How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations
Hidayatullah, Aysha, Theological Studies
How TO READ THE QUR'AN: A NEW GUIDE, WITH SELECT TRANSLATIONS. By Carl W. Ernst. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011. Pp. 273. $30.
In this concise work Ernst presents a literary and historical approach to reading the Qur'an, arguing that its central meanings may be gleaned from its structure. E. successfully makes accessible to conscientious readers (including advanced undergraduates) the latest works of academic Qur'an specialists (especially Angelika Neuwirth). College instructors of Islamic studies will find particularly useful the appendixes containing learning exercises and structural outlines for the Qur'anic suras.
E. adopts Theodore Noldeke's chronological division of the Qur'an into early, middle, and late Meccan suras and Medinan suras to facilitate the study of the Qur'an in the precanonical sequence in which the first Muslims received it, and to trace the text's development over the duration of its revelation. E. uses structural and rhetorical analysis to demonstrate the tripartite and ring structures of selected suras from each period, which, he argues, reveal the Qur'an's central points of emphasis; he observes that internally placed verses furnish universal statements, while verses placed at the external frames furnish contingent meanings. E. argues that in numerous suras, verses indicating Qur'anic acceptance of religious pluralism belong to the former category, while verses on debates and conflicts with religious others belong to the latter. Structural analysis also reveals certain verses to be later insertions into suras, as indicated by their departures from surrounding stylistic patterns. E. believes that such revisions likely occurred in dialogue with the first Muslims' responses to the Qur'an's ongoing revelation, meeting their needs for clarification, consolation, or admonition, and reflecting developments in their communal identity and liturgical usages of the text. (Here, readers would benefit from consulting Nasr Abu Zayd's work on the Qur'an as a discourse, an aspect not addressed by E.)
E. persuasively argues that the suras' structural and rhetorical elements offer a much more satisfying resolution of the Qur'an's seeming selfcontradictions than traditional Muslim arguments about abrogation, since they help make sense of textual disparities rather than simply explaining away tensions in the text. Additionally, E. evaluates the internal resonances of the Qur'an (whereby certain suras and verses recall others) and examines its adaptation and revision of previous scriptures, myths, folklore, epics, and poetry from Judeo-Christian and Near Eastern sources, including pre-Islamic Arabic poetry. Given popular debates on the Qur'an, readers will be particularly interested in E.'s fascinating discussions of the religious awareness of Meccan skeptics, evidence that the so-called Satanic verses were likely never part of the Qur'an, and some parallelism to the Catholic Magnificat. …