistic diversity. While the Qurʾān contains relatively little sustained narrative of the sort to which readers of the Hebrew Bible or Christian New Testament would be accustomed the twelfth sūra being the principal exception the language of the Qurʾān is frequently strong and dramatic. Vivid imagery and evocative similes abound. Oaths and dialogues combine with divine direct address, whether to the prophet Muḥammad, to those who believe his message or to those who reject it. Terse, elliptical language alternates with more prolonged, prosaic passages. Prayers and prophecy intermix with the proscriptions and prescriptions that must guide human action.

The full force of this rhetorical diversity, however, may not be available to those who read the Qurʾān in translation. It is an article of Muslim faith and belief that the Qurʾān is the Qurʾān only in Arabic. When translated it ceases to be Gods very own words and becomes simply an interpretation of the Arabic original. For this reason, whenever Muslims recite the Qurʾān in ritual prayer or other liturgical formats, they always recite it in Arabic. Nevertheless, there are numerous translations of the Qurʾān in most of the major languages of the world, including English.

The study of the Qurʾān

The long tradition of scholarship that the Qurʾān has generated provides another indication of the reverence that surrounds this text. Although the history of the texts pronouncement and transmission, as well as the relation of this history to that of its earliest phases of interpretation, remain matters of scholarly controversy, there is no doubt that questions about the text itself and reflections upon its meaning were a part of the qurʾānic environment from its inception. Not unexpectedly, matters of language took precedence, and the first efforts at interpretation or exegesis involved providing synonyms and explanations for unfamiliar words. As would be the case with a recited text, variant vocalizations appeared and the increasing number and variety of these eventually prompted steps toward regularization. Not all earlier listeners were equally prepared to understand the sometimes elliptical nature of qurʾānic discourse. Individual phrases required exegetical interpolation as did narrative passages of a more allusive nature.

Other questions quickly arose: When, and in what circumstances, were certain verses revealed? Who or what is intended by an ambiguous term or phrase? To whom or to what does a particular pronoun refer? Who is being addressed by a specific passage and to whom should it apply: to all believers, present and future, or to a restricted set of individuals? Is the intended sense metaphorical or should the verse be understood literally? Are all parts of the Qurʾān equally comprehensible or are some parts more inherently obscure or problematic? Are there connections between verses, either within a sūra or across various parts of the Qurʾān? Can a passage elsewhere in the text help to explain the one under present examination? Are there levels or layers of meaning in the text and are these accessible only to individuals with special intellectual or spiritual training?

Clearly what motivated this multiplicity of interpretive inquiries was more than a scholarly interest in the scripture. Those with a thorough or intimate knowledge of the text were pressed to provide answers to crucial questions about individual and group behavior. The words of the Qurʾān, understood as coming directly from God, guided social and religious practices within the nascent Muslim community, so an adequate comprehension of the text was seen as essential to its correct application. But even the outlines of this early history remain a matter of scholarly controversy. The question of Islamic origins, understood to include the first two centuries of this new religious movement, is the most contentious topic within the field of Islamic studies. Scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim, debate over matters of chronology, geography and source reliability. Assertions and counter-assertions about the Qurʾān stand at the center of these contentions.

A brief sketch of the earliest stages of both the promulgation and interpretation of the Qurʾān can only allude to these debates, rather than engage them directly. Many scholars feel that the initial stages of both promulgation and interpretation of the Qurʾān were oral. And they were connected. In the midst of reciting a portion of the text, the reciter might stop to provide synonyms for terms unfamiliar to his audience. He might also make associations between one part of the Qurʾān and another or offer short explanatory glosses for passages that seemed allusive and elliptical. Storytelling was another activity of the first generations and apparently qurʾānic recitation was frequently supplemented with associated narratives that drew upon a common store of biblical, hagiographical and legendary material.

Seeking the connection between this oral-performative period and its written conveyance, asking whether it was simultaneous or subsequent, raises all of the historiographical concerns just mentioned. Much of the traditional scholarship about this era is drawn from sources that postdate it by several generations. The paucity of extant textual and epigraphic material that can be incontestably ascribed to much of the first Islamic century exacerbates the situation. What some scholars see as an exciting era of rapid religio-political change that has been adequately and reliably described by later Muslim historians, other scholars view as a period of intense sectarian strife whose chronological and geographical specifics can only be dimly glimpsed. And there are a range of scholarly perspectives that lie between these two extremes.

By the late ninth century, however, Muslim understanding of the Qurʾān had reached a stage of doctrinal and exegetical stabilization and the tendency in academic study of the Qurʾān has been to view this as a pivotal moment. Theological debates about the nature of the Qurʾān, about whether it was created or uncreated, had been sustained and surmounted. Generations of qurʾānic interpretation, both oral and written, had produced a massive accumulation of exegetical data, an accumulation captured in the key work that defines this moment. The compendium of explanations for the interpretation of the verses of the Qurʾān (Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān) was composed by the Baghdādī scholar Abū Jaʿfar b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) and its most widely-available edition it is still being reprinted runs to thirty volumes. Al-Ṭabarīs commentary on the Qurʾān represents itself as the summation of all previous exegetical activity. From the vantage point of this commentary and similar works that followed it, later Muslim scholarship on the Qurʾān looks back to the first centuries of its history and tracks this history in a generational schema.

Within this schema, the prophet Muḥammad himself assumes pride of place as the Qurʾāns first interpreter. After his death, this primacy is passed to his closest followers, whom Islamic history calls his Companions. Among the most prominent names of this exegetical generation are: Ibn ʿAbbās, Ibn Masʿūd, Ubayy b. Kaʿb and the fourth caliph, ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib. Qurʾānic interpretation attributed to this period is also associated with the Prophets youngest widow, ʿĀʾisha. The next generation, that of the Followers according to traditional Muslim terminology, includes names like Mujāhid b. Jabr, ʿIkrima, Saʿīd b. Jubayr, al-Ḍaḥḥāk, Qatāda b. Diʿāma and ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭalḥa. Later sources list all of these figures as students of Ibn ʿAbbās, a Companion whom the tradition has honored as being the Ocean of exegetical knowledge.

Between these very early names and the compendium work of al-Ṭabarī other important figures entered the landscape of qurʾānic interpretation: al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728), Muqātil b. Sulaymān (d. 150/767), Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 161/778), Sufyān b. ʿUyayna (d. 196/811), ʿAbd al-Razzāq (d. 211/827), Sahl al-Tustarī (d. 238/896) and Hūd b. Muḥakkim (d. ca. 290/903). During the last several decades printed editions have appeared whose attribution to these, and other, early scholars raises all the questions of redaction history and authorial retrojection that continue to preoccupy the study of Islamic origins. Nevertheless, continuing source-critical work on this period should provide both greater security in the accuracy of attribution and a more refined understanding of the lines of exegetical influence.

While al-Ṭabarīs commentary remains a fundamental source, the library of qurʾānic interpretation grew steadily in the centuries following its early tenth-century appearance. Both Muslim and non-Muslim surveys of exegetical history tend to classify these works by doctrinal or ideological orientation. Without attempting to be exhaustive I will group some of the major names in this fashion to help orient readers of this encyclopaedia who are less familiar with the field of qurʾānic studies. Most closely associated with the approach of al-Ṭabarī are: Abū l-Layth al-Samarqandī (d. 375/985), Abū Isḥāq al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427/1035), al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122), Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. 541/1147), Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597/1200), Ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373) and al-Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505).

A more fluid categorization is that which identifies certain forms of interpretation as being less concerned with conveying the exegetical dicta of the earliest Islamic centuries and more interested in expressing particular theological or philosophical orientations. Muslim exegetical history records a more mixed reception to this kind of interpretation. While the works of interpreters such as al-Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār (d. 415/1025), al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538/1144) and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210) have been questioned or condemned, those of Ibn Ḥabīb al-Nīsābūrī (d. 406/1015), al-Bayḍāwī (d. ca. 700/1301), al-Nasafī (d. 710/1310) and al-Khāzin al-Baghdādī (d. 742/1341) have received a generally favorable response.

