How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations

How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations

How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations

How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations

Synopsis

How to Read the Qur'an, a compact introduction and reader's guide to the Qur'an, featuring illuminating new translations of 725 Qur'anic verses, is the most up-to-date toolbox for anyone who wants to know how to approach, read, and understand the text of the Qur'an. Noting that many people are baffled by existing English translations, Ernst aims for the book to be useful for both non-Muslim and Muslim readers who are interested in a historical, literary, and religious studies approach to understanding the Qur'an. The book is designed for general readers and will also be eminently suitable for introductory college courses, advanced secondary courses, As Ernst says, a text like the Qur'an--which has such immense importance for Muslims, and which, given the geopolitical tensions in today's world, poses extraordinary problems for non-Muslims--cannot be treated as a clearly defined subject that can be explained simplistically. Its history, composition, structure, style, vocabulary, and meaning have all been interpreted and disputed in a variety of ways. The ideal introduction to this text for English-language readers ought to take into account the various audiences, both Muslim and non-Muslim, that will be looking for different answers. It will also have to deal with sensitive issues regarding the historical and literary interpretation of sacred texts. It will have to explain the different points of view and major debates, and clarify what is at stake. Ernst thus provides a significant explanatory introduction that not only summarizes the historical and literary issues but also engages with the religious and political context of understanding the Qur'an today, including an understanding of the ritual and oral uses of the text.

Excerpt

Obstacles to Reading the Qurʾan

The genesis of this book comes from a simple question: how should nonMuslims read the Qurʾan? On one level, this would seem to be a relatively straightforward issue. The Qurʾan is a sacred text, comparable to the Bible and the scriptures of other religious traditions, which are often read and studied in academic and literary contexts. From that point of view, the questions might seem to be primarily technical—how is the text organized, what are its primary features, and what is its audience and principal interpretive traditions? Surely the Qurʾan should be approached like any other text.

But with the Qurʾan the situation is different. The Qurʾan is the source of enormous anxiety in Europe and America, for both religious conservatives, who are alarmed about a competitive postbiblical revelation, and secularists, who view Islam with deep suspicion as an irrational force in the post-Enlightenment world. Neither of those worldviews takes the Qurʾan very seriously as a text; according to these views, it is instead a very dangerous problem. It is even the case that a number of attempts have been made to outlaw the sale and distribution of the Qurʾan completely, as a text that promotes violence, an argument made by fundamentalist Hindus in India during the 1980s and more recently by a right-wing anti-immigration party in the Netherlands. In 2002, outside religious groups sued the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for violating the freedom of religion, when (at my suggestion) it assigned a translation of selections from the Qurʾan as its summer reading program for all incoming students that year. In 2010 . . .

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