Lists of the most famous Shīʿī commentators usually include al-ʿAyyāshī (d. ca. 320/932), al-Qummī (fl. mid 4th/10th), al-Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067) and al-Ṭabarsī (d. 548/1153). While these works do not represent an exegetical tradition that is completely divorced from that of Sunnī commentary, they do mark their distinctiveness through reference to certain early authorities, such as Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765) and other Shīʿī imāms, and through attention to particular topics and modes of interpretation. Shīʿī Islam is, of course, no more monolithic than its Sunnī counterpart and there are important groups within Shīʿism, such as the Ismāʿīlīs and the Zaydīs, who cherish a lineage of commentators within their own intellectual communities.

A far more diverse form of qurʾānic commentary is that associated with mystical Islam or Ṣūfism. A very early figure in this tradition, Sahl al-Tustarī, has already been mentioned. Other important Ṣūfī commentaries are those of al-Sulamī (d. 412/1021), al-Qushayrī (d. 465/1072) and Rūzbihān al-Baqlī (d. 606/1209), as well as that published under the name of Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 638/1240) but actually the work of a successor. Ṣūfī commentary is less likely to attempt comprehensive exegetical coverage of the qurʾānic text than the other works that have been mentioned. Often it records the spiritual insights and mystical illuminations that a particular word or phrase of the Qurʾān has generated, either in the authors mind or in the minds of those whose thoughts he seeks to convey.

The selective nature of Ṣūfī commentary finds its counterpart in another exegetical genre that also focuses chiefly upon only certain parts of the qurʾānic text. Legal commentaries on the Qurʾān concern themselves primarily with those verses that have behavioral implications, that mandate or prohibit various kinds of human activity. The principal works in this category are those of al-Jaṣṣāṣ (d. 370/981), Ilkiyā al-Harrāsī (d. 504/1110), Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallāh b. al-ʿArabī (d. 543/1148) and al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1272). Mention of the two last-named scholars on this list allows me to note the geographic and linguistic spread of qurʾānic exegesis.

Both Ibn al-ʿArabī and al-Qurṭubī are from Andalusia, an area of the medieval Muslim world that produced a rich intellectual heritage. They wrote in Arabic, as did all of the commentators whose names have been mentioned thus far. But important exegetical work on the Qurʾān has certainly not been limited to Arabic. Persian and Turkish contributions are complemented by those in the languages of south and southeast Asia and of sub-Saharan Africa. Especially in more recent centuries the linguistic spread of this interpretive tradition has become more pronounced. While the twentieth century witnessed the publication of major commentaries in Arabic, such as those of Muḥammad ʿAbduh and Rashīd Riḍā, of Sayyid Quṭb, of al-Ṭabāṭabāʿī a Persian who wrote in Arabic of Bint al-Shāṭīʾ and of Muḥammad Mutawallī al-Shaʿrāwī, it also welcomed Urdu contributions by Abū l-Aʿlā al-Mawdūdī and Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, as well as a thirty-volume work by Hamka (Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah) in Bahasa Indonesian.

Southeast Asia, which is home to about one quarter of the worlds Muslim population, has witnessed a contemporary resurgence of all forms of qurʾānic studies. Recitation of the Qurʾān, for instance, takes the form of local, regional and national competitions for both men and women, with qurʾānic quiz shows as a popular part of these events. While quiz shows may be a decidedly modern way to display expertise in qurʾānic studies, the desire for comprehensive attention to all aspects of the text and its conveyance has a very long history within Islamic intellectual life. Although sequential commentary on the Qurʾān constitutes an important part of that history and is a major element of what Muslims like to call the qurʾānic sciences, it is by no means the only element.

Recitation itself has evolved into an elaborate set of disciplines that must be mastered in order to insure the accurate and euphonious reproduction of the text. Students wishing to develop this skill, whether native speakers of Arabic or not, spend years learning how to pronounce every phonological element perfectly, how to pace the recitation properly and to pause where required or suggested, how to render particular combinations of letters and to elongate, with some syllables, the sound production for a precise duration. Along with assimilating the rules of recitation, students also begin to memorize the Qurʾān and many eventually can recite all 114 sūras from memory, as have generations of their predecessors.

At advanced levels, recitation of the Qurʾān includes the acquisition of a thorough knowledge of the various readings of the Qurʾān. These represent yet another realm of the qurʾānic sciences and one with very ancient roots. According to traditional accounts of the Qurʾāns textual canonization, an acceptable range of variability eventually emerged and was ratified by the scholarly community. While most printed texts of the Qurʾān that are in circulation today draw upon only one of these textual traditions, others remain alive and are sustained by varying numbers of adherents.

As the qurʾānic text continued to attract scrutiny from successive generations of scholars, other categories within the broad range of the qurʾānic sciences became more standardized and generated their own subgenres of scholarly literature. Attempts to provide historical contextualization for specific qurʾānic passages created the occasions of revelation literature, exemplified in a noted work by al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1076). The belief that the Qurʾān contained elements of its own abrogation, that some verses nullified the prescriptive force of others, gave rise to an extensive interpretive and cataloguing effort that found expression in the works of scholars like al-Zuhrī (d. 124/742), al-Naḥḥās (d. 338/949), Hibat Allāh b. Salāma (d. 410/1020) and Ibn al-ʿAtāʾiqī (d. ca. 790/1020).

Lexical examination led to yet further forms of categorization: qurʾānic vocabulary deemed difficult or unusual by virtue of its derivation or dialectical connection was collected in works by Ibn Qutayba (d. 276/889), al-Sijistānī (d. 330/942) and al-Rāghib al-Isbahānī (d. 502/1108). Words with multiple meanings and words that function as synonyms are also treated by Ibn Qutayba as well as by al-Damaghānī (d. 478/1085) and Ibn al-Jawzī. The more vexing problem of semantic ambiguity prompted additional works of classification and textual cross-referencing. Taken as a whole this exacting lexical scrutiny demonstrates a profound and reverential engagement with the text, a reverence that is also evident in the rhetorical engrossment that characterizes the developed qurʾānic sciences.

From a very early period it has been a point of Muslim doctrine that the religious and rhetorical power of the Qurʾān could never be replicated: the Qurʾān, in the belief of Muslims, is inimitable. Traditional literary criticism of the text concentrates upon elaborating the grounds for this doctrinal declaration. As developed by classical scholars such as al-Rummānī (d. 386/996), al-Khaṭṭābī (d. 388/998), al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1013) and al-Jurjānī (d. 470/1078), these grounds are both substantive and stylistic. Muslims hold the Qurʾān to be the ratifying miracle of Muḥammads prophethood because it contains information about the past and the future and about Gods relations with the world that no human being could attain unaided. The Muslim belief that Muḥammad was illiterate adds additional force to this sense of supra-human origin and content. But beyond such matters of content lies the emphasis upon the aesthetic effectiveness of the Qurʾān. Careful and painstaking analysis of the text isolated relevant examples of genre forms and literary figures; it scrutinized patterns of rhyme and assonance; it catalogued specific instances of word choice and arrangement. This scrutiny and analysis intermingled with praise of the Qurʾāns overpowering eloquence. In fact, much of the intricate dissection of the qurʾānic text to be found in works on the sciences of the Qurʾān could be viewed as an effort to explain the effect of qurʾānic recitation upon the believer. The rhetorical experience finds written manifestation in the extraordinarily detailed classifications produced by scholars such as al-Zarkashī (d. 794/1392) and al-Suyūṭī. Surveying the eighty chapters of al-Suyūṭīs monumental synthesis of the qurʾānic sciences gives one a good sense of textual scholarship as an act of abiding reverential attention.

Scholarship on the Qurʾān was also produced by non-Muslims. Just as Muslim authors have attended to the scriptural heritage of other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity, non-Muslim scholars have interested themselves in the Qurʾān. Of course, much of this interest was fostered by polemical concerns, a know the enemy mentality that became particularly acute during periods of military hostility and intense economic competition. Even from a very early period, verses or passages from the Qurʾān were used by non-Muslims, in the time-honored tradition of religious polemic, in an attempt to discredit its status as divine revelation and to demonstrate internal inconsistencies. Even without direct quotation, polemical arguments against the Qurʾān became a commonplace of medieval Jewish and Christian religious discourse. Such noted figures as John of Damascus (d. 749) al-Qirqisānī (mid 10th cent.), Maimonides (d. 1204) and Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) may be mentioned in this regard.

The later medieval period, however, brought a new approach, one associated with the renowned Abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable (d. 1156). While certainly not divorced from polemical motives, Peters initiative broadened the active translation movement that was producing Latin versions of important Arabic scientific and medical works to include the Qurʾān and other works of a religious nature. To do this, Peter assembled a team of translators including the Englishman Robert of Ketton (fl. 1136-57) who is credited with creating the first full translation of the Qurʾān into any Western language. Despite criticisms of its accuracy and arrangement, Roberts rendering remained the standard Latin version of the Qurʾān for several centuries.

It was soon joined, however, by that of Mark of Toledo (fl. 1193-1216) and recent scholarship has demonstrated that both of these translators did not restrict themselves to the qurʾānic text alone but clearly had access to a number of major commentaries, either directly or through a scholarly Muslim informant, and made skillful use of them. Much later translation also followed this procedure, including that of the eighteenth-century English Orientalist George Sale and his compatriot, the twentieth-century convert, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall.

Robert of Kettons translation, via its Italian rendering by Andrea Arrivabene published in 1547, influenced the first German and then Dutch translations. Extant manuscripts of Hebrew translations of the Qurʾān, such as that of Yaʿaqov b. Israel ha-Levi which too appeared in Venice in 1547, apparently draw upon this same lineage. During this same period French versions were also being produced and in 1698 Ludovico Marraci published another Latin translation that soon saw replication in various European languages. George Sales 1734 combined publication of both a translation of the Qurʾān and a Preliminary Discourse that drew upon earlier prolegomena served as the principle English-language primer on Islam for more than a century.

Translation is, of course, not the only form of non-Muslim qurʾānic studies that the medieval and early modern Europe generated. Access to the Qurʾān via such translations provoked responses from Jewish and Christian authors. The interests of both polemic and apologetic were served by a closer knowledge of the qurʾānic text, prompting scholars such as Ricoldo da Montecroce (d. 1320) and Nicholas of Cusa (d. 1464) to pen refutations. Reference to the Qurʾān and the citation of specific passages can be found in many works of Jewish and Christian scholarship from these periods. Fragments of transcriptions of the Qurʾān into Hebrew characters, including some from the Genizah materials, provide additional indication of non-Muslim study of the text. Then, of course, there has been the post-Enlightenment emergence of oriental studies as a distinct academic discipline. Much of what is to be found in the Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān builds upon the work begun in those academic centers that undertook the scientific study of non-Western cultures and religions.

Even before this, faculties devoted to such studies had been founded in places like Leiden (1593), Rome (1627) and Oxford (1638). Later they opened at other major European universities and, eventually, at certain North American ones, as well. Arabic and other Islamic languages, such as Persian and Turkish, were a primary focus of instruction because language competency was the indispensable prerequisite to the study of texts and other historical sources. In this regard the emerging discipline of Islamic studies modeled itself upon classical studies as these had developed during the Renaissance and after. Philology, understood as the study of a culture through the lens of the texts that it produced, became the dominant methodology. Because the Qurʾān was recognized as central to the identity and historical development of Islam, close attention was given to it, and qurʾānic studies emerged as a major subfield within the study of Islam.

In its development, non-Muslim (or Western) qurʾānic studies was profoundly influenced by its sibling discipline of biblical studies. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century biblical criticism, at least that part of it which had migrated from a rabbinic or monastic setting to a university one, bracketed belief in the divine character of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. The Renaissance willingness to apply principles of literary and historical criticism to ancient Greek and Latin texts was adopted for another ancient text, the Bible. Taking a rationalist perspective, some scholars sought to reconcile biblical teaching with the mandates of reason while others concentrated upon the contradictions between the Bible and the canons of scientific orthodoxy. Contextual investigations multiplied as scholars probed the cultural and historical background of the biblical texts and pursued the literary heritage out of which these grew, as well as the redactional process which created their final form.

As scholars schooled in Semitic philology and conversant with the historical-critical study of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament turned their attention to another ancient text, the Qurʾān, they brought with them this same disregard of dogmatic assumptions as irrelevant to the tasks of scholarship. The Qurʾān, like the Bible, was subjected to textual and philological analysis and in the second half of the nineteenth century some of the seminal works that still guide the field today were written. The names of Gustav Weil, Theodor Nldeke, Abraham Geiger and Hartwig Hirschfeld were soon joined by their twentieth-century counterparts, such as Ignaz Goldziher, Gotthelf Bergstrsse, Otto Pretzl, Richard Bell, Arthur Jeffery and Rudi Paret. From a related perspective, some of these scholars and others approached the Qurʾān as the most reliable source for reconstruction of the life of Muḥammad and the history of the early Muslim community.

New factors in the study of the Qurʾān
^ Back to top

As this very brief sketch indicates, the history of Muslim and non-Muslim study of the Qurʾān could be characterized as two parallel conversations. Ordinarily these conversations proceeded in relative isolation from each other except for those times when polemical salvos were exchanged. The long trajectory of Muslim study and interpretation of the Qurʾān has been a largely self-contained exercise. Similarly, the more recently established field of qurʾānic studies within European and American institutes of higher education has certainly drawn upon the centuries-long results of Muslim scholarship but has rarely established sustained, collaborative conversation with contemporary scholars of the qurʾānic sciences.

But the two solitudes of Muslim and non-Muslim qurʾānic studies are beginning to break open, at least on some occasions and within some contexts. Increasingly, international conferences devoted to the academic study of the Qurʾān attract scholars from both groups. Journals that were formally quite segregated now show a greater diversity of authors names and institutional identifications. Opportunities to lecture at universities in the Muslim world are being offered to non-Muslim scholars and the reverse of such invitations bring scholars from these universities to European and North American institutions.

Perhaps the most significant point of confluence, however, is graduate training and the production of new generations of doctoral degrees in the field of qurʾānic studies. Increasingly, students pursuing graduate work in qurʾānic studies, as well as other subfields of Islamic studies, in major universities in Europe, the United States, Canada and elsewhere are coming from immigrant Muslim families. Many of these are second or third generation products of post-colonial patterns of Muslim migration to Great Britain, France, Germany and North America. Consequently, most of these students enter graduate programs with an educational background and a set of academic assumptions that are indistinguishable from those of their non-Muslim peers. The present mix of academic publication in the field already reflects this dynamic and future productivity will surely manifest its amplification.

The vastly increased rate of scholarly exchange facilitated by electronic communication, including the Internet, further accelerates the opportunities for scholarly interaction within the field of qurʾānic studies. And it enhances another form of availability that will surely affect the future of the field. It is worth noting that, until quite recently, the Qurʾān as a written text was available to a relatively small proportion of Muslims worldwide. Most Muslims for most of Islams long history have experienced the Qurʾān orally. Literacy rates in pre-modern populations generally were far lower than they are today. In the last century, particularly with the withdrawal of colonial domination in the Muslim world and the subsequent development of systems of public education, there has been great change in mass literacy. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century growth in book production has created the concomitant phenomenon of textual accessibility.

Vast print runs, often subsidized by governmental agencies of religious affairs, have made the Qurʾān available to large segments of the Muslim population worldwide. Multiple translations into virtually all of the worlds languages have brought qurʾānic teaching directly to the individual without the necessary mediation of a religious scholar. Although translations do not have the same status as the Arabic text, they have allowed many more Muslims to become students of qurʾānic meaning than was ever possible before. One area where such changes in literacy and textual accessibility are proving transformative is that of Muslim women. Currently Muslim women are achieving secondary and post-secondary degrees in far greater numbers than in any previous generation. And these educated women are reading the Qurʾān. Within its pages they are finding resources for religious and social renewal and they are forging forms of leadership with which to effect these changes.

Easily-available printed versions are but one aspect of the contemporary textual accessibility of the Qurʾān. Television and radio broadcasts of qurʾānic recitation are frequent. Audio cassette or CD ROM recordings of the most famous reciters can be purchased in any town with a substantial Muslim population, whether in the Middle East, Asia or North America. And, of course, the Qurʾān is on the Internet. Thousands of web sites offer the Arabic text, translations into European, Asian and African languages, synchronized recitation of all or part of the text and countless pages of introduction, explanation and commentary. Some versions are searchable, whether by keyword, word segment or chapter and verse number. In fact, some of the editorial accuracy checking for the qurʾānic citations in this encyclopaedia was done with a searchable, web-based text.

Creating the EQ

Planning for the Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān (EQ) began in 1993 when I met in Leiden with a senior Brill editor, Peri Bearman, to explore the possibility of initiating such a project. Very quickly, four superb scholars, Wadad Kadi, Claude Gilliot, William Graham and Andrew Rippin, agreed to join the editorial team. Both the desire to take stock of the field of qurʾānic studies at the turn of the century and an interest in seeing this field flourish in the new millennium prompted our initial conversations. From its inception, then, the EQ has gazed both backwards and forwards and this dual visioning has shaped the structuring of this encyclopaedia. As the associate editors and I proceeded with the planning, we were determined to create a reference work that would capture this centurys best achievements in qurʾānic studies. But we also wanted the EQ to stimulate even more extensive scholarship on the Qurʾān in the decades to come. In the service of this dual ambition, it was decided to expand the expected alphabetical format of an encyclopaedia to include a series of longer, more comprehensive articles. The associate editors and I envisioned these as synoptic statements of the present state of reflection and research on major topics within the purview of qurʾānic studies. The combination of encyclopaedia entries, of varying length, and of essay-length overviews of major research areas within the field of qurʾānic studies seemed to us the best way both to honor the accomplishments of the last century and to foster the achievements of this one.

But as important as this retrospective and prospective vision was to the creation of the EQ , yet more important was the desire to make the world of qurʾānic studies accessible to a very broad range of academic scholars and educated readers. The various fields of literary studies have produced countless dictionaries, encyclopaedias, commentaries and concordances dedicated to the study of particular periods, areas, authors and works. Similarly, religious literature, especially the Bible, has been the subject of hundreds of such works, with new ones being produced at an ever-increasing rate. This scholarly abundance stands in stark contrast to the situation in qurʾānic studies. The number of reference works for the Qurʾān that are accessible in European languages remains quite small; much of the available information is partial and incomplete or hidden in difficult-to-secure sources.

Of course, scholars who can command classical Arabic can avail themselves of thousands of works on the Qurʾān, including concordances, dictionaries and commentaries, but those without this linguistic access have very little. For example, the last English dictionary of qurʾānic Arabic was published in 1873 and the only widely-available English concordance is keyed to a translation of the Qurʾān that used a nineteenth-century numbering system for the verses now rarely encountered in printed versions. English-speaking scholars from fields other than Islamic studies, therefore, are poorly served when they attempt to learn anything about the Qurʾān, either for their own research purposes or to introduce it to their students. It is with this need in mind that the associate editors and I made the decision to use English-language entry-words for this encyclopaedia. Our colleagues in the field of Islamic studies will appreciate that this was neither an easy nor an uncontroversial decision. The Encyclopaedia of Islam (EI), which has long been the most widely-used general reference work in the field, employs transliterated Arabic entry-words or lemmata and this has come to be regarded as the scholarly norm. Such a system allows a precision that is lost with the move to English-language lemmata. To take but one example: There is no exact Arabic equivalent for the word prayer. Ṣalāt refers to the ritual worship that observant Muslims perform five times a day, while duʿāʾ connotes less formalized, intercessory prayer. Dhikr is the term used for a very broad range of Ṣūfī practices and both classical and contemporary Arabic contain other relevant vocabulary items, as well. The EI has articles on each of these three but nothing under the single entry-word, Prayer. Consequently the non-Arabist scholar or student who wants to know something about this more general topic has a difficult time using the EI but will not encounter such hurdles with the EQ .

Yet another, much-debated decision was that concerning the scope of this encyclopaedia. The Qurʾān, as a major piece of world literature, and as the primary scripture of a world-wide religious tradition, has generated a huge exegetical corpus. As I have already noted, multi-volume commentaries on the Qurʾān have been produced by virtually every generation of Muslim scholars and, while most of these are written in Arabic, the languages of other Islamic populations are well represented. The continuing popularity of this genre, in both its classical and its contemporary productions, is manifest through sustained publication and sales. The works of major classical commentators like al-Ṭabarī, al-Zamakhsharī, Ibn Kathīr and al-Suyūṭī can be found on the shelves of any good-sized bookstore in the Muslim world, along-side such contemporary standards as the commentaries of al-Mawdūdī, Sayyid Quṭb and al-Ṭabāṭabāʾī.

Consequently, the question had to be considered: Should this be an encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān or should it be an encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān and its interpretation? There is, of course, no clear division between these two categories. Virtually every article in this encyclopaedia draws, directly or indirectly, upon the corpus of qurʾānic exegesis. Nevertheless, project containment demanded that the focus of concentration remain the Qurʾān itself. Therefore, readers of the EQ will not find a separate article on al-Ṭabarī or Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, but they will find frequent reference to the works of these commentators and the EQ s cumulative index will allow users to track these references through all of its volumes. This, too, was a tough editorial choice and one that I hope can be reconsidered if this encyclopaedia eventually generates a second, expanded edition.

Along with the desire to create a reference work that would be accessible to scholars and students from a broad range of humanistic and social scientific disciplines, the associate editors and I shared a desire to include rigorous, academic scholarship on the Qurʾān, scholarship that grows from a plurality of perspectives and presuppositions. The key words in the preceding sentence are rigorous and academic. There is, as I have just recounted, no single academic tradition of qurʾānic scholarship. Centuries of Muslim scholarship on the Qurʾān constitutes a time line that overlaps with that of generations of Western scholarship on the text. And neither of these categories, inexact as they are, represents a single, monolithic approach or a unique, overriding methodology. Both between and within the worlds of Muslim and Western qurʾānic scholarship one finds vigorous and contentious debate. Increasingly these worlds overlap, both geographically and intellectually. With the rapid growth of Muslim populations in Europe, North America and other parts of the world, the rough polarity of Muslim and Western becomes ever more blurred. The internationalization of scholarship and of academic life accelerates this trend. As mentioned above, Muslim and non-Muslim scholars interact freely at conferences on the Qurʾān, whether these be in Leiden or Lahore. Academic journals are much less self-segregated than they were a generation ago and the number of Muslim scholars who have taken advanced degrees in Euro-American institutions in some field of Islamic studies has increased exponentially. Scholarly perspective can no longer be neatly pinned to religious identification and good scholarship is flourishing in this richly plural environment. The editors of the EQ have striven to capture that plurality within the pages of this encyclopaedia, wanting this work to represent the widest possible range of rigorous, academic scholarship on the Qurʾān.

Using the EQ

Entries in the Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān appear in the customary alphabetical order but are of two kinds. By far the majority are articles of varying lengths that treat important figures, concepts, places, values, actions and events to be found within the text of the Qurʾān or which have an important relationship with the text. For example, the entry on Abraham deals with a figure found in the text while that on African Literature discusses a literary relationship. The second category of articles that have been commissioned for the EQ are essay-length treatments of important topics within the field of qurʾānic studies. Again to take examples from the first volume, I would point to the entries Art and Architecture and Chronology and the Qurʾān. Here scholars were asked to let their writing reflect the past and present state of the question on these significant topics.

As noted above, the decision to use English-language lemmata in the EQ has both advantages and disadvantages. While it makes the work much more widely accessible to scholars in cognate fields, it does not afford Arabists and Islamicists the familiar starting point of transliterated terminology. To solve this, a very thorough indexing of both English words and transliterated Arabic terminology is planned for the EQs final volume. Within the body of the encyclopaedia, however, readers will find extensive use of transliteration, both in identification of the lemmata and in the articles themselves, so that specialists in this field can have the precision that is important to them.

Of course, in planning the list of entries the decision about what constitutes an English word could never be entirely straightforward. In general, our editorial policy has been guided by current English usage as reflected in contemporary dictionaries and works of general reference. Where an Arabic proper name has a clear English cognate, that has been used. Where it does not, the Arabic form has been retained. Relevant examples would be Adam and Eve as opposed to Dhū l-Kifl.

Because the EQ has been created both to present scholarly understanding of the Qurʾān and to promote it, all authors have been urged to provide relevant and representative bibliography for their articles. Readers will find these a helpful entry into further study of a particular topic. In addition, in-text citation of both primary and secondary literature should assist scholars in the field of Islamic studies as they develop more detailed studies of the topics treated in this work. Citations of the Qurʾān are given by chapter (sūra) number, followed by verse (āya) number, e.g. Q 30:46. This represents a departure from the more common Muslim practice of identifying sūras by name rather than number the previous example would thus be Sūrat al-Rūm, 46 but it makes it much easier for those unfamiliar with sūra titles to find a passage in a translated text of the Qurʾān. The verse numbering itself follows the now-standard 1924 Cairo edition. Most of the English versions of the Qurʾān that are commonly available follow this numbering. The one significant exception is the translation of A.J. Arberry which follows the verse numbering of Gustav Flugels edition (1834), a numbering that can have a negative or positive variance of several verses from the Cairo edition.

Although every effort has been made to assure accuracy of qurʾānic citation in the articles of the EQ , no particular translation was mandated by the projects style sheet. Authors were free to use available translations or to make their own translations of the passages quoted in their entries. Similarly, there was no way to insure absolute standardization of reference to primary sources in classical Arabic, such as ḥadīth collections or commentaries on the Qurʾān. While the EQ style sheet, its Instructions for Authors, listed preferred editions of many such works, these were not always the ones available in the university or private libraries of individual authors. Although I wish it had been possible to standardize all such references, the editorial time required would have postponed the publication of the EQ considerably.

At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to underscore that the Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān is an inaugural effort. It is a first attempt to create a substantial work of reference in a field that has relatively few such resources. From its inception as a scholarly project, the editors of the EQ knew that they could never claim consummate thoroughness for this first edition. Many readers and reviewers will have additional subjects and themes to suggest and both the editors and the publisher welcome these proposals. If the EQ serves the purpose intended by those who have shepherded it to publication, there will eventually be another, expanded edition enhanced by the suggestions.

As a concluding remark, I will broach a topic that may seem odd coming from the pen of a general editor. (But perhaps it is but another form of the situated scholarship that has become so prevalent in the last two decades.) That topic is this projects potential for controversy. Many times since undertaking the responsibility of the EQ I have been asked by journalists, colleagues and acquaintances whether I feel uneasy or at risk with such an involvement. My answer is always no and it is usually accompanied by some expression of regret that the frequent misrepresentation of Muslim sensibilities could even prompt such a question. Yet the study of a text that millions of people hold sacred is a sensitive task. Some Muslims feel strongly that no non-Muslim should even touch the Qurʾān, to say nothing of reading and commenting upon it. Yet most Muslims do not feel this way. While there are those who choose to ignore non-Muslim scholarship on the Qurʾān as irrelevant or inherently flawed and misinformed, others welcome the contributions that non-Muslim scholars have made to this field.

Conversely, there are non-Muslim scholars who have attempted to write about the Qurʾān in a manner that is not immediately offensive to the theological sensibilities of Muslims. Others have operated with the assumption that such considerations have no place in the realm of academic discourse. Personalities differ, ideological orientations differ and scholarly practices differ on both sides of the dividing line. I have deliberately embraced a plurality of method and perspective within the pages of the EQ , but I have done so conscious of the fact that not all scholars, whether non-Muslim or Muslim, agree with this approach. There are Muslim colleagues who have preferred not to participate out of fear that association with the EQ would compromise their scholarly integrity. There are non-Muslim colleagues who have demurred for exactly the same reason. Nevertheless, these are very much the exceptions. Most scholars who were invited to contribute accepted with enthusiasm and alacrity, pleased to see the appearance of a reference work that would foster continued development within the field of qurʾānic studies. It is my sincere hope, and that of the associate editors, that the EQ will do precisely that.

Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Georgetown University

The Qur'an & Politics by Eltigani Abdelgadir Hamid translated by Abdul-Wahid Lu'lu'a (International Institute of Islamic Thought) THE Qur'an approaches the issue of "political thought" as part of a comprehensive discourse which establishes their general goals and frames of reference. It is then left to the human mind to complete these with what it has learned from experiences in history and what the scholars understood from the Text about how to deal with reality. This work is about the origins of political thought and a study of the philosophy of politics. It examines the actions of the state as the main power concerned with public affairs in society, and enquires into which public action is considered good or bad in relation to other value systems endorsed by Islam. The work uses a unique methodology to argue that the major elements of the Qur'anic political thought are securely anchored in the Makkan verses of the Qur'an. Studying these verses it searches for the rules and principles that help identify the directions and major objectives towards which both human society and political action are guided prior to the rise of institutions and the regulation of relations.

Eltigani Abdelgadir Hamid is an Associate Professor of Islamic Political Thought. He received his doctorate from the University of London and specializes in both Islamic Studies and Politics. He has taught and carried out research at several universities including the University of Khartoum and the International Islamic University (Malaysia) and has authored several publications including works in both Arabic and English. He currently teaches at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (USA).

Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation by John Wansbrough, Andrew Rippin (Prometheus Books) Many believe that the academic study of the Quran lags far behind the study of the Bible while being, as the same time, closely modeled after it. Not only are the relevant scholarly resources of the Quran less numerous than those available in biblical scholarship, but comparatively speaking the variety of methods employed to deal with the scriptural text has been severely limited. One of the first groundbreaking efforts in Islamic studies was made by John Wansbrough in his unique work Qurantic Studies: Sources And Methods Of Scriptural Interpretation. Written between 1968 and 1972, this revolutionary analysis had a profound effect on the study of Islam. It produced, in the minds of many, a wholly new dichotomy in the approach used in Islamic studies: on one side, the skeptical revisionists and on the other, the trusting traditionalists. Well ahead of his time, Wansbrough questions the very basis assumptions of previous scholars in a way that had never before been attempted. Working with the heritage of Joseph Schacht and Ignaz Goldziher before him, Wansbrough approached the Quran in a manner that sees the Muslim tradition as grounded in the dogmas of later centuries. Freed from these constraints, new questions relevant to contemporary scholars had to be asked.

Wansbrough was the first to analyze carefully the documents from the first four centuries of Islam that describe the rise of the Quran to the position of absolute authority in the Muslim community. Although these works were known to exist, no modern scholar had actually read them and tried to make coherent sense of the material. Wansbrough carved out new areas of inquiry and debate for scholars and lay enthusiasts alike.

Quranic Studies deserves serious attention, as a stimulating work of scholarship. Its allusions to biblical and Arabian underpinnings have captured many people's attention and led to numerous exchanges and debates among scholars and others, especially regarding Wansbrough's claim that the Quran was not written down until the third-century hijri (ninth century CE), countering traditional Muslim claims that it originated in the time of Muhammad and was written down shortly thereafter. In response, some decried the publication of Quranic Studies, seeing it as a major impediment to fostering a trust of nonsectarian scholarship among Muslims. Now readers can judge for themselves.

Although Quranic Studies was originally intended for fellow scholars, the Internet has considerably widened its accessibility. Used as a source of authority and critical opinion on polemical sites by both Muslims and Christians, Wansbrough's work has gained a significant profile among professionals and nonprofessionals alike. Nonetheless, it appears that many who cite Quranic Studies have not carefully read it. To counter such ideological and nonscholarly treatments of Wansbrough's ideas, noted Islamic scholar Andrew Rippin has enhanced the work with a valuable foreword, helpful text annotations, and a much-needed glossary to increase the utility of this seminal work for the many avid readers who desire to know more about Islam.

"John Wansbrough contributed to various aspects of the history and culture of the Middle East and the Mediterranean, but he was most important in stimulating new approaches to the study of early Islam. Starting from the view that Islam's own accounts of its origins are religiously inspired interpretations of history rather than true records of events, Wansbrough developed new and influential theories about the ways in which the emergence of Islam should be understood and studied.

"He was best known for his work on the Koran. In his Quranic Studies, using his profound knowledge of classical and modern literary and historical theory, he applied to the holy book of Islam ideas and approaches which scholars had developed in the study of the Bible and early Christianity. His literary analysis of the Koran and the commentaries on it led him to views very different from those held by traditional Muslims and by the majority of non-Muslin academics.

"...[Wansbrough] questioned the accepted view that the Koran consists of passages associated with (or, in the traditional understanding, divine revelations made to) Muhammad in Mecca and Medina in the early decades of the seventh century, that it had been committed to writing by about 650, and that it was the most important element in Islam from the time of Muhammad onwards.

"These and the other standard ways of approaching the Koran, he argues, resulted from too willing an acceptance of Islam's own tradition--primarily the body of traditional Muslim commentary on the Koran.

"...Starting from the basis that there is very little Islamic literature securely datable to before about 800, Wansbrough saw Islam as evolving gradually from sectarian forms of Judaism over a period of 150 years or so following the Arab conquests in the middle of the seventh century.

"He understood the history of that formative period, including the image of Muhammad and accounts of the formation of the Koran, as a back projection of views that were formed as the culture and religion of Islam emerged in an atmosphere of intense polemic between different groups of monotheists....

"His views and approaches remain controversial, both in academic circles and, for more obvious reasons, among Muslim who know of them. But they were not expressed out of any hostility to Islam. On the contrary, Wansbrough insisted that, together with Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a valid expression of the monotheistic tradition of religion and that it must be treated with the same scholarly seriousness as its sisters. --THE TIMES (London)

Women and the Koran: The Status of Women in Islam by Anwar Hekmat (Prometheus Books)  The Koran tells us that "Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other." In Women and the Koran: The Status of Women in Islam, Anwar Hekmat tells us of the brutality inflicted on women in the Islam religion in the name of God. Hekmat clearly outlines all the basic rights given to men through Mohammed and The Koran, which include: the right to multiple wives and concubines; the right to beat and rape one's wife if she refuses to submit to sex; the right to terminate a marriage at any time without legal process; the right to all children and property from the marriage if divorced; the right to bring one's wife to court for suspected adultery; and, if she is found guilty, the right to bury her in the ground up to her waist and stone here to death (as was done in at least four cases in Iran in the last seven years). These same rights do not extend to women in regards to their husbands. Hekmat argues that the Muslim religion created by Mohammed is a barbaric tradition, created more to bring glory to God. His argument is compelling. Hekmat paints a picture of Mohammed as a cruel dictator who orchestrated horrific purges on his enemies, and captured many of the women to be used as wives (of which he had 15) or concubines for his own pleasure. Mohammed is also depicted with insatiable sexual appetites that knew little boundaries, including that of age. His favorite wife was nine when they married, and he brought her toys to the bed on their wedding night. Much of the Islamic religion, claims Hekmat, is clever propaganda simply created to allow Mohammed to do as he pleased. Indeed, Hekmat argues as strongly against the entire Islamic religion as he does against the disparity against women. The book is well researched and clearly organized, and while the language becomes awkward in spots, it is still a good read. His thesis is that the Muslim religion's treatment of women should be re-thought and quickly. This book helps remind us that equality is a matter of perspective, and lends itself to shaping your perception of women's equality in the eyes of religion in a whole new way.

Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Quran Edited by Suha Taji-Farouki (The Institute of Ismaili: Studies Quranic Studies Series, 1: Oxford University Press) is an important source for anyone interested in the place of the Quran in a changing world. In the contemporary world, millions of Muslim refer to the Quran on a daily basis. They turn to it to justify their aspirations and, as we have seen recently with graphic effect, to explain their actions. The extent of such direct reference is probably unprecedented in the history of Islamic experience, and it brings with it a vast diversity of readers and readings. If academic debates speak in abstract terms of the virtual impossibility of fixed meaning in texts, recent Muslim thinking concerning the Quran furnishes much practical evidence of this.

In recent decades, new voices have appeared on the contemporary Islamic intellectual map, vying for a place with the now hugely influential Salafi approach to Islam, generally characteristic of Islamism, and that of its traditionalist opponents. These are the voices of new Muslim intellectuals which, taken together, capture an emerging trend in Muslim interpretation. This trend is the subject of this volume. Essays by eminent international scholars examine the work of ten intellectuals from around the globe, providing biographical and contextual-analytical discussions. The introduction situates and evaluates the thought of these intellectuals, assessing and explaining responses to it among Muslim and non-Muslim audiences.

The Quran and its meanings for contemporary Muslim life form an important focus for these intellectuals efforts. Reflecting their exposure to western culture and its intellectual debates, they often adopt an approach to the sacred text informed by contemporary trends and critical methods. Their tendency is to project it as a source of general ethical guidelines and principles, rather than the immediate answer to all human questions. While most participate in the creative encounter between Islam and modernity, others move beyond this, bringing to their approach to the sacred text a post-modern mood of radical criticism, challenging head-on centuries-old Muslim consensus. Seeking a renaissance in Islamic cultural and intellectual life, and progress and reform in Muslim countries, their political ideas are often close to the heart of the liberal tradition, favouring democracy. These intellectuals are all products of a secular education. Some combine this with elements of traditional Islamic learning, while others are self-taught in the Islamic disciplines. Most are professional academics, but we also find here a Syrian engineer, a Libyan literary figure, and an Indonesian public activist.

The voices of this trend are likely to multiply in years to come, as Muslims form increasingly diverse communities of readers, as they become increasingly established in western academic institutions and as cultural globalisation proceeds apace. This is one reason to study this trend. Another lies in the fact that, by its very nature, it crystallises the burning issues in contemporary Muslim debates. Three in particular are highlighted in this volume. First: the problematic of Islam and western modernity. Second: the growing confusion over who speaks for Islam, and third, the absence of consensus concerning the limits of Islamic reform. Opinions concerning this trend are deeply divided. When compared to competing Islamic formulations, in Muslim circles its appeal is confined to a small minority, while many dismiss its contributions outright. On the other hand, western circles have provided such thinkers with a platform, and have welcomed their contributions. More than one has been described as a long-awaited Martin Luther of Islam. In such thinkers, some western observers believe they have found the moderate Muslim voices that must be cultivated and supported, in the hope of a positive outcome to what has been dubbed Islams internal war.

In spite of this interest, the writings of such intellectuals have remained somewhat inaccessible to a wider English-reading public. This volume fills this gap through a focused treatment of the pivotal theme of Quranic meaning. For the first time, it points to the emergence of a new Muslim community of interpretation, characterised by direct engagement with the word of God while embracing intellectual modernity in an increasingly globalised world. It also demonstrates that such intellectuals discuss the Quran and its meaning in the context of diverse discursive struggles, and in multiple arenas. These include opposition to Islamist discourses, authoritarian regimes, and dominant patriarchal modes, and responses to the threats of inter-communal strife, cultural stagnation and underdevelopment, for example.

Whatever their specific arena, the intellectuals studied in this volume constitute in themselves a clear reminder of the continued cultural centrality of the Quran, and the pivotal place it occupies in working out the aspirations of Muslim societies. By making their writings available, the hope is to enrich debates concerning the profound issues of change and tradition, authority and the management of pluralism and diversity, and culture, identity and exchange that concern us all as members of the new global society.

A Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran by John Penrice (Dover Publications) unabridged republication of A Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran, with Copious Grammatical References and Explanations of the Text, originally published by Henry S. King, London, 1873.

It is every Muslim's duty to read the Koran and try to understand it, which can be a problematic task for those unacquainted with Arabic. The study and appreciation of Arabic literature likewise demands a thorough familiarity with the Koran; the majority of works by Muslim writers abound in allusions to its precepts and quotations from its pages. The sacred text's purity of style and elegance of diction make it the standard of Arabic.

An excellent resource for those interested in translating passages from the Koran. To my knowledge the meaning of every Koranic word is found here. Using Penrice's work is certainly more convenient than going through Hans Wehr, which does not always provide the classical meaning of words. Lane's Lexicon is obviously a better source, but since it is multivolume work, it is both inconvenient to carry around and quite expensive. Although this dictionary was first published in 1873, its merit has not diminished since.

This classic guide to one of the world's most widely read books permits every-one, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, to understand the Koraneven those with no prior knowledge of Arabic. Geared toward beginners, it was written to answer the need for an American version of the Koran in contemporary English. Each word is listed under its verbal root, words without roots are grouped alphabetically, and numerous explanations of the text appear through-out to help beginners master the inevitable difficulties and to assist more advanced readers in resolving problems.

An Interpretation of the Qur'an: English Translation of the Meanings: A Bilingual Edition translated by Majid Fakhry (New York University Press) The Quran: A Modern English Version Translated by Majid Fakhry (Garnet) British Edition Link to British edition
To followers of Islam, the Qur'an is the literal word of God, revealed through Muhammed, the last of the line of prophets. It is the expression of the will of God and contains all that is necessary to lead a life of righteousness. This message is expressed in the Arabic language with such formidable force that over the last 14 centuries it has been revered by Muslims all over the world. Islam has a billion followers in 48 countries and has become a significant force in the world today; a better understanding of the Qur'an will explain why. Approved by Al- Azhar University, this comprehensive and accurate rendering of the Qur'an into modern English should introduce this important book to a much wider audience than ever before. This translation is rapidly becoming the preferred bilingual edition for use in American mosques.
The clear translation is laid out in dual column format directly opposing the Arabic text to the English to allow the reader to make careful verse by verse comparisons. In this way, this volume aims to make the Qur'an accessible to students, teachers of religious studies, non-Arab Muslims and all who are interested in Islam. The clear, rigorous translation, one of the few English translations available now by a native Arabic speaker, is laid out here Chief features:

  • Approved by Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt
  • Easy-to-read translation into modern English
  •  Index of surahs (chapters)
  • English and Arabic headers
  • Verse numbers within text in English and Arabic
  • Explanatory footnotes in English

Majid Fakhry is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the American University of Beirut and has previously held posts at universities in the Middle East and USA, including Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University, Visiting Professor at UCLA, Visiting Professor at Kuwait University and Visiting Research Fellow at Princeton University. His many publications include Ethical Theories of Islam; Philosophy, Dogma and the Impact of Greek Thought in Islam and A History of Islamic Philosophy. He was born in Lebanon and now lives in America.  

The Koran Interpreted: A Translation by A. J. Arberry (Touchstone Books) The Muslim holy book, presented in Arberry's forty-year-old authoritative and lyrical translation, brings the fundamental principles and concepts of the Muslim religion to the English language.

The Koran [E-BOOK: MICROSOFT READER, This e-book is readable only on desktop or laptop computers. It is not compatible with Macintosh or any handheld devices] Translation not specified.

The Qur'an's Self-Image: Writing and Authority in Islam's Scripture by Daniel A. Madigan (Princeton University Press) Islam is frequently characterized as a "religion of the book," and yet Muslims take an almost entirely oral approach to their scripture. Qur'n means "recitation" and refers to the actual words Muslims believe were revealed to Muhammad by God. Many recite the entire sacred text from memory, and it was some years after the Prophet's death that it was first put in book form. Physical books play no part in Islamic ritual. What does the Qur'n mean, then, when it so often calls itself kitb, a term usually taken both by Muslims and by Western scholars to mean "book"? To answer this question, Daniel Madigan reevaluates this key term kitb in close readings of the Qur'n's own declarations about itself.

More than any other canon of scripture the Qur'n is self-aware. It observes and discusses the process of its own revelation and reception; it asserts its own authority and claims its place within the history of revelation. Here Madigan presents a compelling semantic analysis of its self-awareness, arguing that the Qur'n understands itself not so much as a completed book, but as an ongoing process of divine "writing" and "re-writing," as God's authoritative response to actual people and circumstances.

Grasping this dynamic, responsive dimension of the Qur'n is central to understanding Islamic religion and identity. Madigan's book will be invaluable not only to Islamicists but also to scholars who study revelation across religious boundaries.

Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells (White Cloud Press) Includes an audio CD that demonstrates different styles of chanting the holy text. Approaching the Qur'an is a translation of the early suras-the short, hymnic chapters at the end of the book. A major event in religious publishing, this book captures the complexity, power and poetry of the early suras and the majesty and intimacy of the distinctive Qu'ranic voice. Sells is a professor of religion at Haverford College in Pennsylvania

These early revelations to Muhammad involve little of the political and legal detail found in the suras of his later career. Here they speak directly to every human being, regardless of religious confession or cultural background. Approaching the Qur'an is also designed to be as accessible as possible, to offer the full lyric and literary experience to readers: Opposite each sura is a short commentary that explores some of the subtleties and context of the Quranic passages; an annotated glossary explains key Quranic concepts and Arabic terms with English translations; there is even a compact disc of recordings by renowned Qu'ranic reciters chanting the early suras.

This uncommonly perceptive work puts forward a noteworthy examination for people unable to read the original in Arabic and to Arabic readers unfamiliar with the subtle linguistic shifts that have occurred in the 1300 years sense the revelation. Sells takes pains to show how it is the oral Quran that for many Muslims is the Quran of revelation. The Qur'an heard and recited is the tradition whose esteem and authority is often taken too lightly in our more visually dominated culture Sells carefully discusses the role of recitation, provides phonetic schemas to aid in understanding its structure, and includes a CD recording to introduce several different recitation styles. Next, he centers of attention on the relatively concise, early suras, that tend to be like hymns, are prophetic and principally concerned with the divine-human relationship; and which provides a non-Muslim with a simplified point of entry to the spiritual foundations of the Qur'anic worldview. Finally, the author gives new translations of these early suras, which together with his commentary will further assist non-Muslims to comprehend the spiritual depth of the Qur'an. In many ways this sensitive reading and translations of the Quranic text with careful attention to the many levels of meaning and musicality heralds a new epoch in approaching the universality of a tradition through close readings the specific texts.

Major Themes of the Quran by Fazlur Rahman (Bibliotheca Islamica) is one of the few works of Fazlur Rahman  that has not stirred the wrath of the mullahs or found too apologetic for the Western academy.  Here Rahman who in many ways pioneered an Islamic approach to the study of his religion in America, is not by any means controversial but thorough in presenting the central ideas of the Quran. Major Themes of the Quran has been widely accepted by academics and traditional scholars because it sets forth to analyze the major themes discussed within the Quran without much of any review or opinion.

Muslims and non‑Muslims have written extensively on the Qur'an. The innumerable Muslim commentaries on the Holy Book often take the text verse by verse and explain it. Quite apart from the fact that most of these project tendentious points of view, at great length, by the very nature of their procedure they cannot yield insight into the cohesive outlook on the universe and life that the Qur'an undoubtedly possesses. More recently, non‑Muslims as well as Muslims have produced topical arrangements of the Qur'anic verses; although these can in varying degree serve the scholar as a source or an index, they are of no help to the student seeking to acquaint himself with what the Qur'an has to say on God, man, or society. It is therefore hoped that the present work will respond to the urgent need for an introduction to major themes of the Qur'an.

Except for the treatment of a few important themes like the diversity of religious communities, the possibility and actuality of miracles, and jihad, which all show evolution through the Qur'an, the procedure used for synthesizing themes is logical rather than chronological. In discussing God, for example, the idea of monotheism‑which is logically imperative‑is made the foundation‑stone of the entire treatment, and all other Qur'anic ideas on God are either derived from it or subsumed under it, as seemed best to establish the synthetic concept of God. Apart from this, the Qur'an has been allowed to speak for itself; interpretation has been used only as necessary for joining together ideas.

I am convinced that this synthetic exposition is the only way to give a reader a genuine taste of the Qur'an, the Command of God for man. Even if the chronological order could be feasibly reconstructed passage by passage (which I consider a real impossibility‑pace Richard Bell!), it would only explicate what is germinal in the original, master idea. This is radically different from the "dissective study" approach chronological or other‑whose usefulness for scholarship is obvious but which must disclaim any pretensions to treat the Qur'an as what it claims to be: God's message to man. The conventional repetition of such usual "information" about the Qur'an as the "Five Pillars" or the inheritance laws has kept understanding of the Qur'an at the most superficial level. (Note, however, that this work does include detailed references to chapters and verses so that the reader can verify and think further for him or her self.)

Introduction to the Quran by M. A. Draz (London Qur'an Studies Series Vol.2: I.B. Tauris) What is new in the Qur'an? What original precepts in ethics, philosophy or `world view' does it introduce which go beyond the Judeo‑Christian teachings or the traditions of the classical world? What was the nature of the Qur'anic Revelation? Was the Qur'an the product of the mind of Muhammad or the influence of Jewish or Christian teachings? Was it the product of Arabia or of other religious traditions from the Near and Middle East? And how was the Qur'anic message transmitted? By the sword or by persuasion?

The Qur'an is understood by Muslims and non‑Muslims alike as the source and fountainhead of Islam. But very few non-Muslims (and surprisingly few Muslims) have a real understanding of the nature and historical background of the revelations which came to the Prophet Muhammad.

Introduction to the Qur'an sets out the fundamental principles of the Qur'an and its much misunderstood and misquoted teachings. The distinguished Islamic Scholar M.A. Draz, one of the Muslim world's most erudite authorities of the twentieth century, examines Qur'anic instruction on women, polygamy, war, faith, Judaism, Christianity and the many other issues on which the Qur'an pronounces. Draz emphasizes the continuity of monotheistic doctrine and ethics through Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


Though there are several extremely diverse angles from which one can approach a study of the Qur'an, these will ultimately fall into two main categories: language and ideas. The Qur'an is, simultaneously and on the same level of importance, a work of literature and a book of doctrine.

To study the Qur'an as an artistic, linguistic and rhetorical work presupposes an in‑depth knowledge of the Arabic language, in which tongue the text was given. As most educated Europeans (to whom, after all, we principally address ourselves here) are not familiar with this language, we shall not direct the greater part of our efforts on this front, though we will of course touch upon language where this is used to enhance the primary theme or reinforce the implications of the teaching it embodies.

We shall concentrate rather on the treasury of ideas one can discover beneath the Qur'an's literary form. This approach does not require our being Arabs or students of Arabic, yet it nonetheless enables us to undertake a serious and fruitful study of the Qur'an.

Provided that one has a good translation,' one can study the Qur'an from any of three angles quite independently of its Arabic form: first of all there is the nature of Qur'anic doctrine, the ensemble of solutions it proposes so as to resolve the two eternal problems of knowledge and action; then there are the means of persuasion the Qur'an employs, in order to establish the truth of this doctrine; and finally there is the manner in which it demonstrates the sacred and Divine character that it attributes to its own message. It is to this quite independent study that we propose to contribute by the present work.

The principal objective of this study is to disengage the Qur'an's moral law from everything that connects it to the rest of the Book. However, before extracting this living cell from the whole organism that is Qur'anic doctrine, we feel it right and useful to present in their indivisible unity the main lines of its doctrinal structure. Thereby we hope to demonstrate the position of the moral element within the integrated framework.

In order to achieve this, we shall first consider the structure that is the Qur'an ‑ rapidly it is true, but with sufficient penetration to discern the generative ideas behind each of its sections, and sufficient breadth to encompass an overall picture of its methods and aims.

Apart from certain indispensable historical guidelines, the essential object of the present work is to lay bare in its wholeness the Qur'anic message as the text itself presents it, and not as it has been judged, interpreted or applied across the years.

In treading our path we shall encounter severe judgments passed on the Book which will have to be corrected, and hasty conclusions which will have to be put right, but in principle we shall the leave the words of the Qur'an to provide its own defense and self‑justification. Our intervention will consist almost exclusively of coordinating and linking up into a logical sequence the separate pieces that make up this plea of defense, leaving to the reader the task of judging the historical and philosophical validity of the discourse for him‑ or herself.

The issue at hand is one of studying the Qur'an objectively ‑ insofar as a thinker is able to detach himself from his or her own subjective conditions. To play the role of protagonist does not mean that one is prevented from clothing one's formulations with a personal overtone, an energetic mood, or a persuasive aspect. These should be seen as the reflection that the original projects onto its mirror, and not an essentially novel accretion of our particular manner of thinking.

It is necessary to say that, in divesting the Qur'anic idea of its clothing, and thus disengaging it from its local framework so as to make it accessible to those unfamiliar with the Arabic language, we are doing no more than helping to reveal its true purpose. Appealing constantly to reason, common sense and the more generous human sentiments, the Qur'an addresses itself in effect to all mankind, regardless of national roots or ethnic origins.

The Qur'an is a universal teaching that aims to purify customs, to throw light on and reconcile beliefs, to cause racial barriers and national chauvinism to fall, and to replace the law of brute strength with that of truth and justice. In addition to its contribution to world philosophy, however, it also serves as a precious source of succor for those who study it during this frenetic period of domination and destruction.

QURAN LIBERATION & PLURALISM: An Islamic Perspective of Intereligious Solidarity Against Oppression by Farid Esack  (One World) The demise of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s followed an unprecedented unity in struggle against oppression from members of different faith traditions. Determined, as South African Muslims were to participate with the rest of the oppressed in solidarity against apartheid, this brought them into conflict with interpretations of the Qur'an that denied virtue outside Islam, and left them searching for a theology that would allow them to both co-operate against injustice and be true to their faith. In this challenging account, Farid Esack reflects on key Quranic passages used in the context of oppression to rethink the role of Islam in a plural society. He exposes how traditional interpretations of the Qur'an were used to legitimize an unjust order, and demonstrates that those very texts used to support religious intolerance, if interpreted within a contemporary socio-historical context, support active solidarity with the religious Other for change.

This insightful account about how South African Muslims succeeded in cooperating with members of other faith communities in the struggle against oppression while staying true to the tenets of their own faith, shows how reflections upon key Qur'anic passages used in the context of oppression provides grounds for rethinking the role of Islam in a plural society. Esack exposes how traditional interpretations of the Qur'an that denied virtue outside Islam have been used to legitimize an unjust social order. Furthermore he demonstrates that these very texts provide a basis for a ethical social critique that is open to all, not just Muslims. Significant new religious understanding always comes out of lived experiences, the liberation struggle in South Africa for human rights allowed the Quran to be read in new ways, revealing original aspects of its meaning.

Set in the context of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s, this challenging book discusses the issues of injustice and interreligious dialogue from an Islamic point of view. Farid Esack is an internationally known scholar, speaker and social activist. He is particularly concerned with issues of gender equality, religious pluralism and justice. Any concerned with Islam in the modern world will find this account of a liberating Quranic message an important contribution to an Islamic liberation theology.

List of Abbreviations
Notes on Language
1. The Context
2. Between Text and Context
3. Hermeneutical Keys
4. Redefining Self and Other
5. The Qur'an and the Other
6. Redefining Comrades and Opponents
7. From the Wilderness to the Promised Land
Appendix One
Appendix Two
Appendix Three

Farid Esack is Senior Lecturer in Religion at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, and is an internationally known scholar, speaker and social activist.


Special Contents

insert content here